Tag Archives: Kel Seliger

Empower Texans zealot really makes me angry

I am going to admit something about which I am not very proud.

Whenever I see the name of Michael Quinn Sullivan, my hair tends to stand straight up. Why this guy? He runs an outfit called Empower Texans, a far-right political action committee that tends to interfere in Republican Party primary contests; Empower Texans prefers GOP candidates to adhere to rigid ideology, no matter how effective certain Republican incumbents have been in service to their constituents.

He is now linked to Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Sullivan reportedly recorded a conversation he had with Bonnen in which the speaker allegedly offered to give Sullivan the names of 10 Texas House GOP incumbents who might be ripe for targeting in the 2020 GOP primary election.

Texas Democrats have sued Sullivan and Bonnen, alleging campaign finance law violations connected to that conversation. Democrats also want Sullivan to reveal the full content of what he and Bonnen discussed.

Bring it on

Bonnen is embarrassed. He has apologized to his Republican House colleagues for things he allegedly said to Sullivan about them. He has reached out to House Democrats as well in an effort to rebuild his reputation. Bonnen assumed the speakership at the start of the 2019 Legislature after Joe Straus gave up the speaker’s office at the end of the 2018 election.

But … back to Sullivan.

I haven’t met this man. I know him only by what I’ve seen him and Empower Texans try to do in legislative districts in the Texas Panhandle, where I lived for 23 years while writing about politics and policy as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

Empower Texans has tried twice to defeat Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo. They ran a TEA Party candidate against Seliger in 2014. Seliger defeated former Midland Mayor Mike Canon five years ago. Canon ran against Seliger again in 2018, along with a third candidate, Amarillo restaurant owner Victor Leal. Seliger managed to defeat both challengers in the GOP primary, avoiding a runoff.

I’ve stipulated already that I have strong professional and personal affection for Sen. Seliger. It pi**** me off royally to see Seliger get a primary challenge from the far right wing of his party.

Indeed, Seliger has made no secret that he detests Sullivan. The feeling is quite mutual. Never mind that Seliger is a solid and dependable mainstream conservative Republican lawmaker who talks candidly and fluently about issues throughout the vast Senate district he has represented since 2004.

Sullivan also drew a political bead in 2018 on state Rep. Four Price, another mainstream Amarillo Republican. The Fritch city manager ran against Price in the GOP primary, but got thumped in the process. Price, though, has been much quieter about his feelings about Sullivan. My hunch is that Four Price shares Kel Seliger’s view about the Empower Texans political mogul.

Accordingly, I am hopeful that Texas Democrats can prevail in their lawsuit against Sullivan and against Speaker Bonnen.

Sullivan plays a relentless game of political hardball. This guy needs to get beaned.

Speaker Bonnen, you might have blown it royally!

I was willing to give Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen the benefit of the doubt when he sought the office after Joe Straus left the Legislature at the beginning of the year.

Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, was thought by many to be a politician who is able to work with pols from both sides of the aisle in Austin.

But now … it turns out he might have double-crossed members of his own GOP caucus, if we are to believe ultra right-winger Michael Quinn Sullivan, the godfather of Empower Texans, the political action committee he founded. Sullivan reportedly has revealed that Bonnen agreed to offer Empower Texans the names of 10 GOP lawmakers the right wingers could target in the 2020 election.

Would Speaker Straus have done such a thing? Or Speaker Tom Craddick? Or Speaker Pete Laney? Or Speaker Gib Lewis?

I doubt it strongly! Yet we now have evidence, apparently, of collusion (there’s that word again) between Speaker Bonnen and a right-wing outfit that has sought to yank the Legislature even farther to the right than it already stands.

Betrayal anyone?

This is a disgraceful betrayal if it turns out to be true. There’s something credible-sounding about what has been revealed so far.

Sullivan has talked about a meeting he had with Bonnen in which the speaker made the offer to hand over the names of legislators that would show up on Empower Texans’ hit list. Bonnen has said publicly he wanted to work for the re-election of all GOP lawmakers. The Sullivan account contradicts Bonnen and many of Bonnen’s legislative colleagues are buying into what Sullivan is saying.

This looks for all the world like dirty pool. It looks also to me that Speaker Bonnen’s time with his hands on the House gavel might come to an end when the next Legislature convenes in January 2021.

This is particularly troubling for me on a personal level, given my own intense distrust of Empower Texans and of Michael Quinn Sullivan. Empower Texans has sought to unseat at least two Republican legislators with whom I have a high personal and professional regard. I refer to two men from Amarillo, state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price.

They both got “primaried” in 2018, only to beat back those challenges with relative ease. Both men’s GOP primary opponents were recruited and funded by Empower Texans, which seeks to push an ultra-conservative legislative agenda throughout Texas.

So, for Speaker Dennis Bonnen to crawl into the political sack with these clowns — allegedly! — is distasteful on its face.

Empower Texans is going after state Sen. Seliger … who knew?

