Tag Archives: Empower Texans

Empower Texans tightens its grip

A right-wing political action group has lusted after legislative districts in Texas since the beginning of time, or so it seems. Empower Texans has tried to oust Texas Republicans from their seats by offering GOP primary opponents more to its liking.

It’s had a mixed record in that regard. However, the group led by a fellow named Michael Quinn Sullivan has scored some victories that for my money should cause concern across the great state.

I want to look specifically at a West Texas Senate district that will have a newbie representing it for the first time since 2004. Kel Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, got elected to that seat after Teel Bivins vacated it to become the U.S. ambassador to Sweden. He has done well representing the entire district. His occasional beefs with conservatives in the Texas Senate pissed off Sullivan, who sought to “primary” Seliger over several election cycles. He had no luck in getting Seliger defeated.

Seliger, for his part, spoke badly of Sullivan and Empower Texans.

The veteran politician is leaving office at the end of the year. Kevin Sparks is the GOP nominee to succeed him. He will win the election this fall; I think he’s unopposed.

Sparks is another Empower Texans stalking horse. He will make very nice with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate’s presiding officer and an individual with whom Seliger had plenty of beefs over the years. Patrick got so angry with Seliger over comments Kel made about a key Patrick aide that he stripped Seliger of his committee chairmanships and sent him to the back bench.

My trick knee is telling me that Sparks will cozy up to Patrick and do whatever the hell Patrick wants him to do. That will suit Empower Texans just fine, because Sparks is its guy in Austin.

I should add that Sparks hails from Midland, which is where Empower Texans is based. Get it? Sparks is an Empower Texans homey.

Thus, the right-wingers have tightened their grip on the Texas Senate. So very sad.


Keep eyes on Empower Texans

I want to issue a stern warning to Texas residents. It is to keep all eyes on a group of political radicals that is likely feeling its Wheaties right about now.

Empower Texans is going to get involved in legislative races again this year just as it has done in several election cycles. This group presents a clear and present danger to our way of life.

I have been able to watch these clowns seek to unseat solid Republican legislators in Texas. Republicans are their targets in the primary season. Why? Because some GOP legislators aren’t conservative enough to suit these nut jobs.

So, Empower Texans recruits candidates to challenge solid GOP lawmakers, hoping to knock enough of them off to be able to steer the legislative agenda in the next Legislature.

They have been active in conservative corners of the state, such as the Panhandle. Empower Texans has drawn a bead for many years on state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, a man I know well. In 2018, Empower Texans recruited two far-right wingers to challenge Seliger; the senator fended them off in the primary and won that race without having to go to a runoff.

Empower Texans also went after state Rep. Four Price, another Amarillo lawmaker, a young man who has become a rising star in Texas politics. ET found a guy from Fritch to challenge Price, but he got smoked in a head-to-head primary matchup.

Seliger isn’t running this year. He’s done. Seliger has engaged in one too many disputes with arch conservatives in the Senate, starting with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, with whom he has had a testy relationship ever since Patrick got elected to preside over the Senate in 2014.

Empower Texans will seek to unseat reasonable Republicans in the ensuing primary season and replace them with American First knock-off GOP pretenders.

These clowns give me great concern, as Texas already is tilting too far to the right to suit my political taste. We need to stave off this push to move one of our two major parties onto the far-right fringes of political thought.

Women’s reproductive rights appear to be a lost cause. However, we need to protect public education, the quest for renewable energy sources and a judicial system capable of showing some compassion.

Empower Texans presents a clear and present danger to what is left of reasonable political thought in this state.


Battle set for Texas Senate District 31

A conversation I had this week with a friend and former colleague informed me of a battle for political power that is developing in the Texas Panhandle.

It involves Texas Senate District 31, which has been occupied since 2004 by Kel Seliger of Amarillo; Seliger is not seeking re-election this year, leaving the seat vacant for the next person to emerge from an expected tough battle.

I am biased, to be sure, but I hope the seat remains in the hands of a Texas Panhandle politician. Seliger served as Amarillo mayor before moving to the Senate; his predecessor, Teel Bivins also hailed from Amarillo; as did the fellow who preceded Bivins, Bill Sarpalius.

