Category Archives: State news

Is there a West Texas primary donnybrook in the making?

That old trick knee of mine is flaring up again.

It’s throbbing so much that I am beginning to think that West Texas Republican voters are facing the prospect of a serious donnybrook in the race for the state Senate District seat now held by Amarillo businessman Kel Seliger.

My critics are all too willing to remind me that the trick knee isn’t nearly as reliable as I’ve suggested it is. But that’s all right. It’s telling me that Seliger is going to have to fend off some serious criticism from two GOP primary foes. The criticism well might center on the senator’s decision against endorsing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s own re-election bid in 2018.

I have read Sen. Seliger’s comments on this decision. He said he’ll “support” Patrick — I presume with his vote. He just won’t declare his endorsement out loud in public, for the record.

Seliger’s decision drew a hair-trigger response from Amarillo restauranteur Victor Leal, who suggested that Seliger is turning his back on the Senate’s presiding officer. I am guessing that Leal is going to endorse Patrick, one of the Texas GOP’s more vivid ideologues. Seliger isn’t wired the same way, and my hunch is that his own legislative temperament — which differs greatly from Patrick — has compelled him to withhold his active endorsement of the lieutenant governor.

The third Senate District 31 Republican candidate, former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, likely will seek to gain some political leverage, too. He’s a TEA Party kind of guy, which also runs anathema to Seliger’s more measured and studied approach to legislating.

Seliger has told local media that he expects a tough fight. I will presume he’ll prepare for one as well. It is my hope that he preps for a bruising campaign and gets ready to rumble with Leal and Canon.

Leal is a known quantity in the northern half of the Panhandle; Canon’s base is in the Permian Basin. Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, has managed to make his presence felt down yonder in the southern part of the sprawling district.

I’ve already revealed my bias in this race; I want Sen. Seliger to win the nomination, which in this district is tantamount to election.

The only bit of advice I can give Seliger — based on my trick knee — is to get his opposition research ready and to respond quickly and forcefully to the attacks that are sure to come his direction.

Seliger won’t ‘endorse’ Lt. Gov. Patrick; imagine that

I just know in my bones that I am not the only observer who saw this one coming.

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has decided he won’t endorse fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in 2018. Seliger said he won’t endorse anyone else; he said he intends to “support” Patrick — whatever the hell that means.

He just won’t “endorse” him, preferring to concentrate on his own re-election bid for the Senate District 31 seat he’s held since 2004.

Not a single aspect of this surprises me.

Seliger hasn’t been one of Patrick’s guys in the Senate. Sure, he’s backed much of Patrick’s agenda during the 2017 legislative session. He bolted on a couple of key issues:  a bill that restricts local property tax increases and a bill that sought to subsidize the cost of private schools.

Patrick announced that 19 of 20 state GOP senators were endorsing his re-election. Seliger’s name was absent from the list of Republican lawmakers. Is the Amarillo Republican worried? Hardly.

Seliger faces stern test for re-election

Indeed, Seliger already is getting set for a rough-and-tumble GOP primary battle in Senate District 31. Seliger will run against former Midland Mayor Mike Canon — who lost to Seliger in 2014 — and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal.

I’ll stipulate once again that I want Seliger to be renominated. I also will stipulate that I am no fan of Lt. Gov. Patrick, who I consider to be a ideological blowhard. Seliger is not. He is a serious legislative technician who I believe works hard at understanding the issues pertinent to the vast Senate district he represents.

I am going to presume that Seliger understands that he works for West Texas voters, not the guy who presides over the Texas Senate.

‘Real disaster’ struck Texas … no kidding!

Texas emergency officials have reported that Hurricane Harvey has killed 88 people.

Eight-eight families have lost loved ones. They are grieving to this day. Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast twice, first as a Category 3 hurricane and then as a tropical storm.

Watching the storm’s savagery from afar, I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it constitutes a “major disaster.” The hurricane blasted the Coastal Bend region with killer winds and storm surge. The tropical storm deluged Houston and the Golden Triangle with unprecedented rainfall: 50 inches in one 24-hour span of time, a record for the continental United States of America.

Harvey hit us real hard

I want to mention this because of something that Donald John Trump Sr. told our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. He seemed to chide them because — at the time of his visit — “only” 16 people had been killed by Hurricane Maria, which destroyed the island’s power grid and its potable water supply.

