Incumbents have hated for years my mantra that none of them deserves to be sent back to office without a challenge.
Former state Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, would get particularly agitated with me as I extolled the virtue of forcing incumbents to explain themselves, their votes, their policies — why they do what they do on our behalf.
My answer: Too bad, David. That’s why we have elections.
Well, another legislative incumbent, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has drawn a primary challenger. He is former Midland mayor Mike Canon, who told the Texas Tribune he intends to file his candidacy papers.
The Tribune’s Ross Ramsey notes that Canon’s candidacy could fuel a rivalry between the northern and southern ends of the massive Senate District 31, one of the largest geographically in the state. Given that the state’s population growth has occurred in regions east of here — and given that the law requires each Senate district to have roughly equal populations — that means West Texas districts’ borders keep getting expanded.
There’s long been a bit of tension between north and south in District 31. Before Seliger was elected in 2004, the district was represented by the late Teel Bivins, another stalwart Amarillo Republican; Bivins went on to be appointed ambassador to Sweden. Seliger defeated another ex-Midland mayor in that year’s primary. His most recent GOP challenge came in 2012 from a one-term school trustee from Odessa, whom Seliger trounced in the primary.
On one hand, it’s good for Seliger to be tested by someone within his own party. Primary challenges, indeed contested general elections, serve to keep incumbents on their game and enable them to explain to their constituents why they vote the way they do.
But there might some trouble brewing in this challenge. I don’t know Canon, but I’m going to make a broad presumption that he might be running to Seliger’s right, meaning he comes from the tea party wing of his party. This is the party wing that favors confrontation instead of compromise. Many tea party loyalists in Congress and in state legislators have been known to frown upon Republicans getting too chummy with those dreaded Democrats. Seliger over the years has told me of the friendships he’s developed with legislative Democrats; state Sen. Chuy Hinojosa comes to mind, as he and Seliger apparently are pretty good pals.
As Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst learned the hard way when he lost the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate to Ted Cruz, there’s danger in getting outflanked on the right. Dewhurst tried to tack to the right but it was too late. Cruz inflicted politically mortal wounds on Dewhurst.
Would a challenge from the right, were it to develop, push Seliger farther to at extreme end of the spectrum?
I’m hoping for Seliger’s sake — and for Senate District 31 voters — he stays the course.