Posted: Jul 9, 2013 3:22 PM
Updated: Jul 9, 2013 3:22 PM
The Dallas Morning News. July 4, 2013.
Immigration reform needs pragmatism to override purity
The flush of optimism from the Senate passing a long-awaited and even longer-needed comprehensive reform of our immigration laws quickly gave way to a pessimistic realism:
One after another, House Republicans stepped forward to thank their Senate counterparts for nothing, which is how many of them rate the "Gang of Eight" bill that cleared the upper chamber with an impressive 68 votes.
Accordingly, SB 744 far from perfect but far better than the broken system we endure today was given no chance of reaching the House floor. Speaker John Boehner insists he would invoke the "Hastert rule" and not bring up the bill until a majority of his GOP caucus backed it. Which sounds like about the same day hell freezes over.
This newspaper long a supporter of reform that strengthens border security and interior enforcement and also provides a path to legalization for immigrants here illegally obviously sees this as unfortunate, at best.
Top Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, warned Republicans that they were dooming themselves to a lifetime in the political wilderness if they didn't bow to reality and accept reform. This didn't help, of course, since no self-respecting Republican would let a Democrat, especially Pelosi, dictate terms.
Perhaps those Republicans will listen to voices of reason from their own party, particularly the ones who raise cash to fund campaigns.
The Washington Post recently spoke to key GOP players not the members of Congress running in safe districts but the behind-the-scenes "bundlers of presidential campaigns and the funders of super PACs." And uniformly, The Post reports, these Republicans want the GOP-led House to make a deal on immigration reform.
These fundraisers clearly are more comfortable in the background, but they are aware of two things: There's no such thing as a permanent majority, as both parties have proved in recent years; and Republicans are no closer to the White House than they were the day George W. Bush left office.
The GOP brand, increasingly viewed as intolerant and chasing a larger share of a shrinking market segment, needs refreshing and expanding. Appealing to the ever-increasing Hispanic vote with principled and reasonable immigration reform isn't the only way back, but it's a start.
Steven Law, president and CEO of American Crossroads, the largest conservative super PAC in 2010 and 2012, expands the context beyond Latino voters: "There's a concern among major donors that the party is starting to seem out of touch in an increasingly diverse and dynamic America."
Who gets the credit for immigration reform should be something for Republicans to consider, just as they should be well aware of who will get the blame if it fails in stalemate. It's time for reason to override ideological purity.
Houston Chronicle. July 2, 2013.
President Bush No. 43 is building an admirable humanitarian legacy
Compare photographs of George W. Bush in the waning weeks of his presidency to recent photos taken in rural Zambia, where George and Laura Bush have been volunteering for a few days at an HIV/AIDS clinic, and you might think you were looking at two different men. Instead of the graying, care-worn president from a few years ago, we see a smiling man in paint-stained khakis and a T-shirt, a maroon "Levelland, Texas" ball cap slapped atop his head. He's joshing with kids, painting a room in a rundown cervical cancer clinic, helping install a door as the clinic is remodeled. He looks like a man at ease with himself.
With good reason. Whatever the overall assessment of his presidency, there's no denying that the program he initiated in 2003 to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic has saved countless African lives, as President Obama acknowledged when the two men met Tuesday during a wreath-laying ceremony in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, was a commitment of $15 billion over five years to provide life-saving drugs to 2 million HIV-infected people, to prevent 7 million new infections and to help provide care for 10 million people by 2010. According to a 2009 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Pepfar has prevented more than a million deaths in Africa and reduced the death rate due to AIDS by 10 percent.
The Bushes also helped form Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, devoted to curbing cervical cancer and breast cancer. The effort started in Zambia in 2011 and expanded to Botswana in 2012. A clinic the Bushes helped renovate last year in Kabwe, Zambia, has treated nearly 30,000 women, according to the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
The Obama administration has insisted that its commitment to Pepfar and other development programs for Africa is just as strong as its predecessor's, although a global recession and a recalcitrant Republican-controlled House have made it difficult to fund large-scale foreign-aid programs.
We would hope that the results are so obvious - breathtakingly obvious, in fact - that they're worthy of a bipartisan effort to sustain them. We suspect that the man in the Levelland cap would agree.
San Antonio Express-News. July 7, 2013.
An unseemly rush to voter suppression
What's the rush?
The ink was barely dry on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the Voting Rights Act, and there was Attorney General Greg Abbott saying Texas' voter ID law would go into effect immediately.
The problem: the ink has been quite dry for a while on another federal court ruling. This one, in August 2012, said discrimination and voter suppression was written all over Texas' voter ID law.
