Lege Lines: Yes, Dan Patrick Is Really That Petty
Committee assignments spawn high-school drama in the Senate
The first throwing of hands in the 86th Texas Legislature has gone down within the ruling GOP, between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, a more moderate voice in the upper chamber. Last Friday, Patrick released his committee assignments for the session with some notable changes, such as relieving alleged sexter Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, of his chairmanship of Health and Human Services and ousting Seliger from his high-profile seats on Higher Education (which he chaired), Public Education, and Finance. Instead, he assigned Seliger to helm Agriculture (a reduced committee stripped of its previous purview over water issues).
Seliger called the move a "very clear warning" that Patrick will punish noncompliant Republicans. Patrick adviser Sherry Sylvester then said that if the new post is "beneath" him, Seliger should let the Lite Guv know so he can appoint someone else. Then, on a radio show, Seliger called Sylvester's remarks "snide and unbecoming" and told her ... well ... "I have a recommendation for Miss Sylvester and her lips and my back end." Burn!
After taking a break for MLK Day, the high-school hijinks resumed, with Patrick deposing Seliger from the Agriculture chairmanship for refusing to apologize for the "lewd" comment about a "female staffer that shocked everyone." (To see what Patrick really thinks about lewd comments from senators, see "Sex and the Senate," Jan. 25.) Seliger apologized for being mean to Sylvester when his beef is really with Patrick, because "I have consistently stood up for rural Texas, local control, and public education rather than trumpeting the lieutenant governor's pet projects of bathroom regulation and private school vouchers."
As is quickly becoming the norm, the adults in the House managed to avoid any of this strange behavior when that chamber's committee assignments were announced Wednesday. Continuing to sound his progress-over-party theme, new Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, named El Paso Democrat Joe Moody as speaker pro tem (a role Bonnen served last session under Joe Straus); Democrats, with 12 more reps than in 2017, also gained the chairmanships of Higher Education and Transportation. Bonnen named Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, to replace himself at the helm of Ways and Means; Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, to take over State Affairs; and Four Price, R-Amarillo, to chair Calendars, with John Zerwas, R-Richmond, remaining atop the budget-writing Appropriations committee. Of the local delegation, Austin Reps. Gina Hinojosa and Donna Howard will serve as vice chairs of, respectively, Human Services and House Administration.