All posts by kanelis2012

Perry should intervene in UT dispute

Texas Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, is on point with his call to Gov. Rick Perry.

The governor needs to use the bully pulpit of his office to calm the rising tensions between the Legislature and the University of Texas System, according to Seliger.

“When things turn out to be bad for an institution or bad for the state, the person who can resolve this quickest is the governor,” Seliger told the Texas Tribune on Monday. “He ought to do what’s best for the state of Texas. Turmoil in an institution for no good reason is something we certainly ought to be wary of. It’s not productive.”

And the UT System isn’t just any old government “institution.” It is a top-tier university system that carries the state’s name in its title.

The dispute involves the UT regents’ relationship with Bill Powers, president of the UT-Austin campus and legislators’ desire to examine emails and other correspondence generated by the university. The regents are trying to keep some of that information from public view.

Perry to date has been relatively quiet, which is odd given the governor’s occasional fits of loquaciousness. Indeed, Perry has a big stake in this fight, given that he has appointed so many of the regents to their position. Thus, his own reputation is on the line if regents cannot settle this matter.

Well, governor?

Inhofe invokes ‘childish’ response to pay cut

U.S. Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma is getting grouchier with age.

He has described Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s decision to donate part of his salary back to the Treasury in response to the mandated “sequestration” budget cuts as “childish,” and a publicity stunt.

I beg to differ with the distinguished gentlemen from the Sooner State.

The decision isn’t childish. It demonstrates a desire to lead by example, which, where I come from, is the most effective type of leadership of all.

Hagel has been joined by President Obama and a handful of other executive branch officials in giving back 5 percent of their salaries. It’s interesting to me that House members and senators aren’t too eager to join the ranks of those willing to give back some of their salary. Those folks – along with the president – are responsible for the sequestration in the first place.

Inhofe says he has no plans to follow Hagel’s and Obama’s lead. He must need the money.

Sen. Inhofe ought to set aside his crabby attitude, though, and recognize that folks have differing views on how to handle the ongoing federal budget struggle. No one believes these gestures are anything more than symbolic. They won’t balance the budget.

Still, these gestured do matter when our leaders ask others to sacrifice for the good of the country.

Bring the gun legislation to a vote

President Obama is trying to make a simple plea about gun violence legislation.

If senators who are opposed to overhauling the nation’s gun laws are willing to cast a “no” vote in that regard, they ought to be free to do so. But it appears unlikely that a minority of senators, mainly Republicans, are not going to allow that to happen.

Obama went to Hartford, Conn., Monday to make the case for an up-or-down vote in the Senate on a package of bills the president thinks will help curb gun violence. He wants universal background checks on anyone purchasing a gun and limits on the size of magazines that hold ammunition.

Whether they’ll do the trick is the subject of debate. The National Rifle Association and its allies say they won’t; proponents of the gun laws say they will. The debate is raging. Obama, though, is expressing justifiable frustration – bordering on anger – over senators’ tactics to block even a vote. About 15 of them, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are erecting procedural roadblocks to bringing the issue to a vote.

This is wrong. If a majority of senators don’t want to change the gun laws, then let them put it on the record. Let them state clearly why they think existing gun laws are sufficient. Let them then explain to their constituents – who just might favor tougher gun regulations – why they voted the way they did. And let them defend that vote at election time when their careers just might be on the line.

I happen to side with the president on this key point: Nothing in the legislation violates the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans to own a firearm.

As the president said in Hartford, with family members of the children and teachers killed in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre listening to his words, most Americans favor the background checks and want to see limits placed on the size of magazines. Even families that belong to the NRA favor them, he said. Democrats favor them; so do Republicans.

So … let our elected Senate cast a vote to defeat these measures if most of its members want to do so. And then let them explain to their constituents why they’re refusing to do the people’s will.

RIP, Britain’s Iron Lady

When word came out this morning that Margaret Thatcher had died at age 87, my memory immediately flashed back to April 1982.

That was when Britain’s Iron Lady, its first woman prime minister, showed her mettle, her resolve and her unbelievable toughness. I’ll forgo discussing some of the negative aspects of her record-setting stint as British prime minister – the union-busting, for example.

It’s the way she responded to a foreign invader that sticks in my memory today.

In April of 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory off the coast of the South American nation. It had been disputing the land with Britain for many years and so the Argentines decided to take matters into their own hands. The military action incensed Thatcher.

Thatcher’s response? She sent a naval task force south from the British Isles to the Falklands. This was one of the most telegraphed military counter-offensives of the 20th century. Everyone on the planet knew what was going to happen once the fleet arrived. The Argentines certainly knew it. Thatcher had given them all kinds of warning: Get off the islands or else face the wrath of our military might.

