Economy to frame ‘14 elections differently

Politico has it right: The 2014 mid-term elections could be framed by an economy in ways we haven’t foreseen. Good economic news is going to make non-incumbents scramble for issues on which to run.

Who knew?

The deficit is shrinking. People are going back to work. The Gross Domestic Product is increasing at a quicker clip. Manufacturing is up. Home sales are rebounding. Financial institutions are lending money.

I’ll stop there.

Still, we keep hearing these pollsters tell us that most Americans think the economy is in the tank. I have to consider the source of some of these polls, given that so many of them these days are partisan polls that lean one way or the other. The national mood still isn’t very good, but I’m beginning to think the negativity could be overrated and overblown.

It well might be a product of the social media that keep filling our eyes and ears with complaints about problems that might not exist.

I keep looking, though, at the hard data concerning jobs and deficits. They tell quite a different story.

Chafee sends stern message to GOP

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is turning from red to blue, meaning he’s switching political parties.

The one-time Republican is becoming a Democrat and he’s offering a serious message to the party he’s leaving in his wake. The Republican Party, he says, no longer is friendly to moderates – such as himself. Thus, he is becoming a Democrat to follow his own conscience.

The message also predicts that his former party is going to lose more members if it continues to follow a hardline course in so many issues, including the social issues that are driving so much of the debate these days.

Chafee actually switched from independent to Democrat, but he’s still remembered as the moderate Republican he was when he served in the U.S. Senate, following the footsteps laid down by his late father, Sen. John Chafee.

The elder Chafee’s moderate views also got him trouble while he served in the Senate. He lost his leadership post in the Senate Republican caucus to Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

The larger issue that Lincoln Chafee is trying to deliver is that the Republican Party needs to seek to broaden its base, not shrink it. Other notable Republicans, such as former Sen. Bob Dole and current Sen. John McCain continue to offer stern warnings to their party.

Dole even said recently that former Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan might not be welcome in today’s GOP. Imagine that.

Gov. Chafee’s defection only underscores the intra-party conflict that well might be reshaping the nation’s political landscape. Is anyone within the GOP willing to listen?

Someone explain this veto, please

This one needs some explanation. So far, I haven’t heard one that makes sense.

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill approved by the Texas Legislature in an overwhelming bipartisan fashion. It’s called the “Buy American Bill.” It passed the state Senate 23-7 and – are you ready for this one? – sailed through the state House by a 145-0 margin.

Perry, though, put the veto stamp on it, contending that state law already requires government agencies to favor American-made products when making purchases and that the bill doesn’t change existing law.

Texas labor leaders called the bill “patriotic” and have urged the Legislature to override the governor’s veto. I have to concur with them on this one.

But here’s what has me scratching my head. Perry’s veto message said the following: “While I support and encourage our agencies to buy goods from Texas businesses, this bill simply does not change current law.”

Let’s apply that logic to, let’s say, a piece of social legislation the state approved some years back. This was an amendment to the Texas Constitution that banned same-sex marriage. Voters approved the amendment. But the state already had a law on the books that said it didn’t recognize the marriage between people of the same gender. The constitutional amendment did “not change current law,” correct?

Perry, though, supported that amendment on the grounds that he wanted to make extra-darn certain that the state wouldn’t allow same-sex marriage to occur … ever.

In the case involving a Buy American bill, he gets a heavily bipartisan piece of legislation and vetoes it? Go figure.

So long, Mme. Comptroller

Susan Combs announcement that she’s leaving public office serves to illustrate one of the consequences of electing all of Texas’s statewide constitutional officeholders at the same time.

Combs said she won’t seek re-election as Texas comptroller of public accounts. She had planned to run for lieutenant governor – another of those constitutional offices – in 2014, but had those hopes dashed when the guy who holds the office, David Dewhurst, said he plans to seeks re-election.

Thus, Combs has decided she’s had enough of being the state’s bean counter in chief.

I can’t blame her, although I actually enjoyed talking to her during the time I was working in daily journalism. She’s smart, clever, personable, well-educated and well-versed on public policy.

She also ought to consider taking her act on the road when she’s all done in January 2015.

