Tag Archives: Texas Senate

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.

A new trio forms a ‘Three Amigos’ team

I was fond years ago of referring to three Republican Texas state representatives as the “Three Amigos.”

They were Reps. John Smithee of Amarillo, David Swinford of Dumas and Warren Chisum of Pampa. Two of them — Swinford and Chisum — have retired from the Texas Legislature; only Smithee remains in public life. Indeed, Smithee is one of the longest-tenured members of the Texas House of Representatives, having served there since 1985; that’s 33 years.

Well, here’s the thing: Smithee has two new members of a trio of legislators with whom he has teamed up.

Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Four Price, both Amarillo Republicans, have joined their pal Smithee in creating a formidable team of “amigos” to represent the Panhandle’s interests.

I suppose I could include state Rep. Ken King, a Canadian Republican — but that would create a sort of “Fearsome Foursome” for the Panhandle. I cannot speak with any authority on the job he’s doing; King was elected after I left the working world.

So, for the purposes of this blog, I’ll stick with the newly constituted Three Amigos, all of whom I know quite well.

They’re all dedicated to their public service.

Smithee has been setting his legal practice aside for more than three decades during legislative sessions. He serves as chair of the House Insurance Committee and my experience with him has been always on the up-and-up. What I always appreciated about Smithee is his willingness to provide direct answers to direct questions. There’s no flim-flam or obtuseness where Smithee is concerned.

Price has emerged as star in the House and is now being discussed openly as a possible candidate for speaker of that body when the 2019 Legislature convenes. He has championed mental health reform and has learned quickly the unique language of legislators.

Seliger, too, emerged as a quick study in legislative-speak after he took office in 2004, succeeding the late Republican Teel Bivins, who had received an ambassadorial appointment from President George W. Bush.

And just this past week, Seliger and Price sent out mailers that were paid for by the Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund. Both men’s flyers say they are “getting conservative results for Texans.” They both said, “John … we know it isn’t easy to stand up to special interest groups. Tell (them) to stand strong and keep up the good work.”

Tag-team campaigning? Sure looks like it to me.

All three men have been endorsed by Amarillo Matters, a local political action group with a mission to help shape the community’s agenda for the future.

The Three Amigos have opponents this year. Seliger and Price are facing primary challengers; Smithee has a Democratic foe awaiting him this fall.

The Three Amigos aren’t the same trio that I once knew. They are just as effective, though, in fighting for the region they represent.

Lt. Gov. Patrick earns this ‘honor’

Texas Monthly has named Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as its recipient of the Bum Steer of the Year Award.

Good call, Texas Monthly.

The magazine bestowed the “honor” on Patrick because of a monstrosity called Senate Bill 6, aka the Bathroom Bill.

TM notes that Patrick was hellbent to get this bill passed out of both legislative chambers in 2017. Except that he ran into a small — no, major — obstacle: House Speaker Joe Straus, a fellow Republican, was having none of it.

Straus, according to TM, said the Legislature had many more important issues to ponder than to decide whether to require people to use restroom facilities in accordance with the gender assigned on their birth certificates.

SB 6 was designed to discriminate against transgender individuals. Speaker Straus said “no can do.” He didn’t want the House to follow the Senate’s lead. He blocked SB 6 in the Legislature’s regular session and then followed suit during the special session that Gov. Greg Abbott called.

Texas Monthly called the Bathroom Bill effort “a master class in waste.”

Thanks, of course, to the efforts of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Yep, he’s the Bum Steer of the Year.

Die, Bathroom Bill, just die

I am going to make a not-very-aggressive prediction.

It is that Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is going to bow out of politics at the end of 2018. He likely will ignore my plea that he reconsider his decision to not seek re-election from his San Antonio House district next year.

Speaker Straus, would you reconsider quitting the House?

There. That all said, my hope now is that the next speaker of the House of Representatives will follow Straus’s lead and do whatever he or she can to derail that crazy Bathroom Bill that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and most of the Texas Senate wanted to enact into law this year.

The Bathroom Bill was the brainchild — if you want to call it that — of archconservative legislators who had this goofy notion that it would be OK to discriminate against transgender people. They sought to craft a bill that required individuals to use public restrooms in accordance with the gender designated on their birth certificate.

