Testimony from the retiring West Texas state senator, the only Republican in the Texas Senate who voted against the plan for new boundaries last fall, was released in court this week.
Seliger’s Stance Against the Senate Map
At the forefront of an oral deposition of Seliger was a sworn statement that he signed on November 17, 2021, about a month after the senator announced he would not seek reelection.
In the document, Seliger stated, “[I]t was obvious to me that the renewed effort to dismantle [Senate District (SD) 10] violated the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution.”
According to a transcript of Seliger’s oral deposition on January 19, 2022, Seliger said that he did not write the declaration that was included as evidence in the redistricting lawsuit.
“Who wrote it?” asked Eric Hudson, counsel with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), which is defending the state’s new maps.
“I don’t know who wrote it,” said Seliger. “It was given to me. I asked what Senator Powell wanted me to present and this is what she gave me.”
Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) represents SD 10, the main point of contention in the legal challenge against the Senate map.
Powell’s district was redrawn so that it is no longer entirely within the boundaries of Tarrant County, but stretches out to several rural counties that tilts the voting population to be likely to elect a Republican.
The plaintiffs in the challenge to SD 10 argue that the changes violate federal law by cracking minority voters in Tarrant County “across three senate districts in which they will be overpowered by Anglo bloc-voting against their candidate of choice.”
A decade ago, the Senate — with Seliger at the helm of redistricting — also attempted to redraw the boundaries of SD 10 to the benefit of Republicans. But those attempted changes were brought to a screeching halt in court.
“[Powell] asked me if I would participate in some fashion on this suit when we were in special session on the floor and I told her I wanted to read the lawsuit that was being filed and I wanted to see what it was that she would like me to present and this was it,” said Seliger.
In his sworn statement, Seliger claimed that “the 2021 senate redistricting process saw untrue, pretextual explanations given for why the lines were drawn as they were.”
The statement goes on to cite the changes made to SD 31, Seliger’s own district that stretches from the Texas Panhandle down to the Permian Basin.
He claims that the chair of the redistricting committee, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), told him that several panhandle counties were replaced with counties closer to Midland and Odessa to “create distinctive agricultural versus oil and gas districts between SD31 and SD28.”
Seliger asserts that was an “untrue, pretextual explanation” for the change to his district, and that the real reason the change was made was to give an electoral advantage to a GOP candidate from Midland, Kevin Sparks, who was preferred by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
The framing of the sworn statement would suggest that “untrue, pretextual explanations” for changes to the Senate map would extend to SD 10, the focus of the lawsuit, but Seliger clarified otherwise in the deposition.
Asked by Hudson if he believed any other senate districts were given “untrue explanations [. . .] for why the lines were drawn the way that they were drawn,” Seliger replied, “Untrue, no.”
“What about pretextual explanations?” asked Hudson. “When you refer to pretextual explanations, which districts do you believe were drawn and pretextual explanations were given?”
“Only Senate District 31 that I know of,” replied Seliger.
Still, though, when questioned by Chad Dunn, the attorney representing Powell and her fellow plaintiffs, Seliger affirmed that he completely stood by the November statement that he signed and that he was not “testifying today whether untrue reasons were or were not offered for other districts in the senate plans.”
Resurfaced Tensions With Dan Patrick
Long-standing tensions between the Amarillo state senator and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick underscored much of Seliger’s deposition.
Relying on his “surmise” but without any definitive evidence, Seliger testified to attorneys that he believed Patrick urged Huffman to redraw SD 31 to be favorable to Sparks, a Republican from the Midland area running for the district.
“I think there was a motivation it was clear that the lieutenant governor wanted the candidate from Midland to compete successfully and that’s why this was done,” said Seliger.
The tension between Seliger and Patrick has grown over the past several years, especially as Seliger tended to vote against Patrick’s priorities more frequently than other Republican members.
A voting record analysis from Mark P. Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, has consistently ranked Seliger as the most liberal Republican in the state Senate over the past six years.
But Seliger disputed the analysis from Rice University, saying, “They have pegged me [as the least conservative] fallaciously and I’m not sure altogether academically competently.”
“Republican votes some way doesn’t make the issue itself or the bill itself a conservative bill,” said Seliger. As an example, Seliger pointed to the bill that targeted social media censorship with more regulations, saying it “has to do with big government and is anti-business” and therefore “not a good Republican or conservative vote.”
The Amarillo state senator said that his votes against some of Patrick’s priorities — and also the priorities of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), of which Sparks has been a board member — fueled retribution such as the removal of committee positions.
He said his history with the lieutenant governor has also caused a new term to be floated around the Republican caucus: being “Seligered,” which he says means “voting against [the] Lieutenant Governor’s position and losing a chairmanship or other committee assignments.”
Seliger pointed to Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) as someone who faced retribution from Patrick for taking a stand against him on energy issues in the 87th Legislative Session.
Hancock was subsequently removed as the chair of the Business and Commerce Committee and placed on the Committee on Veteran Affairs and Border Security, which more recently — even after Seliger’s deposition — was reduced to focus solely on veteran affairs.
In addition to the changes on committee assignments that Seliger says he faced as retribution for his votes, he claims that Patrick was “intimately involved” in the redistricting changes to SD 31 and bolstering support for Sparks.
Before Seliger announced his retirement last fall, Sparks was backed by former President Donald Trump, who said Seliger “is not helpful to our great MAGA Movement and, in fact, seems like the Texas version of Mitt Romney.”
“I think the Trump endorsement essentially was requested of the former president by the Lieutenant Governor,” said Seliger during the deposition. “Donald Trump doesn’t sit around and worry a lot about local elected officials in West Texas.”
Seliger also took pride in the comments made by Trump, embracing the comparison to Utah’s junior senator.
“[N]ext to probably Ronald Reagan and John McCain there was probably no one I would rather be compared to than Mitt Romney which goes to show just how really good the opinions of the former president are,” said Seliger.
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Daniel Friend is the Marketing and Media Manager for The Texan. After graduating with a double-major in Political Science and Humanities, he wrote for The Texan as a reporter through June 2022. In his spare time, you're likely to find him working on The Testimony of Calvin Lewis, an Abolition of Man-inspired novel and theatrical podcast.