The late state Sen. Teel Bivins once offered a metaphor that, frankly, I never quite understood: He said the Legislature’s once-a-decade exercise in legislative and congressional redistricting offered an opportunity for “Republicans to eat their young.”
If I could speak to him at this moment, I would tell Bivins that we are witnessing actual political cannibalism among Texas Republicans. They are dining on each other right here in the Texas Panhandle, which Bivins represented in the state Senate from 1989 until 2004.
Bivins’s successor, Kel Seliger of Amarillo, is fending off challenges from two fellow Republicans. They are seeking to portray him as something he isn’t. He’s been called a “liberal,” which in the Panhandle is fightin’ words.
Seliger’s response has been a vow to remain positive and to speak about his record, which he touts as “conservative.” Indeed, he is a mainstream conservative, a traditional conservative. The current political climate has forced him to slap the conservative label on his sleeve and proclaim it proudly.
Seliger shouldn’t have to make that declaration.
He is not alone. We’re seeing all across Texas, which is among the most GOP-leaning states in America. We have Republican incumbent legislators and members of Congress campaigning on the margins of their ideology to fend off well-funded challengers.
Contenders and incumbents are spending tons of advertising space and broadcast air time trying to persuade voters that their brand of conservatism is more desirable than the other candidate.
What is being lost in this discussion are statements about precisely what they would do for their constituents if they get elected. How would they govern? What good would electing them bring to their legislative or congressional district?
I’m hearing a lot of name-calling, innuendo, allegations and criticism that — to my ear — borders on defamation. It’s been a disgraceful display of demagoguery.
A famed Texas Democrat, the late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, once told me that Texas politics is a “contact sport.” Indeed. Sen. Bentsen served in the Senate when Democrats and Republicans actually sought — and often found — common ground on legislation that benefited the entire state.
I can argue that these days, Texas politics has become a “collision sport,” with a healthy dose of cannibalism, to boot.
If he were around today, my hunch is that Sen. Bivins would rethink his definition of how Republicans feast on each other.
I also believe he would be ashamed of what is happening.