‘47 percent’ lives on in results


U.S. Sen.-elect Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has declared that Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks – which he made to campaign donors in Florida this past spring – was the major reason he lost the presidential race to Barack Obama.

That statement, Cruz said, hurt him more with Hispanic voters than his “self-deportation” view on illegal immigration. So many gaffes, it’s becoming hard to keep track of which ones hurt more than others.

Romney told the fat cats that 47 percent of American voters would favor President Obama no matter what. Why? Because, he said, those folks are on government assistance and feel “entitled” to any help the government should provide them. Romney said there was nothing he could say to those folks to persuade them to vote for him.

But there’s an interesting symmetry between that remark and the results of the election.

Romney’s share of the popular vote, with the late ballots still being counted, has dipped to – are you ready? – to slightly more than 47 percent. http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/ 

The latest unofficial total shows Obama with 51 percent, Romney with 47. Romney’s percentage of the total doesn’t figure to drop below 47 when all the ballots are counted.

What does this mean? Probably nothing other than the symbolism it represents. Perhaps it will haunt the Republican nominee forever and remind him of how badly stated opinions have this way of leaving indelible marks.

Heading for the cliff? Let’s hope not


Elections have consequences. Isn’t that what they say?

So, President Obama gets re-elected with a substantial Electoral College majority – as well as a growing popular vote majority. Republicans lose some of their grip on the House of Reps; Democrats cement their hold on the Senate. And now both sides are facing the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year, unless they come up with a budget reduction plan.

Speaker John Boehner is rejecting Obama administration efforts to reach a deal. Too much emphasis on taxes, he says. Not enough on spending cuts. No deal.

The president wants a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction. He wants to extend tax cuts for middle income Americans, while boosting rates for the rich folks. Obama won re-election on that platform, right? The rich will still be rich. The middle class will get a break. He’s also proposing cuts in spending, but not enough to suit Boehner’s GOP caucus. They’re digging in their heels.

If they don’t reach a deal, a 10-percent automatic spending cut takes effect on Jan. 1. The tax cuts will expire … and that means for everyone.

So, if I’m reading this correctly, Boehner’s stubbornness is threatening to punish the rich guys he’s trying to protect by stymying a deal with the president who, I need to stipulate once again … won the election because voters agreed with his economic policies more than they agreed with the Republicans’ plan.

Deal broken for Susan Rice?

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has been taking a lot of hits lately over some remarks she made in September.

I’ve been trying now for weeks to figure out why her remarks may be endangering her possible appointment as secretary of state. I’m still a bit bumfuzzled by it.

The U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya came under attack on Sept. 11. Four people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya – Christopher Stevens – died as a result. The next day, Rice made several news talk show appearances in which she made incorrect statements about what provoked the attack. She also declared that al-Qaida has been “decimated” as a result of the U.S. war on terror effort, launched after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Her critics now contend that Rice deliberately fabricated the cause of the incident in Benghazi – she labeled it a spontaneous response to a ghastly anti-Islam film released in the United States – to make President Obama look good, as he was in the middle of his re-election campaign.

Now, the critics say, she’s not qualified to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in the event Obama nominates her. Rice has been considered the next potential top diplomat.

Why the furor? Her critics say she should be held to a higher standard than what she delivered in the chaos that followed the Benghazi attack, which now appears to have been a premeditated event staged by terrorists.

I guess my biggest question is why the administration trotted the U.N. ambassador out when she had little direct knowledge of what happened the previous day. Why not ask the CIA boss, David Petraeus, or Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or the national security adviser to make the rounds?

As for whether Susan Rice is now dead meat as the next secretary of state, I wonder whether her sparkling credentials – renowned international scholar and Rhodes Scholar – now are rendered moot because of this misstep. I think not.

I’m reminded of what then-Vice President George H.W. Bush told former CBS newsman Dan Rather during a heated exchange between the two when Bush was running for president in 1988. Rather, you’ll remember, once walked off the news set in a huff over a programming malfunction. Bush, after several minutes of angry jousting with Rather over the vice president’s role in the Iran-contra affair during the Reagan administration, asked: “Dan, how would you like it if I judged your entire career by those seven minutes when you when you walked off the set in New York?”

That was a fair question to ask back then. It is fair to ask it now of Susan Rice.

Powerball mania takes hold


I see that the gambling bug has bit millions of Americans lured by the prospect – dim as it is – of winning at least a portion of a half-billion Powerball jackpot.

Good luck with that, folks.

I’ve never been a big fan of games of chance. I lack the stomach or the spine to gamble my money away. Might as well just light a match to it.

But this lottery craziness just amazes me at times. Powerball is played in several states, including Texas. As the link attached to this blog post notes, Texans are lining up by the thousands for a shot at winning the big jackpot.

