GOP self-inflicts a serious wound

Paul Burka’s blog takes note of what ails the Republican Party these days. He is spot on.

While declining to discuss the merits of legislation under consideration in the Texas Legislature that would restrict abortions in the state, Burka takes dead aim at the narrow-mindedness that continues to drive the GOP political machine.

As the Texas Monthly writer notes, Texas Republicans – just like their brethren all across the nation – have forgotten about the message of the 2012 national election. It is that the Grand Old Party is out of touch with a changing nation.

That’s likely as true in Texas as it is elsewhere.

Texas Democrats keep talking bravely about the state becoming competitive once again, with Democrats challenging Republicans for political supremacy. That day well may be coming, but it won’t arrive just yet. But it’s going to happen, as the state’s demographic makeup is changing almost daily.

For now, though, Republicans are calling the shots in the Legislature, with their large majority in both legislative houses, their hold on every statewide elected office in sight and their continuing success at the ballot box among voters who keep electing and re-electing GOP candidates over superior Democratic challengers. One example: Republican Sharon Keller’s victory in November over Democratic challenger Keith Hampton in the race for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals presiding judge.

Burka explains Senate Bill 97 this way: “It requires physicians to personally administer the two-drug cocktail (Mefipristone) that induces a medical abortion, which must be taken 24 hours apart, and to see the patient for a follow-up appointment within 14 days. The bill also requires physicians performing abortions to put existing verbal agreements with back-up physicians into written contracts, so that the state can track the names of doctors with hospital privileges that are willing to treat abortion patients in emergency situations.”

I always thought Republicans opposed Big Brother legislation. Have they changed their tune?

No ‘bromance’ with Obama and Boehner

Politico reports that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have the frostiest POTUS-Speaker relationship in memory.

They used to speak well of each other publicly. Not any longer.

The looming federal budget crisis known as “sequestration” has created strains that are threatening to unhinge the government, or at least significant portions of it.

Who’s to blame? And should these two men be drinking buddies?

The recent gold standard for this kind of “bromance” rests with the legacy of Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. They would say some very mean things about each other in public. But when no one was looking, they would laugh if off. Legend has it that the two Irishmen would sip an adult beverage at an undisclosed location – before preparing for the next day’s battle.

That’s not happening now.

I’ve read that Boehner in “real life” is a pretty affable guy. But when faced with the constant threat of rebellion among members of the tea party wing of his Republican House members, he has to put on a different face publicly. Thus, it might said that we’re seeing an “inauthentic” House speaker.

As for President Obama, I’ll defer to a friend of mine, who’s a leading educator in Amarillo and an avowed Democrat. He told me once over lunch that Obama’s problem is that he isn’t a dealmaker in the mold of a legendary Texan, the late President Lyndon Johnson. LBJ had a knack for cajoling his fellow Democratic colleagues and browbeating balky Republicans. But he somehow managed to maintain bipartisan friendships. Obama’s not wired that way, according to my friend. He keeps fairly close counsel and doesn’t rely too heavily on the advice of outsiders.

And therein might lie the basis for the Obama-Boehner rift that at this moment has gotten in the way of a deal being struck to avoid the massive automatic budget cuts that might threaten the nation’s economic well-being.

Come on, guys. Make up and strike a deal.

Palin has gone hysterical

The former half-term Alaska governor, Sarah “Barracuda” Palin says DC politicians need to stop the hysterics – all the while declaring that the U.S. government is “stockpiling bullets” in case of civil unrest.

The 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee is talking, of course, about the sequestration of funds that’s about to be activated come Friday, if the White House and Congress fail to come up with a budget deficit-reduction solution on their own.

I’m a bit slow on the uptake at times, so I don’t quite get how Palin can make either statement with a straight face. But she did, I guess, while posting it on her Facebook page. Then again, maybe she was laughing the whole time she typed this message to her adoring fans.

Here’s the link I saw on Palin. Take a look at it. Someone will have to tell me what I don’t understand about this person’s idiotic pronouncements. While we’re at it, someone also can tell me why anyone would take this individual seriously.

Democracy battles apathy … again

My old home folks in Beaumont are facing a problem. That city’s governing council is faced with the prospect of all the incumbents being “re-elected” this spring without opposition.

As the editorial attached to this blog suggests, that would be a step backward. I couldn’t possibly agree more.

I’ve gotten under officeholders’ skin many times over the years by suggesting that no matter how good a job they do, they deserve to be challenged. That’s as true in the Panhandle as it is in my old haunts on the Gulf Coast.

