Tag Archives: 13th Congressional District

High court to settle redistricting dilemma?

I don’t expect the current U.S. Supreme Court to decide that Texas’s legislative and congressional boundaries were drawn in a manner that discriminates against people of color.

Why not? Because its ideological composition would tilt toward those who dismiss such concerns.

The court will decide Abbott v. Perez sometime this year. It involves the manner in which several districts were drawn. Critics say that Hispanics were denied the right to choose a candidate of their own because of the way a San Antonio-area district was gerrymandered.

I’ll set aside the merits of the case that justices will hear. I want to concentrate briefly on the method the states use to draw these districts.

They are done by legislatures. The Texas Legislature is dominated by Republican super-majorities. The custom has been that the Legislature draws these boundaries to benefit the party in power.

Legislators don’t like being handed this task at the end of every census, which is taken at the beginning of each decade. The late state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo once told me that redistricting provides “Republicans a chance to eat their young.” I’ve never quite understood Bivins’s logic. To my mind, the process allows the party in power to “eat the young” of the other party.

The 1991 Texas Legislature redrew the state’s congressional boundaries in a way that sought to shield Democrats, who controlled the Legislature at the time. The Legislature divided Amarillo into two congressional districts, peeling Republicans from the 13th Congressional District to protect then-U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius, a Democrat. Sarpalius was re-elected in 1992, but then lost in 1994 to Republican upstart Mac Thornberry.

Gerrymandering not always a bad thing

My own preference would be to hand this process over to a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor and both legislative chambers. I favor taking this process out of politicians’ hands. Their aim is to protect their own and stick it to the politicians — and to voters — from their other party.

Perhaps the Supreme Court’s decision might include a dissent that spells out potential remedies to what I consider to be a political travesty.

One can hope.

This contest could get interesting … maybe, possibly

I get uncomfortable when friends of mine become engaged in politics.

It’s about to happen again. The campaign for the 13th Congressional District has just welcomed a newcomer to politics. His name is Greg Sagan, who told local media that he only recently became a Democrat. What drove him to become a member of a political party? He said it was the election of Donald John Trump this past November as president of the United States.

So now he’s a politician. He is going to run against longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry for the seat Thornberry has occupied since January 1995.

Pass the Pepto, will ya? This one gives me heartburn.

You see, I happen to be fond of Sagan personally. My wife and I have socialized with him and his wife. We’re also former colleagues of a sort. You see, back when I was editing the Opinion pages of the Amarillo Globe-News, Sagan was a regular contributor to the newspaper. He wrote a weekly column for the G-N. It was then that our relationship took root and then blossomed. His contribution to the newspaper ended when I resigned in August 2012.

I know Sagan to be a patriot. He served in the U.S. Navy and saw duty in Vietnam during the war that defined our generation. He is an unapologetic political progressive. He’s also a hell of a good writer. The boy can turn a phrase.

The campaign for Congress will get pretty damn serious around the first of next year, if not a bit sooner. My quandary centers on a couple of key points. One is that my wife and I most likely will have moved on by the time the campaign kicks into gear. I’ll likely be ineligible to vote in that election.

Of course, this blog will be firing plenty of ammo at this and/or that political target, which won’t take me out of the game completely.

I do not yet know how Greg is going to craft his campaign or what specifically will constitute his platform. Knowing him as I do I am certain he’ll hammer out a theme that makes sense, is cogent and is well-crafted.

He’s got a steep — I dare say nearly impossible — barrier to clear. If he’s the only Democrat to run in the 2018 primary, he’ll have to face a well-funded, well-seasoned and well-established incumbent who represents one of the country’s most reliably Republican congressional districts. GOP and, yes, Democratic partisans in Texas are known to be fiercely loyal to their officeholder.

I’ve known Mac Thornberry even longer than I’ve known Greg Sagan. I like Thornberry personally and over the years we’ve had a solid professional relationship and a cordial personal one. However, he has disappointed me many times over that span of time.

Is this the time for a change in our congressional representation? I don’t yet know. I do sense, though, that local Democrats are coping with the palpitations they get whenever someone emerges who they think can upset the status quo.

You go, Greg!

Talk to us, Rep. Thornberry

The fellow who represents me in Congress has made his point pretty clear: He doesn’t intend to conduct “town hall meetings” with constituents during these lengthy congressional breaks.

I beg to differ with Rep. Mac Thornberry’s reluctance to speak to groups of his constituents.

The Clarendon Republican lawmaker has just voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to replace it with a Trumpcare version of health care overhaul.

Congress is taking some time off. Its House members and senators have fanned out across the land. Some of them are facing their critics, namely their constituents, who are questioning them about their votes in favor of Trumpcare. Rep. Thornberry, to my knowledge, hasn’t scheduled any such public events.

He ought to rethink his schedule.

Do I expect him to get a dressing down from angry 13th Congressional District constituents? Well, I don’t know. He is considered a lead-pipe cinch for re-election in 2018; his district is as reliably Republican as any in the country. Then again, other GOP House members who are equally safe and secure have been getting pounded by their constituents.

