Tag Archives: Texas Senate

Partisanship rules in Texas Senate

My old buddy Kel Seliger’s departure from the Texas Senate is now becoming even more clear than it was when he announced his intention to forgo another term in the legislative body.

Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, had crossed swords with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick many times since 2015 when Patrick took over as the Senate’s presiding officer.

Now we see that Patrick has tossed aside a longstanding Texas Senate tradition by appointing just one Democrat to a committee chairmanship. That would be John Whitmire, a moderate from Houston who now serves as the Senate’s most senior member; Whitmire will chair the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Seliger has returned to private life in the Texas Panhandle, no longer having to tolerate Patrick’s petulance and his hyper-partisan approach to governance, neither of which is Seliger’s style.

Compare the Patrick method to that being practiced down hall the Texas Capitol hall in the House, where Speaker Dade Phelan — yes, another Republican — has resisted far-right-wing pressure to appoint only GOP House members to committee chairs. One of those right-wingers, state Rep. Bryan Slaton of Royse City, told me that Phelan is rewarding House Democrats unjustly because they do not hold a majority in the Texas House.

Phelan’s response. That’s just too damn bad … just live with it.

Patrick has tossed aside bipartisanship in running the Senate. As the Dallas Morning News stated in an editorial: Texas has serious business to get done to keep us moving forward as a state. Chances are the Senate will be hog-tied with business it shouldn’t be worrying about. That’s bad for Texans.

So it goes in the Texas Senate, which will be run by a lieutenant governor more interested in sticking it to Democrats than in welcoming them to cooperate in legislating matters that will benefit the whole state.

What a shame.


Lt. Gov. proposes mainstream agenda … who knew?

Hardly ever do I have a good word to say about Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, but today I am going to veer into virtually unknown territory.

I want to offer a word of cautious praise for the agenda he is proposing for the Texas Senate as it prepares for the start of the next Legislature which opens for business in early January.

Patrick is pitching several key issues as his top priority items.

They are: fixing the electrical grid; reducing property taxes; and shoring up our border security.

None of that sounds particularly alarming to me. Nor should it to anyone else. There might be a socially conservative issue or two hidden in Patrick’s sleeve. You might recall how he sought to impose the “bathroom bill” on Texans in the 2017 Legislature. That was the bill that sought to require transgender Texans to use the public bathroom that coincided with their “gender at birth.” That attempt at homophobic legislation died in the House, thanks to the will of then-Speaker Joe Straus, another Republican legislator.

I don’t want Patrick to try more of that kind of funny business the 2023 legislative session.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lays out 2023 legislative priorities | The Texas Tribune

The electrical grid needs repair, even though Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick said it had been fixed after the disaster that came to the state in February 2021, when hundreds of Texans froze to death.

As for property tax relief, I am unsure what kind of authority the state has over a matter that is decided by county commissioners’ courts, school boards, city councils and assorted other local governing bodies. However, as a taxpaying Texas resident of long standing, I welcome the effort.

Patrick cruised to re-election this year and is likely filled with plenty of political capital as he prepares the Senate — over which he presides — for the work that lies ahead.

I wish him — and the Senate — well as they get busy. I just want to offer a word of caution to the occasionally fiery and abrasive lieutenant governor: Keep your eye on the ball and let’s not try to legislate our moral behavior.


GOP leader backs a Democrat for lt. gov.?

That’s how you make news: You go on a TV news show that is broadcast statewide and then declare that despite your loyalty to those who belong to your political party, you endorse the candidate for the state’s most powerful public office who represents the other major party.

Republican Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who’s leaving office at the end of the year, said he is going to support Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Mike Collier, who is running against GOP incumbent Dan Patrick.

The first reason that Whitley cited in turning his back on Patrick is Patrick’s association with Empower Texans, an outfit that has drawn plenty of barbs from this blog. Empower Texans is an ultra-right-wing political action committee dedicated to the task of challenging Republican officeholders who do not adhere to the PAC’s right-wing agenda.

I watched Empower Texans take aim at the likes of two friends of mine, state Sen. Kel Seilger and state Rep. Four Price, both of whom are Amarillo Republicans. Both are solid legislators. Seliger, though, butted heads constantly with Patrick.

