Tag Archives: Empower Texans

Is this senator in the wrong party?

Kel Seliger likely would disagree vehemently if — and quite probably when — he reads this blog post, but I am going to ask once again a question I posed in a blog entry published some years ago.

Is the West Texas state senator, from Amarillo, in the wrong political party? He ran for election the first time in 2004 as a Republican and has been re-elected every time since then touting his strong “conservative” credentials while a member of the GOP.

But it appears he isn’t conservative enough to suit the arch-conservative Empower Texans, a political action committee that works to elect and re-elect legislators who suit the group’s rigid ideology.

Empower Texans keeps posting these social media items proclaiming how Seliger is the “only” Senate Republican to vote against one of ET’s preferred issues. They blast Seliger because he has the gall to side with Democrats.

To be sure, Seliger is no fan of Empower Texans. He speaks ill of ET’s guru, Michael Quinn Sullivan. Seliger incurred the wrath of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick early in this legislative session and Patrick then stripped Seliger of key committee chairmanships and membership on other key committees.

Seliger’s GOP credentials really aren’t at issue. He stands for public education, local control, private property ownership, low taxes, business enhancement.

He just isn’t a GOP ideologue. The way I see it — and once again, Seliger is likely to disagree with me — he would fit just fine as a Democrat in the mold of, say, Bill Hobby or Bob Bullock or perhaps even Jack Hightower.

Problem is, though, he wouldn’t win re-election running as a Democrat in the Texas Panhandle. To be a Democrat is to be considered the virtual spawn of Satan in the cradle of Texas arch-conservatism.

 

If Empower Texans favors it, Sen. Seliger opposes it!

I am going to stand with my friend, Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who has become a top-tier target of a far-right political action group known as Empower Texans.

Empower Texans is crowing about the passage in the Texas Senate of a property tax overhaul that garnered the support of every legislative Republican except one: Seliger, who, according to Empower Texans, sided with Texas Democratic legislators in opposing the bill.

I’ll save my comment on the legislation, Senate Bill 2, for a later blog post.

Today, though, I want to note briefly that Empower Texans sought to oust Seliger from his Senate District 31 seat in 2018, but failed when Seliger got through the GOP primary against two ultra-conservatives and was effectively re-elected without a runoff in his heavily Republican Senate district.

Seliger has made no effort to disguise his disgust with Michael Quinn Sullivan, the founding guru of Empower Texans, who believes that all Texas officeholders must adhere to his far-right agenda.

For example, Empower Texans favor vouchers for parents who want to pull their kids out of public education; Seliger, long a champion of public ed, opposes it.

With that, Empower Texans has sided with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who also opposes much of what Seliger favors — in pushing for this property tax overhaul.

It boils down to a simple notion. If Empower Texans favors an initiative, it will do so without the support of Sen. Seliger, a man who has represented his sprawling West Texas district with distinction since 2004.

Sen. Seliger is unafraid to tout his own conservative credentials. The only “sin” he commits is that he isn’t conservative enough to suit Michael Quinn Sullivan and his cabal of right-wing ideologues.

Texas Senate gives right-wing PAC special seat at press table

Do you want to know the crux of what has pi**** off a leading Texas senator about the way the state’s upper legislative chamber is being run?

Try this: Empower Texans, a right-wing political action group, has been given a ringside seat on the floor of the state Senate. Such groups usually are relegated to the upper floor along with the rest of the spectators who are curious about what’s happening in the Legislature.

In the Senate, which is run by an Empower Texans darling — GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — the group gets to look senators in the eye while they debate and cast their votes.

Trouble is brewing?

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said this, according to the Tribune Tribune: “They’re an advocacy organization and a political organization. Far more than anything else. That’s really their identity. They have a PAC and they contribute to candidates.”

Seliger knows Empower Texans well. He had to fend off a spirited Republican primary challenge in 2018 from two ultraconservative candidates. He won his party’s nomination outright anyway, which is to West Texas’s great benefit.

