Empower Texans: It’s hitting the fan

The media are beginning to peel back the mystery surrounding a political action group that calls itself Empower Texans.

What are we seeing now? It ain’t pretty, folks.

Empower Texans is pouring lots of money into campaigns around the state. It has targeted a couple of seats in the Panhandle with a reprehensible smear campaign.

The group’s actions have been noticed by the media, which are reporting on them with the kind of gusto one saw during other hot political disputes. Watergate comes to mind. So does the Lewinsky scandal.

Let’s take a gander at Michael Quinn Sullivan, the guy who detests state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and is backing former Midland Mayor Mike Canon’s bid to unseat Seliger.

Sen. Seliger has not hidden his dislike of Sullivan, who runs the ultra-right-wing organization. Sullivan has returned the favor by pouring lots of money into Canon’s campaign. Texas Monthly’s R.G. Ratcliffe takes particular note of an essay that Amarillo Globe-News columnist Jon Mark Beilue wrote in which he compared Empower Texans to Netflix’s “House of Cards.”

Read Ratcliffe’s essay here. Ratcliffe contends that Empower Texans is subverting democracy by falsifying incumbents’ records, as it has done with Seliger.

Empower Texans also has glommed onto something called the Granny Tax in its effort to unseat state Rep. Four Price, another Amarillo Republican.

Price’s challenger, Fritch City Manager Drew Brassfield, has campaign contributions from wealthy downstate interests that comprise 61 percent of his total campaign intake. Empower Texans has its mitts on that race, too, having endorsed Brassfield over Price.

Empower Texans has fabricated an issue, contending that Texas House members intended to raise taxes on nursing homes, thus penalizing elderly residents of those facilities. Thus, the “Granny Tax” was born.

It didn’t exist.

Scott Braddock of the Houston Chronicle lays out Empower Texans’ deception here.

We are witnessing a despicable display of demagoguery perpetrated by interests who have zero interest in the Texas Panhandle or in West Texas. They are seeking to unseat individuals who don’t grovel at the feet of powerful interests.

Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Four Price must not fall victim to this kind of defamation.

As Beilue noted in his column: “They (Empower Texans) are using their typical campaign playbook—paint their guy as the conservative choice, and the other guy as basically a Democrat by distorting and taking facts out of context to make them seem soft on abortion and a patsy for big government. Their hope is enough voters are gullible and naïve to believe it all.”

Man, I certainly hope West Texas Republican primary voters are smarter than that.

I tip my hat, moreover, to the Texas political media for revealing this lie to a voting public that needs to see it.

Emotions are raging over deputy’s inaction

I am terribly conflicted at this moment.

For starters, I am horrified to learn — along with the rest of the country — about the Broward County, Fla., sheriff’s deputy who heard the gunfire erupt at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but failed to respond.

The 30-year law enforcement officer — who was on duty as a security officer at the school — was suspended on the spot. Then he took “early retirement.” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said the deputy’s failure to confront the gunman was unacceptable and is not in keeping with sheriff’s department policy. He should have “killed the killer,” said Israel.

Seventeen people’s lives might have been saved in Parkland, Fla., had the deputy done his duty, had he responded appropriately and “neutralized” the shooter immediately.

Deputy Scot Peterson messed up royally and 17 families are heartbroken because of his dereliction of duty.

Then there’s this.

The armchair Rambos out there are saying that had it been them in that spot, that they would have rushed in. They would have done the right thing. They would have stopped the shooter, killed him on the spot.

Oh, and then we heard from the commander in chief today. Donald Trump stood at the podium this morning at the Conservative Action Political Conference and said Peterson lacked “courage” because he didn’t rush toward the gunfire.

I believe it is appropriate to remind everyone that young Donald Trump didn’t rush toward the “gunfire” either when the Vietnam War was raging. He received multiple medical deferments relating to “bone spurs” while other young Americans were answering the call.

