Tag Archives: Kel Seliger

Insurgents vs. Establishment … in Senate District 31?

West Texas might turn out to be something of a battleground during this spring’s Republican Party primary season.

The party is engaging in a battle among its members: Establishment Wing vs. the Insurgent Wing.

The Insurgents are being led in a fashion by the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. The Establishment is being called into battle by members of the congressional leadership.

The implications for West Texas’s sprawling Texas Senate District 31 contest? They might lie in the challenge awaiting incumbent state Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican and a stalwart of the Texas Establishment Wing. He chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee and serves as well on the Education Committee.

He is facing two challengers in the GOP primary. He knows them both well. One is former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, a TEA Party favorite who challenged Seliger four years ago; Canon lost the GOP primary by about 5 percentage points. The other is Victor Leal, an Amarillo restaurant owner who touts his Muleshoe mayorship as giving him the requisite government administrative experience.

It gets a bit complicated, however.

Seliger isn’t exactly a fan of the Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Seliger declined to join the rest of the Senate Republican caucus in signing a letter of endorsement for Patrick’s own re-election bid. I don’t know this as fact, but my strong hunch is that Lt. Gov. Patrick is unhappy with Seliger over this snub.

Who, then, is he backing for the Senate District 31 seat? It’s likely not going to be Sen. Seliger. It might be Canon or Leal … or maybe both!

There’s some political chatter in the Panhandle that suggests that Leal, who ran unsuccessfully for the Texas House District 87 seat in 2010 that former GOP Rep. David Swinford vacated, is running as a spoiler. He intends to peel off enough Panhandle votes that normally would go to Seliger with the hope of forcing a runoff. Leal would say he’s in it to win it and would deny playing the spoiler role. I also can presume that Leal hopes to be one of the two men squaring off in a possible GOP runoff.

Seliger is intent on avoiding a runoff. He plans to pull out all the stops to ensure that his Panhandle base turns out in March to carry him to victory. Meanwhile, he vows to ratchet up his visibility in the southern reaches of the geographically huge Senate district. He maintains a district office in Midland and over the 13 years representing District 31 has become as fluent in Permian Basin-speak as he is in Panhandle-speak. The regions are part of the same district, but their issues are unique.

Canon, meanwhile, likely intends to seek to outflank Seliger on the right, which he sought to do in 2014. Seliger’s campaign material speaks openly, though, about how he is able to deliver “conservative values” to his Senate district constituents.

Will it be enough to stave off this two-headed challenge on his right, one from the Permian Basin and the other from within his own Panhandle base?

Readers of this blog know my own preference. It is that I want Seliger to win outright.

However, I am not going to predict any such outcome. I’ll just wait right along with the rest of the state to see how this internal partisan conflict plays out.

Be patient, Amarillo neighbors

If our plans work out as we hope, my wife and I won’t be living in the Texas Panhandle when they remove the final construction cone or barrel from the myriad road and highway projects underway in Amarillo.

We will have relocated to North Texas, where we’re quite certain we’ll get to witness even more such construction.

I watched my friend Sonja Gross — Texas Department of Transportation public information officer for its Amarillo Division — offer some sound advice on a TV news broadcast to Amarillo residents.

Be patient, she said. The payoff will occur when the road work is done and we can all get around more easily.

TxDOT is in the midst of some major highway infrastructure makeovers.

Interstate 40 between Helium Road and Grand Street in Amarillo is undergoing a major renovation and expansion; Hollywood Road south of the city is being redone; TxDOT has built that direct-access exit from I-40 to the Canyon E-Way, but it’s not yet open for traffic; crews are tearing I-27 apart south of the interchange; crews are building a new bridge across I-40 at Bell Street.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much orange in my entire life.

I’ll agree with those who gripe about the road work that it is a pain in the posterior at times. It occasionally is difficult to navigate through the city. I get their frustration, as I feel it at times myself — although I occasionally get angry at myself for letting my frustration get the better of me. I figure that if being delayed a few minutes is my greatest worry, then I’m doing all right, compared to the troubles that so many others have to endure.

Amarillo, though, is going through a serious renovation at many levels. TxDOT’s work on the highways suggests that the state has committed considerable amounts of public money to this region in an effort to improve our infrastructure. How can we complain about that?

