87th LegislatureElections 2022State SenateTrump Endorses Kel Seliger Opponent After He Breaks From GOP on Key Votes

As Sen. Kel Seliger breaks from his party on key votes, other Republicans appear keen to fill his seat with someone new.
October 6, 2021
In 2011, then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tapped Senator Kelton G. Seliger, a Republican from Amarillo, to chair one of the most important committees of that session: redistricting.

A decade later, Seliger is facing increased pressure to make this his final term in the Senate — including most recently an endorsement from former President Donald Trump to one of Seliger’s primary challengers.

In the endorsement, Trump said Seliger “​​is not helpful to our great MAGA Movement and, in fact, seems like the Texas version of Mitt Romney (and that is not good!).”

Seliger has often been a swing vote in the Senate and was ranked as the most liberal Republican in the chamber, but Trump’s statement came shortly after Seliger broke from his GOP colleagues to vote against two notable measures this week: the Senate redistricting plan and an election audit bill.

When Seliger was the redistricting chairman after the 2010 census, he added a few panhandle counties back to his own district after they had been cut out in the decades before, coincidentally including the unincorporated community of Kelton in Wheeler County.

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Senate District (SD) 31 had at one time been exclusively in the panhandle, but as growth in the urban areas of Texas outpaced rural Texas, more population needed to be added to it.

In the 1990s, the district was stretched to reach down to Midland, and as rural populations continued to decline, SD 31 expanded in the Permian Basin.

The new map that was brought to the floor earlier this week and approved by 20 lawmakers — including three border Democrats, Sens. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen), and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) — would add even more West Texas counties near the Permian to SD 31.

But in place of those counties, the neighboring SD 28 would pick up a portion of the panhandle, once again including Kelton.

Seliger opposed the change and offered a floor amendment that would have tossed out the extra West Texas counties and handed the panhandle counties back to SD 28.

“I believe members, that really what this is about is to take counties out of the panhandle and move them closer to Midland because a member of the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation is running,” said Seliger on the floor, referencing SD 31 candidate Kevin Sparks. “It’s not about agriculture or oil and gas.”

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), the chair of redistricting for this cycle, opposed his amendment saying that the senator in SD 28, Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), did not agree to the changes.

Noting that he didn’t want to force other senators to “make a difficult vote,” he withdrew his amendment.

When the redistricting bill itself was finally voted on, Seliger was the lone Republican to vote against it.

On the following day, he was also the only Republican to vote against Senate Bill (SB) 47, legislation from Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) that would require an audit of the 2020 general election results.

Just a few weeks ago, Trump called for legislation requiring an audit in Texas, such as Bettencourt’s bill.

The former president’s endorsement of Kevin Sparks, another Republican running in SD 31, came only hours after Seliger voted against the audit measure.

Aside from being a former board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Sparks is also the president of Discovery Operating, Inc., an oil and gas business in Midland.

“Kevin is a businessman, loves the people of Midland and West Texas, must WIN in order to protect our Oil and Gas Workers, defend our Southern Border, our Military and our Vets, and fight for our America First policies,” said Trump.

Though Trump is so far the only formal, major-name endorsement of Sparks, Seliger’s insinuation that other Republican senators or Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are at work behind the scenes to get him elected is not without some evidence in public view to support that suggestion.

Patrick has not endorsed anyone, but during a keynote speech in the Permian Basin, he reportedly said that Texas needs a state senator from the oil and gas industry.

“We have doctors, we have too many lawyers […] but we don’t really have any oil men or women,” said Patrick according to the Midland Reporter-Telegram. “We really haven’t had a senator who’s an oil and gas person and I think it’s important for your industry these days. If not in the industry, then someone’s who’s going to be all for the industry.”

Seliger has not said whether he will seek reelection or not, and his office did not respond to a request for comment regarding his future plans, his recent votes, or the Trump endorsement.

In addition to Sparks, Republican Stormy Bradley, the owner of a steel manufacturer in Big Spring, has also launched a campaign for SD 31.

Under both the current and proposed map, SD 31 would be the most Republican-leaning district in the state with GOP candidates garnering about 80 percent of the vote in the 2018 and 2020 elections.


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Daniel Friend

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.