That means a man who becomes a woman must use the men’s room; same for women who become men.

They came up with this cockamamie idea that transgendered people would seek to assault people sexually in those restrooms.

The good news came from police chiefs and business executives across the state. They all came out in opposition to the Bathroom Bill. The speaker of the House, Straus, heard their concerns and said “No can do” when the Bathroom Bill made its way to the other end of the State Capitol from the Senate.

Straus was having none of it. The bill died in the regular session and then didn’t survive the special legislative session that Gov. Greg Abbott called.

Where do we stand now?

I’ll also presume that Lt. Gov. Patrick will be re-elected in 2018. He’ll then bring his nutty notion back to the Senate when the 2019 Legislature convenes. The House will be led by someone other than Speaker Straus. It well might be state Rep. Four Price, the Amarillo Republican who told me he was a big supporter of Straus and his agenda. Dare I presume, thus, that he, too, might block a future Bathroom Bill from becoming law? One can hope.

If it is someone else, then one can hope that whoever ascends to the speaker’s chair would do the same thing.

At least that’s my hope for the next legislative session: Kill the Bathroom Bill dead, man.

Texas Senate 31 race might portend national GOP fight

Incumbents don’t often get challenges from within their own party.

But with Republicans fighting with each other in virtually every state in the Union, we’re seeing an intraparty battle royale shaping up — even in Texas, where Republicans are so firmly entrenched in power that Democrats have difficulty getting any media attention.

Let’s look briefly at Texas Senate District 31.

The sprawling West Texas district — which stretches from the Permian Basin to the Oklahoma border — has been represented ably by former Amarillo Mayor Kel Seliger. He was elected to the seat in 2004 after President Bush appointed the late Sen. Teel Bivins to be ambassador to Sweden.

To my mind, Seliger has acquainted himself quite thoroughly with the needs of the entire district. He speaks Permian Basin-ese to his constituents down south, just as he speaks our language when he comes back to Amarillo and points north.

But he’s not “conservative enough” to suit some Republicans. Two GOP challengers have lined up against him. One is former Midland Mayor Mike Canon; the other is Amarillo businessman Victor Leal. Canon ran unsuccessfully against Seliger four years ago. He’s a TEA Party favorite who does well speaking in TEA Party talking points and slogans. I’m not yet sure how Leal is going to frame his campaign, other than he’s going to say he favors low taxes, family values and accountability.

As if Seliger or any other Texas politician doesn’t endorse those things?

Seliger has inserted himself into an odd place. He’s no fan or friend of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He declined to join his other Senate Republicans in endorsing Patrick’s re-election bid, which I guess factored into Leal’s decision to run against Seliger.

The question of the moment deals with whether Seliger is being “primaried” by GOP rebels. He’s been in the Texas Senate for more than a decade. He has achieved leadership roles in the Senate, serving as chairman of the Higher Education Committee and as a key member of the Education Committee.

I can’t shake the feeling that this internecine GOP “warfare” has found its way to West Texas.

I’ve already staked out my preference on this blog: I want Seliger to be re-elected. Getting through the GOP primary all but assures it. If he has been targeted by those who seek change just for change’s sake, he’d better be ready for a major fight.

Recalling a Texas Panhandle giant

Every now and then, I like scrolling back through my blog posts to re-examine thoughts I had way back when.

I did so again tonight and found a short post I wrote about the death of a Texas Panhandle political titan: former state Sen. Teel Bivins.

Here is what I wrote:

Panhandle loses a legislative giant

Bivins would leave Amarillo and the Panhandle to become U.S. ambassador to Sweden. His good friend, President George W. Bush, thought to reward Bivins for the work he did to get the president elected in 2000.

My thoughts turn to Sen. Bivins today in light of the current political climate. I wonder how he might fare in the harsh environment that seems to be overcoming people in events in Austin, let alone in Washington. He was a true-blue, rock-ribbed “establishment Republican.” He was conservative to the core, a staunch defender of private property owners’ rights — which makes sense, given his own extensive ranch holdings in the rural Panhandle.

I also want to share a brief memory about Bivins, which I think speaks well of the man’s character as well as his media savvy.

