Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Amarillo boosting its red-light camera deployment

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is on record saying he believes the state ought to yank cities’ authority to deploy red-light cameras at dangerous intersections.

Amarillo has responded to that declaration by increasing the number of cameras it has posted around the city from nine to 12.

Take that, Gov. Abbott!

I remain a supporter of the technology that the city uses to assist in catching red-light runners in the act of breaking the law.

The city is going to add seven cameras at intersections, while removing four cameras from other intersections. Thus, the city is continuing to use the technology to assist the police department. Moreover, the city is upgrading red-light camera assemblies at five intersections.

So, what does that mean for the future of the technology? I suppose you can say it lies in the hands of the Texas Legislature. Amarillo has two House members representing the city: Republicans John Smithee and Four Price; it also has a state senator, Republican Kel Seliger, who managed to make some news in recent days because of his dispute with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

What do these three men believe about the red-light cameras? I haven’t asked them directly. Maybe I will, even though I no longer live in Amarillo.

I don’t see any such cameras on the job in Collin County, where my wife and I now live. I don’t see them in Fairview, or Allen, or McKinney or in Princeton — where we’ll be moving into our new home quite soon. I would not object to any city in Collin County deploying these devices. The way I figure it, if it deters red-light runners then they are doing their job.

As for Amarillo’s red-light cameras, consider this little tidbit: Texas Department of Transportation officials say that the three intersections where the cameras are being removed recorded just four collisions from July 2016 to the end of June 2017. They are heavily traveled thoroughfares, so I am going to presume that the cameras did their job.

Cities should be allowed to determine for themselves whether or where to deploy these devices. They don’t need Bigger Brother looking over them.

Texas Senate gives right-wing PAC special seat at press table

Do you want to know the crux of what has pi**** off a leading Texas senator about the way the state’s upper legislative chamber is being run?

Try this: Empower Texans, a right-wing political action group, has been given a ringside seat on the floor of the state Senate. Such groups usually are relegated to the upper floor along with the rest of the spectators who are curious about what’s happening in the Legislature.

In the Senate, which is run by an Empower Texans darling — GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — the group gets to look senators in the eye while they debate and cast their votes.

Trouble is brewing?

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said this, according to the Tribune Tribune: “They’re an advocacy organization and a political organization. Far more than anything else. That’s really their identity. They have a PAC and they contribute to candidates.”

Seliger knows Empower Texans well. He had to fend off a spirited Republican primary challenge in 2018 from two ultraconservative candidates. He won his party’s nomination outright anyway, which is to West Texas’s great benefit.

But the decision to allow this group of far-right-wing zealots onto the Texas Senate floor speaks volumes to me about the kind of place Lt. Gov. Patrick is creating. The Tribune reports that Empower Texans’ presence at the press table has angered some senators and ignited rancor early in the legislative session.

I’ve noted repeatedly in this blog about the feud that has erupted between Seliger, a senior GOP senator, and Patrick. Seliger’s legislative clout has been diminished by his removal from key Senate committees, namely the Higher Education and Education panels.

Now we hear that Empower Texans, an advocacy group that has taken aim at Senate moderates, such as Seliger, is getting to mix it up directly with legislators the group seeks to influence.

Seliger said the group’s status is “under review, as I think it ought to be. This is an easy call.”

Something is telling me the Texas Senate is going to become an unhappy place in this legislative session.

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.

Hey, Dan Patrick: Senators work for us, not you

I have to weigh in one more time — although quite possibly not the final time — on the growing Texas Senate feud between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Kel Seilger, an Amarillo Republican.

The way I see it, Patrick is acting as if he employs the 31 members of the state’s upper legislative chamber. That ain’t the case, fella. They work for us. They work chiefly for the people who they represent in their respective Senate districts as well as for those who live in other parts of the state, given that they enact laws that affect all Texans.

The lieutenant governor stripped Seliger, a seasoned veteran of the Legislature, of all his committee assignments. Why? According to Seliger it is because the two men have different world views and legislative priorities; Patrick claims he did it because Seliger reportedly has a potty mouth and made some “lewd comments” to a female Patrick staffer.

Either excuse seems to point to a dictatorial streak being exhibited by Lt. Gov. Patrick.

The Dallas Morning News this morning published a lengthy feature on Seliger and the reputation he enjoys among his Senate colleagues. I’ll attach it to this blog post. Spoiler alert: The reporter, Lauren McGaughy, called yours truly for comments on Seliger, and she included some of them in this piece.

Here it is.

My point here is that Seliger answers to West Texans first and to the rest of the state second. Patrick place on the senator’s pecking order priority list is a very distant third.

I already have stated my pro-Seliger bias in this dust-up. The Texas Panhandle — where I used to live — and the rest of Seliger’s vast Senate District 31 have been disserved mightily by Patrick’s petulance. He referred to Seliger in an earlier DMN piece as a “corrosive force” in the Senate. The comments given to the Morning News by senators in both political parties paint a vastly different picture of the man with whom they have worked and served our great state.

I will continue to stand by my friend, Sen. Seliger.

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.

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.

Rep. Price gets handed a very large gavel

It’s clear that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick didn’t give state Sen. Kel Seliger any love when he handed out committee assignments for the 2019 Texas Senate.