So … for this president to hurl epithets that question another man’s courage is reprehensible on its face.

That, dear reader, is why I am so terribly conflicted at this moment.

I do not excuse former Deputy Anderson’s dereliction of duty. Nor do I endorse the rhetoric being hurled by those who have the luxury of being far away from the horror or, when someone who had the chance to answer the call to duty, found a way to avoid it.

Abbott takes the correct course with commutation

Thomas Whitaker is still alive.

He will remain so apparently for as long as his heart keeps ticking. He won’t be free, however. He will remain in prison for as long as draws breath.

Whitaker was supposed to die in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice death chamber this week. Then the state’s Board of Pardons and Parole recommended that his death sentence be commuted. It was a rare event by the parole board.

Then came the kicker: Gov. Greg Abbott could have rejected the recommendation. He didn’t. He accepted it and within minutes of Whitaker’s scheduled execution, Abbott commuted his sentence.

Whitaker is a bad dude. Make no mistake about that. He is not imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. He did conspire in 2003 to kill his mother and brother in Fort Bend County. However, the trigger men in the crime got lighter sentences than what Whitaker got initially. The man’s father argued for his life, even though his own wife and son had died in the heinous act.

“The murders of Mr. Whitaker’s mother and brother are reprehensible,” Abbott said. “The recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and my action on it, ensures Mr. Whitaker will never be released from prison.”

This decision is the correct one, to my mind, as a matter of principle. I oppose capital punishment. Accordingly, I am glad to see that Gov. Abbott has decided to stand by the Board of Pardons and Parole, even though he said he remains a staunch supporter of the death penalty.

However … Thomas Whitaker will suffer plenty while he spends the rest of his life behind bars.

Trump trashes McCain at CPAC … can you believe it?

So much for presidential promises.

Donald Trump reportedly had pledged to Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain, that he no longer would criticize his fellow Republican.

McCain is fighting a virulent form of brain cancer. His daughter revealed only recently about a conversation she had with the president about his vow to be kinder to the stricken senator.

Then the president stood before the Conservative Political Action Conference and tore into — that is correct — Sen. John McCain over his “no” vote on plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Trump said this today to the CPAC audience: “Remember — one person walked into a room when he was supposed to go this way,” Trump added, giving a thumbs up sign, “and he walked in and went this way [thumbs down] and everyone said, ‘What happened? What was that all about? Who was that?’ I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t want to be controversial so I won’t use his name. What a mess.”

If you can get past the mangled syntax and the idiotic sentence structure of the president’s remarks, then you’ll understand that the president is doing precisely what he told the senator’s daughter he wouldn’t do.

In Trump World, a promise made is a promise to be broken.

Liar.

Trump stokes the demagoguery machine at CPAC

Donald J. “Demagogue in Chief” Trump has fired ’em up at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

He has bellowed that if Democrats take control of Congress this year they are going to “take away your Second Amendment” rights to “keep and bear arms.”

Guns are on the top of people’s minds these days. A shooter went berserk in Parkland, Fla., killing 14 students and three educators in a killing spree that has thrown the nation into grief yet again.

So what does the president do? He goes to CPAC and sows terror in the hearts of the faithful. Democrats are going after the Second Amendment, he said.

I do not think that’s going to happen. History is an important guide here. Think about this for just a moment.

Democrats controlled the White House and Congress in 1964, a year after President Kennedy was murdered with a high-powered rifle in Dallas. Did they yank the Second Amendment away then? No.

Nor did they do so after President Reagan was shot and seriously wounded in 1981.

Democrats controlled Congress and the White House in 2009 and 2010. Congressional Democrats failed to reinstate the assault weapons ban.

Thus, Donald Trump is blowing it out his backside when he implies a repeal of the Second Amendment if Democrats take control of Congress. However, he had an audience that gave him lusty cheers when he tossed out that fiery rhetoric.

Are there ways to legislate some solutions to gun violence without taking away the Second Amendment? Yes. It just requires a concerted search for common ground to solve a quintessentially American crisis.

