Tag Archives: 13th Congressional District

Political learning curve about to commence

I met a most interesting gentleman this morning, someone who almost immediately after extending his hand to greet my wife and me invited me to come to Fairview’s town hall to familiarize myself with the community’s political climate.

This fellow is a member of the Fairview Town Council. I am reluctant to give you his name, as he doesn’t know I’m writing about him. Maybe I’ll divulge it later.

Our relocation has been pretty smooth and seamless as we have settled in this community tucked between Allen and McKinney in Collin County. My wife and I are registered to vote now in our new community of residence, which removes any chance for us to vote in Randall County, where we lived for 23-plus years.

I wanted to vote in the race for 13th Congressional District. That won’t happen now. We’ll get to vote for a new representative in the 3rd Congressional District, which has been represented since 1991 by U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (pictured), a former Vietnam prisoner of war. Johnson is retiring at the end of the year.

I’ll need to study up on the individuals seeking to succeed Rep. Johnson.

My new friend from Fairview implied that next year’s municipal election will be a contentious affair. He didn’t go into detail; the setting of our meeting this morning made it difficult for him to spend too much time explaining what he implied.

My career took me to Amarillo in January 1995. My job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News required me to get acquainted in a hurry with the political lay of the land, just as it had required the same of me in Beaumont, when we moved to the Gulf Coast in the spring of 1984.

I have no job requirements these days. However, my instinctive nosiness — which was bred and nurtured by nearly four decades in print journalism — compels me to sniff around at Fairview’s Town Hall.

So, I believe I will seek to satisfy my nosy nature by continuing this relationship with my new acquaintance.

Hey, my retirement doesn’t render me disinterested … you know?

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.

Recalling a long, lost journalism memory

I discovered something on the Internet I didn’t know even existed. To be candid, it blew me away to find it. So much so that I want to share it here.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?77319-1/texas-19th-congressional-district

The quality of the video isn’t great, but it’s watchable if you’re interested.

C-SPAN is the network that appeals mainly to political junkies. I am one of them. The call letters stand for “Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network.” Need I say more?

I enjoy the network and its utterly unbiased presentation of the discussion of the issues of the day. Its founder, Brian Lamb, is legendary in his insistence that his on-air reporters steer clear of any bias.

In 1996, I was new to the Texas Panhandle. I had started a job a year earlier as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. C-SPAN was conducting a nationwide tour of every congressional district in the United States.

The network called me and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed for a discussion of the 19th Congressional District and its representative, Lubbock Republican Larry Combest.

“Sure,” I said. Here’s the deal, though: I had to study up on the 19th  District, learn enough about it to talk intelligently about it for broadcast on the air.

C-SPAN’s series featured a “school bus” that came to each congressional district. It contained a traveling camera crew. A reporter asked me questions; a cameraman video recorded it. The interview lasted about 30 minutes at the AGN offices in downtown Amarillo. The finished product was cut down to about three minutes on the air.

It was a fascinating “teachable moment” for this newcomer to the Texas Panhandle. It presented me with one of the more incredible experiences of my journalism career. I enjoyed doing it immensely.

In 1996, Amarillo was divided into two congressional districts. Combest represented the19th, which included Randall County. The northern portion of Amarillo was represented by the 13th District and its then-freshman congressman, Republican Mac Thornberry.

I honestly cannot remember who C-SPAN recruited to talk on the air about the 13th District; hey, it was a long time ago.

This is just a nugget that I wanted to share with you, given the many miles the world has traveled over the past two-plus decades since this segment aired in the delivery of news and commentary to the public.

High court to settle redistricting dilemma?

I don’t expect the current U.S. Supreme Court to decide that Texas’s legislative and congressional boundaries were drawn in a manner that discriminates against people of color.

Why not? Because its ideological composition would tilt toward those who dismiss such concerns.

The court will decide Abbott v. Perez sometime this year. It involves the manner in which several districts were drawn. Critics say that Hispanics were denied the right to choose a candidate of their own because of the way a San Antonio-area district was gerrymandered.

I’ll set aside the merits of the case that justices will hear. I want to concentrate briefly on the method the states use to draw these districts.

