Category Archives: State news

'P' offers a pleasant surprise

Politicians occasionally surprise me — pleasantly so.

Sometimes I draw conclusions about politicians, only to have them suggest I might have been a bit too quick on the trigger.

George P. Bush has been, well, one of those pleasant surprises as he runs for Texas land commissioner.

It turns out that the tea party wing of the Republican Party with which he has aligned himself might be gnashing its teeth over P’s environmental policies. As land commissioner, environmental protection goes with the territory.

P, the grandson of President George H.W. Bush, nephew of George W. Bush, son of Jeb Bush and a darling of the more conservative wing of the Republican Party, turns out to be keenly aware of some issues that interest those of us who tilt the other direction.

The young man acknowledges the Earth’s climate is change, that it’s getting warmer; he likes the idea of developing alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power; he stops short of calling for abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency; he’s concerned about protecting coastal wetlands; he wants the state to use less coal and use more natural gas to fire electrical power plants.

This guy just might be OK if he gets elected. In a state that leans so far toward the GOP, that event is a near-certainty.

The land commissioner has other responsibilities as well, such as administering the state’s veteran home loan program. On that score, I give the incumbent Commissioner Jerry Patterson and his immediate predecessor David Dewhurst loads of credit. P likely will need to study up on the impact the program has on prospective homebuyers.

I’ve long thought of the land commissioner, though, as one of the state’s chief environment stewards. The office’s very name suggests that protecting “the land” is its top priority.

On that score, George P. Bush is sounding more reasonable than his tea party affiliation would suggest.

I presume he’ll know that many Texans — including yours truly — will be watching him to ensure he stays true to his stated beliefs about our environment.

We’ve only got one planet, P. We need to take care of it.



Texas abortion fight takes key turn

A federal judge has ruled that a critical part of the Texas anti-abortion violates the U.S. Constitution.

Good for him.

The judge is Lee Yeakel, who presides over the U.S. District Court’s Western District of Texas. His ruling declares that a provision in the law that requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospitals puts an unfair restriction on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion if she chooses.

Thus, the fight will continue. The state is certain to appeal this ruling. The leading candidate for governor, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, is a strong supporter of the law; his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, rocketed to national political fame when she led a filibuster in 2013 to “kill” temporarily the bill that would become state law.

Yeakel ruled that the intent of the law was to close only existing licensed abortion clinics. The law, he said, goes too far in establishing the stricter standards on par with ambulatory surgical centers.

So, why the curious turn here?

Yeakel was appointed to the federal bench by Republican President George W. Bush, another strong anti-abortion politician.

I’m as certain as I’m sitting here that we’re going to hear comments from critics of the ruling declare their disgust with “unelected” federal judges overreaching and “writing laws from the bench.”

Again, this is the beauty — not the bane — of the federal judicial system. Judges aren’t beholden to their political benefactors, the politicians who select them for these lifetime jobs.

Abbott says he’ll appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, where he thinks he’ll get it overturned.

Would those judges be overreaching and writing laws from the bench?



Debate is off, now it's on

Someone pick me up off the floor. I’m getting dizzy trying to keep up with the on-again, off-again, on-again Texas gubernatorial debate status.

Republican candidate Greg Abbott backed out of a planned debate with Democratic candidate Wendy Davis. That announcement came Friday.

Now comes word that the candidates will debate Sept. 19, in McAllen.

Hey, what gives?

I’m glad they’ll debate. Frankly, I’d like to see more of them prior to the election this November.

The Texas Tribune posted an interesting item profiling the debates the candidates for Texas governor have had dating back to 1982.

Abbott and Davis need to face off.

Abbott had backed out of a Dallas debate because his new debate planner, Bob Black, didn’t like the roundtable format agreed to earlier by Abbott and Davis campaign advisers. I considered that to be kind of chicken bleep of Black to pull the plug on something his guy had agreed to already.

The Davis camp accused Abbott of being scared. No surprise there.

Now the two are going to meet under the auspices of another TV network.

They’ll travel to South Texas.

How about coming way up yonder? To Amarillo? How about talking to us about your plans to implement further statewide water management plans. Water’s a big deal around here. How about talking about how you intend advance efforts to develop more affordable wind-powered electricity. You two know this already, but we’ve got lots of wind blowing.

I’m glad to hear that Abbott and Davis will face off at least once. More would be better.


Time for 'new president'?

“If the president doesn’t have a strategy, maybe it’s time for a new president.”

You know who said that? U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in remarks at a Dallas ballroom after speaking at an Americans for Progress meeting.

Pretty darn profound, don’t you think?

