Tag Archives: Kel Seliger

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.

Sen. Seliger beats back demagoguery

I had hoped to call it last night. I had to wait until this morning to find out that Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger is returning to the Texas Legislature.

His victory in the Texas Republican primary is a win against demagoguery. Seliger had faced a stern challenge from two far-right opponents: former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo restauranteur Victor Leal.

Canon ran against Seliger in 2014. Leal decided to run as well this year. My first thought was that Leal might peel off some Texas Panhandle votes from Seliger, tossing the contest into a runoff. Hey, guess what happened! Seliger piled up a significant majority in this three-way race, guaranteeing his re-election, given the absence of any Democratic candidates.

This is important for Senate District 31 voters for a couple of important reasons. One is that Seliger has established a stellar reputation among voters at both ends of the sprawling district; he is as fluent in Permian Basin-speak as he is in Panhandle-speak, and tailors his remarks according to the audience that hears them. The other is that he is a mainstream Republican conservative who is not prone to talking only in cliches and platitudes.

He knows the legislative process. Seliger has risen to a position of leadership among the 31 senators in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

All of that hasn’t been good enough for Empower Texans, a political action group that opposed his re-election. Seliger, for his part, has no good will to fling at Michael Quinn Sullivan, the fellow most associated with Empower Texans. Sullivan’s favorite legislator is Lt. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate. Seliger and Patrick aren’t exactly best buds, either, even though Seliger has been able to hold on to his chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education Committee. Given the presence of West Texas A&M University and several community colleges throughout District 31, it is critical that we have one of our own handling the gavel on this committee.

I am delighted to awaken this morning to news that my pal Sen. Seliger will get to continue to serving West Texas.

He has done a good job since 2004. However,  the job of legislating is never finished.

Is a GOP incumbent benefiting from split in nut-case vote?

West Texas Republicans — at this very moment — are showing that they’re a pretty smart bunch of voters.

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo might be able to stave off a runoff against one of two men who are challenging him for his Texas Senate District 31 seat.

Mike Canon of Midland is running No. 2 with nearly half the vote counted; Victor Leal of Amarillo is running in third place.

Which brings to mind this notion: It might be that the TEA Party wing, powered by Empower Texans, has split what I call the “nut-case wing” of the Texas Republican Party, leaving Seliger to harvest what I consider to be the “reasonable wing” of the Grand Old Party.

We’re still some distance from the Texas GOP primary finish line.

But … I am hoping.

This gadfly is baaack!

Mary Alice Brittain once ran for public office in Amarillo, Texas. She lost the mayor’s race to Kel Seliger, who thumped her badly in that contest.

Then she disappeared from public view. I thought she’d never be heard from or seen again. Silly me. I was wrong.

She’s back, nagging her former foe. Brittain now lives in San Antonio, far from the Texas Panhandle and nowhere near the West Texas Senate District 31 seat Seliger has served since 2004.

She’s now backing Victor Leal, one of two challengers who’s trying to sling enough mud at Seliger to defeat him. Brittain has been posting material on Facebook, which I guess is her social medium of choice.

Check it out

Here’s why this brief blog post is worth my limited amount of time. It’s that Brittain knows nothing about Seliger or the job he has done for his Senate district.

What’s more, when she ran for the mayor’s office, she displayed a remarkable streak of ignorance about the office she sought. She put out a political ad that called on “good Republicans” to rally behind her candidacy.

This idiocy was remarkable for a single reason: The Amarillo City Commission (as it was called then) is a non-partisan body. Commissioners and the mayor don’t run on partisan ballots.

Brittain didn’t know that. Thus, she was unfit for that office.

And while she is entitled to weigh in on this race, I feel compelled to put this person’s political credibility — or lack thereof — into its proper context.

Hoping for an outright GOP primary victory

I want to restate my desire for state Sen. Kel Seliger to win the upcoming Republican Party primary outright in his bid to return to the Legislature representing Senate District 31.

He’s got two GOP foes in this primary. Four years ago, he had just one, who has returned for a second go-round against the former Amarillo mayor.

However, here is what I do not know at this moment: It is whether Seliger has consulted with another Republican officeholder who four years ago won her party primary without a runoff while facing four opponents.

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner (right, in photo) faced the daunting task of winning the GOP primary for the seat she now occupies. Of the four foes she faced, one of them also was a recent Amarillo mayor, Debra McCartt, who made quite a name for herself setting governing policy for a city of nearly 200,000 residents.

When the votes were counted in 2014, Tanner won in a relative breeze. Tanner was able to parlay her experience as a longtime administrative assistant to former County Judge Arthur Ware into an easy primary victory; with no Democrat on the ballot four years, the primary was tantamount to election.

Indeed, I called her “Judge Tanner” years before she actually became the county judge.

My strong hope is that Seliger or his campaign team has consulted with Tanner about what she did to fend off those four challengers. I know that Seliger is working with a young political consultant who has been assigned to work exclusively with the senator in his re-election effort.

What I don’t know is if he has sought out a local politician with plenty of knowledge of how to win a crowded primary race outright.

GOP is ‘eating its young’

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.

Empower Texans needs a comeuppance

COLLIN COUNTY, Texas — Empower Texans has done it. This far-right political action group has p****d me off royally.

