Category Archives: political news

Term limits for congressional leaders? Why not?

I dislike the idea of term limits for members of Congress.

However, the idea of imposing such limits on congressional leaders is another matter. To that end, the next speaker of the House of Representatives is on to something constructive.

Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the House Democratic caucus, has agreed to serve only two terms as speaker once she takes the gavel in January. She is set to favor a vote among congressional Democrats to impose similar limits on committee chairs, following the lead set by their Republican colleagues.

Pelosi getting push back

I like the notion of imposing those limits on leadership, despite my aversion to mandatory limits on the number of terms House members can serve on Capitol Hill. I have said all along that we already have limits on terms; they occur in the House every two years and every six years for senators. The 2018 midterm election demonstrated quite vividly the power of the electorate to give incumbents the boot.

Congressional leaders, though, aren’t necessarily beholden to the voters for the power they obtain in the halls of Congress. They are beholden to their fellow lawmakers.

Why not enact mandatory regular changes in committee chairmanships — as well as the speaker of the House?

It’s a good call from the new speaker.

The 2020 horse race has begun

Candidates say they dislike it. So do journalists who cover these events.

But bet on it! The 2020 presidential campaign/horse race has commenced. The media are all over themselves in covering who’s up and who’s down in the upcoming Democratic Party presidential primary campaign.

MoveOn.org, the left-leaning political action group, now has Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke narrowly ahead in the race to become the Democrats’ next presidential nominee. Former Vice President Joe Biden is right behind him.

Beto’s fans are no doubt going nuts. Fine. Let ’em whoop and holler!

I find this kind of coverage annoying in the extreme. Why?

For starters, Beto O’Rourke’s poll standing doesn’t mean a damn thing. It won’t matter at the end of this week, let alone next week. It could change overnight. These polls are as fluid as running water.

The 2016 Republican primary campaign revealed the same kind of shallowness of the media coverage of these issues. The media become fixated on the “horse race” element, not the issues on which the candidates are running.

So it is shaping up for the 2020 Democratic primary campaign.

Beto is up this week. Last week it was Joe Biden. Sen. Kamala Harris might emerge as next week’s media favorite. Then there’s former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who has formed an exploratory committee to assess whether he wants to run for president in 2020.

The media are going to be all over this horse race matter.

I tend to tune this stuff out fairly quickly once the coverage begins. The media — the very people who say they detest this sort of political coverage — are forcing me to close my ears early.

Yes, there is a church-state ‘separation’

A former colleague of mine used to insist that because the United States Constitution doesn’t contain the phrase “separation of church and state” that the concept somehow is not relevant.

Well, I would remind him that the First Amendment about a prohibition against writing laws that establish a state religion implies the separation graphically.

Enter the new man nominated to become the U.S. attorney general, William Barr. He has declared his skepticism about the “secular” state the founders created in the late 18th century. He wants to invoke “God’s law” when enforcing the laws of the land.

I am going to presume he means the laws of the Christian God. But what about the laws of all the other gods that Americans worship? The Islamic god, the Jewish god, the Hindu god, the Buddhist god, the Shinto god? Do they matter? Of course they do! Or at least they should.

Except the founders created a Constitution that say there should be no law passed “with respect” to a particular religion. It stipulates there should be “no religious test” for anyone seeking public office.

The words “Christian,” “Christianity” or “Jesus Christ” are not mentioned in the Constitution. Nor does it mention “Jewish” or “Muslim” or “Buddhist” or “Hindu.”

So, to the AG-designate, I merely want to urge him to stick to enforcing the laws of the land, as enacted by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the courts.

How’s this for religious bigotry?

To think that Texas’s third-largest county is home to a cabal of religious bigots who want to oust a local Republican Party vice chairman because — get ready for it — he’s a Muslim!

Ye gads, this story disgusts me.

At issue is the faith practiced by Shahid Shafi, a Southlake trauma surgeon. He ran twice for the Southlake City Council and was elected on his second try. He was informed by friends that as a Muslim, he would have difficulty being elected to any office in Texas in this post 9/11 era.

