Corpus Christi Caller-Times. July 7, 2015.
What to do about mistaken choice of AG
The revelation that Attorney General Ken Paxton filled 14 jobs without bothering to post the openings publicly, as required by law, begs the question:
How much more evidence of his unfitness for office does Texas need?
Actually, sufficient evidence existed before Paxton's November 2014 election. By then it already had been established that he solicited clients for a friend's investment firm — repeatedly — without being registered with the state and without disclosing to the clients that he was compensated with commissions for referring investors. And then, in what would emerge as a pattern of indifference toward and disrespect for the law, he dismissed his transgressions as clerical nothings.
Paxton's pattern of lawless disrespect continued with his most prominent act thus far as attorney general: Not only did he call the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage "lawless" but he also issued a nonbinding attorney general's opinion encouraging lawless noncompliance with the ruling. Several impressionable self-righteous right-wing county clerks have taken that as an invitation to refuse to issue marriage licenses in open discrimination against gay couples.
In response, former state Rep. Glen Maxey filed a complaint with the state bar and 150 lawyers signed a letter by Rockport attorney Steve Fischer threatening to do the same. Paxton's opinion appears to them to be a clear violation of his oath to uphold the Constitution. We thought so, too, but it's reassuring to hear lawyers confirm it.
Meanwhile, two special prosecutors who dug deeper into the investment mess are preparing to present their findings to a grand jury and one of them said there is "substantial evidence" that Paxton committed a first-degree felony. One of Paxton's people attacked the special prosecutors — two of Texas' most highly respected and feared criminal defense lawyers — as inexperienced.
And in the same week, a Paxton spokeswoman responded to the failure to post the job openings with a statement that Paxton was sure that he "followed applicable law in selecting high-level staff." She didn't answer what Paxton considered high-level.
But why should anything she says or doesn't say matter? She is, after all, a spokeswoman hired by an employer whom the Austin American-Statesman has exposed as not bothering to follow basic legal hiring practices aimed at choosing the right person for the job. We don't mean to single her out. All of Paxton's hires now labor under the assumption that they were hired for having the right politics rather than the skills for the job. Their boss is to blame for that.
So, let's review: Paxton has paid a fine for the investment transgressions. He is at risk of felony indictment. A whole bunch of insulted lawyers make what sounds like a good case that he should be disbarred. And he can't even go through the charade of posting job openings properly before hiring whom he was going to hire anyway.
None of this can be dismissed with a straight face and in good conscience as mere politics. It should be overwhelming enough for someone in the Texas Republican Party to step up and call for Paxton to step down. Our first choice would be his predecessor, Gov. Greg Abbott, who should have been pounding on the bully pulpit by now.
There are plenty of conservative Republican, skilled lawyers with unblemished records who could fill the position. There were two in the three-person primary won by Paxton — as we pointed out before that primary and again before the runoff. Being able to say we told you so is of little solace to us. Texas needs an attorney general it can trust.
Houston Chronicle. July 10, 2015.
If South Carolina can do it, so can Texas: It's time to take down symbols of hate and disinformation on the Capitol grounds
If and when Gov. Greg Abbott appoints a task force to consider whether Confederate monuments, markers and statues on the Capitol grounds are historically accurate and appropriate, as five Democratic lawmakers have requested, task-force members are likely to find something even more sullied than misplaced veneration for slave-holding secessionists. The large Confederate Soldiers Monument on the south lawn, two other substantial memorials on Capitol grounds, the portraits that hang in the Capitol chambers and more than a dozen markers that overtly refer to the Confederacy are expressions of what historians call the "nadir" of African American history.
It's the period from roughly 1890 to 1920, when Southerners decades after the end of the war mounted an intense and pervasive effort not only to establish once and forever a rigid apartheid regime but also to obscure the truth regarding life in the antebellum South and the primary reason for secession. More than a century later, the monuments on the Capitol grounds are both expressions and tangible reminders of that inglorious era.
The Confederate Soldiers Monument is the most glaring. Completed in 1903, it features four bronze figures representing the Confederate infantry, cavalry, artillery and navy. Those soldiers, an engraving on the granite base declares, "died for state rights guaranteed under the Constitution." A bronze statue of Jefferson Davis towers above the four.
