In the eye of a political storm

I feel as though I’m sitting in the eye of a political hurricane — you know, where it’s dead calm while everything else is being blown away.

Incumbents are beginning to drop like flies, and more are going to bite the dust.

Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett failed to win renomination to a fourth term in the United States Senate; Pennsylvania Democrat (and former longtime Republican) Sen. Arlen Specter is in the fight of his life for his new party’s nomination against a retired three-star admiral and current member of the House, Joe Sestak; a veteran West Virginia congressman was decked in the Democratic primary this past week.

Meanwhile, in the Panhandle, two House members are skating toward re-election with virtually no opposition. Clarendon Republican Mac Thornberry, who vanquished his Democratic challenger by 56 percentage points in 2008, is a shoo-in, as is fellow Republican Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock. No such thing here as “anti-incumbent fever.”

It is true, of course, that one longtime West Texas incumbent, state Rep. Delwin Jones of Lubbock, lost his Republican primary fight in March, to a Tea Party favorite. But that’s the rarest of events in this politically calm region.

The local races present the same picture. Incumbents are unopposed throughout the Potter and Randall County ballots.

One Texas incumbent might face some trouble down the road. Republican Gov. Rick Perry holds a slim lead over Democratic challenger Bill White, who’s beginning to spend some serious campaign ad money to deliver his own message. But as has been demonstrated so far this election year: Never count Rick Perry out. The guy knows how to win. Still, it will be interesting to watch this campaign unfold, while seeing whether Perry’s national ambitions (if he truly harbors them) get thrown over by a well-financed challenger.

Meanwhile, it still seems awfully quiet out there.

Bring on all perspectives

Of all the things that commend Elena Kagan to a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court, one issue stands out for me: her penchant for seeking a diversity of opinion.

Kagan’s tenure as dean of the Harvard Law School included an initiative to bring in more conservative faculty members. Her idea was that that Harvard was becoming too much of a liberal echo chamber, with too much sameness among faculty members. So, she recruited professors with a different point of view on legal matters.

This has drawn howls from the left, who think that President Obama has selected a closet conservative to sit on the highest court in the land.

No, the president has chosen someone who relishes good debate, intellectual stimulation and a wide range of thought.

I’m baffled as to why such a thing is seen by some as a negative. It should instead be seen as a compelling reason to confirm her.

She’ll get pummeled by those on the right for a number of issues: lack of judicial experience, her career in academia, whatever. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, has sent a strong signal of skepticism about Kagan over her lack of bench experience. Perhaps that criticism might be moderated somewhat if he considers her intent to bring more right-leaners onto the Harvard faculty.

The issue here isn’t that she sought more conservatives. The issue actually is that she honors the tradition at a fine university as a place where all views are welcome. Universities should be places that give all perspectives a thorough airing.

Eating their young?

The late state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo used to say that redistricting, when legislators have to redraw state and congressional district lines, is an event in which “Republicans eat their young.”

Well, the Republican Party isn’t waiting for the next reapportionment to consume one of its own.

U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett went down in flames this past weekend, losing the Utah GOP race for another term in the Senate. Why? Bennett isn’t conservative enough, to which I say, “What the … ?”

Bennett is one of the more reliably conservative senators on Capitol Hill. He was running for a fourth term in Utah. I checked his voting record first thing this morning. I learned this from the Almanac of American Politics:

* Political action groups rated Bennett’s record as 66 percent “conservative” in 2008; the previous year, he voted with the right on average about 70 percent of the time.

* The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — a bastion of business conservatism — gave Bennett a 100 percent rating in both 2007 and 2008.

But he’ll be out on his ear at the end of 2010. Utah has an unusual way of nominating party candidates. They do it by party convention. Bennett didn’t make the grade, losing renomination to a Tea Party favorite.

How does this bode for the Republican Party? It might that the party is making itself more ideologically pure and pushing aside all semblance of moderation. Witness the defection recently in Florida, where once-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist left his party to run for the Senate as an independent. Crist’s “crime”? He gave President Obama a brief man-hug a year ago while endorsing the president’s economic stimulus package.

Bon appetit, Republicans.

It was no “act of God”

An “act of God”?

That’s what Gov. Rick Perry called the blowout and cataclysmic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Interesting. I’ve always thought acts of God constituted things such as tornadoes, hailstorms and droughts — events with which most Panhandle residents are acquainted. They also involve hurricanes and monsoon-like rain, which pummel our neighbors on the Gulf Coast. They also involve gorgeous sunrises and sunsets — once again events that are pleasing to our eyes here on the High Plains.

But the oil rig that exploded in the Gulf, killing 11 workers and which is still spilling oil into the water isn’t an act of God as most of us understand the term.

Gov. Perry, though, struggled to defend his remark, telling the Houston Chronicle that the phrase has been used “in legal terms for a long time in this state.” Huh?

Maybe the governor is suggesting that since the Almighty governs every activity in the universe, that human error is an act governed by His all-powerful hand.

I’ll stick with my own understanding of the phrase.

What happened in the Gulf is an act of humankind. And human beings are going to be held responsible.

Thoughtfulness, yes; blowards, no

Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship…”-President Obama, U of Michigan, May 1,2010

The above is part of a comment replying to an earlier post I wrote about Rush Limbaugh and his expected criticism of the federal government’s arrest of the suspect in the failed bomb attempt at Times Square.