That didn’t dissuade him. So he ran and won eventually.

Now he’s vice chair of the Tarrant County GOP. But wait! He barely had taken office when a local Republican raised a phony alarm. A precinct chairwoman, Dorrie O’Brien, urged the county’s GOP chair, Darl Easton, to pull Shafi out of the vice chair’s office.

The bigot said, without any evidence, that Shafi believes in Sharia law and that he’s a closet terrorist.

Good grief!

I feel the need to remind everyone yet again that the U.S. Constitution is unambiguous about this point: There shall be “no religious test” applied for anyone seeking elected office in the United States of America. It’s written in Article VI, Clause 3 of the nation’s founding government document. Yep, that includes city council member and political party leadership.

The bigoted move has drawn immediate condemnation from some high-profile Republicans, such as Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and lame-duck Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. The Texas GOP Executive Committee has approved a resolution endorsing religious freedom in a move to stop the xenophobia that might erupt if the Tarrant County removal motion is allowed to proceed.

Here is how the Texas Tribune reports it

Yes, this story sickens me. It should sicken anyone who has an understanding of what the Constitution says about religion in politics.

Then there’s the issue of innuendo and unfounded accusation, which has become one of the dubious trademarks of the nation’s top Republican, Donald Trump.

Disgusting.

Trump needs to find better speechwriters

I feel the need to cut Donald John Trump a little bit of slack, so bear with me.

He gets pilloried for the speeches he delivers. Why? Because they don’t sound sincere. He reads them while seeming to squirm while he recites someone else’s words.

Now, for the slack.

Every president has a staff of speechwriters. Writing a speech for a politician is the trickiest of rhetorical businesses. The guts of a speechwriter’s task lies in his or her ability to write words as if they are originated by the individual who speaks them. 

As the nation pays tribute to the late President George H.W. Bush, we are recalling some of the words he spoke to the nation that elected him to lead it. Much of that high-minded rhetoric he delivered came from speechwriters. I think of one in particular, Peggy Noonan, who’s now a Wall Street Journal columnist. Noonan is one of the premier wordsmiths around. She writes golden prose in her column — and she delivered the goods while writing for President Reagan and then President Bush.

David Gerson is another notable speechwriter. He now writes for the Washington Post, but he once wrote speeches for President George W. Bush. Gerson managed to maintain W’s essential character while penning remarks he would deliver in the wake of 9/11.

Some presidents are compulsive editors. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were known to edit the daylights out of speech drafts. President Obama’s speeches often comprised soaring rhetoric. Do you think the president wrote every word? Of course not! He, too, had a speechwriting team at his disposal.

Back to Trump.

Where the current president seems to fall short in the delivery of his prepared remarks is that whoever pens those words for him do not capture the personality of the man. One can see and hear the difference the instant Trump veers from the prepared text and launches into one of his off-the-rails riffs.

It’s been said that Trump did little to prepare for the presidency after he was elected and during the transition to the day he took the oath of office.

The president keeps seeking to assure us he surrounded himself “with the best people” and that he knows the “best words.” I do not believe he has done the former and he certainly doesn’t qualify as an extemporaneous orator.

Bush 41’s death means end of ‘old’ GOP? Let’s hope not

More than a few talking heads have ruminated since the death of former President George H.W. Bush about the future of the Republican Party and whether the party of which Bush was a proud member will return in its former image.

Some have said “no.” I don’t subscribe to that idea.

Today’s Republican Party has been taken over by those loyal to a president who doesn’t define his own ideology — such as it is — by anything resembling traditional GOP values.

The GOP has taken a dramatically different course from where it used to travel. I’ll offer three examples

  • President Bush was a supreme coalition builder. He did that very thing when assessing how to kick Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in the late summer of 1990. He brought together more than 30 nations to (a) provide fighting forces on the field or (b) give money to finance the military initiative that became known as Operation Desert Storm; some nations, of course, did both.
  • The Republican Party of old once touted fiscal responsibility. It loathed a federal budget deficit. It preferred to curb spending and, yes, curb taxes. The current GOP has enacted a tax cut but has done damn little to curb spending. Thus, the deficit is ballooning again.
  • The Party of Lincoln used to be an inclusive outfit. It welcomed people of all races, ethnicities, creeds. It has become another kind of party these days. It is seeking to shut the door on those seeking asylum from tyranny in their homelands. Politicians who belonged the former Republican Party helped a Democratic president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, enact the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the mid-1960s over the objection of many southern Senate Democrats who clung to their segregationist history. Imagine that happening today.