I am glad Judge Whitley has decided to make news in this manner. He told WFAA-TV this morning: “The one person who I’ll support statewide that will get me a little in trouble: Mike Collier for lieutenant governor.”

I suppose I should weigh in with a thought on whether I believe Collier — who ran against Patrick four years ago — can break through the GOP lock on statewide office this time. I doubt it. Then again, I am not touring the state talking to folks about issues important to many Texans. Abortion comes to mind. The state has made performing an abortion a criminal act and has put the lives and emotional well-being of women in dire peril as a result.

Patrick, as the presiding officer of the Texas Senate, has been front and center on this heavy-handed policy discussion. I am going out on a limb by suggesting that Judge Whitley isn’t willing to side with Dan Patrick on that matter. Thus, he backs Mike Collier.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley endorses Mike Collier | The Texas Tribune

If only this endorsement can open the door for other reasonable Republicans to enter.


Will miss Sen. Seliger

Kel Seliger called me today, saying he had “no reason at all” other than just to catch up.

The Republican Texas state senator and I had a nice chat. I won’t reveal the content of our conversation, but I do want to offer a comment, which I more or less shared with Seliger this morning.

It is that I will miss his service in the Texas Senate, where he has served with distinction and honor for the past 18 years. He is bowing out of political life and returning to what many of us would consider to be a more “normal” lifestyle. That is, he will do what his wife asks of him and will spend a lot more time with his sons, their wives and his new granddaughter.

Seliger’s Senate District 31 seat stretches a long way through West Texas, from the Panhandle’s border with Oklahoma to the Permian Basin more than 250 miles away. Kevin Sparks will be elected to the seat in November. Sparks lives in Midland, representing the oil and natural gas industries.

One of the many things I admired about Seliger was his fluency in Permian Basin-speak, which equaled his fluency in Panhandle-speak. Seliger knows the Panhandle — from grange halls to feedlots. He also became well-versed in fossil fuel issues down yonder in Midland and Odessa.

Sparks will face a challenge in equaling Seliger’s knowledge of the vast district. From what I can gather, though, Sparks is a right-wing toadie who is going to do every single thing that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants him to do; Seliger resisted that pressure. It got him in trouble with Patrick, which leads me to another reason I grew to admire Seliger’s service to the state. He wouldn’t be pushed around by a vengeful pol who doesn’t know the first thing about issues affecting West Texans.

Seliger popped off about one of Patrick’s key aides and Patrick responded by stripping Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, of chairmanships and key committee assignments.

Seliger’s political career is winding down. I will hope for the best for my former neighbors and my many friends in the Panhandle that the new guy will step up and represent their interests with as much vigor as he will represent the Permian Basin.

At this moment, I am doubtful.

Still, it was good to catch up with my friend.


Panhandle to get new Senate face

Get ready, my old friends in the Texas Panhandle. You are about to get a new brand of legislative representation in the Texas Senate. It will come in the form of a state senator who represents your interests but who lives way down yonder in Midland, more than 200 miles away.

Kevin Sparks will be the new state senator from District 31. He won the Republican Party primary election this past week.

I don’t much at all about Sparks, other than I believe he was recruited by Empower Texans — a far right political action organization out of Midland — to run for the seat vacated by longtime Republican Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo. Empower Texans is a toxic organization and I detest what it stands for and what it has done to try to undermine the political leadership in the Panhandle, where my wife and I lived for 23 years before moving away in 2019.

They have their guy now slated to take his seat in District 31.

My hope is that Sparks does as much to represent the entire district, which runs from the Permian Basin all the way to the Panhandle’s border with Oklahoma. Seliger was as fluent in Permian Basin-speak as he was in Panhandle-speak when he served in the Senate. So was his Republican predecessor, the late Teel Bivins, also of Amarillo, who served the region from 1989 until 2004, when he left to become U.S. ambassador to Sweden. The same can be said of Bivins’s predecessor, Amarillo Democrat Bill Sarpalius.

