No gunfire in Amarillo — get out and vote!

I visited today at lunchtime with Daniel Martinez, a candidate for the Amarillo College Board of Regents — and heard a bit of news about the upcoming local election.

It is that, according to Martinez, about 7,000 voters cast ballots early. Martinez thinks that bodes well for a big turnout when Election Day rolls around on Saturday.

I do not share my friend’s optimistic outlook.

What I think it means, sadly, is that a lot of Amarillo’s voters are casting their ballots early. And that’s it!

Then I watched a video posted on Facebook of an interview with outgoing Mayor Paul Harpole. The mayor said the city is projecting a turnout of 12,000 to 14,000 voters. Let that sink for a moment.

Harpole told Panhandle PBS’s Karen Welch that the city has 104,000 registered voters living here. Amarillo’s population is on the cusp of 200,000 residents.

If Harpole’s projection is correct, that puts the percentage of voter turnout at slightly more than 10 percent.

Hey, let’s stand up and cheer!

On second thought, let’s not!

Harpole then told a story about a couple in Fallujah, Iraq, who made sure to vote while gunfire was erupting just blocks away. The wife handed her infant child to her husband while she voted, Harpole said; she came back out, took the baby, and then her husband went in to cast his ballot.

Harpole then told Welch that Amarillo residents don’t have to face the prospect of getting shot on the street while they vote — which is his way of saying that we have no excuses, none at all, for refusing to have our voices heard in this critical election.

I am running out of ways to urge residents to cast their ballots in these local races. The very idea that nine out of 10 Amarillo residents would sit this election out — and leave these decisions to other residents — means that the democratic process is in danger of going on life support.

Get set for next fight over health care overhaul

Congressional Republicans kept their vow to vote — no matter what — on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

It was a squeaker, 217 “yes” votes to 213 “no” votes. Every congressional Democrat voted “no,” which gives the minority a faint claim of bipartisanship, as some moderate Republicans joined them in voting against the Trumpcare health bill.

I want to make only a couple of observations about this effort.

First, Republicans yapped and yammered that Democrats shoved the ACA down the GOP’s throats in 2010. The GOP response was to do precisely the same thing to Democrats. Payback is a bitch, right?

The GOP throat-shoving, though, took on a little different tone than what the Democrats did in 2010. President Obama tried to get Republicans to sign on, but was unsuccessful. Donald J. Trump didn’t make that effort; neither did House Speaker Paul Ryan. Oh, no. They relied on their healthy Republican majority to win the day — barely, it turns out — in a now-or-never vote on the House floor.

Second, the initial effort to repeal the ACA and replace it with the American Health Care Act, ran into a Congressional Budget Office “score” that told a grim story of 24 million Americans losing their health insurance under the new plan.

This time the GOP didn’t bother to wait for the CBO to “score” this latest rendition of the replacement bill. Republicans forged ahead anyway. Damn the scoring! Who needs to know how this is going to affect Americans?

Oh, and the polls around the country indicate a growing base of support for the ACA. Hmm. Imagine that. The House of Representatives isn’t exactly representing its constituents.

The AHCA now heads to the Senate, where it faces an even steeper climb than it had in the House. The GOP majority in the upper chamber is pretty skimpy and the Republicans cannot afford to lose any support among their ranks. The initial signs don’t look good for final approval in the Senate.

House Republicans sought to win over reluctant conservatives by sweetening the pie for them; then they assuaged some moderate GOP concerns by tossing in some money to pay for those with pre-existing medical conditions.

What say you, senators?

Now it falls on the Senate to decide what to do with this legislation that doesn’t yet have any analysis on how much it will cost and how many Americans might lose their insurance.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are back-slapping each other like crazy. They said they’d cast that vote to repeal President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

They got the job done. Now they can go home for their 11-day recess. I would bet real American money they’re going to run into a good bit anger among the home folks.

Obama veto comes back to bite him … and his predecessors

Barack Obama just had to veto a bill this past year that would have cut presidential pensions.

Then the former president just had to accept a speaking invitation in which he raked in a cool 400 grand for remarks he delivered on health care issues.

