South Carolina is in a political pickle

Alvin Greene will not be elected to the U.S. Senate from South Carolina. Why? Because the political world has wised up to this guy. He is utterly, completely clueless about governing.

But here’s the problem: Greene is the Democratic Party nominee in the race for the high office is seeking. He will run against Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.

He won the Democratic primary the other day, shocking everyone who was watching this race, although apparently not very closely. Greene is an unemployed veteran, yet he plunked down $10,400 while filing to run for the Senate. Where did he get the dough? He isn’t saying and apparently no one in the Palmetto State sought to inquire about him weeks ago.

Oh, but there’s more. Greene has a felony obscenity charge hanging over him. A female college student has alleged that Greene showed her some dirty pictures online and sought to enter her dorm room.

My question is this: Where was the vaunted statewide media during this campaign?

Greene didn’t campaign. He didn’t spend a nickel on his campaign. He held no rallies. He had no town meetings. He did zero meet-and-greets with voters. He published zero campaign literature. Yet he won his party primary! His post-primary interviews have been exercises in futility for the questioners. Greene’s answers to policy questions make Sarah “Barracuda” Palin sound like a Rhodes scholar.

How does this happen? And why didn’t the media in South Carolina — or anyone whose job is to examine these races — see this coming?

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, says Greene is a Republican “plant.” He’s called for an investigation into his candidacy. He says his campaign is smeared with “elephant dung.”

A lot of folks have egg on their face on this one. S.C. Republicans long have had a reputation for playing dirty, and often with each other. If they’ve crossed the party line into messing with Democratic politics, then the state political machine has a whole other set of problems.

The late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen used to say that “politics in Texas is a contact sport.” Ah, and we thought Texas politics was tough.

Silly us.

Red-light cams vs. cell-phone rules

I had an awakening the other day.

It came in the form of a phone call from a local nut job, who called to gripe about “waste” in city government. He was yapping about perceived waste in several Amarillo municipal departments. I didn’t pay much attention to him because, well, I am aware of some “issues” that have plagued him over many years.

But then he said the following: If the city is so concerned about traffic safety that it installs red-light cameras at several intersections, why doesn’t it ban cell-phone use while driving?

That, dear friends, is when the awakening occurred. The light bulb flickered on as I realized that even nut jobs make sense every so often.

I told him I agree with the city’s view on red-light cams. I, too, think they improve motor vehicle safety. The caller disagreed with my view on that one.

But I also agree with his assessment that Amarillo City Hall ought to make up its mind on whether it’s going to intrude on motorists’ lives. It says it won’t enact an ordinance banning cell phone use while driving — unlike many other cities in the country, and even some in Texas. Yet it stands firm in its belief that red-light cameras should take pictures of cars running red lights at intersections, enabling the city to cite the registered owners of the car for a traffic violation.

The city is right on the cameras, and wrong on its reluctance to impose rules against cell phone use while driving.

Thanks for the pearl of wisdom, Mr. Caller.

Bring back helmet law

http://www.amarillo.com/stories/061010/new_motorcycle.shtml

Helmets save lives. They reduce the rate of traumatic head injury. They can reduce the number of people disabled fully — and permanently. And yet the state of Texas doesn’t require all motorcyclists to wear them.

Astounding.

Texas used to have such a law. Then the Legislature repealed it some years back, knuckling under the ethos that Texans are so independent that we don’t need the state to dictate how to protect ourselves … from ourselves.

I remember one guy who scolded me for pitching a fit over the Legislature’s repeal of the helmet law. I was living in Jefferson County at the time. This guy lived in neighboring Orange County. His argument was he had the right as an American and a Texan to “feel the wind in my hair” while riding his motorcycle. Those darn helmets restricted that feeling of freedom, he said. He also argued that helmets actually posed a greater danger than riding without them. Why? They restricted his field of vision and his neck-and-shoulder mobility.

I don’t know whatever happened to that fellow. I trust he’s still with us, riding his motorcycle without a helmet.

But the link to the story at the top of this post noted that an 18-year-old Amarillo man, Aaron Carter, is alive today precisely because of the helmet he was wearing. “It had to be the full-face helmet,” said Amarillo Police Sgt. Steve Davis in marveling how the young man survived the crash.

State law does require minors to wear them. Motorcyclists without helmets must have accident insurance.

For my money, that’s not enough protection.

A word of warning to Nevadans

The picture you see here is of the future mayor of Portland, Ore., my hometown.

It became a talking point in a campaign for the mayor’s office when the then-incumbent, Frank Ivancie, sought to portray the gentleman in the photo — Bud Clark — as just a bit loopy and too “out there” to be mayor of a growing, progressive city such as Portland. Clark challenged Ivancie in 1984 — and won. Why? Because the residents of the city were taken aback by Ivancie’s attack against Clark, who used to run a popular watering hole/eatery near Portland State University, where I attended.