But this idea of electing everyone at once does bring into play the waiting game that occurs every four years. When one of those folks decides either to retire or seek another office, that usually sets in motion a chain reaction. Other statewide officeholders start jockeying to run for the office that’s being vacated. An incumbent staying put tends to freeze the competition in place.

This coming year might be different. Republican Gov. Rick Perry hasn’t yet announced whether he’s running for re-election. Meanwhile, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott has all but announced his candidacy for governor. I’m still thinking he might know something about the governor’s plans – which likely mean he won’t seek another term in 2014.

All this drama does create a strange and somewhat exciting – for the participants, at least – game of Musical Chairs.

Cue the music.

Time for a new U.S. attorney general

Eric Holder’s time is up at the Justice Department.

It’s not that he’s done a bad job, or that he’s a bad lawyer, or that he’s corrupt – that he’s committed an actual crime.

It is, however, time for him to go in the face of a growing controversy involving the procuring of phone record from reporters.

President Obama’s got a tough call to make. He and the attorney general are good friends. Holder is a historic AG, the first African-American to hold that job. Holder, though, is facing a nearly impossible task of extricating himself from the controversy while clinging to his job. It will dog him for as long as he stands at his post.

When that happens, all else gets pushed into the background.

Holder’s Justice Department in May 2012 got hold of phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors after the news agency reported on the foiling of a botched terror attack. It was thought that the attack was meant to commemorate the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden by a Navy SEAL team in Pakistan. The Justice Department seems to think some classified information was used to report on the story, so it seized the phone records to look for evidence of a national security breach.

It’s understandable that DOJ would be concerned. But it has this little problem called the First Amendment to the Constitution which says quite clearly that the government cannot interfere with a free press.

AP news executives have been quite alarmed at what they call an “unprecedented” search for phone logs.

This has happened on Eric Holder’s watch at the Justice Department.

The media are outraged, as are politicians of both parties. They want answers. So far, the AG hasn’t given them.

It’s time for him to leave. It’s also time for the president to get involved actively in assembling a new leadership team at the Justice Department.

Bachmann bows out


I was so hoping U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann would run for another term in the House of Representatives.

The Minnesota Republican – who’s “distinguished” herself in so many ways – now says she’s won’t seek another term in the House.

What will I do for political entertainment?

Bachmann ran for president in 2012, trying to capture the tea party wing’s vote in her party’s primary campaign. It didn’t work out too well for her. She kept saying goofy things and getting caught up in clumsy messes involving her husband’s so-called efforts to talk people out of being gay. She accused congressional Democrats of being un-American and closet communists. She beat the “death panel” drum while trying to defeat President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

I can’t think of some of the other things she said. Suffice to say she spoke ungracefully at times.

Bachmann’s announcement has Republicans breathing a bit more easily. She won re-election to her House seat narrowly in 2012 and was considered quite beatable by Democrats in 2014. Now that she’s taken herself out of the game, the GOP now thinks it can hold her seat next year.

Of course, Bachmann says her political standing among Republicans had nothing to do with her decision to step aside. You’d expect her to say that. I’m not so sure.

Whatever. I wish she’d reconsider. We need you in the game, Rep. Bachmann. Politics can get dreary at times. We need you to liven it up.

Couldn’t stop thinking about Moore

We had a fitful few hours last night.

A storm blew through Amarillo just before midnight and when it got here, the sirens went off all over the city.

The tornado sirens blasted seemingly forever. The TV weather forecasters all were on the air telling us the same thing: Get under cover; head below ground if you can; stay inside; stay away from windows.

The storm moved rapidly through the city and by a little after midnight, a tornado that reportedly touched the ground somewhere along Interstate 40 had dissipated.

I couldn’t stop thinking of our neighbors in Moore, Okla., who just now are beginning to start digging their way out of the debris left by a killer twister that ripped through their city. Twenty-four people – including several children – died as a result of that storm. Our nation’s heart breaks for the loss and our prayers keep going to those who survived and who must reassemble their community.

I heard this morning from a friend who lives in Farwell, who told me his daughter was without power for six hours last night. There certainly are other stories like that. Us? We lucked out. The lights never blinked. Not one time. We were in touch with the world during the entire event.

