Tag Archives: Texas GOP

Cornyn might face a lengthy list of challengers

John Cornyn is now Texas’s latest marked man, politically speaking.

The San Antonio Republican U.S. senator is running for re-election in 2020 and he is facing a lengthy list of Democratic primary candidates who will fight among themselves for the right to run against him directly in the fall.

I have to say that the list of possible foes is looking pretty impressive.

Two names jump out at me: U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, who also hails from San Antonio and former state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth. Given the premium voters place on name identification, I would have to rate those two as potential front runners in the Democratic Party primary. Joseph Kopser and MJ Hegar also are in the mix.

Castro is the identical twin brother of Julian, who’s running for president of the United States in 2020. The two are so identical, in fact, that Joaquin is growing a beard (more or less) to distinguish himself from Julian.

Joaquin Castro, I suppose you could say, comes from the more progressive wing of the party. I hesitate to label him a “democratic socialist” in the mold of Bernie Sanders, but he’s out there near the left-end fringe of the party. He hasn’t announced his candidacy for the Senate, just yet. My guess is that he’ll go all in soon.

Then there’s Sen. Davis. She made hay in 2013 with her filibuster in the Legislature against a restrictive anti-abortion bill. She gave Democrats hope that she could break the GOP stranglehold on statewide office — but then she lost to Greg Abbott in 2014 by more than 20 percentage points.

I keep thinking, too, that Beto O’Rourke of El Paso — who is widely considered to be getting set to announce a presidential campaign in 2020 — might enter the Senate donnybrook. I am not going to predict it. I’m just waiting for Beto to announce what he says he’s decided already.

Do I want Sen. Cornyn to lose? Yeah, but not with the passion I wanted O’Rourke to defeat Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. I know John Cornyn. I actually like him personally. He and I have joked about our respective heads of gray hair and has assured me that he was that gray at a much younger age than I was; I believe him, too.

I want the 2020 race between Cornyn and whoever Democratic voters nominate to be as competitive as the 2018 contest turned out to be between O’Rourke and The Cruz Missile.

Texas needs two healthy major political parties and it appears — finally! — that Texas Democrats are awakening from their 30-year slumber/stupor to give Republicans a serious challenge to their superiority.

Political differences need not destroy friendships

I sent a letter via snail mail to a friend of mine this week.

His name is Ernie Houdashell. He is a devoted Republican Party elected official. He serves as Randall County, Texas, judge. Houdashell is as devoted a partisan as anyone I know.

He and I differ fundamentally on politics. We’ve actually argued a time or two over the years, particularly since my departure from the Amarillo Globe-News in August 2012.

But here’s the deal: He and I remain friends. I have great respect for this good man. I wrote him a note just to give him an update on where my wife and I have relocated. He’ll likely have received the letter, and I hope he takes to heart the way I ended it. I told him I am “proud” that he and I have maintained our friendship.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I want to illustrate how easy it can be for people with vastly different philosophical outlooks to retain their personal affection for each other. They can be friends, just as Ernie and I are friends. I believe in my heart that my friend feels the same way I do.

We hear too much these days on social media and in other media about those who have seen their friendships shattered in this toxic and divisive political climate.

I keep reading Facebook posts from individuals who admit to losing friends because of disagreements over policy matters. Man, that kind of news really saddens me!

I worked for more than two decades in a region known for its severe rightward tilt. The Texas Panhandle arguably is the birthplace of the modern conservative Republican movement. I lived for that entire time in Randall County, where Democratic elected officials have gone dormant since 1995.

I won’t belabor the point that I have many good friends in Amarillo who happen to view the world differently than I do. I’ve said it and I’ll leave it at that.

I just wish the current bitterness that infects our atmosphere wasn’t so destructive to so many other people’s relationships.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said of his opponent that year, President Barack Obama, that the two men had little time for personal animus toward each other. “There more to life,” Romney said, “than politics.”

Indeed.

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.

Beto is about to run for POTUS?

I have to agree with Oprah Winfrey, who told Beto O’Rourke that he seems like a 2020 presidential candidate.

Winfrey interviewed O’Rourke as part of a series of discussions on her OWN Network. O’Rourke, the former West Texas congressman, told Winfrey he will decide by March whether to run for president next year.

Family is the major consideration for O’Rourke, a husband and father of three young children.