Yet, the president seemed to suggest that Puerto Rico was “fortunate” to have suffered so little loss of life, unlike what happened to New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore.

Well, I guess I ought to remind the president that the Texas coast didn’t suffer the amount of deaths that other storms have brought, but he dare not dismiss the damage from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle as anything short of a major disaster.

Texting and driving? It’s illegal in Texas, man!

I want to present a portion of an editorial that appeared in today’s Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, where I used to work before I gravitated in early 1995 way up yonder to the Texas Panhandle.

It comes from a regular Saturday feature called “Bouquets and Brickbats.” The Enterprise tossed a Brickbat thusly at: Southeast Texans who continue to text and drive even though that has been illegal since Sept. 1. Most local police and sheriff’s deputies have not been writing tickets for this offense because of Harvey duties and to give residents time to become familiar with the new law, but they say that will change soon. Statewide, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers issued four citations and 46 warnings for texting in the first 12 days. Texas Department of Transportation officials blame texting while driving for more than 3,000 vehicle crashes in Texas last year. The new law prohibits drivers from using their phones to “read, write, or send an electronic messages while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.” Violations can lead to a fine up to $99 for a first offense, with costs rising for subsequent offense.

I want to call your attention to this pearl of wisdom because it could apply at this end of Texas as well. Motorists seem to be ignoring the state law that took effect at the beginning of September.

I cannot stress enough the importance of this statewide ban. It took some guts for the Legislature to approve it, given that a previous Texas governor, Rick Perry, vetoed a nearly identical bill in 2011. Gov. Greg Abbott saw the wisdom of signing this bill into law.

Are Texas Panhandle drivers any more obedient than our fellow Texans way downstate? Hardly. A day doesn’t go by without my being able to spot someone yapping on a handheld device while driving a motor vehicle. Just the other day I watched a young man doing that very thing while driving past Windsor Elementary School in Amarillo; I should note that Amarillo enacted an ordinance years ago banning such activity in school zones.

I want to make a request of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which does a good job stopping drug traffickers moving along Interstate 40.

How about turning your sights with equal intensity on the yahoos and morons who ignore state law by texting and gabbing on handheld cell phones while exceeding the posted speed limit on I-40?

Randall County GOP puts Speaker Straus on notice

So, just how Republican-red is Randall County, Texas?

It believes that the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Joe Straus of San Antonio, isn’t conservative enough. It believes he has stalled legislation near and dear to the far right wing of the GOP. Why, he is just too bipartisan, too willing to work with those dreaded Democrats in the Texas House.

So, the Randall County Republican Party has joined some other county GOP operations in pulling its support of Straus should the Republican seek another term as speaker of the House.

Good bleeping grief!

Straus appears to have drawn the ire of the Randall County GOP because he heeds public opinion on certain controversial measures. Off the top of my noggin, the Bathroom Bill comes immediately to mind.

Texas senators approved the Bathroom Bill, which was pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and sent it to the House. Straus opposed the bill that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms in accordance to the sexual identity stated on their birth certificate. Straus saw the bill for what it was: an unenforceable act of discrimination against some Texans. He joined chiefs of police, business executives and medical professionals who also opposed the Bathroom Bill.

But because he didn’t push this monstrosity of a bill through the House — among other legislation — he no longer deserves to be speaker. The Randall County GOP’s resolution seeks to get state Reps. John Smithee and Four Price, both Amarillo Republicans, to vote against Straus if he seeks another speaker term.

It’s interesting to me that Price, whose district includes Potter County, declined to comment to the media about the Randall County resolution. Why do you suppose he did that? Oh, maybe it’s because he might applaud the job Straus has done while serving as the Man of the House.

I don’t want the Randall County Republican Party to have its way. The Texas House has managed to stall some overheated legislative remedies, the Bathroom Bill being one of them.

As for the bipartisanship that Straus has shown, I welcome that, too. It is in keeping with a longstanding Texas legislative tradition with governors, lieutenant governors and Texas House speakers routinely reaching across the aisle to get things done for the good of the entire state.

Meanwhile, Texas still cleans up after its own tragedy

The nation is rightfully horrified and increasingly concerned about the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Puerto Rico.