You can attach any yardstick you want to measure one’s chances of striking it rich. Greater chance of getting hit by a meteor? Being struck by lightning? Getting kidnapped by Martians? Finding Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster … or starting up one of the cars buried at Cadillac Ranch? Pick any of them and the chances of any of those things happening are greater than winning the big jackpot.

My favorite reaction to the payoff occur after someone wins big. It’s when retailers advertise that someone bought the winning ticket at their location, enticing future suckers to purchase tickets in the hope that they’ll sell the winning ticket once again … at the same location.

The Taylor Food Mart at 34th and Coulter in Amarillo about four years ago sold a big-payoff ticket. I think it paid more than a hundred million bucks. Then the folks put up a big sign proclaiming that magnificent event. The best part of it all is that customers actually gobbled up tickets, thinking they were going to score a big win … at that location … immediately after it sold a winning ticket to some guy blessed with pure blind luck.

Me? I think I’ll look for Bigfoot.

Governor builds on his power


Texas’ constitutional framers had this idea of limiting the power of the governor. They wanted to spread the power to the Legislature as well as the voters by empowering them to amend the Constitution at the ballot box. Thus, the governor’s executive authority was curtailed.

But the governor does have the power of appointment. Rick Perry, a Republican who’s held the governor’s seat longer than any individual in state history, has extended his power through the appointment process.

The Texas Tribune notes in the link attached to this blog post that Perry has appointed seven of the nine members of the Texas Supreme Court, the latest of whom is Jeff Boyd, the governor’s chief of staff. The state Senate will confirm Boyd when it convenes in January and Boyd likely will win election when the time comes.

This is how Texas governors leave their imprint on state government. Perry has been able to select a pro-business panel of jurists to sit on the state’s highest civil appellate court. They’re all conservatives in the Perry mold.

The courts aren’t the only avenue for the governor to make full use of the “limited” power given by the Constitution. He selects members to key commissions dealing with critical issues that include transportation, parks, criminal justice, business regulation, environmental quality and … well, I can’t name them all. But you get the idea.

The state’s framers did institute term limits, but after the Civil War, the Reconstructionists who rewrote the Texas Constitution removed the term limit provision. Thus, the current Constitution misses the mark in in limiting the governor’s power. Used to be the governor was elected to two-year terms, but that changed 40 years ago when the governor’s term was extended to four years.

It’s not that I think necessarily that mandated term limits are a good idea. To my way of thinking, we have term limits already – in the form of elections.

It’s just that this guy, Perry, keeps getting re-elected. And his power keeps growing with every appointment he makes.

Just wondering about new judges

I feel this need to wonder aloud about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s choice of his chief of staff to join the Texas Supreme Court.

Jeff Boyd has worked for some high-powered law firms. By all accounts, he’s a Cracker Jack lawyer. More than likely he’s been a fierce advocate for business interests – and there’s nothing wrong with that, per se.

But now he’s going to join – assuming confirmation by the Texas Senate – a nine-member panel, the state’s highest civil appellate court, and will take an oath to administer the law fairly, and without prejudice. Justice-designate Boyd has no experience, based on my understanding of his record, in interpreting the constitutionality of Texas civil law. Perry, of course, said he’ll do all that he swears to do in that regard.

Shouldn’t these men and women have at least some experience as a judge on some lower court before taking a post on one of the state’s two “high courts”? The other chief appellate court is the Court of Criminal Appeals, which has seen its share of goofiness in the past, the most recent notable example being President Judge Sharon “Killer” Keller, who was recently re-elected despite plenty of controversy over the way she’s administered Texas’ highest criminal court.

Gov. Perry has made some fine appointments to the Supreme Court, including Justice Phil Johnson – who actually had appellate court experience as chief of the 7th Court of Appeals in Amarillo.

It seems to me that the state’s enormous network of sitting judges is full of capable individuals who possess the single qualification that the newest Supreme Court justice lacks: actual experience as a judge and not an advocate.


Blind loyalty takes well-deserved hit

Can it be that congressional Republicans, having had their heads handed to them in this year’s election, are wising up to the foolishness of pledging blind fealty to a zealous lobbyist?

Grover Norquist, who demanded – and received – pledges from Republican presidential candidates that they reject tax increases at all costs is now finding out such loyalty has its limits. Members of Congress are reneging on their pledge as they struggle to avoid plunging the nation over the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year.

My favorite GOP defection came from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who said he placed the good of the country over any tax pledge. Chambliss understands, apparently, that mindless loyalty means nothing when the consequences to the nation are at risk.

Norquist is the noted anti-tax advocate who thinks the government spends too much and places too heavy a tax burden on Americans. It’s difficult to argue with the spending and taxing stance. But when he forces leading Republicans to make pledges to himself – and threatening retribution if they don’t – then he’s placing his own self-interest above the public’s interest. Chambliss and others seem to realize that they’ll need some additional tax revenue in addition to spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit and whittle down the mountain of debt.