Congress may try again

Now we hear that Congress might reintroduce the pension-cutting bill that will affect not just former President Obama, but all the other four living ex-presidents.

I was mildly critical of President Obama getting paid such a huge speaking fee. It’s not that he isn’t entitled to earn what the market will pay, but only that he ought to do as CNN commentator Van Jones suggested: take a poverty tour to see how “the other side” struggles.

President Obama issued the veto in 2016. Republicans in Congress didn’t try to override it. As USA Today reported: “At the time, Obama argued that the bill would have ‘unintended consequences’ and ‘impose onerous and unreasonable burdens’ on former presidents by requiring them to immediately lay off staff and find new office space.”

The legislation being considered is called the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act. It would roll back presidential pensions to $200,000 annually, plus another $200,000 annually for office and staff expenses. The bill would roll back the pension dollar for dollar for anything more than $400,000 in outside income a former president earns in a year.

According to USA Today: “Under the Former Presidents Act, the nation’s five living former presidents — Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama — get a pension equal to the salary of a current cabinet secretary: $207,800 in 2017. They also get $150,000 to pay staff, and ‘suitable office space, appropriately furnished and equipped.'”

I get that presidents deserve a nice pension once they leave office. They have all earned it, having served in the toughest job in the nation, if not the world.

However, the legislation being considered really isn’t an unreasonable alternative to what’s on the books now. Two hundred grand a year plus expenses isn’t a bad living at all.

Former congressional loudmouth pops off

Joe Walsh once was known as a loudmouth politician from Illinois.

Now he’s just a former loudmouth pol, who has entered the discussion about health care reform in a most undignified and ironic manner.

Late-night TV comedian Jimmy Kimmel went on the air Monday night and revealed that his newborn son was born with a heart ailment. Nurses detected a problem with the baby, a renowned cardiac surgeon was summoned and he repaired the infant’s heart.

Kimmel gave a heartfelt and tearful testimony that saluted the medical staff at the hospital where little Billy was born — and argued on behalf of efforts to guarantee health insurance for all Americans.

Then came Joe Walsh, who tweeted, “Sorry Jimmy Kimmel: your sad story doesn’t obligate me or anybody else to pay for somebody else’s health care.”

Social media erupted with outrage at Walsh’s insensitive reaction. Walsh is a former Republican lawmaker who once popped off with remarks about Black Lives Matter and President Barack Obama that some folks had interpreted as a threat. Walsh, who’s now a TEA Party activist and a talk-radio host (imagine that), was defeated for re-election.

There’s more — of course.

Walsh also once was caught failing to pay child support for his own children; he reportedly owed about $117,000 in support payments.

Tsk, tsk, tsk …

For this clown to interject himself into a heartwarming story involving an entertainment personality and his family speaks pretty graphically about this individual’s profound lack of character and compassion.

The word “hypocrite” also comes to mind.

Who needs analysis of ACA repeal bill? Not the GOP

Did I hear this correctly?

Congressional Republicans are pushing a vote on a measure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act without knowing the “score.” Is that right? I guess it is. That’s what the “enemy of the American people” media are reporting.

Republicans got themselves into a jam the first time they tried to repeal the ACA when the Congressional Budget Office delivered some bad news about the American Health Care Act: The AHCA, according to the CBO, would toss about 24 million Americans off their health insurance programs.

That frightened enough Republican congressmen and women to forestall a vote on a repeal/replace measure.

So, the GOP leadership found a way around that. They made the new repeal/replace law more drastic than the previous one and have scheduled a House vote before the CBO has a chance to “score” it.

The conservative Freedom Caucus, which bucked the original bill, is now on board. Moderate Republicans, meanwhile, are the wild card in the vote that’s coming up.

Democrats? They hate this bill even more than the first one. They’re out. Forget about the Democrats.

Memo to GOP leaders: This is not how you build a “good government” environment.

To think, too, that Republicans were just furious that Democrats allegedly tried in 2010 to shove the Affordable Care Act down Republicans’ throats.

Who’s angry now?

