Tag Archives: Teel Bivins

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.

GOP is ‘eating its young’

The late state Sen. Teel Bivins once offered a metaphor that, frankly, I never quite understood: He said the Legislature’s once-a-decade exercise in legislative and congressional redistricting offered an opportunity for “Republicans to eat their young.”

If I could speak to him at this moment, I would tell Bivins that we are witnessing actual political cannibalism among Texas Republicans. They are dining on each other right here in the Texas Panhandle, which Bivins represented in the state Senate from 1989 until 2004.

Bivins’s successor, Kel Seliger of Amarillo, is fending off challenges from two fellow Republicans. They are seeking to portray him as something he isn’t. He’s been called a “liberal,” which in the Panhandle is fightin’ words.

Seliger’s response has been a vow to remain positive and to speak about his record, which he touts as “conservative.” Indeed, he is a mainstream conservative, a traditional conservative. The current political climate has forced him to slap the conservative label on his sleeve and proclaim it proudly.

Seliger shouldn’t have to make that declaration.

He is not alone. We’re seeing all across Texas, which is among the most GOP-leaning states in America. We have Republican incumbent legislators and members of Congress campaigning on the margins of their ideology to fend off well-funded challengers.

Contenders and incumbents are spending tons of advertising space and broadcast air time trying to persuade voters that their brand of conservatism is more desirable than the other candidate.

What is being lost in this discussion are statements about precisely what they would do for their constituents if they get elected. How would they govern? What good would electing them bring to their legislative or congressional district?

I’m hearing a lot of name-calling, innuendo, allegations and criticism that — to my ear — borders on defamation. It’s been a disgraceful display of demagoguery.

A famed Texas Democrat, the late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, once told me that Texas politics is a “contact sport.” Indeed. Sen. Bentsen served in the Senate when Democrats and Republicans actually sought — and often found — common ground on legislation that benefited the entire state.

I can argue that these days, Texas politics has become a “collision sport,” with a healthy dose of cannibalism, to boot.

If he were around today, my hunch is that Sen. Bivins would rethink his definition of how Republicans feast on each other.

I also believe he would be ashamed of what is happening.

Let ’em allow guns anywhere

This editorial cartoon appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and it speaks to an interesting irony about those who believe “more guns will keep us safe.”

The Conservative Political Action Conference, the Republican National Convention and the White House all prohibit guns. That’s fine with me.

The cartoon, though, does remind me of something a former boss of mine once asked a prominent Republican Texas senator before the Texas Legislature enacted a law allowing Texans to carry concealed handguns.

The 1995 Legislature approved a concealed-carry bill, which Gov. George W. Bush signed into law. The Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked, opposed the legislation and we editorialized against it. The publisher of the paper at the time was Garet von Netzer, as conservative a fellow as anyone I’ve ever known. He didn’t like the concealed-carry bill.

I’ll never forget the time von Netzer asked the late Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, this question: “If you think it’s all right for people to carry guns under their jackets, why don’t you allow them to carry those guns onto the floor of the Legislature?” The Legislature chose then to ban guns inside the State Capitol Building.

I don’t recall Sen. Bivins’s answer.

Von Netzer’s question then seems totally appropriate today.

Republicans are ‘eating their young’

The late Texas state Sen. Teel Bivins, in an entirely different context, once told me how Republicans occasionally were prone to “eat their young.”

So this form of political cannibalism appears to be occurring in the current election cycle. We’re seeing Republican officeholders making GOP primary endorsements, picking fellow Republicans over other fellow Republicans.

Donald John Trump endorsed U.S. Sen. Luther Strange in his primary contest against Roy Moore in Alabama. Moore ended up winning that primary and … um … it hasn’t worked out too well for the GOP. Moore has been accused of making improper sexual advances on underage girls. It’s getting ugly down yonder, man.