I actually want to applaud those Republicans who have voted for Trumpcare to stand before their “bosses” and explain themselves. I think much less of those who have chosen other pursuits while they are at home, ostensibly tending to “constituent business.”

Thornberry’s been in Congress for a long time now. He took office in 1995. He chairs the House Armed Services Committee. He’s got a big job. He once led a GOP effort to come up with ways to protect us against cyber-crime. I’m hoping whatever he came up with is being employed by our spooks to protect our national security secrets against hackers from, oh, Russia!

However, health care is on people’s minds these days. Even, perhaps, out here in the 13th Congressional District.

We’ve been represented in Congress by someone who has aligned himself with those who want to throw out the Affordable Care Act. The Trumpcare replacement well could cost a lot of Thornberry’s constituents their health insurance.

I believe he owes them a thorough explanation of why he cast one of the House’s “yes” votes.

No ‘town hall’ meetings; no surprise

I guess this is one of the least-surprising things I’ve heard since Donald J. Trump became president of the United States.

West Texas’s congressional delegation is coming home for a weeklong recess — but none of them is planning any town hall meetings with constituents.

Why do you suppose they’re forgoing these events? My guess — and that’s all it is — would be that they might not ready to withstand the heat that their colleagues have gotten from their constituents when they have had town meetings back home.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, who has represented the 13th Congressional District since 1995, says he’ll be accessible to voters. Good. I trust he’ll keep his word while he’s back home.

The issue on voters’ minds happens to be the Affordable Care Act. Congressmen and women have been getting a snoot full from constituents about the ACA and what Congress intends to do if it repeals it. They don’t want to lose their health insurance and, near as I can tell, Republicans lack a replacement plan to insert in place of the ACA if they get around to repealing it.

But our West Texas congressional representatives aren’t going to hear from their constituents in a town hall setting.

I hope, though, that they open and read their mail and their staffers listen to phone calls from concerned citizens.

We aren’t brain dead in this part of the country. Indeed, lawmakers representing deep-red, solidly Republican congressional districts are getting their share of gripes.

I doubt we’re any different here.

C-SPAN worked miracles with this spot


I want to share a moment regarding my one direct contact with the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network . . . aka C-SPAN.

I’ve already sung the praises of Brian Lamb, the founder of the one national network that covers politics and policy without a hint of bias.

Take another look.

But the folks who put together their video presentations are masters of editing, cutting, pasting and making subjects look a whole lot smarter than they really are. In my case, that’s not all that difficult.

I arrived in the Texas Panhandle in January 1995 to take my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

That spring, C-SPAN embarked on a project called the “School Bus Tour.” It was sending a yellow bus to every congressional district in the United States. All 435 of them would get a visit from the C-SPAN school bus. Its intent was to educate viewers on the members of Congress representing their constituents living in each of those districts.

The 1991 Texas Legislature had gerrymandered the congressional map in Texas to give Amarillo two House members. The 13th Congressional District comprised the northern portion of the city; the 19th District comprised the southern portion.

The lines were drawn that way to protect the Democrat — Bill Sarpalius — who represented the 13th District. Democrats controlled the Legislature back then, so they sought to rig the lineup to protect their own. The tactic worked until the 1994 election, when Republican Mac Thornberry upset Sarpalius.

But the 19th District remained strongly Republican and was represented by U.S. Rep. Larry Combest of Lubbock.

C-SPAN called one day and wanted to know if I would be willing to be interviewed by the network about the 19th District. I was to talk about Combest and the district he had represented for the past decade.

Holy crap! I thought. I didn’t know much about the district, or about Combest. I was brand new here. I’d lived for the 11 previous years in the Golden Triangle region of Texas, which was represented in the House by Democrats Jack Brooks of Beaumont and Charlie Wilson of Lufkin.

I accepted the offer, then cracked the books to learn more about the 19th Congressional District and about Rep. Combest.

C-SPAN’s school bus crew met me at the newspaper office one Saturday morning and I talked for about 30 minutes or so with a camera rolling. I stuttered, stammered, paused, stopped-and-started my way through it. Hey, I’m not a TV guy.

I was frightened by the prospect of how it would look on TV. The producer assured me, “Don’t worry. You did just fine. We’ll take good care of you.”

Well, they shot their B-roll video, showing scenes of feed lots, ranch land, wind mills and such from around the sprawling district, which stretched from Amarillo all the way to Lubbock, about 120 miles south of us.

They told me when the segment would air.

I waited for it. Sure enough, they managed to make me sound a whole lot more polished than I really am.

What’s more — and this is the real beauty of this kind of skill — they preserved the essence of every comment I made. There was not a single phrase that was aired during the three-minute segment that was out of context or didn’t convey my intended message.

I would have a similar experience later, during the 2008 presidential campaign, with National Public Radio. NPR wanted to interview two journalists about the state of that campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain. I learned once again about the talent and skill it takes to edit someone’s spoken words while preserving the integrity of what one says.

Believe me, it’s a remarkable skill, indeed.


Question doesn’t produce desired result

Hopes dashed, I’m afraid to say.