Amarillo’s commission goes up for election every year in the same manner as the Beaumont council. All seats are contested at the same time. The Beaumont election reform is a fairly new development, while Amarillo has doing it this way for quite some time. The idea is to promote greater participation, to draw more candidates into the arena. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

In 2011, Amarillo drew a huge field of challengers for the city’s five commission seats. Part of the attraction was that three incumbents chose not to seek re-election, creating three essentially “open” seats. I’ll have to acknowledge that most of the candidates were, um, quite underwhelming. But the point really is that they were willing to step up and have their voices heard. For that I congratulate them.

I hope the Beaumont municipal race attracts challengers to that city’s council. I’ve been away too long to gauge how well the City Council is doing its job. But they all need to be tested, challenged and questioned if they seek the voters’ endorsement for another term.

Precisely the same thing should be said about Amarillo’s city commissioners.

Our democratic system works better that way.

Welcome aboard Secretary Hagel; now get to work

I cannot fathom a more difficult circumstance than the one that greeted Chuck Hagel as he was sworn in as secretary of defense.

Except, perhaps, unless the nation was involved in a worldwide shooting war …

Hagel, after weeks of pummeling by his former Republicans friends in the Senate, finally won confirmation Tuesday in a 58-41 vote in the Senate. He took over quickly from Leon Panetta, who is now – probably as these words are written – enjoying the rest of his life immensely at  his home near Monterey Bay, Calif.

The former Republican senator from Nebraska, whom President Obama picked to run the Pentagon, is now facing the dreaded “sequestration” of funds to run his massive agency. Hagel is set to meet today with DoD employees to lay out his vision for how he intends to implement the president’s defense policy. But he’ll do so while bearing the tremendous burden of figuring out how it’ll work with the mandatory reductions in spending that the sequestration law will impose.

Hagel made history by becoming the first former enlisted man to lead the Pentagon. His combat as an Army infantryman in Vietnam was harrowing enough on his own. Now he’s facing this latest battle.

Welcome back to public life, Mr. Secretary.

No one wants it, but why are we getting it?

President Obama says he doesn’t want automatic budget cuts to occur on Friday.

Republicans in Congress say they don’t want them either.

And polls show clearly that American voters dislike the notion of automatic cuts.

Why, then, are these cuts on the verge of occurring? Why won’t either side pick up the phone, call the other guys, and sit down for some serious negotiations to find solutions to reduce the deficit?

I’ve grown weary of the blame game. Republicans say the White House wanted to include the automatic cuts – known as “sequestration” – when the two sides settled an earlier budget crisis. The White House, however, answers smartly when it says the automatic cuts were enacted as a sword to hold over the heads of those in power. No one ever thought sequestration would take effect because Republicans and Democrats would fear them so much they would find a way to cut a deal.

Well, that strategy appears set to blow up in their faces. And you and I are going to suffer the “collateral damage.” For example, I’m betting investors won’t like the result and our retirement accounts are going to suffer some grievous financial injury.

I’ve noted here already that President Obama is in the public-relations catbird seat. He doesn’t have any more elections ahead of him. He’s been re-elected and on Jan. 20, 2017, he’ll hand the White House keys to the next person. Congressional Republicans, though, will face an election – and soon at that. They’ll be facing voters in 2014 and my hunch is that this ridiculous game of brinksmanship is going to make many Americans very unhappy with their elected “representatives.”

Is it too much to ask that these individuals get back to the job of governing?

A special word of thanks goes out today

Today I am grateful for a lot of people I don’t even know.

We’ve just come out on the back end of a nearly historic blizzard in the Texas Panhandle. We’ve got about 17 inches of snow on the ground in Amarillo. Schools shut down today and will be closed again Tuesday.

I’ve been impressed during our 18 years in Amarillo at the way the city functions even in the worst weather. Today the city virtually ground to a halt. That’s how bad it was.

But not everyone packed it in today. Many of our fellow residents were on the job. I want to express my thanks and gratitude to:

* Law enforcement personnel. They’ve been answering emergency calls all day, even during white-out conditions that forced the Department of Public Safety and the transportation department to close Interstate 40 across the entire width of the Panhandle. And I shouldn’t forget the criminal justice professionals who tend to those who are incarcerated; they, too, had to report for work today under miserable conditions.

* Firefighters. These individuals don’t just respond to fires. They also respond to other emergencies, such as those involving auto wrecks. And oh brother, we had a lot of them all across the Panhandle today. These folks are trained medical technicians and also had to brave some severe elements today as they performed their duty.

* Utility workers. We heard today about power outages as the wind-driven snow created havoc with electrical utility lines. How would you like to have been working while standing in one of those baskets elevated far above the street trying to restore power? Count me out.

* Medical personnel. Hospitals didn’t shut down today. They’re full of sick and injured folks who need attention from medical professionals. Those professionals answered the bell today even while many of the rest of us never ventured out the door.

I probably missed some folks who also deserve a word of thanks. I offer that to them now. You know who you are.

I am grateful that you responded on behalf of those who need you.

Well done.

