Pushing back against the pushback

Allow me this chance to push back against some of the soreheads who have dismissed a demand that has come from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor has written a letter to former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, a fellow Republican politician, demanding that he pay the full cost of the special election that will occur on June 30 to determine who should replace Farenthold in Congress.

Farenthold quit because of sexual harassment charges leveled against him. Then it was revealed that he took $84,000 in public money to cover the cost of lawsuit settlements involving the complaints of sexual harassment. Farenthold reportedly is seeking a second mortgage on his Corpus Christi home to raise the money to pay back the congressional fund.

Abbott said in his letter that Farenthold’s behavior is cause for the election and that he should pay for it — in its entirety.

The pushback came from those who reminded me that Abbott is campaigning for re-election. His demand, they suggest, is nothing than a sop to voters, a publicity stunt from a pol seeking some positive publicity.

To which I say: Baloney!

So what if it’s an election year? So what if Abbott is up for re-election? He is a strong favorite to win a second term, no matter who wins the upcoming Democratic Party primary runoff between Lupe Valdez and Andrew White. He doesn’t need the good PR.

Hey, I am in no way an Abbott apologist. I just want to recognize when a politician does the right thing even when it’s juxtaposed with the political context in which he does it.

Gov. Abbott has made a poignant political demand of a disgraced — and disgraceful — fellow Republican politician. My praise of the governor still stands.

There. Now I have pushed back.

Happy to report this friendship shows durability

A recent trip to the Golden Triangle produced a wonderful — but not surprising — acknowledgement from a friend whom I have known for more than three decades.

His name is Fred. He and my wife and I managed to catch up during our visit to the Beaumont area.

Fred reads this blog frequently. He is critical of my political point of view. He sees the blog mostly through Facebook, which is one of the social media platforms I use to distribute my musings about this and/or that political happenstance.

My old pal noted that his wife once questioned why he reads this blog, reminding him that he disagrees with my leanings so vehemently. “Hey, no problem,” he said to me. “It’s only politics. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”

There, dear reader, are the magic words.

I was heartened in the extreme to hear my friend say that to me. I wrote a blog post more than five years ago about that very thing and how this blog has cost me a friend or two along the way.

True friendships outlast politics

It just goes to show you that real friends don’t let politics get in the way of solid relationships … such as the one Fred and I have forged.

Thank you, my friend.

Let’s look for a baggage-free VA boss

Ronny Jackson called a halt to his nomination to become the next secretary of veterans affairs.

The active-duty Navy admiral and the current White House physician pulled out after allegations on several fronts piled up: hostile work environment, over-prescribing of drugs and drinking on the job.

Admiral Jackson called it a “distraction.” He denies the allegations.

And of course, Donald J. Trump, stands by his man. He also said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who serves as ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, will pay a “big price” because Tester had the gall to raise the questions about Jackson’s conduct.

According to the Texas Tribune: While a respected physician, many in Washington have questioned whether Jackson has the skill-set and managerial experience to run one of the most sprawling and troubled government bureaucracies. Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs officially delayed Jackson’s confirmation hearing earlier this week.

How about starting over, Mr. President? Trump has said that qualified individuals are breaking down the White House doors looking to work in his administration, even though there is evidence to the contrary. Are any of them qualified to lead a huge federal agency charged with caring for our nation’s 20 million veterans?

What’s more, let us all hope as well that the president can find someone who doesn’t have the baggage that Admiral Jackson was lugging around.

Happy Trails, Part 96

Fairview, Texas … here we come!

I’ve grappled for the past couple of days trying to decide how to make this announcement. I just did.

My wife and I — along with Toby the Puppy — are heading southeast in very short order to a little town tucked neatly between two larger communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Fairview sits between Allen and McKinney, two fast-growing suburban communities just north of Dallas. Our new dwelling is close to lots of commercial activity; entertainment is nearby.

Most importantly, it’s about a 10- to 15-minute drive from where our granddaughter lives in Allen with her parents.

This moment arrived quite unexpectedly. We didn’t anticipate making this decision so rapidly.

We spent a couple of weeks on the road hauling our fifth wheel through the South Plains, the Hill Country, the Golden Triangle, the Piney Woods and then to the Metroplex. We looked at some dwellings.

Then we made a decision. We like that one!

And that happens to be what one might call a “luxury apartment.” We notified the manager of our interest. We said we preferred a ground floor dwelling. Then one became available. We called from our current base in Amarillo. We submitted an application. We got approved. We settled on a move-in date. We notified the mover who has the bulk of our possessions in storage.

We are, as they say, good to go.

Our move won’t result in a complete severance from Amarillo for the time being. We’re going to shuttle back and forth regularly between Fairview and Amarillo while we tie up a loose end or two.

As I have shared the various stages of this retirement journey on High Plains Blogger, I have grown anxious about when I could make this declaration.

