Endorsements line up … already

Victor Leal has announced his candidacy for the state House District 87 seat being vacated by Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas.

But his announcement isn’t what raised my eyebrows. It was the endorsement by at least one elected House member, Warren Chisum of Pampa. Why the raised brow? Well, it seemed a bit premature for a Republican lawmaker to endorse a fellow Republican — before the primary field is officially complete.

It’s more common for officials of one party to refrain from endorsing candidates in their party. Such endorsement can have a divisive effect on a primary campaign, particularly if other strong candidates emerge to run the party’s nomination. Chisum, though, attended Leal’s coming out party today in Amarillo, signaling an endorsement of his candidacy.

Chisum is running for re-election in neighboring District 88. He is unopposed as I post this blog.

Chisum and Leal might know something no one else knows, which is that no other candidates will file for the District 87 GOP primary. But until that issue is settled, premature endorsements can end up biting the endorser — and the endorsee — 0n the back side.

Hit the road, coach

My friend Roy had it pegged. We spoke early today about the suspension of Texas Tech head football coach Mike Leach. Ever the loyal Red Raider, Roy said, “I think it’s a pretext to fire him. He’s never gotten along with (athletic director Gerald) Myers and I think Myers is just looking for a reason to get rid of Leach.”

Before lunch today, bingo!, Leach has become the former coach at Tech.

Why fire the coach? Well, he allegedly took a player who reportedly suffered from a concussion and locked him in a shed. That player, Adams James, happens to be the son of ESPN analyst Craig James.

I don’t know the particulars and I haven’t heard the entire story, but at first blush it appears that Tech did the right thing. Coaches never should abuse players who are injured, period. Adam James doesn’t appear to be a malingerer and although I don’t follow Tech football as closely as many others throughout the Panhandle, I am baffled by the coach’s punishing of the young man in such a manner.

So, the question is this: Are there other instances of abuse that could come to light now that Leach is gone?

This story might not be over by a long shot.

Good call, Roy.

Israelis have the answer

All day long, with the TV news channel blabbing in a corner of my office, I’ve been listening to comments about how strict the Israelis’ airport security has become.

No kidding?

I know what they mean.

This past June, I departed Israel and witnessed first hand just how airport security ought to be while the civilized world is at war with international terrorists. David Ben-Gurion International Airport, just outside Tel Aviv, has this security thing down to the letter.

I had been in the country for five weeks, touring it as part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange team. My wife joined me for a week of vacation at the end of the tour. We spent another few days enjoying the sights and sounds of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, Masada and the Dead Sea.

Then we got to the airport. We were told to get there three hours early. We arrived nearly four hours ahead of time. We needed all of it.

We were greeted by a young airport security officer, who quizzed us thoroughly: Why were we there? Who did we see? Where did we go? How long were we in Israel? He took our luggage and ran it through an enormous scanner. Then we were told to show our bags’ contents to another agent. We answered more questions.

All this took about an hour

Then we got to the ticket counter. We showed our passports and then went through the routine security check at the gate. Full disclosure here: I mistakenly left a Swiss Army knife in my carry-on bag. The young security officer took it from me. Darn!

But the point is this: The Israelis are very careful with every passenger who enters the airport departure terminal. They take no chances. And who can blame them? They’ve been through hell with terrorists since the nation was created in 1948. They know how to protect themselves against these madmen.

In the wake of the near-tragedy involving the Nigerian Muslim fanatic who came within a whisker of blowing a Northwest Airlines jet to bits, perhaps every airport in the world ought to adopt the Israeli method of securing air travel. So what if it makes air travel even more unpleasant that it has become since 9/11?

It works for them.

End of an era

David Swinford makes it official on Tuesday. He won’t seek re-election to the Texas House of Representatives. It marks the end of quite an era in Panhandle politics.

I’ve called our Panhandle legislative delegation The Three Amigos for some time now. Swinford, along with fellow Republicans John Smithee and Warren Chisum comprised quite a troika for the Panhandle in the House. During the 2007 session, all three filled key committee chairmanships, courtesy of the generosity of the Man of the House, then-Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland, who took good care of his three on the High Plains. Craddick was replaced in the 2009 session by San Antonio Rep. Joe Straus, who removed Chisum and Swinford from the Appropriations and State Affairs committee chairs, respectively. Smithee kept his Insurance panel chairmanship.