And I’m absolutely certain that the only people who work for Norquist are his senators in his state and the House member who serves in the congressional district where he lives.

This dynamic reminds me a bit of a situation that occurred in West Texas about 15 years ago. Rep. Larry Combest, a Lubbock Republican, was aced out of a coveted House Agriculture Committee chairmanship by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. Why? Combest didn’t go along with farm legislation that he believed ran counter to the cotton farmers and ranchers who were a major part of Combest’s West Texas constituency. Freedom to Farm would have curtailed price supports that Combest said would have harmed the farmers and ranchers in his district. Gingrich demanded loyalty from his troops, sort of the way Norquist is doing now – and Combest dug in his heels, saying he worked for the people of West Texas, and not for Newtie.

I was quite proud of the guts Combest displayed back then.

Now that President Barack Obama has been re-elected and Democrats have gained a tad stronger footing in both houses of Congress, it appears that some Republicans are learning the lessons offered by one of their congressional forebears, Larry Combest.

Watch your back, Gov. Christie


I feel for New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie.

He is trying to juggle competing roles: as a budding GOP superstar and as someone who’s committed the cardinal sin in right-wing circles by saying nice things about Democratic President Obama near the end of a hotly contested presidential election campaign.

Christie is running for re-election as Garden State governor. He’s apparently facing a challenge from the lunatic fringe of his party because he had high praise for the president in the wake of the federal response to Superstorm Sandy, which pummeled the Jersey Shore right before the election.

Obama went to Jersey, toured the devastation, comforted heartbroken residents and declared that the White House was operating on what he called “the 15-minute rule.” White House aides are to respond within 15 minutes of any call from the affected area “and we’re going to find a way to say ‘yes,’” Obama said.

That was music to Christie’s ears. And he said so … many times.

That’s what reportedly has angered some within his party.

But what’s the problem? Christie was concerned first with his constituents. He reached out for federal assistance and POTUS himself answered the call. Both men were doing their jobs – not as partisans but as responsible elected officials charged with caring for those who depend on government to help them in times of distress.

Should the governor win re-election next year – and a big part of me hopes he does – he’ll be positioned to run for president in 2016, if that’s his desire. But the tea party cabal within his party has demonstrated an annoying talent for running competent Republicans out of office (see Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana and former Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah, to cite just two prominent examples).

Watch your back, governor.

Drug testing public assistance recipients?


State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, has pre-filed a bill that is going to raise quite a few hackles.

I haven’t yet made up my mind on this one. It’s sure to cause me some heartburn.

Applicants seeking help from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families would, under Nelson’s bill, be required to take a drug test to get that help. Is that a bad idea? Think for a moment about that. Employers ask job applicants to take drug tests as a condition for employment; if the applicant fails the test, they don’t get the job. Shouldn’t we compel those seeking public assistance, including unemployment compensation, to do the same thing as those seeking employment in the public or private sector?

Linda Campbell, a thoughtful editorial writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, believes such a law could violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one that protects us against unreasonable search. I usually agree with Campbell’s view, but is it more unreasonable to demand requirements of those seeking public assistance than it is to demand it of job-seekers? I’m having some trouble separating the two circumstances.

On the other hand …

If the state is going to establish this comprehensive drug-testing protocol for those who are out of work or who need other kinds of public, where is it going to find the money? Gov. Rick Perry keeps yammering about making cuts in state programs to ensure we get a balanced budget and he, along with the Republican-dominated Legislature, have done a yeoman’s job of slashing money from such “frills” as public and higher education. Now the GOP wants to spend more money to test poor Texans for drugs?

Therein lies my conflict. Governing is no picnic.

Who cares about ‘winners’?

The comments immediately after the announcement of cease-fire in Gaza make me laugh … and not with joy, but with derision.

Hamas is claiming some kind of victory in the announcement of a cease-fire brokered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the leaders of Egypt and Israel.

Israel is making similar claims of victory.

This all begs the question: Who cares?

The only “winners” in this are the Israelis and the Palestinians who’ve been caught up in the crossfire between the Hamas terrorists who’ve been shelling Israel with rockets and the Israelis who’ve been responding – justifiably, in my view – with artillery and air strikes of their own.

If there is another winner, it must be Secretary Clinton, who’s about to leave office after four stellar years as the nations’ top diplomat. She announced long ago she’d serve one term in the Obama administration – and she’s about to leave to a chorus of high praise.

Meanwhile, Hamas and the Israelis can stop the chest-thumping and give thanks that the shelling has stopped.

The cease-fire must hold. And as Clinton said in announcing it, the immediate end of hostilities must serve as a building block to erecting a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

If that’s Hillary Clinton’s legacy upon leaving the public stage – for now, at least – then she’s earned her place in the Diplomacy Hall of Fame.