Category Archives: State news

Stand tall, Speaker Straus

Joe Straus offers living, breathing, demonstrable proof that not all Texas Republican politicians have gone around the bend, that they all aren’t bat-crap crazy.

Straus, the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives — until the end of this year, when his term ends — has emerged as a leading GOP opponent of Donald J. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

The speaker, who is not seeking re-election, wrote the president a letter urging him to end the program that allows for children to be snatched from their parents’ arms at the southern border and sent to, um, somewhere apart from Mom and Dad.

As the Texas Tribune reported: “I know that members of Congress from both parties have proposed various ways to address this issue in the form of legislation, and while I applaud their attention to the problem, I also know that congressional action often does not come quickly,” the speaker told Trump in a letter. “In order to at least begin addressing this issue, there is no need to wait for Congress to act. That’s why I respectfully ask that you move immediately to rescind the policy that [Attorney] General [Jeff] Sessions announced in April and any other policies that have led to an increase in family separations at the border.”

There’s more: In the letter, Straus also rejected arguments by the Trump administration that the policy could be used as leverage against Democrats in Congress. “It is wrong to use these scared, vulnerable children as a negotiating tool,” Straus wrote.

Straus hails from San Antonio. While the state’s second-largest city isn’t on the border with Mexico, it is close enough to be considered near Ground Zero of this still-boiling crisis. The city has a huge Latino population, comprising many recent immigrants. Speaker Straus is listening to them as well as the better angels of his own conscience in seeking relief from this hideous policy.

I want to add, too, that Straus is no stranger to political sanity in a state that at times veers into fits of partisan hysteria.

Gov. Greg Abbott called the 2017 Legislature into special sessions to consider, among other items, that goofy “Bathroom Bill,” which required people to use public restrooms in accordance with the gender assigned to their birth certificate. The bill was clearly discriminatory against transgender individuals.

It passed the Senate — which is led by GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — on a partisan vote. Speaker Straus, as the Man of the House, would have none of it.

Through the speaker’s leadership, the Bathroom Bill ended up dead and buried. Which is where it should remain now and forever.

Straus is turning his speaker’s gavel over to someone else in 2019. I do hope, however, that he remains a clear voice of reason among Republicans whose hearts, minds and souls have been captured by the lying carnival barker/flim-flam artist who in 2016 got elected president of the United States.

Texas needs Joe Straus to continue speaking out, as does the nation.

Is the president creating a crisis where none exists?

I keep getting this feeling in my gut that Donald J. Trump’s insistence that we have an immigration “crisis” is a figment of the president’s imagination.

Or worse, it is a ploy he is using to curry favor with Americans who have this fear about immigrants of all stripes, legal or otherwise.

Trump keeps harping on the flood of immigrants pouring through our “open border” to do harm to Americans. He is managing to cast all immigrants in the same ultra-negative light: They’re murderers, rapists, drug dealers, sex traffickers, kidnappers.

Here’s the nasty part of it: Trump appears to be succeeding in this hideous effort.

The media are covering this “zero tolerance” story with zeal and aggressiveness. The children who have been separated from their parents and sent to something called “tender age” internment camps have broken our hearts. Former first ladies have issued statements condemning the practice.

I keep asking myself: Why? Why are we reacting with such hysteria over this story?

I heard a statistic the other day about how border crossings are down. Yet to listen to the president tell it, the nation’s southern border is awash in people pouring northward into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

I don’t spend a lot of time along the Texas border with Mexico, although I recently did travel to Laredo. My wife and I spent a few nights at a Texas state park along the Rio Grande River. We also spent some time on the road traveling southeast along the river.

What did we see during those few days along the border? We saw Texans going about their daily lives. We looked at families playing at parks. We saw people shopping. They were enjoying meals. They were walking their pets along city streets.

We saw life continuing at a normal pace.

We did not see a community in crisis. We didn’t see a region gripped by a flood of illegal immigrants/criminals.

This was two years ago. Has it changed dramatically since then?

I think not.

I also believe the president of the United States — who launched his first political campaign in 2015 with a pledge to curb immigration along our southern border — has created a crisis where none exists.

Sickening.

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!

No ‘sightseeing’ here, Mr. POTUS

This picture showed up on my Facebook news feed. It’s a page from today’s Houston Chronicle, the newspaper that has told the compelling, heartbreaking and heroic stories stemming from the Hurricane Harvey onslaught.

There’s a point here, of course. The headline refers to that idiotic comment the other day from Donald Trump, who suggested that Texans were out looking at the storm in their boats, causing the rash of water rescues rescues from first responders.

He was on that conference call with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials when he blurted out yet another thoughtless comment, this time about Hurricane Harvey.

The storm dumped 50 inches of rain on the Gulf Coast in the span of 24 hours this past summer. Gawkers? Rubberneckers? Is that what Trump said was occurring out there in the midst of the storm?

The Houston Chronicle has offered the perfect response.

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.

Texans were ‘watching Harvey from their boats’?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said the state is ready for “the next Harvey.”

Good deal, governor. I’ll need to know how the state prepares for a 50-inch deluge that falls within a 24-hour period.

But then the president of the United States weighed in with yet another patently absurd assertion about how many Texans responded to the peril that was bearing down on them.

Donald J. Trump said that Texas were “watching Harvey from their boats,” an act he said precipitated the large number of water rescues while the storm was battering the coast from the Coastal Bend, to Houston and the Golden Triangle.

Trump said this during a conference call with state officials: “Sixteen thousand people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is. People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane,” Trump said. “That didn’t work out too well.”

