Category Archives: State news

Patterson ‘remembers the Alamo’

It turns out that former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has a particular motive for seeking to get back into his former job.

He is angry at the way the current commissioner, George P. Bush, has handled the Alamo. Bush has taken the Alamo restoration efforts away from the General Land Office and put it in the hands of private concerns.

Patterson doesn’t like that. So he’s aiming to do battle with Bush with the idea of returning to the GLO the idea of caring for the Alamo.

As R.G. Ratcliffe writes in the Burka Blog: During Patterson’s tenure, the famous Texas battleground was transferred from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas to the land office, but Bush has been widely criticized for handing off restoration plans to private foundations.

Ratcliffe reports that legislators are critical of the move because the foundations are too secretive and aren’t being held accountable for what they’re doing to restore the Alamo. Patterson contends, according to Ratcliffe, that Bush set up the privatization arrangement so that he could take credit for cutting the size of a government agency.

Read Ratcliffe’s blog here.

Patterson says he doesn’t want a job. He said he decided to run because he couldn’t find another Republican to challenge Bush. He told Ratcliffe that Bush is too enamored with being a “small-government Republican” intent on cutting the budget. Patterson is angry that Bush has dismantled the GLO’s hurricane response that Patterson created; as a result, there have been delays in getting aid to Hurricane Harvey victims along the Texas coast.

Patterson is having none of it.

He wants to challenge Bush, whose campaign team is touting as the “most conservative land commissioner” in Texas history.

This might shape up to be a most fascinating Republican Party primary. I get the appeal that Bush is seeking to parlay as a budget cutter and a small-government kind of politician.

I happen to be more of a “good government” fellow, who hopes that Patterson — one of my favorite Texas politicians — can mount a serious challenge to the fellow who succeeded him.

Is hell about to freeze over?

Hell is going to have to freeze over if Greg Abbott is going to lose his bid for re-election next year as Texas governor.

This is not a statement of preference, mind you. I’m merely stating what I believe is a stark reality facing any challenger who might square off against him.

A Texas Tribune analysis points out that eight Democrats are lining up to run in the state’s primary next spring. Ross Ramsey believes the early Democratic favorite is likely Lupe Valdez, the recently resigned Dallas County sheriff. Another key Democratic challenger could be Andrew White, son of the late Gov. Mark White.

Read Ramsey’s article here.

Valdez has won election and re-election several times in the state’s second-most populous county, Ramsey points out.

But if she wins the Democratic primary — which is a huge first test —  get a load of the hurdle she faces. She is going to seek to become the first governor on a couple of important levels … and Texas has not been known in recent years as a place prone to establish significant political precedent.

First, Valdez is a Latina. She wants to become the first Latina ever elected governor. Indeed, the state never has elected anyone of Latin American descent. That’s one hurdle.

Here’s the big one: Valdez is openly gay.

She wants, therefore, to become the first openly gay, Latina candidate ever elected governor.

I feel the need to point out that Texas voters a few years ago approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution that outlawed same-sex marriage, even though there already was a statute on the books that prohibited it. That didn’t matter. The state’s voters said not just “no,” but “hell no!” to gay marriage.

Do you believe Valdez can win the governor’s race in a state that has enacted a double-whammy prohibition against same-sex marriage?

As the Tribune piece illustrates, whoever wins the Democratic primary is going to face an enormous task as he or she seeks to topple a Republican incumbent governor.

As Ramsey describes Abbott: He’s a well-financed, popular figurehead for a political party that hasn’t lost a statewide election in Texas in almost three decades.

But … you never know. Hell could get mighty cold.

Congressman to pay it back … good!

A Corpus Christi congressman got caught doing something bad: He dipped into a taxpayer fund to finance a settlement paid to a woman who had accused him of sexual harassment.

Blake Farenthold, a Republican, has done the right thing in response. He has pledged to take out a personal loan totaling $84,000 to repay what he took from the Office of Compliance fund.

At issue was a complaint filed by Lauren Greene, the congressman’s former communications director. Greene had alleged a hostile work environment, sexual discrimination and harassment against Farenthold, who then got taxpayer money to pay Greene off.

Farenthold denied doing anything wrong. Sure thing, young man. Whatever.

