Category Archives: State news

This guy got the Texas Senate 31 outcome wrong

Jay Leeson is a Lubbock businessman and radio personality who writes something called “The Other Side of Texas.”

The Amarillo Globe-News published a column from this fellow, who said in his essay that state Sen. Kel Seliger squeaked by in his March 2018 Republican Party primary race for re-election to the Texas Senate 31 seat.

Actually, Leeson has it dead wrong.

Seliger didn’t eke out a narrow victory. He won a three-way contest against two capable GOP primary opponents — one of whom was well-funded by a far-right political organization called Empower Texans — by avoiding a runoff.

Sen. Seliger won with about 51 percent of the ballots cast. The other two men — former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal — each collected less than half the total that Seliger rang up. Therefore, I would submit to you, dear reader, that Seliger didn’t squeak by; he won big. How? Because Canon and Leal both split what I consider to be the GOP nut-job vote between them, leaving Seliger to harvest the rest of the mainstream Republican primary voters to win the party’s nomination to another term in the Senate, which Seliger first joined in 2004.

Canon did lose narrowly to Seliger in a two-man GOP primary in 2014. Leal brought significant name familiarity that threatened to chew into Seliger’s Amarillo and Panhandle base of support; Leal, though, didn’t register much in the campaign.

The way I see it, Seliger’s primary victory over more than one opponent was far from a squeaker. He won decisively

Seliger was re-elected in November by crushing a Libertarian candidate. His path to re-election was made significantly easier by his smashing win in the GOP primary against two capable and articulate spokesmen for whatever arch-conservative doctrine they were espousing.

There. I’m glad to have set the record straight . . . as I see it.

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.

He’s got it wrong: student-athletes already ‘get paid’

I believe Kyler Murray is a fine young man, apart from his being a first-class quarterback for the University of Oklahoma who has just been named the latest winner of the Heisman Trophy, signifying that he is the best college football player in America.

However, the young man is mistaken when he says college athletes should be paid.

Murray said this: “I feel like we bring in a lot of money to the universities … we put in a lot of work. Some guys don’t have enough money to bring their families to the games … so I feel like athletes should be compensated for it.”

Murray is far from the first person to make the argument. I just believe he is as mistaken and misguided as all the others who have said the same thing.

Already paid

Where do I begin?

I’ll start here. Student-athletes already are “compensated” for their efforts. Granted, they don’t receive weekly paychecks, but many of them get a free college education in the form of full-ride scholarships.

I consider that a form of payment. Think about the ramifications. Student-athletes are allowed to receive a free education that presumably prepares them for life after their playing days are over. To suggest, therefore, that these athletes should become “professional athletes” defies the very principle of providing scholarships that help them fulfill the “student” portion of the term “student-athlete.”

Whether a student-athlete cracks the books and actually studies when he or she is not blocking/tackling/throwing TDs, or shooting hoops or hitting home runs is up to the student.

If they don’t cut it in the classroom, they ought to become academically ineligible to participate in whatever sport for which they are being “paid.”

Good news, bad news on Texas midterm election turnout

The Texas Tribune is reporting a classic good news-bad news story as it relates Texas’s voter turnout in the 2018 midterm election.

The good news? Texas is among the nation’s leading states in the increase in voter turnout over the 2014 midterm election. Texans boosted their midterm turnout this year by 18 percent, ranking No. 6 nationally.

The national increase in turnout was 13 percent, the Tribune reports. Hey, that’s good, right? Of course it is!

The turnout boost no doubt was fueled by the extraordinary interest in the race for the U.S. Senate, which Republican Sen. Ted Cruz won narrowly over Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Oh, but then there’s the bad news. You ready? Texas still voted below the national average. Total voter turnout percentage ranked us at No. 40 nationally. That’s bad, yes? Yep. I am afraid so.

The lack of competitive statewide races has helped drive down Texas voter participation. This year was remarkably different, as the increase over the 2014 midterm turnout illustrates.

Read the Tribune story here

However, we had a huge hill to climb from the near bottom of all the states in voter turnout.

Baby steps, though, are better than no steps. So we’ve taken some big steps toward improving our participation in this thing called “representative democracy.”

I’ll take the good news any day of the week.

Happy Trails, Part 133: Free room and board?

LAMESA, Texas — I am about to let you in on a little secret, although it’s likely not a secret to veteran RV travelers.

If you want to park your recreational vehicle free of charge, just look for those “public parks” in your RV directory.

We rolled into this West Texas town with a population of about 9,400 residents. We had called ahead when we saw a listing in our RV directory that caught our attention. It was a “public park.” So I called. It turns out the RV park is part of the municipal park system.

The lady at City Hall told me we could stay here for free for a maximum of four nights. It has water and electric hookups; no sewer, but . . . we can take our waste water with us to the next location.

We have found some of these public parks on our travels over the past three or four years. We stayed at one of them in Sayre, Okla.; if memory serves, the nightly rate there was $10, which we considered a heck of a bargain.

While traveling in Texas, we prefer to stay at state-run RV parks. Given that we’re big fans of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, we like supporting the state park system. The parks where we’ve stayed over the years have been well-manicured, well-appointed and generally quite gorgeous.

We buy a state park entrance pass once a year to waive our entrance fees. Since we’ve made ample use of the state parks, the pass is worth the investment.

But tonight we’re getting some free room and board at a city park. Keep this kind of thing in mind if you’re like my wife and me and enjoy the open road in your RV.

If you venture to Lamesa, here’s a tip: The locals pronounce the town name La-MEE-sa, not La-MAY-sa.