He yanked the Amarillo Republican out of the chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education Committee, pulled him off the Senate Education Committee and off the Finance Committee. Patrick “awarded” Seliger the Agriculture Committee chairmanship then snatched that one away when Seliger made an impolite comment about a key Patrick adviser.

Now, what about the Texas House of Representatives? Well, Speaker Dennis Bonnen has handed out a gigantic gavel to state Rep. Four Price, another Amarillo Republican.

Price will chair the House Calendars Committee. It’s a big deal, man! Here’s why: The Calendars Committee determines the legislative flow; the chairman is able to stop legislation from being considered by the full House. OK, so it’s more of a procedural panel than a policy-making one. But . . . it carries huge responsibility in determining how the House does its business.

I used to know a previous Calendars chairman quite well. State Rep. Mark Stiles was a Beaumont Democrat who chaired that panel in the 1980s. Stiles, who no longer serves in the Legislature, was quite proud of the influence he had in controlling legislative traffic. Stiles also was quite fond of reminding anyone who would listen that he was good friends with the House speaker, the lieutenant governor, the governor. You name it, anyone with real power in Austin was a BFF of the legislator who nicknamed himself “Bubba.”

I mention this because I don’t expect Rep. Four Price to carry on in that fashion. He’s a more, um, humble individual who seems — as I have known him — to take his public service far more seriously than he takes himself.

Political toxicity spills over . . . into Austin

He never would say such a thing publicly, let alone within earshot of a key state government aide, but Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger’s brief stint as Texas Senate Agriculture Committee chairman well might have been “beneath” his legislative skill.

There. I’ve said it for him.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pulled the chairmanship from Seliger after the Amarillo Republican reportedly made an impolite comment about a Patrick assistant’s stated view that Seliger should seek another chairmanship if he thought the Ag Committee post was “beneath” him. Patrick said Seliger should have apologized for the comment. Seliger didn’t do it, but said he should have directed his remark at Patrick instead.

But . . . what about the Agriculture Committee?

It’s a brand new panel that Patrick created. Why is that? I guess it’s because the Texas Legislature traditionally has taken little direct legislative action affecting our farms and ranches. Congress enacts federal farm legislation every couple of years to protect the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers against years when harvests don’t allow them to repay their loans or feed their livestock.

What does the Legislature do in that regard? Umm, not much.

Sen. Seliger used to chair a meaningful committee: the Senate Higher Education Committee, which is where the Legislature does have a tremendous impact on our state’s publicly funded colleges and universities. Oh, but Patrick and Seliger aren’t exactly BFFs, given their different approaches to governance. Accordingly, Patrick took the gavel away from Seliger and then removed him altogether from the Higher Ed panel; he also took Seliger off the Education Committee and the Finance Committee.

How might any of us react if we were treated so shabbily? I wouldn’t like being denied a chance to represent my constituents in a more meaningful way.

So the 2019 Texas Legislature has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start — at least where it concerns one of the Senate’s most senior Republicans, who since 2004 has taken his responsibilities most seriously representing the interests of West Texas.

Seliger vs. Patrick: The feud escalates

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has the power of appointments on his side.

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger has, well, I don’t quite know what it is precisely. However, I am going to stand with my friend — Seliger — in this seemingly escalating feud with Patrick, someone I cannot support.

Patrick yanked the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee from Seliger after the senator told a senior Patrick aide that she could kiss his backside. Patrick demanded an apology for the “lewd” comment; Seliger refused; Patrick then took the chairmanship away.

It’s getting ugly in Austin, ladies and gents.

Seliger and Patrick are far from soulmates. They belong to the same Republican Party, but they surely view the political landscape from different perspectives. Yes, Seliger campaigned for re-election in 2018 as a “conservative,” touting his NRA membership as an example of his conservative chops. Patrick, meanwhile, pushed a right-wing agenda as he ran the Senate, most notably the Bathroom Bill that sought to discriminate against transgender individuals; in fairness, I should note that Seliger voted for the Bathroom Bill along with the rest of the GOP Senate majority.

Seliger declined to sign a letter from Texas Senate Republicans endorsing Patrick, who then declined to endorse Seliger’s bid for re-election.

Now it’s come down to this. Patrick stripped the Higher Education Committee chairmanship from Seliger and removed him from that panel altogether as well as from the Education and Finance committees.

According to the Texas Tribune: “Seliger called the snub a ‘very clear warning’ that Republican better toe the line, teeing up the battle.”

See the Tribune story here.

The Patrick aide made some snarky remark that Seliger could ask for another chairmanship if he thought the Ag Committee assignment was “beneath him.”

That’s when Seliger reportedly told the aide, Sherry Silvester to, um … well, you know.

So, Sylvester poured the fuel on the fire on Patrick’s behalf. Seliger decided to respond. Patrick acted within his legislative and statutory authority as the Senate’s presiding officer.

However, in acting in this manner, Patrick — who hails from way down yonder in Houston — has denied the Texas Panhandle an experienced and seasoned voice in the on-going battle for legislative attention.

The way I see it, Patrick is simply throwing his weight around.