Senate bipartisanship may be on the ropes

Ross Ramsey has written an excellent analysis of what might lie in store for the Texas Senate if Dan Patrick is elected lieutenant governor.

It’s not pretty.

Patrick is locked in a tense Republican Party runoff with the current lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst. If Patrick is nominated in May and then defeats Democrat Leticia Van de Putte this fall, he might abandon the practice of putting minority party senators in charge of key committees.

According to Ramsey, Patrick should perhaps think long and hard before going through with that possibility. The last Democratic lieutenant governor, Bob Bullock, tried it and it didn’t work out too well for him with the 1991 Legislature, Ramsey writes.

Bullock failed to place any of the nine GOP senators in committee chairmanships. Republicans responded by gumming up the legislative works in the Senate. They knew how to tie the process in knots. They did exactly that, Ramsey writes.

Dewhurst has talked about possibility scrapping the Senate’s two-thirds rule if he’s returned to office; the rule requires at least 21 votes out of 31 to bring any measure to a vote on the Senate floor. With just nine Democrats serving in the Senate, the two-thirds rule builds in bipartisan support for any bill to be considered by the full Senate.

That’s as far as Dewhurst has been willing to go. Patrick might take the fight even farther if he declines to put any Democrats in charge of Senate committees. Senate Democrats aren’t without their own legislative experience, much as Senate Republicans weren’t lacking it in 1991 when they hamstrung Lt. Gov. Bullock.

As Ramsey writes: “The Democrats can be a pain in the neck, and like the Republicans of 1991, they are not helpless. Look at what idle hands can do. (Ike) Harris had been in the Senate since 1967 when Bullock handcuffed him. Experience won the day. The dean of the Senate, John Whitmire, D-Houston, has held his seat since 1983 and served for a decade in the House before that; he witnessed Harris’s rebellion and could find himself in the situation that led to it. Other Democrats in the Senate have the chops to cause problems if they have nothing else to do. Patrick has children; he ought to know that people get antsy when they don’t have anything to do.”

Ramsey also notes that Van de Putte won’t be a pushover in the fall election. She’s a savvy legislator herself and she’ll give whoever wins the GOP nomination all he can handle in the fall campaign. If Patrick is the nominee and he wins the election this fall, Van de Putte will return to the Senate ready to give the new lieutenant governor fits.

This will be fun to watch play out … don’t you think?

Perry on the hot seat

Gov. Rick Perry’s backside just might catch fire if a Travis County grand jury finds wrongdoing in the governor’s office.

At issue is whether Perry acted improperly by allegedly offering to restore money to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office if the DA resigned.

The DA is a Democrat, Rosemary Lehmberg, who was arrested on a drunken driving charge. Lehmberg also runs the public integrity office, which investigates other public officials’ conduct.

In comes the governor to supposedly promise to restore money for the office if Lehmberg resigned her office in the wake of the DUI charge. Perry had vetoed money for her office after her April 2013 arrest, but he’d make it all better if she just out of the way.

I will not predict what the grand jury will do. It is looking into whether Perry threw his weight around improperly by meddling in the affairs of the Travis County prosecutor’s office. Was it right for him to promise to restore money in that manner?

According to some observers, Perry’s tactics smack of the kind of behavior alleged against fellow Republican Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. Christie is still in hot water over allegations his office closed the George Washington Bridge and created traffic mayhem as payback for refusal by the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., also a Democrat, to endorse Christie’s re-election effort.

Both men are now considered possible presidential candidates in 2016. Christie’s brand already has been damaged. Perry is in the middle of a makeover attempt to try to recover from his disastrous run for the GOP nomination in 2012.

If the grand jury indicts Perry, he’s going to suffer far more than another “oops” moment.

Teen denied major prom date

The punishment handed to a Pennsylvania high school student clearly doesn’t fit the “crime,” such as it was.

The misdeed was to ask Miss America, Nina Davuluri, to accompany him to the high school prom. The request came from Patrick Farves, who reportedly had let his intentions be known before Miss America’s appearance at the high school.

School administrators warned Patrick not to do it. He asked her anyway. For that he got suspended, over the objections of Davuluri, who pleaded with the school to allow the boy to stay in class.

Her pleas fell on deaf ears. Farves was suspended and later apologized for asking Miss America to the prom.

What kind of justice is that?

Don’t educators believe in harmless pranks any longer, which is what Farves no doubt intended with his request?

Personally, I have to admire the kid for showing the brass to ask a beautiful young woman out. Of course, she isn’t going to accept. It would open up the proverbial worm can to other students in other schools on her lengthy itinerary of public appearances.

Still … Patrick Farves didn’t deserve a suspension.

Others have taken him up on his prom-date offer, including Khloe Kardashian and some Nevada hookers. Patrick has said “no” to those acceptances.

Good for him. Apparently, Patrick won’t go out with just anyone.

Text ban is no intrusion

If the 2015 Texas Legislature goes through with reports that it will consider a statewide ban on texting, we’re bound to hear from the righteous among us about the state’s intrusion into motorists’ personal liberties.

Let’s ponder that one for a moment.