‘Weak’ secretary of defense?

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., predicts that Chuck Hagel will take office as defense secretary from a position of weakness.

Hagel’s been hammered hard by his former Senate colleagues, who’ve challenged him on all manner of questions – some of them specious and outright defamatory. But he’ll likely be confirmed this week in a full Senate vote.

But my concern about Coburn’s prediction rests with whatever role Coburn and his Capitol Hill colleagues play in weakening the new defense secretary’s position. Will they stand behind the Pentagon boss – a former Republican senator from Nebraska – or will they undermine him?

Coburn’s no dummy. He’s a physician when he isn’t making federal law. Thus, he’s certainly aware that governing is a shared responsibility. The Constitution lays it out in establishing “co-equal” branches of government: the White House, Congress and the federal courts all have a hand in running this country.

So, if Coburn’s prediction of weakness at the Pentagon comes true, he should share some of the blame in hindering the Pentagon chief’s ability to carry out national defense policy effectively.

As I’ve noted in this blog already, partisan concerns should stop “at the water’s edge.” The defense secretary is in charge of the world’s greatest military apparatus.

But he doesn’t operate in a vacuum. The president must have his back. So must the Congress.

Blame game trumps search for solutions

The age-old game of blaming the other guy is in full swing in Washington as the nation lurches toward its latest fiscal crisis.

Republicans say Democrats are at fault for failing to come with sufficient spending cuts to avoid the sequestering of funds set to commence this coming Friday. Democrats blame Republicans for not seeking sufficient revenue to produce a “balanced” approach to reducing the budget deficit.

The New York Times today published a story that establishes this clear fact: Both sides should share equally in the blame.

But let’s also stipulate that sequestration is a very bad thing for the nation’s economic health.

Why are the two sides unwilling to reach a deal? Is it pride? Loathing of the other side? Fear of what their respective party bases will do to them if they compromise too much? All of these things – or something I cannot even yet fathom?

Here’s what I understand will happen. The cuts will kick in equally on all government agencies, except for Social Security and Medicare. That means defense spending will suffer. Transportation cuts will mean reductions in air traffic control staff. Local agencies that depend on federal money to pay for first responders – police and firefighters – will see their resources cut. Our federal parks will have to reduce their hours, meaning will deny Little Johnny and Little Suzie their fun.

And oh yes. A lot of people, estimated at something like 750,000, will lose their jobs.

How is that a good thing for the economy?

And yet … there actually are people who think sequestration won’t hurt so much. The pain will be fleeting at worst. A lot of that righteousness is coming from the tea party types who believe they were elected to cut spending – no matter the consequence.

I am not so serene. Being a good-government kind of guy, my hope is that congressional Republicans can find a way to bend just a bit on their resistance to tax increases on rich folks and that Democrats in the White House – starting with President Obama – can look a little more carefully for places to actually reduce spending.

Never mind the blame game. Pointing fingers at the other guy solves nothing.

‘Dewhurst’ becomes a verb

I learned the new use of a word while perusing my copy of the Sunday New York Times this morning.

The word is “Dewhursted,” referring to what happened to the Texas lieutenant governor in his losing effort in 2012 to be elected to the U.S. Senate. David Dewhurst – who was thought to be a shoo-in for the seat that Kay Bailey Hutchison vacated this past year – got outflanked on his right by tea party golden boy Ted Cruz in the state Republican primary.

Cruz then, um, cruised to a general election victory over former Democratic state Rep. Paul Sadler.

Thus, “Dewhurst” has become a verb, which is a form of praise in some circles. Those circles include those on the far right of the Republican Party, who now apparently are drawing a bead on the state’s other GOP senator, John Cornyn of San Antonio.

Emily Ramshaw of the Texas Tribune used the term “Dewhursted” today in an article published in the “Texas” section of the Times to describe what could happen to Cornyn if the tea party challenge to his candidacy next year succeeds. Ramshaw actually credits the term to some Republican observers, but I read it first in her story.

To avoid being Dewhursted, Cornyn is tacking to the right – or the far right – according to Ramshaw. Cornyn is trying to protect himself against what happened to Dewhurst, along with GOP Senate statesman Richard Lugar of Indiana in 2012. Dewhurst’s loss ended up with Texas electing a tea party flamethrower, while Lugar’s loss in Indiana produced a Democratic victory against the guy who beat Lugar in that state’s GOP primary.

What does this mean for Texas? It means Sen. Cornyn is going to take the bait that has lured other Republicans to the extreme right wing of their party. He’ll campaign for re-election by standing firm against virtually any idea that comes from the Democratic side of the aisle. Cornyn will promise he won’t compromise or negotiate if it means sacrificing his “conservative principles.”

The party’s harsh wing likely has gained another member who’s been spooked by the fear of being “Dewhursted.”