Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

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!

Getting to know the political lay of the land

A move to another region of Texas gives bloggers such as yours truly a chance to get acquainted with the political movers and shakers of the community.

I’ve been sniffing around the Collin County legislative lineup and have discovered that the 2019 Legislature will be received two rookies from this suburban county.

Texas House District 89 will be represented either by Democrat Ray Ash or Republican Candy Noble. We all know this about Texas politics, which is that it’s highly likely the Republican will win the House race to seat the new state representative.

How do I know that? I don’t know it, although it’s important to note that Collin County voters gave Donald J. Trump 55 percent of their ballots cast in 2016.

The race for the Texas Senate had piqued my interest a bit more. Angela Paxton is the GOP nominee; she’ll face off against Democrat Mark Phariss this fall. Paxton is an interesting candidate, in that she is married to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is going to stand trial later this year on charges of securities fraud.

But here’s the question that needs to be dealt with head on: Will a Sen. Angela Paxton be able to vote on budget matters that involve salary matters relating to her husband’s income? That seems to smack of conflict of interest. I believe Paxton would need to tread carefully on that matter if she gets elected, presuming of course that her husband gets acquitted of the felony charges that have been leveled against him.

With all this chatter about Texas “turning blue” in this election cycle, I am not yet holding my breath. We have moved from the deeply red, fiery conservative Texas Panhandle to the doorstep of a county — Dallas County — that voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Given my own political bias, I feel a bit more at home politically in this region of Texas.

The learning curve about the politics of these new surroundings remains fairly steep. I’ll need to catch my breath and keep climbing.

Trying to understand non-helmet law in Texas

INTERSTATE 35 NORTH OF AUSTIN, Texas — Normally, the sight of four women on motorcycles speeding past us in heavy traffic wouldn’t be worth a comment on this blog.

But I noticed something about these individuals when they zoomed on past: All of them were wearing helmets.

That elicited a comment to my wife and we drove along in our Prius. “You know, it seems that women motorcyclists appear to be far more likely to wear those helmets than men,” I said. It didn’t draw much of a response from my wife.

Hey, maybe it isn’t worth much of any comment.

However, it does bring to mind a couple of thoughts I want to share.

One is that women motorcyclists — and this is just an anecdotal observation on my part — are much smarter than men when it comes to motor vehicle safety. I’ll have to check some traffic studies to validate that observation. Or, perhaps I’ll just let it stand on its own.

The second thought is that I don’t know why the Texas Legislature decided in 1995 to repeal the motorcycle helmet requirement in the first place.

Legislators did that also while increasing the speed limit on Texas highways from 55 to 70 mph, a move made possible when Congress that year removed the federal mandate, giving states the option of setting their own speed limits. Texas legislators and the governor at the time, George W. Bush, jumped all over it.

I’ve seen the studies about how helmets save lives. They help prevent traumatic head wounds. Yet the state said motorcyclists 21 years of age and older need not wear them. The state would require a $10,000 insurance policy, instead. Do you know how quickly a serious injury would gobble up that amount of money? Just … like … that!

The state requires everyone in automobiles to wear seat restraints. It tells us to fasten our young children into approved safety-seat. Just this past year, the Legislature banned the use of hand held telephones and texting devices while operating a motor vehicle.

Good for them. On all counts.

Motorcyclists, though, are given the freedom to expose themselves to grievous injury or death.

I don’t get it. Nor will I ever understand that bit of so-called “logic.”

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.

Why remove red-light cams and invite traffic woe?

While running an errand in Amarillo, I happened to zip past an intersection where the city has deployed its red-light cameras, the devices used to nab those who disobey the stop lights that command motorists to stop.

It then occurred to me: The city is considering removing the camera from this intersection, at Coulter and Elmhurst streets. And it begs the question: Why would the city take down an enforcement tool that it has declared has worked well, that has fulfilled its mission?

I don’t know what if anything the city has decided. The City Council announced it intends to install more of the devices at other troublesome intersections around the city. The council also might remove some of the cameras, citing areas where there no longer are problems with motorists running through red lights.

Hmm. Why do you suppose that has happened? Oh, might it be the presence of the cameras that have deterred vehicular misbehavior?

It makes me wonder, thus, why the city would want to take down devices that have done their jobs.

I will not accept the canard that keeps popping up from the soreheads around Amarillo who oppose the cameras. They contend the devices are intended to “make money” for the city.

What utter crap! The Texas Legislature imposed strict provisions when it allowed cities to deploy the cameras. One of them requires cities to earmark revenue earned specifically for traffic improvement. So, to suggest — or imply — that the revenue is collected to fatten the budgets of municipal departments or give the city some funds to throw around smacks of demagoguery.