***

I was new to the Panhandle in early 1995. I didn’t yet know Bivins; I only knew of him. I had heard one of the Senate colleagues, Democrat Carl Parker of Port Arthur, describe Bivins as one of those “silk-stocking Republicans” who was more interested in helping rich people than fighting for the working stiff.

Bivins’ office called me one day about a month after I arrived at the Amarillo Globe-News. Bivins wanted to get acquainted. I went to his office in downtown Amarillo. We shook hands and started chatting. Bivins told me of his friendship with Parker and gave him kudos for his immense debating skills.

Then we talked about our families. He asked me about mine. I told him I was married and that my wife and I had two sons in college.

Then he launched into an amazing soliloquy about his own family and his troubled marriage. He told me about the struggles his then-wife was having with substance abuse. He said he wasn’t sure how much longer he could cope with it, how much more help he could give to her.

As I listened to this strange method of getting acquainted with a member of the media, I was struck by the extraordinary candor he was expressing to someone he barely knew.

We finished our visit. I went back to the office. Bivins went back to Austin to continue working as a legislator.

No more than few days later, I told one of Bivins’ top aides about what he revealed. She smiled and said he had an ulterior motive. Bivins wanted me to hear it from him, rather than hearing it from someone else, who might put a different sort of spin on it.

I thought, “ah hah!” I got played. More or less. However, it was for the right reason.

Eight years after this good man’s death, I am not bashful about telling you that I still miss him.

Is there a West Texas primary donnybrook in the making?

That old trick knee of mine is flaring up again.

It’s throbbing so much that I am beginning to think that West Texas Republican voters are facing the prospect of a serious donnybrook in the race for the state Senate District seat now held by Amarillo businessman Kel Seliger.

My critics are all too willing to remind me that the trick knee isn’t nearly as reliable as I’ve suggested it is. But that’s all right. It’s telling me that Seliger is going to have to fend off some serious criticism from two GOP primary foes. The criticism well might center on the senator’s decision against endorsing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s own re-election bid in 2018.

I have read Sen. Seliger’s comments on this decision. He said he’ll “support” Patrick — I presume with his vote. He just won’t declare his endorsement out loud in public, for the record.

Seliger’s decision drew a hair-trigger response from Amarillo restauranteur Victor Leal, who suggested that Seliger is turning his back on the Senate’s presiding officer. I am guessing that Leal is going to endorse Patrick, one of the Texas GOP’s more vivid ideologues. Seliger isn’t wired the same way, and my hunch is that his own legislative temperament — which differs greatly from Patrick — has compelled him to withhold his active endorsement of the lieutenant governor.

The third Senate District 31 Republican candidate, former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, likely will seek to gain some political leverage, too. He’s a TEA Party kind of guy, which also runs anathema to Seliger’s more measured and studied approach to legislating.

Seliger has told local media that he expects a tough fight. I will presume he’ll prepare for one as well. It is my hope that he preps for a bruising campaign and gets ready to rumble with Leal and Canon.

Leal is a known quantity in the northern half of the Panhandle; Canon’s base is in the Permian Basin. Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, has managed to make his presence felt down yonder in the southern part of the sprawling district.

I’ve already revealed my bias in this race; I want Sen. Seliger to win the nomination, which in this district is tantamount to election.

The only bit of advice I can give Seliger — based on my trick knee — is to get his opposition research ready and to respond quickly and forcefully to the attacks that are sure to come his direction.

Seliger won’t ‘endorse’ Lt. Gov. Patrick; imagine that

I just know in my bones that I am not the only observer who saw this one coming.

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has decided he won’t endorse fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in 2018. Seliger said he won’t endorse anyone else; he said he intends to “support” Patrick — whatever the hell that means.

He just won’t “endorse” him, preferring to concentrate on his own re-election bid for the Senate District 31 seat he’s held since 2004.

Not a single aspect of this surprises me.

Seliger hasn’t been one of Patrick’s guys in the Senate. Sure, he’s backed much of Patrick’s agenda during the 2017 legislative session. He bolted on a couple of key issues:  a bill that restricts local property tax increases and a bill that sought to subsidize the cost of private schools.

