AUSTIN (Nexstar) — State Sen. Kel Seliger was stripped of his position as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee as a feud with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick grows.
Patrick, who presides over the state’s upper chamber, announced the move Tuesday afternoon. Seliger was appointed to the post on Friday. Patrick recently ousted Seliger from his assignments on the Education and Finance committees and removed him as chair of the Higher Education committee.
Patrick said the demotion came after Seliger, a Republican elected in 2004, representing the Panhandle and much of the Permian Basin, did not apologize for “a lewd comment… that has shocked everyone” in which he suggested Patrick’s senior advisor Sherry Sylvester kiss his “back end” during an appearance on on West Texas radio program “Other Side of Texas.”
Seliger has staunchly defended the values of his rural constituents, which has at times put him at odds with Patrick’s legislative agenda. He senses that cost him his his slate of powerful committee assignments for a post leading the new Agriculture committee.
Patrick said Tuesday the committee assignments were “based on a number of factors.” Last week, Seliger called the changes a “very clear warning” that Republicans must act along party lines or face consequences in Dan Patrick’s senate.
According to the Texas Tribune, Sylvester said in response, “If Sen. Seliger believes serving as chair of the Agriculture Committee — a critical committee for West Texas and all of rural Texas — is beneath him, he should let us know and the lieutenant governor will appoint someone else,” as she pointed to Patrick’s appointment of State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, to the committee.
Seliger’s radio appearance only fueled the fire.
“It was extremely snide and really unbecoming for a member of the staff, the lieutenant governor’s or my staff,” he told radio host Jay Leeson. “I didn’t say anything of the sort, and that assertion is disingenuous and I have a recommendation for Miss Sylvester and her lips and my back end.”
Patrick said Tuesday he gave Seliger a chance to apologize on a Tuesday morning meeting.
“He had 48 hours to apologize, but failed to do so,” Patrick said through a statement. “He has refused to take responsibility and outrageously, blamed the staffer and said she should be fired. To not be willing to apologize and suggest, somehow, that she had it coming is unimaginable.”
In response, Seliger said, “In hindsight, I should have directed my response to the Lt. Governor and not to his messenger. And for that I apologize.”
“The conflict between the Lt. Governor and me has nothing to do with recent statements I made on a radio talk show,” he continued. “It has to do with the fact that I have consistently stood up for rural Texas, local control, and public education rather than trumpeting the Lt. Governor’s pet projects of bathroom regulation and private school vouchers.”
Seliger fought off a campaign to oust him from office in the November election, backed by political action committee Empower Texans, which has donated to Patrick’s campaign.
“Because they can’t beat me at the ballot box, I think they think they can try to marginalize me, and they can’t,” Seliger said Monday in a phone interview with Nexstar station KAMR, days after the new committee assignments were released, but prior to losing his Agriculture committee post.
“(Patrick) won’t talk about his motivations, but let me point out that he didn’t endorse me either, and quite frankly, his endorsement would have been more helpful than mine to him,” Seliger said Monday.
Nineteen senators can force a debate on a bill at any time, a rule implemented by Patrick. This also means 13 can block a vote. While this growing discourse between the pair seemed like Seliger lost his influence in the upper chamber, he may have actually earned bargaining chips in the Senate, as he now may serve as a swing vote. There are currently 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats in the Senate, and Seliger is in a position to block or push through certain issues.
Seliger remains on the Veterans Affairs and Border Security Committee, Nominations Committee, and Health and Human Services Committee.