Still wondering: How does downtown plan hurt?

Amarillo MPEV

Let’s take the long view, shall we?

The drawing here depicts what Amarillo’s downtown district is set to look like in about, oh, five years.

It shows a nifty little ballpark directly across the street from City Hall. To the west of the ballpark we’ll have a convention hotel. Next to City Hall there’ll be a covered parking garage.

City officials think all of this is doable. They believe that once the project is complete, the city will draw additional convention business, with flocks of convention-goers putting themselves up in lodging downtown and perhaps as well along Interstate 40.

Xcel Energy has broken ground on a new office complex it will occupy once it vacates the 31-story Chase Tower.

City and downtown development officials are planning a daylong session Wednesday to lay out the project in detail. They’ve invited the public to take part. They want to hear everyone’s concerns; they’ll certainly accept supporting comments. They also say they intend to listen to the concerns of those who are opposed — some of them adamantly — to the downtown project.

What on God’s Earth, though, can be wrong with redeveloping a downtown district that once flourished as a gathering place for Panhandle residents, but which has languished over many years as a place that remains a business and financial center, but needs some energy?

The City Council and economic development leaders have told us until they’ve run out of breath that the downtown redevelopment will occur without spending additional property tax money. They contend that hotel/motel taxes will pay for it. The money will come from those who visit Amarillo, from folks who live elsewhere.

And even that has drawn criticism.

The projects are moving forward. Agreements have been signed. They’re finally starting to bust up some pavement to make room for what promises to be a grand new look for our downtown business district.

The price tag is around $100 million. Development leaders are securing private investors to foot a huge part of the bill. Has that quieted the critics? Oh, no. They’ve persisted in the demagoguery.

I need to ask: Are we going to forsake this investment in our city’s future because some of us just cannot believe it’s possible in little ol’ Amarillo, Texas?

How about stretching our reach just a little bit to grasp what — to my eyes — looks quite promising?


Thanks, Supremes, for the blog traffic

Thanks go this morning to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The justices have helped High Plains Blogger set yet another monthly record for page views and visitors.

The nature of this blog — which focuses on public policy, with a smattering of life experience stuff thrown in — relies on the news cycle. The Supremes kicked that cycle in the backside this past week with two key rulings: on Obamacare and then on gay marriage.

The month started out quite strong, as the blog set a single-day record for page views and unique visitors. Then traffic kind of tailed off — but only a little.

It’s back up again, thanks to the grist handed to folks such as me on which to comment.

I’ve done so of late and readers of this blog have responded nicely.

I’m gratified for that response. Keep reading and sharing what you read … please.

As for the court, it’s now in recess until October.

Thanks, justices, for going out with a serious bang.

U.S. Constitution alive and well

There are those who say the U.S. Constitution is carved in stone.

Others say it is a living document.

I will side with the living document folks.

Consider this, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that legalizes gay marriage across the nation.

The Constitution, when it was written, granted full citizenship rights to just a portion of the population.

* Men were allowed to vote. Not women.

* Black people were the property of white people; they were considered to be three-fifths of a human being.

Eventually, the Constitution underwent change.

The 19th Amendment gave women got the right to vote. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The 24th Amendment barred poll taxes as a requirement to vote in federal elections.

The courts stepped in on a number of fronts. The Supreme Court tossed out a state law that prohibited interracial marriage; it tossed out “separate but equal” provisions in public education, resulting in integration of our public schools; it ruled that women have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

Now it has ruled that same-sex couples are as entitled to marry as heterosexual couples.

The Constitution has evolved over time.

I believe the evolution will continue with this latest ruling.


NBC to Trump: You’re fired

Quite obviously, Donald Trump’s announcement that he’s running for president contained some remarks that stunned a lot of folks when they heard it.

I was one of them. So were the executives at NBC Universal, which today severed its relationship with The Donald. Why? The man’s comments about immigrants were, shall we say, inflammatory in the extreme.

This was my “favorite” part of Trump’s tirade as he declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination: “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I assume are good people, but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting.”

“And some I assume are good people.”

There you have it. An afterthought. A token reference to those who are coming here to improve their lives.

He kept saying that Mexico is “sending” criminals to the United States. Who in Mexico is “sending” these folks?

NBC¬†Universal said it cannot sanction Trump’s¬†xenophobic rants.

Univision, the Spanish-language TV network, also has ended its business relationship with Trump.

The Donald’s¬†reaction? He’s not backing down, which surprises no one.

The more he speaks, the less serious he becomes.

Keep talking, Donald.

Hats off to local county clerks

If I were wearing a hat at this moment, I’d tip it to two Texas county clerks: Randall County’s Renee Calhoun and Potter County’s Julie Smith.

All they did was agree to adhere to their oath of office and will issue marriage licenses to gay couples who seek them.

This is in accordance with a Supreme Court decision this past week that legalized gay marriage across the nation. It also resists the notion that they could refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples, which Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton authorized them to do.

Given the extreme partisan divide across the land, it’s fair to make this point: Both women, Calhoun and Smith, are Republican county clerks. The state AG also is a Republican. They are defying the state’s attorney general, who contends that clerks could object if they had religious objections to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The two county clerks plan to issue the licenses as soon as they get some paperwork matters straightened out.

Good for them.

Paxton’s decision to allow the clerks to refuse issuing the licenses has met with mixed response from county clerks across the state.

The attorney general’s approach to this matter is wrong-headed, as it seeks to allow these elected officials to disavow the oath of office they took, which is to follow the laws of the nation and the state.

The Supreme Court has determined — as the final arbiter of what is constitutional and what is not — that state bans on same-sex marriage violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Thus, gay marriage is now legal.