Closer to home, we have Texas Gov. Greg Abbott endorsing a Republican challenger to a GOP state representative. State Rep. Sarah Davis’s primary foe, Susanna Dokupil, has earned the governor’s endorsement.

As Ross Ramsey writes in the Texas Tribune, it is rare for Texas governors to endorse against incumbents; it’s even more rare for them to get involved in primaries of their own political party. Abbott has scored a two-fer with his endorsement in that particular legislative contest.

Abbott weighs in

And so it goes with the Republican Party’s war with itself.

U.S. senators are lining up against the president, who’s firing back at them. GOP Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are retiring from the Senate in 2019. They both have been highly critical of the president of their own party. Donald Trump has returned the fire with angry statements and a bit of petulant name-calling to boot.

Republicans in both congressional chambers have fought among themselves over how to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. They’re now arguing over “tax reform” proposals that look good to one legislative chamber, but not nearly so good in the other one.

And, let’s not forget that the D.C. Republican establishment is gnashing its teeth over what to do if Roy Moore wins that U.S. Senate election in Alabama.

It’s no fun to be a Republican these days.

Especially if they’re about to be eaten.

Recalling a Texas Panhandle giant

Every now and then, I like scrolling back through my blog posts to re-examine thoughts I had way back when.

I did so again tonight and found a short post I wrote about the death of a Texas Panhandle political titan: former state Sen. Teel Bivins.

Here is what I wrote:

Panhandle loses a legislative giant

Bivins would leave Amarillo and the Panhandle to become U.S. ambassador to Sweden. His good friend, President George W. Bush, thought to reward Bivins for the work he did to get the president elected in 2000.

My thoughts turn to Sen. Bivins today in light of the current political climate. I wonder how he might fare in the harsh environment that seems to be overcoming people in events in Austin, let alone in Washington. He was a true-blue, rock-ribbed “establishment Republican.” He was conservative to the core, a staunch defender of private property owners’ rights — which makes sense, given his own extensive ranch holdings in the rural Panhandle.

I also want to share a brief memory about Bivins, which I think speaks well of the man’s character as well as his media savvy.

***

I was new to the Panhandle in early 1995. I didn’t yet know Bivins; I only knew of him. I had heard one of the Senate colleagues, Democrat Carl Parker of Port Arthur, describe Bivins as one of those “silk-stocking Republicans” who was more interested in helping rich people than fighting for the working stiff.

Bivins’ office called me one day about a month after I arrived at the Amarillo Globe-News. Bivins wanted to get acquainted. I went to his office in downtown Amarillo. We shook hands and started chatting. Bivins told me of his friendship with Parker and gave him kudos for his immense debating skills.

Then we talked about our families. He asked me about mine. I told him I was married and that my wife and I had two sons in college.

Then he launched into an amazing soliloquy about his own family and his troubled marriage. He told me about the struggles his then-wife was having with substance abuse. He said he wasn’t sure how much longer he could cope with it, how much more help he could give to her.

As I listened to this strange method of getting acquainted with a member of the media, I was struck by the extraordinary candor he was expressing to someone he barely knew.

We finished our visit. I went back to the office. Bivins went back to Austin to continue working as a legislator.

No more than few days later, I told one of Bivins’ top aides about what he revealed. She smiled and said he had an ulterior motive. Bivins wanted me to hear it from him, rather than hearing it from someone else, who might put a different sort of spin on it.

I thought, “ah hah!” I got played. More or less. However, it was for the right reason.

Eight years after this good man’s death, I am not bashful about telling you that I still miss him.

Seliger expects tough race … really, do ya think?

I don’t mean to disparage my friend Kel Seliger, but the Texas state senator has demonstrated a stunning command of the obvious.

He thinks he’s in for a tough fight for re-election to the Senate, given the presence of two Republican Party primary challengers ready to run against him in the spring of 2018. One of them came within 4 percentage points of defeating Seliger in 2014.

Seliger held a town hall meeting at Amarillo College’s downtown campus and received words of support from those in attendance.