Indeed, as state Sen. Kel Seliger said this week at a Rotary Club of Amarillo meeting, Texas remains a “commodity” state that relies on good roads to get commodities, such as cattle and corn, from “their source to their destination.”

Those roads and highways don’t achieve excellence all by themselves. Human beings need to tear them up, put them back together and then ensure that they’re renovated properly — and safely.

I endorse Sonja Gross’s plea to our fellow Amarillo travelers. Our patience might be tested on occasion, but there will be a reward when they remove those cones and barrels.


A new trio forms a ‘Three Amigos’ team

I was fond years ago of referring to three Republican Texas state representatives as the “Three Amigos.”

They were Reps. John Smithee of Amarillo, David Swinford of Dumas and Warren Chisum of Pampa. Two of them — Swinford and Chisum — have retired from the Texas Legislature; only Smithee remains in public life. Indeed, Smithee is one of the longest-tenured members of the Texas House of Representatives, having served there since 1985; that’s 33 years.

Well, here’s the thing: Smithee has two new members of a trio of legislators with whom he has teamed up.

Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Four Price, both Amarillo Republicans, have joined their pal Smithee in creating a formidable team of “amigos” to represent the Panhandle’s interests.

I suppose I could include state Rep. Ken King, a Canadian Republican — but that would create a sort of “Fearsome Foursome” for the Panhandle. I cannot speak with any authority on the job he’s doing; King was elected after I left the working world.

So, for the purposes of this blog, I’ll stick with the newly constituted Three Amigos, all of whom I know quite well.

They’re all dedicated to their public service.

Smithee has been setting his legal practice aside for more than three decades during legislative sessions. He serves as chair of the House Insurance Committee and my experience with him has been always on the up-and-up. What I always appreciated about Smithee is his willingness to provide direct answers to direct questions. There’s no flim-flam or obtuseness where Smithee is concerned.

Price has emerged as star in the House and is now being discussed openly as a possible candidate for speaker of that body when the 2019 Legislature convenes. He has championed mental health reform and has learned quickly the unique language of legislators.

Seliger, too, emerged as a quick study in legislative-speak after he took office in 2004, succeeding the late Republican Teel Bivins, who had received an ambassadorial appointment from President George W. Bush.

And just this past week, Seliger and Price sent out mailers that were paid for by the Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund. Both men’s flyers say they are “getting conservative results for Texans.” They both said, “John … we know it isn’t easy to stand up to special interest groups. Tell (them) to stand strong and keep up the good work.”

Tag-team campaigning? Sure looks like it to me.

All three men have been endorsed by Amarillo Matters, a local political action group with a mission to help shape the community’s agenda for the future.

The Three Amigos have opponents this year. Seliger and Price are facing primary challengers; Smithee has a Democratic foe awaiting him this fall.

The Three Amigos aren’t the same trio that I once knew. They are just as effective, though, in fighting for the region they represent.

Texas Senate 31 race might portend national GOP fight

Incumbents don’t often get challenges from within their own party.

But with Republicans fighting with each other in virtually every state in the Union, we’re seeing an intraparty battle royale shaping up — even in Texas, where Republicans are so firmly entrenched in power that Democrats have difficulty getting any media attention.

Let’s look briefly at Texas Senate District 31.

The sprawling West Texas district — which stretches from the Permian Basin to the Oklahoma border — has been represented ably by former Amarillo Mayor Kel Seliger. He was elected to the seat in 2004 after President Bush appointed the late Sen. Teel Bivins to be ambassador to Sweden.

To my mind, Seliger has acquainted himself quite thoroughly with the needs of the entire district. He speaks Permian Basin-ese to his constituents down south, just as he speaks our language when he comes back to Amarillo and points north.

But he’s not “conservative enough” to suit some Republicans. Two GOP challengers have lined up against him. One is former Midland Mayor Mike Canon; the other is Amarillo businessman Victor Leal. Canon ran unsuccessfully against Seliger four years ago. He’s a TEA Party favorite who does well speaking in TEA Party talking points and slogans. I’m not yet sure how Leal is going to frame his campaign, other than he’s going to say he favors low taxes, family values and accountability.

As if Seliger or any other Texas politician doesn’t endorse those things?

Seliger has inserted himself into an odd place. He’s no fan or friend of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He declined to join his other Senate Republicans in endorsing Patrick’s re-election bid, which I guess factored into Leal’s decision to run against Seliger.