Judge will marry gays, if duty calls

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner is on record already on an issue that well could generate a good bit of controversy.

Back when she was running for the office to which she was elected, Tanner — along with her four Republican primary opponents — took part in a candidate forum sponsored by Panhandle PBS. I was privileged to be one of the journalists questioning the candidates.

One of the panelists asked all the candidates a most probing question: Given that Texas law gives county judges the authority to perform marriage ceremonies, would you — as county judge — be willing to perform a ceremony uniting a same-sex couple in matrimony?

Some of the candidates hemmed and hawed. One of them said “no,” he wouldn’t do it.

Tanner’s response? She was unequivocal. If the courts rule that gay marriage is legal in Texas, then she would follow the law. She would marry anyone with a valid marriage license. That would be her¬†responsibility as county judge and she would perform it.

Her answer was straightforward as it could have been. It didn’t harm her at the polls, as she won the GOP primary outright and went on to be elected county judge in November 2014.

As of this morning, the issue hasn’t yet presented itself to Judge Tanner. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said county clerks can refuse to issue marriage licenses if they have a religious objection to the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage.

There’s been no word that I’ve heard about whether Potter County Clerk Julie Smith is going to follow the law or ignore it, per Paxton’s decision.

Tanner’s take on the issue is clear. What’s cloudy and muddled is whether another countywide elected official, Smith, is going to follow the law.

Stay tuned. This could get dicey.

Nightmare ends in N.Y. … good job

A million bucks a day.

That’s one estimate of the cost of hunting down two escaped murderers. Yes, there were some eyebrows raised over the cost of the manhunt.

However, I am reckoning today that no one is going to gripe out loud about the cost. One of the bad guys, Richard Matt, is dead; the other, David Sweat, is in custody.

They had crawled out of a maximum-security prison in upstate New York, the first such escape in the history of the century-old lockup. At least two prison employees are accused of aiding in the men’s escape.

But this story, which has all the earmarks of a potential movie or TV dramatization, was hair-raising in the extreme for residents living anywhere near the prison.

The men didn’t get very far before the police caught up with them.

Matt resisted arrest and was gunned down. The police didn’t waste any time with Sweat; a lone officer spotted him walking along a rural road a little more than a mile from the Canadian border. Sweat started running and the officer¬†shot him twice, injuring him critically.

These two are bad men. Both were serving life sentences for committing brutal crimes. To say they were considered “dangerous” is to commit a serious understatement.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — perhaps channeling the late President Ford — declared at a news conference, “The nightmare is finally over.”

Good job all around.


Trump favors ‘traditional marriage’

The Donald opened himself up for some snickering.

I’ll admit that I snickered a bit when I heard Donald Trump declare that he favors “traditional marriage” and that he disagrees with the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage.

Trump: ‚ÄėI‚Äôm for traditional marriage‚Äô

I won’t pass judgment here. Members of my family have been married more than once.

But this is the kind of thing that The Donald will face as he answers questions from the media while he campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination.

He’s on his third marriage. He’s been divorced twice. Trump’s life is now officially an open book — not that it wasn’t before he declared his presidential candidacy.

When the host of CNN’s “State of the Union,” Jake Tapper, pressed him on the traditional marriage matter and whether he was qualified to speak on it, given his own marital history, Trump talked of how his business activity got in the way of his relationships.

To his credit, Tapper told Trump he didn’t care to hear why his first two marriages failed.

When The Donald, though, steps into some of these particularly tricky issues, he’d better watch where his foot lands. There could be a political land mine or two out there.


It’s official: Texas AG says clerks can flout the law

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has just told county clerks they don’t have to uphold the sacred oath to which they swore when they took office.

I don’t know where to begin.

Paxton issued a statement today that said county clerks do not have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they have religious objections. He has challenged the legal opinion of a majority of the nine men and women who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 this past week that gay marriage is now legal in the United States of America.

Texas county clerks, according to Paxton, are now free to flout federal law.

“Our religious liberties find protection in state and federal constitutions and statutes,” Paxton said in a statement. “While they are indisputably our first freedom, we should not let them be our last.‚ÄĚ

Yes, they do “find protection” in the law. But there’s another factor that Paxton and others who oppose the court ruling are giving short shrift. It is that¬†county clerks — as well as state attorneys general, I should add — take an oath to follow federal and state law. They swear to God that they’ll do that.

Is that oath now rendered moot? Why bother, then, to swear to uphold the Constitution?


Tumult unlikely to let up

gay marriage

It’s been a tumultuous past few days, right?

The Confederate flag has come under intense fire; then the Supreme Court steps in and — in order — affirms the Affordable Care Act and then legalizes gay marriage.

Let the arguments ensue.

As for the gay marriage issue, I want to make only this point.

Those who oppose the court’s ruling as a threat to traditional marriage ought to take a deep breath and wait.

They need to wait to see — and this will take time — if the rate of traditional weddings drops off; or if the rate of traditional divorce increases.

I suspect we’ll see an increase in gay marriages across the land, as same-sex couples now are able to marry openly — and legally.¬†Would that increase¬†signify a disproportionate representation of the number of Americans who happen to be gay? That remains to be seen as well. I continue to believe¬†the percentage of gay people is as it’s always been; we’ve seen a spike in the percentage of those who have “come out.”

I only can speak for myself and — on this matter — for my wife. Neither of us feels threatened by the court decision. We’ve been at this marriage game for going on 44 years. It’s worked pretty well for us.

In that regard, I’m not yet willing to concede that the court majority’s ruling is going to trigger an avalanche of divorces among heterosexual couples. Nor am I willing to believe that a serious decline in weddings involving men and women marrying each other is on the horizon.

Patience, please. Let’s see what transpires.