* The state requires everyone in a motor vehicle to wear safety belts. That means passengers in the front seat and the rear seat. You have to buckle up, or else.

* Texas also requires children of a certain age or younger to be strapped into an approved motor vehicle safety restraint carrier. That, of course, is the responsibility of the parent or the adult who’s driving the motor vehicle to ensure that the child is strapped in properly. Again, do it or else.

* The state has banned the carrying open containers of alcoholic beverages in your motor vehicle. No more tossing those empty beer cans into the back of your truck, Bubba. You got that?

Does anyone gripe about intrusion regarding those particular laws? If so, they do it under their breath.

But we’ll hear from those who believe — wrongly, in my view — that these texting bans or prohibitions on the use of handheld communications devices will take away one more right of motorists to communicate with loved ones.

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a texting ban bill passed by the 2011 Legislature, saying that it was too, um, intrusive. The good news is that he’ll be out of office when the next Legislature convenes. I hope the new governor has better sense than the soon-to-be former one.

Cities have enacted the bans. Amarillo is one of them. Enforcing it has been problematic, to say the least, given what many of us have noticed already — which is that motorists can still be seen texting and driving at the same time.

Still, the legislation is worth considering and enacting.

Do it, legislators!

Key decision made on retirement

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on impending retirement.

Decision-making can be a liberating experience.

It brings relief and an almost palpable feeling of weight lifting off one’s shoulders.

I made such a decision this week. I have decided when I’m going to officially “retire.”

It will occur on my 66th birthday, which arrives on Dec. 17, 2015. That will be the day I plan to start collecting Social Security income.

Big deal, you say? What’s so special about that? For starters, that will be the day I can start drawing SSI without incurring a penalty if I choose to keep working part-time. I become eligible for my full Social Security benefit on my 66th birthday. I am working two part-time jobs at the moment and I’m likely to keep working at them even after I start drawing my “retirement” income.

I feel quite good about making this decision. It signals another big turning point in my life since the moment I stopped working full time as a daily print journalist. I won’t go into the details of that event, except to say that I wasn’t ready for that moment to arrive. It did. The circumstances of that moment still anger me but a year and a half later I’m actually glad to have moved on to this phase of life.

My wife and I haven’t been this happy in years. We’ve been able to travel some in our RV. Our granddaughter is growing and developing beautifully. Our sons are thriving. I’m working these two part-time jobs and enjoying them both immensely, mostly because neither of them places much pressure on me. The auto dealership job allows me to meet people and get reacquainted with old friends; the blog I write for allows me to stay involved with public affairs TV programming.

Of course, I have this blog to which I often contribute several times daily.

I now await another key stage of my retired life when I turn 66 and will start collecting some income for which I’ve worked many years.

There’ll be more to report on this blog as we move forward.

A decision on when to start collecting Social Security might not seem like a biggie to some. It is to me. I’m glad I’ve made it.

Make peace or deal with Hamas?

Put yourself in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shoes.

You govern a country of some 8,000 square miles surrounded by nations that at one time or another vowed to exterminate you and your constituents. Yes, you’ve made peace with a couple of those nations — Jordan and Egypt. The rest of the region remains iffy.

You’re in the middle of peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and then you learn that the leader of that government has brokered a deal with one of the world’s most ferocious terrorist organizations, Hamas. That organization has orchestrated terrorist attacks on your country from the Gaza Strip, which the Palestinian Authority governs.

The PA now wants to form a “unity government” that includes Hamas.

Do they want peace with Israel or not? Netanyahu has called off peace talks because the PA has formed that arrangement with Hamas, which still vows to exterminate Israel.

Can you really blame the Israeli prime minister? I cannot.

Netanyahu is furious with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for agreeing to the Hamas deal.

Having seen some of the damage that Hamas has inflicted on southern Israel myself, I understand fully why Netanyahu has called off the peace talks. I was part of a group that toured Israel in the spring of 2009 and we saw damage done by rocket fire in Sderot and Ashkelon, near the border with Gaza, which had erupted in violence prior to our arrival in Israel.

It’s a blow to Secretary of State John Kerry, who persuaded the sides to talk to each other after they didn’t speak for five years. Kerry still believes a path to peace is still open, but it’s now been littered by the presence of Hamas in this arrangement with one of the principals in the talks.

“He can’t have it both ways,” Netanyahu said of Abbas. “He has to choose: Peace with Israel or a pact with Hamas.”

Netanyahu is right to be angry.

Bundy said what about blacks?

Cliven Bundy has gone from right-wing hero to racist goat just like that.

Oh … my … goodness.

Bundy is the Nevada rancher who’s fighting with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees he is being told to pay because he is running his cattle on public land. He’s resisting the BLM order and has drawn fawning praise from right-wing media personalities for his defiance of the federal mandate.

Now comes word that the guy is quite capable of saying some truly idiotic things.

Such as this about African-Americans, according to “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” Bundy said at a news conference Saturday, recounting how he had seen black people in a public housing project in North Las Vegas. “Because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Better off as slaves? Did this clown actually say such a thing?