They are done by legislatures. The Texas Legislature is dominated by Republican super-majorities. The custom has been that the Legislature draws these boundaries to benefit the party in power.

Legislators don’t like being handed this task at the end of every census, which is taken at the beginning of each decade. The late state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo once told me that redistricting provides “Republicans a chance to eat their young.” I’ve never quite understood Bivins’s logic. To my mind, the process allows the party in power to “eat the young” of the other party.

The 1991 Texas Legislature redrew the state’s congressional boundaries in a way that sought to shield Democrats, who controlled the Legislature at the time. The Legislature divided Amarillo into two congressional districts, peeling Republicans from the 13th Congressional District to protect then-U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius, a Democrat. Sarpalius was re-elected in 1992, but then lost in 1994 to Republican upstart Mac Thornberry.

Gerrymandering not always a bad thing

My own preference would be to hand this process over to a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor and both legislative chambers. I favor taking this process out of politicians’ hands. Their aim is to protect their own and stick it to the politicians — and to voters — from their other party.

Perhaps the Supreme Court’s decision might include a dissent that spells out potential remedies to what I consider to be a political travesty.

One can hope.

This contest could get interesting … maybe, possibly

I get uncomfortable when friends of mine become engaged in politics.

It’s about to happen again. The campaign for the 13th Congressional District has just welcomed a newcomer to politics. His name is Greg Sagan, who told local media that he only recently became a Democrat. What drove him to become a member of a political party? He said it was the election of Donald John Trump this past November as president of the United States.

So now he’s a politician. He is going to run against longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry for the seat Thornberry has occupied since January 1995.

Pass the Pepto, will ya? This one gives me heartburn.

You see, I happen to be fond of Sagan personally. My wife and I have socialized with him and his wife. We’re also former colleagues of a sort. You see, back when I was editing the Opinion pages of the Amarillo Globe-News, Sagan was a regular contributor to the newspaper. He wrote a weekly column for the G-N. It was then that our relationship took root and then blossomed. His contribution to the newspaper ended when I resigned in August 2012.

I know Sagan to be a patriot. He served in the U.S. Navy and saw duty in Vietnam during the war that defined our generation. He is an unapologetic political progressive. He’s also a hell of a good writer. The boy can turn a phrase.

The campaign for Congress will get pretty damn serious around the first of next year, if not a bit sooner. My quandary centers on a couple of key points. One is that my wife and I most likely will have moved on by the time the campaign kicks into gear. I’ll likely be ineligible to vote in that election.

Of course, this blog will be firing plenty of ammo at this and/or that political target, which won’t take me out of the game completely.

I do not yet know how Greg is going to craft his campaign or what specifically will constitute his platform. Knowing him as I do I am certain he’ll hammer out a theme that makes sense, is cogent and is well-crafted.

He’s got a steep — I dare say nearly impossible — barrier to clear. If he’s the only Democrat to run in the 2018 primary, he’ll have to face a well-funded, well-seasoned and well-established incumbent who represents one of the country’s most reliably Republican congressional districts. GOP and, yes, Democratic partisans in Texas are known to be fiercely loyal to their officeholder.

I’ve known Mac Thornberry even longer than I’ve known Greg Sagan. I like Thornberry personally and over the years we’ve had a solid professional relationship and a cordial personal one. However, he has disappointed me many times over that span of time.

Is this the time for a change in our congressional representation? I don’t yet know. I do sense, though, that local Democrats are coping with the palpitations they get whenever someone emerges who they think can upset the status quo.

You go, Greg!

Talk to us, Rep. Thornberry

The fellow who represents me in Congress has made his point pretty clear: He doesn’t intend to conduct “town hall meetings” with constituents during these lengthy congressional breaks.

I beg to differ with Rep. Mac Thornberry’s reluctance to speak to groups of his constituents.

The Clarendon Republican lawmaker has just voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to replace it with a Trumpcare version of health care overhaul.

Congress is taking some time off. Its House members and senators have fanned out across the land. Some of them are facing their critics, namely their constituents, who are questioning them about their votes in favor of Trumpcare. Rep. Thornberry, to my knowledge, hasn’t scheduled any such public events.

He ought to rethink his schedule.