The Argentines stayed and waited. The Brits arrived and proceeded to pound the Argentines without mercy. The fighting lasted until June and it resulted in the collapse of the military junta that ruled Argentina. The nations broke off diplomatic ties for a time, but they were restored in 1989.

Everyone knew Thatcher came honestly by her Iron Lady moniker. She didn’t suffer fools. She was a classic cold warrior, who sensed that there could be deals struck with a new Soviet ruler named Mikhail Gorbachev. She forged a lasting personal bond with her American soul mate Ronald Reagan and counseled him on how to handle Gorbachev.

Was she my kind of leader? I wouldn’t have voted for her if I had the chance. But that doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that when the chips were down and another nation invaded her nation’s sovereign territory, she responded with firmness and strength.

Is Hillary running for POTUS? Do bears … you know?

Hillary Rodham Clinton made me look like a moron in 2000.

I predicted in writing 13 years ago that she wouldn’t run for the U.S. Senate. Why would she want to work with individuals, many of whom voted to remove her husband from office two years earlier in an impeachment trial? How could she forgive them for saying what they said about President Clinton, who had been impeached by the House of Representatives because he lied to a grand jury about a scandal involving a White House intern?

Well, she proved me wrong. She ran for the Senate from New York and won in a landslide. She then proceeded to become an effective representative for the Empire State. She won friends on both sides of the political aisle. More than that, she won their respect for her work ethic. Then she became arguably one of the top two or three secretaries of state in U.S. history when President Obama selected her for that job.

Now some of us are wondering: Is she going to run for president – again! – in 2016.

I am not going to bet against it.

Her 2008 run for the Democratic presidential nomination would have taken it out of most mortal human beings. Not Hillary Clinton. She answered the new president’s call and worked tirelessly to promote U.S. interests abroad. Was her tenure error-free? No. The attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including our ambassador to Libya, will remain an indelible stain on her record.

But is it a deal-breaker? Will it dissuade her from running once more for president? That, by itself, won’t do it. What would do it? Maybe her health could fail her. She’ll be 69 years old when the 2016 election rolls around. Then again, that’s the same age Ronald Reagan was when he was elected in 1980 … and he managed to serve two terms.

My sense is that the former first lady, senator and secretary of state is preparing an announcement sometime next year that she’s going to make one more run for the big prize. I’d go the other way, predicting she won’t do it, except that I won’t ever underestimate any national politician’s ambition.

UT power struggle cannot continue

The power struggle that’s enveloping the University of Texas System is not going to end well if the system regents don’t back off and let the man they hired to run the flagship campus do his job without interference.

UT-Austin President Bill Powers has been in an ongoing battle with regents who many critics are saying – in an increasingly loud voice – are meddling in administrative matters that should be within the purview of the campus’s chief executive officer.

The Texas Tribune reports that the temperature is elevating once more in the regents’ board room. Regents Chairman Gene Powell has asked Attorney General Greg Abbott if the system can withhold information from state legislators who are seeking system records. My advice, for what it’s worth, to the AG is to force the regents to give everything up. And this is where Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, can step in. He runs the committee that oversees higher ed affairs – in which the UT System, of course, is a huge player.

No one is suggesting malfeasance on Powers’s part. No one is saying out loud that he’s doing a poor job of running the UT System’s mother-ship campus. If he was doing badly, he’d be fired.

My strongest hope is not necessarily for Bill Powers, who I do not know. It is for the UT System, which has graduated a lot of fine folks with whom I am acquainted. Some of ‘em even are good friends of mine. They’re sick about what’s going on there.

Fix this problem, ladies and gentlemen.

Bringing back ‘Crossfire’

I just learned that CNN is looking for a way to resurrect the “Crossfire” program that used to run on the news network.

I’m hoping CNN brings it back. But it needs to be uber-selective in who it wants to face off.

You’ll recall that “Crossfire” was a debate show that pitted a liberal against a conservative. Pundit v. pundit. Rightie v. leftie. The network has had some stellar folks on both sides of the table.

My favorite conservative probably was Pat Buchanan, the former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon and one-time communications director for President Ronald Reagan. The man is glib and clever.

My favorite liberal? I’ll go with Paul Begala, the former policy wonk who served President Bill Clinton. Begala is a Texan who’s just as quick-witted as Buchanan.

Begala still can be found on CNN as a “contributor” and “political analyst.” Buchanan’s been bouncing a round a bit over the years. He’s now with the Fox News Channel after MSNBC let him go about a year or ago.

I wouldn’t mind seeing them square off on the new “Crossfire.”

But I don’t want to have the last word on that one. Any ideas out there on who you would like to see on this news show? Talk to me. I’m all ears.

Fort Worth success may spread NW

Fort Worth has enjoyed remaking its downtown business/entertainment district into a subject of immense civic pride.