I see political ads on my Facebook news feed from time to time. They are paid for my Empower Texans, my least-favorite far-right political action organization.

Empower Texans apparently has a serious bur under its saddle that bears the name “Kel Seliger.” An ad appeared this morning with a picture of a church, containing this text:

A bill aimed at protecting individuals against losing their occupational license for practicing their faith passed through the Texas Senate. State Sen. Kel Seliger was the lone Republican vote against the bill.

This is the latest in a string of such statements from Empower Texans. They all end with the same notation about Seliger, an Amarillo Republican lawmaker, being the “lone Republican” to vote against a certain bill.

I’ve known Seliger for nearly a quarter century. He was mayor of Amarillo when I arrived in the Panhandle in 1995. He stepped off the public stage for a time and then ran for the Texas Senate in 2004 after the late Sen. Teel Bivins accepted President Bush’s appointment to become U.S. ambassador to Sweden.

Seliger has made no secret of his dislike of Michael Quinn Sullivan, the ideologue who runs Empower Texans. Sullivan has sought twice to defeat Seliger, only to fall flat on his face while the candidates he backed have lost at the ballot box.

Now he seems intent on badgering the lifelong West Texan who in my view has done a fine job representing his sprawling Texas Senate District.

I no longer can vote for Kel each time he runs for re-election to the Senate. I’ve moved away. However, I can keep offering moral support through this blog. And when given the chance to extol his virtues as a legislator who works hard for the entire state, I do not hesitate to do so.

As for Michael Quinn Sullivan and Empower Texans, suffice to say they will not earn my support. They constitute a significant reason for what has gone wrong with Texas politics in the past decade or two. Such far-right rigidity is anathema to my sensibilities.

If only the rest of the state would realize it, too.

Keep the faith and stay strong, Sen. Seliger.

Keep fighting the fight, Sen. Seliger

Stand tall, Kel Seliger. I am with you, my friend.

There you go. I have just laid out my bias in favor of the Amarillo Republican who serves in the Texas Senate representing the sprawling District 31 that stretches from the top of the Panhandle to the Permian Basin.

A thorough Texas Tribune feature story tells how Seliger, who’s served in the Senate since 2004, managed to get on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s sh** list during the 2019 legislative session.

The way Seliger tells it, he is voting on behalf of his West Texas constituents and doesn’t really give much of a damn about the political agenda being pushed by Patrick, the Senate’s presiding officer.

That, I believe, is what we call “representative democracy.”

Seliger says he’s still “paying penance” in the Senate after Patrick stripped the body’s second-most-senior Republican of his committee chairmanships and his role on other key committees. Patrick blamed his response on what he called “lewd” comments from Seliger toward a key Patrick aide; Seliger believes it’s because he has opposed much of Patrick’s legislative agenda.

Sen. Seliger has occasionally been the lone Senate GOP vote against some legislation, such as the measure to ban cities from deploying red-light cameras aimed at deterring traffic violators. Seliger called it a matter of “local control.” Amen to that, senator!

I’ve known Seliger since 1995, when I arrived in Amarillo to take my post as editorial page editor of the Globe-News. Seliger was mayor of Amarillo at the time. We hit it off right away, developing a thoroughly cordial professional relationship. Over time, it turned into a personal friendship, particularly after he left public office.

Then the senator from Amarillo, the late Teel Bivins, received an ambassadorial appointment from President Bush and Seliger ran to succeed Bivins in District 31. He has served with distinction and dedication to his constituents ever since.

The Tribune article notes that Seliger hasn’t yet committed to running for another term in 2022. He defeated two GOP primary challenges in 2018, winning the nomination without a runoff.

All the while, Seliger has managed to stick it in Patrick’s ear. He was the only Republican senator to not endorse Patrick for re-election in 2018. Why? My best guess is that Patrick is too, um, ideological to suit Seliger’s taste.

Seliger wears his own brand of conservatism proudly. Indeed, he embodies what I believe is a traditional Republican world view, which is that the state need not meddle in matters that local communities can settle themselves.

I believe Seliger is the same man he’s always been. The shift has occurred elsewhere, within the leadership of the Texas Republican Party. I prefer, thus, to stand with my friend as he continues to serve the people who keep electing him to the Texas Senate.

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.

Still steamed over Sen. Seliger getting stiffed

I should be moving on, looking forward . . . but I cannot stop gnashing my teeth over the way Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick treated a man I respect and for whom I also have a fair amount of personal affection.

I refer to state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, who belongs to the same Republican Party as Patrick, except they’re both Republicans in name only.

Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, decided to remove Seliger from a key committee chairmanship, Higher Education. He also took him off the Education Committee, and put him in charge of the newly formed Senate Agriculture Committee. Then he yanked him out of the Ag Committee chairmanship after Seliger made an impolite remark about a key Patrick aide.

Why did Patrick seek to punish West Texas — which Seliger has represented since 2004? I keep rolling around some theories. I’ve come up with one that I think makes sense.