It is, though, the latest in a savage series of events that have thrown millions of Americans into varying states of misery.

The Texas Tribune has published a gallery of photographs from a region which I have some intimate familiarity. The Golden Triangle also is recovering, albeit slowly, from its own battle with Mother Nature’s unspeakable force and fury.

Here are the photos from the Texas Tribune.

The picture above was taken in Port Arthur, one of the cities comprising the Golden Triangle; the other two are Orange and Beaumont, where my family and I lived for nearly 11 years.

All three cities, along with Houston, were pummeled by the deluge that poured out of the sky from Harvey, which made its initial landfall at Rockport along the Coastal Bend.

Texas has rallied behind the many thousands of Golden Triangle residents who today are still seeking to reassemble their shattered lives. Some of them are friends of my wife and me and former colleagues of mine. Our hearts break for them.

We intend to visit our former haunts. We hope it is sooner rather than later. Our time today is occupied by our effort to prepare to relocate eventually from our home in Amarillo.

Still, I think daily of my friends who are still struggling to regain their equilibrium in the wake of the monstrous storm.

My hope is that the rest of Texas — and the nation — will keep them in their thoughts and prayers, too. I know we’ve got a lot on our minds these days. Puerto Rico is in desperate straits. Florida also is recovering from its own tragedy, the one named Hurricane Irma.

We all possess big enough hearts to wish well for all of our stricken fellow Americans.

MPEV contract signed? Done!

Someone will have to explain to me why the news out of Amarillo City Hall is somehow bad for the city.

It’s going to take a mighty stout argument to persuade me.

The City Council today announced that Elmore Sports Group, the outfit that owns the San Antonio Missions AA baseball team, has signed a 30-year lease agreement to play minor-league baseball at the new ballpark set to be built across the street from City Hall.

The city plans to pay for the $45.5 million multipurpose event venue with hotel occupancy tax revenue. Elmore will pay the city $400,000 annually to rent the ballpark.

They’re going to break ground on the MPEV in early 2018; they plan to finish the venue in time for the start of the 2019 baseball season.

Get your hot dogs and cold beer right here!

What a journey it has been — and what a journey that lies ahead.

And yet, there is a continual chorus from a cadre of soreheads that keeps casting the city’s downtown revival in negative terms.

It seems like a hundred years ago that Amarillo voters approved a citywide “non-binding referendum” on whether to support construction of the MPEV. The cost of the building in November 2015 — when the election occurred — had been pegged at $32 million. The cost inflated a bit after the ballots were counted, which brought out some howls around the city.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride, to be sure.

Voters elected a new council majority in the spring of 2015 and there was some discussion about the council slamming the brakes on the MPEV. To its credit, the new council majority heeded its better angels and allowed the vote to proceed.

Prior to all of that we got to witness the general managing contractor — an outfit named Wallace Bajjali — disintegrate in a spat between its principal owners. It was damn ugly! They left the city without an organization that was supposed to coordinate all the moving parts. Fortunately for Amarillo, the organization’s demise didn’t damage the city’s commitment to proceeding with the ballpark/MPEV.

But there was some turnover in some key municipal management positions. Melissa Dailey essentially was forced out of her job as head of Downtown Amarillo Inc., City Manager Jarret Atkinson quit over his inability to work with the new council majority and Amarillo Economic Development Corporation President Buzz David retired and moved out of town.

But the MPEV kept moving forward.

The Local Government Corporation was able to get a tentative agreement with the Missions, who wanted out of the Alamo City, which courted a AAA franchise.

And today, everyone signed on the dotted line.

Downtown Amarillo has made tremendous strides in the past half-dozen years. We now have a first-class convention hotel and parking garage across the street from the Civic Center. The city is able to lure conventions to the Civic Center. Business is booming along with construction of downtown residence construction.

Why in the world is all of this is a bad thing for Amarillo?

I want to restate what I believe is quite obvious: Every thriving city in America has virtually one thing in common. They all boast thriving downtown districts.

Amarillo has taken a big step toward a bright future.

Houston mayor seeks to tap Rainy Day Fund

I have to wonder if Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner laughed out loud when he made an interesting suggestion.

The state of Texas, he said, ought to tap into its Rainy Day Fund to help Houston recover from the savage attack leveled on the city by Hurricane Harvey.

