Keel served as the executive director of the Texas Facilities Commission, a position to which he was appointed effective December 31, 2009. He left the post on January 9, 2015. Three days later, he became the assistant commissioner of enforcement of xonsumer protection and border security for the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Keel is a fifth-generation "Austinite," having been reared in a family of six sons and one daughter. He is the son of Thomas M. Keel, the former long-time Texas Legislative Budget Board Director and former lecturer in public affairs for the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. He was the senior class president at LBJ High School in Austin, where he received his High School diploma on May 26, 1976. In 1980, he procured a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at Austin and an Associate of Arts in Foreign Language from Austin Community College.
He obtained his Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Houston on May 14, 1983. He was admitted to the Texas Bar on June 24, 1983, and licensed to practice law by the Texas Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. He was further licensed in the federal district courts for the Western and Southern districts of Texas and the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.
Keel also holds a Master Peace Officer License and is certified as an instructor of peace officers by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education.
He is married to the former Jeanne Marie Compeau (born November 14, 1959), formerly of Flemington, New Jersey. The couple has twin sons, Travis Bryan Keel and Sean Thornton Keel (born ca. 1987).
In 1996 incumbent State Representative Susan Combs, now the state comptroller did not seek reelection. Keel instead was nominated in the Republican runoff primary over his principal challenger, Kirk Ingels, 7,484 (62.4%) to 4,509 (37.6%). He was victorious in the general election, having polled 51,953 votes (69%) to the Democrat John Lindell's 22,106 ballots (29.3%).
After having been unopposed for a second term in 1998, Keel won an easy victory in 2000. He polled 74,958 votes (83.12%) to the Libertarian Party's Michael Badnaik, who received 15,221 votes (16.87%). No Democrat ran in District 47 that year.
In 2002, Keel won his fourth term in the House over the Democrat Bill Martin and the Green Party's Sarah DuBose. Keel obtained 30,001 votes (63.12%) to Martin's 15,524 (32.7%) and DuBose's 1,963 (4.1%).
He was unopposed for his fifth and final House term in 2004. In his last two terms in the House, Keel was chairman of the influential House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
In 1999, Keel was named an honorary member of the Austin Police Association in recognition for his work as a legislator and his prior service as sheriff and an assistant district attorney.
Like his predecessor Combs, Keel was considered something of a moderate Republican by Texas standards. "Over the years, he's clearly emerged as a member who's trusted on both sides of the aisle," said Rep. Ellitott Naishtat, an Austin Democrat and senior member of the Travis County Delegation."Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, for instance, rated him a meager 54% favorable rating in 2005. The Young Conservatives of Texas, however, in that same year scored Keel at 70%. Earlier, in his career he had been more conservative in his voting record. The Christian Coalition, founded by the Reverend Pat Robertson of Virginia, scored him 92% in 1999.
In the spring of 2006, Keel ran unsuccessfully in the statewide Republican primary for Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 8. In Texas as well as Oklahoma, the state's highest criminal and civil appeals courts are entirely separate bodies. He went into a runoff with the incumbent Charles Holcomb, who prevailed with 89,376 votes (53.62%) to Keel's 77,291(46.37%). As customary in modern Texas, this was an extremely low-turnout party runoff.
Keel tried to have the signature petitions of both Judge Holcomb and Dallas District Judge Robert Francis invalidated because of errors. Had he succeeded, Keel would have been the only Republican candidate for the Place 8 judgeship and a prohibitive favorite in the general election. Instead the Texas Supreme Court allowed Holcomb and Francis, the third-place finisher in the primary, more time to correct the errors in their petitions.
Keel's former House seat went Democratic in 2006, with the victory of Valinda Bolton over Republican Bill Welch, 50.24 to 45.53%, respectively.
Craddick chose Keel as an Interim Parliamentarian on May 25, 2007, when Denise Davis and her deputy, Chris Griesel, resigned because Craddick deflected questions from insurgent House members who sought to remove him as Speaker. Craddick refused to allow House members to make a motion to "vacate the chair" on the theory that he has the power to quash such a request. He also declined to allow an appeal of his decision.
Craddick said that he chose Keel because of the former lawmaker's decade of legislative experience, his legal expertise, and his knowledge of House rules. The parliamentarian is charged with guiding the Speaker through the daily activities during House floor sessions. He also advises him on House rules and key provisions in the existing Texas Constitution of 1876.
In his four-year term as Travis County sheriff, Keel supervised a staff of some 1,200 corrections and law enforcement personnel. He managed inmate populations exceeding 2,500 during a time of severe jail overcrowding. He authorized a program to house jail prisoners in tents. He ordered the construction of corrections facilities using inmate labor, and he expanded agriculture, labor, and education programs. He established a professional victim services program. He also launched joint law-enforcement operations between the Travis County Sheriff's Department and Austin Municipal Police.
Keel was the first and thus far only Republican to have been elected sheriff of traditionally Democratic Travis County. He was succeeded by the Democrat Margo L. Frasier, the first woman and the first lesbian to have yet served as sheriff in the history of Travis County.
Prior to his tenure as sheriff, Keel was lead prosecutor in more than fifty contested felony jury trials in his role as a Travis County assistant district attorney from July 23, 1984 to November 1992 and was considered one of the office's most tenacious prosecutors. He was chief prosecutor over these areas: Major Crimes, Narcotics, Organized Crime, District Court, Child Abuse, and Juvenile Prosecution. From 1987 to 1991, he was assigned to the Austin Police Department Repeat Offender Program. This program, which targets career criminals for apprehension and prosecution, was one of the first such efforts in the United States. He was the lead prosecutor in numerous cases of capital murder, homicide, sexual assault, and attempted capital murder.
From 1983 to 1984, Keel was an assistant to the district attorney of Brazos County (Bryan-College Station). From 1999-2000, he was a special prosecutor for the district attorney of Hays County near Austin.
The Commission, appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House, selected Mr. Keel to lead the state agency charged with responsibility for planning, providing and managing all aspects of facilities supporting the needs for over 55,000 state employees in Austin and in over 290 cities in Texas. The agency’s duties include space planning; assigning office space to departments of state government; facilities master planning; real estate acquisition; architecture, engineering, design, construction & project management; lease procurement; facilities maintenance & operations; and state & federal surplus property administration. Mr. Keel served in this position from December 31, 2009 to January 9, 2015.
Keel has written articles in the Texas Bar Journal about the legal codes, including (1) Criminal Law Changes to the Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure" (September 2003), "Changes to the Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure by the 77th Legislature" (September 2001), and "Criminal Law Update--76th Legislative Session" (September 1999).