Will he or won’t he?

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is an astute politician. He’s a lawyer who is well-versed in delivering the elusive non-answer.

But in declining to answer a question directly, he perhaps spills more beans than he realizes.

The AG came to Amarillo to talk about cyber crimes. He stopped by the Globe-News to talk about that issue, and whatever else was on our minds. So, right off the top I asked him a political question: Are you going to run for the U.S. Senate? I could ask whatever I wanted, “but that doesn’t mean I’m going to answer you,” he said with a broad smile.

Abbott’s name is near the top of Republicans who might run for the Senate seat that fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison is expected to vacate as she runs for governor in 2010.

So … Abbott said he would provide what would sound like a canned answer. It went something like this: “We’re in the middle of a legislative session and I won’t make any decisions about my political future until June or July.”

Interesting. If he didn’t plan to run for the Senate, he could have said “no.” But he didn’t. He equivocated.

That means he’s running.

Welcome to the race, Mr. Attorney General.

Call for you, Mr. President

Political observers have pulled no punches: Texas no longer stands at the head of the line.

Texan George W. Bush has retired to private life back home in the Lone Star State. The state’s Republican-majority congressional delegation now finds itself in a distinct minority in both the House and Senate; our state’s lawmakers have been stripped of their chairmanships.

So, the question of the day is this: How well does Pantex fare in this new political environment? Pantex officials say the massive weapons storage complex requires some key infrastructure improvements. But the new president, Barack Obama, comes from the “other” party, meaning the Democratic Party. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Clarendon Republican, usually was little more than a phone call away from the Oval Office back when President Bush was in office. That’s clearly not the case now. Does the congressman have any stroke with the new president? Time will tell.

But, as Pantex officials clearly understand, the congressman likely would get a busy signal if he were to call President Obama.

The state’s ‘third rail’

Has state Rep. Lon Burnam grown tired of serving in the Texas Legislature?

The Fort Worth Democrat has filed a bill calling for a state income tax on individuals or families earning more than $100,000 annually.

What? A state income tax? In Texas, where lawmakers once determined that the only way to enact such a thing is to amend the Texas Constitution, which requires a popular vote? His rationale is that the Texas tax system is archaic and doesn’t fund education, public health or transportation adequately. He’s right. Any dramatic reform of the state’s tax system needs to include the income tax — but it likely won’t happen, given Texans’ longheld antipathy toward a personal state income tax. Just as Social Security is the “third rail” (touch it and you die) on Capitol Hill, the state income tax plays a similar role in Austin.

Give the man credit at least for speaking out before he declares his intention to leave office. Maybe the other shoe will drop soon. Then again, maybe not.

Two Democratic lieutenant governors tried in the 1980s and 1990s to move the income tax debate forward. Bill Hobby tried it first, then backed off it, even though he had announced his plans to retire. Then came the usually fearless Bob Bullock. He, too, floated the income tax idea, only to scurry away from it.

Now comes Rep. Burnam, who’s already filed a resolution to impeach the Republican presiding judge of the state Criminal Court of Appeals.

There must be something in the water in Cowtown.

Friends don’t challenge friends

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming Amarillo city election: Why aren’t the city’s heavy hitters challenging the incumbent city commissioners?
It’s not that the folks who’ve tossed their hats into the ring aren’t serious, or lack good ideas. But think about where we’ve been the past two years since the previous election.
The city is up to its eyeballs in a downtown revitalization plan that drew plenty of critics who don’t think the city should set aside tax money for downtown. And, oh yes, we have those red-light cams positioned at several intersections.
Regarding the cameras, I know several well-known city residents who have expressed grave reservations about the cameras. I’ve argued with them — in church, no less. Yet, as I write this, they haven’t declared their candidacies. If they’re so darned upset with the cameras, they ought to file to run and persuade a majority of voters why they, and not the current incumbents, should set policy at City Hall.
My guess is that they’re all pals with the folks in the hot seat. Why, we can’t upset the apple cart by challenging our friends, correct?

Depressing, huh?

Does this picture look depressing to you?

I didn’t think so. It’s my hometown of Portland, Ore., which has been declared the Unhappiest City in America by BusinessWeek magazine. Why, I never.

But at one level, I kind of get it.

It’s the rain.

I left Portland for Texas 25 years ago. I’ll admit to being “depressed” by the rain. BusinessWeek notes that Portland averages 222 cloudy days annually. Those clouds often produce rain, or drizzle, to be more accurate. I’ve been saying during my entire time in Texas that it rains for four days in Portland before you even notice it. Once you do, then it just exacerbates your depression — once you’ve identified its cause. I actually used to complain to my dad about the rain. His answer? “Talk to God.”

But it’s really quite a beautiful city. Mount Hood looms 55 miles to the east. The West Hills serve as a forested barrier on the other side of the Willamette River. They have rehabilitated several old neighborhoods. The city contains the largest stand of virgin forest of any community in the country. Portland has the most efficient mass transit system in the nation. And the city’s downtown district is a thing of beauty. It’s an urban model that other communities need to emulate; pay attention here, Amarillo’s civic and political leadership.

The BusinessWeek list has plenty of the usual suspects: Detroit, Cleveland, Las Vegas (yeah, losing all that dough at the slots can depress the most ebullient personality) and New Orleans (Hurricane Katrina — need I say more?).

But clearly the most depressing city I’ve ever seen is in Texas. Have you been to Port Arthur? I call it Beirut on the Bayou. Sure, it is full of great people. But the city fathers have given up on downtown revitalization — and it shows.