Ironic, yes? Well, sort of.

The Rainy Day Fund is set aside by the Legislature as a backup fund for the state to use when emergencies arrive. In August, to be sure, a major emergency arrived on the Texas Gulf Coast when Harvey came ashore not once, but twice. First it came ashore as a hurricane; then it returned as a tropical storm.

It also dumped more than 50 inches of rain on Houston and the Golden Triangle, a record for any single weather event in the continental United States.

I believe the mayor is making a reasonable request. The state does have this money set aside to help. Houston is the state’s largest city. It presents a major economic impact for the state. It is severely damaged by the storm that savaged it.

It’s called a Rainy Day Fund for a reason. I would guess the mayor wouldn’t ever think it would apply so directly to the needs of city created by a rainstorm of epic — even biblical — proportions.

Sen. Seliger gets needed challenge

I used to drive former state Rep. David Swinford borderline batty with my occasional columns about the need for incumbents to get challenged at every election cycle.

My argument always has been that political incumbents at every level need to defend their record against legitimate challengers to their incumbency. The Dumas (Texas) Republican legislator understood that argument … but he still would express some mild (and good-natured) displeasure at my stating it.

One of Swinford’s colleagues — Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo — is getting a serious challenge again this coming year. Regular readers of this blog know that I want Seliger to win his party’s nomination, which is tantamount to election in the GOP-friendly Texas Panhandle.

But he’s going to have to work for it. Which I consider to be good (a) for the incumbent and (b) for the cause of good government.

Former Midland Mayor Mike Canon is stepping up once more to challenge Seliger. The two of them faced off in 2014. The race was close, but Seliger emerged victorious. This year, Amarillo business owner Victor Leal has joined the Republican primary lineup.

The quality of Leal’s candidacy remains to be seen. Canon’s approach four years ago was to talk in TEA Party clichés, talking points and platitudes. He still garnered a lot of votes.

That’s all OK, though.

Seliger has served the sprawling Texas Senate District 31 he has represented since 2004 quite well, in my estimation. That doesn’t mean he should get a free pass.

Representative democracy demands a stout challenge when the opportunity presents itself. It’s doing so in this legislative contest.

Whoever emerges victorious in this primary fight — and I do hope it’s Seliger — figures to be tempered by the difficult campaign he will have endured. That’s good for state government.

Meet one of POTUS’s ‘worst nightmares’

The list of Donald J. Trump’s “worst nightmares” seems to keep growing.

You have Robert Mueller, Stephen Bannon, James Comey, Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn and perhaps Don Trump Jr. standing by to give the Big Man a serious case of heartburn.

Walter Shaub is no slouch in the “worst nightmare” department, though. The former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, took part in a Texas Tribune discussion to talk about government ethics, which in Shaub’s mind is no oxymoron.

He quit his job at OGE out of frustration dealing with the Trump administration.

As the Tribune reports: The last straw for Shaub, who is now with an organization called the Campaign Legal Center, was having to fight for a month to get basic ethics records that did not even turn out to be useful.

In general, Shaub said, Trump’s actions represent a “significant departure” from “ethical norms.” He added that it will be on the next president to repair the damage that’s been done.

“I put up as good of a fight as I could,” said Schaub, who resigned in July.

I continue to believe that the president’s lack of understanding of government has contributed to the ethical morass he has helped create. Trump’s business background simply is not well-suited to adapt to the complexities associated with service in the massive federal government.

Another panelist at the Tribune event, Richard Painter, former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, also has been a harsh critic of Trump. According to the Tribune: “People voted for Donald Trump to be a president … not to be a king,” he said. “He’s gotta respect the Constitution or he’s not gonna keep his job.”

There might lie the greatest problem facing Trump as he seeks to shake loose from the crises that are gripping his administration. He doesn’t know — or seemingly want to know — how the Constitution works, how it limits his power and how it sets forth “checks and balances” on presidential overreach.

One such overreach might involve Mueller, the special counsel assigned to investigate the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to the Russian government. As the Tribune reports: “The biggest threat we’re facing is any threat to Bob Mueller being fired,” Shaub said. Should that happen, Shaub said he would take to the streets and that others should too.

Ethics, Mr. President, really do matter. They matter a great deal. Just listen — for once, sir — to these fellows. They know of which they speak.