"The people of the South," the engraving continues, "animated by the spirit of 1776, to preserve their rights, withdrew from the federal compact in 1861." The engraving doesn't mention slavery.
The recent letter from the lawmakers, which went to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, as well as the governor, referred to monuments that "espouse a whitewashed version of history." The description is almost literally true.
Near the east entrance to the Capitol is a memorial to Terry's Texas Rangers, a Confederate military unit, not the law-enforcement group. Erected in 1907, the monument commemorates the valor of the 8th Texas Cavalry. Benjamin Franklin Terry, a Brazoria County plantation owner, assembled the group, which fought in numerous battles and never officially surrendered. Terry also is known for constructing the first railroad in Texas with slave labor.
Hood's Texas Brigade Monument, erected in 1910, includes the words of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, among other Civil War notables. Ten thousand people attended a parade celebrating its unveiling, including 5,000 schoolchildren, the University of Texas band and 200 of the brigade's remaining members. In a letter to the Houston Post, as the Texas Observer noted recently, a Confederate general praised the monument as a memorial to "American valor" and "our comrades who died to preserve and perpetuate the principles upon which the American Union was formed."
Whitewashed out of the memorials from history's nadir are any references to the lynching of more than a thousand black people in the 1890s and many more in the decades to come; the imposition of rigid segregation laws in Texas and throughout the South beginning in the 1880s; the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson legalizing segregation; or the 1898 Supreme Court ruling that disenfranchised blacks in Mississippi and then throughout the South, including Texas in 1908.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Sylvester Turner, all of Houston; state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, are the lawmakers requesting the task force. They asked that it be made up of business, religious and education leaders to allow for a "serious conversation about how best to honor Texas' heritage and past, while at the same time ensuring historical accuracy and that we celebrate figures worthy of our praise."
That's the least we can do. Texans of good will are likely to differ on what we should do with these century-old monuments that perpetuate a willful misreading of history. The possibilities run the gamut - leaving them where they are and basically ignoring them; adding more accurate explanatory plaques; moving them to a museum; destroying them. In our view, they need to be removed from their places of honor in and around the Capitol, "the public face of Texas," as the lawmakers note. They belong, if anywhere, in a museum.
If South Carolina, the birthplace of the Confederacy, can take down the Confederate battle flag from its own capitol grounds, surely Texas can face up to the symbols of hate, division and disinformation in our midst, symbols we have come to live with for more than a century. It's time.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 9, 2015.
Review markers at the Texas Capitol
For modern-day inspiration, add the South Carolina legislature's triumph of thoughtful decision-making on the Confederate battle flag to the soaring example of pure-souled forgiveness shown by families of the dead in Charleston's tragic, race-inspired June 17 church shooting.
The state House voted 94-20 last week to remove the flag from the Capitol grounds in Columbia.
South Carolina raised the banner over its Capitol more than 50 years ago to protest civil rights. Yet it was the odium of that same symbolism, spotlighted by accused church shooter Dylann Roof's affinity for the flag and racial hate, that inspired its removal.
It will be sent to a museum, where its place in America's past can be properly recognized.
If only other scars of the past could be dealt with quickly and thoughtfully.
Texas, too, should address the Confederate symbolism at its Capitol.
Five state lawmakers last week sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for a task force to review the appropriateness of more than a dozen Capitol markers that overtly refer to the Confederacy.
A plaque in a first-floor corridor honors the Children of the Confederacy and says the Civil War "was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery."
A monument to the Confederate war dead, a prominent fixture on the Capitol's south grounds, notes that the "people of the South, animated by the spirit of 1776, to preserve their rights, withdrew from the federal compact in 1861."
It cannot be ignored that one of the "rights" central to that war was the ability of one person to own another in slavery.
Appropriateness is the key word. These markers were erected in different times — the Confederate war dead monument in 1903 — and some, like the battle flag in South Carolina, were responses to events of their day.
They should be examined for appropriateness today. Some may be appropriate, some may not and some perhaps should be altered or balanced with other monuments to other people, of different races or gender, and to the rich history of Texas.
