Tag Archives: Texas GOP

Texas on the way to turning purple?

If you live long enough you get to see lots of trends and transitions.

Politically, that’s the case for those of us who’ve spent a substantial amount of time in Texas, a state that once was “blue” before Democrats got tagged with that color label. Then it turned “red” — bigly, if you will.

I arrived in the Golden Triangle in the spring of 1984 to take up my post on the editorial page of the Beaumont Enterprise. The Triangle was among the last “Yellow Dog Democrat” bastions in Texas. That designation ID’d those who’d rather for a “yellow dog” than vote for a Republican. Its strong union movement voting bloc, along with its hefty African-American population, stayed true to their Democratic roots.

Then it began to change. Slowly, but inexorably, right along with the rest of the state.

Over time, Republicans captured long-held Democratic public offices.

These days, the state is about as Republican as any in the nation. The GOP occupies every statewide office. The last Democrat to win a statewide race was in 1998. That’s two decades, man!

Decades later, the state might on the verge of entering another transition stage.

Don’t misconstrue my reasons for welcoming the change. My major reason for rooting for a resurgent Democratic Party is my desire to keep the other major party, the GOP, more accountable for the decisions its officeholders make.

Believe this or not — and you are entitled to disbelieve it if you wish — but I was leery of total Democratic control upon my arrival in Texas. I felt that Democratic pols took voters for granted, much like Republicans do today. And I said so at the time using my forum at the Enterprise.

Are we going to see a sweep of all statewide offices on the ballot in 2018? Hardly. My strong sense is that Republicans will maintain their vise grip on most of the state offices being contested. You know already that I want one of those GOP seats to flip: the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by the Cruz Missile, Ted Cruz, who is running against El Paso Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke; I’ll likely have much more on that contest later.

There might be a more competitive climate up and down the ballot as well. Democrats might be able to declare some sort of moral victory if they make Republican foes squirm.

That is not a bad thing for the general well-being of a state’s general political health.

My hope, thus, for a more “purple” hue does spring eternal.

Empower Texans: Are you out there?

Some of us who watch Texas politics are acutely aware of the state’s right-wing activism, particularly embodied by a group called Empower Texans.

These folks got seriously involved earlier this year in Texas Panhandle Republican Party primary politics. They sought to oust state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo from the GOP primary. They came up short, as Seliger was able to win his party’s nomination without a runoff against two fringe challengers. They also drew a bead on state Rep. Four Price, another Amarillo Republican, in his race for re-election. Price thumped his challenger.

OK. What’s next for Empower Texans, an Austin-based political action committee that sought to Republicans in disparate regions around the state how to vote?

Are these zealots going to get involved in some of these statewide races? Are they going to pump big money into the candidates of their choice?

I’m wondering at this moment if Empower Texans is more interested in “purifying” the Texas Republican Party than in advancing the party’s long-standing death grip on the state’s political infrastructure.

Empower Texans didn’t do too well in the GOP primary. Part of me wouldn’t mind if Empower Texans decides to lay low during the general election.

Another part of me wishes it gets involved and exposes to Texas voters yet again in the same year how narrow-minded they want their party to remain.

Stand tall, Speaker Straus

Joe Straus offers living, breathing, demonstrable proof that not all Texas Republican politicians have gone around the bend, that they all aren’t bat-crap crazy.

Straus, the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives — until the end of this year, when his term ends — has emerged as a leading GOP opponent of Donald J. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

The speaker, who is not seeking re-election, wrote the president a letter urging him to end the program that allows for children to be snatched from their parents’ arms at the southern border and sent to, um, somewhere apart from Mom and Dad.

As the Texas Tribune reported: “I know that members of Congress from both parties have proposed various ways to address this issue in the form of legislation, and while I applaud their attention to the problem, I also know that congressional action often does not come quickly,” the speaker told Trump in a letter. “In order to at least begin addressing this issue, there is no need to wait for Congress to act. That’s why I respectfully ask that you move immediately to rescind the policy that [Attorney] General [Jeff] Sessions announced in April and any other policies that have led to an increase in family separations at the border.”

There’s more: In the letter, Straus also rejected arguments by the Trump administration that the policy could be used as leverage against Democrats in Congress. “It is wrong to use these scared, vulnerable children as a negotiating tool,” Straus wrote.

Straus hails from San Antonio. While the state’s second-largest city isn’t on the border with Mexico, it is close enough to be considered near Ground Zero of this still-boiling crisis. The city has a huge Latino population, comprising many recent immigrants. Speaker Straus is listening to them as well as the better angels of his own conscience in seeking relief from this hideous policy.

I want to add, too, that Straus is no stranger to political sanity in a state that at times veers into fits of partisan hysteria.

Gov. Greg Abbott called the 2017 Legislature into special sessions to consider, among other items, that goofy “Bathroom Bill,” which required people to use public restrooms in accordance with the gender assigned to their birth certificate. The bill was clearly discriminatory against transgender individuals.

It passed the Senate — which is led by GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — on a partisan vote. Speaker Straus, as the Man of the House, would have none of it.

Through the speaker’s leadership, the Bathroom Bill ended up dead and buried. Which is where it should remain now and forever.

Straus is turning his speaker’s gavel over to someone else in 2019. I do hope, however, that he remains a clear voice of reason among Republicans whose hearts, minds and souls have been captured by the lying carnival barker/flim-flam artist who in 2016 got elected president of the United States.

Texas needs Joe Straus to continue speaking out, as does the nation.

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!

No need to vote today … woo hoo!

Texans are voting today. Big deal, yes? Well, yeah, it is!

I won’t be among them.

Today is Election Runoff Day in Texas. Democrats are going to nominate someone to run against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott this fall: It’ll be either Andrew White (son of the late former Gov. Mark White) or Lupe Valdez (the former Dallas County sheriff).