OK, let me stipulate once again: I don’t believe O’Rourke is ready to become commander in chief, the head of state and leader of the world’s most indispensable nation. Yes, he captured Democrats’ fancy with his near-win in the race for the U.S. Senate from Texas. I wanted him to defeat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm election. He came within a couple of percentage points of doing so, which in GOP-heavy Texas is a big . . . deal.

Oprah weighs in on Beto

Winfrey is correct to assume O’Rourke will run. Why? Well, he wouldn’t be sitting for interviews such as the one he did with Oprah if he intended to stay on the sidelines. So, it looks for all the world as if the young former congressman from El Paso is going all-in for president in 2020.

Do not misunderstand me here. If by some astonishing set of circumstances that O’Rourke can parlay the excitement he generated in Texas into a national following and actually get nominated for president, then he has my support.

That’s especially true if the GOP nominee is Donald John Trump, who I believe with very fiber of my being should not have been elected president in the first place. He is unfit for the office at any level I can imagine.

Beto O’Rourke, although he is green and untested on the national stage, would be my strong preference.

First, though, he has to make that decision. I believe Beto has made it already.

Keep our eyes on Texas Tech vet school progress

I have spoken already on this blog about some of the damage that can be done to West Texans who depend on their state senator to look after projects that provide direct benefit to their part of the state.

I want to discuss briefly one specific project: the Texas Tech University System’s plan to build a school of veterinary medicine at its medical school campus in Amarillo.

Why mention it? Because a veteran legislator, Sen. Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, has been yanked out of the chairman’s seat on the Higher Education Committee. Seliger lost the chairmanship he has occupied for several legislative sessions.

The loss of that seat could cost the Panhandle dearly. My sincere and adamant hope is that it does not endanger the veterinary medicine school that Tech wants to build in Amarillo.

The Tech Board of Regents has signed on. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation has committed tens of millions of dollars to it. The Panhandle community supports the vet school, which would be the second such college in Texas; the only other vet school is run by Texas A&M University, which quite naturally has been pushing back against Tech’s plans to build the school.

The school of veterinary medicine will provide a direct boost to Amarillo and the Panhandle. Tech has established a need for such a school, which could cater to large-animal veterinary care in a region known for its livestock.

Does the Seliger removal from the Higher Ed chairmanship put the vet school in dire peril? It must not! However, there is the possibility that the Panhandle’s lack of a voice on the Higher Ed panel could work against the forward momentum that is building for the completion of the project.

Lt. Gov. Patrick has done some damage to the Panhandle with his apparent vendetta against the region’s senior state senator. Let us all keep our eyes and ears open to the legislative maneuvering as it involves the Texas Tech school of veterinary medicine.

Lieutenant governor plays a heavy hand badly

Those of us who know Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger need to take a look at a clean and crisp political analysis about the growing feud between the Amarillo lawmaker and fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey has concluded that Patrick is likely misplaying his hand in punishing Seliger for an impolite remark the senator made regarding a top Patrick aide, Sherry Sylvester.

Read Ramsey’s analysis here.

By banishing Seliger the chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education Committee and taking him off the Education Committee, Patrick has muted a key Texas Panhandle voice on matters involving public education. Seliger has been a champion of both public and higher ed since he was first elected to the Senate in 2004. In fact, Seliger’s service on the Education panel continued the Panhandle presence, given that he succeeded the late Teel Bivins in the Senate District 31 seat.

Ramsey’s analysis takes note of how Patrick has demonstrated a habit of (a) punishing a senator from his own party and (b) pouring it on.

What might play out as the Senate gets down to legislative business over the course of the next 120-some days is whether Seliger emerges as a “swing vote” that could deny legislation from coming to a vote of the full Senate.

I don’t believe Seliger is a particularly vengeful individual. Then again, he’s been done wrong by the lieutenant governor and, by extension, so have his West Texas constituents been harmed by Patrick’s petulance. Seliger takes his public service seriously, even if he doesn’t always taken himself so seriously . . . which I consider to be a positive trait that I believe all politicians should exhibit.

Judging from the way Patrick has erupted over Seliger’s supposedly crude comment, the lieutenant governor is taking himself far too seriously to suit my taste. Then again, I don’t have to serve with this guy. Oh, no, I get to do something even better: I get to complain about his conduct as the Senate’s presiding officer, given that he works for me and the rest of the state’s 27 million residents.

Therefore, I believe he has messed up by attempting to manhandle one of the Senate’s wisest and most experienced individuals.

