Tag Archives: Texas Senate

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. 

Hair cutter/law breaker seeks Senate post

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Shelly Luther might be a wonderful hair stylist.

Is she qualified to serve in the Texas Senate? Not even close!

The Dallas hair salon owner is running for a seat being vacated by state Sen. Pat Fallon, who is likely to be elected to the U.S. House from Northeast Texas, succeeding Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, the Fourth Congressional District’s former congressman.

I cannot ascertain how Luther will do when they count the ballots on Sept. 29 for the Texas Senate District 30 seat. I hope she loses the special election. She is trying to parlay her 15-minutes-of-fame status into a political office.

You will recall that Luther defied an order from Gov. Greg Abbott to close her business during the pandemic that is still sickening and killing Texans. Luther decided to forgo the mask. She was cited by authorities, she spent a little time in jail. She came out and hasn’t stopped talking since.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz came to Dallas from Houston to get a haircut at Luther’s salon. That, too, was a bit of political showmanship.

Whatever, Luther is another in a long line of grandstanders who seek to use their celebrity status as a pathway to public office. However, she does have some big financial backing. As the Texas Tribune reported: The conservative megadonor Tim Dunn is backing Shelley Luther in her Texas Senate bid with a $1 million loan, a large amount for such a race.

Look, she isn’t qualified. I would be willing to wager that she likely doesn’t know the first, second or third thing about legislation or how to legislate. But by golly, she wants to be elected as one of the state’s 31 senators.

Sheesh! Spare me the malarkey about a businesswoman seeking to “reform” the system of government.

I see her signs all over the place. In Farmersville. In Princeton, where I live. Even along the Central Expressway in McKinney and Allen. I haven’t seen any TV ads touting Luther’s desire to represent Senate District 30.

I am wondering what such an ad would trumpet: Elect the businesswoman who decided to break the law and expose herself and her customers to a deadly pandemic.

Give me a break!

***

Blogger’s note: This item was posted initially on KETR-FM’s website.

Do any minds ever get changed?

Watching the “debate” on the House of Representatives floor today over the impeachment of Donald J. Trump brings to mind something I heard many years ago from a Texas state legislator.

In early 1995 I had the pleasure of meeting the late state Sen. Teel Bivins, an Amarillo Republican. I went to his downtown Amarillo office, exchanged greetings with him and sat down for some discussion.

Bivins knew I had moved to Amarillo from Beaumont. I worked for the Beaumont Enterprise and then went to work for the Amarillo Globe-News. Bivins then brought up the name of a fellow state senator with whom he had a sometimes-testy relationship. He talked admiringly about the debating skills of Democratic colleague Carl Parker of Port Arthur.

Parker is a trial lawyer who possesses tremendous rhetorical skill. Bivins called Parker a “friend,” and then told me that he actually once witnessed how Parker’s intense debating ability changed the minds of one or two of his Senate colleagues on an issue that Parker was debating.

I thought about the tale Bivins told about Carl Parker and wondered if there are any such debaters squaring off today under the Capitol Dome. I ain’t hearing anything of the sort. They’re all dug in. No one is going to budge.

I am left to wonder if any minds could be changed were they to hear the thundering rhetoric that a Texas state senator could deliver when the chips were down.

As if Sen. Cornyn needs to bend more to the right

I hear that Pat Fallon wants to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year.

Who is this guy Fallon? He’s a rookie Texas state senator from down the road in Prosper. He got elected to the Senate in 2018 by upsetting longtime Republican incumbent Craig Estes; Fallon is no political novice, though, having served in the Texas House of Representatives before moving to the other chamber at the other end of the State Capitol.

Fallon seems to think Sen. Cornyn isn’t conservative enough. He wants to steer public policy even farther to the right than Cornyn is willing to take it.

Hold on here! Cornyn, to my way of thinking, is pretty damn conservative. What in the world is young Sen. Fallon intending to do that Cornyn hasn’t already done?

Cornyn fought against the creation of the Affordable Care Act, along with everything else that President Barack Obama pitched during his two terms in the White House; he has resisted efforts to strengthen laws controlling firearms purchases; he is avidly anti-abortion rights; he stands pretty damn firmly in Donald Trump’s corner as the impeachment forces start gathering steam.

That isn’t good enough for Fallon … or so it might appear.

Fallon is a darling of what used to be called the TEA Party in Texas. The term “TEA Party” has fallen out of favor. It now operates under the name of the True Texas Project, apparently believing that only the most fervent right-wingers represent the “True Texas.” I happen to believe that is just so much horse manure.

As for Cornyn, he needs a strong challenger from the left, not the right. Cornyn has demonstrated, the way I see it, that he is as conservative in his thinking as almost any member of the U.S. Senate Republican caucus.

Fallon, for his part, sounds more like a stooge for Empower Texans, that ultra-right wing outfit led by Michael Quinn Sullivan, who’s waging a fight of his own with fellow conservative Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Good grief! Texas doesn’t need another GOP primary challenge to yank the state’s senior U.S. senator farther to the right. He’s already on the fringe!

Don’t let NRA bully you, Lt. Gov. Patrick

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is baiting the National Rifle Association with a proposal that makes perfect sense.

The Republican politician is standing behind an idea that would require background checks any purchase of a firearm in what is being called a “stranger-to-stranger transaction.”