Kevin Sparks of Midland has declared his candidacy for the seat. I am looking for good things, though, to come from Tim Reid, a retired FBI agent who returned to Amarillo after retiring from the federal government.

Reid is no stranger to local political office. He served on the Canyon school district board before being transferred by the FBI to a new station back east.

Reid is appealing for a major reason: He is not aligned with Empower Texans, the far-right conservative political action committee that has targeted Seliger for years. It has recruited candidates to run against Seliger, who in turn has spoken ill of the individuals who run the PAC. Empower Texans has endorsed Sparks to succeed Seliger. Reid is running as the anti-Empower Texans candidate. He would have my vote … if I lived in Amarillo.

I am casually acquainted with Reid. He served on the Canyon school board for a time after I arrived in the Panhandle in early 1995 to run the opinion pages of the Amarillo Globe-News. Still, since he is running as a traditional Republican in a district populated more and more by the wacko wing of the GOP, I want to offer him a good word as he seeks to hold the seat for the Panhandle.

The Panhandle already has a nut job representing it in Congress in the person of Ronny Jackson. It doesn’t need another far-right fruitcake representing it in the Texas Senate.


So long, and thanks, Sen. Seliger

Call me not surprised in the least at this bit of political bombshell news.

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, has announced he won’t run for another term from Senate District 31.

I want to get this disclaimer out of the way off the top. Seliger is a friend of mine. I have known him since the week I reported for work in January 1995 at the Amarillo Globe-News. Seliger was mayor of the city and he and I got to know each other well while he served in public office and I worked as editorial page editor of the newspaper.

Our relationship morphed into a friendship when he left the mayor’s office. Then it returned to its former self when he was elected to the state Senate in 2004.

Texas is losing a titan from its legislative leadership. The Texas Panhandle is losing a stellar representative of its interests in Austin.  Seliger will serve until January 2023 when his current term expires.

I won’t pussyfoot around with what I believe to be Seliger’s motive in leaving public office. He has grown weary of being battered by the right-wing nut cases who occupy the GOP leadership. I refer particularly to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, with whom Seliger has clashed frequently since Patrick was first elected to lead the Senate in 2014.

Seliger has opposed some of Patrick’s key socially conservative notions. He once spoke ill of a key Patrick aide; the lieutenant governor punished Seliger by removing him key committee chairmanships.

Seliger has been the target of Empower Texans, a right-wing political action committee that pushes archconservative social issues, which Seliger — given his nature and his salt-of-the-Earth conservatism — has opposed.

Seliger’s statement about his pending retirement contained all the proper platitudes about pride in serving his West Texas district, about how he wants to spend more time with his family and his giving thanks to West Texans for entrusting him with their vote.

The Legislature, though, decided to “reward” Seliger by pulling key Panhandle counties out of District 31 and adding several more from the Permian Basin region, thus diluting Seliger’s base within the sprawling legislative district.

So, it’s no surprise to me that this good man has decided to call it a career.

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo won’t seek reelection | The Texas Tribune

The Texas Panhandle has been blessed with solid conservative representation in the Texas Senate even pre-dating Seliger’s tenure in that office. What happens now remains anyone’s guess. My hunch is that it won’t be good, necessarily, for the region that sent Kel Seliger to Austin to represent its interests.

This is a big loss for the region I once called home. I’m betting that Kel Seliger is likely to sleep well from this day forward now that he has made this big announcement.

Thanks for your service to the Panhandle and the state, Sen. Seliger.


Hoping to de-fang Empower Texans

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My wish list for the 2021 Texas Legislature is fairly modest, given the constraints the pandemic has placed before governing bodies all across the nation.

I want to offer this modest wish for our legislators: Do not let Empower Texans call the shots on your agenda.

Empower Texans, in my view, is a truly detestable political action committee. It is led by a guy named Michael Quinn Sullivan, a fellow I do not know but he is someone about whom I have heard plenty.

He stuck a shiv in former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s back in 2019, recording a meeting he and Bonnen had in which Bonnen gave him the names of 10 Republican legislators that Empower Texans could target for defeat. He recorded the event with Bonnen’s knowledge.

He and his PAC have meddled in GOP primaries throughout the state, including in the Texas Panhandle, where I lived for 23 years before moving to Dallas area two years ago. He has sought to defeat fine legislators, friends of mine … so perhaps my anger is a bit too personal. But it is what it is, you know?

