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. The two 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 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 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 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.”
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.
In a statement later Tuesday afternoon, Seliger said he was "disappointed" to lose the chairmanship, and he apologized for directing his message to Sylvester, saying he “should have directed my response to the Lt. Governor.”
“But let’s be clear,” Seliger said in a statement on Twitter. “The conflict between the Lt. Governor and me has nothing to do with recent statements I made on a radio talk show. 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 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; all 19 Republican senators must 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.
While Patrick explicitly attributed Seliger’s demotion to the “lewd comment,” the lieutenant governor’s office wouldn’t confirm whether Patrick asked Schwertner to give up his post over the sexual harassment allegation he faced. After first taking a wait-and-see approach to the investigation, Patrick’s comments on Schwertner’s request were limited to saying the move was “consistent” with his plans for chair assignments.
Hall and Schwertner are the other two Republicans on the agriculture committee.
Alexa Ura contributed reporting.
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.