State Sen. Kel Seliger has been stripped of his post as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, in an escalation of a feud with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the upper chamber.
Announced Tuesday afternoon, the demotion caps a weekend spat between Seliger, an Amarillo Republican first elected to the Senate in 2004, and Patrick, who have found themselves at odds with one another after Seliger voted against two of the lieutenant governor’s priorities in 2017.
Patrick said the demotion came after Seliger failed to apologize for a “lewd comment” “that has shocked everyone” — a remark made on a West Texas radio program suggesting that a senior Patrick aide kiss his "back end."
The tiff started on Friday, when Patrick released committee assignments for the legislative session, stripping Seliger of his longtime post as chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and taking him off the committee entirely. Instead, Seliger was appointed chair of a newly-created agriculture committee, which split off from a larger, existing committee. Patrick said only that committee assignments were “based on a number of factors.” Seliger called the snub “a very clear warning” that Republicans better toe the line, teeing up the battle.
In response, Sherry Sylvester, senior advisor to Patrick, said, “If Senator 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 Lt. Governor will appoint someone else.”
In an interview over the weekend on the radio show the Other Side of Texas, Seliger shot back one more time.
“It was extremely snide and really unbecoming for a member of the staff, the lieutenant governor’s or my staff,” Seliger told 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 announced Tuesday that he removed Seliger from his leadership position after the veteran lawmaker declined to apologize for that remark.
“I met with Sen. Seliger earlier today and gave him an opportunity to apologize for a lewd comment he made on radio about a female staffer that has shocked everyone. He had 48 hours to apologize, but failed to do so,” Patrick said in a news release. “To not be willing to apologize and suggest, somehow, that she had it coming is unimaginable.”
“I will appoint a new Agriculture Committee chairman shortly,” Patrick added.
Seliger could prove a thorn in Patrick’s side. After losing a Republican seat in the Senate in the 2018 midterms, Republicans hold a razor-thin supermajority; they need all 19 Republican senators to vote together to bring measures to the floor without Democratic support. A “no” vote from Seliger on partisan issues could jeopardize the lieutenant governor’s agenda.
The demotion leaves Seliger as one of just three returning Republicans without a chairmanship. The others are Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, and Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who voluntarily gave up his chairmanship after an inconclusive University of Texas at Austin Title IX investigation into whether he had sent lewd texts to a graduate student.
Hall and Schwertner are the other two Republicans on the agriculture committee.
Disclosure: Sherry Sylvester and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
The Texas Tribune provided this story.