I cannot predict whether the old Republican Party will return, let alone when that might occur. I try like the dickens to avoid cynicism. My hope still springs forth that there will be a better day ahead.

President George H.W. Bush — although he was far from perfect — still in many ways embodied the ideals of a once-great political party. Those ideals have been pushed aside. We’ll bury Bush 41 in a few days. While we’re at it, how about trying to exhume the remains of a Republican Party that he represented?

Two quick Bush stories tell a bit about these men

I want to share two quick stories I have about men named Bush.

The first one is about George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States who died Friday at age 94.

President Bush went to Amarillo in 2007 to speak to the community about leadership. They had a reception and lunch at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. Because I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News at the time, I got invited. We had lunch, then we got to stand in a long line.

At the head of that line was President Bush. He was meeting and greeting those who got to stand in that line. It was your classic “grip and grin” session.

My time came. I walked up to Bush and said simply as I extended my hand, “I just want to thank you, Mr. President, for your long and distinguished service to this country.” He bowed his head slightly as he said, “Thank you for that, sir.” We exchanged a couple more thoughts, then we turned to face the photographer who took our picture.

We were gripping and grinning at the camera. I cherish that picture to this day. Why? I had this feeling in the moment that the former president actually appreciated the expression of thanks from a complete stranger — me. Believe this: I offered it sincerely and with maximum gratitude.

A dozen years earlier, in 1995, I had the pleasure of meeting the newly elected governor of Texas, George W. Bush. I flew from Amarillo to Austin to meet with Gov. Bush in his Capitol Building office.

I arrived at the Capitol and found my way to the governor’s office. I was shown the way to the governor’s receiving room just outside the actual office. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and I told him that one of my sons had expressed many times his admiration for the governor’s father, the former president.

Gov. Bush nodded and said, “Your son has picked a wonderful man to admire.”

I was told I would get 30 minutes with the governor. I interviewed him on the record for about an hour plus 20 minutes.

The younger Bush clearly adored his father, whose pride in his son was well-known.

Now, to give you an idea of how effective a politician George W. Bush had become, there’s this addendum:

Gov. Bush was running for re-election in 1998. He came to Amarillo to be interviewed by the Globe-News editorial board. He walked briskly into our conference room, pointed at me and said in a loud voice, “There’s a good man. So, tell me, how’s your son?”

“W” learned well from Bush 41.

Here come the comparisons: 41’s era vs. today

You knew it would happen — comparisons would surface between the era that encompassed the service of the late President George H.W. Bush and the era in which we live today.

Remembrances are pouring in from around the world about the death Friday of our 41st president. They are heartfelt, sincere and affectionate. They recall a time when politicians of opposing parties weren’t “enemies,” but merely opponents with differing views on how to achieve the same goal: to make the United States a better place.

Some comments have alluded to what has called the passing of an era that we’ll never see again in our political life. I don’t share that view. I maintain hope that we’ll return to that time when public service matters more than personal aggrandizement. I believe we’ll have a day yet again when humility and modesty informs the actions of our political leaders.

Yes, it’s missing now. We all know it. We see it, hear it and feel it 24/7; it’s impossible to avoid it, given the incessant news cycles that bombard us.

President Bush embodied a seemingly quaint era. He didn’t want to dance on the proverbial grave of the communists who saw their empire crumble at their feet in Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He chose instead to work behind the scenes, to forge international relationships and to welcome the sea change in concert with our allies.

There was no “America first” policy coming from the White House in those days. President Bush operated on a different set of standards and ideals, far from what we get nowadays.

Yes, the comparisons will continue for a good while. The nation will mourn its loss of a great American. We also should smile at the full and astonishing life he led and the service he delivered to the public through the myriad tasks to which he was assigned.

