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.

The hangin’ judge

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller is facing a possible impeachment. A legislator has filed a resolution of impeachment in the House.

Why? Well, it turns out that she had a schedule to keep in 2007 and didn’t want to stay on the job to hear a last-minute appeal of a Death Row inmate, who subsequently was executed for his crime. It was 5 p.m., and the office was closed for the day. Tough luck to the convict, Miachael Wayne Richard.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has announced plans to launch proceedings against Judge Keller.

She is in trouble — and justifiably so.

What’s more, she actually admitted during her most recent campaign to being a “pro-prosecution” judge. What in the world? How does a judge consider the law without bias when he or she declares a pro-prosecution or pro-defense bias? That, by itself, is reason enough to get Keller tossed out on her ear.

RIP, Steven Jones

Steve Jones had a rare gift.

He came to Amarillo in 2003 to take over as president of Amarillo College. He wasn’t here all that long — but it seemed as if he’d been here for decades.

That is a testament to the way he became part of the community fabric. He became an eloquent spokesman for AC. In his private moments, he could be, um, a pithy critic of those who had done the school wrong. He didn’t much care for Gov. Rick Perry’s veto of community college-related legislation in 2007 and spoke, well, quite candidly about what he thought of the governor at that moment.

Steve Jones’ impact on Amarillo was immediate, and significant. He died during the weekend of cancer. He’ll be missed in ways the college staff, faculty and students don’t yet know.

Clapping for what?

The New York Stock Exchange closed today — more than 250 points lower than when it started. I lost even more money out of my retirement account.

And when the bell sounded to end trading, some Wall Street execs — and maybe a celebrity or two — stood there on the podium and applauded. My question is this: What on Earth were they cheering?

OK, it’s a pro forma event. They aren’t really happy with the way the day’s trading goes when it takes a dive like it did today. They do it for the cameras. Well, the cameras captured the moment, all right. And this viewer is getting angrier with each day’s loss of money — chiefly mine.

I see nothing worth applauding, folks.

Commentary on politics, current events and life experience