It must be a Texas thing.

Freedom Caucus loses a member . . . more to follow?

Jeff Leach has just emerged as one of my favorite members of the 2019 Texas Legislature.

The Plano Republican state representative has just bolted from the Texas Freedom Caucus, a cabal of far-right wing legislators intent on steering the Legislature toward ultra-conservative government policies.

Leach says his goal now is to “unite” the Republican majority in the House. The Freedom Caucus — which morphed from the TEA Party wing of the Republican Party — has fought with fellow Republicans through the past legislative session. It tangled with outgoing Speaker Joe Straus and other GOP moderates who want to chart a more reasonable and, yes, “moderate” course for the state to follow.

It’s too bad Straus won’t be around after January when the next Legislature convenes. The new speaker-to-be, Dennis Bonnen, R-Arlington, appears at first blush to be more in the Straus model of legislator than the Freedom Caucus model.

That’s fine with me.

It’s also quite fine with me that the Freedom Caucus’s numbers have been diminished by one; it’s down to just 11 members, a tiny fraction in the 150-member Texas House. These yahoos, ‘er, legislators do have an outsized influence on the rest of the legislative chamber.

The Texas Tribune reports that Leach’s departure from the wacky Freedom Caucus appears to be an amicable one: “There appears to be no hard feelings between Leach and caucus leadership, at least publicly,” the Tribune reports.

Even if there are hard feelings, my own sense is . . . too bad.

Welcome back to the real world of legislative moderation and good government, Rep. Leach.

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.

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.

No legislative interference on this football matter, please

Texas House Bill 412 needs to go . . . nowhere!

What is it? It is a bill proposed by state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, that requires the University of Texas and Texas A&M University to play a football game sometime in November each year.

That’s right. Rep. Larson — an A&M alumnus — wants the Legislature to intervene in a decision that should rest entirely with the athletic directors of the respective universities.

I’ve already endorsed the so-called “end game.” I want the Longhorns and Aggies to resume their storied football rivalry, which ended in 2011 when A&M left the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference.

When the Aggies bolted, the series ended. Period.

But is the Legislature the right avenue to travel to bring this thing back? No. It’s the kind of feel-good legislation one sees on occasion. Legislators and members of Congress occasionally get all worked up when tragedy strikes; they seek a legislative remedy to prevent horrible events from recurring.

This kind of legislation sort of falls into that category.

I respect Rep. Larson’s desire to bring the rivalry back. I do not believe the Texas Legislature should waste a moment of its time debating it. Lawmakers have a lot of other matters to consider. You know, small stuff such as, oh, water policy, highway construction, education reform, tax-and-spend matters. The 2019 Legislature might even consider whether to rescind the authority it granted cities to install and deploy red-light cameras to catch traffic violators in the act of breaking the law; don’t go there, lawmakers.

Larson did make a cogent point, though. “It’s time for the folks in Austin and College Station to get in a room and make a deal to restore the rivalry,” he told the Texas Tribune.

You are correct, sir. They can — and should — hammer it out without interference from the Texas Legislature.

‘W,’ Clinton showed us how divided government can work

Since I’ve already noted the arrival in Washington this coming January of a form of “divided government,” I feel the need to offer a two brief examples of how it works.

One party controls one branch of government, the other party controls the other. Such a circumstance doesn’t guarantee gridlock or incessant bickering, bitching and backbiting.

Donald J. Trump is going to report for work in January with Democrats controlling the U.S. House of Representatives; his fellow Republicans will retain control of the Senate. It won’t be a fun time to govern. It doesn’t need to be this way.

I give you two examples, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Before he became president, Bush was governor of Texas. He was elected in 1994. The Republican governor took office with a solidly Democratic Legislature in power. Unlike the man who now is president, he didn’t insult, defame or denigrate legislative Democrats. He learned quickly how to forge alliances — even friendships — with those on the other side.

Two men became his BFFs — before the term became widely accepted. They were the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, the crotchety, curmudgeonly Democrat who controlled the Texas Senate and House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center, the affable Democrat who ran the People’s House.

They formed a trio who respected each other’s skill and who managed to notch some notable legislative victories among them. They sought to give public school teachers a pay raise and increase test scores among students, they dipped into the state’s budget surplus to enact a tax cut, they furthered the push to invest in renewable energy resources.

Two Democrats learned to work with a Republican governor who, after all, had defeated a Democratic incumbent, the late Ann Richards, in a bitter campaign.

But “W” didn’t denigrate his legislative foes. He worked with them, understanding the need to cooperate when possible. To their credit, Bullock and Laney  understood precisely the same thing.

Bill Clinton watched the Democrats lose control of Congress in 1994, two years after his election to his first term as president. Newt Gingrich became the speaker of the House, Bob Dole rose to majority leader in the Senate.

Did the president let that loss of congressional power dissuade him? Hardly. He, Gingrich and Dole managed over time to work together to accomplish a budgetary miracle: a balanced federal budget, the first one of them in about 30 years.

They understood each other, just as “W” understood his legislative partners in Austin.

What lies ahead for the next Congress and the president as they embark on the second half of the president’s term? The indications are that it’s going to be a rough and rocky ride. It doesn’t help that Donald Trump doesn’t have the political chops needed to navigate and manage a political agenda with discipline and finesse. Nor does it help that he has bruised and battered so many congressmen and women with his insults and nasty pronouncements on Twitter.

Oh, and he’s that got that “Russia thing” hanging over his head.

I wish it were different. I fear we’re headed down the slipperiest of slopes. It need not be this way.