ACA repeal vote illustrates what is wrong with Congress

Americans are now scheduled to receive an up-front view of what is so terribly wrong with their U.S. House of Representatives.

It is a body that doesn’t represent the nation. It represents political dogma.

House members are slated to vote Thursday morning on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act; yes, the vote also will include provisions on a replacement for the ACA.

Look at the polls, pols

Congress is dysfunctional in the extreme! Why? Because poll after poll shows that Americans support the ACA. Yet the Republicans who control the House — and the Senate — are hell bent in their determination to do away with it.

The vote Thursday won’t have any Democratic support and a few moderate Republicans are going to vote against the ACA replacement option. What we are seeing here is continuing fallout from enactment of the ACA in the first place. Congress enacted the ACA in 2010 with zero Republican support. Democrats had to go alone on this deal — despite concerted efforts from the White House to persuade Republicans to join in the effort to provide health insurance to Americans who couldn’t afford it.

Congressional Republican leaders said, “No way, man.”

Here we are, seven years down the road. President Obama is out of office. Republicans now control both congressional chambers and the White House. Has the new president sought to work with Democrats to bring them aboard? Umm. Nope.

Yet the congressional leaders have decided to blow the ACA apart because they contend it is a “disaster.” It isn’t. Independent analyses suggest that the ACA is continuing to stabilize and that Americans are signing up for health insurance.

Is it perfect? No. Premiums are still too costly. Insurance providers have bailed out.

I’m at a loss as to why Republicans cannot concede that much of the ACA is worth keeping, but that they could improve certain elements in it.

It can be mended without ending it, correct? Isn’t that how you legislate? You work with lawmakers from across the aisle, seek some common ground and then hammer out differences. Legislating is a complicated process at times. Providing health insurance for Americans has proved to be among the most complicated and contentious exercises we’ve ever witnessed.

OK, so here we go. House members will vote Thursday. The GOP leadership concedes the vote will be razor thin. If repeal fails Thursday morning, then the Republicans have nowhere else to go.

Once the details of the replacement legislation becomes more widely known, my trick knee tells me that our Republican congressional leaders are going to get a snootful from their constituents. Many of them have heard already at those raucous town hall meetings that voters are none too happy with what is likely to take place on Capitol Hill.

Yep. This is how you describe government dysfunction.

Comey didn’t order Hillary to stay out of Wisconsin

I didn’t realize David Axelrod is such a smart aleck.

Axelrod, former President Barack Obama’s trusted political guru, offered a tart response to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s assertions over who is to blame for her stunning election loss in 2016 to Donald J. Trump.

“Jim Comey didn’t tell her not to campaign in Wisconsin after the convention,” said Axelrod on CNN. “Jim Comey didn’t say ‘don’t put any resources into Michigan until the final week of the campaign.'”

Clinton had said earlier this week that Comey, the FBI director, might have torpedoed her campaign by issuing the letter to Congress informing lawmakers that he had some additional information pertaining to the Clinton e-mail controversy.

Yes, the former Democratic presidential nominee took plenty of blame for losing to Trump. But Axelrod’s assessment is on target in that Comey didn’t call the campaign shots that ultimately cost her critical Electoral College votes on election night.

Axelrod added: “She said the words, ‘I’m responsible’, but everything else suggested she doesn’t really feel that way,” he said. “And I don’t think that helps her in the long run.”

The complete history of this amazing election is being written. It no doubt will dish out its share of blame — or credit — to individuals and/or actions that deserve neither.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were the candidates for president. One of them did a lot of things wrong while the other one did many things right.

We can argue ourselves hoarse over our whether the election turned out the right way. Axelrod, though, is correct to admonish Hillary Clinton about shifting responsibility for her loss. She needs to own it — and then leave it at that.


Here’s why Hillary lost

Hillary Clinton has blamed a lot of factors on her shocking defeat during the 2016 presidential election.

FBI Director James Comey’s 11th-hour letter to Congress about those “damn e-mails”; WikiLeaks dumps of more e-mail material; Russian hacking … and yes, her own missteps.

