Category Archives: political news

Time to re-calibrate political antennae

Twenty-three years in the Texas Panhandle gave me an up-close look at politics in one of the state’s most reliably Republican regions.

I’m no longer living there full time. I hesitate to say my wife and I have severed our ties to the Panhandle, because we haven’t … exactly. We’re still making periodic trips back to check on family matters.

But the fact remains that we’re registered to vote in Collin County, which brings me to the point of this blog.

I am having to re-calibrate my political antennae. I now must look at other sources for local political grist to help keep High Plains Blogger reasonably fresh. This will be a challenge for me.

I wanted to vote in the next election for the 13th Congressional District. Although I harbor a considerable personal affection for the congressman who has represented the district since 1995, Mac Thornberry has been a disappointment to me. It just so happens that his Democratic opponent this year is a good friend of mine, a fellow I’ve known almost as long as I’ve known Thornberry.

Greg Sagan wants to represent the 13th District when the next Congress convenes in January. Will he be able to step into the job? That remains huge, given the 13th’s significant GOP bent.

Sagan has made one pledge that Thornberry — despite critics who contend wrongly that he did — never made: Sagan has vowed to step aside after serving a set amount of time. Thornberry didn’t make such a declaration for himself, although he has endorsed congressional term limits legislation whenever he’s had the chance to vote on it.

But I believe it’s time for a change in the Panhandle’s congressional representation. Although I cannot vote for Sagan, I can speak on his behalf through this blog, which I intend to do when the opportunities present themselves between now and November.

My former Texas state representative, John Smithee, has a Democratic foe this fall. He is Mike Purcell of Amarillo, with whom I have a casual acquaintance. Smithee is another matter. I’ve known him well since my arrival in Amarillo in 1995. What I’ve always liked about John is his willingness to answer direct questions with equally direct answers. Have I always agreed with the Republican’s legislative point of view? No, but his candor always has meant much to me whenever I sought it from him.

Purcell’s chances of defeating Smithee are, um, zeee-ro!

Again, I cannot vote in that one either.

***

As for the statewide races on the ballot, I’ll be dialed in on one for sure: the U.S. Senate contest between Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

I won’t belabor the point here about the Cruz Missile. I do not want him re-elected. My strong preference is for O’Rourke, if only because I want him to think first of Texans and much less of his own political ambition. Sen. Cruz, to my mind, has demonstrated clearly that he puts his own needs, wishes and desires first. Ted Cruz needs to go.

I’ll chime in later on the race for governor and some of the other statewide races, namely the contest for agriculture commissioner.

I’ll be watching all this unfold from a new perch in the Metroplex. I’ll need to get up to speed in a hurry in the race for the 3rd Congressional District, Texas Senate District 8 and Texas House District 89, all three of which will be represented by freshman lawmakers next January.

Hey, come to think of it, everyone is starting fresh in the halls of power in Austin and on Capitol Hill.

Just like me!

Is this ex-POW also deserving of scorn from POTUS?

U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson of Plano is now my congressman. He’ll hold that title until early 2019. He will retire from Congress then and return to private life.

Johnson is a solid Republican. I am proud of his service to his country. You see, he got to Congress the hard way.

He is a one-time U.S. Air Force pilot who in 1966 had the misfortune of being shot down during the Vietnam War. He was held captive for nearly seven years. Seven years, man! He was tortured, sent to solitary confinement, denied sunlight and food.

He served heroically during his years in bondage.

And yet …

The man who would become president of the United States, Donald Trump, once said of one of Johnson’s Vietnam War colleagues — Sen. John McCain — that McCain was a “hero only because he was captured; I like people who aren’t captured, OK?”

Johnson became a member of what was called the Alcatraz Gang during his years in prison. They were separated from the rest of their fellow POWs because of the resistance they mounted against their captors. They were held in a camp about a mile away from what became known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

Johnson was kept bound tightly each night in irons in a room where the North Vietnamese kept the light on 24/7.

These men were heroes in every sense of the term. I am aware of at least two Vietnam War POWs who received the Medal of Honor for their resistance: James Stockdale and Jeremiah Denton.

Stockdale was ordered to film a “confession” in which he would admit to “war crimes.” His response was to beat himself to a bloody pulp with a table leg, making him impossible to appear in any appearance in a propaganda film. Denton submitted to a filmed interview, but then blinked in Morse code the word “torture” to his audience in the Pentagon.