Seliger has too many Senate friends who happen to be Democrats. Patrick doesn’t enjoy that kind of bipartisan camaraderie.

I remember not long after Seliger was first elected to the Senate in 2004 when he began talking about the friendships he had forged with Democrats. He would mention Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a South Texas Democrat, as a colleague with whom he would work on legislation.

A Dallas Morning News article published a few weeks ago noted that Democratic senators think highly of Seliger. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, is considered one of Seliger’s best friends in the Senate. Another Democratic senator, Royce West of Dallas, also spoke highly of Seliger in the Dallas Morning News feature.

Does the lieutenant governor — a fiery TEA Party conservative — get that kind of love from across the aisle? I have the strong feeling he does not.

I don’t know if Lt. Gov. Patrick is prone to petty jealousy. However, I cannot rule it out, as I don’t know the man; I only know of him and know of the highly partisan legislation he likes to push through the Senate.

Sen. Seliger isn’t wired that way. He calls himself a proud conservative. He pushes for local control and doesn’t like the state meddling in matters that are best decided by local governing bodies.

Seliger also is a champion of public education; Patrick favors vouchers funded by tax money to send students to private schools.

Sen. Seliger also stood as a bulwark in favor of the Texas Tech University school of veterinary medicine planned for Amarillo. I am not at all sure what Patrick feels about that, but his removal of Seliger from the Higher Ed Committee chair has the potential of putting the vet school in some jeopardy.

I hope for the best for West Texas. I also hope Seliger rises to the occasion and is able to have his voice heard despite being stripped of political power.

Indeed, Sen. Seliger might need to reach across the aisle now more than ever.

Amarillo boosting its red-light camera deployment

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is on record saying he believes the state ought to yank cities’ authority to deploy red-light cameras at dangerous intersections.

Amarillo has responded to that declaration by increasing the number of cameras it has posted around the city from nine to 12.

Take that, Gov. Abbott!

I remain a supporter of the technology that the city uses to assist in catching red-light runners in the act of breaking the law.

The city is going to add seven cameras at intersections, while removing four cameras from other intersections. Thus, the city is continuing to use the technology to assist the police department. Moreover, the city is upgrading red-light camera assemblies at five intersections.

So, what does that mean for the future of the technology? I suppose you can say it lies in the hands of the Texas Legislature. Amarillo has two House members representing the city: Republicans John Smithee and Four Price; it also has a state senator, Republican Kel Seliger, who managed to make some news in recent days because of his dispute with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

What do these three men believe about the red-light cameras? I haven’t asked them directly. Maybe I will, even though I no longer live in Amarillo.

I don’t see any such cameras on the job in Collin County, where my wife and I now live. I don’t see them in Fairview, or Allen, or McKinney or in Princeton — where we’ll be moving into our new home quite soon. I would not object to any city in Collin County deploying these devices. The way I figure it, if it deters red-light runners then they are doing their job.

As for Amarillo’s red-light cameras, consider this little tidbit: Texas Department of Transportation officials say that the three intersections where the cameras are being removed recorded just four collisions from July 2016 to the end of June 2017. They are heavily traveled thoroughfares, so I am going to presume that the cameras did their job.

Cities should be allowed to determine for themselves whether or where to deploy these devices. They don’t need Bigger Brother looking over them.

Voters retain ultimate power

Two political incidents in the Texas Panhandle have provided significant evidence of just who holds the power in these disputes.

I refer to two dustups: one involving Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick; the other one involves the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees.

In both instances, the voters are getting the shaft by those in power.

First, the Seliger-Patrick battle.

Patrick is angry with Seliger because the Amarillo Republican lawmaker doesn’t always vote the way Patrick prefers. What the lieutenant governor needs to understand — and I am sure he does at some level — is that Seliger works for West Texans, not for Dan Patrick.

Patrick yanked the chairman’s gavel from Seliger, who chaired the Senate Higher Education Committee. Seliger said something supposedly unkind about a Patrick aide. Patrick then responded by pulling Seliger out of the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Seliger owes his allegiance to the voters of the sprawling Texas Senate District 31. As for Lt. Gov. Patrick, he is acting like a legend in his own mind.

Now, the AISD board.

An Amarillo High School volleyball coach, Kori Clements, resigned after one season. She cited parental interference as the reason she quit; she also said the school district administration didn’t back her.

The chatter around the school district is that the offending parent is a member of the AISD board of trustees.

The board has been silent. It has refused to speak to the issue directly. It needs to do exactly that. Why? Because the board works for the public, which pays the salaries of the administrators and educators and which pays to keep the lights on at all of AISD’s campuses.

The voters are the bosses. The AISD board answers to them, not to each other, or to the superintendent.

There needs to be a public accounting for what happened to make Coach Clements pack it in after just a single season as head coach of a vaunted high school volleyball program.

The public needs to know. It has every right to demand answers.

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.