The Panhandle has essentially owned that Senate seat since the proverbial Flood. Thanks to the GOP’s efforts to reconfigure the state’s legislative boundaries, the district lost several Panhandle counties and added some more down south, thus shoring up the strength of whoever wanted to run for the seat from the Permian Basin region.

There was a time when we could call our state senator or run into him at a local restaurant. I lost count of the times I would be sharing a meal with Kel Seliger in Amarillo and his attention was diverted to whomever walked by and wanted to chat. I doubt that will be the case with Sen. Sparks dining anywhere in Amarillo or Canyon.

That makes it imperative that he elevate his presence in the “other end” of the sprawling Senate district, which now happens to be the Panhandle, which until January 2023 had one of its own representing its interests in the Texas Senate. That task now will fall to an outsider.

Don’t let ’em down up north, Sen.-to-be Sparks.


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.


What’s the rush, Lt. Gov. Patrick?

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Dan Patrick continues to exhibit traits that just pi** me off royally.

The Texas lieutenant governor is trying to pressure another fairly loathsome politician — Gov. Greg Abbott — into calling a special legislative session in June. Why? Because the lieutenant governor wants the Legislature to enact some conservative bills that aren’t going to make it to Abbott’s desk when the regular session ends in a few days.

Dan Patrick calls for special session of the Texas Legislature | The Texas Tribune

Left undone are bills, for instance, that would ban transgender students from competing in high school sports activities, would prohibit local governments from using taxpayer funds to pay for lobbyists and punish social media companies for “censoring” Texans based on their political viewpoints.

Abbott calls Patrick’s demand “premature” and has urged legislators to get “conservative legislation to my desk” before the regular session adjourns.

Good grief! The Legislature is coming back to work later in the fall to work on redistricting and reapportionment — which is required under the U.S. Constitution. Special legislative sessions happen to cost a lot of money. That doesn’t bother Patrick in the least or so it would appear. It does bother me, given that they do all this work on my dime, as well as on yours.

I suppose if the Legislature is intent on getting this “conservative” agenda enacted, it could wait until after it finishes the redistricting work it is required to do. Although if I had my druthers, I would hope the Legislature would leave these issues alone.

New feud brewing in Texas Senate?

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Even though I am far removed from state and local politics these days by virtue of my retirement from full-time journalism, I do maintain a fairly high level of interest in the goings-on.

Such as what might be brewing in Austin between Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a longtime nemesis, Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo.

I’ll stipulate up front that I have declared my pro-Seliger bias. I know the senator quite well and I consider him a friend. He and Patrick have butted noggins already in previous legislative sessions. Patrick has sought to punish Seliger for allegedly “insulting” a key aide of Patrick’s. My reading of Seliger’s response has been it’s rolled off his broad back.

Now, though, comes this nutty legislation that might get stalled in the Senate. It’s the one that would allow any Texan who lives to pack a firearm even without obtaining a state-issued permit under the state’s concealed-carry law. Seliger thinks the current system works just fine and hasn’t signed on to the bill already approved by the House of Representatives.

Patrick, meanwhile, says he’ll move the bill forward once it obtains the required 18-vote majority it requires under Senate rules; Seliger’s holdout leaves the bill one vote short before it can be taken up by the full Senate.

Seliger is leaving open the possibility that he could be persuaded to support the bill. I hope he stands firm. It’s not that I want Patrick to punish him some more. Indeed, there’s little more that Patrick can do to Seliger above what he’s done already, which was to strip him of committee chairmanships and reassign him from some of the higher profile Senate panels on which he served.

I dislike the proposed legislation. No … I hate it!

With that, I will implore my friend to stand firm. Be strong.

Seliger makes a key TM list

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Ya gotta hand it to Andrea Zelinski, a writer for Texas Monthly.

She does her homework. Texas Monthly has published a story listing seven Texas legislators to watch in the current session that is set to adjourn at the end of May. One of them is a senator I happen to know pretty well: Republican Kel Seliger of Amarillo.

Zelinski has labeled Seliger “The Swing Vote,” a guy who could tip the balance in either direction on key legislation. And why is that the case? Seliger is a “maverick” in the Senate because, according to Zelinski, he adheres to traditional conservative Republican values. You know, things like local government control at the expense of overreaching state interference.