It has spent lots of PAC money on races all across the state, trying to influence voters’ decision on these local legislative races. Empower Texans has managed, through its lies and distortions, managed to do the impossible. It has fielded candidates to challenge legislative incumbents on the basis that these rock-ribbed Republican lawmakers just aren’t conservative enough to suit the tastes of those seeking to centralize power in Austin.

My wife and I have traveled to this North Texas community, where I’ve been struck by the deluge of campaign signs. They all tout candidates’ “conservative” values. I’ve seen mailers delivered to our granddaughter’s house that make me laugh to keep me from puking.

One flyer from Philip Huffines, who’s running for the Texas Senate against Angela Paxton, calls Paxton a closet liberal. I don’t know much about Paxton, other than she is the wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is, um, hardly a liberal. I’d be willing to be real American money that Huffines is getting bankrolled by Empower Texans, or some arm of this GOP extremist group. Paxton’s campaign signs refer to her as a “constitutional conservative.”

Back home in the Texas Panhandle, Empower Texans has rolled out the heavy artillery to fire at two veteran legislators: state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, both of whom are Amarillo Republicans.

Price drew a GOP primary challenge from Fritch City Manager Drew Brassfield, whose candidacy has crossed at least a couple of ethical lines by virtue of his publicly funded job and the conflict of interest he faces if he were to be elected to the state House. Empower Texans has lied about Price’s legislative record, suggesting he supported legislation that doesn’t exist and has somehow become “pro-choice” on abortion, despite his fervently pro-life voting record in his four terms in the Texas House of Representatives.

And then there’s the hatchet job being done on Sen. Seliger, who’s drawn two GOP foes — TEA Party golden boy Mike Canon of Midland and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal.

Leal has launched an egregious attack on Seliger, calling him “liberal” and “corrupt.” Leal’s use of the “corrupt” label is rich, given the questions that arose when he ran for the Texas House in 2010 about whether he actually was a resident of the House district he sought to represent.

For his part, Seliger has vowed to remain positive, citing his long-held conservative voting record and his effort to protect rural West Texas from well-heeled urban interests.

My strong sense that Seliger’s biggest “sin” is that he hasn’t endorsed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s re-election effort. Why? Because Patrick is in the hip pocket of Empower Texans and its No. 1 brainiac, Michael Quinn Sullivan — who also has crossed swords with Seliger on several occasions during his 14 years in the Texas Senate.

OK, with all that on the record, here is my hope: Price drubs Brassfield, who has shamed himself with his dishonest campaign against a hard-working incumbent; I also want Seliger to win the GOP primary outright, without a runoff against whoever finishes second.

Both men’s records have been distorted to the point of defamation. They have done what they were elected to do: represent West Texas.

As for Empower Texans, it needs to go away. Far, far away.

Democrats feeling a ‘wave’ coming on?

Democrats across Texas are heartened by a surge in their party’s early primary voting numbers, saying that they are rivaling the primary interest generated by the 2008 presidential campaign struggle between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Hill reports a surge in some urban areas, such as Harris County. They believe the Democratic primary uptick signals a potential “wave” sweeping across the state this fall.

Count me as mildly skeptical of that, although I do hope for a wave, given my own progressive leanings.

I clearly recall the heavy Democratic interest in 2008, even in heavily Republican Randall County, where I am registered to vote. The lines at the Democratic polling station was far longer than it was at the GOP station, signaling to my mind a bit of GOP crossovers seeking to commit a bit of mischief in the other party. Hey, that happens on occasion.

The Democratic surge then didn’t translate to victory in the fall, as Democratic nominee Obama lost Texas to GOP nominee Sen. John McCain.

Moreover, I don’t necessarily equate large early-vote numbers to increase overall turnout. It means quite often only that more voters are casting ballots early … and that’s it!

My own preference this year was to vote in the GOP primary, given my intense interest in helping return Kel Seliger to the Texas Senate. But that’s just me.

“You can’t underestimate the surge that we’re seeing out there with the blue wave coming,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of the Democratic-leaning Progress Texas.

Let’s just wait this one out. Shall we?

Seliger stays on high road in this fight

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger wants to be re-elected so badly that he’s staying totally positive in his campaign.

That is how the Amarillo Republican is casting his campaign. You know what? I am all for his approach.

Now he’ll get to find out whether the strategy works or whether Texas Senate District 31 Republican primary voters are drawn instead to mud-slinging and innuendo.

Seliger’s recent TV ad push highlights how he has stayed positive. All he says about his foes is that they have gone intensely negative with “false” accusations about his voting record, which Seliger insists is a conservative one.

Indeed, Seliger — who has served in the Senate since 2004 — has followed what I would call a “traditional conservative” track in the Texas Senate. He doesn’t align with the TEA party wing of his party and some of the principal elected officials elected on TEA party platforms; I think of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as one example.

He has drawn the wrath of Patrick’s major political benefactor, PAC boss Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose latest incarnation is something called Empower Texans, which has been savaging Seliger with baseless attacks.

Meanwhile, Seliger campaigns on his conservative record; he touts his record standing up for rural interests against urban power centers; he talks about his strong pro-life stance and his endorsement by gun-rights advocates.

Seliger also has earned standing among his state Senate colleagues and has chaired the Senate Higher Education Committee through two legislative sessions.

I, too, want him to be re-elected. I detest the campaign that has been launched against him.

My hope for Sen. Seliger is that his high-road track plays better with West Texas Republican primary voters than the low road his foes have taken against him.

The primary is just a few days off. We’ll know quite soon a lot about the character of the Texas GOP primary voter.