Ground does shift under politicians’ feet

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger has been stripped of two committee chairmanships, citing differences in philosophy and policy with the man who took them away.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he did it because the veteran Amarillo Republican lawmaker spoke rudely to a key Patrick aide and calls Seliger a “corrosive” influence in the Senate.

Actually, there’s not a damn thing “corrosive” about Seliger, who has staked out a reputation over his 14-year Senate career as a man who works well on both sides of the political divide.

I believe Seliger’s view is the accurate interpretation.

The Texas Republican Party has morphed into something quite different from what it used to represent. It has become more interested in “social issues,” and issues relating to “morality.” I’ve known Seliger for more than two decades and I feel confident in suggesting that he doesn’t dance to the socially conservative tune played by the state’s GOP legislative leadership.

It’s not the rarest of events to see the political ground shifting under politicians’ feet. Texas Democrats begin tilting significantly leftward in the late 1980s leading up to the 1990 gubernatorial election, which seated Ann Richards in the governor’s office. Richards was far more progressive than your standard Texas Democrat. Indeed, there were a number of Democratic lawmakers who turned Republican about that time. One of them was former state Rep. Warren Chisum, the Pampa oil man and rancher who once was a proud Democrat but who turned to the GOP. His stated reason was that the party shifted away from his own world view.

Do I expect Sen. Seliger to wake up tomorrow morning and shift to the Democratic Party? No. He stands by his “conservative Republican” credentials. Seliger’s brand of conservatism, though, deals more with fiscal matters than it does with social issues. Patrick remains a fiscal conservative, but he has been seen by critics — such as Seliger — as being no friend of public education; he likes vouchers, which Seliger opposes.

So, for the moment, Seliger — as well as his West Texas constituents — are paying a steep price for the senator’s dispute with the lieutenant governor.  I am not going to buy into the notion that this stripping of power is based solely on a perceived rudeness by a senator who still enjoys great support among his colleagues.

Texas GOP is eating its own

The Texas Republican Party used to be represented among its elected officials as an organization dedicated to low taxes, local control and individual liberty. There was little else at the top of the party’s agenda.

That’s no longer the case. It now gets involved in issues such as use of public restrooms, school vouchers and whether we should allow prayer in public school classrooms.

I mention this in light of the recent tumult involving two key Texas Republicans: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Kel Seliger.

Patrick has kicked Seliger, of Amarillo, out of the chairmanship of two Senate committees and removed him from membership on two others. Seliger didn’t like one of the chairmanships he got, said something to a radio talk show host and then got the boot from that chairmanship.

Patrick blames Seliger’s impolite remarks about a key Patrick aide; Seliger blames the tempest on the vast differences in the two men’s approach to government. Spoiler alert: I am going to side with Seliger on this one.

Which brings me to a key point. I once wondered aloud whether Seliger has a place in today’s Texas GOP. I posited the notion that the party has moved away from the senator’s more pragmatic approach to government. Given the rigid ideology that at times drives Patrick’s legislative agenda, I am thinking once again that might be the case.

The closest thing I can find in Seliger’s political portfolio that might tilt him toward a “socially conservative” viewpoint is his strong support for gun owners’ rights. He calls himself a proud member of the National Rifle Association. The rest of his legislative political career has focused more on the value of public education, on keeping our tax burden low, fighting for private property ownership, issues that matter to the rural West Texans who help re-elect him to the Senate every four years.

Patrick well might believe in all that, too, but he goes a whole lot farther than Seliger does. He pushed that idiotic Bathroom Bill through the Senate in 2017, only to watch it die in the House when then-Speaker Joe Straus declared it dead on arrival. The bill would have required transgender individuals to use public restrooms in accordance to their gender at birth. Discrimination, anyone?

That’s the kind of nonsense that seems to drive so many Texas Republicans in public office these days. I don’t believe Seliger — whom I have known well for the past 24 years — buys into that agenda.

So these two men have butted heads.

Patrick presides over the Senate. He can assign or un-assign senators to whichever committees he chooses.

Sen. Seliger calls himself a proud Republican. I believe he does so with sincerity. The problem, as I see it, is whether the GOP leadership is aligned with this good man’s practical sense of government’s reach and its limitation. I fear it isn’t.

Sen. Seliger deserves better than what he got

I cannot put aside the shafting that Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger got from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. And as a result, Patrick also gave the shaft to hundreds of thousands of West Texans who deserve to be represented by their veteran lawmaker.