The NRA doesn’t like it. One gun lobby official called it a “political gambit.”

My hunch is that the NRA is going to apply maximum pressure on Patrick if he continues to push on this baby-step notion that seeks to make it just a bit more difficult for individuals to buy a firearm from someone they do not know. Indeed, Patrick is likely fueled by the carnage that erupted in El Paso and Odessa, where 29 people died in slaughters in those two West Texas cities.

I appreciate some of the concerns about this matter, such as … how do you enforce it? Still, it seems to make sense to me.

The question for me at this moment, though, is whether Lt. Gov. Patrick — who presides over the Texas Senate — has the courage to stand up against the kind of political pressure the NRA is capable of applying.

I don’t generally support Dan Patrick. I don’t know him personally. I only know of him through his occasional strong-arming of Texas senators.

On this matter, I stand with him. I hope, therefore, he stands firm against the National Rifle Association.

Empower Texans is going after state Sen. Seliger … who knew?

I see political ads on my Facebook news feed from time to time. They are paid for my Empower Texans, my least-favorite far-right political action organization.

Empower Texans apparently has a serious bur under its saddle that bears the name “Kel Seliger.” An ad appeared this morning with a picture of a church, containing this text:

A bill aimed at protecting individuals against losing their occupational license for practicing their faith passed through the Texas Senate. State Sen. Kel Seliger was the lone Republican vote against the bill.

This is the latest in a string of such statements from Empower Texans. They all end with the same notation about Seliger, an Amarillo Republican lawmaker, being the “lone Republican” to vote against a certain bill.

I’ve known Seliger for nearly a quarter century. He was mayor of Amarillo when I arrived in the Panhandle in 1995. He stepped off the public stage for a time and then ran for the Texas Senate in 2004 after the late Sen. Teel Bivins accepted President Bush’s appointment to become U.S. ambassador to Sweden.

Seliger has made no secret of his dislike of Michael Quinn Sullivan, the ideologue who runs Empower Texans. Sullivan has sought twice to defeat Seliger, only to fall flat on his face while the candidates he backed have lost at the ballot box.

Now he seems intent on badgering the lifelong West Texan who in my view has done a fine job representing his sprawling Texas Senate District.

I no longer can vote for Kel each time he runs for re-election to the Senate. I’ve moved away. However, I can keep offering moral support through this blog. And when given the chance to extol his virtues as a legislator who works hard for the entire state, I do not hesitate to do so.

As for Michael Quinn Sullivan and Empower Texans, suffice to say they will not earn my support. They constitute a significant reason for what has gone wrong with Texas politics in the past decade or two. Such far-right rigidity is anathema to my sensibilities.

If only the rest of the state would realize it, too.

Keep the faith and stay strong, Sen. Seliger.

Rep. Taylor wants to get along

I am quite certain that when U.S. Rep. Van Taylor finishes his time in Congress that he will have earned high marks from conservative watchdog groups and political action organizations.

That’s fine. It’s who he is. He also seems to be demonstrating an attitude that’s been missing in the halls of Congress for, oh, several decades. He wants to forge friendships, alliances and partnerships with his colleagues across the aisle.

That’s right. This conservative freshman Republican wants to work with Democrats.

Taylor came to the McKinney Sunrise Rotary Club this morning to make the case that “Congress is broken” and that it needs a few healing hands to repair it. The young man from Plano just might be what the doctor has ordered.

I was impressed with a small gesture he extended to someone who asked him a question, while addressing Taylor as “Congressman,” to which Taylor said, “You can call me ‘Van.’ I work for you. I am the employee here.” He took office just in January, succeeding a living legend in the House, Sam Johnson, also of Plano. More on Johnson in a moment.

The idea that Congress is broken isn’t exactly a “news flash,” Taylor said. “I am trying to build relationships with Democrats. Most bills I sponsor are bipartisan bills,” he said.

Taylor honed his bipartisan leanings serving in the Texas Senate, where he worked prior to being elected to the U.S. House. So he knows about certain rules that promote bipartisanship, such as the Texas Senate’s two-thirds rule that requires at least 20 members to consider legislation on the Senate floor.

He told us this morning that “the proudest day of my time in the Senate was when I got to introduce my congressman,” Rep. Johnson, whose story of heroism during the Vietnam War is legendary, to his  Senate colleagues. He was held captive as a prisoner of war for seven years in the “Hanoi Hilton,” after being shot down and was kept in solitary confinement for four of those horrific years.

Indeed, Taylor’s own military experience commends him well to serve in Congress. He was a Marine Corps intelligence officer. He was on active duty and was planning to leave the Marines while touring the Pentagon, a place he said he had never visited.

Then he watched the Pentagon burn on 9/11. He returned home to North Texas, served in the Marine Corps Reserves and was called up in January 2003 as the nation was preparing to go to war in Iraq. Taylor then served a year in Iraq after the shooting started in March 2003.

So, this newcomer to the Big Show wants to do well. He wants to get things done. He knows the system on Capitol Hill is in bad shape. It needs repair. Taylor acknowledges that Texas congressional Republicans meet regularly with each other, but also wants to further the outreach to include Texas congressional Democrats.

I wish Van well in his search for common ground.