Senator for Texas District 31 Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) held a Zoom town hall meeting on Monday morning.
Among the topics he covered was the proposed redistricting map where he stated he felt like the Texas Panhandle was being “abused.”
“It is an insult to the Texas Panhandle,” Seliger said. “It takes Collingsworth, Gray, Donley and Hall County out of the district. I protest that. This district should not be composed of counties that help me or someone from Amarillo. That’s not the point. But these districts have nothing in common with counties like Schleicher and Coke County, that are almost on the border with Mexico (Schleicher County Seat, Eldorado, is 112 miles from Del Rio, Texas on the border.).
“I realize we’ve got to have a lot more people and the District is going to have to go from 37 to 46/47 counties. No problem with that. I do a town hall with every county, every year. But I think this is an insult on the part of the Committee Chairman and the Lt. Governor to the Texas Panhandle.”
Seliger said he will not vote for the new map and said if it fails and he has to come back for another special session, he is okay with that.
“I think it’s an insult to yank Pampa and Memphis out of the Panhandle where they have always been,” Seliger said. “It’s all for the benefit of a Texas Public Policy Board Member from Midland. I think the whole thing is obscene.”
Seliger added he doesn’t like the map.
“Redistricting is, by it’s very nature, partisan, it always has been,” Seliger said. “It was for the 130 years our Democratic colleagues were in charge and it is now. But you have a political body like the legislature drawing the maps. The people who expect partisanship will play no role and don’t understand how it works. Even if you have a commission who do it, at the end of the day whatever the commission comes up with has to be approved by the legislature. That’s state law. The legislature will still have Republicans and Democrats.”
The current map is not done yet and suggests voters reach out to the Lieutenant Governor and state they don’t like the map.
“He’s hearing from a lot of people around the state that they hate that bill,” Seliger said. “He’s got to run for election in 2022 also.”
There have been public hearings on the bill virtually, but Seliger is unsure if there will be more public hearings. Legislative sessions may only last 30 days and are called by the governor. There is no way to know if a resolution on this matter will be passed.
Seliger said the legislature passed the biggest budget in Texas history.
“We got the money and we’re spending it on good stuff,” Seliger said. “We can argue all day about what we’re supposed to do. We can put it in the formulas for public and higher education, I’m always in favor of it.”
Seliger noted the virtual education since March 2020 saved students and teachers alike because “you don’t want to throw away that school year.” But he doesn’t like new legislation for education without consulting educators first.
“Too often someone has this great idea for education but fails to take it up with educators and says ‘We’re going to have to do it,’” Seliger said. “I’m opposed to that. I’ve been doing stuff for education since 2005 but never without the input of educators. The input could include really good ideas and things we don’t think of down here (in Austin). I think it’s really important.”
One of the topics noted was independent school districts offering virtual classes state-wide.
“I voted against it because it is state-wide,” Seliger said. “If someone offers a virtual program in Dallas ISD and your kid participates, Dallas ISD is going to want that ADA (Average Daily Attendance). You can’t do that.
“In a lot of districts, neighboring districts will run buses into the districts but those are almost always done with memorandums of understanding between those districts. We ought to think about what’s best for the kids but at the same time think about taking the ADA out of one district to the benefit of another. It helps nobody.”
One of the positives the legislature did pass was appropriate $701 million for a 13th check for retired teachers.
“It’s about $4,400, it’s not in the scope of things a lot of money,” Seliger said. “But $2,400 is not a lot of annuity for retired teachers. We’re putting enough money in so that the healthcare benefit premium does not go up.”
Seliger noted the discussion centered around critical race theory and strongly encouraged those interested to do their own research on it.
“Google it and read it,” Seliger said. “I have a difficult time explaining it. It is a theory and includes a lot of bias in it that I don’t approve of. But for teachers to have a law saying they can’t teach it....teachers know a lot of difference between theory and fact. The simple fact is that a lot of things that are in critical race theory are things that must be taught. Slavery, Jim Crow, poll taxes and George Floyd, all of those things have to be taught. But they don’t have to be in a consolidated theory that is so controversial. The fundamental principle may not even be true, so we have to be careful.”
The UIL trans-gender bill did pass stating “boys will play in boy sports and girls will play in girl sports.”
“A lot of superintendents in the state of Texas used to be coaches and they know that anything that artificially has an advantage is not what they want to see,” Seliger said. “That bill passed and there was a lot of discussion.”
Election and Democrats departure
Seliger noted the legislature did pass the election bill, which spurred the exodus of Democrats to Washington, D.C. and to get on TV.
“Not a lot of people left the Texas Senate so we passed everything and waited for the Democrats to come back,” Seliger said. “I don’t know the exact situation but if a lot of things pass, the Democrats may leave again. It is their option but they won’t find there is as much demand for them on CNN as there was last time.”
As a result, Governor Greg Abbott vetoed the budget of the entire legislative branch to punish the Democrats.
“Here’s a little secret, the salaries of the legislators are in the Constitution,” Seliger said. “We were going to get paid anyways. It was the staff, the young people who work in my office, legislative research library and legislative council who weren’t going to get paid. I thought it was just terrible.”
As for voting, Seliger wants every vote to be legal and fair.
“Fix the problems and make it possible for people to vote,” Seliger said. “It was too restrictive on Sunday voting, but we increased the hours so we could let people vote when they want to vote. As long as county election officials have the resources that they have proper security and everything works.”
