Judge to step aside … and avoid a donnybrook

Texans love electing officials to public office. Even judges.

We elect them on partisan labels, which I’ve long hated. But in more than 30 years watching judicial races unfold in Texas, it’s rare to find an incumbent judge who’s doing a good job on the bench receive three challengers in a partisan primary contest.

Accordingly, the news that Randall County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Ronnie Walker will forgo a re-election campaign next year shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

He had three challengers awaiting him next spring. The very idea that Judge Walker would attract such an aggressive primary opposition made me wonder immediately: What has he done to incur this challenge?

We won’t have to answer that question directly as the Republican Party primary campaign for Court at Law No. 2 develops. The challengers won’t have Judge Ronnie Walker to kick around.

If I were still in the daily print journalism game, I would be inclined to ask all the challengers precisely why they chose to run against an incumbent judge. Randall and Potter County political history has revealed to me an extreme reluctance among the local bar association to challenge incumbents who are doing a good — if not great — job in administering justice.

An incumbent generally is doing a bad job on the bench to draw the number of challengers that Ronnie Walker attracted. That’s at least what I’ve noted over many years watching Texas judicial campaigns.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reported: Walker said he would “continue to maintain the high standards and quality of my court” through his term, which ends Dec. 31, 2018.

“I will always appreciate the support and confidence of the people of Randall County who voted me in office beginning Jan. 2, 2007, as the first and only judge of the newly created Randall County Court at Law No. 2,” he wrote in his statement. “Randall County jurors are the greatest, possessing an ideal blend of attentiveness, logic, reasonableness and fairness.”

Still, the question lingers: What — if anything — did this guy do to attract such a vigorous primary challenge?

Still struggling with how to refer to the president

The struggle is continuing.

A critic or two of High Plains Blogger has wondered aloud why I keep resisting the urge to refer to Donald Trump as president. You know, put the words “President” and “Trump” together consecutively.

It’s personal, man. Really, that’s all it is.

If you’ve read this blog with any degree of care, you will have noticed that I have no difficulty writing the words “Vice President Pence,” or “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson,” or “Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis.” Do you get my drift? Of course you do.

The president is another matter altogether.

All of those individuals I’ve just cited, plus the rest of the entire Trump team — except, perhaps, for his son-in-law and daughter — comport themselves with at the very minimum a semblance of dignity as they go about their jobs representing the United States of America. Ivanka and Jared are in their high-powered jobs only because the president loves his daughter and (I presume) son-in-law.

The president hasn’t made the grade. At least not yet.

Whether he ever gets there remains to be seen. This constant baloney about how smart he is, his recent repeated references to the “standing ovation” he got while meeting with his team, his continual insults and his ridiculous tweets regarding matters that shouldn’t even concern him all cheapen the office he occupies.

And then there are those petulant disputes with Gold Star families. And the clumsiness with which he handles virtually every matter that comes across his desk.

The words “President” and “Trump” don’t yet resonate with me. A part of me — admittedly a still-small part — wants it to change. Until it does, this blog will not go where it should.

Yes, Donald Trump is the president of the United States. I know it and get it fully.

However, he’s got to start acting and sounding like one.

Now … for a moment of ethnic pride

I make no apologies for the hyphenated nature of my U.S. citizenship.

I am a Greek-American, which was bred in me by my grandparents, all four of whom were proud old country Greeks. One of them, my paternal grandmother — Katina Kanelis — once informed me of a historical military action about which I knew nothing at the time. I must have been around 9 or 10 years of age.

It produced something of a national holiday in her native Greece. It’s called “Ohi Day.” What is that? I’m about to tell you.

My grandmother and I were sitting in her kitchen one day when she told me of when, on Oct. 28, 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini issued an ultimatum to the Greek prime minister, Ioannis Metaxas: Let the Italian military use Greek bases from which to conduct operations in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations or else face the prospect of war.

Legend has it that Metaxas replied with a simple “ohi!” which is Greek for “no!” Grandma told me he said it with emphasis, meaning I suppose it was taken as “hell no!”

The Italians invaded Greece from Albania. Grandma said with great pride that the Greek army responded with such ferocity that they drove the Italians out of Greece. Mussolini’s forces supposedly were better equipped, better trained, more seasoned. They ran into a ruthless enemy in the Greeks.

