We’re all connected

Texas House Insurance Committee Chairman John Smithee has made many of his fellow Texans along the Gulf Coast angry.

They have a point.

Smithee, R-Amarillo, has told coastal residents that windstorm insurance costs should be borne by them alone. Panhandle residents don’t have a dog in that hunt, he has suggested with legislation that observers say will make it virtually impossible for coastal homeowners to insure their homes and businesses.

As a former Gulf Coast resident, I feel their pain.

Nick Jiminez, editorial page editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, noted in a column that the Texas economy is intertwined tightly, that the entire state relies on the coast. The petrochemical complex stretching from Beaumont and Port Arthur to Corpus Christi, he writes while referring to a Perryman Group study, provides 87 percent of Texas’ refined petroleum products. “Every Panhandle farmer with a tractor that runs on diesel or an Amarillo business that depends on goods moved through Texas ports has a stake in reasonable insurance rates for the coast,” Jiminez writes.

Touche, my opinion-writing brother.

We’re all Texans, right? Right?

Popularity contest

Although folks today are talking mostly about the weather, I prefer to focus on Amarillo College.

AC’s regents appear to be heading toward a popular choice for the next college president. They’ve elected to look only inside — within the AC ranks — for someone to succeed the late Steven Jones. And to date, they have just one applicant, Paul Matney, who’s been serving as acting president for several months, while Jones battled valiantly against cancer.

The college — not to mention Matney — would have been served better by looking far and wide for a president. But AC has committed to the in-house search, which is the regents’ call.

But just how popular would Matney’s ascension be? Consider this little tidbit.

The AC president’s job is a non-political post, yet Matney wears his politics on his sleeve. He’s a Democrat and proud of it, which doesn’t bother those who know him in the heavily Republican Panhandle.

I attended a luncheon recently. I sat at a table hosted by a longtime Potter County Republican activist. He’s a conservative — and just as proud of his political philosophy as Matney is of his.

Matney passed by our table, said “hello” to everyone there and walked on. My Republican friend then said to his tablemates, “That man needs to be the next Amarillo College president.”

Given that politics so often these days gets in the way of personal relationships and professional respect, that comment looked for all the world like the highest praise imaginable.

Pretty on the outside

Randall County’s Courthouse — which hasn’t functioned as one in decades — is getting a facelift.

Hooray! Except for this little complication: It’ll be on the outside. The inside will remain unusable.

Historic preservationists are giddy at the prospect of the courthouse, which was built in 1909, is going to look pretty. The county had obtained a $1.9 million grant from the state. Pro-courthouse forces then persuaded a majority of county voters — in the election this past November — to authorize spending local money to cover the rest of the estimated $3.2 million job with their tax dollars. What no one said out loud during that campaign, though, was that the money would cover only the cost of the outside of the building.

It still won’t function as a courthouse once its exterior is fixed up. So, the county eventually will have a gussied-up shell of a building. Then what? The county has moved most of its government offices off the square in Canyon.

County residents — and I’m one of them — would hate to see the courthouse knocked down. I’m having trouble understanding the county’s next step once the outside of the building is cleaned up and made presentable.

Multi-tasking at the wheel

I have to admit to a grudging admiration for some of my fellow travelers.

They are able to dial a cell phone while driving their cars. I say “grudging” only because I hate the sight of motorists operating the phones while driving. Yet I dare not try it myself. I do not have sufficient dexterity and I am baffled — if not downright frightened out of my wits — by those who can do such a thing.

The Texas Legislature is pondering a bill to ban this activity. I hope it musters up the courage to enact a law outlawing cell phone use while driving. At least one of our Panhandle legislators, Republican Rep. David Swinford of Dumas, is dubious of the bill. I’m not sure he can be persuaded to change his mind. He does have this view that “limited government” is better for us. Never mind that the activity in question, cell phone use while driving, puts others at risk. In this case, I would favor government intervention to force motorists — who don’t have sense enough to devote all their attention to driving a motor vehicle — to forgo the phone while they sit behind the wheel.

Texas already has outlawed driving with an open container of alcohol. It’s against the law to drive drunk. Is it too much of a leap to make it against the law while fumbling around with a cell phone?

I think not.

Follow your boss’ lead, Mr. Vice President

Former President Bush has it right, and ex-VP Cheney has it wrong.

Bush ventured this week to Calgary, Alberta, and told his audience in his first post-presidential speech that President Obama “deserves my silence,” meaning that he isn’t going to criticize his successor’s handling of the myriad problems he inherited when he took office on Jan. 20. The 43rd president is following the lead of his father, the 41st president.

Good for him. He’s had his time on the mountaintop. It’s time to let the new guy lead the greatest nation on the planet. And, oh yes, President Bush wishes President Obama well and hopes he succeeds in his efforts — unlike some in his Republican Party who wish failure on the president.

Now for Cheney. The former veep continues to pop off. He questions whether Obama’s policies will keep us safe. He second-guesses the policy decisions handed down by the White House.

President Obama deserves Vice President Cheney’s silence as well.

Come to think of it, the rest of us deserve it too.

Gateway to the canyon?

Out of the mouths of visitors … come astute observations.