The question of the moment deals with whether Seliger is being “primaried” by GOP rebels. He’s been in the Texas Senate for more than a decade. He has achieved leadership roles in the Senate, serving as chairman of the Higher Education Committee and as a key member of the Education Committee.

I can’t shake the feeling that this internecine GOP “warfare” has found its way to West Texas.

I’ve already staked out my preference on this blog: I want Seliger to be re-elected. Getting through the GOP primary all but assures it. If he has been targeted by those who seek change just for change’s sake, he’d better be ready for a major fight.

Is there a West Texas primary donnybrook in the making?

That old trick knee of mine is flaring up again.

It’s throbbing so much that I am beginning to think that West Texas Republican voters are facing the prospect of a serious donnybrook in the race for the state Senate District seat now held by Amarillo businessman Kel Seliger.

My critics are all too willing to remind me that the trick knee isn’t nearly as reliable as I’ve suggested it is. But that’s all right. It’s telling me that Seliger is going to have to fend off some serious criticism from two GOP primary foes. The criticism well might center on the senator’s decision against endorsing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s own re-election bid in 2018.

I have read Sen. Seliger’s comments on this decision. He said he’ll “support” Patrick — I presume with his vote. He just won’t declare his endorsement out loud in public, for the record.

Seliger’s decision drew a hair-trigger response from Amarillo restauranteur Victor Leal, who suggested that Seliger is turning his back on the Senate’s presiding officer. I am guessing that Leal is going to endorse Patrick, one of the Texas GOP’s more vivid ideologues. Seliger isn’t wired the same way, and my hunch is that his own legislative temperament — which differs greatly from Patrick — has compelled him to withhold his active endorsement of the lieutenant governor.

The third Senate District 31 Republican candidate, former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, likely will seek to gain some political leverage, too. He’s a TEA Party kind of guy, which also runs anathema to Seliger’s more measured and studied approach to legislating.

Seliger has told local media that he expects a tough fight. I will presume he’ll prepare for one as well. It is my hope that he preps for a bruising campaign and gets ready to rumble with Leal and Canon.

Leal is a known quantity in the northern half of the Panhandle; Canon’s base is in the Permian Basin. Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, has managed to make his presence felt down yonder in the southern part of the sprawling district.

I’ve already revealed my bias in this race; I want Sen. Seliger to win the nomination, which in this district is tantamount to election.

The only bit of advice I can give Seliger — based on my trick knee — is to get his opposition research ready and to respond quickly and forcefully to the attacks that are sure to come his direction.

Seliger won’t ‘endorse’ Lt. Gov. Patrick; imagine that

I just know in my bones that I am not the only observer who saw this one coming.

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has decided he won’t endorse fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in 2018. Seliger said he won’t endorse anyone else; he said he intends to “support” Patrick — whatever the hell that means.

He just won’t “endorse” him, preferring to concentrate on his own re-election bid for the Senate District 31 seat he’s held since 2004.

Not a single aspect of this surprises me.

Seliger hasn’t been one of Patrick’s guys in the Senate. Sure, he’s backed much of Patrick’s agenda during the 2017 legislative session. He bolted on a couple of key issues:  a bill that restricts local property tax increases and a bill that sought to subsidize the cost of private schools.

Patrick announced that 19 of 20 state GOP senators were endorsing his re-election. Seliger’s name was absent from the list of Republican lawmakers. Is the Amarillo Republican worried? Hardly.

Seliger faces stern test for re-election

Indeed, Seliger already is getting set for a rough-and-tumble GOP primary battle in Senate District 31. Seliger will run against former Midland Mayor Mike Canon — who lost to Seliger in 2014 — and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal.

I’ll stipulate once again that I want Seliger to be renominated. I also will stipulate that I am no fan of Lt. Gov. Patrick, who I consider to be a ideological blowhard. Seliger is not. He is a serious legislative technician who I believe works hard at understanding the issues pertinent to the vast Senate district he represents.

I am going to presume that Seliger understands that he works for West Texas voters, not the guy who presides over the Texas Senate.

Sen. Seliger gets needed challenge

I used to drive former state Rep. David Swinford borderline batty with my occasional columns about the need for incumbents to get challenged at every election cycle.