“I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for this,” Farenthold said.

But the story here is that Farenthold is seeking to make it right by repaying the Office of Compliance fund. What’s more, he vows to “fix the system.”

Here’s an idea, Rep. Farenthold: Draft a bill that eliminates a certain provision contained in the Office of Compliance. The idea that taxpayer money would be used to finance these settlements is offensive on its face. Indeed, since 1997, the office has ponied up more than $17 million to settle various workplace complaints.

According to the Texas Tribune: “That account — and the elected officials using it — has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks amid a growing tide of sexual harassment allegations against powerful men.” 

That “scrutiny” isn’t about to let up. Perhaps one possible reform could be to rid that office of the provision that pays these settlements regarding sexual harassment.

Are you in, Rep. Farenthold?

Bad behavior claims another one

Now it’s Joe Barton who’s bailing out of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Barton is a Republican from Ennis who reportedly sent some nasty pictures of himself over Twitter while he was engaged in a relationship with a “mature, adult woman.” The scorn poured over him. Barton, the senior member of the Texas congressional delegation, hung tough for a little while.

Then he announced his retirement, effective at the end of his current term in 2018.

Barton had to go. His departure should be a surprise to anyone. The mood across the country has revealed a diminishing tolerance for public officeholders’ lewd behavior. Barton, of course, was careful to explain that the recipient of the hideous pictures was engaged in a consensual relationship with him.

Fine, congressman. Hit the road, will ya?

Barton is just the latest in a long list of Texas lawmakers who are calling it quits. His announcement, to no one’s surprise, contains no mention of the trouble he brought onto himself.

Read more about Barton’s announcement here.

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With the departure of the Texas congressional delegation’s dean, the longest-serving member from Texas is Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, who took office in January 1993.

And, hey, that means the Panhandle’s GOP House member, Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, who was sworn in just two years later, in January 1995, becomes the No. 2-ranked tenured member of the delegation.

I mention that only because Thornberry was elected in that 1994 Republican wave that ran on the Contract With America, a lengthy platform of government reforms that included term limits for members of the U.S. House and Senate. Thornberry has voted for term-limit amendments to the U.S. Constitution whenever they were presented to House members; they just haven’t gotten the votes needed to be referred to state legislatures for ratification.

And, no … he never made a personal pledge to bow out after three terms in the House.

I just thought I would bring it up because it seems oddly relevant.

Is she — or is she not — the Dallas County sheriff?

Lupe Valdez says she’s still the top cop in Dallas County, Texas.

She denies reports of her resignation. But she still is thinking about running for Texas governor, as a Democrat. She might challenge Gov. Greg Abbott, the Republican who recently announced his re-election campaign.

I am not going to comment on Sheriff Valdez’s work as Dallas County sheriff, given that I live way up yonder in Amarillo. I would like to offer a brief comment on the reasons she has posited for considering a run for governor.

She has grown weary of Republican dominance of Texas politics.

To be candid, so have I. So have other Texans. Democrats have been yearning for a serious challenger to Abbott in 2018. None has emerged. Valdez might be the one.

Now … before you get on my case for being one of those partisan Democrats who wants to see Republicans toppled at every turn, I want to make an important stipulation.

It is that one-party political dominance — no matter which party is in command — too often produces an arrogance that diminishes the cause of what I like to call “good government.”

I moved to Texas in the spring of 1984. I took up my post as an editorial write — and later editorial page editor — of the Beaumont Enterprise. The Golden Triangle in the early 1980s was still a heavily Democratic bastion. Every elected office belonged to Democrats. And I noted at the time that I believed that good government would do well to see greater Republican challenges of Democratic officeholders.

Sheriff Valdez and I are on the same page. According to the Texas Tribune: “Last month, Valdez told the Tribune she believes it’s “time for a change” in GOP-dominated state government. “Too much of one thing corrupts, and I’m a strong believer in a two-party system,” she said. “I’m hoping that enough people are seeing that too much one-sided is not healthy for Texas.”

Read the Tribune article here.

Healthy challenges force incumbents to defend their record. They must make the case for their re-election. Texas, which once was dominated by Democrats, has totally shifted its political tilt. Republicans have commanded every statewide elective office for more than two decades; the one exception occurred four years ago when Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Larry Meyers switched from Republican to Democrat while he was still in office, only to lose his bid for re-election in 2016.