I’ve done some research in the decades since I heard that anecdote from my dear, beloved grandmother. I learned that the Greeks essentially let the Italians storm into their country, then cut them off in the Pindus Mountains in northwest Greece — and then slaughtered them.

It was warfare at its ugliest. The Greeks then drove the Italians out of Greece, just as Grandma told me. The opposing forces fought to a stalemate in Albania, prompting the Nazi Germans to invade Greece in April 1941. The Axis forces eventually conquered Greece — but they would pay dearly for their occupation until they were driven out in 1944. The Greek resistance was among the fiercest of any in Europe during World War II.

I bring this to you courtesy of my late grandmother, who became a proud American, too, by choice.

Happy Ohi Day, everyone! Have a glass of ouzo to commemorate it.

Call out POTUS … by name!

Republicans and assorted political conservatives got all over President Barack H. Obama for his refusal to refer to “radical Islamic terrorists” by that name.

They berated him. They badgered him. They called him a coward.

So … what is going on these days in Washington, D.C.? Republican lawmakers are quitting the game. They are chastising the leadership at the very top of their political party. U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake goes to the Senate floor and delivers a stirring speech against the “debasement” of American principles. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker quits, too, with a scathing statement against the tone and tenor of politics.

U.S. Sen. John McCain chides those who managed to get draft deferments during the Vietnam War because of “bone spurs.”

Former President George W. Bush delivers a blistering speech about the nature of current political discourse.

There was no mistaking to whom all of them are referring.

Any mention of its cause? Anyone willing to call out the president by name?

Not even a former president — as steady and strong a Republican as there is — has been willing to take that leap.

If these GOP leaders are going to pile on to a Democratic president for refusing to single out by name those who are creating havoc through terrorist acts, why won’t they follow suit when it regards the president of the United States?

Ready, aim, fire … at whom in this intraparty war?

I might be the only American today who is unable to understand the political warfare that is taking shape within the Republican Party.

Follow me for a moment.

* Donald John Trump is trying to remake the GOP in his image.

* Former chief White House political strategist, Stephen Bannon, got himself fired by Trump, but Bannon has declared himself to the president’s “wing man” in the fight against the GOP establishment.

* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell detests Bannon — and Trump. He’s got to smile with the president at his side because he wants to avoid incurring the wrath of a president who’s proven quite adept at bringing it in spades to anyone who crosses him.

* Other Senate Republicans are bailing out on the party, and Congress, because they can’t withstand a primary challenge.

The wild card in all of this appears to be Bannon, a guy I truly detest because of his far-right leanings and his seeming sympathy to white supremacists and those with anti-Semitic views.

What continues to make my head spin is how a guy who once sat at the grownups’ table at National Security Council meetings, then was demoted to the back room and then got himself shoved out the White House door can remain loyal to the guy who booted him out of the office.

But he is. At least he says he is.

I have lamented what I think might be the end of the once-Grand Old Party as we’ve known it. A critic of this blog told me he believes it’s far too premature to sound the GOP’s death knell. Maybe so.

It does cause me some concern that a party that once grappled with Democrats on matters of high principle is being turned into a party filled with know-nothings whose only loyalty is to the Know Nothing in Chief.

I’m going to try to stay focused on this fight as it develops. I also am going to try to make some sense out of what at the moment looks like a mishmash of confusion and chaos.

In the meantime, pray for the country.

How do you keep this event a secret?

I just took part in one of those goofy online “polls” that asked: Do you think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President Kennedy?

I hit “yes.” Most of the respondents, more than 60 percent of them, said “no.”

This stuff makes me cringe. It makes me want to scream.

The conspiracy debate has been fired up yet again with the president’s decision to release nearly 3,000 pages of documents relating to the 20th century’s most heinous single crime. I keep circling back to a couple of key notions regarding the conspiracy idea that someone helped Oswald kill the 35th president of the United States.

One, how does one keep such a monumental event secret?

I have grappled with that one for decades. I am utterly baffled by the notion that someone or a group of people could hide their role in such a crime from anyone. These nutty ideas that they’ve all been killed just don’t add up. Why? Because someone did the killing. Who? How? Where?