I only can surmise that one of those self-inflicted wounds occurred when Clinton failed to visit Wisconsin, one of the key “battleground states” that went for Donald J. Trump in the 2016 election. She also paid precious little attention to Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania — all of which also swung in Trump’s favor. She wasted a lot of time by taking those states for granted in the closing days and weeks of a campaign she thought was in the bag.

Had she and her campaign devoted the energy she needed to fire up her base on those states, none of the other matters would have amounted to anything.

She didn’t. She blew it. Her campaign disserved her.

Democrats have concluded as much in assessing where this election went south.

Now it’s time to look ahead. Democrats have a mid-term election next year on which to concentrate. After that, in 2020, they have another shot at the White House.

I will stand by my an earlier assertion that Democrats need to find a freshly scrubbed, unknown political star to carry their standard forward. I believe there’s something to be said about “Clinton fatigue.” Her best chance at grasping the big prize stood before her this past year, but she let it slip away.

Who would that new political star be? I have no idea. I haven’t heard his or her name yet.

Get busy, Democrats,

Happy Trails, Part 14

I have made no secret of our desire to relocate, to move from the home we’ve owned for the past 21 years.

We intend eventually to move much closer to our granddaughter, about whom you’ve also read on this blog.

We have many hurdles yet to clear, many tasks to perform, many issues to resolve. I’m trying, though, to figure something out regarding High Plains Blogger.

I’ve grown quite attached to Amarillo, where we’ve lived for two-plus decades. You might say I’m a community booster and I’ve been unafraid to speak cheerfully about Amarillo’s future as I see it unfolding.

But when we settle downstate, I no longer will be as attached to Amarillo as we are at this moment. We no longer — to borrow a phrase — will “have a dog in that fight.”

We don’t yet know where we’ll end up. But I like using this blog to offer commentary on our community. I’ve used it as well to refer to the community where we lived prior to moving to the Texas Panhandle. Beaumont, Texas, remains near and dear to both of us. We made many great friends there and I miss them to this day.

I suspect we’ll lug the same kind of emotional baggage from Amarillo to wherever we end up.

But my intention will be to keep this blog focused on “politics and public policy,” even though I’ll likely be unable to comment with the same commitment on matters relating to Amarillo’s growth and development.

I do hope, though, to settle in a community that is moving forward, just as I have perceived to be occurring in Amarillo and — for that matter — in Beaumont. Indeed, that might become a criterion for my wife and me to use as we decide where we want to live for the duration.

Rest assured, though, whichever community becomes our home also will become fair game for this blog.

Decisions, decisions …

Why not repair ACA instead of repealing it?

Barack H. Obama used to say it all the time: If Republicans have any improvements they want to make to the Affordable Care Act, I am willing to work it with them.

The Democratic president was open to tinkering with the ACA. He said he was keeping an open mind on ways to improve his signature piece of domestic legislation.

Then his time as president expired. His successor, Donald J. Trump, had vowed to “repeal and replace” the ACA starting with Day One of his presidency. He has labeled the ACA a “disaster.”

But the president can’t seem to bring himself to persuade his fellow Republicans in Congress to do as his predecessor has suggested regarding improving the ACA. They have dug in hard in their effort to repeal and replace the ACA. Trump has joined them. They now are left to fighting among themselves over the best way to replace the ACA.

The ACA is not the “disaster” that Trump has asserted about it. The law has provided health insurance for more than 20 million Americans who couldn’t afford it.

I am willing to concede that the ACA isn’t perfect. However, it is the law of the land. Why in the world can’t the GOP pick the law apart, huddle with Democrats, agree on what’s working and then seek to reform the elements of the ACA that aren’t working?

Oh, no. They cannot go there. The intention among the GOP leadership is to throw out every vestige of the ACA because, I’m going to presume, it has President Obama’s imprimatur. The Republican congressional caucus had declared its intention to make Obama “a one-term president,” and the ACA — approved in 2010 — simply had to go.

Tinkering and mending this law doesn’t constitute an unprecedented solution. Congress did as much with Medicare in the 1960s and with Social Security in the 1930s.

They managed — somehow — to improve those other two pieces of landmark legislation.

What about the here and now?