The Dallas Morning News. July 13, 2015.
Donald Trump is a carnival barker who confuses shouted insults with leadership
The worst of Donald Trump, the celebrity-billionaire-turned-presidential-candidate, was on full display this past weekend during rambling rants on immigration, media elites, GOP presidential rivals and whatever else popped into his head.
He doubled down (or trebled down?) on his previous comments that Mexico "sends" killers and rapists across the border. Among other things, he promised to fine Mexico $100,000 for each person crossing illegally into the United States, an idea as ludicrous as it is insulting.
It is tempting to dismiss Trump as this election cycle's Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain, early flame-throwers whose incendiary rhetoric didn't withstand serious scrutiny. Trump is a carnival barker who conflates shouted insults with leadership, and points to his wealth as his credibility scorecard whenever he's challenged. Mr. Trump, bombastic rhetoric is not a policy and it is divisive.
While he claims to speak for a "silent majority" of Americans who are disenchanted with the country's direction, Trump does it with a scolding demagogic cynicism that mostly inflames passions. This is a real threat to the field of GOP candidates and the country he claims to to love.
For the moment, at least, he's sucking all the oxygen out of the room without offering a single solution to any issue. That is not the way the GOP wins back the White House. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, didn't bother to attend Trump's rally. Flake called Trump's remarks "intolerant" and "inaccurate," and said Trump would hurt Republicans as they attempt to appeal to a broader demographic of voters. Even Rupert Murdoch has challenged him on his immigration comments.
We get it. There is short-term political gold in rallying against "media elites," whose criticism he wears as a badge of honor, or celebrating his "martyrdom" when other push back from Trump's name calling. Trump may be building his brand, but his antics aren't good for a party that needs to redefine itself.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Trump are in a virtual dead heat at the top of the Republican presidential hopefuls, well ahead of the rest of the pack. That has given Trump latitude to define the discussion, and probably will get him a place on stage when the GOP debates begin next month. Donald Trump is not going to be president or win the Republican nomination. However, he could convert his rhetoric into an independent run that siphons votes from the eventual GOP nominee.
Trump has tapped into an anti-establishment sentiment in the most crass ways possible, throwing raw meat to crowds. But that's not how national elections are won or how this country should be run.
Trump has the bully pulpit, but for now revels in being just the bully.
San Antonio Express-News. July 13, 2015.
The next logical step for Alamo
Now that a World Heritage Site designation has been won, the number of people visiting our missions almost certainly will soar. When it comes to Alamo Plaza, which adjoins one of those missions, the city of San Antonio should make sure these visitors really have something to see.
That was surely one of the motivations behind a restoration of the Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo in 1933, now part of this well-earned World Heritage Site designation. Another was simply preserving history.
Much of our history has been lost on Alamo Plaza, a failing that can be remedied, just as it was at San José, by restoring the site to as much authenticity as possible. In Alamo Plaza's case, that would mean restoring it as much as possible to what it looked like in 1836. That was the year, of course, when the mission-turned-fort fell to Mexican forces, which is why the site is known as the Shrine of Texas Liberty.
This is the imperative next logical step now that the coveted designation has been secured.
Soon, the city and state, which have agreed to jointly shepherd a new master plan for Alamo Plaza and jointly administer the sites, will name who will craft that plan with public input.
We urge residents to tell the city and state as directly and forthrightly as possible that Alamo Plaza must pull its weight in telling the full story of Texas independence and what came before and after. This would necessarily mean a world-class museum to house items now in hand and those promised as donations. Such a museum could do much to tell the history accurately, with all its nuances and with due credit to all groups who were part of this history.
But that 1836 battle is why people come to the site — so entrenched is it in the public image of the Alamo that we've had yet another film tribute to the history recently in "Texas Rising."
A site restored as much as possible — with the removal of buildings that now sit on the site on the table — is best suited to tell the history most accurately. Visitors should be able to see, not just imagine, what occurred and how it occurred.
This would draw visitors and enhance the economic impact that will come from the designation alone.
When the public comment process begins, tell the city and the state that this is what will best serve Alamo visitors — and the history that occurred at the site.