I noted in an earlier blog post that I was going to ask U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry a question about how he would work to restore a sense of civility, comity and gettin’ along in Congress. It was during the recording of a candidate forum that will be broadcast this coming week on Panhandle PBS.

My hope was for an answer that would restore my belief in the “nobility” of politics.

I didn’t get quite the answer I hoped for. Indeed, Thornberry — who faces two Republican Party primary challengers, Elaine Hays of Amarillo and Pam Barlow of Bowie — really didn’t pledge to do anything specific himself. For that matter, neither did Hays or Barlow; and in fact, Barlow seemed to hint that she would be even more combative if she were elected to Congress this year.

I won’t give any more of this away, given that the candidates still have a TV appearance scheduled to be broadcast.

Thornberry, though, does seem to be falling into the same old trap that snares other politicians. He is blaming, more or less, the other side. The other side, meanwhile, is blaming his side.

The result? No one is holding themselves accountable.

The blame game continues.

Thornberry faces a serious primary challenge

I’ve said more times than I can remember that political incumbents need serious challenges to their re-election bids.

They need to stay sharp. They need to defend their voting records. They need to be accountable to the voters, their constituents, the folks who pay their salaries.

Therefore, I’m glad that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry might be getting a run for it from someone who thinks she’s a more qualified Republican than the incumbent who is running for his 10th term in Congress.

Elaine Hays is an Amarillo financial planner. Her website is here:


I’m intrigued by the fact that she’s running in the Republican primary to Thornberry’s right. Indeed, one political website, in announcing Hays’s candidacy, actually called Thornberry a RINO, a Republican In Name Only. Thornberry, a RINO? You must be kidding me.

Apparently not. Hays — who I do not know personally — seems to be preparing to run against Thornberry’s record by suggesting he hasn’t been conservative enough for the 13th Congressional District.

Check out her website and you’ll see what I mean.

Term limits seems to be one issue with which she’s scoring some early points. She criticizes Thornberry’s stand in favor of term limits while he is about to finish up his 20th year in Congress. Thornberry was elected in 1994 while running under the Contract With America banner hoisted by then-Rep. Newt Gingrich. One of the planks in that platform was term limits. Mac supported it, vowed to vote for limits if elected and actually has been true to that promise: He’s voted every time to limit congressional terms.

However, he never took the pledge to limit himself to three terms.

That’s his fallback position, but it isn’t playing well with some on the extreme right, who think he should have bowed out long ago in keeping with his stated support of term limits.

Whatever. Elaine Hays makes a pretty strong argument that Thornberry’s been a bit of a hypocrite on that issue.

This campaign just might illustrate as well the internal combat occurring with the GOP. Thornberry’s voting record is about as conservative as it gets. Right-leaning political watchdogs routinely rate him in the 90 percent range as they tally up lawmakers’ voting records. According to Hays and others, though, that’s not good enough.

This campaign could get mighty interesting, maybe even a bit testy if Hays starts to make inroads on Thornberry’s long-standing support among 13th District voters.

Term limits for all … but not for himself?

I recently chided members of Congress who have kept getting paid while other federal employees are having to take unpaid leave — all because Congress’s actions have resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government.

I included my own member of Congress, Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, as a target of chiding. He’s still getting paid.

My criticism drew some response from blogosphere friends, a couple of whom took the argument a bit farther, suggesting that Thornberry shouldn’t even be in office at this moment, given that he ran for the House of Representatives the first time in 1994 while supporting the Contract With America, which included — among many other items — term limits for members of Congress.

I feel the need to respond to that criticism on Thornberry’s behalf.

To be clear, I am not a huge fan politically of my congressman — although I like him personally and consider him to be smart and an articulate advocate for his philosophical view of government.

Thornberry never took the pledge to limit himself to the amount of time he would serve in Congress. He espoused his support for the Contract With America, which was the brainchild of the leader of the 1994 GOP revolution, Rep. Newt Gingrich, who parlayed his party’s capturing of Congress into the House speakership. Thornberry has voted every time in favor of the term limits measure every time it’s come to the floor of the House. But because the legislation comes in the form of a constitutional amendment, it requires two-thirds of the House to approve it; the measure has fallen short every time.

Still, Thornberry is on the record as supporting it.

One of my blogosphere pals questioned my giving Thornberry a pass, suggesting that he should be more faithful to the CWA simply by taking the pledge to step aside after three terms, which the term-limits plank in the CWA provided.

This issue has dogged Thornberry ever since he took office, although the size of his re-election victories in every contested election — and there haven’t been that many of them — suggests that most voters are giving him a pass on it, too.

I have continued to maintain that Thornberry played the issue smartly when he ran the first time. Yes, he might have split a few hairs by supporting the CWA while declining to limit himself to three terms in office. Others in that congressional class of ’94 took the pledge, only to renege on it years later. Thornberry saved himself the embarrassment of trying to explain why he might have second thoughts.

As for lawmakers — including Thornberry — getting paid while fed staffers are being denied their income, well, that’s another matter. That should provide enough of an embarrassment all by itself.