Tag Archives: Texas Senate

No-brainer: Don’t vote on husband’s salary

Angela Paxton is a solid favorite to be elected to the Texas Senate this fall, representing the suburban region north of Dallas.

She won the Republican Party primary earlier this month. Given the state’s heavy GOP leanings, that puts her on the inside lane en route to the Senate.

Her husband happens to be Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who’s likely to be re-elected in the fall general election.

Ahh, but here’s a potential quandary facing a Sen. Paxton: Does she vote on budget matters that set her husband’s salary as the state’s top legal official? There appears to be some gray area here, with ethics experts debating it.

To me it’s a no-brainer. No matter what the Texas Constitution allows, Paxton shouldn’t vote on her husband’s salary. Let her 30 Senate colleagues determine how much the attorney general should earn.

For the life of me I don’t understand why this is even under discussion. According to the Texas Tribune: “She’s going to have to think about what she does before she does it. If they’re doing [increases] for everyone, I don’t think that’s a conflict because everybody’s getting the same raise,” Hugh Brady, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said. “If it’s something special for the attorney general, I think she should step back and pause.”

I disagree with the professor. I don’t think a lawmaker casting a vote that materially affects his or her income passes the smell test, no matter if it’s a vote for all officials or if the vote affects an individual.

Paxton wouldn’t be the first lawmaker to face this issue. GOP State Rep. Tom Craddick’s daughter, Christi, serves on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission. Rep. Craddick has voted through three legislative sessions in favor of state budgets that include salaries for the RRC. I believe that, too, constitutes a conflict of interest, although it would not be as blatant if Angela Paxton were to vote to approve her husband’s salary, given that she and the AG share the same home.

I’ll fall back on a truism that should govern elected officials’ conduct: Just because it’s legal doesn’t always make it right.

Did you oppose it, governor?

How about this? A Texas legislator says Gov. Greg Abbott opposed that idiotic Bathroom Bill and didn’t want it to show up on his desk.

So says the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Byron Cook, a Corsicana Republican. Cook’s panel managed to block the Bathroom Bill from clearing the House of Representatives during this past summer’s special legislative session.

You will recall that the Bathroom Bill would have restricted the use of public restrooms by transgender individuals; it would have required them to use restrooms in accordance to the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. So, if you’re a man who was born a woman you would have had to use the women’s restroom … and vice versa.

Republican legislators determined the Bathroom Bill was “bad for business,” according to the Texas Tribune. That’s only part of the problem with this hideous piece of legislation. It was discriminatory on its face.

Yet the Texas Senate insisted that the state should enforce a public restroom use provision. Sheesh!

Most of me is glad the Legislature threw this bill — and please pardon the intended pun — into the proverbial crapper. A smaller part of me, though, wishes it had gotten to Abbott’s desk if only just to see if the governor opposed the bill enough to veto it.

I want to believe Chairman Cook is right, that Gov. Abbott disliked the Bathroom Bill. However, I still wonder …

Here’s an idea. Maybe the governor could set the record straight and tell us himself whether he would have signed it or canned.

Speaker candidates are lining up

Tan Parker has become the third Texas House of Representatives member to file for the race to become the next speaker of the state House.

He hails from Flower Mound; the other two are Phil King of Weatheford and John Zerwas of Richmond. They’re all Republicans.

OK. That’s all fine.

I’m wondering if we’re going to hear an announcement from another up-and-comer in the Texas House. He hails from Amarillo. He’s also a Republican, who also delivered a serious pounding to a candidate favored by Empower Texans, a far right wing political organization that sought to topple this fellow in the GOP primary this week.

Rep. Four Price? Are you listening?

Here’s what I have to say to this young man, who happens to be a friend of mine and who also has done a stellar job representing House District 87 since 2011.

Becoming speaker of the House essentially turns the office into a full-time endeavor. Price will have to come to grips with the idea that he no longer would be a part-time “citizen legislator.” He also has been a strong ally of the current speaker, Joe Straus of San Antonio, who isn’t running for re-election to the House.