This picture was part of a promotion for art. It ran with the caption “Expose Yourself to Art.” It became all the rage in Portland that election year. Mayor Ivancie, I guess, thought the picture was in poor taste and sought to make a campaign issue of it. The voters in Portland thought quite differently.

I bring this up as a cautionary tale to Nevada Democrats who are going to portray Republican U.S. senatorial nominee Sharron Angle as too much of a political gadfly to be taken seriously in her race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

Angle is a Tea Party favorite. She is the consummate “outsider” who is a champion of low taxes and smaller government. She also has said some goofy things, such as suggesting — albeit rather obliquely — that we ought to outlaw such “drugs” as alcohol. Dare we bring back Prohibition?

But the warning is out there to Nevada Democrats: Be careful how you go after Angle’s nuttiness. The voters in your state very well could react the same that voters in my hometown did when an establishment candidate for mayor, the incumbent, sought to demonize the upstart challenger.

Niceness rules the day

Watching local politics in the Panhandle has left me with this nagging feeling: Voters here don’t seem to like politicking that even approaches negativity.

It’s gotten so nice that there seems little separation among candidates. There is a bit of a reluctance, it seems, for candidates to spell out differences — which by definition cast the other guy in a less than positive light.

The recent campaign for Randall County Precinct 2 commissioner offers a bit of a case study.

The winner of the April Republican runoff, Mark Benton, took office today. County Judge Ernie Houdashell appointed him to fill the vacancy created by former Commissioner Gene Parker’s retirement. Benton had won the runoff over Doug Hershey, who actually had finished first in the March 2 primary; but since Hershey didn’t reach the 50-percent-plus-one-vote margin needed for outright victory, the top two candidates had to go one more round in the runoff.

During the campaign, Hershey sought to cast himself as the candidate who would vote on all issues before the commission, unlike Benton. Why the contrast? Benton works for Western Builders, a general contractor company that often bids on local government construction projects. Benton pledged to have no input in discussions involving his company, or vote on any matter involving Western Builders. Hershey sought to make something of that pledge, declaring he would be able to vote on all matters, given that he didn’t face any potential conflict of interest.

Benton won the runoff handily.

I don’t know if Hershey’s campaign tactic played a role in his losing the runoff. All I do know is that I’ve witnessed voters reject any hint of negativity on occasion. Anette Carlisle tried to go negative in her legislative race in 2006 against state Rep. David Swinford; she fell short. So did Jesse Quackenbush in his earlier challenge against Swinford. An upstart challenger to Congressman Bill Sarpalius, however, did succeed — in 1994 — with his negative attacks against the incumbent’s voting record; Mac Thornberry has been serving in the U.S. House ever since.

Can it be that we’re just too nice around here?

Wheels up to Memphis

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of a new air carrier coming back to Amarillo.

Delta Airlines, which used to fly from AMA to Dallas-Fort Worth airport, is about to start service between the Panhandle and Memphis (the one in Tennessee). The airline will commence with three flights daily between here and there, connecting travelers to points in the Midwest and the East. Delta also has non-stop service from Memphis to Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Why is this so important? Well, it stamps Amarillo as a place with still-tremendous growth potential. The airport reconstruction project is well underway. City Hall, which runs the airport, hopes to open a shiny new terminal in the summer of 2011 before knocking down the old one — which, to my eyes, doesn’t look all that bad.

Amarillo’s air service compares quite favorably with Lubbock, the other West Texas commercial/cultural/financial center. Delta’s return cements our city’s standing as a good place to do business.

I’ve always told folks that we’re just one stop away from any destination in the world. Delta’s return now gives Amarillo another one-stop getaway to Western Europe.

I’m betting we’re going to hear more good air travel news in the months ahead. Given all the grumbling about air travel these days, that should be welcome news indeed.

So long, Helen

Helen Thomas said what? That the Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine”? That they should go “home” to, um, Poland, Germany and America?

Well, the so-called “dean of the White House press corps” has announced her retirement — under extreme duress, it should be noted. It’s time.

Thomas was wrong to say such things about Israel, which has come under intense international criticism for seeking to protect a blockade against weapons being smuggled into Gaza that terrorists have used against the Israelis.

It’s been said in recent days that Thomas, a longtime United Press International White House correspondent who has been a columnist for Hearst Newspapers in recent years, may be suffering from some form of dementia. Why else would she say something so offensive?