Demagoguery doesn’t cut it.

Fewer guns make us safer, not more of them

I keep circling back to this point about allowing teachers to pack heat in the classroom: What if, in the case of a shooter opening fire, the teacher misses and hits another student with a stray bullet?

I heard a teacher today talk about that possibility. He packs a pistol in his boot and said he would shoot someone who entered his classroom “without hesitation.”

Then he said his worst fear is missing the shooter. “What if I hit a student?” he asked. Yes, what if?

Then he sought to justify it by suggesting it’s better for one student to die than many others, prompting my wife to say, “Sure thing, then tell that to the parents of the student.”

The Parkland, Fla., slaughter of 17 people has opened wide the national discussion about gun violence. I’m glad about that. It has produced some interesting proposals by the president of the United States, who is suggesting a law creating a 21-year-old minimum age for the purchase of a firearm. Donald Trump also has spoken favorably about arming teachers, saying that if the Parkland shooter had encountered a teacher with a gun, he wouldn’t have been stopped.

I cannot buy the notion that putting more guns into schools makes them a safer place. National Rifle Association boss Wayne LaPierre said arming teachers would “harden” schools as a target. I don’t buy that, either.

My biggest fear is what happens if a teacher doesn’t hit a shooter with a kill shot, or at least a round that disables him to where he can no longer fire a weapon? Does an enraged gunman keep shooting?

We won’t solve this matter on this blog. It’s just that the notion of arming teachers just doesn’t feel like a sensible solution to curbing the hideous recurrence of gun violence in our schools.

This is not a hallmark of a civilized society and it damn sure is no way to “make America great … again.”

What will happen to the Barfield Building? Anything?

I have taken great pleasure in cheering on the progress I’ve witnessed in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

Abandoned buildings have been revived. New structures are being erected. Businesses are coming back into the district. They’ve broken ground on a new minor-league baseball park. Downtown is home to two first-class hotels.

Then we have the Barfield Building.

I drive by it a couple times a week and so help me, it seems as though every time I see that rotting hulk of a structure it looks more dilapidated than it does the previous time I looked at it.

I have lost track of the ownership changes that have occurred there. It’s been vacant for as long as my wife and I have lived in Amarillo; that’s more than 23 years.

An investor once started gutting the ground floor. Then the work stopped. The owner boarded up the floor. Nothing has happened since.

A Dallas-based investor took over the building with a promise to do something with it, or to it.

Then a consortium of local investors took it over.

That’s the last I heard of anything.

This past summer there was some reporting about tax incentives to turn the Barfield into a hotel/apartment structure. The incentives were to total $17 million.

The Amarillo Globe-News reported it as a possibility.

That was then. Nothing has happened.

I cannot help but think that a wrecking ball might be in the building’s future. The old Barfield Building keeps taking on the appearance of a structure that isn’t worth saving.

Let ’em allow guns anywhere

This editorial cartoon appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and it speaks to an interesting irony about those who believe “more guns will keep us safe.”

The Conservative Political Action Conference, the Republican National Convention and the White House all prohibit guns. That’s fine with me.

The cartoon, though, does remind me of something a former boss of mine once asked a prominent Republican Texas senator before the Texas Legislature enacted a law allowing Texans to carry concealed handguns.

The 1995 Legislature approved a concealed-carry bill, which Gov. George W. Bush signed into law. The Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked, opposed the legislation and we editorialized against it. The publisher of the paper at the time was Garet von Netzer, as conservative a fellow as anyone I’ve ever known. He didn’t like the concealed-carry bill.

I’ll never forget the time von Netzer asked the late Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, this question: “If you think it’s all right for people to carry guns under their jackets, why don’t you allow them to carry those guns onto the floor of the Legislature?” The Legislature chose then to ban guns inside the State Capitol Building.

I don’t recall Sen. Bivins’s answer.