He’s talking about President Obama’s declaration that he doesn’t yet have a strategy to deal forcefully with ISIL, the hideous terrorist organization seeking to overrun governments in Syria and Iraq.

Paul has joined a number of other critics who’ve hit the president hard for not having such a strategy.

It’s the “maybe it’s time for a new president” comment that makes me chuckle.

Let’s see: We’re nearly halfway through Barack Obama’s second term as president. We’ll be getting a new president in January 2017, which is just around the corner.

The 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids Obama from seeking a third term. So he’s out of the campaign game.

Yeah, it’ll be time for a new president … in due course.


Abbott's not afraid of Davis … is he?

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has just tossed some seriously cold water on the effort to educate voters on the two major-party candidates running for governor.

He’d had agreed to take part Sept. 30 in the only statewide televised debate with Wendy Davis. Then he got a new debate coordinator, Bob Black, who promptly said “no can do.” Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, has backed out of his debate with the Democratic nominee, Davis, citing some “format” concerns.

This, folks, is a serious bummer.

Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas said this:

“It’s no surprise that Greg Abbott is pulling out of a long planned debate the day after he was defeated in court for protecting billions in public education cuts that have led to overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and shuttered schools. Greg Abbott is clearly too afraid to defend his record of siding with insiders at the expense of Texans — whether it’s defending funding cuts for classrooms, siding with a corporation against a victim of rape or letting his donors take tens of millions of taxpayer dollars intended for cancer research. This is nothing short of an insult to the voters of Texas.”

I’ll leave that kind of mind-reading to the partisans, as I have no personal knowledge of why Abbott dropped out of the debate.

It is, however, a major disappointment if his refusal to debate Davis sticks. I believe there’s still plenty of time to work out through the format problems that seems to have bugged Black, who joined the Abbott campaign earlier this month.

The format calls for a roundtable discussion between Abbott and Davis. It usually doesn’t require time limits. As the Texas Tribune reported: “The looser format is designed to create a conversation and give voters a more candid look at candidates and their positions.”

I’ve known Abbott for a number of years and I’ve found him to personable and engaging. Do I agree with him politically? Umm, no. But that’s not the point. He would seem comfortable in a roundtable format.

WFAA-TV of Dallas, which had planned to broadcast the debate statewide, should start working on a way to (a) persuade Abbott to take part or (b) find a Plan B that suits both candidates.

Texans would do well to hear from these two candidates. If we’re only going to get one statewide debate, then something has to be worked out — immediately.


They're moving the Texas political 'center' line


I concur totally with Paul Burka’s assessment of the Texas political landscape.

There ain’t any Texas Republican politicians who can be described as “left of center” by any stretch of the imagination.

Burka’s comment comes on the heels of a Forbes magazine piece that describes Texas House Speaker Joe Straus as a lefty.

As Burka writes: “This commentary has all the earmarks of a Michael Quinn Sullivan put-up job.”

And who is Michael Quinn Sullivan? He’s an ultra-right wing political strategist who’s earned the scorn of many mainstream politicians, namely Republicans. One of them is state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, who barely defeated a Sullivan-backed stalking horse — ex-Midland Mayor Mike Canon — in this spring’s GOP primary for Seliger’s Senate seat.

Suffice to say that Seliger cannot stand Sullivan.

Back to the article in question and the description of Straus as a “left-of-center speaker.”

It ain’t so.

I’m inclined to go along with one of the comments attached at the bottom of Burka’s blog post for Texas Monthly. “I guess it all depends on how you define ‘center,'” the comment starts out.

Indeed, the Texas GOP has been moving the center line farther to the right with each election cycle. I’m not at all sure where the center really is these days. It’s not the center that I used to define it, which is that a Republican could be a strict conservative on social issues but more moderate on fiscal matters … or vice versa.

These days, the “perfect Texas Republican” appears to be a fiery conservative on every single issue under the sun.

As Burka notes: “Straus actually wants to move the state forward economically by building roads and badly needed water projects.”

If that makes Straus a flaming lefty, well, you go for it, Mr. Speaker.




Governor had no business demanding resignation

Dave Kemp is a friend of mine who happens to be a lawyer who works in the public sector.

He knows Texas law better than most folks, including me. He put something on Facebook today about Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment that is worth sharing here.