Sam Johnson also resisted mightily during his years as a captive.

As for Donald Trump’s assertion about Sen. McCain, you know how I feel about how he denigrated McCain’s heroism. Sen. McCain was one of many heroes who fought the enemy while locked up.

The same can be said of Rep. Johnson.

I hope one day to meet this hero … and tell him “welcome home”

Political learning curve about to commence

I met a most interesting gentleman this morning, someone who almost immediately after extending his hand to greet my wife and me invited me to come to Fairview’s town hall to familiarize myself with the community’s political climate.

This fellow is a member of the Fairview Town Council. I am reluctant to give you his name, as he doesn’t know I’m writing about him. Maybe I’ll divulge it later.

Our relocation has been pretty smooth and seamless as we have settled in this community tucked between Allen and McKinney in Collin County. My wife and I are registered to vote now in our new community of residence, which removes any chance for us to vote in Randall County, where we lived for 23-plus years.

I wanted to vote in the race for 13th Congressional District. That won’t happen now. We’ll get to vote for a new representative in the 3rd Congressional District, which has been represented since 1991 by U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (pictured), a former Vietnam prisoner of war. Johnson is retiring at the end of the year.

I’ll need to study up on the individuals seeking to succeed Rep. Johnson.

My new friend from Fairview implied that next year’s municipal election will be a contentious affair. He didn’t go into detail; the setting of our meeting this morning made it difficult for him to spend too much time explaining what he implied.

My career took me to Amarillo in January 1995. My job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News required me to get acquainted in a hurry with the political lay of the land, just as it had required the same of me in Beaumont, when we moved to the Gulf Coast in the spring of 1984.

I have no job requirements these days. However, my instinctive nosiness — which was bred and nurtured by nearly four decades in print journalism — compels me to sniff around at Fairview’s Town Hall.

So, I believe I will seek to satisfy my nosy nature by continuing this relationship with my new acquaintance.

Hey, my retirement doesn’t render me disinterested … you know?

Scripture does not justify cruelty

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s use of the holy word to justify a cruel government policy simply boggles my mind.

It also boggles the mind of many other Americans.

He stood in front of a nation and declared that the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans said that we all must obey the government. Therefore, the AG said, the Donald Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents who enter the United States illegally is justified by New Testament Scripture.

What an absolute abomination! What a profoundly offensive use of the Bible to justify cruel treatment of children.

Sessions cited Romans 13. Yes, Paul instructed us to obey the government. But that’s not all that his letter said. Paul refers to the Old Testament commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Look, the idea that the attorney general would invoke Scripture as a justification is insulting and demeaning on its face.

The Trump administration has decided to get tough on illegal immigration by taking children, many of them infants, from their mothers and fathers if they are caught entering this country without proper documentation. Hundreds of children have been separated from their parents with no assurance of when they will be reunited — if ever!

Someone has to tell me how that kind of policy is in keeping with the love and compassion that Jesus Christ taught the world while he was walking among us.

And think of the irony here. Sessions is the chief law enforcement officer in an administration led by a man with zero demonstrated commitment to the teachings brought in Scripture.

Therefore, does anyone actually believe that the attorney general is speaking for Donald John Trump while invoking a passage from the New Testament?

Shameful.

Lame ducks find their voices

Bob Corker’s lame duck status has enabled him to find the guts to say what he ought to have said all along.

The Tennessee Republican is leaving the U.S. Senate at the end of the year. He hadn’t been overly candid about Donald J. Trump until just before he announced his decision to call it a career.

Now, though, he’s talking about what he perceives to be a “cult” developing with his political party. The cult is devoted blindly, according to Corker, to the president who has seized the party by the throat, has throttled it and has bullied intraparty foes incessantly.

Corker isn’t alone among Republicans who have discovered their courage in the waning months of their political career. He joins Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who has finally — finally! — called out the president by name for the manner he has chosen to govern the nation.

I fear that Corker’s cult description is far more accurate than even he would prefer. Cult leaders traditionally imbue their “followers” with fear over political retribution if they cross the man/woman at the top of the pecking order.