Seliger noted the governor wanted a bill passed to audit elections.
“The Secretary of State audited four elections, two that went Democratic and two that went Republican,” Seliger said. “Two went Democratic and Republican in the end. They spent $1 million in Arizona and found out (President Joe) Biden still won. I’m a Republican and that’s not the greatest news to me but I just want a fair election.”
In property tax reform, the legislature passed a homestead exemption in the year they acquire property, but the popular tax reduction piece “isn’t really a tax reduction.”
“It takes $4 billion and gives people a couple of hundred dollars off their taxes for one or two years,” Seliger said. “Then the federal money goes away. It’s not really going to do much to their net taxes.”
The legislature did pass a bill that prohibited mail-order abortion-inducing drugs and while the drugs are still available, they require a doctor’s prescription.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Seliger said. “The other bill that passed is going to be reviewed by the courts. The problem with that bill is that it did not include exceptions for rape, incest and a threat to the life of the mother. All of which, I think, are legitimate exemptions that if it comes up again, I’m going to try to see they go on the bill.”
“The goal there was to insure that people that have done things like domestic violence and other violent crimes didn’t get out of jail on personal recognizance bonds,” Seliger said. “It’s going to require some work going forward as many things do.”
Social media reform
One of the items the legislature passed Seliger disagreed with was a bill that determined Twitter can’t remove a user even if their comments are obscene or untrue.
“Personally I don’t think Donald Trump should have been thrown off Twitter,” Seliger said. “But I’m unwilling to do a big-government, anti-business bill for his benefit or anyone else’s.”
Seliger did say Twitter, Facebook and social media does more than any platform when it comes to advocacy.
The electric grid and 2021 Winter Storm
“We handled it better in the Texas Panhandle better than most people in the state of Texas,” Seliger said. “We expect it to get cold. We expect there to be some snow. It was. Eleven degrees is pretty cold even for us. But this was the first time there was a winter storm problem for all 254 counties. The people in Houston made an important discovery called insulation.”
Seliger said the grid worked fine but there wasn’t enough electricity in the grid because it takes into account wind and solar.
“Which (Wind and Solar) are available sometimes and sometimes it’s unavailable,” Seliger said. “The weather in February required that we have everything 24 hours/day. Wind wasn’t the cause of the problem but it also wasn’t the solution.”
Seliger noted he is opposed to the State just providing funding companies to energy companies to build more gas-fire plants and instead suggest incentives for those companies.
The legislature increased the members of the utilities commission to five and required all of members of ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) had to be residents of Texas.
Seliger said the legislation provided for $139 million in salary increased for Texas DPS, Parks and Wildlife and Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission. They also put $180 million in border security.
“That’s money that should come from the federal government,” Seliger said. “But the federal government will not have an immigration policy and won’t fund personnel on the border. The State of Texas has got to do something. I’m opposed of it coming at the discretion of the governor. Not that I have a problem with it being spent.
“But I don’t think the governor ought to do things at his discretion and the legislature is not involved.”
Seliger added he doesn’t like the line-item veto because it allows the governor to be involved in the legislation process and “that’s not the way of the Constitution.”
In regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, Seliger said everyone in the nation did the best they could. The Department of Emergency Management performed very well.
“Even today there are a bunch of nurses available through the DEM that all county judges have to do is make a STAR request,” Seliger said. “It’s not as bad as it was at the height of Covid because a lot of nurses were getting sick.”
Seliger said he is opposed to the executive order Abbott passed that doesn’t allow for local mandates on masks.
“Initially I thought the governor did a good job,” Seliger said. “Then the folks on the far right who had a couple candidates running got all over the governor and now there is this constraint. I think it’s terrible. The governor has no idea in Donley County how many people are sick, how they are getting sick and what the death rate is. It’s up to the county judges and mayors to do that.”
The open carry bill
Seliger said he held out on that bill to see to it that “people who have done things like domestic violence and assault with injury can’t just buy and carry a gun.”
“My problem with the bill, and the governor and lieutenant governor didn’t use to be in favor of it,” Seliger said. “But Texas Public Policy, Texas Gun Rights, etc. got them on board. The simple fact is the rate at which people with the old permit committed felonies in the state was .04 percent. Almost none. The permit was doing it’s job.
“Now there aren’t any of the protections in there so now we don’t get any information about mental health and things like that. I think most of those people were carrying guns to begin with. Police Chiefs around my District were against the bill to begin with. Sheriff’s generally favored the bill or didn’t want to talk about it because they were up for election.”
Seliger noted the bill was very close in the vote and in his district most were in favor.
Seliger said the notion behind “Defunding the police” is illegitimate and that it’s more about a culture within the department/agency.
“Nobody is going to defund their police department,” Seliger said. “The fact Austin thought about it, that’s just Austin. They can’t possibly come up with enough weird ideas.”
Cities and counties will likely have to look at funding priorities and possibly spend more money to raise hiring qualifications and salaries for police officers.
“It will see to it that you have a culture of responsible policing,” Seliger said. “Notice, that (the George Floyd incident) didn’t happen in Pampa. It happened in Minneapolis, Minn. Those are not unrelated facts, it has to do with culture. The police chief in Minneapolis still has his job. He wouldn’t in Amarillo. I think that’s important.”
For more information on Kel Seliger, visit his website at https://bit.ly/2ZrRMsO.