Trump’s idiocy has prompted an angry response from first responder officials. As the Houston Chronicle reported: “I didn’t see anyone taking the approach that would reflect his comments,” Gonzalez said. “I’ll be sure to invite the president to ride out the next hurricane in a jon boat in Galveston Bay the next time one approaches,” he added.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a fellow Republican, tweeted a message that talked about how Texans responded to help their neighbors and that they weren’t gawking at the storm aboard their boats in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Chronicle asked Abbott about Trump’s assertion, but the governor said he didn’t have “any information” on the matter.

As the paper noted: This isn’t the first time the president has made comments that seemed bizarre or ill-informed. For example, he claimed without evidence millions of people voted illegally and inflated the number of people attending his inauguration and other rallies. He wrongly claimed to have seen Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks on television.

So, let’s add this moronic assertion to the lengthy and no doubt growing list of presidential prevarications.

Idiotic.

Texas ag commissioner needs to go

Why is it that the only time we hear Sid Miller’s name mentioned in the news is when he says or does something outrageous?

Miller, a Republican, is the Texas agriculture commissioner. He’s a buffoon and a loudmouth who cannot control his impulse to make an ass of himself.

His latest bout of assery involves a picture he posted — and then removed — of TV talk show co-host and actor Whoopi Goldberg wearing a t-shirt depicting Donald Trump shooting himself in the head.

Except that the picture was doctored. Goldberg wasn’t wearing such a shirt. That didn’t stop Miller from committing this idiotic act.

So he took the post down? Too late, dude. The damage gets done immediately on social media. You can’t unhonk a horn, as an old friend used to say. You put something out there on Facebook, or Twitter or any social media platform and it becomes part of the public domain … boom! Just like that!

The Texas Tribune reported: Todd Smith, Miller’s campaign spokesman, told the Austin American-Statesman that neither he nor Miller knew if the doctored photo was real before it was posted to Facebook. 

“We post hundreds of things a week. We put stuff out there. We’re like Fox News. We report, we let people decide,” Smith told the Statesman.

They “report”? Did he really say that? No, you foment idiocy, which bears no resemblance to reporting events accurately.

This guy is no stranger to public buffoonery. He once went to Amarillo and ate a meal at a trendy downtown restaurant, OHMS. He didn’t like the steak he ordered and made a big show of his displeasure. Then, as with the Goldberg t-shirt episode, revealed a penchant for acting stupidly that Miller is all too capable of exhibiting.

Oh, how I hope Miller — who’s running against Democrat Kim Olson of Weatherford — gets thumped this fall when he stands for re-election. The guy embarrasses me.

Getting to know the political lay of the land

A move to another region of Texas gives bloggers such as yours truly a chance to get acquainted with the political movers and shakers of the community.

I’ve been sniffing around the Collin County legislative lineup and have discovered that the 2019 Legislature will be received two rookies from this suburban county.

Texas House District 89 will be represented either by Democrat Ray Ash or Republican Candy Noble. We all know this about Texas politics, which is that it’s highly likely the Republican will win the House race to seat the new state representative.

How do I know that? I don’t know it, although it’s important to note that Collin County voters gave Donald J. Trump 55 percent of their ballots cast in 2016.

The race for the Texas Senate had piqued my interest a bit more. Angela Paxton is the GOP nominee; she’ll face off against Democrat Mark Phariss this fall. Paxton is an interesting candidate, in that she is married to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is going to stand trial later this year on charges of securities fraud.

But here’s the question that needs to be dealt with head on: Will a Sen. Angela Paxton be able to vote on budget matters that involve salary matters relating to her husband’s income? That seems to smack of conflict of interest. I believe Paxton would need to tread carefully on that matter if she gets elected, presuming of course that her husband gets acquitted of the felony charges that have been leveled against him.

With all this chatter about Texas “turning blue” in this election cycle, I am not yet holding my breath. We have moved from the deeply red, fiery conservative Texas Panhandle to the doorstep of a county — Dallas County — that voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Given my own political bias, I feel a bit more at home politically in this region of Texas.

The learning curve about the politics of these new surroundings remains fairly steep. I’ll need to catch my breath and keep climbing.

Trying to understand non-helmet law in Texas

INTERSTATE 35 NORTH OF AUSTIN, Texas — Normally, the sight of four women on motorcycles speeding past us in heavy traffic wouldn’t be worth a comment on this blog.

But I noticed something about these individuals when they zoomed on past: All of them were wearing helmets.

That elicited a comment to my wife and we drove along in our Prius. “You know, it seems that women motorcyclists appear to be far more likely to wear those helmets than men,” I said. It didn’t draw much of a response from my wife.

Hey, maybe it isn’t worth much of any comment.

However, it does bring to mind a couple of thoughts I want to share.

One is that women motorcyclists — and this is just an anecdotal observation on my part — are much smarter than men when it comes to motor vehicle safety. I’ll have to check some traffic studies to validate that observation. Or, perhaps I’ll just let it stand on its own.

The second thought is that I don’t know why the Texas Legislature decided in 1995 to repeal the motorcycle helmet requirement in the first place.

Legislators did that also while increasing the speed limit on Texas highways from 55 to 70 mph, a move made possible when Congress that year removed the federal mandate, giving states the option of setting their own speed limits. Texas legislators and the governor at the time, George W. Bush, jumped all over it.

I’ve seen the studies about how helmets save lives. They help prevent traumatic head wounds. Yet the state said motorcyclists 21 years of age and older need not wear them. The state would require a $10,000 insurance policy, instead. Do you know how quickly a serious injury would gobble up that amount of money? Just … like … that!

The state requires everyone in automobiles to wear seat restraints. It tells us to fasten our young children into approved safety-seat. Just this past year, the Legislature banned the use of hand held telephones and texting devices while operating a motor vehicle.

Good for them. On all counts.

Motorcyclists, though, are given the freedom to expose themselves to grievous injury or death.

I don’t get it. Nor will I ever understand that bit of so-called “logic.”