I hope Valdez runs for governor. I might even vote for her if she wins the Democratic primary and challenges Abbott in the fall of 2018.

If it comes to pass, then let the debate commence.

Nothing ‘routine’ about police work

I once got schooled and scolded by a law enforcement official after I reported an incident I referred to as a “routine traffic stop.”

That was nearly 40 years ago. I did it once. I was told by this individual, who worked for a sheriff’s department in Oregon, that “there’s nothing routine” about a traffic stop.

Lesson learned.

Today, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper pulled someone over in a traffic stop just south of Dallas. The man shot the trooper to death. The suspect fled and was captured in Waller County north of Houston.

Nothing ‘routine’ here

I don’t have any details of the traffic stop. All I can presume is that the trooper never expected that the stop would be the last duty he’d ever perform as a law enforcement officer.

This puts in the starkest terms possible about the dangers our police officers face whenever they put on the uniform and go to work every single day. They suit up, say goodbye to their loved ones and expect to return home at the end of the day.

Traffic stops are supposed to be “routine,” but too often they can erupt in violence.

One of those traffic stops did so today. With tragic results.

This is one of those news accounts that breaks my heart and fills me with immense respect for those who swear to “serve and protect” the public.

What’s missing? Oh, wait! Longhorns vs. Aggies

I was 34 years of age when my family and I moved to Texas. That was in 1984.

At the time I was a fairly avid collegiate football fan. I grew quickly to appreciate one of the country’s more intense gridiron rivalries not long after arriving in the Golden Triangle.

I refer to the University of Texas-Texas A&M rivalry. They used to play that game on Thanksgiving Day. My wife and I became friends in Beaumont with diehard Aggie alumni. They were four brothers, all of whom graduated from A&M; their children went there, too; and so did their grandchildren. They bled Aggie Maroon. I was schooled immediately — and often — about how much Aggie football meant to Texas Aggie families.

I even learned to refer to the University of Texas as “texas university.”

Then the Aggies decided they wanted to bolt to the Southeastern Conference. They wanted to play tackle football against Arkansas, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee … and some other schools.

Then the rivalry was dissolved.

I am still somewhat saddened that we can’t see the Longhorns play the Aggies on Turkey Day.

I have no particular allegiance to either school. I didn’t attend either of them; neither did our sons. I wrote a year ago about missing a Thanksgiving tradition. I still miss it.

Missing a Thanksgiving tradition

Can’t there be a way for the athletic directors at these schools to work out a non-conference game that pits these football teams against each other … on Thanksgiving Day?

C’mon! You can do this!

Republicans are ‘eating their young’

The late Texas state Sen. Teel Bivins, in an entirely different context, once told me how Republicans occasionally were prone to “eat their young.”

So this form of political cannibalism appears to be occurring in the current election cycle. We’re seeing Republican officeholders making GOP primary endorsements, picking fellow Republicans over other fellow Republicans.

Donald John Trump endorsed U.S. Sen. Luther Strange in his primary contest against Roy Moore in Alabama. Moore ended up winning that primary and … um … it hasn’t worked out too well for the GOP. Moore has been accused of making improper sexual advances on underage girls. It’s getting ugly down yonder, man.

Closer to home, we have Texas Gov. Greg Abbott endorsing a Republican challenger to a GOP state representative. State Rep. Sarah Davis’s primary foe, Susanna Dokupil, has earned the governor’s endorsement.

As Ross Ramsey writes in the Texas Tribune, it is rare for Texas governors to endorse against incumbents; it’s even more rare for them to get involved in primaries of their own political party. Abbott has scored a two-fer with his endorsement in that particular legislative contest.

Abbott weighs in

And so it goes with the Republican Party’s war with itself.

U.S. senators are lining up against the president, who’s firing back at them. GOP Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are retiring from the Senate in 2019. They both have been highly critical of the president of their own party. Donald Trump has returned the fire with angry statements and a bit of petulant name-calling to boot.

Republicans in both congressional chambers have fought among themselves over how to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. They’re now arguing over “tax reform” proposals that look good to one legislative chamber, but not nearly so good in the other one.