That just might explain the Republican reluctance to challenge the continual stream of lies and assorted nonsense that fly out of Trump’s mouth. Indeed, the president’s lying mouth has kicked into overdrive since his summit with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean despot who gave up virtually nothing but got a ton of concessions from the president who proclaims himself to be a “great negotiator.”

Why don’t they call the president out for his effusive praise of Kim, the tyrant who murders his foes, his family members, starves his fellow Koreans and threatens the world with nuclear annihilation? He has broken previous promises and kept his people in the dark — quite literally — while he lives in relative opulence.

Is it that cult thing to which Sen. Corker has referred? If only more members of his party would speak as candidly and honestly about what is happening within the halls of power.

IG takes former FBI boss to the woodshed

The FBI’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has laid it out there.

James Comey, the FBI director during the 2016 presidential campaign, messed up royally. He broke with Justice Department protocol by failing to consult with Attorney General Loretta Lynch when he called a press conference to say he had no hard evidence to prosecute Hillary Clinton over the use of her personal e-mail account.

That press conference in July 2016 brought out allegations of “rigged election” from Donald J. Trump.

There’s more. The IG also said Comey messed up when, 11 days from the election, he sent a letter to Congress revealing that he was looking once again at Clinton’s e-mail matter.

The Clinton camp said the latter announcement swung the election in Trump’s favor.

Oh … brother.

This investigation by Horowitz is likely to grow dozens of legs. The president no doubt is going to seize on some element of the IG’s findings to demonstrate that the FBI was biased against him.

Except that the IG has said that he found no evidence of politicization at the July 2016 news conference or when he announced in October of that year that he was looking again at the e-mail matter.

I am one American who is reluctant to say categorically that Comey’s second announcement on the cusp of Election Day was decisive in determining the outcome. However, it appears to look as though there might have been some tangible impact. Clinton’s momentum stopped dead. Journalists covering the campaign reportedly said in the moment that Comey’s letter to Congress effectively ended Clinton’s chances of winning.

In the period since that amazing, tumultuous episode, Trump has sought to turn Comey into a villain. Trump fired Comey over the “Russia thing,” and has vilified the former FBI director, calling him a liar, a showboat and everything short of being the son of Satan himself.

Of course, the president has turned his big guns on special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s looking into the Russian meddling in our electoral process.

A detailed IG report by all rights should add clarity to a complicated investigation. I fear that Michael Horowitz’s report has made it cloudier than ever.

‘Beclowned’ becomes newest cool word

Steve Schmidt clearly is a “never Trump” Republican.

He once worked for U.S. Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. He is a close personal friend of the stricken senator and no doubt has taken personally the insults that Donald J. Trump has tossed at Sen. McCain while the senator is battling a life-threatening illness.

Schmidt has coined perhaps the most interesting verb in recent political discourse. In a tweet, he wrote that the president has “beclowned” himself.

Beclowned? Yep. That’s the verb. Here is Schmidt’s entire tweet:

TRUMP disgraced the Presidency and the United States at the G-7 summit. From his slovenly appearance to his unpreparedness, ignorance and arrogance, he beclowned himself. The Republican majority is filled with cowards who are servile supplicants to the most unfit POTUS ever

I’ve never heard the term before. Let me know if you have.

My point here is that when you have a serious Republican saying such things about an ostensibly Republican president, then the target of these epithets would seem to have a problem. Except that such criticism not only rolls off Trump, it doesn’t register with those who continue to support this individual’s world view … such as it is!

Schmidt isn’t the world’s perfect political operative. He had a hand, after all, in persuading Sen. McCain to select Sarah Palin as his 2008 vice-presidential running mate. To his credit, Schmidt has owned up to the mistake he made.

However, Schmidt is making no mistake in asserting Donald Trump’s profound unfitness for the job he currently occupies.

O’Rourke hopes to defy the odds

It looks as though my Golden Triangle friend has it right regarding Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke’s strategy he hopes will produce a victory over Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

My friend believes O’Rourke’s 254-county strategy is going to shore up his Democratic-leaning urban base in the big cities and will cut into Cruz’s expected victory margin in the rural counties.

O’Rourke making a return to the Panhandle

There you have it. I mean, O’Rourke keeps showing up for town hall meetings in the Texas Panhandle, which arguably is “ground zero” of the Texas Republican political movement.

