Sen. Seliger: The Odd Man Out Faces Tough Re-Election Campaign

“I think Lt. Gov. Patrick believes there’s a good chance a rival can unseat Sen. Seliger.”

Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas — When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick unveiled the list of endorsements for his re-election campaign in mid-October, it included 19 of Texas’ 20 State GOP Senators, as well as Gov. Abbott and U.S. Senators Ted Cruz & John Cornyn. Texas State Sen. Kel Seliger was the only Republican Senator noticeably absent.

Lt. Gov. Patrick, also a Republican, is the Texas Senate’s presiding officer. Seliger has been a member of the Texas Senate since 2004.

Politicos in Austin believe the move hinted at a deep divide between Seliger and Patrick, who are both up for re-election in 2018. The two, it is thought, had been at odds on key legislative issues, including local control and school choice programs.

Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University, said Seliger’s absence from Patrick’s endorsement list signas something:

“I think Lt. Gov. Patrick believes there’s a good chance a rival can unseat Sen. Seliger. If he thought Seliger was a sure-thing for re-election, we wouldn’t see this type of behavior.

“It seems pretty clear that while Dan Patrick is quite happy with 19 of the Republican senators, he isn’t happy with one, and that’s Sen. Seliger.

“Lt. Gov. Patrick is not going to be a neutral actor in Sen. Seliger’s re-election effort,” Jones said.

Seliger is facing two opponents in his re-election bid:

  1. Former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, who after running a lack-luster campaign in 2014 lost a nailbiter against Seliger by 5%, and
  2. Amarillo restaurateur Victor Leal (left,) who says Seliger has “been there so long, he’s no longer in touch with the conservative, grassroots folks that he’s supposed to be representing.”

Leal, who has hired the same campaign consultant as Patrick, seized upon Lt. Gov. Patrick’s recently released endorsement list and issued a press release offering his own endorsement of Patrick.

“If Kel Seliger wants to ostracize himself from the Republicans in the Texas Senate then that’s his prerogative. But when the people of West Texas suffer as a consequence of his ineffectiveness, then shame on him,” said Leal.

“We have important issues that must be addressed such as property taxes, education, border security, transportation and job creation. Unfortunately, his personal vendetta against leading Texas conservatives will limit his effectiveness.”

Seliger has butted heads with Patrick since Patrick’s 2014 election, said Jones.

During the 2015 session, Seliger resisted immigration and anti-sanctuary cities proposals that were backed by the Lt. Governor.

During the 2017 Legislative Session, Seliger voted against two key bills — one was to restrict the process by which local property taxes can be increased, and the second created a small program to test school choice.

Seliger voted against requiring cities and counties to get voter approval before raising taxes by 4% or more, siding with mayors and county judges who saw the measure as too restrictive.

Seliger’s “no” votes won him praise from local government backers and public school advocates, and he often refers to his independence as a lawmaker as an example of one of his strengths.

But September, when Patrick announced his list of appointments to the Joint House & Senate Committee on Higher Education Funding, that list also excluded Seliger, who serves as chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. Patrick also excluded all of the senators on Seliger’s standing committee.

Seliger has thwarted Patrick’s efforts to develop Republican Party unity in the Senate, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. Patrick has sought to consolidate power using his powers to appoint allies as committee chairs and shape the flow of legislation, Rottinghaus said.

“Now it seems like party takes precedence over the personal sense of place. The politics now shift more towards developing party unity, as opposed to developing policies to help constituents, and that has been the major war within the Republican Party,” said Rottinghaus in October.

When asked at the time if he thought he would retain his higher ed chairmanship if re-elected in 2018, Seliger said,

“There are no expectations. I voted against two of his 30 priorities. They’re his priorities, and he wanted to see them all pass and they did pass. I stood in the way of nothing. Like I say, I voted my district.”

In interviews at the time Patrick released his list of endorsements, Seliger said he had no plans to make any endorsements, and was simply focusing on his own re-election bid against two Republican challengers.

Asked if he supported Patrick’s re-election, Seliger said, “I can’t imagine why not. I can guarantee you this, I will not endorse anybody in the Republican Party running against him.”

The Texas primary elections will be held March 6, 2018.

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