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Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, one of Texas’ most prominent Republican local leaders, is backing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger.
“The one person who I’ll support statewide that will get me a little in trouble: Mike Collier for lieutenant governor,” Whitley said on Y’all-itics, a WFAA politics podcast.
Whitley and Patrick have frequently clashed, and on the podcast Whitley slammed Patrick for waging “war on local elected officials.”
Just days after Whitley made the endorsement that crossed party lines, an outgoing Republican state senator from Amarillo has followed suit. Kel Seliger told The Texas Tribune he plans to vote for Collier in November. Seliger is one of the most senior Republicans in the upper chamber but has also famously been at odds with Patrick. Neither Whitley nor Seliger are running for reelection.
At the center of Whitley’s disdain for Patrick is a bill shepherded by the lieutenant governor in 2019 meant to slow the growth of Texans’ property tax bills. The bill requires many cities, counties and other taxing units to hold an election if they wish to raise 3.5% more property tax revenue than the previous year, not counting the growth added by new construction.
But Whitley said the bill put Tarrant County in a tight position because property taxes are a major source of revenue for local governments. Meanwhile, Whitley said Tarrant County jails are housing more than 700 inmates that should be in state custody without additional funding from the state. The COVID-19 pandemic and the inability to make jail transfers contributed to state inmates being held in county jails, Community Impact reported.
“We’re paying 20 million plus a year because the state is not paying anything, and yet they’re sitting down there talking about all the cash that they’ve got,” Whitley said.
For Seliger, his vote against Patrick this November comes after years of tensions with the lieutenant governor. Seliger is rare among Republicans in the upper chamber for his occasional willingness to go against Patrick. He has said he’s been punished for voting against a pair of the lieutenant governor’s top priorities in 2017: a bill aimed at restricting local governments’ abilities to raise property taxes and a program that would have subsidized private school tuition and home schooling expenses. In the following session, Patrick stripped Seliger of his title as chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. During a 2021 redistricting session, Seliger also voiced concern that Patrick was drawing his district to favor Seliger’s competitor.
Seliger has voted for Patrick in prior elections, but over the years, the GOP incumbent has created a culture of “vindictiveness” and “maliciousness” in the upper chambers, he said.
“It is no longer really a deliberative body and and it is not collegial and cooperative. It is far more partisan and far more divisive,” Seliger said. “And particularly for Republicans, they have to kowtow to the lieutenant governor or they’re punished.”
Then, there are the bills Patrick has pushed forward. Seliger said Patrick does not support public schools and local government, “and those have always been sort of cornerstones of Republicanism in the state of Texas.”
Patrick’s Democratic challenger, Seliger is quick to bring up, is a former Republican. Collier identified as a Republican before running for office and twice voted against President Barack Obama.
Whitley said he is backing Collier because of Collier’s experience controlling budgets. Collier, an accountant and auditor from the Houston area, is a self-described “numbers guy.” Collier also worked as a landman for Exxon, which Whitley said indicated the Democratic nominee understood the oil business.
“And I just think he’s someone who understands local control. And that’s what I’m looking for,” added Whitley, who as county judge is the county’s top elected official and administrator. “We do everything. We’re the front door for basically all the federal and the state services that the state and the federal government passed laws for us to do.”
The potential successor Whitley backed for his county judge seat in the primary race earlier this year, former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, lost to a Patrick-endorsed opponent, Tim O’Hare.
Patrick responded on Twitter to the endorsement by calling Whitley and Collier “two-of-a-kind, tax hiking, big spenders.” He said Texans were being taxed out of their homes because of big spending from local governments like Whitley’s in Tarrant County. State Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Republican from Lubbock and one of the architects of the property tax bill, said Whitley’s endorsement of Collier was reflective of “his contempt for people having the right to vote on excessive property tax increases.”
The Texas lieutenant governor oversees the state’s 31-member Senate, making him the most powerful elected official in the Texas Legislature. The officeholder can dictate much of the state’s policy by influencing which bills move forward and which ones are halted.
The lieutenant governor race in November is a rematch from 2018, when Collier went head-to-head with Patrick and lost by 4.8 percentage points. A Democrat has not won statewide office since 1994.
In Tarrant County, Collier lost to Patrick by 3.2 percentage points. Though Tarrant County has had a Republican judge at its helm for 15 years, it has turned purple in recent years. The county narrowly voted for Beto O’Rourke over Ted Cruz in 2018 and for Joe Biden over former president Donald Trump in 2020.
In Potter County, the swath of Texas that Seliger represents, Patrick won in 2018 by a landslide, with 37.4 percent points over Collier. Potter County has consistently voted red.
Whitley’s displeasure with Patrick has been well documented for years. Whitley has said Patrick, as lieutenant governor, has a “stranglehold over what goes to the governor’s desk” and is driving Gov. Greg Abbott to the far right. After the 2020 election, Patrick criticized Whitley and Tarrant County for its handling of faulty mail-in ballots due to defective bar codes. Whitley told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Patrick should keep his nose out of local government.
Collier jumped on Whitley’s comments to promote them Sunday as a call to moderate Republicans, which he said Tarrant County is rich with. Collier also recently released a radio and digital ad across West Texas called “Not a Good Republican” that attacks Patrick.
“We may be of different parties but we both care deeply about the people of Texas,” Collier said in a statement about Whitley. “And as Lt. Governor, I will be a partner with our cities and counties so that we can build a state where our children can have dreams as big as Texas.”
The full program is now LIVE for the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 22-24 in Austin. Explore the schedule of 100+ mind-expanding conversations coming to TribFest, including the inside track on the 2022 elections and the 2023 legislative session, the state of public and higher ed at this stage in the pandemic, why Texas suburbs are booming, why broadband access matters, the legacy of slavery, what really happened in Uvalde and so much more. See the program.