Von Netzer’s question then seems totally appropriate today.

Trump needed reminder to show compassion?

Check out the picture. It shows you Donald Trump’s hands clutching some notes he held while he listened to the pleas of those who survived the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre.

I was truly ready to give the president unvarnished props for his listening to those who survived the shooting along with the loved ones of those who perished in the carnage.

Then this picture showed up.

I am struck by the last notation: “I hear you.” Yep. It seems the president needed crib notes to remind him to offer a word of compassion to the grieving survivors and family members.

I almost don’t know how to respond to this.

OK, I won’t beat up the president too savagely over this. I have a reason. He is far from the only politician to rely on notes.

Do you remember how President Reagan would carry 3-by-5 note cards into Cabinet meetings? How he would glance at them to remind him of the talking points he wanted to address?

Get this, too: A man who represented me in Congress used the same technique when he came to visit our editorial board at the Beaumont Enterprise in Southeast Texas.

The late Rep. Jack Brooks was a ferocious Democrat who pretty much detested almost any Republican he encountered. Brooks was not the least bit bashful about denigrating Ronald Reagan’s intelligence. He actually would chide the president over the way he depended on those note cards.

Brooks, though, did precisely the same thing when he sat down with us to talk about the issues of the day. Actually, Brooks often would launch lengthy soliloquies using the notes he held in front of him.

That all said, I get that Donald Trump is employing a tactic that others have done.

I’ll just add a final thought. The only reason I mention this at all is because the president has insisted many times since running for office that he is “like, a really smart person” who knows “the best words” and who attended “the best schools.”

Does an intelligent, well-spoken, well-educated man really need note cards to remind himself to say “I hear you”?

I guess this one does.

Dear Mac: Step up on gun violence

Congressman Mac Thornberry:

I’m not one to write “open letters” to public officials, but I’m making an exception with this note. A lot of your supporters read this blog regularly and my sincere hope is that one or more of them will forward it to you.

Congressman, I want to join millions of other Americans who are calling for some action from you and your congressional colleagues on this sickening, maddening and tragic issue of gun violence.

I won’t belabor what you already know about the latest spasm of violence that erupted on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Fla.

But you’re a big hitter in the U.S. House of Representatives these days. You no longer are a back-bencher. Your high profile as chairman of the Armed Services Committee gives you a louder voice than some chump who’s been in Congress for far less time than you.

Hey, we go back a ways together … you and I. I started my job at the Amarillo Globe-News the same week you took office after your stunning election in 1994. I’ve supported you while working for the Globe-News. I also have opposed you on occasion.

I am acutely aware of the constituency you represent. You are elected to one of the nation’s most reliably Republican congressional districts, even though it’s been redrawn considerably since you took office. Your constituents by and large are big Second Amendment proponents. They don’t much like any idea that monkeys around with the gun amendment.

Surely, though, you must understand that slaughtering school children and their educators is not normal. This is not how a civilized society should behave. Civilized societies should tolerate this carnage. Not for an instant! But, for God’s sake, we do!

Tougher background checks? Yes. End of those “bump stocks” that turn semi-automatic rifles into fully auto killing machines? By all means. How about a ban on assault rifles? Yes, I know many of your constituents are hunters, but who needs an assault rifle to shoot deer, turkeys or feral hogs in the Texas Panhandle?

Just for the record, though, I oppose arming teachers. My thought is this: More guns do not create a safer environment.

Given that you are now a member of the congressional leadership team, I want you to speak out clearly about what you think should be done to prevent recurrences of these tragedy.

I am tired of the canard that “no legislation would prevent” a madman from shooting someone. I will not tolerate a lame notion that there is nothing to be done that doesn’t tear the guts out of the Second Amendment. You can find a solution and you must communicate your ideas to those you represent in the halls of power.

Silence won’t do it for me, congressman. It shouldn’t do it for your other constituents, either.

Seize the moment, Rep. Thornberry.

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