My argument always has been that political incumbents at every level need to defend their record against legitimate challengers to their incumbency. The Dumas (Texas) Republican legislator understood that argument … but he still would express some mild (and good-natured) displeasure at my stating it.

One of Swinford’s colleagues — Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo — is getting a serious challenge again this coming year. Regular readers of this blog know that I want Seliger to win his party’s nomination, which is tantamount to election in the GOP-friendly Texas Panhandle.

But he’s going to have to work for it. Which I consider to be good (a) for the incumbent and (b) for the cause of good government.

Former Midland Mayor Mike Canon is stepping up once more to challenge Seliger. The two of them faced off in 2014. The race was close, but Seliger emerged victorious. This year, Amarillo business owner Victor Leal has joined the Republican primary lineup.

The quality of Leal’s candidacy remains to be seen. Canon’s approach four years ago was to talk in TEA Party clichés, talking points and platitudes. He still garnered a lot of votes.

That’s all OK, though.

Seliger has served the sprawling Texas Senate District 31 he has represented since 2004 quite well, in my estimation. That doesn’t mean he should get a free pass.

Representative democracy demands a stout challenge when the opportunity presents itself. It’s doing so in this legislative contest.

Whoever emerges victorious in this primary fight — and I do hope it’s Seliger — figures to be tempered by the difficult campaign he will have endured. That’s good for state government.

Seliger expects tough race … really, do ya think?

I don’t mean to disparage my friend Kel Seliger, but the Texas state senator has demonstrated a stunning command of the obvious.

He thinks he’s in for a tough fight for re-election to the Senate, given the presence of two Republican Party primary challengers ready to run against him in the spring of 2018. One of them came within 4 percentage points of defeating Seliger in 2014.

Seliger held a town hall meeting at Amarillo College’s downtown campus and received words of support from those in attendance.

I’ve already declared my preference that Seliger be re-elected to the seat he’s held since 2004. Seliger is smart, well-versed in Legislature-speak, has a command of the legislative process, is a traditional Republican conservative and has ascended to a leadership position among the 31 members of the Texas Senate.

However, he is facing some potentially stiff headwinds as he prepares for his re-election campaign.

Many Texas Republicans seem to think Seliger isn’t conservative enough. I am uncertain what constitutes a sufficiently conservative Republican in Texas. I guess it involves those who base their public policy on religious principles, who wear their faith on their shirt sleeves. Seliger isn’t wired that way. Instead, he is campaigning for re-election on a platform that seeks to keep power invested mostly in local communities, rather than the state. That sounds pretty damn conservative to me.

Former Midland Mayor Mike Canon is making another run at Seliger’s seat, along with Amarillo restauranteur Victor Leal. Canon is a TEA Party favorite, which I suppose makes him more amenable to the likes of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who is no friend of Sen. Seliger. Canon had the support in 2014 of ultraconservative political activist Michael Quinn Sullivan and this time has the backing of Empower Texas, another conservative outfit that has it in for Seliger.

Leal’s backing? I’m not yet sure where his strength lies. He’s got some good name identification in Amarillo, owing to his successful business venture. He’s a former Muleshoe mayor who made a run for the Texas House in 2011; he was defeated by Four Price for the District 87 vacated when David Swinford retired from public life.

Senate District 31 is one of the most sprawling districts in Texas. It has grown over the years as Texas’s population has shifted east and south of the Panhandle. But through many decades, SD 31 has been represented by a Panhandle resident; Seliger was preceded by Teel Bivins, who was preceded by Bill Sarpalius, who was preceded by Bob Price, who came to office after Max Sherman.

Do you get my drift here?

Yet, Seliger has done a good job of acquainting himself with the needs of the South Plains and the Permian Basin.

Does he face a tough fight for re-election? Well, yeah! He does!

This GOP primary well might emerge as one of the most-watched contests in Texas in 2018. I hope Sen. Seliger is ready for the major-league scrap.

Seliger makes it official: He’s running again for the Senate

I am heartened to learn that Kel Seliger is going to run for re-election to the Texas Senate.

The Amarillo Republican has two GOP primary opponents, one of whom he defeated in 2014; the other Republican challenger comes from the heart of Seliger’s base.

Seliger will face former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal.

I watched the Seliger-Canon primary fight up close four years ago. It shouldn’t have been a contest. It turned out to be one. Canon, a lawyer by profession, is a TEA Party favorite. He speaks in platitudes and clichés. Seliger demonstrated clearly in the 2014 primary campaign a firm grasp of the details of legislating, of state law and of how government works.