Prior to Craddick’s tenure as speaker, the three of them buddied up to Pete Laney of Hale Center, Craddick’s predecessor in the speaker’s office. Even though Laney was a Democrat, he took care of his Republican pals, believing that the Panhandle deserved to have a seat at the grownups’ table. He, too, worked with them on key legislation.

The Three Amigos almost always announced their re-election campaigns together. They virtually campaigned together and, for the most part, managed to scare off credible challengers.

Swinford now plans to spend more time with his children, grandchildren and his wife, Joyce. Good for him. He’s earned a break from the legislative donnybrooks. He plans to remain in office until the end of his term, at the end of 2010.

I knew Swinford only by reputation prior to 1995. I have gotten to know him pretty well since my arrival in the Panhandle in January of that year. It’s just going to seem strange to witness a legislative session without The Three Amigos locking arms and standing up for the Panhandle.

No doubt about it. An era is coming to an end.

But … what if it works?

Republicans have been adamant: Democrats’ plans for reform of health care are doomed to fail. They insist they are right and that Democrats are wrong.

I’ve lost count of the statements that have come from Clarendon U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison pillorying their “friends on the other side of the aisle” for shoving this health care reform idea down everyone’s throat.

But I have this question: What might they say if the program actually works? I’m not predicting it will. I don’t know enough about the particulars to be able to predict the outcome of this titanic battle and the legislation that appears headed for law in early 2010. And I surely share their concerns about the cost of this bill, even though its supporters insist it will reduce the national deficit over time.

But again, what if it works?

Given the intense antipathy that Republicans harbor toward Democrats in Congress — and surely the one in the White House — I’m having a hard time believing that they’ll find anything good to say about health care reform, even if it delivers on the immense promises that Democrats have attached to it.

Who knows? We just might have to find a new definition for “sour grapes.”

‘Deadly weapon,’ indeed

There’s a lot of things I don’t understand, but that long list just added one more item.

A report in the paper today said that Amarillo lawyer David Duncan, who’s in a heap of trouble with the law, is facing a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. He allegedly used the “weapon” during an altercation in August 2008 at PetSmart, on Soncy Road in west Amarillo.

And just what is the “deadly weapon” he employed? The concrete floor at the store, according to Randall County prosecutors. Huh? What the … ?

Randall County DA James Farren wants to revoke Duncan’s probation — Duncan already has pleaded guilty to injuring a man in a fight at the store — alleging that he violated the terms of his sentence. So, he’s in effect facing the same charge all over again if the court revokes the probated sentence.

I won’t debate the merits of the revocation request. But I’m having trouble grasping the notion that a floor is a “deadly weapon.” The law is a complicated matter, which is why it’s best left to “experts” to sort out.

Still, it all kind of reminds me of the punchline (no pun intended) that declares that someone struck another person’s fist with his face.

As Denzel Washington said in the film “Philadelphia” — in which he portrayed a lawyer — someone’s going to have explain that one to me like I’m a 5-year-old.

Kinky the farmer?

I was intrigued the other day when humorist/author Richard “Kinky” Friedman announced his plans to run for the Democratic nomination for Texas agriculture commissioner.

The last comedian to run for the job, and actually win, was Jim Hightower. But the comparison with Friedman doesn’t stop there. Hightower didn’t have any ag experience when he ran for the office; neither does Friedman.

Friedman had pondered a run for governor as a Democrat in 2010. He pulled out when it became clear that no one was taking him seriously. Plus, Houston Mayor Bill White jumped into that race, becoming the immediate prohibitive favorite for his party’s nomination.

So, what’s Kinky going to do as agriculture commissioner? I have no clue.

I’ll say this, though: He’ll make us laugh.

Friedman ran for governor as an independent in 2006. He visited Amarillo, and interviewed with the Globe-News editorial board. He was engaging, candid, personable — and totally out of his element while seeking to become governor.