Two, does anyone actually believe that a sharp-eyed journalist couldn’t or wouldn’t reveal to the world who did such a thing?

C’mon, folks! Those ding dongs who broke into the Watergate office complex in June 1972 were revealed in fairly short order to be working for a presidential re-election committee. We found a direct line to the truth in pretty quick order.

I’ll stipulate once again that I believe from the depths of my gut that Lee Harvey Oswald acted all by himself. No one saw this guy coming. JFK’s trip to Dallas in November 1963 had alarmed folks who were worried about an attack from the far right — the John Birchers, for instance — who were so highly critical of the president.  Oswald was a Marxist. He snuck in under everyone’s radar. Such things are possible, you know?

Dare I mention, oh, the attacks of 9/11? There, I just did.

I would ask that we cease and desist with this JFK conspiracy nonsense. Except that it won’t end. Not ever.

Can it be? Mitt is getting back in the game?

I do hope this story pans out.

Sources have revealed that U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Senate’s longest-tenured Republican, is calling it quits and that his good friend Mitt Romney is going to run for his seat in Utah.

Why is my heart palpitating? Well, Mitt is no friend of Donald John Trump Sr. Neither, it might be noted, is Sen. Hatch. However, Hatch is facing a near-certain GOP primary challenge. He’s decided — allegedly — that he’s had enough of the fun and games in Washington. He’s now 83 years of age. He must lack the staying power and/or the stomach for another political fight.

But how about that Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who’s made three stabs at higher office? He lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, then came up short in two tries for the presidency, losing the 2012 general election to President Obama.

He might have made an even bigger impact on the current political environment, though, with that stunning speech he delivered in 2016 that tore the GOP presidential nominee, Trump, a new one. He called Trump a “fraud,” a “phony” and a whole lot of other pejorative terms.

Then after Trump got elected Romney supposedly was on the president-elect’s short list for secretary of state. He interviewed with Trump in private, came out in front of the cameras, smiled and said all the right things.

But … my gut tells me Mitt isn’t in Trump’s camp.

I’m not at all sure about Mitt’s residency. Does he still live in Massachusetts? Does he maintain a residence in Utah? I guess it doesn’t matter too terribly, given that these residency laws at times can be quite lax and open to broad interpretation. Do you remember the time the late Robert F. Kennedy (in 1964) and then Hillary Rodham Clinton (in 2000) ran for the U.S. Senate from New York, even though neither of them actually lived there at the time they ran for the office?

Whatever. I am glad to see Mitt Romney possibly getting back into the public service game. I just hope he can muster up the guts to keep “telling it like it is” as it regards the president of the United States.

Recalling a Texas Panhandle giant

Every now and then, I like scrolling back through my blog posts to re-examine thoughts I had way back when.

I did so again tonight and found a short post I wrote about the death of a Texas Panhandle political titan: former state Sen. Teel Bivins.

Here is what I wrote:

Panhandle loses a legislative giant

Bivins would leave Amarillo and the Panhandle to become U.S. ambassador to Sweden. His good friend, President George W. Bush, thought to reward Bivins for the work he did to get the president elected in 2000.

My thoughts turn to Sen. Bivins today in light of the current political climate. I wonder how he might fare in the harsh environment that seems to be overcoming people in events in Austin, let alone in Washington. He was a true-blue, rock-ribbed “establishment Republican.” He was conservative to the core, a staunch defender of private property owners’ rights — which makes sense, given his own extensive ranch holdings in the rural Panhandle.

I also want to share a brief memory about Bivins, which I think speaks well of the man’s character as well as his media savvy.

***

I was new to the Panhandle in early 1995. I didn’t yet know Bivins; I only knew of him. I had heard one of the Senate colleagues, Democrat Carl Parker of Port Arthur, describe Bivins as one of those “silk-stocking Republicans” who was more interested in helping rich people than fighting for the working stiff.

Bivins’ office called me one day about a month after I arrived at the Amarillo Globe-News. Bivins wanted to get acquainted. I went to his office in downtown Amarillo. We shook hands and started chatting. Bivins told me of his friendship with Parker and gave him kudos for his immense debating skills.

Then we talked about our families. He asked me about mine. I told him I was married and that my wife and I had two sons in college.