And, let’s not forget that the D.C. Republican establishment is gnashing its teeth over what to do if Roy Moore wins that U.S. Senate election in Alabama.

It’s no fun to be a Republican these days.

Especially if they’re about to be eaten.

Climate change portends more ‘Harveys’

Hurricane Harvey once would be considered the storm of a lifetime.

Not any longer, according to a new study published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The MIT report suggests that by the end of this century, storms of the magnitude of Harvey could occur once every five-and-a-half years.

The study was put together by Kerry Emmanuel, a professor of atmospheric sciences at MIT. According to Texas Monthly:

“It’s very, very easy for people—even scientists—to get confused by this. You have to be very careful with what you mean by the event,” Emanuel says. The study looks at both Harvey-like storms hitting the greater Houston metro area (which he forecasts will go from a 2,000-year-storm to a 100-year-storm), as well as storms of that size making landfall anywhere in Texas, which is how we get to the 5 1/2 year number.

What do you suppose is the cause for this increasing frequency? Let me think about that for a moment. There. Time’s up. I am pretty certain we’re talking about climate change.

The deluge brought by Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain in a 24-hour period on Houston and the Golden Triangle this past summer. And that event came after Harvey roared ashore at Rockport with killer winds and immense tidal surge.

It will take years for the Texas Gulf Coast to recover fully from the storm. Texas officials have enlisted Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp to oversee the rebuilding of the coastal region from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle. Think of what might await such an effort years from now. No sooner would the work be done than it might occur again.

Read the TM story here

The Texas Monthly piece I’ve posted with this blog entry doesn’t mention climate change/global warming explicitly. I have mentioned it here. I only can surmise as much to explain why the level of storms thought to occur once in a century might take place with such frightening frequency.

This is a terribly ominous trend for the coastal regions of our state.

The question now presents itself: What in the world are we going to do to either protect our coastal region from such destruction?

There’s also this: What are we going to do to reduce the number and ferocity of these storms?

Amarillo poised to become a baseball city again

It is a virtual lead-pipe cinch that I won’t be living in Amarillo when they toss the first pitch at the city’s new downtown ballpark.

The city’s new AA minor-league baseball team will commence its initial season in April 2019 in a shiny new 4,500-seat venue.

The journey toward that end has been fraught with some difficulty, some apprehension and, yes, a bit of controversy. It’s going to come to fruition, which makes me happy for the city my wife and will depart in due course.

I will acknowledge that I was not a regular attendee at the independent league games played by teams that had various names. I did attend a few games at the dump once known as the Dilla Villa, in honor of the Amarillo Dillas who were playing baseball there when my wife and I arrived here in early 1995.

They morphed into another team, which morphed again. Then the outfit that ran that team decided to split its home season between Amarillo and Grand Prairie. That lasted one year. Now they’re gone.

The ballpark, also known as the multipurpose event venue, was conceived by local officials and business leaders while all that nonsense was occurring at the rat hole that passes for a ballpark at the Tri-State Fairgrounds. They had a number of public hearings. They put the issue to a non-binding citywide referendum in November 2015 — and it passed.

The price tag for the referendum was pegged at $32 million. It grew to $45 million. They knocked down the old Coca-Cola distribution center, and relocated that business elsewhere.

Has it been smooth sailing? Not at all. I had my own doubts about whether the Local Government Corp. could pull this deal off. The City Council support for the LGC’s work seemed a bit tenuous. Then this past spring, voters decided to elect a new council.

Let us not forget that the general managing contractor, Wallace Bajjali, vaporized along the way in a dispute between the firm’s principal owners. It didn’t deter the progress toward landing the affiliated AA franchise.

The Elmore Group, which owns the San Antonio Missions, is now going to relocate that team to Amarillo; San Antonio will get a AAA team that will relocate to the Alamo City from Colorado Springs.

Meantime, life is good for diehard baseball fans in Amarillo. They’re going to get to watch a professionally run baseball team play ball in a sparkling new venue.

I wish them all well. This journey has given me a mild case of heartburn along the way. It’s all good now as they prepare to break ground on the ballpark.

I intend to watch it grow and will be cheering from afar when they toss out that first pitch.