Tag Archives: Mac Thornberry

POTUS seeks to control news information flow

Donald J. Trump’s reported anger over first lady Melania Trump’s desire to watch CNN aboard Air Force One brings to mind a curious conversation I had with a key staffer who worked for U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican who represents the 13th Congressional District of Texas.

Trump wants all the TVs on the presidential jet to be tuned to Fox News, his favorite news/commentary network. He considers CNN and other news networks to be purveyors of “fake news.” What makes ’em “fake”? They report news the president deems to be negative. I presume he’s issued the same edict for the TV sets throughout the White House.

So, negativity equals “fake news.” Got it?

OK, back to my conversation with the Thornberry staffer.

We were visiting some years ago. I was working for the Amarillo Globe-News. This individual was talking about a news report she heard. She then told me in a hushed voice over the phone that she heard the report “on NPR.”

Oh, my! Heaven forbid! A staffer for a conservative Republican member of Congress would get her news from National Public Radio! She didn’t want it heard, I guess, by her fellow staffers that she was listening to NPR.

I laughed at her over the phone. She happens to be a friend and we have had a very constructive and productive professional relationship over the years.

I was able to needle her about NPR and the myth that the publicly funded radio network was somehow a progressive mouthpiece for left-leaning politicians.

It isn’t. Public radio reporters and other staffers have informed me over the years about how they were schooled in the manner they should describe public policy. For instance, one NPR news hound informed that the Affordable Care Act would not be referred to on the air as a “reform” measure; “reform” connoted an improvement over the current system. The term that NPR reporters were instructed to use is “overhaul.”

Are we clear? Good!

Mary Lou Robinson Courthouse? Yes!

My hunch is that you can take this to the bank: Congress is going to attach a revered federal judge’s name on a courthouse in Amarillo, Texas.

I want to offer my heartiest applause from afar.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, both Republicans, have introduced legislation to rename the federal courthouse building in downtown Amarillo, the Marvin Jones Federal Building and Mary Lou Robinson United States Courthouse.

Yes, it’s a mouthful. However, Judge Robinson long ago deserved this honor.

The House of Representatives passed House Resolution 5772 by a voice vote this week. It’s headed to the Senate, where Sen. Cornyn is carrying this legislation.

I am honored to have made Judge Robinson’s acquaintance. She and I served in the Rotary Club of Amarillo together, which is where I got to know her.

She remains the gold standard for judicial candidates who seek elected office in the Texas Panhandle. I know that from my job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, a job I held for nearly 18 years. Almost to a person, whenever I would ask a candidate after whom they might model their judicial performance, they would mention Mary Lou Robinson. She set the bar high and judicial candidates for county or state district benches would declare their intention to emulate her.

As the Globe-News reported: “Judge Robinson is a legal pioneer who is universally respected and admired,” Thornberry said in an email. “She has always set high standards for herself and others, and our system of justice has benefited. Having the name of these two outstanding public servants on our federal building and courthouse will be a perpetual reminder of their high standards and outstanding contributions to our nation.”

If enacted, this would be the first federal courthouse named after a woman within a five-state area.

She served Potter County’s judicial system, as a court at law judge and as a state district judge; she gravitated to the 7th Court of Appeals. Then in 1977, she received a federal judicial appointment from President Carter.

The building that eventually will carry her name is now known as the Marvin Jones Federal Building and Courthouse.

With all due respect to the great Marvin Jones, he will have to move over to make room for a true judicial giant.

I am delighted to hear about this pending name change.

So … what about cyber security?

Those nagging, knotty questions about cyber security keep recurring.

Robert Mueller’s legal team has indicted 12 Russian goons for conspiring to meddle in our 2016 election. Vladimir Putin, the Russian strongman, likely ordered it. Our intelligence brass has concurred, as has the intelligence arms of our major allies.

Donald Trump hasn’t yet acknowledged the existential threat to our electoral system. What’s more, the Russians likely are seeking to screw up our 2018 midterm elections, too.

Back to a question I have posed before: Where is our cyber security reform?

About a decade ago, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, gave my former congressman, Mac Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, the task of developing a way to protect our nation’s cyber network.

Thornberry’s all-GOP task force issued a detailed report. Then they were done. They all went back to doing whatever it is they do.

As the nation wrings its hands over cyber security and wonders how it is going to protect its secrets from foreign foes — such as Russia — I haven’t heard a sound from Rep. Thornberry!

Speaker Boehner spoke quite highly of Thornberry’s skill in leading this reform effort, if my memory serves me. Yes, Thornberry is a smart fellow.

But what in the world are we doing to deter the kind of manipulation and possibly decisive meddling that occurred in 2016? Have there been improvements to our cyber network to prevent future interference?