Canon managed to split the vast District 31 Republican Party primary vote nearly in half, losing the primary by about 4 percentage points to Seliger.

Now we have Leal entering the race. I don’t yet know what kind of campaign Leal is going to run. He’s got some good name ID, given all the radio advertising he runs promoting his restaurant. Seliger will have to deal with that in some form or fashion.

Seliger’s platform will stress “local control.” He said in a statement that he believes that “Folks closest to a problem are usually the best at solving it.” Good deal, senator. Then perhaps he’ll persuade the 2019 Texas Legislature, presuming he wins re-election, to stop monkeying around with cities’ efforts to install red-light cameras as a deterrent to those who keep breaking the law by running through those stop lights.

I’ve already stipulated that I consider Seliger to be a friend. I also am impressed by how quickly he grasped the nuts and bolts of legislating after he was elected initially in 2004.

Seliger says he’ll run as a conservative legislator. According to some political interest groups, though, he’s not conservative enough. Empower Texas is one such group that likely will work to defeat Seliger. I believe this group is making a mistake.

Kel Seliger knows the pulse of Senate District 31 from the Permian Basin to the top of the Panhandle. He needs to return to the Senate.

Right there might be Sen. Seliger’s first political endorsement.

You’re welcome, senator.

A Texas Senate race may start smoldering soon

Well, well, well …

Not only are there three men setting up a stout challenge for a Randall County court at law judge this coming spring, it turns out that a veteran West Texas state senator is going to be “primaried” as well in 2018.

The potential Senate contest poses an interesting political dynamic worth watching verrry closely.

Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger has represented Senate District 31 since 2004. He is a former Amarillo city commissioner and mayor who once ran — with his brother — a steel company in Amarillo. Seliger has risen to a significant leadership position in the Texas Senate, chairing the Senate Higher Education Committee for the past couple of legislative sessions.

He’s a solid legislator who picked up the unique language of legislation right away upon his first election to the Senate. He is nuanced, detail-oriented and smart. Yes, he’s also a friend of mine. So there, I’ve laid out my bias.

He’s got two challengers — presuming he chooses to seek re-election next year.

One of them is former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, who ran against Seliger in the GOP primary in 2014. Canon’s a nice enough fellow. He’s a lawyer by training. I had a chance to visit with Canon prior to a Panhandle PBS candidate forum in the spring of 2014; I was among the journalists who questioned Canon and Seliger.

My primary takeaway from that forum was pretty straightforward: Canon’s TEA Party affiliation became apparent as he answered our questions with talking points, platitudes and clichés. Seliger’s answers were far more detailed and he exhibited a keen understanding of the complexities of legislation.

Still, Canon’s Permian Basin base stood behind him when the primary votes were counted and he came within fewer than 5 percentage points of defeating Seliger, whose Panhandle base turned out even more strongly behind the incumbent.

Enter another challenger to Seliger. That would be Victor Leal, an Amarillo business owner and a fellow with fairly high name recognition throughout a decent portion of Senate District 31. Why is that? He once served as mayor of Muleshoe. Plus, he ran for Texas House District 87 in 2011 in an effort to succeed David Swinford, who bowed out of a re-election campaign.

But an issue emerged with Leal’s candidacy. His residency came into question. He had resided for several years in Randall County, which is not part of House District 87. He rented a small house in Potter County, but there remained some question about whether he actually was residing in the Potter County dwelling.

Leal lost the GOP primary that year to Amarillo lawyer Four Price, who’s still serving in the Texas House (and who himself has a GOP primary challenger). The residency issue won’t come up in this Senate race, as District 31 includes both Randall and Potter counties.

I’m curious about the possible impact Leal’s candidacy is going to have on this campaign mix. Leal figures to bite a bit into Seliger’s Panhandle base of support. The question, too, is whether he’ll also be able to siphon enough votes from the Permian Basin to make life uncomfortable for Canon.

Seliger’s reputation as a GOP moderate just might — in Canon’s mind and perhaps in Leal’s too — present an inviting target for primary challengers seeking to appeal to the hard-core conservative wing of the Republican Party.

We’ll now wait for word on Seliger’s intentions. I’m a tiny bit anxious to know what the senator plans to do.