As for the city’s intent to remove the cameras, I hereby encourage Amarillo’s powers that be to rethink that notion. If the device its doing its job at Coulter and Elmhurst, the city would be foolish to invite motorists to return to their red-light-running ways — and put other motorists and pedestrians in potentially dire peril.

Bob Bullock would be proud of this one

AUSTIN — Wherever he is, I am quite certain Bob Bullock — the late and legendary Texas lieutenant governor — is a happy man.

Why? Because a museum built and dedicated in his memory is a sight to behold. Its artifacts are educational in the extreme. Its ambience is welcoming, as are the docents scattered on all three of its floors willing to explain the whys and wherefores of Texas history.

I pledged to go to the Bullock Museum of Texas History upon visiting the Texas capital city. Today I did so.

Planning for an education on Texas history

It is so very interesting.

The museum opened in 2001, two years after Bullock’s death. He had lobbied hard to get a history museum built. He managed to persuade the powers that be to erect the museum not far from the University of Texas and the State Capitol where Bullock toiled for the last part of his lengthy public service career.

It is a marvelous tribute to someone I didn’t know well, but someone about whom I had learned a great deal upon arriving in Texas in the spring of 1984.

I learned that he was one tough son of a bi***. He was irascible, a bit of a grouch. He didn’t suffer fools at all — let alone lightly. He was a classic conservative Texas Democrat, which meant that he favored the working man and woman but didn’t take up the cudgel often for progressive social causes.

He also worked well with Republicans. Bullock and a fellow Democrat, former House Speaker Pete Laney, developed a constructive — and productive — working relationship with Republican Gov. George W. Bush. They worked as an effective team until 1999, when Bullock left office; he would die later that year of cancer.

The Bullock Museum tells the story of Texas in multiple parts. It tells visitors about the wreck of the LaBelle (the remains of which are pictured above), a French ship that sank in Matagorda Bay in 1684 after sailing to the New World from Europe, a mission it wasn’t even designed to complete.

It walks visitors through the fight to gain independence from Mexico, Texas’s nine-year existence as an independent nation and then its annexation into the United States in February 1845.

I won’t go through all that the museum contains.

I’ll just add this takeaway: As much as the state celebrated the sesquicentennial of its independence from Mexico, while giving relatively short shrift to the 150 years since its annexation into the United States, so does the Bullock Museum.

I say this not as a criticism, per sue, but merely as an observation.

I am thrilled to have finally seen this sampling of Texas’s rich history.

Are helmet laws a ‘nanny state’ rule? No!

Whenever I mention the subject of requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, I often get a response that refers to the “nanny state.”

I brought the subject up a message the other day in which I wondered whether the Texas Legislature could reconsider its decision to rescind the requirement back in 1995.

I’m going to stand by my view that the Legislature ought to rethink that decision, which I said at the time was ill-considered — and which I still believe it to be today.

Let’s explore the “nanny state” canard.

If the state is seeking to impose intrusive rules on motorists, rules that violate a certain “choice” factor, then why does government impose speed limits? Why does the state make it illegal to drive with an open container of alcohol? And here’s my favorite: Why does the state require drivers — and passengers — to wear safety restraints in a moving vehicle?

You see, requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets is no more intrusive and invasive than any of those other rules.

Let’s understand that the state already mandates headgear for minors riding on motorcycles. Indeed, any parent who would operate a “crotch rocket” with one of his or her helmetless children on board should be arrested and thrown in the slammer … for a long time!

I once got into an argument with someone in the Golden Triangle who tried to talk me out of a column I wrote about helmet laws; and this was before the Legislature decided to rescind the statewide requirement.

This clown, whose name escapes me at the moment, actually argued that he shouldn’t have to wear a helmet because he wanted “to feel the wind blow through my hair.” I damn near flipped!

I have argued that motorcyclists who refuse to wear head protection cost us all a lot of money when they are debilitated by the injuries they suffer. Helmets can prevent such grievous injury.

And you may spare me the notion that the $10,000 insurance policy suffices as protection. Why? Because a patient can eat up that 10 grand policy the moment he or she checks into an acute-care hospital.

Am I pushing a “nanny state” agenda? Not in the least.

I merely am wishing for sanity to return to our Legislature. I’m realistic enough to understand that it likely won’t happen.

***

Here is an item I posted eight years ago, just to remind you that I am steadfast in my opposition to this notion of “individual liberty.”

We all pay for helmet-less riders

If only POTUS had served

Donald J. Trump’s decision to implement a ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military is wrong on at least two levels.

Yes, he has made some exceptions to the ban, allowing certain individuals to continue their service.