The fellow who used to represent me in the U.S. House of Representatives presumably led the effort to make us safer against such meddling. Didn’t he?

GOP drumbeat is getting louder

Well, shut my mouth and call me speechless.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Clarendon (Texas) Republican, has weighed in with a stout statement of criticism of Donald J. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

Here is what Thornberry said today in a statement released by his office:

“Our immigration system is in need of a major overhaul, but there is no excuse for separating children from their parents. We should begin with heightened border security and interior enforcement, not the division of families. The House is currently considering legislation to secure our borders in the most humane way possible and to address the status of DACA recipients currently in our country. We also need to reform our legal immigration system so that decisions are timely, contributing to the health and well-being of country.”

Can you believe it? Neither can I. But he said it. Welcome aboard the indignation band wagon, Rep. Thornberry.

“There is no excuse for separating children from their parents,” Thornberry said.

He is right. No excuse. None. Zero.

Yet the president of the United States keeps doubling and tripling down on this hideous policy, all the while blaming congressional Democrats for enacting a bill that they never enacted.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, has promised to introduce legislation that keeps families united. He has been joined by the state’s senior U.S. senator, John Cornyn, another Republican lawmaker. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has declared his intention to work toward ending this policy.

Will the president listen to these individuals? Will he do what he needs to do and stop this hideous treatment of children who have been caught up in the immigration sausage grinder?

He will if he has a speck of decency in his soul. Many of us, though, wonder if he does.

Time to re-calibrate political antennae

Twenty-three years in the Texas Panhandle gave me an up-close look at politics in one of the state’s most reliably Republican regions.

I’m no longer living there full time. I hesitate to say my wife and I have severed our ties to the Panhandle, because we haven’t … exactly. We’re still making periodic trips back to check on family matters.

But the fact remains that we’re registered to vote in Collin County, which brings me to the point of this blog.

I am having to re-calibrate my political antennae. I now must look at other sources for local political grist to help keep High Plains Blogger reasonably fresh. This will be a challenge for me.

I wanted to vote in the next election for the 13th Congressional District. Although I harbor a considerable personal affection for the congressman who has represented the district since 1995, Mac Thornberry has been a disappointment to me. It just so happens that his Democratic opponent this year is a good friend of mine, a fellow I’ve known almost as long as I’ve known Thornberry.

Greg Sagan wants to represent the 13th District when the next Congress convenes in January. Will he be able to step into the job? That remains huge, given the 13th’s significant GOP bent.

Sagan has made one pledge that Thornberry — despite critics who contend wrongly that he did — never made: Sagan has vowed to step aside after serving a set amount of time. Thornberry didn’t make such a declaration for himself, although he has endorsed congressional term limits legislation whenever he’s had the chance to vote on it.

But I believe it’s time for a change in the Panhandle’s congressional representation. Although I cannot vote for Sagan, I can speak on his behalf through this blog, which I intend to do when the opportunities present themselves between now and November.

My former Texas state representative, John Smithee, has a Democratic foe this fall. He is Mike Purcell of Amarillo, with whom I have a casual acquaintance. Smithee is another matter. I’ve known him well since my arrival in Amarillo in 1995. What I’ve always liked about John is his willingness to answer direct questions with equally direct answers. Have I always agreed with the Republican’s legislative point of view? No, but his candor always has meant much to me whenever I sought it from him.

Purcell’s chances of defeating Smithee are, um, zeee-ro!

Again, I cannot vote in that one either.

***

As for the statewide races on the ballot, I’ll be dialed in on one for sure: the U.S. Senate contest between Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

I won’t belabor the point here about the Cruz Missile. I do not want him re-elected. My strong preference is for O’Rourke, if only because I want him to think first of Texans and much less of his own political ambition. Sen. Cruz, to my mind, has demonstrated clearly that he puts his own needs, wishes and desires first. Ted Cruz needs to go.

I’ll chime in later on the race for governor and some of the other statewide races, namely the contest for agriculture commissioner.

I’ll be watching all this unfold from a new perch in the Metroplex. I’ll need to get up to speed in a hurry in the race for the 3rd Congressional District, Texas Senate District 8 and Texas House District 89, all three of which will be represented by freshman lawmakers next January.

Hey, come to think of it, everyone is starting fresh in the halls of power in Austin and on Capitol Hill.

Just like me!

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.

Gerrymandering: sometimes it works!

A blog item I just posted reminded me of one of the few regrets I collected while serving as a journalist for nearly four decades.

I remembered a C-SPAN segment I was honored to do regarding the former 19th Congressional District representative, Republican Larry Combest and the sprawling district he was elected to represent in 1984.