Perhaps the editors of BusinessWeek placed too much of their depression quotient on the weather that shrouds Portland so many days of the year. Yeah, it sucks. But the folks there have recognized it and created a lively place to live, work and play.
And if that’s the case, Amarillo — with its 330 or so days of sunshine annually — ought to be declared America’s cheeriest place. But I think most of us right about now want some rain, and lots of it!

Ready for prime time

I like the idea being kicked around about televising Texas legislative proceedings.

Will it be a ratings hit? Probably not. The Amarillo City Commission and the Randall County Commissioners Court broadcast their meetings on public access TV. I do not believe the public waits with bated breath to see how our elected officials conduct the public’s business.

But this is a useful tool to improve transparency in state government, as it has helped to some degree at the federal level. C-SPAN broadcasts House and Senate proceedings. No, they aren’t huge ratings hits, either, except when either body gets embroiled in controversial debates.

The most useful role C-SPAN plays on Capitol Hill is showing how lawmakers pontificate to an empty chamber during those interminable “special order” speeches.
It adds, uh, context — don’t you think?

You want a piece of me?

I’ve been called out, so I’ll take the bait.

A reader of this blog said he “gets it,” and that Rush Limbaugh’s commentary makes me “want to puke.” Well, that’s a little over the top. Limbaugh doesn’t make me sick to my stomach. It does, however, sadden me when his fellow Republicans genuflect before a guy who’s only credential is that he is an entertainer with a bucketload of opinions.

The reader says I’ve never been “specific” about my criticism of Limbaugh. He’s right. That’s because Limbaugh doesn’t articulate policy. He is critical of the “other side” on purely partisan grounds. If Democrats are for something, he’s against it. He calls himself a “conservative,” but I don’t know how he defines his conservatism. Is he a “social conservative” in the mold of, say, James Dobson? Is he a “fiscal conservative” like Newt Gingrich? Is he a less-government conservative who follows the doctrine of Barry Goldwater?

He’s a jokester.

The reader wonders if I am afflicted by “professional envy.” Ummm, no. I’m not glib enough. I’m glad for his success. Limbaugh has developed a following of Dittoheads — a term which, if you think about it, is an insult. But those who hang on his every word are happy with the description. More power to ’em.

My real concern lies with the dismal state of the conservative movement. William Buckley, an absolute genius, is now gone, but the world has other first-class conservative thinkers. George Will comes to mind. Gingrich has a wealth of ideas — and he can be a forceful advocate for them. William Kristol is an articulate advocate for the conservative cause. Those are just three. They argue their cause with civility. I don’t believe thoughtful conservatives wish “failure” on the president of the United States.

Limbaugh’s talent? He’s excellent at finding straw men and then beating the stuffing out of them.

But he’s now the voice of the conservative movement in this country. Sen. Goldwater — God bless his soul — is spinning in his grave.

Out of ideas

What has become of the conservative movement?

It is relying on the wisdom of a radio talk show host/comedian for leadership. This is the movement of great ideas put forward by the likes of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Newt Gingrich. The Conservative Political Action Conference had its convention this past week and the keynote address came from Rush Limbaugh — the maven of the airwaves and the King of Talk Radio in the Texas Panhandle, among many other regions across the breadth of the nation.

I cannot grasp the decline of a movement that used to produce big thinkers to battle with the liberals’ big thinkers.

My head is spinning and wondering where our political discourse is heading. I just pray it’s not heading into the toilet, right along with our retirement accounts.

Making the grade

The Amarillo Chamber of Commerce has this event every legislative session. It’s called Panhandle Day. Business and civic leaders go to Austin to give our legislators and state officials an idea of what they want accomplished during that year’s legislative assembly.

They visit, slap a few backs, schmooze with each other and our legislators, make their case — and then come home. Meanwhile, our lawmakers go about the business of legislating. Sometimes they follow through on what they pledge to do for us in the Panhandle. Sometimes they don’t. After all, they are barraged hourly by lobbyists from all across the state, each of whom represents the “most important issue in the history of Texas.”

But here’s a thought. Why not issue a report card at the end of the session? The chamber has a legislative committee. Its members could rank the most important issues facing the Panhandle. Then it could determine at the end of the session whether our lawmakers fufilled their promise to be champions for our region, issue by issue.

Did Rep. John Smithee do enough to reform insurance policy in Texas? Did Sen. Kel Seliger fight sufficiently for property-owners’ rights? Did Rep. David Swinford make sufficient headway in developing wind energy, which has become one of his pet issues? Grade these guys A through F.

It builds in another layer of accountability and gives the rest of us a chance to gauge one group’s assessment of how well our legislators are representing our interests.

Dissing the president

The word today has been that members of Congress were “Twittering” during President Obama’s speech to the nation. It’s like the teenager who “texts” his or her friends during class. It’s disrespectful.

The reports of lawmakers playing with their wireless devices reminds me of an incident that occurred in Amarillo during the 2008 campaign. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson came to the Panhandle for an interview with the Editorial Board. A young staffer sat with us at the conference table. She was sending and receiving text messages on her BlackBerry while Jefferson was expounding on why he should return to the Supreme Court. He asked the aide to stop texting. She said something about having to deal with an important matter. He told her politely, but firmly, to take it outside the room. The aide put the device away.

Seriously, I wanted to high-five the chief justice.

The multi-taskers sitting in the House chamber need some lessons in good manners and decorum.

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