I’ve already declared my preference that Seliger be re-elected to the seat he’s held since 2004. Seliger is smart, well-versed in Legislature-speak, has a command of the legislative process, is a traditional Republican conservative and has ascended to a leadership position among the 31 members of the Texas Senate.

However, he is facing some potentially stiff headwinds as he prepares for his re-election campaign.

Many Texas Republicans seem to think Seliger isn’t conservative enough. I am uncertain what constitutes a sufficiently conservative Republican in Texas. I guess it involves those who base their public policy on religious principles, who wear their faith on their shirt sleeves. Seliger isn’t wired that way. Instead, he is campaigning for re-election on a platform that seeks to keep power invested mostly in local communities, rather than the state. That sounds pretty damn conservative to me.

Former Midland Mayor Mike Canon is making another run at Seliger’s seat, along with Amarillo restauranteur Victor Leal. Canon is a TEA Party favorite, which I suppose makes him more amenable to the likes of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who is no friend of Sen. Seliger. Canon had the support in 2014 of ultraconservative political activist Michael Quinn Sullivan and this time has the backing of Empower Texas, another conservative outfit that has it in for Seliger.

Leal’s backing? I’m not yet sure where his strength lies. He’s got some good name identification in Amarillo, owing to his successful business venture. He’s a former Muleshoe mayor who made a run for the Texas House in 2011; he was defeated by Four Price for the District 87 vacated when David Swinford retired from public life.

Senate District 31 is one of the most sprawling districts in Texas. It has grown over the years as Texas’s population has shifted east and south of the Panhandle. But through many decades, SD 31 has been represented by a Panhandle resident; Seliger was preceded by Teel Bivins, who was preceded by Bill Sarpalius, who was preceded by Bob Price, who came to office after Max Sherman.

Do you get my drift here?

Yet, Seliger has done a good job of acquainting himself with the needs of the South Plains and the Permian Basin.

Does he face a tough fight for re-election? Well, yeah! He does!

This GOP primary well might emerge as one of the most-watched contests in Texas in 2018. I hope Sen. Seliger is ready for the major-league scrap.

GOP about to ‘eat its young’?

The late Texas state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo used to joke that congressional and legislative reapportionment every decade was an opportunity for the Republican Party “to eat its young.”

His humor, I guess, was aimed at how Republicans — and I’ll presume Democrats, too — would redraw boundaries to make their own members vulnerable to political challenge.

I never quite understood Bivins’s example, but we might be about to witness a political war taking shape among Republicans that will produce some intraparty casualties. Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, has said the party is about to go to war with itself.

There will be the Bannon wing — comprising uber-nationalists/isolationists — against the “establishment wing” of the GOP.

He told “60 Minutes” that the Bannonites and the establishment types are going to fight tooth and nail for the attention and affection of the president of the United States. Bannon believes that the Republican majority in Congress is disserving Donald J. Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan do not want Trump’s “populist message” to succeed, according to Bannon, who intends to fight for that message.

Bannon no longer draws a government salary, but he’s stands atop a formidable forum as editor in chief of Breitbart News, the media company from which he entered the White House at the start of the Trump administration. Bannon is a frightening dude, given his company’s occasional rants promoting anti-Semitic and white nationalist views.

I’m not particularly concerned about the outcome of this internecine battle. I don’t support the president’s agenda. Nor do I want Bannon anywhere near the center of power. The president chose well when he asked John Kelly to be White House chief of staff; indeed, Kelly is the reason that Bannon no longer advises the president from within the West Wing’s walls. That doesn’t mean Bannon has disappeared.

I’m quite sure that if the fight erupts within the party that the president’s ability to govern will suffer, given any evidence within the administration — starting with the man at the top — of any political skill or knowledge.

As for the Republican tendency to “eat its young” … bon appetit.

You go, Gov. Perry!

Rick-Perry

I have lived in Texas for 32-plus years.