I am no longer anxious. I have just made it.

Our next big — and probably final — huge challenge is now at hand.

We are happy beyond measure.

O’Rourke making a return to the Panhandle

I’m thinking a good friend and former colleague is right about Beto O’Rourke’s unfolding political strategy.

The Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is crawling back into the belly of the beast — so to speak — in May. O’Rourke is planning an Amarillo town hall meeting on May 13. I understand details are coming out soon.

My old pal theorized during a recent visit my wife and I made to the Golden Triangle that O’Rourke, who hails from El Paso, is seeking to cut his expected losses in heavily Republican rural Texas. Meanwhile, the Democratic congressman is hoping to hold on to his base of progressive support in urban Texas.

So, the theory goes as explained to me by my buddy: If O’Rourke can avoid getting skunked in the country and hold his own in the big cities, he wins the November election against The Cruz Missile.

Indeed, the idea that O’Rourke is coming back yet again to the unofficial heart of Texas Republicanism tells me that the young man is serious about this part of the state.

I’m sure he’s been told the story — or the myth, depending on your point of view — about how President Lyndon Johnson closed the Amarillo Air Force Base in the late 1960s because so many Panhandle counties voted for Sen. Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.

Fact check: Of the 26 counties comprising the Panhandle, exactly eight of them went for Goldwater. That was eight too many to suit the Texan who was serving as president of the United States, or so the legend goes in these parts.

I won’t argue the point here about whether LBJ was pi**** off enough to put thousands of Texans out of work by closing the air base.

The point, though, is that a young Democratic candidate for statewide office is coming here to make his case for why he should be elected over a Republican incumbent U.S. senator.

Yes, I want him to win. Now that we have (re)established that bias, my hope is that his political brain trust isn’t sending him on a fool’s errand with a town hall meeting in the belly of the beast.

Tear it down! Tear it down!

I feel like revisiting an issue that has been discussed before on this blog. It’s the fate of Potter County Memorial Stadium.

The Amarillo Globe-News has put forward a notion that the stadium’s demolition ought to be an option. I’ll take it a step beyond.

Take the damn thing down!

Let me count the reasons for the venue known formerly as the Dilla Villa to be reduced to rubble.

  • It is in terrible physical condition. Drive by the dump/rathole and you see what I mean. The exterior grounds outside the fence look hideous. Potter County, which owns the place, is doing next to nothing to fix it up.
  • There is no practical use for it beyond it being the home field for San Jacinto Christian Academy’s baseball team. SJCA has a deal to use the ballpark for its home games.
  • Amarillo is going to welcome a shiny new sports and entertainment venue downtown in April 2019, thus removing Potter County’s ballpark from any consideration for future use. The MPEV will be home to a AA minor-league baseball franchise. They’ll play hardball next to City Hall, signaling the continued revival of the downtown district.
  • Potter County Memorial Stadium is the property of Potter County. As the AGN noted in its editorial, the county doesn’t have the money to fix it up. But even if it did, what would be the reason to throw money for a useless cause?

I usually get in trouble with some readers of this blog with these comments. They tell me about the “history” and the “tradition” associated with Potter County Memorial Stadium.

But … as the Globe-News noted in its editorial, they tore Yankee Stadium down to build a new ballpark with the same name. I’m quite sure that The Babe, The Iron Horse, Joltin’ Joe and The Mick all would have objected greatly. But the New York Yankees are still playing ball — and the city got over the demolition of The House That Ruth Built.

Potter County’s ballpark has outlived its usefulness. It’s time for it to go. Sooner, rather than later.

Abbott makes bold demand of disgraced lawmaker

If I were wearing a hat at this moment, I would doff it toward Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

The Republican governor has put a fellow Republican former member of Congress on notice that he should pay the cost of a special election that is occurring because of the lawmaker’s disgraceful behavior.

Corpus Christi-area voters are going to the polls to elect someone to replace former Rep. Blake Farenthold, who resigned after being charged with several counts of sexual harassment.

Oh, but there’s more to this tale.

Farenthold took $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle lawsuits brought against him. He has pledged to pay the money back, but hasn’t done so, although he reportedly has applied for a second mortgage on his home to cover the cost of the planned reimbursement

So, Abbott is seeking him to pay it back in another fashion.

The governor has written Farenthold a letter demanding he pay for the election that will occur on June 30 to replace him in Congress.

According to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times: “On behalf of voters in the 27th Congressional District and as Governor of the State of Texas, I am writing to demand that you cover all costs for the called special election to fill the seat now vacated following your resignation,” Abbott said in his letter. “While you have publicly offered to reimburse the $84,000 in taxpayer funds you wrongly used to settle a sexual harassment claim, there is no legal recourse requiring you to give that money back to Congress.”