Straus distinguished himself mightily by ensuring the death of the infamous Bathroom Bill that passed the Texas Senate in 2017. The Bathroom Bill would have required transgender individuals to use public restrooms in accordance to the gender assigned on their birth certificate.

It is discriminatory on its face. It had no business becoming Texas law. Straus saw it for what it was.

So, would a Speaker Four Price follow that lead? I would hope so.

I also believe that Rep. Price would make an excellent speaker candidate, giving the Texas Panhandle a strong voice in legislative matters, as it did when Democrat Pete Laney of Hale Center ran the House of Representatives.

Hey, I’m just a single voice here in the wilderness.

Still, my desire is to see my friend go for it.

Seliger’s GOP win was big, really big

I cannot overstate the significance this week of state Sen. Kel Seliger’s victory in the Texas Senate District 31 Republican Party primary.

It’s significant on at least two levels.

One is that he faced — count ’em — two GOP foes in this primary. Empower Texans, a far-right political action organization, decided to “primary” Seliger because its leadership wanted someone who’s “more conservative” than Seliger has demonstrated during the 14 years he has represented West Texas.

Empower Texans sought to outflank Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, on the right. His response was to remind voters that he’s conservative. His voting record is mainstream — but he’s a conservative. He proclaims his pro-life, pro-gun rights voting record as demonstrable proof of his conservatism.

The second level of significance deals with this fact: Unlike in 2014, when he faced just one foe in the GOP primary, this year he had two of them. One of this year’s opponents was Mike Canon, the former Midland mayor who Seliger beat four years ago by just 4 percentage points.

Let’s throw in a second right-wing opponent, Amarillo businessman Victor Leal. Between them, Canon and Leal garnered 49.5 percent of the vote. Seliger finished with 50.5 percent, or one-half of a percent more than he needed to avoid a runoff.

I have been unable to analyze the vote as it developed from top to bottom of District 31. My first glance at the vote totals tells me that Canon and Leal battled between themselves for the TEA Party wing vote, leaving the rest of the West Texas Republican voting bloc open for Seliger to harvest.

Canon’s first run for the state Senate in 2014 revealed to me that he spoke mostly in TEA Party slogans when the lights came on. In private, I found him to be personable, intelligent and articulate.

As for Leal, he spent much of his effort accusing Seliger of alleged nefarious relationships and too little of it explaining in any detail how he planned to represent West Texas differently than what Seliger has done.

Thus, Canon and Leal fought for the Republican fringe vote that exists out there. Critics of the senator are liable to say he “barely” won the primary. However, I look at it differently: He beat Canon by nearly 20 points and Leal by more than 30 points.

I would call that a serious drubbing.

Sen. Seliger beats back demagoguery

I had hoped to call it last night. I had to wait until this morning to find out that Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger is returning to the Texas Legislature.

His victory in the Texas Republican primary is a win against demagoguery. Seliger had faced a stern challenge from two far-right opponents: former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo restauranteur Victor Leal.

Canon ran against Seliger in 2014. Leal decided to run as well this year. My first thought was that Leal might peel off some Texas Panhandle votes from Seliger, tossing the contest into a runoff. Hey, guess what happened! Seliger piled up a significant majority in this three-way race, guaranteeing his re-election, given the absence of any Democratic candidates.

This is important for Senate District 31 voters for a couple of important reasons. One is that Seliger has established a stellar reputation among voters at both ends of the sprawling district; he is as fluent in Permian Basin-speak as he is in Panhandle-speak, and tailors his remarks according to the audience that hears them. The other is that he is a mainstream Republican conservative who is not prone to talking only in cliches and platitudes.

He knows the legislative process. Seliger has risen to a position of leadership among the 31 senators in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

All of that hasn’t been good enough for Empower Texans, a political action group that opposed his re-election. Seliger, for his part, has no good will to fling at Michael Quinn Sullivan, the fellow most associated with Empower Texans. Sullivan’s favorite legislator is Lt. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate. Seliger and Patrick aren’t exactly best buds, either, even though Seliger has been able to hold on to his chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education Committee. Given the presence of West Texas A&M University and several community colleges throughout District 31, it is critical that we have one of our own handling the gavel on this committee.