Patrick announced that 19 of 20 state GOP senators were endorsing his re-election. Seliger’s name was absent from the list of Republican lawmakers. Is the Amarillo Republican worried? Hardly.

Seliger faces stern test for re-election

Indeed, Seliger already is getting set for a rough-and-tumble GOP primary battle in Senate District 31. Seliger will run against former Midland Mayor Mike Canon — who lost to Seliger in 2014 — and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal.

I’ll stipulate once again that I want Seliger to be renominated. I also will stipulate that I am no fan of Lt. Gov. Patrick, who I consider to be a ideological blowhard. Seliger is not. He is a serious legislative technician who I believe works hard at understanding the issues pertinent to the vast Senate district he represents.

I am going to presume that Seliger understands that he works for West Texas voters, not the guy who presides over the Texas Senate.

Randall County GOP puts Speaker Straus on notice

So, just how Republican-red is Randall County, Texas?

It believes that the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Joe Straus of San Antonio, isn’t conservative enough. It believes he has stalled legislation near and dear to the far right wing of the GOP. Why, he is just too bipartisan, too willing to work with those dreaded Democrats in the Texas House.

So, the Randall County Republican Party has joined some other county GOP operations in pulling its support of Straus should the Republican seek another term as speaker of the House.

Good bleeping grief!

Straus appears to have drawn the ire of the Randall County GOP because he heeds public opinion on certain controversial measures. Off the top of my noggin, the Bathroom Bill comes immediately to mind.

Texas senators approved the Bathroom Bill, which was pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and sent it to the House. Straus opposed the bill that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms in accordance to the sexual identity stated on their birth certificate. Straus saw the bill for what it was: an unenforceable act of discrimination against some Texans. He joined chiefs of police, business executives and medical professionals who also opposed the Bathroom Bill.

But because he didn’t push this monstrosity of a bill through the House — among other legislation — he no longer deserves to be speaker. The Randall County GOP’s resolution seeks to get state Reps. John Smithee and Four Price, both Amarillo Republicans, to vote against Straus if he seeks another speaker term.

It’s interesting to me that Price, whose district includes Potter County, declined to comment to the media about the Randall County resolution. Why do you suppose he did that? Oh, maybe it’s because he might applaud the job Straus has done while serving as the Man of the House.

I don’t want the Randall County Republican Party to have its way. The Texas House has managed to stall some overheated legislative remedies, the Bathroom Bill being one of them.

As for the bipartisanship that Straus has shown, I welcome that, too. It is in keeping with a longstanding Texas legislative tradition with governors, lieutenant governors and Texas House speakers routinely reaching across the aisle to get things done for the good of the entire state.

Sen. Seliger gets needed challenge

I used to drive former state Rep. David Swinford borderline batty with my occasional columns about the need for incumbents to get challenged at every election cycle.

My argument always has been that political incumbents at every level need to defend their record against legitimate challengers to their incumbency. The Dumas (Texas) Republican legislator understood that argument … but he still would express some mild (and good-natured) displeasure at my stating it.

One of Swinford’s colleagues — Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo — is getting a serious challenge again this coming year. Regular readers of this blog know that I want Seliger to win his party’s nomination, which is tantamount to election in the GOP-friendly Texas Panhandle.

But he’s going to have to work for it. Which I consider to be good (a) for the incumbent and (b) for the cause of good government.

Former Midland Mayor Mike Canon is stepping up once more to challenge Seliger. The two of them faced off in 2014. The race was close, but Seliger emerged victorious. This year, Amarillo business owner Victor Leal has joined the Republican primary lineup.

The quality of Leal’s candidacy remains to be seen. Canon’s approach four years ago was to talk in TEA Party clichés, talking points and platitudes. He still garnered a lot of votes.

That’s all OK, though.

Seliger has served the sprawling Texas Senate District 31 he has represented since 2004 quite well, in my estimation. That doesn’t mean he should get a free pass.

Representative democracy demands a stout challenge when the opportunity presents itself. It’s doing so in this legislative contest.

Whoever emerges victorious in this primary fight — and I do hope it’s Seliger — figures to be tempered by the difficult campaign he will have endured. That’s good for state government.