Naked City

The Senate run-off kickoff

Campaigning continued for the special state Senate elections in districts 1 and 31, with Democrat Paul Sadler in a run-off against Republican Kevin Eltife in District 1 (to replace retiring Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant) and Republican Kel Seliger facing Republican Kirk Edwards in District 31 (to complete the term of Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, leaving to become ambassador to Sweden).

Gov. Perry has set a date for the run-offs – Feb. 17 – which is of particular interest in District 31. All of the candidates on the district's Jan. 20 special-election ballot (to serve out the last year of Bivins' term) likewise filed for the March 9 primary (to serve a full four-year term), although some have indicated their willingness to drop out and back either Seliger or Edwards. (The one Democrat on that ballot, Elaine King Miller, will again face the GOP survivor in November.) Seliger is a steel company executive and former Amarillo mayor, and Edwards is an Odessa chemical engineer and oil businessman.

In District 1, Ratliff endorsed former Tyler Mayor Eltife this week, after praising both candidates as "intelligent, principled, and honorable." Ratliff said he was endorsing his fellow Republican as closer in "basic political ideology," although he conditioned his support on Eltife's rejection of "personal attacks" by "third party organizations." In the first round, both Sadler, a former state representative from Henderson, and current state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, were targeted in attack ads funded by the Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Americans for Job Security. The latter is an insurance-industry front group with ties to Austin GOP operatives and, through them, Gov. Perry. Sadler was portrayed as an unscrupulous "trial lawyer," and Merritt – who, like Ratliff, opposed the GOP leadership on congressional redistricting – was attacked for supposedly supporting tax hikes. Eltife said he had no connection to the ads and that he'd asked that the governor use his influence to have them pulled down.

Ratliff said that he was as offended by the attack ads "as I was when I took on FreePAC and its unscrupulous campaign tactics a few years ago." In the 2000 legislative campaign, the hard-right FreePAC political action committee attacked moderate Republicans – including both Ratliff and Merritt – as soft on gays and abortion rights. Ratliff said he had received assurances from Eltife that he would join Ratliff in defending Sadler against any new attacks. "The choice is between two good and honorable men," said Ratliff, "both of whom would devote themselves to the citizens of Northeast Texas." The winner will serve out the remaining two years of Ratliff's term.

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Election 2004, Paul Sadler, Kevin Eltife, Kel Seliger, Kirk Edwards, Bill Ratliff, FreePAC, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Americans for Job Security

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