I am delighted to awaken this morning to news that my pal Sen. Seliger will get to continue to serving West Texas.

He has done a good job since 2004. However,  the job of legislating is never finished.

Conservatives are winning the labeling war

Let’s give a sort of shout-out to the conservative media and the politicians they are backing.

Those on the right wing of the spectrum are winning the war of epithets, labeling and name-calling. They have turned the term “liberal” into a four-letter word.

I see it daily as I watch the political debate swirl and churn across the land. To be called a “liberal” in Texas — which is run by Republicans at every level of government — is to be called the son of Satan himself. A candidate for the Texas Senate who is running against state Sen. Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, has called him “liberal” and “corrupt” — in that order. Do you get it? The implication is that to be liberal is to be corrupt. By the way, Seliger is campaigning for re-election as a dedicated conservative, which he is.

It’s gotten so bad among liberals that they no longer are even identifying themselves with that epithet. Oh, no. The operative word now among those on the left is “progressive.”

Admission time: As one who tilts to the left, I find myself using the this new P-word when describing myself. Have I gotten, um, self-conscious about what liberalism? Oh … maybe.

Liberals, er, progressives, haven’t yet been able to turn the right wing’s labeling against them. I suppose they could shorten the word “conservative” to, oh, “con,” which of course brings up another connotation altogether. I mean, liberals are called “libs” on occasion. But I digress.

The political debate often becomes a contest of sorts. One side seeks to demonize the other with words that sound a bit jarring. Republicans back in the early to mid-1990s began using the term “Democrat” as an adjective, referring to “Democrat politicians,” which doesn’t sound quite the same as “Democratic politicians.” That word usage was part of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s strategy to label “Democrats as the enemy of normal Americans.”

If I were wearing a cap at this moment, I would tip it toward Republicans, conservatives and those in the right-wing media for the success they have enjoyed in this rhetorical battle with those on the other side.

However, as a dedicated political liberal, I offer my salute as a form of damning them with faint praise.

Hoping for an outright GOP primary victory

I want to restate my desire for state Sen. Kel Seliger to win the upcoming Republican Party primary outright in his bid to return to the Legislature representing Senate District 31.

He’s got two GOP foes in this primary. Four years ago, he had just one, who has returned for a second go-round against the former Amarillo mayor.

However, here is what I do not know at this moment: It is whether Seliger has consulted with another Republican officeholder who four years ago won her party primary without a runoff while facing four opponents.

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner (right, in photo) faced the daunting task of winning the GOP primary for the seat she now occupies. Of the four foes she faced, one of them also was a recent Amarillo mayor, Debra McCartt, who made quite a name for herself setting governing policy for a city of nearly 200,000 residents.

When the votes were counted in 2014, Tanner won in a relative breeze. Tanner was able to parlay her experience as a longtime administrative assistant to former County Judge Arthur Ware into an easy primary victory; with no Democrat on the ballot four years, the primary was tantamount to election.

Indeed, I called her “Judge Tanner” years before she actually became the county judge.

My strong hope is that Seliger or his campaign team has consulted with Tanner about what she did to fend off those four challengers. I know that Seliger is working with a young political consultant who has been assigned to work exclusively with the senator in his re-election effort.

What I don’t know is if he has sought out a local politician with plenty of knowledge of how to win a crowded primary race outright.

Democrats feeling a ‘wave’ coming on?

Democrats across Texas are heartened by a surge in their party’s early primary voting numbers, saying that they are rivaling the primary interest generated by the 2008 presidential campaign struggle between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Hill reports a surge in some urban areas, such as Harris County. They believe the Democratic primary uptick signals a potential “wave” sweeping across the state this fall.