But the decision to allow this group of far-right-wing zealots onto the Texas Senate floor speaks volumes to me about the kind of place Lt. Gov. Patrick is creating. The Tribune reports that Empower Texans’ presence at the press table has angered some senators and ignited rancor early in the legislative session.

I’ve noted repeatedly in this blog about the feud that has erupted between Seliger, a senior GOP senator, and Patrick. Seliger’s legislative clout has been diminished by his removal from key Senate committees, namely the Higher Education and Education panels.

Now we hear that Empower Texans, an advocacy group that has taken aim at Senate moderates, such as Seliger, is getting to mix it up directly with legislators the group seeks to influence.

Seliger said the group’s status is “under review, as I think it ought to be. This is an easy call.”

Something is telling me the Texas Senate is going to become an unhappy place in this legislative session.

This guy got the Texas Senate 31 outcome wrong

Jay Leeson is a Lubbock businessman and radio personality who writes something called “The Other Side of Texas.”

The Amarillo Globe-News published a column from this fellow, who said in his essay that state Sen. Kel Seliger squeaked by in his March 2018 Republican Party primary race for re-election to the Texas Senate 31 seat.

Actually, Leeson has it dead wrong.

Seliger didn’t eke out a narrow victory. He won a three-way contest against two capable GOP primary opponents — one of whom was well-funded by a far-right political organization called Empower Texans — by avoiding a runoff.

Sen. Seliger won with about 51 percent of the ballots cast. The other two men — former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal — each collected less than half the total that Seliger rang up. Therefore, I would submit to you, dear reader, that Seliger didn’t squeak by; he won big. How? Because Canon and Leal both split what I consider to be the GOP nut-job vote between them, leaving Seliger to harvest the rest of the mainstream Republican primary voters to win the party’s nomination to another term in the Senate, which Seliger first joined in 2004.

Canon did lose narrowly to Seliger in a two-man GOP primary in 2014. Leal brought significant name familiarity that threatened to chew into Seliger’s Amarillo and Panhandle base of support; Leal, though, didn’t register much in the campaign.

The way I see it, Seliger’s primary victory over more than one opponent was far from a squeaker. He won decisively

Seliger was re-elected in November by crushing a Libertarian candidate. His path to re-election was made significantly easier by his smashing win in the GOP primary against two capable and articulate spokesmen for whatever arch-conservative doctrine they were espousing.

There. I’m glad to have set the record straight . . . as I see it.

Speaker-to-be Bonnen is OK with the far right

Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, is poised to become the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

I wish him well. He succeeds Joe Straus of San Antonio, the GOP strongman who stood up to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate when the need arose.

I hope Rep. Bonnen is made of the same stern stuff. He’s a moderate who likes to work across the aisle. He has had his differences with the Freedom Caucus wing of the legislative Republicans who serve with him. But the Texas Tribune reports that almost all the returning Freedom Caucus members are OK with the new speaker, assuming he gets the nod in January.

I get that the Freedom Caucus comprises only 11 members in a 150-member Texas House. History tells us that far right and sometimes far left fringe groups develop outsized influence that reaches far beyond their meager numbers.

Given the nature of Texas Republican politics, it’s likely too much to assume the Freedom Caucus will follow the speaker’s lead and become more of a moderate influence in the Legislature.

Whenever I think of these far-right groups, I think immediately of Empower Texans, the right-wing loons who sought to topple two of the Legislature’s shining stars — two fellows who happen to be friends of mine to boot!

They are state Rep. Four Price and state Sen. Kel Seliger, two Amarillo Republicans who fended off challenges in handsome fashion. The challenge was financed by Empower Texans, the far right group that seeks to influence local political races all across the state. Empower Texans got its mitts on a number of contests, but given that I was living in during the spring primary season, I got to witness Empower Texans’ dirty work up close.

So, it is my hope that the new speaker keeps his distance from the Freedom Caucus and certainly from Empower Texans.

Empower Texans: Are you out there?

