Tag Archives: 1964 election

O’Rourke making a return to the Panhandle

I’m thinking a good friend and former colleague is right about Beto O’Rourke’s unfolding political strategy.

The Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is crawling back into the belly of the beast — so to speak — in May. O’Rourke is planning an Amarillo town hall meeting on May 13. I understand details are coming out soon.

My old pal theorized during a recent visit my wife and I made to the Golden Triangle that O’Rourke, who hails from El Paso, is seeking to cut his expected losses in heavily Republican rural Texas. Meanwhile, the Democratic congressman is hoping to hold on to his base of progressive support in urban Texas.

So, the theory goes as explained to me by my buddy: If O’Rourke can avoid getting skunked in the country and hold his own in the big cities, he wins the November election against The Cruz Missile.

Indeed, the idea that O’Rourke is coming back yet again to the unofficial heart of Texas Republicanism tells me that the young man is serious about this part of the state.

I’m sure he’s been told the story — or the myth, depending on your point of view — about how President Lyndon Johnson closed the Amarillo Air Force Base in the late 1960s because so many Panhandle counties voted for Sen. Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.

Fact check: Of the 26 counties comprising the Panhandle, exactly eight of them went for Goldwater. That was eight too many to suit the Texan who was serving as president of the United States, or so the legend goes in these parts.

I won’t argue the point here about whether LBJ was pi**** off enough to put thousands of Texans out of work by closing the air base.

The point, though, is that a young Democratic candidate for statewide office is coming here to make his case for why he should be elected over a Republican incumbent U.S. senator.

Yes, I want him to win. Now that we have (re)established that bias, my hope is that his political brain trust isn’t sending him on a fool’s errand with a town hall meeting in the belly of the beast.

No armchair diagnoses, please

You may count me as one who takes a dim view of those who think they can diagnose medical matters from a distance.

There’s a good bit of that going around these days as it relates to the behavior of the president of the United States, one Donald John Trump Sr.

Yes, he’s acting squirrely. And yes, he tweets messages that sound as if they come from a junior high schooler. He goads a dictator with nuclear bombs. He insults media representatives, politicians and a particular book author … not to mention at least one key former White House aide.

Does any of this mean the man is certifiably crazy? Is he nuts? Is he unfit mentally to be commander in chief?

I am not qualified to answer any of that. Neither are the “experts” who keep insisting the president needs to be kicked out of office on the basis of someone’s long-distance assessment of Trump’s mental fitness.

They don’t know of which they speak.

More than 50 years ago the nation had this same discussion about the late Republican U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, who ran for president in 1964 against President Johnson. Goldwater was deemed to be nuttier than a fruitcake because he talked openly about going to war with the Soviet Union, the world’s other great nuclear power at the time.

Someone wrote a book about Sen. Goldwater and put in writing what many were saying out loud. Goldwater sued the author for libel and won. Then came something called the “Goldwater Rule,” which disallows people from issuing medical diagnoses without examining the person about whom they are talking.

I believe we should keep that in mind as we discuss Donald Trump’s conduct of the high office he occupies.

There might be political reasons to remove this guy. They haven’t emerged; perhaps they never will emerge. Medical assessments are best left to those who get close enough to the subject to offer them.

The rest of us are just firing pot shots from the peanut gallery.

Trump declares ‘war’ on California? Hmmm …

California Democrats believe Donald John Trump has declared war on the nation’s most populous state.

They cite the president’s recent actions regarding (a) recreational marijuana use, (b) offshore oil drilling and (c) increased enforcement of immigration laws.

Let’s ponder that for a moment.

I cannot define any president’s motives. People who are  “done wrong” by presidents often accuse them of political retribution.

It was said during the late 1960s that Democratic President Lyndon Johnson hated the Texas Panhandle so much because several counties voted for Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election that he took it out on the region by closing the Amarillo Air Force Base. Many longtime Panhandle residents still hold a grudge against LBJ for that decision.

Now we have the current president — a Republican — imposing policies deemed detrimental to the nation’s most staunchly Democratic state. Democrats say they are certain that Trump is angry enough to punish the state for purely partisan reasons.

I, um, don’t know about that.

Trump vs. California?

The president’s offshore drilling proposals also involve the Gulf Coast, which comprises states that all voted for Trump in 2016. Immigration enforcement? Texas, too, is affected by whatever stricter policies come from the Trump administration.

I suppose one might make a case that California’s recent legalizing of recreational pot use might be construed as some sort of payback. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the federal government is rescinding Obama administration rules softening punishment for those caught using marijuana, which the feds still consider a “controlled substance.”