He did so without glitz, glamor or self-proclaimed glory.

What a man!

I, Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, do solemnly swear . . . ‘

Roll that around in your mouth a time or three, maybe four.

Might it be what we hear in Jan. 20, 2021 at the next presidential inauguration? Some progressive pundits and pols are hoping it happens. I remain dubious, but perhaps a little less so than I was immediately after Beto O’Rourke lost his bid to become the next U.S. senator from Texas.

O’Rourke came within a couple of percentage points of upsetting Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. For a Democrat to come within a whisker of beating a GOP Texas politician has many on the left still all agog.

O’Rourke has changed his tune. He said the Senate race was 100 percent on his mind. He now says he is not ruling out anything. That he might be a presidential candidate in 2020. He’s going to take some time with his wife, Amy, and the three kids he featured prominently in his 2018 Senate campaign to ponder his future.

O’Rourke’s congressional term ends in early January. He’ll return home to El Paso and give thought to running for the highest office in America.

My desire for the Democratic Party remains for it to find a candidate lurking in the tall grass that no one has heard of. Beto no longer fits that description. He became a national phenomenon with his narrow loss to the Cruz Missile.

He’ll keep fighting Donald Trump’s desire to build a wall along our southern border; he’ll fight for comprehensive immigration reform. He said he plans to stay in the game. He plans to have his voice heard.

He might want to parlay his immense national political star status into a legitimate campaign for the presidency. My hope is that is he stays on the sidelines for 2020. However, in case he decides to take the plunge into extremely deep political water . . . well, I’m all in.

Let’s play a congressional succession parlor game

The Texas Tribune has broached a subject that caught my attention, even though I no longer live in the congressional district represented by a man whose been in office for more than 23 years.

The Trib reports that “many Republican operatives” believe Rep. Mac Thornberry, the newly re-elected Republican, is going to serve his final term in the House of Representatives beginning in January. Why? He might not cotton to being a member of the “minority party” in the House; he is surrendering his coveted Armed Services Committee chairmanship and won’t be able to serve as ranking member when he hands the gavel to his Democratic colleague.

I’ve moved away, but I retain a deep interest in Texas Panhandle politics. The 13th Congressional District is part of that landscape.

So . . . let’s play a parlor game called “Who’s Next?”

I’ll start by stipulating that the 13th District is arguably the most Republican congressional district in America. The next House member, if Thornberry calls it quits, is going to come from the GOP. Thornberry was re-elected this month with a whopping 81.6 percent majority in what was a “blue wave” year in other previously strong GOP districts.

It’s less certain, but still reasonably certain, that the next House member will come from the Panhandle portion of the sprawling 13th, which stretches from the very top of Texas to the western outskirts of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Congressional representation is rooted deeply in the Panhandle.

So, who might the next House rep be? I’ll toss a couple of names out there for you to ponder. They are Republican Texas legislators. Both are from Amarillo. Both are friends of mine. Both are fine men with ample political experience to take on the job of representing the entire 13th District.

State Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price? Stand up and take a bow.

Seliger would seem like the better fit for the 13th District. He’s a retired businessman who essentially works full time as a state senator. His Senate district stretches from the Panhandle to the Permian Basin. He is a native of Borger who is as fluent in Permian-speak as he is in Panhandle-speak. He and Thornberry are political allies and friends, from all that I have gathered; then again, so are Price and Thornberry.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think highly of Four Price, too. I’ve known him for as long as I’ve known Seliger. He has a successful Amarillo law practice and has risen to the top of the legislative roster in the 150-member Texas House. Texas Monthly named him one of the state’s top legislators after the 2017 Legislature.

Seliger, though, brings some municipal government experience as well as legislative experience to any consideration of who should — if the opportunity presents itself — succeed Mac Thornberry. He served on the Amarillo City Commission as commissioner and then mayor before being elected to the Texas Senate.

I am making no predictions. I merely am stating what I think might happen if the Texas Tribune’s report is accurate.

Let’s all stay tuned and wait for the fur to fly when the next Congress convenes.