Tag Archives: Texas Senate District 31

Same song, second verse in Senate District 31

Kel Seliger is running as a conservative West Texan.

He’s trying to avoid being outflanked on his right by a former foe who’s returning for yet another run at the veteran Texas state senator. Seliger also faces another interesting opponent … who hails from Seliger’s own end of the sprawling Senate district.

It’s the same song, second verse for Seliger. This time, though, he is making it crystal clear that he considers himself to be as conservative as his opponents.

I’ve known Seliger for as long as I have lived in Amarillo. That would be 23-plus years. He was the city’s mayor when I assumed my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. He did a sound, solid — if not spectacular — job as mayor. Then he left office, was a civilian for a time and then he ran for the Senate after the late Teel Bivins was tapped in 2004 by President Bush to become the U.S. ambassador to Sweden.

What I find so fascinating about Seliger’s latest re-election bid are the visuals he is employing in his TV ads. One of them shows Seliger driving away in his pickup truck with two stickers in the rear window: “NRA” and one that declares Seliger to be “100 percent pro-life.”

He’s kind of in our face regarding his conservatism, yes?

Mike Canon is one of Seliger’s foes. Canon ran against Seliger in 2014. He contended four years ago that Seliger wasn’t conservative enough. Canon is a favorite of the Texas version of the TEA Party. He speaks in platitudes and cliches. He did it in 2014 and is doing so again this time.

Seliger isn’t responding to Canon directly. Instead he merely is reminding us of his commitment to the Second Amendment, his opposition to abortion and his insistence that local control of school money is more important than ceding that control to the state.

Again … conservative principles.

Oh, but now we have Victor Leal of Amarillo in the hunt. Leal also is running as a conservative. Leal runs a popular Amarillo restaurant. He once served as Muleshoe mayor and in 2010 ran for the Texas House District 87 seat vacated by David Swinford; Leal lost to Four Price.

What makes me scratch my head is whether Leal is running merely to muddy this race up a bit. I once asked him whether he intended to win. He said yes, absolutely. He’s in it to win it.

But here we are. Three men are running as conservatives. Two of them say the incumbent isn’t conservative enough. The incumbent says he is, even though he makes no secret of his disdain for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who runs the Senate and who also is running as a “principled conservative.”

It’s going to get really crowded on the right-wing fringe, as Canon and Leal keep pushing Seliger in that direction.

My own sense is that Sen. Seliger need not prove a thing. He is the real thing and he does represent Texas Senate District 31 well enough to merit re-election.

Yes, he is a conservative. He just chooses to speak in detail about the legislative process and stays away from TEA Party demagoguery.

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.

Election provides a couple of stunners

Two big surprises highlighted my watching of the Republican primary elections Tuesday night.

One of them is quite good; the other is potentially troubling.

First, the good.

Nancy Tanner’s victory in the GOP primary for Potter County judge caught me off-guard, but it does demonstrate that competence and experience can win an argument over name identification and relative sizzle.

Tanner is going to take over the county judge’s duties at the first of the year. The GOP voters of the county showed that they appreciate her two decades serving as administrative assistant to Arthur Ware, the current judge who’s stepping down.

Ware had fired Tanner from her job in 2013 for reasons that haven’t been explained fully. Tanner had just made known her intention to run for Ware’s seat after he had announced his impending retirement from public life. Ware had been slowed considerably by a devastating stroke he suffered in 2010, leaving Tanner and other county officials to perform many of the duties attached to the county judge’s office.

It was her experience and intimate knowledge of the nuts and bolts of county government that made Tanner the most qualified of the five candidates running for the office.

Which brings me to the surprise. I was quite sure no one was going to win this primary outright. I figured it would be two of three top-tier candidates — Tanner, former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt and Bill Bandy — competing in a runoff.

Silly me. I underestimated the wisdom of the voters.


State Sen. Kel Seliger’s hair-raising win over former Midland Mayor Mike Canon provided the other surprise.

Seliger, R-Amarillo, by all rights should have won that race in a walk. He’s smart, articulate, knowledgeable, calm, reasonable, effective, collegial, detail-oriented, friendly … what am I missing? Whatever. He deserved to be re-elected to the Senate District 31 seat he’s filled since 2004.

Then came Canon, who began accusing Seliger of being a closet liberal, which is fightin’ words in this part of the political world. The word among some observers is that Canon was recruited by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a tea party political operative who over the years has developed a nasty relationship with Seliger.

Even given the Texas political climate, I didn’t believe Canon would come as close as he did to defeating Seliger.

There is a potential for concern here. Seliger’s re-election — with no Democrat on the ballot — should not signal a sharp turn to the right for the already-conservative lawmaker. Other elected public officials have reacted badly at times to these challenges from their left or the right by tacking too far in either direction.

My hope is that Seliger is comfortable enough in his own skin to stay the course and keep up the good work he’s already done — such as water planning and funding for public education — on behalf of his constituents.