Some of us who watch Texas politics are acutely aware of the state’s right-wing activism, particularly embodied by a group called Empower Texans.

These folks got seriously involved earlier this year in Texas Panhandle Republican Party primary politics. They sought to oust state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo from the GOP primary. They came up short, as Seliger was able to win his party’s nomination without a runoff against two fringe challengers. They also drew a bead on state Rep. Four Price, another Amarillo Republican, in his race for re-election. Price thumped his challenger.

OK. What’s next for Empower Texans, an Austin-based political action committee that sought to Republicans in disparate regions around the state how to vote?

Are these zealots going to get involved in some of these statewide races? Are they going to pump big money into the candidates of their choice?

I’m wondering at this moment if Empower Texans is more interested in “purifying” the Texas Republican Party than in advancing the party’s long-standing death grip on the state’s political infrastructure.

Empower Texans didn’t do too well in the GOP primary. Part of me wouldn’t mind if Empower Texans decides to lay low during the general election.

Another part of me wishes it gets involved and exposes to Texas voters yet again in the same year how narrow-minded they want their party to remain.

Butt out, Rep. Tinderholt

I am quite certain that damn few Amarillo residents knew the name of Tony Tinderholt until he decided to stick his nose into an Amarillo City Hall dustup over whether residents can applaud during City Council meetings.

Tinderholt is a Republican state representative from Arlington. Oh, and he’s also a golden boy associated with Empower Texans, a far-right-wing political action group that decided to become involved in a couple of Texas Panhandle GOP legislative primary races this spring.

Empower Texans had its head — and other body parts — handed to it when Panhandle Republican voters essentially re-elected state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, both of them Amarillo Republicans.

Tinderholt has decided to pressure Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson into rethinking her decision to restrict clapping at council meetings.

I won’t get into the merits of Nelson’s decision. I’m sitting out here in the peanut gallery and am out of the loop on the details of what transpired when Nelson kicked a constituent out of a council meeting. I will say only that Nelson perhaps overreacted in the moment, but has tried to explain — in the wake of some local criticism — that she has a keen understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and its guarantees of free speech and all that kind of thing.

I am struck by the idea that a state representative from far away would want to meddle in a matter that should be settled by the folks who live here and who are elected to govern a community’s affairs.

It’s interesting, too, that Tinderholt would be affiliated with a group, Empower Texans, that sought to dictate to Panhandle residents how they should vote. The Texas Panhandle took care of its business quite nicely despite the pressure being brought to bear on this region from Empower Texans.

So, to Rep. Tinderholt and Empower Texans, I just have this modest rejoinder: Butt out!

Speaker candidates are lining up

Tan Parker has become the third Texas House of Representatives member to file for the race to become the next speaker of the state House.

He hails from Flower Mound; the other two are Phil King of Weatheford and John Zerwas of Richmond. They’re all Republicans.

OK. That’s all fine.

I’m wondering if we’re going to hear an announcement from another up-and-comer in the Texas House. He hails from Amarillo. He’s also a Republican, who also delivered a serious pounding to a candidate favored by Empower Texans, a far right wing political organization that sought to topple this fellow in the GOP primary this week.

Rep. Four Price? Are you listening?

Here’s what I have to say to this young man, who happens to be a friend of mine and who also has done a stellar job representing House District 87 since 2011.

Becoming speaker of the House essentially turns the office into a full-time endeavor. Price will have to come to grips with the idea that he no longer would be a part-time “citizen legislator.” He also has been a strong ally of the current speaker, Joe Straus of San Antonio, who isn’t running for re-election to the House.

Straus distinguished himself mightily by ensuring the death of the infamous Bathroom Bill that passed the Texas Senate in 2017. The Bathroom Bill would have required transgender individuals to use public restrooms in accordance to the gender assigned on their birth certificate.

It is discriminatory on its face. It had no business becoming Texas law. Straus saw it for what it was.

So, would a Speaker Four Price follow that lead? I would hope so.

