The governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker all insist this will be the legislative “session of the teacher,” and that the three of them are on the same page. But a bit of a shuffling act in the Texas Senate is raising some eyebrows and some new questions.
Last week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick handed out committee assignments and Sen. Kel Seliger was not assigned to his usual role as chair of the Committee on Higher Education. Instead, Patrick assigned him to chair the agriculture committee.
Lubbock-based Jay Leeson is host of the “Other Side of Texas” radio show, a West Texas current events program. He says Keliger’s assignment is essentially a demotion. He says that’s because much of Texas’ agriculture policy is determined at the federal level.
“Agriculture, of course, is federally driven, and there’s not a lot you can do with it on the state level,” Leeson says. “So, a pretty good downgrade for Kel Seliger.”
Leeson says Seliger said this most likely happened because he voted against two of Patrick’s 30 policy priorities during the last legislative session: school vouchers and caps on taxes for municipalities and counties.
“That put him in the lieutenant governor’s bad graces,” Leeson says.
Leeson says Patrick likely wanted to make an example of Seliger because he tends to “go his own way.” That could include going his own way when it comes to school finance; Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen are apparently aligned on the issue, and if Seliger were head of the education committee, it’s possible Seliger could challenge some of their initiatives.
Leeson says the conflict between Patrick and Seliger stems from differences in political style as well as in views on policy. For example, Seliger is a proponent of more traditional education systems, while Patrick has promoted so-called voucher programs, which allow public money to go toward tuition at private schools.
“Seliger is an old-guard Republican,” Leeson says. “He’s not into Patrick-esque Republicanism, which comes down on the side of private education over public education, and [Seliger is] always gonna push that back, and he has to because of his district.”
Seliger’s district covers 25 counties in the Panhandle, as well as parts along the New Mexico border and in the Permian Basin.
“There are not private schools available for kids, and vouchers – that’d be money displaced out of public education,” Leeson says. “So he’s gonna vote his district when it comes to those things.”
Leeson says the current dynamic between Patrick and Seliger shows that Texas Republicans may not be in agreement when it comes to education, after all, despite the show of unity from Patrick, Abbot and Bonnen. Leeson says he thinks Republicans will be divided between those who want local control and those who are against vouchers.
“They may say that they’re all on the same page, and generally they are … but there are nuances in this policy and Seliger certainly demonstrates that nuance,” Leeson says.
Written by Caroline Covington.