The Texas Tribune’s analysis of the O’Rourke strategy suggests the El Paso congressman is thinking that way, too.

As the Texas Tribune reports: Over the last 15 months, O’Rourke’s county-by-county driving tour has taken him all over the state, from his hometown of El Paso on the Mexican border to Cooke County in the north, where he held a town hall on Saturday afternoon.

“Here we are in Gainesville, which, as the crow flies, might be the farthest point you can get from El Paso,” he said to laughter from a packed house in the historic Santa Fe train depot.

The tour represents more than just an expansive retail campaign across the largest state in mainland America. It also marks a dramatic deviation from the political playbook employed by the majority of Texas Democrats over the last two decades.

Do I want O’Rourke’s strategy to work? Yes, I do. You know what already.

The Cruz Missile has done damn little for the state since he was elected in 2012, except show Texans how he is able to have his voice heard above the partisan din that erupts on Capitol Hill.

My question of the moment deals with whether O’Rourke will be able to become more of an advocate for the state and less of an advocate for himself.

I have given up on Cruz. O’Rourke at least presents the potential of a different approach to legislating.

Texas gerrymandering: here to stay?

I am getting precariously close to surrendering on my long held view that Texas legislators have no business redrawing legislative and congressional boundaries every 10 years.

I used to speak often about the need for a non-partisan commission to do the job. It might prevent the kind of hideous gerrymandering of districts that are drawn with the intent of benefiting one political party at the expense of the other.

Take a look at the map above and you get a hint of the kind of thing I’m talking about. The 13th Congressional District, where I once was registered to vote, stretches from the top of the Panhandle way over to the Metroplex. Someone needs to tell me what in the name of “community of interest” the Metroplex has in common with the Panhandle. Yet the congressman, Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, is supposed to be well-versed and fluent in all aspects of the district’s varied issues.

While you’re at it, take a gander at that monstrosity aka the 15th Congressional District in South Texas and the two hideously drawn districts that run essentially parallel to it on either side north from the Rio Grande Valley.

Politicians aren’t going to give up the power they possess when they get to redraw these boundaries at the end of every decade. When the Census Bureau finishes counting all the residents of a state, then it falls onto that state the duty to realign congressional and legislative districts, all of which need to contain roughly equal numbers of residents.

I cannot get out of my head something that the late state Sen. Teel Bivins, an Amarillo Republican, once told me. He said he hated redistricting with a passion, but noted that his legislative colleagues weren’t about to surrender the task to someone else. He then said the exercise demonstrates how “Republicans eat their young.” I don’t know exactly what he meant by that. To my way of thinking, the duty illustrates how politicians of one party eat the “young” of the other party!

It’s a process few of us understand. The latest Texas redistricting effort is facing a court challenge by those who allege that the boundaries were drawn to discriminate against minorities and Democrats. We’ll see how it plays out.

The Texas Tribune has offered a fascinating analysis of the process. Read it here.

You well might be as resigned as I am becoming to the notion that Texas politicians who hate the process of redrawing those lines just cannot live without the headache.

Why do simple ceremonies become such hassles?

Presidents of the United States have been doing these kinds of things for, oh, about as long as anyone can remember.

Professional sports teams win championships. They get invitations to come to the White House to receive a nation’s congratulations delivered by the head of state. They have a few laughs. They take plenty of pictures. They hand the president a ceremonial jersey, usually with the name of the president and the No. 1 on the back.

That’s not how it goes with Donald J. Trump in the White House.

Oh, no. He decides to weigh in on a controversy created by young men who decide to “take a knee” to protest police brutality. The president goes on the stump and says something about team owners firing any “son of a bi***” who declines to stand for the National Anthem.

The players object. Some of them don’t want to go to the White House. The president disinvites them.

Then all hell breaks loose. Other athletes condemn the president. The White House responds. Back and forth it goes.

Good ever-lovin’ grief, man!

The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. Most of the team accepted a White House invitation. Then most of them backed out. The White House issued a critical statement that accompanied a picture of Eagles players kneeling in prayer prior to the start of a game, but then said falsely that they were “taking a knee” out of protest.

The president has managed to turn feel-good ceremonies into a sort of political demonstration that does nothing but engender harsh feelings.

This is how you “unify” a nation? This is how you define “winning”?

It’s how I would define “presidential petulance.”