Here’s the deal: I didn’t vote in the Democratic primary in March. Given that I am registered to vote — for now — in Randall County, I chose to vote in the Republican primary. Randall County is the unofficial capital of Texas Republicanism.

It was important for me to cast my vote for a key Texas legislative race, the contest for Senate Texas Senate District 31. I am happy with the result, which is that state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo won the GOP nomination without a runoff against two primary opponents.

The runoff is important. I know that it’s critical for candidates who must run a second time for their party’s nomination to get the vote out. Texans don’t vote in huge numbers anyway in these primary races; the numbers plummet even more for runoffs.

That’s to our state’s voters’ shame.

We vote often in Texas. Our state constitution gives us plenty of chances to exercise our rights as U.S. citizens, as Texans. We need to do better at performing that duty.

Having said all that for the umpteenth time, I am glad to be sitting this one out.

My plea to the rest of you? Get out and vote! It’s important, man! Really! It is!

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.

Farenthold chooses to stiff his former constituents

So much for doing the right thing … yes, Blake Farenthold?

The former Corpus Christi congressman had a chance to pay back his constituents for the disgraceful way he exited public office, but has chosen to ignore the request from a fellow Republican politician, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott had demanded that Farenthold pay for the cost of a special election to replace him. You see, Farenthold quit Congress amid allegations of sexual harassment. He made matters even worse by dipping into a taxpayer-funded pool of money totaling $84,000 to pay off settlements leveled against him by former staffers.

Abbott said he is disappointed in Farenthold’s decision. He ought to feel worse than that. Let’s try “outraged,” or “insulted,” “mad as hell.”

Abbott’s letter to Farenthold noted that his disgraceful conduct was the sole reason for having the special election in the first place and that the former congressman owed it to his former constituents to pay for the election in full.

The Texas Tribune reported: A spokeswoman for Abbott called the decision “disappointing,” but said “it’s not surprising that his last act would be to stick taxpayers with the bill at the worst possible time.”

“While Mr. Farenthold may consider this resolved, we’re not closing the case on this issue,” said Ciara Matthews, Abbott’s deputy communications director.

Farenthold said he planned to repay the fund, but hasn’t yet done so. Any bets on whether he’ll deliver on that pledge? Don’t hold your breath.

Disgraceful.

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.

Is it possible for a huge upset in Texas?

I’ll say it once more with feeling: I want Beto O’Rourke to win the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke is the Democratic challenger to the Republican incumbent.

There. That’s out of the way.

A new poll by Quinnipiac University suggests that this moment, O’Rourke is well within striking distance of shooting down the Cruz Missile. The poll puts Cruz a 47 percent, with O’Rourke at 44 percent; the margin is well within the poll’s 3.6-percent margin of error.

I’m not going to pop the bubbly. It’s only mid-April; the election will occur in November. That’s about a thousand lifetimes, politically speaking.

Texas remains a heavily Republican state. I get that it always remains a huge hurdle for a Democrat to win a statewide race in Texas, something that hasn’t happened since 1994.

With all this talk of a “blue wave” getting ready to sweep over Congress in this year’s midterm election, I am left to wonder if that so-called Democratic wave is going to wash over Texas this fall. If it does, and O’Rourke at least keeps this contest competitive, then it well might portend something quite significant happening around the rest of the country.

To be truthful, it concerns me that Texas has been so maddeningly non-competitive in these statewide races. It really isn’t critical that Texas flip completely from Republican to Democratic leanings. What I would prefer to see is a competitive political climate that keeps the major parties more intellectually honest.

I don’t like one-party dominance. I don’t like it now and I didn’t like it in the Golden Triangle, where Democrats once ruled supreme over the political landscape. That has changed in that corner of the state. I wish it would happen in the Texas Panhandle.

I also am hoping it can happen in at least one highly visible statewide race: Beto vs. the Cruz Missile.

But … yes, I want Beto to win.

Disappointed in GOP primary for land commissioner

I’ve already told you about my satisfaction in the Republican Party primary election finish for two key races for the Texas Legislature: State Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, both of Amarillo, beat back challenges to win their party’s nomination.

In Seliger’s case, he has a token foe this fall, so he’s virtually assured of his re-election.

I suffered through my share of GOP disappointments, to be sure.

One of them involved the race for Texas land commissioner. I cast my ballot for former Land Commissioner Jerry “The Gun Guy” Patterson, who sought to win his old job back from the incumbent, George P. Bush.

Patterson had grown weary of Bush’s scaling back of General Land Office functions, notably its administering of The Alamo in San Antonio. Bush keeps harping on how “conservative” he has been in running the GLO.

I’ve long appreciated Patterson on a couple of levels.

He had a demonstrated commitment to veterans issues. The GLO administers the state’s veterans home loan program and Patterson — a former Marine Corps pilot — made the issue his own as land commissioner.

I also appreciated his self-deprecating humor, how he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Patterson once joked about how he finished “in the top 75 percent of my class at Texas A&M,” and how he managed to earn is “four-year degree in six years.”

I get that these personal traits don’t necessarily translate to public policy, but I do find them endearing.

Patterson ran for land commissioner after a Texas Senate career distinguished by his authoring the state’s concealed handgun carry bill. I opposed that legislation when he introduced in the mid-1990s; although I don’t endorse it now, I have come to accept it as the law of the state.

Bush is likely to be re-elected this fall. He’ll continue to scale back the GLO’s functions, declaring his actions to be those of a dedicated conservative. Patterson sought to make the case that the Land Office needs to step up to take care of state treasures, such as The Alamo.

He didn’t make the case to enough Republican Party primary voters.

That’s too bad.