Do I expect him to get a dressing down from angry 13th Congressional District constituents? Well, I don’t know. He is considered a lead-pipe cinch for re-election in 2018; his district is as reliably Republican as any in the country. Then again, other GOP House members who are equally safe and secure have been getting pounded by their constituents.

I actually want to applaud those Republicans who have voted for Trumpcare to stand before their “bosses” and explain themselves. I think much less of those who have chosen other pursuits while they are at home, ostensibly tending to “constituent business.”

Thornberry’s been in Congress for a long time now. He took office in 1995. He chairs the House Armed Services Committee. He’s got a big job. He once led a GOP effort to come up with ways to protect us against cyber-crime. I’m hoping whatever he came up with is being employed by our spooks to protect our national security secrets against hackers from, oh, Russia!

However, health care is on people’s minds these days. Even, perhaps, out here in the 13th Congressional District.

We’ve been represented in Congress by someone who has aligned himself with those who want to throw out the Affordable Care Act. The Trumpcare replacement well could cost a lot of Thornberry’s constituents their health insurance.

I believe he owes them a thorough explanation of why he cast one of the House’s “yes” votes.

No ‘town hall’ meetings; no surprise

I guess this is one of the least-surprising things I’ve heard since Donald J. Trump became president of the United States.

West Texas’s congressional delegation is coming home for a weeklong recess — but none of them is planning any town hall meetings with constituents.

Why do you suppose they’re forgoing these events? My guess — and that’s all it is — would be that they might not ready to withstand the heat that their colleagues have gotten from their constituents when they have had town meetings back home.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, who has represented the 13th Congressional District since 1995, says he’ll be accessible to voters. Good. I trust he’ll keep his word while he’s back home.

The issue on voters’ minds happens to be the Affordable Care Act. Congressmen and women have been getting a snoot full from constituents about the ACA and what Congress intends to do if it repeals it. They don’t want to lose their health insurance and, near as I can tell, Republicans lack a replacement plan to insert in place of the ACA if they get around to repealing it.

But our West Texas congressional representatives aren’t going to hear from their constituents in a town hall setting.

I hope, though, that they open and read their mail and their staffers listen to phone calls from concerned citizens.

We aren’t brain dead in this part of the country. Indeed, lawmakers representing deep-red, solidly Republican congressional districts are getting their share of gripes.

I doubt we’re any different here.

C-SPAN worked miracles with this spot

cspan_bus

I want to share a moment regarding my one direct contact with the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network . . . aka C-SPAN.

I’ve already sung the praises of Brian Lamb, the founder of the one national network that covers politics and policy without a hint of bias.

Take another look.

But the folks who put together their video presentations are masters of editing, cutting, pasting and making subjects look a whole lot smarter than they really are. In my case, that’s not all that difficult.

I arrived in the Texas Panhandle in January 1995 to take my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

That spring, C-SPAN embarked on a project called the “School Bus Tour.” It was sending a yellow bus to every congressional district in the United States. All 435 of them would get a visit from the C-SPAN school bus. Its intent was to educate viewers on the members of Congress representing their constituents living in each of those districts.

The 1991 Texas Legislature had gerrymandered the congressional map in Texas to give Amarillo two House members. The 13th Congressional District comprised the northern portion of the city; the 19th District comprised the southern portion.

The lines were drawn that way to protect the Democrat — Bill Sarpalius — who represented the 13th District. Democrats controlled the Legislature back then, so they sought to rig the lineup to protect their own. The tactic worked until the 1994 election, when Republican Mac Thornberry upset Sarpalius.

But the 19th District remained strongly Republican and was represented by U.S. Rep. Larry Combest of Lubbock.

C-SPAN called one day and wanted to know if I would be willing to be interviewed by the network about the 19th District. I was to talk about Combest and the district he had represented for the past decade.

Holy crap! I thought. I didn’t know much about the district, or about Combest. I was brand new here. I’d lived for the 11 previous years in the Golden Triangle region of Texas, which was represented in the House by Democrats Jack Brooks of Beaumont and Charlie Wilson of Lufkin.

I accepted the offer, then cracked the books to learn more about the 19th Congressional District and about Rep. Combest.