That the respondent, named “Anonymous,” would send this comment to me implies that I don’t read opinions with which I disagree. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I read them all the time.

I love reading well-written opinions, from thoughtful and responsible people who have something important to say. Whether I agree with their views is irrelevant in that context.

What infuriates me, though, are the audiences who tune in to these talk-show entertainers and then accept what they say as gospel.

And I actually agree with the president’s view that getting one’s blood to boil helps stimulate your thought processes. However, I’ll pass on the blowhards’ overheated rhetoric.

Transparency is on display

I am acutely aware aware that local government entities operate independently of each other.

But one of them, Amarillo College, is setting the standard for accountability in the selection of a key administrator. Three educators are taking part this week in what amounts to a public audition for the job of vice president of academic affairs. AC officials invited them to meet with faculty, students, college staff and the public. The college is letting the taxpaying public size up these folks.

West Texas A&M University usually follows this model, to its great credit as well.

Contrast that with the way local school districts do these searches. Too often, districts don’t tell anyone the identity of the finalists, contending that doing so would compromise the applicants’ standing with their current employers. Interesting. I guess that the three people seeking this key administrative post don’t have those worries. Why doesn’t it matter for these folks, when it seems to matter — a great deal — to those applying for positions with local school districts?

Cities and counties in the Texas Panhandle aren’t any better in this regard, either.

AC President Paul Matney, whose former job the school is seeking to fill, gets it.

Maybe he can persuade his fellow public institution CEOs — and the governing boards — to follow suit.

Rain brings its payoff

My wife and I drove this past weekend to Lubbock and noticed something we hadn’t seen in some time.

Almost every acre of range and pasture land we saw was a vivid green, courtesy no doubt of the ample rain that soaked the High Plains during April. Man, it was a sight to behold. It had been just a few weeks earlier that I had made the same drive, but the land still was still brown and barren in the wake of winter’s grip on the region.

I mentioned what we saw to a friend of mine, Jimmy Wells, who farms in Moore County. He put a farmer’s spin on what he, too, witnessed on a recent trip downstate.

“The area had its postcard face on,” Jimmy said. “The land was green, the ponds were full of water, the bluebonnets were beautiful, the cattle were fat and the wheat fields near Vernon were waist-high and waving in the breeze. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”

And who says this area ain’t pretty?

Silence would be golden, indeed

It’s tempting to turn the radio dial over to KGNC 710 AM to listen to Rush “Daddy Dittohead” Limbaugh as he bloviates against the Obama administration.

I’m going to resist the temptation, because I fear that Big Daddy is going to find some pretext to criticize the administration’s handling of the failed Times Square terror attack — and the arrest of the suspect who apparently is singing like a canary to his captors. If I were to hear such idiotic rantings from this clown, I just might go apoplectic — literally.

President Obama cannot buy a break with these right-wing blowhards. They find fault even where none exists.

Let’s see: Surveillance cameras catch grainy images two days ago of some guy acting nervously in front of his vehicle in NYC’s Times Square. He scurries away. Police swoop in and discover a bomb on the vehicle, which is loaded with physical evidence to help the authorities track down the suspect.

The Justice Department calls in its crack FBI terrorism unit. The good guys run all the traps quickly and then apprehend the suspect at JFK airport as he was preparing to fly to Dubai. He’s a newly minted U.S. citizen who was born in Pakistan; the would-be bomber’s motive is not yet determined.

Well, I give the administration extremely high marks for nabbing a suspect so quickly. Indeed, the president has made it clear since the beginning of his administration that he intends to pursue bad guys just as relentlessly as President Bush did. And yet, none of that seems to matter to his critics.

We have responsible critics, people with important public service jobs — such as Rep. Mac Thornberry. Then we have the entertainment yahoos, such as Daddy Dittohead.

I won’t listen to Limbaugh. Perhaps he’ll keep his trap shut on this issue, given that he might not have anything critical to say about Obama. Indeed, Limbaugh turns an old cliche on its ear by adhering to the notion that “If you can’t say anything bad about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

May he suffer in golden silence.

‘Drive now, text later …’

Texas transportation officials have a new fan: me.

They’ve posted a no-cell-phone-while-driving message on those Amber Alert signs over Amarillo’s two interstate highways.

The Texas Department of Transportation has now joined forces with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, who has taken the cell phone/texting/driving issue seriously enough to launch a national campaign against this frightening practice.

TxDOT’s message urges drivers to “drive now and text later,” and urges the motoring public to turn their vehicles into a “no phone zone.”

My wish is that TxDOT would keep the messages flashing only unless the police have a missing person to locate. Then TxDOT could replace the cell phone message in favor of the more urgent message. Then once the missing-person case is resolved, TxDOT can put the cell phone message back up.

My friends and family members are well aware of my intense dislike of those who yap on cell phones while driving their 4,000-pound motor vehicle. And don’t even get me started on those who “text” while driving.

The state has banned the practice in school zones; it has made it illegal for school bus drivers to talk on cell phones while they’re transporting children. Some cities in Texas have enacted ordinances to ban talking or texting while driving. Amarillo has yet to join that chorus.

My sense is that it is time, given the increasing percentage of drivers who operate cell phones while maneuvering their Hummers through busy traffic.
Meantime, you go, TxDOT!