And for what reason? Because the Republican senator isn’t loyal enough to the ideological agenda proposed and pushed by the Republican lieutenant governor! From my vantage point, I believe Seliger answers first to the West Texans who have elected him to the Texas Senate, not the guy who runs the state’s upper legislative chamber.

Patrick removed Seliger, of Amarillo, as chairman of the Senate Higher Ed Committee; he pulled him off the Senate Education Committee and the Finance Committee. He installed him as chair of the Agriculture Committee, then pulled him out of the chairmanship after Seliger made what Patrick thought was an “lewd” comment about a key Patrick aide.

Seliger believes Patrick is angry over the senator’s resistance toward some of the rigid ideological views that Patrick expresses on occasion. He favors public schools and opposes Patrick’s push for vouchers to lure students away from public education.

So now the residents of Texas Senate District 31 have a senator in office with vastly reduced political clout. Shameful, I tell you!

This tempest reminds me a little of an earlier fight between two congressional Republicans, one of whom represented West Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich was a champion of something called Freedom to Farm. He had led the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994 and pushed the Freedom to Farm bill in the House. It would have dramatically overhauled federal farm policy, which didn’t set well with then-U.S. Rep. Larry Combest, who represented West Texas from Lubbock to Amarillo. Combest resisted Freedom to Farm and voted against it.

Gingrich thought he would punish Combest by denying him a House Agricultural Committee chairmanship. Combest stood firm, telling Gingrich in no uncertain terms that he didn’t work for the speaker, but worked for the farmers and ranchers who elected him to the House. He was their man, not Gingrich’s errand boy.

Combest wouldn’t be bullied by Gingrich in the 1990s. Seliger won’t be bullied by Patrick now.

I see a certain similarity between these two pairings. I pulled for Combest in his fight with the House speaker and I am pulling for Seliger in this feud with the Texas lieutenant governor.

Both men stood and are standing with the men and women who elect them, not the bully who seeks to call the shots in the legislative chamber.

Where is the Texas Senate’s wise man?

I don’t know where he is at this very moment, but I cannot stop thinking about Bill Ratliff as I read about the tension building between two key players in the Texas Senate.

Ratliff served as lieutenant governor in the early 2000s. He was elevated to that post by his fellow state senators after Lt. Gov. Rick Perry moved into the governor’s office after the 2000 election of George W. Bush as president of the United States.

Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant in East Texas, was generally a revered political figure in the Texas Capitol. He enjoyed tremendous bipartisan support. Why is that? Because he didn’t govern with a heavy hand.

Ratliff must be grinding his teeth as he follows this stuff.

Oh, man. The mood in Austin is a whole lot different these days. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick not only has pi**** off his Democratic colleagues, he’s managing to antagonize his fellow Republicans. One of them is a fellow I’ve known quite well for more than two decades, Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo.

Patrick is telling the rest of the GOP Senate caucus the following messages: Do it my way . . . or else! The “or else” in Seliger’s case arrived when Patrick took away the chairmanship of the Higher Education Committee and removed Seliger from the Education and Finance committees. Patrick then threw Seliger a bone when he named him chair of the newly formed Agriculture Committee, a post that Seliger reportedly didn’t thrill him.

A Patrick aide said that if Seliger believed the Ag post was “beneath him” he could ask to be withdrawn and Patrick could appoint someone else. Seliger then told a Lubbock radio host — in so many words — that the aide could kiss his “rear end.”

Patrick then responded to that by yanking Seliger out of the Agriculture panel’s chairmanship post.

Imagine any of this occurring with Bill Ratliff as the Man of the Senate. I cannot wrap my head around that.

To be clear, I do not know Ratliff. I only know of him. Just as I don’t know Patrick, either, but I certainly know of this guy.

Patrick is playing hardball. He is using his considerable power to punish one of the Senate’s more senior members because the two of them don’t view the world through the same ideological prism.

Here is how the Texas Tribune sees this saga.

The Texas Senate used to have a tradition of bipartisanship. The lieutenant governor used to govern with an eye toward enlisting support from the minority party’s senators. To think that a lieutenant governor — whether Democrat or Republican — would punish a member of his own caucus has been a heretofore unthinkable occurrence.

I wish we could find another Bill Ratliff out there somewhere. They didn’t call him “Obi-Wan Kenobie,” the wise man from “Star Wars,” for nothing.