GUEST VIEW: State Senate race highlights problems with involvement of political groups

By Stewart Doreen, Editor, Midland Reporter-Telegram

Four years ago, the Midland Reporter-Telegram ran an editorial that suggested the loss by Mike Canon in the state Senate in 2014 had everything to do with Midland and Odessa voters.

The numbers showed that Canon couldn’t muster enough support in the southern part of the region to beat Kel Seliger.

“Mike Canon could have won the election, but voters in Midland, Odessa and the rest of the southern part of the district had other ideas,” we wrote.

It appears history is set to repeat itself. The key again to a Canon victory appears to be winning the south by a greater percentage than he did in 2014 and specifically doing better in Odessa. If you ask Kirk Edwards, that will not happen. And according to the Odessa oilman, who is a former state Senate candidate, Canon really never had a chance.

Edwards said that, ultimately, Canon and any future candidate in the south will be served better without the help of organizations whose mission seems to be to politically cripple Kel Seliger (or like-minded candidates). Seliger doesn’t measure up to ideals held by Empower Texans, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, all of which are associated with Midland, primarily because of Midlanders associated with the groups.

“It is a shame certain candidates get backed by ideological groups that then resort to demeaning campaigning,” Edwards said.

He said the same groups backing Seliger’s opponents previously came out “aggressively” against state Rep. Brooks Landgraf after the most recent session.

“And Brooks doesn’t even have an opponent,” Edwards said. “People in Odessa are fed up.”

Edwards said if Canon wants to wrap himself up in the flag of groups like that, it will not be a good outcome for him. He also said that future candidates should know that it’s a non-starter politically to be associated with those groups when they target Odessa leaders.

“The worst thing to happen to Mike Canon’s candidacy this time was that group coming out against Odessa state representative when he didn’t have an opponent,” Edwards said.

And here’s the kicker: Seliger, the nemesis to those groups and some conservatives in the south, will benefit because of it. It remains to be seen if Seliger can capture 50 percent, plus one vote in the three-man race, but his odds improve if turnout in Odessa continues at the pace from last week.

It’s easy to understand that conservatives in Midland demand more conservative candidates. This is as conservative a city as there is in district. Likewise, it is hard to argue there is a more conservative Senate district as District 31, which Seliger represents. The Amarillo Republican has never been a favorite of many around here. He also appears to be at odds with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, which is hard to see as being politically advantageous for him or the region.

Still, we have talked with local representatives who question the index used to measure politicians. Some commentators questioned the index and motives of Empower Texans, specifically as state Rep. Tom Craddick scored lower than Landgraf. And it would be close to impossible to find someone in the region who questions Craddick’s conservative credentials.

Matter of fact, after our newspaper talked with Empower Texans about the index, it remains to be seen if it has an index created to measure conservatism or an index created to defeat certain candidates.

The division is made worse as people in Midland read recent Amarillo Globe-News op-eds and opinion pieces being critical of these groups and promoting the regionalism they expect to help carry Seliger to another term. It is the same push we have come to expect from our neighbors in the north.

Down south, those in the know believe Odessa isn’t in play and the influence by political groups will keep Canon growing his support even in Midland (it happened in 2014 and turnout is on pace to be lower this year).

Divisions have been created and opportunities lost. At least that is how Edwards sees it. He said the majority of people from Midland and Odessa are 100 percent behind the same ideas.

“For the future of Midland and Odessa, it would behoove ourselves to work together to come up with candidates we can get behind. … We would be a tremendously powerful voting bloc.”

He says this has been displayed in the backing of Mike Conaway consistently for Congress. Interestingly, similar political groups don’t produce similar indexes for congressional candidates.

The obvious take-a-way from the predicament isn’t abolishing conservative groups or their efforts. All of us should back their right to voice their opinions, spend as much money as they would like to get their message out and call out leaders for a lack of conservatism.

However, this isn’t a fight against a House speaker, who never measured up, or against larger city representatives. This is in our back yard. And their attempts to impact the political scene likely will only galvanize support of those leaders they seek to oust and could have long-lasting effects beyond this year’s election.