I just want Empower Texans to be kept at arm’s length. The PAC is too rigid to suit me, as a taxpaying Texan. I do not want this outfit to “empower” me in any fashion.

My plea, then, goes directly to two men: Republican state Sen. Drew Springer and Republican state Rep. Scott Sanford. They represent me in the Legislature.

Stay away from Empower Texans. Got it? Good!

Stay away from Empower Texans boss

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan should heed this piece of advice, were he to see it … and I hope he does.

Do not go anywhere near right-wing fanatic Empower Texans founder Michael Quinn Sullivan without first frisking the dude to ensure he isn’t wired with recording equipment.

The Beaumont Republican succeeded former Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who retired from politics at the end of this past year after rserving a single term as speaker. Bonnen drove his political career eover a cliff by being recorded by Sullivan offering the names of 10 GOP legislators whom Sullivan and Empower Texans could defeat at the ballot box this past year.

Furthermore, Sullivan said he had recorded the conversation. Bonnen denied saying the things Sullivan reported he said. It turns out Bonnen was, um, lying. We know he did say those things because Sullivan produced the recording.

Ouch, man!

Speaker Phelan has made a point of seeking to work with Democrats as well as Republicans. Empower Texans is not interested in bipartisanship. It is interested instead in building a far-right conservative movement that installs like-minded politicians in power.

Given what we know about Empower Texans and what Phelan has stated about how he intends to run the Texas House, well … he needs to just keep his distance from Sullivan and Empower Texans.

I hope you see this, Mr. Speaker.

Some advice for next Texas House speaker …

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Admittedly, I am a long time and a long way from my days in Beaumont, Texas, covering and commenting on politics of the region.

So I am drafting this blog post with a bit of trepidation. It appears that a young man from that corner of the state is set to become the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

He is state Rep. Dade Phelan, a Republican. He is the son of a prominent developer in the community, a fellow I knew only casually. Still, I feel only a couple of degrees separated from Rep. Phelan.

I wish him well if he musters the support he claims to have lined up to be elected speaker in advance of the 2021 Texas Legislature. Phelan succeeds a fellow who turned out to be an abject failure as speaker, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, who served a single term as speaker before deciding against running for another term in the House.

So, it’s one and done for Bonnen. The dude found himself in a meeting with a right-wing zealot who taped the event secretly. The two of them talked about Bonnen turning on 10 of his GOP colleagues, offering them as targets for Michael Quinn Sullivan, guru of Empower Texans, to defeat in the 2020 Republican Party primary.

Bonnen denied saying those things. Sullivan then produced the recordings of Bonnen deceiving his colleagues. Bonnen apologized. Then when the sh** hit the fan, he decided to retire from the Legislature. Now he’s about to be gone.

In steps Phelan, a young man who pledges to work across the aisle. He wants to curry favor with Democrats as well as Republicans … or so I have been led to believe.

That’s not a bad goal. Some previous House speakers have done well serving the entire body, not just the members of their own party. I think of Republican Joe Straus of San Antonio and Democrat Pete Laney of Hale Center; I happen to know Laney fairly well, as I covered him when I moved from Beaumont to Amarillo in early 1995. Texas House speakers can govern effectively if they adhere to the traditions of the Legislature, which include bipartisanship when it becomes necessary.

OK, so here’s the final bit of advice I for Rep. Phelan: Don’t speak privately to Michael Quinn Sullivan without frisking him to ensure he isn’t recording what you tell him.

Damage is done, Empower Texans

I’ve gone from despising Empower Texans to hating the ultra right-wing political action committee with what my dear Mom used to call a “purple passion.”

An audio recording has surfaced in which two Empower Texans operatives are making fun of the fact that Gov. Greg Abbott is confined to a wheelchair. The recording is profanity-laced. It is tasteless in the extreme.

Now, to be fair, Empower Texans boss Michael Quinn Sullivan has apologized to Abbott. He has condemned the remarks. I don’t know if he has dismissed the yahoos who made the comments. He damn sure should.

I want to be clear about my feelings about Empower Texans. This right-wing PAC has become involved in Republican Party primary politics, It targets GOP incumbents who ET believes aren’t “conservative enough.” In 2018, ET went after state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, two Amarillo Republicans I happen to know quite well. Seliger and Price survived the challenge.