My regret? I didn’t resist my boss’s dogged insistence that Amarillo be “made whole” by the Texas Legislature. You see, the Democrats who controlled the 1991 Legislature split Amarillo into two congressional districts during its once-a-decade redistricting ritual. The idea was to peel off Democratic voters in Potter County to protect the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Bill Sarpalius.

The Amarillo Globe-News went ballistic over that arrangement. It hated the notion of the city being split into two districts, represented by a Democrat, the other by a Republican.

Sarpalius got re-elected in 1992. Then something happened in 1994 that no one foresaw when the Legislature gerrymandered the city’s representation: Sarpalius lost to Republican Mac Thornberry, who happened to be Combest’s former chief of staff.

Do you know what that meant? It meant Amarillo would have two members of Congress from the same political party — which now controlled Congress — representing its interests.

I arrived at my post at the Globe-News in January 1995, the same week Thornberry took office.

But still the newspaper insisted on redrawing the lines and putting Amarillo into a single congressional district. I went along with the publisher’s insistence on that change. For the life me as I look back on that time, I must’ve had rocks in my head for not arguing against it.

Thornberry and Combest comprised a sort of one-two punch for Amarillo. Thornberry’s district covered Potter County, Combest’s included Randall County. I get the difficulty when two House members from opposing parties were representing the city. But after the 1994 election that all changed.

Did the two GOP House members always vote the way I preferred? No. That’s not the point. My point is that our city could depend on two elected members of Congress doing our community’s bidding when the moments presented themselves.

Eventually, the Legislature did as we kept insisting they do. They redrew the boundaries and put the 19th District much farther south and put all of Amarillo into the 13th.

Combest resigned from the House in 2002. Thornberry is still in office. I’m trying to assess what actual, tangible benefit Thornberry has brought to the city all these years later.

Well, you know what they say about hindsight. It all looks clearer looking back than it does in the moment.

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.

Not all Republicans are applauding Trump’s Iran decision

Republicans across the nation generally are applauding Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear arms deal.

Democrats universally oppose the president’s decision.

But wait! There’s this from a key congressional Republican, who I happen to know fairly well. U.S. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, said today he wishes Trump would have delayed a pact pullout so that he could find a way to improve the agreement worked out in 2015.

“I have no doubt that the [Iran deal] was flawed and that for years Iran has been deceptive about its nuclear and other programs,” Thornberry said.

“My preference would have been to give our European allies a few more months to strengthen the deal, but now that the president has decided that the United States will withdraw, we must have two critical priorities.”

“One is to further enhance our own military capabilities,” the Clarendon Republican added. “The other is to strengthen our alliances. A strong, international effort is required to curtail Iran’s aggressive behavior in a number of areas.”

Indeed, the president has decided to stiff our European allies, all of whom strongly lobbied Trump to remain a party to it. Trump didn’t go there, preferring to keep a pledge to toss the Iran nuclear deal aside.

I ought to add that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford both testified before Congress that Iran was abiding by the agreement requirements. Moreover, the agreement placed strict inspection protocols in place to ensure that Iran complies with the demand to rid itself of nuclear weapons technology.

The president today has tossed all of that away. In the process he has sent a clear message to our allies that the United States of America no longer is to be trusted to keep its word.

Which brings me back to Chairman Thornberry’s statement. How are we going to “strengthen our alliances” to ensure “a strong international effort” when the president has ignored the pleas of our allies to keep this deal intact?

‘I’d rather be a vegetarian’

Paul Ryan is giving up one of the most powerful political offices on Earth.

Who is going to succeed him as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives? It won’t be U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Clarendon (Texas) Republican who came to the House in 1995 after winning the 13th Congressional District office the previous year.

Thornberry was part of the Contract With America team led by insurgent firebrand Newt Gingrich, who went on to become speaker for a couple of congressional sessions.

A quote is attributed to Thornberry, who came from a Texas Panhandle ranching family, that sums up his interest in the speakership. “I’d rather be a vegetarian,” he reportedly said after John Boehner quit the speakership some years ago.

To be honest, Thornberry strikes me as more of a follower than a leader. Yes, he chairs the House Armed Services Committee (for now). I’m beginning to think there’s an increasing chance someone else will chair that panel when the next Congress convenes in January 2019; that “someone else” well could be a Democrat.

Thornberry has served in the House for 23 years. He is not prone to making himself available to the media for constant Q&A, which is what he would face as speaker of the House. He has been for much of his time on Capitol Hill a classic back bencher.

Would he like to be speaker? This isn’t even a serious question.

But … they’re asking it of the Texas Panhandle Republican anyhow.

How does ‘Speaker Thornberry’ sound?