All in all, where these two races are concerned, the election turned out just fine.

Seliger leaves big footprint down south

Some in the media and in political circles are suggesting a North-South battle in the contest for Texas Senate District 31, an office currently occupied by Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

His challenger in the Republican primary — with no Democrats running this year — is Mike Canon, a former mayor of Midland.

Amarillo vs. Midland, North vs. South, Us vs. Them … whatever.

Aside from the fact that Seliger is far more fluent in the nuance of politics and legislating than his opponent — who tends to speak in talking points and clichés — I want to offer this little tidbit that might not be known around the vast Senate district.

Seliger has a single office in Amarillo, on Polk Street downtown. He’s got three of them within spitting distance of each other in the Permian Basin.

Seliger runs an office in Midland, one in Odessa — which is about a 20-minute drive down Interstate 20 — and one in Big Spring. Midland, Ector and Howard counties all can boast offices staffed by living, breathing human beings representing the district’s elected senator.

Is anyone in these parts carping about that disparity? I haven’t heard it.

Seliger’s near-decade in the Senate has demonstrated his attention to the entire district, which is one of the larger Senate districts in the Legislature. It stretches from the Oklahoma border to just past the Permian Basin. It takes half a day — by that I mean 12 hours — to drive from one end of the district and back again.

I trust the media and the political hounds campaigning around the district will take note of Seliger’s presence down south — where he has been anything but an absentee senator.

‘Grudge match’ emerges in Senate District 31

Texas Monthly editor/blogger Paul Burka has spilled the beans on the motive for the race that’s developing in Texas Senate District 31.

Turns out, according to Burka, that former Midland Mayor Mike Canon was recruited to run against Sen. Kel Seliger by Michael Quinn Sullivan, the tea party activist and political operator.


There’s plenty of bad blood between Seliger and Sullivan.

Seliger, indeed, has told me repeatedly over the years that he cannot stomach Sullivan’s hyper-conservative world view and the obstructionism he promotes within the Texas Legislature.

So, there you have it. My concern about Canon appears to be playing out. He’s running to Seliger’s right. I am guessing he’ll tack far to the right of the former Amarillo mayor.

Canon will want to do away with the Senate’s two-thirds rule, the one that requires 21 senators to approve any bill that goes to a vote. He’s likely to push hard to the right on issues such as immigration, state spending on public education and some environmental policies.

Seliger hardly has been a screaming lefty on all or any of these issues. If it’s true, as Burka suggests, that this challenge is the product of Sullivan’s personal antipathy toward Seliger, then the state — not to mention the West Texas Senate district Seliger represents — would be ill-served if voters turn against the incumbent.

Seliger draws GOP challenger; good deal

Incumbents have hated for years my mantra that none of them deserves to be sent back to office without a challenge.

Former state Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, would get particularly agitated with me as I extolled the virtue of forcing incumbents to explain themselves, their votes, their policies — why they do what they do on our behalf.

My answer: Too bad, David. That’s why we have elections.

Well, another legislative incumbent, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has drawn a primary challenger. He is former Midland mayor Mike Canon, who told the Texas Tribune he intends to file his candidacy papers.


The Tribune’s Ross Ramsey notes that Canon’s candidacy could fuel a rivalry between the northern and southern ends of the massive Senate District 31, one of the largest geographically in the state. Given that the state’s population growth has occurred in regions east of here — and given that the law requires each Senate district to have roughly equal populations — that means West Texas districts’ borders keep getting expanded.

There’s long been a bit of tension between north and south in District 31. Before Seliger was elected in 2004, the district was represented by the late Teel Bivins, another stalwart Amarillo Republican; Bivins went on to be appointed ambassador to Sweden. Seliger defeated another ex-Midland mayor in that year’s primary. His most recent GOP challenge came in 2012 from a one-term school trustee from Odessa, whom Seliger trounced in the primary.

On one hand, it’s good for Seliger to be tested by someone within his own party. Primary challenges, indeed contested general elections, serve to keep incumbents on their game and enable them to explain to their constituents why they vote the way they do.

But there might some trouble brewing in this challenge. I don’t know Canon, but I’m going to make a broad presumption that he might be running to Seliger’s right, meaning he comes from the tea party wing of his party. This is the party wing that favors confrontation instead of compromise. Many tea party loyalists in Congress and in state legislators have been known to frown upon Republicans getting too chummy with those dreaded Democrats. Seliger over the years has told me of the friendships he’s developed with legislative Democrats; state Sen. Chuy Hinojosa comes to mind, as he and Seliger apparently are pretty good pals.

As Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst learned the hard way when he lost the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate to Ted Cruz, there’s danger in getting outflanked on the right. Dewhurst tried to tack to the right but it was too late. Cruz inflicted politically mortal wounds on Dewhurst.

Would a challenge from the right, were it to develop, push Seliger farther to at extreme end of the spectrum?

I’m hoping for Seliger’s sake — and for Senate District 31 voters — he stays the course.