It’s no secret that the Republican Party in Texas has veered sharply right in the last decade. As a new set of midterms loom, the few remaining moderates are starting to leave the legislature.
Among a slew of retirements recently announced following redistricting is State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo). For years he’s been a moderating force in the Republican Party and a personal thorn in the side for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Seliger, who Patrick has called the “most liberal” Republican in the state, has voted against various tax measures put forth by Patrick and also declined to endorse the lieutenant governor for re-election. As a result, Patrick backed numerous right-wing challengers to unsuccessfully oust Selinger.
It looks like redistricting will finally do the trick. Seliger could read the writing on the wall as his district was made even more right-leaning and announced his retirement. The object of his bitterness was apparent in his statement.
“The Republican Party in Texas has gotten to be one of litmus tests and conformity,” Seliger says. “Everybody’s got to believe exactly the same way about everything or you’re a RINO.”
Another Patrick opponent, State Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), is also on the way out. Larson has repeatedly voted out of step with his party on many of their reactionary and discriminatory bills, most notably the voting rights and access restrictions bill and ban on teaching “critical race theory.” He even tried to introduce a bill to add rape and incest exemptions for the new abortion ban, which sadly fell on deaf ears.
Both Patrick and Governor Gregg Abbott have backed primary challengers to remove Larson, but he has held on despite their ire. Larson, for his part, has no problems dragging the lieutenant governor, calling him a “control freak” with “psychological issues.” Larson recently announced his retirement, following through on his oft-repeated belief that legislators should only serve twelve years. His removal will likely pave the way for Abbott and Patrick to install a puppet.
On the other hand, it looks like a few Republicans may not be done fighting. They just might not be Republicans anymore. Matthew Dowd has always had a complicated relationship with his party. Though he was a chief strategist for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, he had a very public split with the former over the handling of the Iraq War. Before that post, he served Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock.
Now, he’s announced that he’s running as a Democrat to unseat Patrick. Dowd cited the January 6 insurrection and Patrick’s support of the election fraud lie as the reason why he has decided to step in the ring for 2022.
“Enough is enough. We need more officials who tell the truth, who believe in public services, in common sense with common decency for the common good. … We need to expect more from our politicians,” Dowd says in his announcement ad. “Dan Patrick believes in none of those and that is why I am running for the powerful office of lieutenant governor of this great state.”
Whether Dowd will be able to topple Patrick is anyone’s guess. One way or another, he, Larson, and Seliger are perfect examples of what Republicans who don’t toe the far-right line in Texas have the option to do. They can leave the party, or they can just leave altogether.