My guess is that she’s alert, but that she’s gotten even more cantankerous. She long ago blurred the lines between commentator and objective reporter. As a reporter, she never should be allowed to reveal her own bias. And even though she’s been a columnist of late, she continued to sit in the White House briefing room — in her front-row seat — and pepper White House press aides with often-pointed questions.

Thomas’ recent intemperate remarks, of course, ignore history. Israel was created in 1948 by those who had fled the Holocaust. They had gone “home” to their ancestral origins.
And home is where they should remain.

Israel gets bum rap

Just about a year ago, I was wrapping up a month-long journey through Israel as part of a Rotary International exchange. Our Israeli hosts opened their homes, and their hearts, to a team of us from West Texas, and their hospitality was something that will stay with all of us forever. We talk often about that adventure, and about the love we all received from our hosts.

I am troubled by the criticism being heaped on Israel these days in the wake of that commando raid on a flotilla of ships seeking to bring “relief supplies” to the Gaza Strip. Why troubled? Well, part of our trip through Israel took us to Gaza’s doorstep. The proximity of Gaza to Israel is stunning. I mean, it’s close, man. Real close.

And remember: It was from Gaza that Hamas terrorists have lobbed rockets and mortars into Israeli towns near the border. Hamas has sworn to eradicate Israel, believing that the Israelis are occupying land that belongs rightfully to the Palestinians. The Israelis, of course, see it all quite differently.

Israel has this nutty notion of wanting to protect itself against enemies. Thus, when ships steam toward Gaza, the Israelis feel compelled to board these ships and search them for weapons of war. This is what the commando raid the other day sought to do. But the so-called “peace activists” aboard the ships resisted the soldiers’ efforts, and lives were lost.

The United Nations, which I generally have supported over many years, has been quick to condemn Israel. President Obama has been fairly quiet, but many within his administration have said the Israelis made a mistake. How can that be? Israel has been under siege since its creation in 1948. It’s gone to war several times — and never fired the first shot in any of them. The fighting always has been initiated by its enemies.

The nation deserves to protect itself — from Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, from Hezbelloah in Lebanon, from Syria and from Iran. And does anyone in Israel really trust fully their so-called “friends” in Jordan or Egypt? I think not.

I wish my Israeli friends well and worry about them during these difficult times. Their country is always fighting for its life. The critics around the world ought to take stock of that fact before they fire off their criticism.

A perfectly blown call

I’m an old-school guy when it comes to baseball. I hate the designated hitter rule. I detest artificial turf and playing the Grand Old Game under a roof.

And until Wednesday night, I opposed the notion of allowing instant replay review of blown calls. Now I’m having second thoughts about that.

First-base umpire Jim Joyce’s call of a runner being “safe” ruined Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. The call involved the 27th hitter the pitcher faced. The previous 26 batters had been retired. The hitter hit a grounder to the first baseman, who had to cover some ground to field the ball; he tossed it to Galarraga, who was covering the bag. The throw beat the runner to the base by about a third of a step — but Joyce called the runner safe.

The call didn’t ruffle the pitcher. He smiled, obviously in disbelief, and then retired the next batter to end the game. Joyce viewed the replay after the game and did the unbelievable: He admitted his mistake and apologized to Galarraga, who then accepted Joyce’s apology by telling him “Nobody’s perfect.”

Have I changed my mind completely on the instant replay? Not entirely. I’m just giving it some thought, whereas before I would dismiss the notion out of hand.

But here’a another thought: Maybe Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig can consider reversing Joyce’s call. Reversing the call would have no impact on the outcome of the game. The next batter was out anyway. Just remove the final batter’s at-bat, take away the hit that was erroneously awarded by the umpire’s big mistake.

The 3-0 Detroit victory over Cleveland still stands — and a gracious young man gets his perfect game.

Cheney’s silence is deafening

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has shown himself to be quite quick to criticize President Obama since leaving office.

He’s been critical of the president’s foreign policy, particularly where it involves the war on terror.

But why hasn’t he joined the chorus of critics — on the left and the right — who’ve been blasting the daylights out of Obama over the White House response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill?

Oh! I forgot. He once ran Halliburton, the giant firm that supplies oil companies, which has been linked to the disastrous spill. Yep, the former veep’s silence on this one has been deafening, even though the president’s tepid response to the spill has drawn deserved criticism — from both ends of the vast political spectrum. Those on the left have blasted the administration for relying too heavily on British Petroleum’s expertise; those on the right have pounded the president for failing to mobilize federal response teams.

It’s good to know that Cheney’s political antenna remain finely tuned. He wouldn’t dare mouth off about this disaster when he knows all too well what a hands-off approach to oil-drilling regulation can produce.

We’re watching the tragic consequences unfold right now.

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