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.

Here’s why we should care

It’s interesting to me how so many outside of Illinois give a flip about the fate of Sen. Roland Burris. At first blush, one can ask: Why should we, in Texas, for instance care whether he stays or goes?

Well, as a U.S. senator, he would vote on laws that affect us here, as well as his constituents in Illinois.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story. Disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Burris to the seat made vacant when Barack Obama was elected president. It then became known that Blago sought political favors for the appointment. Burris at first said he had no contact with Blago, who subsequently was tossed out of office by the Illinois legislature.

Ah, but now it appears Burris did discuss raising money for Blago in exchange for an appointment to the Senate.

Sen. Burris is accused of being a bald-faced liar. Yes, I know: He is not the only one of those who serves on Capitol Hill. The calls for his resignation are growing louder by the day. And they’re coming from places far beyond the Illinois state line.

Many senators didn’t want Burris picked in the first place. They just lacked the legal standing to prevent him from getting it. Blago had the legal authority to make the selection. It turns out their political instincts were right on.

But Burris cannot serve now that the evidence is mounting that he offered to “pay” for the appointment.

Get outta there, Senator!

March winds arrive early

Those “March winds” have arrived, and it’s not even March yet.

The arrival of those winds, coupled with the tinder-dry conditions on the plains, bode very badly for when those vaunted March winds kick in officially.

Are we going to take extra care out there as we travel across the Panhandle? Let’s assume the worst, that not every one of the thousands of motorists who drive every day in our region won’t do what they must to prevent a raging range fire.

That means government has to step in. Counties across the Panhandle — all 26 of them — need to enforce outdoor burning bans aggressively. No place in the Panhandle has gotten anything close to normal amounts of rainfall so far in 2009. The ground is rock hard. The grass is crackling under the feet of grazing livestock.

We cannot prevent dry lightning strikes. But we ought to scold our neighbors when we see them flick their butts onto the grass.

No one wants a repeat of Spring Break 2006, when the plains burst into flames.

I think I’ll pray for rain tonight — and will keep praying until it arrives.

How’s the weather out there?

I love High Plains Public Radio. I am a “member.” I’m a devoted morning listener. I believe public radio is a marvelous relatively recent addition to the Panhandle’s radio air waves.

But something bothers me when I hear the morning weather report coming from the station in Garden City, Kan. The station hardly ever reports the Amarillo weather accurately. This morning, the announcer intoned that at that particular moment, the Amarillo sky included “a few clouds.” I looked up. I craned my neck. I couldn’t find a cloud anywhere in the vast Panhandle sky.

This isn’t the first time. It’s becoming an annoying trend. An “overcast sky” usually has spotty clouds. If they report our sky as “clear,” it’s usually cloudy.

I know the folks in Garden City cannot see this far south — even if they stand on their tiptoes — to determine the actual weather in Amarillo. But they do have access to that information. HPPR even has a studio in downtown Amarillo. Perhaps they could call someone here, ask them what the weather is like at that moment — and then reported it accurately to listeners such as me.

So, what’s your excuse?

Counties across the state have a problem with residents not showing up for jury duty when they get summoned. Randall County is no different, but one resident who had a legitimate reason to be excused from such duty decided to answer the call to duty.

Sheriff Joel Richardson reported for jury duty in early February, which happened to be the opening day of Michael Stocker’s capital murder trial. He could have placed a call to District Clerk Jo Carter. He didn’t have to show up. He could have declared a conflict of interest — and brother did he ever have one. Carter would have given the sheriff a pass, right? Richardson had inside knowledge of the case, given that his agency was involved in the arrest and investigation of the notorious case involving the death of drug runner Dustin Pool.

Well, Richardson was interviewed by Stocker’s lawyer and admitted truthfully that his intimate knowledge of the case made him unable to serve. He was dismissed as a juror.

Richardson, stand-up guy that he is, did his duty.

It’s too bad so many others simply fail to show up to take part in a process that demands citizen participation. Without citizens reporting for jury duty, the system breaks down.

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