The folks who’ve been cheering him on have been a bit slow to condemn his commentary as the racist rant that it is.

One key Senate Republican, Dean Heller of Nevada, was quick to put lots of distance between himself and Bundy. Heller said he “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., followed suit.

Bundy is breaking the law by grazing his cattle on federal land. The BLM is seeking to collect fees that Bundy owes it. That’s it. He’s become a hero to those who despise the feds.

Now this. Good bleeping grief.

'I am not running …'

Here’s how you parse a statement and keep certain political speculation alive.

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told a radio talk show host the following: “I am not running for president. But I know a lot of my colleagues are, and I think that you have to be — you probably have to, if you are going to get serious about it, get going pretty early.”

Did he say he won’t run for president in 2016? Did he offer that “Shermanesque” statement about refusing to accept his party’s nomination if offered or refusing to serve if elected? Again, no.

He said “I am not running,” meaning that he is speaking in the present tense. No mention of the future.

This is the kind of word game that political watchers play in Washington, D.C. Thune had been thought to be a candidate in 2012. He didn’t run. His name has surfaced yet again as a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016. And why not? He’s a physically attractive guy. He’s well-spoken and has been a quietly effective senator for his South Dakota constituents.

Sen. Thune’s name will continue to be mentioned as a possible candidate until he declares categorically that not only is he not running, but that he won’t run, no matter what.

Hey, the campaign has begun. It’s only two years and five months until the next presidential election. Time will fly by.

What's wrong with Meet the Press?

Michelle Malkin is a noted conservative firebrand/columnist whose views on the “mainstream media” are well-known.

I read her recent column on “Meet the Press”‘s ratings troubles and she lays the problem squarely at the feet of the host, David Gregory, who she calls a lot of names.

She said he’s boorish, a “jerk,” he throws tantrums, he hates conservatives. In other words, he’s a “typical Washington elite.”

OK, I’ll accept her bias going in. My own view of Gregory’s troubles can be summed up simply. He isn’t Tim Russert, the man who preceded Gregory in the moderator’s chair on TV’s longest-running program.

Russert died of a massive heart attack in 2008 at the age of 58. NBC-TV went to great lengths to eulogize Russert, an everyman from Buffalo, N.Y., who went to law school, worked for Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan and Democratic New York Gov. Mario Cuomo before settling into the “Meet the Press” chair he occupied with such distinction.

Malkin’s recollections of Gregory’s hectoring of NRA guru Wayne LaPierre and Cardinal Timothy Dolan are vivid. They’re also accurate portrayals of the way Gregory often crosses an invisible line that is supposed to separate him from the issues he is covering.

I didn’t know about the tantrums or the boorish behavior until I read Malkin’s column (see attached link).

To my eyes and ears, Gregory just hasn’t met the standard Russert set with his equal-opportunity grilling of guests. He was tough on lefties and righties, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

The one thing Russert did so artfully was to research his interview subjects’ own statements. He would then use their words to make a point and ask them to clarify what they said. If they could, so much the better — for them. If they couldn’t, well, score one for Russert.

Malkin also noted that Russert conducted himself like the gentleman he was and it showed in the way he handled his tasks as “Meet the Press” moderator.

I also should add that a little self-deprecation goes a long way in the ego-filled world of TV journalism. Russert could poke fun at himself, such as when he told the story of when NBC asked him to fill in on “Meet the Press.” “What?” Russert would say. “Look at this face.” It didn’t matter. He knew his stuff and was good at what he did.

It is that legacy that is dragging David Gregory down. Pure and simple.

Now … a good word

I’ve been bitching up a storm lately about this and that.

I now want to say something good — are you ready? — about an insurance company and an auto-body repair shop.

My wife and I pay a hefty sum each month for motor vehicle insurance. This week I learned that it’s a good thing to have, even if we grit our teeth while paying the monthly premium.

On March 27, someone sideswiped our big ol’ 2011 Dodge Ram pickup as it was parked. It got scuffed on the right side. I filed a claim with my State Farm Insurance agent immediately.

What happened next is quite stunning.

The agency filed my claim as an “uninsured motorist” claim, given that I didn’t have the name of the person who dinged my truck; that category of claim knocked my deductible down to $250. I took the truck to the adjuster four days later. The adjuster looked it over and settled on an estimate of $1,444 to repair the damage.

We got a check two days after that.

Meanwhile, I called a local body shop, then took the truck in for the guy to examine it. He said it would take “maybe a week” to get the truck repaired. I had the money in hand.

The insurance company then arranged for a car for my wife and me to drive while the truck was being repaired. The company paid for the rental.

We delivered the truck this past Wednesday to the body shop. Tuesday, my cell phone rang and Jason at Soncy Road Body Shop told me the truck was ready to be picked up.

We got the truck, paid for the repair with the insurance check and drove it home.

Oh, and as a courtesy, the body shop washed the truck and detailed the interior to such a degree I am now afraid to take it anywhere for fear of getting it dirty all over again.

We complain about insurance companies. Sometimes they deserve it. This time, a particular agency in Amarillo — along with a local auto-repair shop — deserve pats on the back.