Amazing, yes? I believe it is.

Seliger served as Amarillo mayor for a decade before being elected to the Senate in 2004. He learned Legislature-speak quickly and became fluent in the jargon that lawmakers use when talking to each other. He also developed plenty of alliances across the aisle, you know, making friends with Democrats. He once told he one of his best friends in the Senate was McAllen Democrat Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, with whom he has worked closely.

Seliger also has crossed swords with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a darling of the TEA Party/Freedom Caucus movement. Seliger spouted off during the 2019 Legislature about one of Patrick’s key aides. So what did Patrick do? He stripped Seliger of his Higher Education Committee chairmanship and removed him from the Education Committee.

Seven Texas Lawmakers to Watch – Texas Monthly

That hasn’t stopped Seliger from exerting his influence among his Senate peers, who I gathered over the years have developed a firm respect for his legislative integrity.

Zelinski writes in TM: Seliger once again might be a crucial swing vote, particularly on policing issues. The 31-member Senate has 18 Republicans, and new Senate rules require bills to receive 18 votes to reach the floor. Both Patrick and Abbott are bent on punishing Austin for reducing funding for its police department, with the governor suggesting that the state freeze property tax revenues of cities that shrink their police budgets. Though Seliger says Austin’s budget reduction in 2020 was “absolutely terrible,” the former mayor adamantly opposes Abbott’s bid to have the state dictate policy in areas traditionally considered the province of city and county governments, calling it “almost Soviet.” “If Greg Abbott wants to be the mayor of Austin, he can do it in a heartbeat and he’d be a very good one,” Seliger told me. “Do we [the Lege] need to go set the speed limit on Austin’s streets? And do we need to determine where stop signs go on Austin’s streets? No, we don’t. That’s what they elect [city officials] for.” 

My goodness, Sen. Seliger is out of control!

That’s OK with me.

Sanity rules in Senate District 30

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Texas Senate District 30 voters seem to have retained some sanity in what otherwise is a largely insane political climate.

They chose over the weekend to send someone to the Texas Senate with actual government experience rather than select a candidate who was running for office – and this is just my humble opinion – for the purpose of making a spectacle of herself.

The senator-elect is state Rep. Drew Springer, who will succeed U.S. Rep.-elect Pat Fallon. Indeed, it’s been a bit of a musical chairs game in these two Northeast Texas political jurisdictions. Fallon got elected to the Fourth Congressional District seat vacated by John Ratcliffe, who was appointed director of national intelligence by Donald J. Trump. Ratcliffe’s tenure as DNI, of course, is about to end the day that Trump leaves office on Jan. 20; Trump lost the election in November, but I guess you knew that already.

Fallon moves on to Washington, D.C., while Springer moves down the hall in the State Capitol into Fallon’s old seat in the Texas Senate.

Let me be abundantly clear: I am not terribly fond of Drew Springer’s politics. He tilts a bit too far to the right to suit my taste. However, he does bring some political experience and seasoning to his new legislative assignment, unlike the candidate he defeated in the runoff. That would be Dallas salon owner Shelly Luther, who this past summer decided to make a name for herself by defying an order by Gov. Greg Abbott to close her business in the wake of the COVID-19 virus that is still killing Texans at an alarming rate.

No can do, Luther said. She opened her business despite the order … and then got arrested and tossed into jail. Why? Well, because she broke the law, which I figure is enough of a reason to spend a little time in the slammer.

She got out of jail right away and then announced she would run for the Senate. Her platform? It was to send some sort of message that business owners such as herself wouldn’t be pushed around by “tyrants” who are elected to state office. She did concede to Springer but then vowed to keep fighting against that so-called tyrant Gov. Abbott, who to my way of reasoning is trying to save Texans’ lives.

There you have it.

Springer managed to defeat Luther fairly handily, although I hate to acknowledge that Collin County, where my wife and I live, cast most of its votes for Luther. As they might say … “no place is perfect.”

We surely do live in strange political times. I am heartened to see evidence of some semblance of sanity presenting itself in at least one Texas Senate district.

Note: This blog was published initially on KETR-FM radio’s website.