Then he launched into an amazing soliloquy about his own family and his troubled marriage. He told me about the struggles his then-wife was having with substance abuse. He said he wasn’t sure how much longer he could cope with it, how much more help he could give to her.

As I listened to this strange method of getting acquainted with a member of the media, I was struck by the extraordinary candor he was expressing to someone he barely knew.

We finished our visit. I went back to the office. Bivins went back to Austin to continue working as a legislator.

No more than few days later, I told one of Bivins’ top aides about what he revealed. She smiled and said he had an ulterior motive. Bivins wanted me to hear it from him, rather than hearing it from someone else, who might put a different sort of spin on it.

I thought, “ah hah!” I got played. More or less. However, it was for the right reason.

Eight years after this good man’s death, I am not bashful about telling you that I still miss him.

Speaker Price? Sure, why not? But only if …

Four Price is a friend of mine who I’ve known for about two decades.

Having gotten that disclosure out of the way, you may take my endorsement of the Amarillo Republican lawmaker’s potential candidacy for speaker of the Texas House of Representatives for what it’s worth.

I believe he would make a smashing speaker.

But here’s the important caveat I want to attach to it: I want him to follow the lead set by his good buddy, the current speaker who’s leaving the Legislature after the 2018 election.

Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, is quitting politics. He calls the atmosphere too “divisive” and too “partisan.” He sought to run the House of Representatives with a bipartisan touch. He worked with Democrats as well as Republicans.

That sense of political comity cost Straus support among the hard-core Republicans who believe he had become a Republican In Name Only, a dreaded RINO.

I don’t sense that Price, also a Republican, believes that of his friend and colleague. I believe it would be pure folly for Price to buckle under the pressure that some of the right-wingnuts are going to exert.

One of them happens to run the Texas Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick locked horns with Speaker Straus over that damn Bathroom Bill that died a well-deserved death in this summer’s special legislative session. The bill would have required transgender people to use public restrooms in accordance to their birth certificate gender. Patrick wanted the bill passed into law; Straus resisted, earning him the scorn of county GOP organizations, including the Randall County Republican Party, which resolved to support someone else for speaker in the 2019 session.

So, to my friend Four Price, I ask only this: If you’re going to run for speaker, please resist the temptation to tilt too far to the right. Do not forsake the millions of Texans — such as yours truly — who believe that moderation is critical to effective governing.

First thought on JFK murder? The Soviets did it!

I was a mere pup of nearly 14 years of age on Nov. 22, 1963.

I was home that day, nursing a bad cold. Mom and Dad had gone to work. My sisters were at school. I was watching TV when the news bulletin flashed on the screen: “Shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas, Texas; no word on whether the president was injured.”

The “word” came quickly. The president was rushed to a hospital. Doctors worked to save his life. They failed. Then came the announcement: “President Kennedy is dead.”

My first thought in the moment was clear and simple: The Soviet Union did it. Not only that, they were going to invade us immediately. The United States was without a president. We had no leadership.

Remember that I wasn’t yet 14. My mind ran wild.

I remember those initial thoughts today as Donald Trump has released many thousands of previously classified documents related to the Kennedy assassination. I’m hearing lots of talk that conspiracy theorists are going to run wild with this stuff. It’s going to substantiate their already-loony belief that someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald was involved. It was the Mob, the Cubans, the CIA, the FBI, LBJ, men from Mars, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I settled down over the years about what I truly believe happened that terrible day.

My 13-year-old concern about the Soviets was ill-founded, to state the obvious. I didn’t realize in the moment that Vice President Lyndon Johnson took the presidential oath of office in Dallas. He took command immediately. And the Big Bad Bear didn’t attack us.

I have grown up since then and have come to believe that Oswald did it. He acted alone. He snuck into the Book Depository Building. He waited for the president’s motorcade to pass under the sixth-floor window where he was perched. He squeezed off three rounds and fled. He got caught in the theater, shot the Dallas police officer and was arrested.

He wanted notoriety and, oh brother, he got it.

I also believe Jack Ruby wanted to be remembered, too, which fueled his desire to kill Oswald in the Dallas PD basement.

I’m glad the documents are out. I hope to read many of them over time. The myriad conspiracy theories they are likely to rekindle are the work of people with too damn much time on their hands.

They need to find work. They need to get and stay busy.