For most of that time, Rick Perry has been in the public eye: as a then-Democratic state legislator from Haskell County, as Texas agriculture commissioner, as state lieutenant governor, as governor and as a two-time Republican candidate for president of the United States.

I’ve never rooted for him to win anything.

Until now.

He has been selected to compete on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Our paths have crossed a few times over the years. I first met him in Beaumont, when he ran for agriculture commissioner. I would talk to him again after he was elected lieutenant governor and then governor. The late state Sen. Teel Bivins once introduced Perry to my wife and me while we were attending a Chamber of Commerce event in downtown Amarillo.

I’ve never particularly cared for the man’s politics, nor his personal demeanor for that matter.

He’s going to cut a rug, so to speak, on the ABC-TV network show.

I have no earthly clue as to why I actually am pulling for him to win. It might be that he’ll be a huge underdog. I don’t know who else is in the mix, but I’m sure there’ll be a healthy complement of athletes whose athletic skill requires them to be nimble on their feet.

I remember when Tom DeLay, the Republican U.S. House majority leader, kicked up his heels on the show. He was a great sport when he lost out early in the competition. Will the same fate await his good friend and fellow GOPer Rick Perry?

The world awaits … with bated breath.

First, though, I have to remember to watch the show!

That, right there, is going to be a challenge.

Minds can change in heated political climate

I’m hearing a lot of pundits saying things about how locked in Americans are on the presidential election.

Voters’ minds are made up.

They’re going to vote for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton or Republican Donald J. Trump. Perhaps they’ll vote for a minor-party candidate; we’ve got a few of them on the ballot this year.

Nothing either of the major-party nominees can say is going to sway voters on the other side.

I’m not so sure.

I witnessed the changing of a mind nearly a year ago. It involved an Amarillo municipal referendum. I wrote about it. Take a look.

A mind has changed on the MPEV

The above blog post, published in October 2015, also notes how one former Texas legislator, the late Teel Bivins, told me how another legislator, Carl Parker, could change minds during Texas Senate floor debate.

Are our minds locked in on this election?

Maybe. Maybe not.

GOP cannibalism now under way

trump

Somehow, you just knew this would happen.

Back when there were many more Republican Party candidates for president, they all signed a “pledge” to back whoever the party nominates.

That was then. Now that we’re down to just three men standing, they all now are going back on their pledge. As noted Republican analyst Matthew Dowd said this morning on “Good Morning America,” he never considered the pledge to be “the Magna Carta,” meaning he’s not surprised that the candidates are walking back their pledge of support for the other guy.

Well, this is a byproduct of what has been the least dignified presidential campaign in memory — if not in history.

Donald J. Trump said the Republican Party has “treated me very unfairly.” The frontrunner is mad because the GOP brass doesn’t want him to be the nominee and is staying up into the wee hours concocting a scenario that would deny him the nomination at the party convention this summer in Cleveland.

Rafael Edward Cruz has said he is “not in the habit” of supporting candidates who attack his family, which the frontrunner — Trump — has done.

John Kasich is no fan of either of the other guys. He especially appears to detest Trump and has said — almost categorically — that the frontrunner won’t get his support if he’s the nominee. As for Cruz, should he be the nominee, a Kasich endorsement also sounds a bit iffy.

Trump, to no one’s surprise, said he never “pledged” anything. I guess that picture of him holding up that document in which he signed his name was a mirage.

A friend of mine reminded me this morning of something a prominent Texas Panhandle politician used to say about how Republicans treat each other. They resort to a form of cannibalism.

The comment came from the late state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo, who used to joke that redistricting, which the Texas Legislature performs every decade after the census is taken, is when “Republicans eat their young.”

He said he hated the redistricting process. “Sure you do, Teel,” I would tell him. He just couldn’t stop doing it.

Are we seeing the three remaining GOP presidential candidates “eat” each other? They just might take this intense dislike with them to that convention in Ohio late this year.

Bon apetit, gentlemen.