A big part of the success has been the creation of a tax increment finance (TIF) arrangement that looks somewhat like the tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) created for Amarillo. Indeed, Amarillo has patterned much of its own downtown redevelopment strategy after what’s been done in Cowtown.

It’s working there. It can work here.

Oh yes, there are critics here who dismiss the strategy. The Fort Worth TIF sets aside tax revenue to pay for public improvements. Amarillo’s TIRZ is set up to do essentially the same thing. It’s got a different name and it sets aside money derived from property value appreciation within the district.

Tomato, tom-ah-to. The concepts are similar.

For my money, downtown Fort Worth has it all over downtown Dallas. The two Metroplex cities compete at almost every level, but as far as downtown livability and enjoyment, Big D likely threw in the towel years ago to Fort Worth.

Fort Worth success has come with public help. Amarillo is seeking to kick start its downtown redevelopment through entirely private money in its first phase, estimated to cost about $113 million. The city is supposed to get a new parking structure and a minor-league ballpark – eventually.

After that, who knows? I do understand, though, that Amarillo’s venture must include some public money, which is where the TIRZ strategy kicks in, to the dismay of nay-sayers.

I want to stipulate one more time in response to gripes I keep hearing about Amarillo’s downtown project. It will not copy Fort Worth’s in size and scope. It cannot, given that our city comprises not quite 200,000 residents compared to the 800,000 or so folks who live in Fort Worth. But when you scale it all down to size and examine the benefits of setting aside tax revenue derived from property within a certain boundary, then you understand how one city’s concept can work in another one.

I’m all for copying another community’s success.

VP won’t cut pay? Say it ain’t so, Joe

Vice President Joe Biden is a team player in the Obama administration but so far he isn’t playing a certain game being called by the man at the top of the chain of command.

Biden isn’t yet ready to cut his pay by 5 percent as the president has done. He says he’ll do so if his staff is forced to take furloughs mandated by the sequestration budget cuts that took effect at the beginning of the year.

I wish he’d reconsider. Even though he reportedly isn’t nearly as wealthy as President and Mrs. Obama. He still can cut his pay and still bring home a healthy amount of money.

Biden’s net worth is around $230,000, which is roughly equal to his annual salary as vice president.

I’ll digress for a moment and ponder that statistic provided by the Center for Responsive Politics. Biden has served in federal public service since his election to the Senate in 1972; that’s 41 years ago. So many of those folks have managed to enrich themselves on what many of them consider a meager salary. Biden apparently hasn’t done so. Obama is worth between $3 million and $8 million, which is a substantial sum of money, but it pales in comparison to Secretary of State John Kerry’s estimated wealth at $200 million.

Back to the point …

The sequestration is causing sacrifice throughout government. Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel both have committed to surrendering 5 percent of their salaries to honor federal employees forced to reduce their pay by taking those mandated furloughs.

Joe Biden ought to follow suit, given that he’s the No. 2 man in the federal government and, let’s be candid, he’s thinking about running for president yet again in 2016. He does not want to be labeled a greedy skinflint by those who might want to run against him.

Straus in statewide office? Going to be tough

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus might have his eye on a statewide office, says Texas Monthly blogger Paul Burka.

It’s an interesting idea, but it’s fraught with peril for the San Antonio Republican.

Why is that? It seems that Straus works too well with House Democrats, whose numbers have dwindled considerably in recent years. The Democrats’ numbers ticked up a bit over the 2011 Legislature, but they’re still in a serious minority mode in the 150-member legislative chamber.

Texas Republicans appear to have climbed aboard the vessel that says Republicans should work only among themselves and to heck with them nasty Democrats. That explains why Straus’s speakership has been challenged by members of the far right wing of his GOP caucus. The challenges haven’t gone anywhere mainly because the alternative candidates have been unable to muster enough support from lawmakers who get prime chairmanships courtesy of the speaker.

It’s been said that Straus runs the House the way former Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, used to run it. Laney – the Panhandle cotton farmer – was fond of “letting the will of the House” determine legislative flow. He was ousted from the speakers office prior to the 2003 session by Republican Tom Craddick of Midland, who ran the place far differently.

Straus replaced Craddick two sessions ago and has returned a more collegial environment to the House. But as other Republicans elsewhere have learned, collegiality doesn’t win votes among diehard conservatives who’ve taken over many GOP state machines. Just ask former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, who got the boot in his state’s 2012 Republican primary from someone who actually campaigned against Lugar’s willingness to work with Senate Democrats.

Texans are thinking much the same thing these days, it appears to me.

And that makes any notion that Joe Straus has his eye on a bigger prize a bit unlikely. Unless, of course, he tries to become a rigid right-winger overnight – of which there is plenty of precedent.