Count me as mildly skeptical of that, although I do hope for a wave, given my own progressive leanings.

I clearly recall the heavy Democratic interest in 2008, even in heavily Republican Randall County, where I am registered to vote. The lines at the Democratic polling station was far longer than it was at the GOP station, signaling to my mind a bit of GOP crossovers seeking to commit a bit of mischief in the other party. Hey, that happens on occasion.

The Democratic surge then didn’t translate to victory in the fall, as Democratic nominee Obama lost Texas to GOP nominee Sen. John McCain.

Moreover, I don’t necessarily equate large early-vote numbers to increase overall turnout. It means quite often only that more voters are casting ballots early … and that’s it!

My own preference this year was to vote in the GOP primary, given my intense interest in helping return Kel Seliger to the Texas Senate. But that’s just me.

“You can’t underestimate the surge that we’re seeing out there with the blue wave coming,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of the Democratic-leaning Progress Texas.

Let’s just wait this one out. Shall we?

Seliger stays on high road in this fight

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger wants to be re-elected so badly that he’s staying totally positive in his campaign.

That is how the Amarillo Republican is casting his campaign. You know what? I am all for his approach.

Now he’ll get to find out whether the strategy works or whether Texas Senate District 31 Republican primary voters are drawn instead to mud-slinging and innuendo.

Seliger’s recent TV ad push highlights how he has stayed positive. All he says about his foes is that they have gone intensely negative with “false” accusations about his voting record, which Seliger insists is a conservative one.

Indeed, Seliger — who has served in the Senate since 2004 — has followed what I would call a “traditional conservative” track in the Texas Senate. He doesn’t align with the TEA party wing of his party and some of the principal elected officials elected on TEA party platforms; I think of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as one example.

He has drawn the wrath of Patrick’s major political benefactor, PAC boss Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose latest incarnation is something called Empower Texans, which has been savaging Seliger with baseless attacks.

Meanwhile, Seliger campaigns on his conservative record; he touts his record standing up for rural interests against urban power centers; he talks about his strong pro-life stance and his endorsement by gun-rights advocates.

Seliger also has earned standing among his state Senate colleagues and has chaired the Senate Higher Education Committee through two legislative sessions.

I, too, want him to be re-elected. I detest the campaign that has been launched against him.

My hope for Sen. Seliger is that his high-road track plays better with West Texas Republican primary voters than the low road his foes have taken against him.

The primary is just a few days off. We’ll know quite soon a lot about the character of the Texas GOP primary voter.

Candidates don’t deserve free ‘ad space’

I get that the Amarillo Globe-News has endorsed state Sen. Kel Seliger’s bid for re-election to the Texas Senate. That’s their call and, frankly, it was the wise decision.

Now, though, the newspaper has crossed a line it shouldn’t have crossed. One of Seliger’s Republican primary opponents, Amarillo businessman Victor Leal, has been allowed to write a letter to the editor excoriating Seliger’s voting record. The newspaper published it!

Leal’s letter makes no mention of the editorial. It doesn’t challenge the G-N editorial board rationale for its decision to back Seliger.

Read Leal’s letter here.

Instead, it challenges Seliger’s statements touting his voting record on a variety of issues.

Why does this set a slippery-slope precedent? Because political candidates should have to pay for their political advertisements. Newspapers and other media offer candidates space and air time to espouse their own real or perceived virtues, but they don’t usually give it to them for free.

I worked for a couple of newspapers that didn’t even allow people to speak on behalf of candidates during election season for that very reason. The idea was to reserve the free space for issues and discussions that steered away from political campaigns. As a former boss of mine used to say, “We aren’t going to give away political ad space with letters to the editor that endorse a candidate’s virtues.”

I moved away from that policy years later. The candidates themselves, though, did not get that space to speak for free to speak on behalf of themselves or against their foes. If they wanted the space, they had to pay for it.

We now can await Seliger’s response to Leal and quite possibly Mike Canon — the third GOP candidate in this contest — will get to boast about his own virtues.