However, he is promulgating the bias against transgendered individuals, allowing a form of discrimination against them because they have decided to change their sexual identity. The discriminatory nature of the decision is offensive on its face, just as it was in Texas when the Legislature sought to enact the “Bathroom Bill” that would have required individuals to use public restrooms that aligned with the sex stated on their birth certificate; that bill didn’t see the light of day.

Here is another factor that rankles many critics of the president, such as yours truly.

This man seeks to deny Americans the privilege of serving their country in uniform, of going to battle for their nation and denying them the right to do the very thing that young Donald Trump sought to avoid doing back when he was of age during another time of war.

Trump obtained at least five medical deferments to keep him out of serving during the Vietnam War. He cited “bone spurs,” or some ailment that hasn’t been independently confirmed so many decades later.

The very idea that a commander in chief who avoided service in the military would deny others the right to serve their country — and to go to war on our behalf if they got the order — is even more offensive on its face.

Many millions of Americans answered the call during that earlier time. Say what you will about citizens’ rights that they employed during that time of tumult. I understand that young men of privilege are entitled to avoid military service if they have the chance.

However, that history does tend to stick in our craw.

Unconstitutional? Umm. Nope!

An Amarillo resident has joined an amen chorus being sung by those who suggest that red-light cameras, which the city has deployed to deter those who run through stop lights, is “unconstitutional.”

Why is that? Because it violates the Sixth Amendment that guarantees that those who are accused of wrongdoing have the right to confront their accuser.

John Faulkner wrote this, in part, to the Amarillo Globe-News in a letter to the editor: A red-light camera photograph is hearsay, and is therefore inadmissible under the Sixth Amendment. It is hearsay because you cannot cross examine the photograph or the camera. The Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to confront their accuser. 

Sigh. Actually, it is not “hearsay.” This equipment provides physical evidence that someone has run through a red light when he or she is supposed to obey its “instruction” to stop and not proceed until the light turns green.

Furthermore, the city grants accused red-light runners the opportunity to appeal the fine levied against the alleged lawbreaker. Thus, a defendant is granted the right to face his or her accuser.

The constitutionality argument is funny, except that I ain’t laughing.

The Texas Legislature granted cities the authority to install these cameras. It attached some provisions on it, such as requiring cities to devote revenue collected strictly to traffic improvements. The attorney general’s office is full of bright legal minds who can determine the constitutionality of laws the Legislature enacts. City Hall also employs a legal team that ensures its ordinances pass constitutional muster.

So, let’s toss aside this silly argument.

The red-light cameras are doing what they are intended to do. They are deterring some motorists from misbehaving while they travel along our busy streets. Not all of them, for sure.

I remain a strong supporter of this technology. It works.

‘March’ could signal a turning point for Panhandle

A lot of Texas Panhandle students, teachers, parents and just plain folks — and that includes yours truly — are hoping for a big weekend.

They’re going to gather around noon Saturday at Ellwood Park in downtown Amarillo. They’ll troop a few blocks east and a bit north to the Potter County Courthouse, where some of them are going to speak to what I hope is a large crowd of marchers and supporters.

It will be part of a national movement called “March For Our Lives.” Students all over America are organizing this event in their respective communities. Amarillo has joined them. Caprock High School students are taking the lead in organizing the local event.

Why is this potentially a big day? It could signal a serious turn in community attitudes about gun violence.

The “March” has been spurred by the Valentine’s Day slaughter in Parkland, Fla., of 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and staff members. The gunman is a former student who got expelled for bad behavior. Police arrested him and the local district attorney has charged him with 17 counts of murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty — even if the shooter pleads guilty in an effort to avoid a death sentence.

The Texas Panhandle isn’t known as a hotbed of progressive political thought. The majority of residents here make different political decisions; they support candidates who adhere to a more conservative view.

The “March” on Saturday well might produce a counter-demonstration or two. The marchers are going to lift their voices to seek legislative remedies in the Texas Legislature and in Congress that they hope could restrict the purchase of firearms.

I think it’s important to note that, as one of the Caprock HS student organizers said, this march isn’t intended to be an “anti-gun” protest. I am not hearing any organizers calling for repealing or a serious watering down of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. I am sure that pro-gun rights activists certainly see any change in gun laws as an erosion of Second Amendment rights.

The “March” is sure to embolden young people here and across this vast nation with a sense that their voices are being heard on an issue in which they have a direct stake. Indeed, they see themselves and their school-age brethren as being thrust in harm’s way.

They need to be heard. Let’s hope the rest of us hear them when they march through downtown Amarillo and plead for an end to the national scourge of gun violence.