It’s the helplessness that gets to me. The weather guys kept telling us to take cover. Where? We don’t have a basement, let alone a storm cellar. We just sat there, listening to the warnings coming out of the TV screen – and to the sirens wailing outside.

Well, we got through that one just fine. It does give me pause to count my blessings, which I usually do on most days as it is for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with the weather.

But today, I’ll add the weather to my lengthy list of blessings and pray we can continue to stay out of Mother Nature’s path of destruction.

Brown rejoins ‘Browns,’ sort of

A story caught my eye today about football great Jim Brown’s return to professional football.

It says the Cleveland Browns have brought Brown back to work for the team in an undisclosed capacity. Good news, yes? Absolutely. Anytime you land someone of Jim Brown’s caliber, you’ve scored a big-time coup.

However …

These aren’t the same Browns for which Brown played for nine seasons before retiring at the peak of his career in 1965. The old Browns franchise packed up and moved to, um, Baltimore. That was in 1996. The Browns wanted a new stadium to replace the Dog Pound, aka Municipal Stadium, which the team filled to capacity with some 90,000 fans on Sunday home games. The old Browns boasted one of the most loyal fan bases in the league, which didn’t seem to matter all that much to the team’s ownership.

Cleveland was without an NFL team for three seasons after that dastardly betrayal by Browns-Ravens owner Art Modell. Then the “Browns” returned in 1999 under new ownership. They built a brand new team from scratch.

The old Browns? Well, they’ve done well since being reincarnated as the Ravens. They’ve won a couple of Super Bowls.

As for Jim Brown, the great running back, he’s had a nice life, too, since football. He’s acted in some films and become a spokesman for civil rights causes. The news link attached to this blog said Brown had been estranged from the Browns – the new Browns, that is – since he was let go some years back. The team has a new owner and apparently Brown has buried the hatchet with the team.

I’m glad he’s back in the NFL, even if his so-called “return” to the “Browns” requires a bit of an explanation.

Special session on tap … let’s hang on

Texas legislators – perhaps some of them at least – may have thought they were going home today.

Wrong. Gov. Rick Perry has whistled them back in for a special session to deal with – get ready – redistricting. You’ll recall the last time the Legislature met in special session on that matter. It was back in 2003 and it turned into a circus, with Democrats fleeing the state to prevent the Legislature from doing any business.

But the 83rd Texas Legislature did manage to do some things that few of us thought was possible. As the editorial from the Austin American-Statesman linked to this post notes, legislators demonstrated that bipartisanship doesn’t consign lawmakers to spend eternity in “the depths of hell.”

They passed a lot of good legislation with Democrats and Republicans working together to make it happen. Listen up, members of Congress. It can be done. See?

Perry’s special session call doesn’t figure to be as contentious as that earlier session on redistricting. Then again, one never knows when the issue turns to redrawing congressional and legislative districts. As the American-Statesman noted, “there can be no more partisan” endeavor facing lawmakers.

The late state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo was fond of saying that redistricting was a time for “Republicans to eat their young.” He also could have thrown Democrats into that stew.

Bon appetit.

State chokes on texting ban

Well, at least the Texas Legislature saved itself from having to confront an expected veto from Gov. Rick Perry …

The object of the veto would have been a statewide ban on texting while driving. The Legislature didn’t even put the measure to a vote of the Senate, where the bill died a quiet death. It did get through the House of Representatives, with the Panhandle’s Republican House delegation voting in favor of the bill. Good for them.

Perry’s antagonism rests with what he calls government “intrusion.” It’s a popular phrase among conservatives, although one could argue – and I have done so – that the right wing is rather selective on which laws intrude too deeply into people’s personal lives. He vetoed a similar bill in 2011.

Statewide texting bans aren’t new. Other states have enacted them and have been able to enforce them. Texas, though, seems unwilling to go that far – which of course is the state’s prerogative.

But as it has been noted, cities have the option of passing such laws. Amarillo has done so. The absence of a statewide ban does not override the city’s ordinance banning the activity.

However, it’s a huge state outside the city limits and motorists will continue to have license to perform foolish acts behind the wheel of their motor vehicles. Remember that such foolishness doesn’t just put their lives in danger, it also threatens the rest of us on the road.

Nice going, lawmakers.