Kemp writes: “There is a lot of spin going on involving the Governor’s felony indictments. Here are my observations: 1. Whether or not the Travis County DA should have resigned is not the question. The question is did the governor violate the Texas Penal Code by trying to force her to resign. Therefore, Perry should stop trashing Ms. Lehmberg, who has paid the price for her own criminal conduct – she pled guilty and served jail time. And a removal suit against her was unsuccessful. So focus on your own conduct, Governor. 2. What business it is of the governor if the DA doesn’t resign? That’s what elections and removal suits are for. The governor had no responsibility for the DA’s conduct. We must conclude that at best he was using bullying tactics that he would condemn if a Washington politician tried using. 3. What collateral damage did the governor do by cutting the funding for the Public Integrity Unit? It certainly didn’t harm the DA. But it could have harmed other criminal investigations. The veto was an irresponsible act.”

The most interesting element in this post is contained smack in the middle of it.

“What business is it of the governor if the DA doesn’t resign? That’s what elections and removal suits are for.”

A grand jury indicted Perry on two felony counts of abuse of power and coercion. He demanded that Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg resign after her drunk-driving conviction. If she didn’t do as he demanded, he then threatened to veto money for the public integrity unit her office operates. She didn’t quit; he vetoed the money.

Kemp’s point is a valid one.

Gov. Perry became entangled in what essentially is a local political matter. I agree that Lehmberg behaved badly; she broke the law and should have resigned. I said so, too, at the time. She didn’t listen to me, either.

However, for the governor to then carry this fight further speaks to political bullying.

It’s been reported that other DAs have been accused of drunk driving, but we heard nary a peep out of the governor’s office. This one is different. Lehmberg is a Democrat, Perry is a Republican, and Lehmberg’s office was looking into some allegations against key GOP allies of the governor.

It’s been speculated that Perry’s interest in Lehmberg’s drunk-driving case had everything to do with how he could remove a partisan nemesis.

Yes, politics can be a nasty affair. I’m betting Gov. Perry is going to learn that lesson the hard way.




New county judge's plate will be heaping

Nancy Tanner isn’t shying away from the huge tasks awaiting her when she becomes Potter County’s next judge.

It’s not exactly a done deal just yet, although it’s virtually so. Tanner won the Republican Party primary in March. No Democrat is on the ballot. Still, she has to go through the motions of an election in November. It’s safe to assume she’ll be elected in the fall, then she gets set to take the gavel from her former mentor and friend, Arthur Ware, who fired Tanner from her job as his administrative assistant in 2013 for reasons no one yet really knows — officially.

Job One for the new judge?

It appears that the Courts Building needs replacing. Not repair. Or refurbishing. It needs to be knocked down.

No one in county government — at least those with whom I’ve spoken — likes working in the structure that Ware calls without a hint of affection the “Grain Elevator.”

It was completed in 1985, which means that it has fallen apart in less than 30 years. Compare that with the Santa Fe Building, which houses several county offices. That Santa Fe was built in 1930 and as a friend who works for the county told me this morning, he toured the then-vacant structure right after the county bought it in 1995 — before the county lifted a finger to fix it up — and said “We could move right now!”

I should add that the county paid a grand total of $400,000 for the 11-story office building.

How’s the county going to pay for a new Courts Building? Tanner told the Rotary Club of Amarillo this past week she believes certificates of obligation are an option. The county has a relatively light debt load, she said.

Now the big question: How much would a new building cost? My spies at the county tell me they’ve heard estimates that hover around the $150 million mark. Would the county issue that COs to cover the entire cost? Tanner didn’t say.

The building is a piece of crap. Everyone seems to agree on that fundamental point.

It needs to go. Finding a suitable strategy to replace will keep the new county judge up late at night.

Welcome back to public service, Judge Tanner.



Another cop dies in line of duty

Police officers’ image has taken a hit in recent days with the controversy swirling around the shooting death of a young man in Ferguson, Mo., by a police officer. The young man was black, the officer is white. Questions are surrounding the community and the aftershock of the shooting has rippled into police departments all across the nation.

Then something like this happens in a small South Texas town that makes you take pause and ponder the risk that our law enforcement officers face every single day they’re on duty.

Elmendorf Police Chief Michael Pimentel was shot to death while trying to arrest a man. Pimentel had been waiting outside Joshua Lopez’s home to issue an arrest warrant. A man came out and shot Pimentel twice. The chief was taken to a local hospital, but died from his wounds.

I’ve long supported the work of good police officers and understood instinctively that every single call they make is fraught with potential danger.

There’s no word yet on the nature of the arrest warrant Chief Pimentel was seeking to serve. I haven’t yet read whether the suspect had a record of violent crime. Perhaps he did. Thus, the chief knew he was putting himself in danger by waiting for the suspect to come out of his house. The chief also might not have expected the suspect to agree quietly to being arrested.

It still brings to light the hazards that police officers face every time they put on the uniform, strap on their weapon, pin on their badge and go to work.

Nothing is “routine” in police work. Nothing at all.