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Amarillo State Senator Kel Seliger, a Republican who has often faced Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and who was known to be a deciding vote for his party, will not stand for re-election.
“After careful consideration and with the reassurance of my family, including my noisy new granddaughter, I have decided not to run for re-election to the Texas Senate,” Seliger said in a statement. “I am eternally grateful to my family, supporters, staff and those who have worked on my behalf since 2004. Thank you for placing your trust in me as a Senator for the State of Texas.”
Seliger said he would serve the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2023. He has represented Senate District 31, which covers the Panhandle, the Southern Plains and the Permian Basin, since 2005. Prior to that, he served four terms as mayor. from Amarillo.
In the legislature, Seliger was known as an advocate for issues of public education, higher education and local control. He chaired the Senate Higher Education Committee for three sessions between 2013 and 2017. But while parts of the Republican Party in Texas have turned to support for private education vouchers and against policies enacted in municipalities in Democratic tendency, Seliger has often been criticized for not supporting these positions. and ridiculed as a “liberal”.
Empower Texans, an influential conservative rights group for the past decade, targeted him in the Republican primary elections. The group was funded by Farris and Dan Wilks, Cisco brothers who became billionaires in the mid-2000s following a “fracking” boom in oil and gas drilling, as well as Midland oilman Tim Dunn. .
Undeterred, Seliger described his work as “proven conservative results. “He has often opposed his party leadership and rooted his support for public education on the needs of his rural district where public schools are often the only educational option for families. His support for local control has was strengthened by his experience as mayor.
As late as Monday, Seliger was still breaking with the Republican leadership in what he called deference to his constituents. He was one of the only Republicans in power to openly oppose legislation banning employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines, saying the proposal, pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott, was “anti-business “. Earlier in the 30-day special session, Seliger was the only GOP vote in the Senate against a bill that would pave the way for party officials to trigger election audits. Seliger would have said he opposed the legislation because it is an “unfunded county mandate, and I am opposed to big government.”
His maverick streak has led to frequent clashes with Patrick, a Conservative brand who presides over the Senate. In 2017, Seliger voted against two of Patrick’s legislative priorities: a bill restricting the ability of local governments to increase property tax revenues and another providing vouchers for private schools. In the next session, Patrick removed Seliger from his chairmanship of the Higher Education Committee, prompting an exchange with Patrick’s office which degenerated into a recommendation from Seliger that one of Patrick’s best advisers kiss his “back”. plan”. (Seliger apologized in the end, but only for directing the comment to the advisor and not to Patrick himself.)
Seliger has not chaired a committee since.
In the midst of this feud, Seliger’s son Matthew called out a new rallying cry on Twitter: “Give them Kel!”
On Wednesday, Patrick praised Seliger’s political career.
“While we sometimes disagreed on politics, Senator Seliger’s long career in elected office, including 17 years in the Texas Senate, exemplifies the Texan spirit of community and public service. I thank him and wish him the best, ”he said.
This year, Seliger has been criticized by another prominent member of the Republican right: former President Donald Trump. A close ally of Patrick, Trump ridiculed Seliger as a “RINO,” short for name-only Republican, and endorsed one of his Republican challengers, Midland oil tanker Kevin Sparks. Sparks is a former board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a socially conservative think tank that advocates for vouchers for private schools and other conservative legislation.
Dunn, who funded the Empower Texans group that targeted Seliger, is vice chairman of the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
As lawmakers redrawn the state’s political maps in the special session that ended Tuesday, Patrick’s allies redesigned Seliger’s SD-31 to remove four counties from the Panhandle and add one dozen at the southern end of the district, closer to Midland, where Sparks lives. Seliger denounced the move as a blatant attempt to lure the district to the advantage of Sparks and was the only Republican to vote against the proposed new Senate cards.
In his last Republican primary in 2018, he faced two challengers: Amarillo restaurateur Victor Leal and former Midland mayor Mike Canon. Seliger narrowly avoided a second round against Canon, winning 50.4% of the vote. Patrick has vowed to get involved in this race, but his main political adviser, Allen Blakemore, has been involved in Leal’s campaign. Patrick was also running for reelection that year and Seliger was the only Republican senator not to support him.
In his announcement, Seliger did not mention his Republican challengers or his frequent feuds with Patrick. He highlighted his work on educating and defending local control as well as his work to combat human trafficking and prevent sexual assault. He also cited laws he wrote to rework high-stakes testing for schoolchildren in the state and require disclosure of black money in political campaigns.
Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list of them here.