Now we hear from Empower Texans’ operatives Tony McDonald and Cary Cheshire talking trash. Indeed, to poke fun of a public official’s disability is pure trash.

State Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican, said this via Twitter: Abbott has more strength in his spine & integrity in his pinkie than these fools. Silver lining: now the masses get to see what many of us have known for a long time: A once reputable & respected policy organization, ET has turned in to nothing more than a sanctimonious sewer.

Am I a fan of Greg Abbott’s politics and his world view? No, I am not. That’s beside the point. The point I want to make is that Empower Texans has shown that two members of its high command behave despicably beyond measure.

Yes, I hate Empower Texans.

Club for Growth channels Empower Texans

I no longer live in the 13th Congressional District of Texas, but I remain interested in the political dynamics of that sprawling region of the state.

The upcoming Republican Party primary runoff election is the latest event to trigger my interest. Retired Navy Admiral/Dr. Ronny Jackson is running against Josh Winegarner for the congressional seat being vacated by longtime GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry.

Winegarner finished first during the primary in a huge field of GOP contenders, but didn’t get enough votes to win the nomination outright; so he’s facing the second place finisher, Jackson.

This is getting interesting. Jackson has received the endorsement of a group called Club for Growth, which an Amarillo political action committee, Amarillo Matters, describes as a group that “raises and spends a lot of money on political races, mostly pitting Republicans against other Republican candidates.”

They’re outsiders, according to Amarillo Matters. Club for Growth has no discernible interest in the 13th Congressional District, except to help elect candidates who hue to its right-wing national agenda. Amarillo Matters compares this outfit to Empower Texans, an Austin-based right-wing advocacy group that does the same thing. Empower Texans, in 2018, sought to unseat state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, both of Amarillo … but got its melon thumped by voters in Seliger’s Senate district and Price’s House district.

Amarillo Matters is backing Winegarner, contending that their guy is a locally grown candidate who knows the district. Jackson is a carpetbagger, having never lived within the 13th District.

Amarillo Matters writes: You might remember the name Chris Ekstrom. He’s a multi-millionaire from Dallas who spent more than $1 million trying to buy our congressional seat in the primary election. He was one of fourteen candidates that Winegarner beat by steep margins in March. In that election, Ekstrom received an endorsement from a nation-wide organization named Club for Growth. 

So now this outfit is at it again. It seeks to meddle where it has no real interest or concern. Don’t misunderstand me on this point: I don’t really care whether Winegarner gets the GOP nod. He’s a right-winger, too, and not precisely my kinda congressman. At least, though, he knows the district — unlike the retired naval officer and physician who once treated Presidents Obama and Trump.

Amarillo Matters has done a good job of alerting voters of the 13th Congressional District about what’s going on … supposedly in their name. Stay alert, my former neighbors.

Speaker Bonnen comes clean … but he’s still a goner

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen messed up royally when he agreed to meet with a far-right-wing political activist and then offered to toss 10 of his fellow legislative Republicans over the proverbial cliff.

He finally has fessed up to the mess he created. It’s just that it is way too late to do him any good. Bonnen took many hits from his Texas Legislature colleagues and then decided he wouldn’t seek re-election from his Angleton House district after serving just a single legislative term as the Man of the House.

Why speak out now? Who knows? At some level, though, I do care.

Bonnen conspired with Michael Quinn Sullivan, the head of that far-right outfit Empower Texans. He committed a terrible mistake by agreeing to meet with Sullivan in the first place. You see, Sullivan recorded the meeting secretly, then sprang the trap into which he had snared Bonnen in the summer of 2019. He revealed what Bonnen had done; Bonnen at first denied it; then Sullivan released the recording and, by golly, he was right.

Bonnen had given Sullivan the names of 10 legislators. He also offered to provide media credentials to Empower Texans, enabling the PAC direct access to House members on the House floor when the Legislature was in session. Very, very bad call, Mr. Speaker.

Bonnen spoke recently to the Dallas Morning News in which he apologized to his House colleagues and admitted to turning his career into so much road kill.

I am hoping for all I’m worth that the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives will learn from Bonnen’s mess up … and trust Michael Quinn Sullivan only as far as he can toss him.