And while we are talking about President Obama, I will mention that Barack Obama could have ordered one of the decommissioned space shuttles to be displayed in a museum in Texas. Hey, the state is home to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Neil Armstrong’s first words in July 1969 from the moon’s surface were, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Texas was shunned. Why? Well, some have said President Obama had no love for Texas, given that the state voted twice for his Republican opponents.

I am not a big fan of this kind of political conspiracy theory.

Still, California Democrats do make a fascinating point. They say Donald Trump is the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to fail to visit California during the first year of his presidency.

Hey, the state qualifies as the world’s fifth-largest economy.

What gives, Mr. President?

LBJ was the toughest of the tough guys

A friend and I were visiting the other day about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s troubles over the bridge lane-closing fiasco.

Some of Christie’s critics have called him a bully. “I have a three-word answer to that,” my friend said. “Lyndon Baines Johnson.”

Agreed. Ol’ Lyndon was tough, vengeful, mean, coarse, profane … and whatever else you want to say about someone who knows how to exact painful revenge. I think my friend’s point is that LBJ makes Christie look like a piker in the bully department.

Then another friend wandered into my workplace the other day, Rick Crawford, a former Republican state representative who now sells commercial real estate in Amarillo. Crawford’s been around the political pea patch for longer than many folks. He grew up here, knows the lay of the land, knows many big hitters.

As we talked, the conversation turned to Lyndon Johnson. Crawford made a remark about LBJ’s decision to close the Amarillo Air Force Base in the late 1960s. He repeated something I have heard ever since I arrived here in January 1995, that Johnson closed the base because he “hated the Panhandle” and because the region voted for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, which LBJ won in a landslide.

Whoa. Not quite. I reminded my friend of something he admitted not knowing. It was that of the 26 counties comprising the Texas Panhandle, Goldwater won majorities in eight of them. And, I noted, Potter County — which is where the air base was located — voted for Lyndon Johnson.

So the question has lingered for nearly 50 years: Did Lyndon Johnson act out of spite or did he make a strategic decision based on a needs assessment given to him by the Pentagon?

Crawford and I talked about LBJ’s friends here who have insisted the president acted nobly. I have concluded that the LBJ-hates-Amarillo reason for closing the base has evolved into urban legend. It’s one of those things no one can prove, given that I am quite sure no one living in the Panhandle was in the room — the Oval Office, the Situation Room, the White House kitchen, wherever — when Johnson made that fateful decision.

The story, as it’s been told and retold over many decades since — and with embellishments added along the way — does illustrate President Johnson’s toughness.

I don’t doubt he was one mean SOB. I’ve read enough accounts over the years about how he treated those around him. I’ve heard many stories of how he could bully lawmakers into voting the way he wanted them to vote on legislation. I know all that.

However, I’m waiting for someone to prove he nearly destroyed the economy of a region in his home state just because a portion of it voted for the other guy in a presidential election.

Oh, but yes. Lyndon Baines Johnson was a whole lot more of a bully than Chris Christie ever thought of being.

LBJ could play hardball with the best of ’em

Ezra Klein is too young to remember President Lyndon Johnson, which doesn’t diminish one bit the young man’s brilliance.

His recent in Bloomberg View compares LBJ’s legendary bullying with what’s being alleged against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s still trying to put the “Bridgegate” hoo-ha behind him. Good luck with that, governor.


Klein refers to Robert Caro’s biography of the 36th president:

“In the fourth volume of Caro’s biography, he tells the story of Margaret Mayer, a Dallas Times Herald reporter who was investigating the television station LBJ owned. Johnson had his aides call Mayer’s bosses and let slip that if Mayer kept investigating Johnson’s business, Johnson might sic the Federal Communications Commission on the Dallas Times Herald’s businesses — which included TV and radio stations. Mayer’s bosses got the message. Her investigation was quickly terminated.

“That, however, was an example of LBJ’s lighter touch. According to another story Caro recounts, Johnson had long been irritated by the coverage of Bascom Timmons, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s chief Washington correspondent. So he called the paper’s owner, Amon Carter Jr., and told him that it’d be a shame — just a shame — if the Fort Worth Army Depot ended up getting closed. Even worse, what if the Carswell Air Force Base were shuttered, too? Then there was the Trinity River Navigation Project, which would make the river navigable from its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. All these projects meant jobs, development, and, ultimately, readers and advertisers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.”

That should remind long-time Amarillo residents of a darker time in the Texas Panhandle, when the Pentagon closed the Amarillo Air Force Base reportedly in retaliation for the political support Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater showed in this part of the state in the 1964 presidential election. Legend has it that LBJ — who allegedly hated the Panhandle — just shut the base down in a fit of pique. His friends here — and he had a few of them — deny any such motivation.

Whatever the president’s motives, he acted decisively. Amarillo took a huge punch in the gut, but has survived and has flourished in the decades since.

Old Lyndon, though, knew how to play tough.