He’ll be all of that as he runs for agriculture commissioner.

Hightower served a single term in that office, losing to former rancher Rick Perry, who was succeeded by ex-rancher Susan Combs, who has been succeeded by one-time farmer Todd Staples.

Yes, the office needs someone who’s gotten actual dirt under his or her fingernails.

Kinky Friedman will make us laugh. But this office is too important for someone whose claim to fame is as a humorist.

What a way to turn 60

I’ve discovered the perfect outdoor activity to do the day after your 60th birthday.

You strap yourself into a harness, latch the harness onto a cable and then fly through the air at about 40 mph through a rain forest.

Yep, that was my day this past week, 24 hours after commencing my seventh decade in this world. I didn’t do this alone. My wife and sons joined me. Indeed, it was all my wife’s idea. She wanted to take the family somewhere cool to help me turn 60.

Oh man, she hit it out of the park.

We spent four days in St. Lucia, an island nation along the eastern edge of the Caribbean. We awoke on Thursday morning, Dec. 17, to the sight of the sun rising over the Atlantic.

I’ll admit to one fleeting moment — an instant, really — of trepidation when we got to the place where we went zip-lining among the trees. It occurred when I filled out the liability form, the one that absolves the outfitters of any fault in case I was maimed or killed flying through the jungle.

It asked for my age. I looked at it for a moment and, with an ever-so-slightly hesitant hand, I wrote the number “60.” That’s Six-Zero, for the first time in my life.

But what a way to celebrate a “landmark” birthday — with my beloved family in a place far from home, doing something I’d never done before.

Ah, how great it is to feel so young.

‘Mine eyes’ have seen the shopping

It’s pretty much understood that we all see the world through a limited prism — usually within our own field of vision.

So it is with that in mind that I must report, based on what I witnessed this past Saturday, that the 2009 Christmas shopping season is doing quite well. I can’t help but believe it could have been a whole lot worse, given what the nation faced during the 2008 holiday.

I spent a couple of hours ringing a bell while manning a donation bucket for the Salvation Army. I was camped at the south entrance to the JCPenny store at Westgate Mall. It was a lovely afternoon — although it was a bit windy. Imagine that — wind in the Panhandle.

During the course of my two-hour stint, I witnessed a lot of bulging shopping bags leaving the store. People would come in empty-handed, but would leave loaded down with goodies for their grandbabies.

I don’t have specific data to prove my belief, but my eyes didn’t play tricks on me. I saw a lot of merchandise hanging from shoppers’ hands on that day. Perhaps there was some pent-up enthusiasm, given that we’d just come out of a period of prolonged freezing weather.

Whatever it was, it has to bode well for Westgate Mall retailers, and perhaps for business owners all across Amarillo and the Panhandle.

A fitting tribute to a great man

Guyon Saunders had the biggest heart of almost anyone I’ve ever met in the Texas Panhandle.

It was that heart that earned a tribute this week at what used to be called the Tyler Street Resource Center. It’s now known as the Guyon Saunders Resource Center.

Guyon died just after Christmas 2006. But his legacy lives on at the center that now bears his name. He gave generously of his treasure and his time — as well as his commitment.

I met Guyon nearly 15 years ago. I knew him through Rotary; we served as members of the Rotary Club of Amarillo. He always was encouraging to those who were new to the service organization. He extended that warmth to me on many occasions.

As it was stated during the rededication of the Guyon Saunders Resource Center, he didn’t know a stranger. And his friendship remained steadfast, even when he disagreed strenuously. I know that from personal experience.

We once published an editorial at the Globe-News that took a former public official to task over a business matter that involved the use of public funds. Guyon Saunders didn’t like what the editorial stated; the public official in question was a friend of Guyon, who considered the individual something of a protege. He came over to visit about the editorial. He pounded the table and while expressing himself, Guyon used language I didn’t think he was capable of using.

When Guyon was done, he stood up, threw his arm around my shoulder and declared that he still loved me as a friend.

I’m proud to have called him a friend as well.