I also believe that Rep. Price would make an excellent speaker candidate, giving the Texas Panhandle a strong voice in legislative matters, as it did when Democrat Pete Laney of Hale Center ran the House of Representatives.

Hey, I’m just a single voice here in the wilderness.

Still, my desire is to see my friend go for it.

Empower Texans had its head handed to it

Empower Texans had a bad week.

The result of the rest of us is that Texas voters — primarily Republican primary voters — had a good week. That means Texas had a good week.

Empower Texans is a right-wing advocacy group that lowered its sights on a number of incumbents around the state. State Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo was one of them. Seliger managed to fend off a GOP primary challenge and skate to virtual re-election to another term; he does face a Libertarian challenger in the fall, but don’t bet the mortgage on Seliger losing that one.

Empower Texans — led by Michael Quinn Sullivan (pictured) — believes Republicans and other conservatives need to toe a strictly drawn line. It is based downstate, yet it poured lots of money into the far reaches of the vast state. The Panhandle got its taste of Empower Texans’ penchant for distortion and outright lies.

Seliger survived. So did state Rep. Four Price, another Amarillo Republican, who thumped challenger Drew Brassfield by about a thousand percentage points in the race for House District 87, which Price has represented well since 2011.

The Texas Tribune reports: “The forces of extremism, like Empower Texans … overplayed their hand, turned voters off and experienced significant losses in the March primaries,” said GOP consultant Eric Bearse, who helped (state Rep. Sarah) Davis and three other candidates win amid an onslaught from Empower and other critics. “It started to become clear in some of these races that it really was a choice between our local representative and someone who is wholly owned by outside groups and outside money.”

I love the irony of that assessment.

Conservatives are supposed relish local control over the interests of others. Isn’t that what they say?

Yet we have Empower Texans tossing that dogma out the window with its strong-arming of political discussion with money and power that derives from some centrally located source.

Seliger and Price — along with a host of other Texas incumbents — were able to persuade sufficient numbers of Texans to see through this sham.

It’s bad for Empower Texans. Good for the rest of us.

Empower Texans: It’s hitting the fan

Seliger’s GOP win was big, really big

I cannot overstate the significance this week of state Sen. Kel Seliger’s victory in the Texas Senate District 31 Republican Party primary.

It’s significant on at least two levels.

One is that he faced — count ’em — two GOP foes in this primary. Empower Texans, a far-right political action organization, decided to “primary” Seliger because its leadership wanted someone who’s “more conservative” than Seliger has demonstrated during the 14 years he has represented West Texas.

Empower Texans sought to outflank Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, on the right. His response was to remind voters that he’s conservative. His voting record is mainstream — but he’s a conservative. He proclaims his pro-life, pro-gun rights voting record as demonstrable proof of his conservatism.

The second level of significance deals with this fact: Unlike in 2014, when he faced just one foe in the GOP primary, this year he had two of them. One of this year’s opponents was Mike Canon, the former Midland mayor who Seliger beat four years ago by just 4 percentage points.

Let’s throw in a second right-wing opponent, Amarillo businessman Victor Leal. Between them, Canon and Leal garnered 49.5 percent of the vote. Seliger finished with 50.5 percent, or one-half of a percent more than he needed to avoid a runoff.

I have been unable to analyze the vote as it developed from top to bottom of District 31. My first glance at the vote totals tells me that Canon and Leal battled between themselves for the TEA Party wing vote, leaving the rest of the West Texas Republican voting bloc open for Seliger to harvest.

Canon’s first run for the state Senate in 2014 revealed to me that he spoke mostly in TEA Party slogans when the lights came on. In private, I found him to be personable, intelligent and articulate.

As for Leal, he spent much of his effort accusing Seliger of alleged nefarious relationships and too little of it explaining in any detail how he planned to represent West Texas differently than what Seliger has done.

Thus, Canon and Leal fought for the Republican fringe vote that exists out there. Critics of the senator are liable to say he “barely” won the primary. However, I look at it differently: He beat Canon by nearly 20 points and Leal by more than 30 points.

I would call that a serious drubbing.