C-SPAN’s school bus crew met me at the newspaper office one Saturday morning and I talked for about 30 minutes or so with a camera rolling. I stuttered, stammered, paused, stopped-and-started my way through it. Hey, I’m not a TV guy.

I was frightened by the prospect of how it would look on TV. The producer assured me, “Don’t worry. You did just fine. We’ll take good care of you.”

Well, they shot their B-roll video, showing scenes of feed lots, ranch land, wind mills and such from around the sprawling district, which stretched from Amarillo all the way to Lubbock, about 120 miles south of us.

They told me when the segment would air.

I waited for it. Sure enough, they managed to make me sound a whole lot more polished than I really am.

What’s more — and this is the real beauty of this kind of skill — they preserved the essence of every comment I made. There was not a single phrase that was aired during the three-minute segment that was out of context or didn’t convey my intended message.

I would have a similar experience later, during the 2008 presidential campaign, with National Public Radio. NPR wanted to interview two journalists about the state of that campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain. I learned once again about the talent and skill it takes to edit someone’s spoken words while preserving the integrity of what one says.

Believe me, it’s a remarkable skill, indeed.

 

Question doesn’t produce desired result

Hopes dashed, I’m afraid to say.

I noted in an earlier blog post that I was going to ask U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry a question about how he would work to restore a sense of civility, comity and gettin’ along in Congress. It was during the recording of a candidate forum that will be broadcast this coming week on Panhandle PBS.

My hope was for an answer that would restore my belief in the “nobility” of politics.

I didn’t get quite the answer I hoped for. Indeed, Thornberry — who faces two Republican Party primary challengers, Elaine Hays of Amarillo and Pam Barlow of Bowie — really didn’t pledge to do anything specific himself. For that matter, neither did Hays or Barlow; and in fact, Barlow seemed to hint that she would be even more combative if she were elected to Congress this year.

I won’t give any more of this away, given that the candidates still have a TV appearance scheduled to be broadcast.

Thornberry, though, does seem to be falling into the same old trap that snares other politicians. He is blaming, more or less, the other side. The other side, meanwhile, is blaming his side.

The result? No one is holding themselves accountable.

The blame game continues.

Thornberry faces a serious primary challenge

I’ve said more times than I can remember that political incumbents need serious challenges to their re-election bids.

They need to stay sharp. They need to defend their voting records. They need to be accountable to the voters, their constituents, the folks who pay their salaries.

Therefore, I’m glad that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry might be getting a run for it from someone who thinks she’s a more qualified Republican than the incumbent who is running for his 10th term in Congress.

Elaine Hays is an Amarillo financial planner. Her website is here:

https://www.facebook.com/ElaineHaysForCongress/app_184474614987082

I’m intrigued by the fact that she’s running in the Republican primary to Thornberry’s right. Indeed, one political website, in announcing Hays’s candidacy, actually called Thornberry a RINO, a Republican In Name Only. Thornberry, a RINO? You must be kidding me.

Apparently not. Hays — who I do not know personally — seems to be preparing to run against Thornberry’s record by suggesting he hasn’t been conservative enough for the 13th Congressional District.

Check out her website and you’ll see what I mean.

Term limits seems to be one issue with which she’s scoring some early points. She criticizes Thornberry’s stand in favor of term limits while he is about to finish up his 20th year in Congress. Thornberry was elected in 1994 while running under the Contract With America banner hoisted by then-Rep. Newt Gingrich. One of the planks in that platform was term limits. Mac supported it, vowed to vote for limits if elected and actually has been true to that promise: He’s voted every time to limit congressional terms.

However, he never took the pledge to limit himself to three terms.

That’s his fallback position, but it isn’t playing well with some on the extreme right, who think he should have bowed out long ago in keeping with his stated support of term limits.

Whatever. Elaine Hays makes a pretty strong argument that Thornberry’s been a bit of a hypocrite on that issue.

This campaign just might illustrate as well the internal combat occurring with the GOP. Thornberry’s voting record is about as conservative as it gets. Right-leaning political watchdogs routinely rate him in the 90 percent range as they tally up lawmakers’ voting records. According to Hays and others, though, that’s not good enough.

This campaign could get mighty interesting, maybe even a bit testy if Hays starts to make inroads on Thornberry’s long-standing support among 13th District voters.