Some good friends blew into Amarillo this week en route to Santa Fe. They wanted to visit Palo Duro Canyon, which they knew was nearby, but had never taken the time to actually see — until this visit.

They live in Houston and occasionally blast through Amarillo on the way out west. This time was different and my wife and I were delighted they took time to stop for dinner and some catching up.

They enjoyed the canyon immensely. But then they wondered: Why doesn’t Amarillo do more to promote Palo Duro Canyon? My quick answer was that the Convention and Visitors Council and the Chamber of Commerce have dropped the ball. My wife reminded me that Canyon already lays claim to being the “gateway to Palo Duro Canyon.”

That’s true. But a good many travelers to the actual canyon have to go through Amarillo to get to city of Canyon — before heading to the state park.

I didn’t think of it last night, but I could see some hurt feelings if Amarillo were to usurp Canyon’s role as “gateway to Palo Duro Canyon.” Then again, we do live in a region with a shared interest. And since Amarillo straddles this major east-west interstate arterial, it makes sense for Amarillo to trumpet the magnificent beauty of Palo Duro Canyon.

Why, such a concerted marketing campaign could make us even more of a destination than a place where people are just passin’ through.
This is just a guess, but I’m betting motorists along I-40 don’t see nearly as many billboards promoting Palo Duro Canyon as they do for The Big Texan.

Will he or won’t he?

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is an astute politician. He’s a lawyer who is well-versed in delivering the elusive non-answer.

But in declining to answer a question directly, he perhaps spills more beans than he realizes.

The AG came to Amarillo to talk about cyber crimes. He stopped by the Globe-News to talk about that issue, and whatever else was on our minds. So, right off the top I asked him a political question: Are you going to run for the U.S. Senate? I could ask whatever I wanted, “but that doesn’t mean I’m going to answer you,” he said with a broad smile.

Abbott’s name is near the top of Republicans who might run for the Senate seat that fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison is expected to vacate as she runs for governor in 2010.

So … Abbott said he would provide what would sound like a canned answer. It went something like this: “We’re in the middle of a legislative session and I won’t make any decisions about my political future until June or July.”

Interesting. If he didn’t plan to run for the Senate, he could have said “no.” But he didn’t. He equivocated.

That means he’s running.

Welcome to the race, Mr. Attorney General.

Call for you, Mr. President

Political observers have pulled no punches: Texas no longer stands at the head of the line.

Texan George W. Bush has retired to private life back home in the Lone Star State. The state’s Republican-majority congressional delegation now finds itself in a distinct minority in both the House and Senate; our state’s lawmakers have been stripped of their chairmanships.

So, the question of the day is this: How well does Pantex fare in this new political environment? Pantex officials say the massive weapons storage complex requires some key infrastructure improvements. But the new president, Barack Obama, comes from the “other” party, meaning the Democratic Party. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Clarendon Republican, usually was little more than a phone call away from the Oval Office back when President Bush was in office. That’s clearly not the case now. Does the congressman have any stroke with the new president? Time will tell.

But, as Pantex officials clearly understand, the congressman likely would get a busy signal if he were to call President Obama.

The state’s ‘third rail’

Has state Rep. Lon Burnam grown tired of serving in the Texas Legislature?

The Fort Worth Democrat has filed a bill calling for a state income tax on individuals or families earning more than $100,000 annually.

What? A state income tax? In Texas, where lawmakers once determined that the only way to enact such a thing is to amend the Texas Constitution, which requires a popular vote? His rationale is that the Texas tax system is archaic and doesn’t fund education, public health or transportation adequately. He’s right. Any dramatic reform of the state’s tax system needs to include the income tax — but it likely won’t happen, given Texans’ longheld antipathy toward a personal state income tax. Just as Social Security is the “third rail” (touch it and you die) on Capitol Hill, the state income tax plays a similar role in Austin.

Give the man credit at least for speaking out before he declares his intention to leave office. Maybe the other shoe will drop soon. Then again, maybe not.

Two Democratic lieutenant governors tried in the 1980s and 1990s to move the income tax debate forward. Bill Hobby tried it first, then backed off it, even though he had announced his plans to retire. Then came the usually fearless Bob Bullock. He, too, floated the income tax idea, only to scurry away from it.

Now comes Rep. Burnam, who’s already filed a resolution to impeach the Republican presiding judge of the state Criminal Court of Appeals.

There must be something in the water in Cowtown.

Friends don’t challenge friends

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming Amarillo city election: Why aren’t the city’s heavy hitters challenging the incumbent city commissioners?
It’s not that the folks who’ve tossed their hats into the ring aren’t serious, or lack good ideas. But think about where we’ve been the past two years since the previous election.
The city is up to its eyeballs in a downtown revitalization plan that drew plenty of critics who don’t think the city should set aside tax money for downtown. And, oh yes, we have those red-light cams positioned at several intersections.
Regarding the cameras, I know several well-known city residents who have expressed grave reservations about the cameras. I’ve argued with them — in church, no less. Yet, as I write this, they haven’t declared their candidacies. If they’re so darned upset with the cameras, they ought to file to run and persuade a majority of voters why they, and not the current incumbents, should set policy at City Hall.
My guess is that they’re all pals with the folks in the hot seat. Why, we can’t upset the apple cart by challenging our friends, correct?