Tag Archives: 13th Congressional District

Let’s play a congressional succession parlor game

The Texas Tribune has broached a subject that caught my attention, even though I no longer live in the congressional district represented by a man whose been in office for more than 23 years.

The Trib reports that “many Republican operatives” believe Rep. Mac Thornberry, the newly re-elected Republican, is going to serve his final term in the House of Representatives beginning in January. Why? He might not cotton to being a member of the “minority party” in the House; he is surrendering his coveted Armed Services Committee chairmanship and won’t be able to serve as ranking member when he hands the gavel to his Democratic colleague.

I’ve moved away, but I retain a deep interest in Texas Panhandle politics. The 13th Congressional District is part of that landscape.

So . . . let’s play a parlor game called “Who’s Next?”

I’ll start by stipulating that the 13th District is arguably the most Republican congressional district in America. The next House member, if Thornberry calls it quits, is going to come from the GOP. Thornberry was re-elected this month with a whopping 81.6 percent majority in what was a “blue wave” year in other previously strong GOP districts.

It’s less certain, but still reasonably certain, that the next House member will come from the Panhandle portion of the sprawling 13th, which stretches from the very top of Texas to the western outskirts of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Congressional representation is rooted deeply in the Panhandle.

So, who might the next House rep be? I’ll toss a couple of names out there for you to ponder. They are Republican Texas legislators. Both are from Amarillo. Both are friends of mine. Both are fine men with ample political experience to take on the job of representing the entire 13th District.

State Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price? Stand up and take a bow.

Seliger would seem like the better fit for the 13th District. He’s a retired businessman who essentially works full time as a state senator. His Senate district stretches from the Panhandle to the Permian Basin. He is a native of Borger who is as fluent in Permian-speak as he is in Panhandle-speak. He and Thornberry are political allies and friends, from all that I have gathered; then again, so are Price and Thornberry.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think highly of Four Price, too. I’ve known him for as long as I’ve known Seliger. He has a successful Amarillo law practice and has risen to the top of the legislative roster in the 150-member Texas House. Texas Monthly named him one of the state’s top legislators after the 2017 Legislature.

Seliger, though, brings some municipal government experience as well as legislative experience to any consideration of who should — if the opportunity presents itself — succeed Mac Thornberry. He served on the Amarillo City Commission as commissioner and then mayor before being elected to the Texas Senate.

I am making no predictions. I merely am stating what I think might happen if the Texas Tribune’s report is accurate.

Let’s all stay tuned and wait for the fur to fly when the next Congress convenes.

Sagan gets a (sort of) endorsement

My old buddy Greg Sagan is trying to do the nearly impossible: defeat longtime incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry in this year’s midterm election.

Sagan has gotten some help from a most unlikely source. The question now though is this: What good will it do? I have an answer: Hardly none.

Still, the Houston Chronicle, which sits way down yonder on the Texas Gulf Coast, has urged readers of the paper to vote against Thornberry, who’s running for re-election in the 13th Congressional District, stretching from the Texas Panhandle to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

The Chronicle said “voters from Amarillo to Wichita Falls” should endorse the Democrat Sagan or the Libertarian Calvin DeWeese. The paper referred to the challengers as “two politicians who didn’t kick us while we were under 50-plus inches of floodwater.”

The Chron is angry that Thornberry was one of four Texas Republican congressmen to oppose aid to the Houston area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. You remember Hurricane Harvey, yes? It dumped all that rain a year ago along the Gulf Coast from Houston to the Golden Triangle.

Three of the four naysayers aren’t seeking re-election. Thornberry is the last man standing. He has drawn the ire of the Houston Chronicle. One of the GOP lawmakers who said “no” to Harvey funds is Sam Johnson of Plano, who happens to be my congressman now that my wife and I have moved to the Metroplex.

The task for Sagan now is spreading the word among Texas Panhandle voters about the seeming heartlessness of a native Texan who just couldn’t support legislation aimed at helping fellow Texans in maximum distress.

I am pulling for my pal, Greg Sagan.

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.