Tag Archives: Senate District 31

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.

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.

Seliger faces challenges from within the GOP


I just read a generally friendly article about Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger.

The Odessa American piece profiles Seliger, who represents one of the most sprawling Senate districts in Texas.

The very size of the district helps illustrate one of the critical issues facing any West Texas lawmaker as he or she seeks to represent the varied interests of the region.

I have known Seliger for as long as I’ve lived in the Texas Panhandle. That totals 21 years. He was Amarillo’s mayor when my wife and I arrived here and I’ve watched him operate up close for that entire time, first at City Hall and for the past dozen years as a state legislator.

I consider him a friend as well.

That all said, I believe he has done a good job representing Senate District 31 since he was first elected in 2004.

He’s got a couple of potential issues with which he must contend, though, as he seeks to continue that service to the district and the state.

One of them is geography. The other is ideology.

First, the geographical issue.

Texas legislators keep redrawing legislative and congressional districts after every census. The 2011 Legislature produced a District 31 that runs from the top of the Panhandle all the way to the Permian Basin. It takes about six hours to drive from one end of the district to another — and that’s at 75 mph most of the way!

Seliger hails from the Panhandle, but he must be dialed in to the concerns of the other end of the district. As the Odessa American article suggests, Seliger does a good job tending to the needs of the southern end of District 31.

Former House Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland credits Seliger with keeping his radar fixed to the needs of the entire district.


Seliger has his share of friends and political allies throughout Senate District 31. Those who know Seliger understand the ease with which he is able to engage his constituents.

The Republican lawmaker, though, faces another potential problem. It’s the widening ideological gap within the Republican Party. Consider his 2014 re-election campaign.

His primary opponent that year was former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, who was recruited by arch-conservative political operatives to challenge Seliger because, they contended, the incumbent wasn’t “conservative enough.”

Canon is a nice fellow and actually quite smart. But I witnessed something about him during a Panhandle PBS-sponsored candidate forum in the spring of 2014. He answered direct questions with sound bites, clichés and talking points. Seliger’s answers to the same questions were full of nuance, detail and a keen understanding of the complicated process of legislating.

Seliger’s knowledge of the Texas Senate and how it works was barely enough to enable him to win the GOP primary that year. He squeaked by a patently inferior candidate. Why is that? Because the West Texas Republican TEA Party “base” got mobilized by the idea of knocking off someone who, in their view, didn’t comport with their notion of a “true conservative.”

He spoke to the Odessa newspaper about that campaign, saying that “Most Republicans are pretty darn conservative.” He calls himself a conservative.

Of the two potential pitfalls awaiting Seliger, I consider ideology to be the greater threat.

He’s managed to spend a lot of time traveling from one end of Senate District 31 to the other and back again, learning the myriad issues that concern its residents.

However, it remains to be seen whether that will be enough to satisfy the intense ideological fervor of those on the extreme right fringe of the Grand Old Party.


It’s starting to fly in Texas Senate District 31

Mike Canon apparently wants to be elected state senator from District 31 so badly that he’s willing to say anything to get the job done.

I thought better of the former Midland mayor until some TV ads began running that question whether the incumbent in that race, Sen. Kel Seliger, is “conservative” enough for West Texas.

He is.

Seliger is running for another term as state senator against someone whose campaign is being funded by what’s called “dark money,” which comes from anonymous donors who aren’t compelled to identify themselves, to hold themselves up for public inspection.

Canon’s latest gambit is to accuse Seliger of “siding with Wendy Davis,” the Democratic candidate for governor, in voting for a pay raise for legislators. Seliger’s response? “There were no such individual votes,” he asserts in a campaign push card.

Canon is seen as a tea party alternative to Seliger, meaning that the incumbent isn’t rabid enough in his support of issues near and dear to the far right wing of the Republican Party. The reality is that Seliger has become a nuanced politician able to understand the complexities of legislating and working with Democrats and Republicans to get something done for the state.

Canon, who is personally an engaging and charming gentleman, has fallen victim to the demagoguery that so often passes for political debate on the far right-wing fringes of his party.

Seliger need not make apologies for the way he has represented the sprawling Senate district.

I’m hoping he beats Canon like a drum next Tuesday. The man loves serving in the Texas Senate. He’s good at it. He needs to stay on the job.