There likely is no legal requirement for Farenthold to pay for the election. However, Gov. Abbott has rightfully put the heat squarely under Farenthold backside, seeking to shame him into doing the right thing by the congressional constituents he disgraced first by committing acts of sexual harassment and then dipping into the public fund to settle those lawsuits.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for Farenthold to act responsibly. Still, the governor’s letter and the demand it is making are spot on.

Jackson mess seems to fit a pattern

Let’s review for a brief moment some of Donald J. Trump’s key Cabinet appointments.

I thought it would be worthwhile to look back a bit in the wake of the Dr. Ronny Jackson nomination to become head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Jackson is a fine physician who has a good rapport with the president, which seems to be the major — perhaps the only — reason Trump selected him to lead the VA. He has no experience in leading an agency of such size and importance. His nomination is in dire peril over allegations of drinking on the job and over-prescribing of medicine.

  • Dr. Ben Carson is a renowned neurosurgeon who now runs the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His experience in running a huge federal agency? None, although he said he once visited a public housing complex.
  • Betsy DeVos was educated in private schools; she sent her children to private schools. She has no direct experience or exposure to public education. Yet she runs the U.S. Department of (public) Education.
  • Rick Perry once declared he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy. Now he is the secretary of the agency he once promised to wipe away.
  • Scott Pruitt served as Oklahoma attorney general and sued the federal government repeatedly over what he said were onerous regulations designed to protect our environment. Now he is head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Jim Bridenstine had no science background before Trump nominated him to lead NASA, the nation’s space agency.
  • The Trump administration has burned through four communications directors in less than 18 months. One of them had, um, no experience in the communications field.

Is there a pattern here? Sure there is. The fellow who nominated all of them to their high offices has no political/government/public service either.

The first public office the president of the United States ever sought was the one he occupies at this moment. He has no experience in government. None in public service.

He doesn’t know a damn thing about the value of public service, nor does he seem to appreciate why people serve the public.

There will be more drama and chaos to come. Of that I am certain.

But … the president tells it like it is.

Cabinet picks need ‘extreme vetting,’ too

U.S. senators are growing frustrated over Donald J. Trump’s lack of vetting of Cabinet picks? Really? Well, who in the world knew?

The latest example of lax vetting comes to us via the president’s pick to be the next secretary of veterans affairs. Dr. Ronny Jackson’s nomination to lead the VA is in serious danger. Allegations have surfaced — from military sources — that Dr. Jackson has instigated a “hostile work environment” and has been drinking on the job.

Oops! Why didn’t the president’s team pick up on this?

Trump selected Jackson, an active-duty Navy rear admiral, because — apparently — he and the doc have a good relationship. The president likes and trusts the White House physician who has worked for two previous presidents. I suppose, therefore, that one could ask the question about “lax vetting” of Presidents Bush and Obama as well.

But the VA is a vast bureaucracy, the second-largest agency within the federal government. Jackson has zero administrative experience managing an agency of such size and magnitude.

As The Associated Press has reported: “The White House still seems to be feeling its way on the nomination process,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, “and does not fully appreciate how important it is to do a thorough vetting and FBI background check on nominees.”

The president vowed to implement an “extreme vetting” procedure for immigrants entering the United States. I happen to support the principle of more rigorous examination of those seeking entry into this country.

Why, though, doesn’t the president impose an extreme vetting concept among those he selects for the highest positions in government? Indeed, a simple question or two could have avoided the hideous publicity surrounding Ronny Jackson’s nomination to lead the VA.

How about asking him something like this: Are there any workplace issues — anything at all — that might pose a problem for your nomination, Dr. Jackson?

Simple, yes?

Federal courts: not really politics free

The federal judiciary is supposed to be free of political pressure.

But is it? Really? Oh, I tend to think not.

I find myself looking at federal court rulings a bit differently these days. For instance, the D.C. federal judge who ruled that the Trump administration must keep honoring the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program is an interesting fellow.

Judge John Bates is a President George W. Bush appointee. Thus, I tend to take his decision a bit more seriously than I would if he were appointed by President Barack Obama. Why? Because he upheld an Obama administration decision to create DACA in the first place. DACA, by the way, is the rule that protects U.S. residents who were brought here illegally by their parents; they’re called “Dreamers” because they are pursuing the “American Dream.” Get it?

The founders set up a federal judiciary that was supposed to be free of political pressure. It really isn’t. The judges who get these lifetime appointments are nonetheless examined carefully by people such as me and others who look for political reasons to endorse or condemn whatever ruling they hand down.

That is not to say that they base their decisions according to what others might say about them. Indeed, several Supreme Court justices over the years have veered sharply away from the course the presidents who nominated them hoped they would travel. And they get their share of condemnation from those who want them to adhere to the presidents’ political leanings.

But … they are political appointees. Make no mistake about it.

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