Yet, the state is now gearing up to implement this law, and county election officials around the state are surely scratching their heads. Why would a state, whose voting numbers are nothing to write home about, want to diminish them further? Particularly since this is ostensibly to address voter fraud a problem that substantially doesn't exist.
Abbott wants to be governor, by the way. And he likely sees campaign gold in Texans' anti-federal sentiments.
But here's what happened last year. Circuit Court Judge David Tatel in Washington, D.C., wrote an opinion in which he called out Texas on its requirement of photo ID for voting.
"It imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities in Texas," he wrote, joined in the opinion by two other judges.
Last week, the Supreme Court, 5-4, found Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, which renders Section 5 dormant. Section 5 requires federal preclearance of changes in voting law for states with histories of voter discrimination. Section 4 determined which states were covered. Texas is among them.
The successful challenges to both the state's voter ID law and the Legislature's original redistricting maps were based on Section 5.
In arriving at its ruling, the Supreme Court essentially ignored the congressional record compiled when the section was extended for 25 years in 2006. Those states covered by the section discriminated far more than other jurisdictions, justifying the special attention. Moreover, the high court, ruling on an Alabama case, didn't say that the U.S. District Court's findings of discrimination in the case of Texas were wrong.
Another challenge to voter ID has already been announced, this one based on another section of the act. And on redistricting, federal judges in San Antonio on Monday refused the state's request that they end the legal challenges to the 2011 maps.
Things remain highly unsettled all except Texas' desire to get as much mileage out of voter ID as soon as possible and to set in concrete redistricting lines that do not yet do justice to minority growth.
Unseemly doesn't describe half of what's going on here.
Midland Reporter-Telegram. July 3, 2013.
Conservatives don't need more parties, just better leaders
We read over the weekend that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin lashed out at "establishment" Republicans over a Senate vote regarding immigration.
She insists the Republican Party is turning its back on conservatives, and, if that trend continues, she, along with others including radio host Mark Levin could help form the "Freedom Party." Potential targets are those with "libertarian streaks" or people who "want government to back off and not infringe upon our rights." She says no one should be forced into either one of today's dominant political parties.
Palin is right about one thing. No one should be forced into any party. However, for those who see her as a modern-day Moses ready to lead frustrated independents/libertarians/conservatives to politics' promised land, we say don't hold your breath.
While she believes she is doing conservatism a service, we believe the opposite is true. Splintering the Republican Party is not a game-changer in the battle to change politics in Washington. It certainly won't bring about smaller government. It would only present the Democratic Party as more tolerant and progressivism as more mainstream. It really wouldn't matter what the actual message is that is being delivered.
We understand the need to reach out to libertarians. Like the tea party offered a jolt to a GOP base in need of energy in 2010, libertarianism in moderation is being seen as an answer to wars abroad, national security issues at home, IRS scandals and government intervention in the economy. It broadens the net, where the "taxed enough already" crowd has fallen short. Palin also sees a possible resurrection of her career or a pathway back to relevance. We warn those conservatives ready to follow do so at your own risk.
Chopping up the GOP into numerous pieces only makes conservatism weaker. We use the elections of 2010 and 2012 as examples. Splinters in the Republican Party produced candidates who couldn't deliver in the general election and, therefore, kept the U.S. Senate in the hands of Democrats.
We hope that if the Palins of the world are serious they will lead in a more productive way. Instead of just protesting the controversy of the day and, yes, there always seems to be something they have to provide their own plans, their own changes, their own alternatives. Americans don't need to just hear about what's wrong. Our leaders can do better than that. Reminding us of our country's failures isn't leadership, and we need great men and women to lead us.
Republicans should take their cue from Democrats in one area. Their party's base in no way votes the same on all issues; however, Democrats are superior in keeping their group coalesced. Conservatives, in the search for the next Ronald Reagan, often keep the most qualified from entering the fray because of fringe candidates who are dangerous because of a smaller, more fanatical following.
And while there are successes, the collective falls well-short of what is needed to take back a country that desperately needs leadership.
Austin American-Statesman. July 3, 2013.
Public Integrity Unit more important than Perry, Lehmberg's test of wills
Almost from the minute the Texas Legislature delivered the first dime to fund the Travis County Public Integrity Unit in 1982, there have been repeated threats to eliminate it.
Cooler heads usually prevailed, though, and the unit gained acceptance however grudging. Perhaps critics backed away from making good on funding threats because they became convinced that the unit provided a valuable service or maybe they figured a positive vote on funding the watchdog was easier than explaining a "no" vote. Whatever the reason, the unit survived 32 years of close calls.
State money for the unit, however, didn't survive District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's April arrest on a charge of drunken driving. Unless the unit's legislative supporters can pull a miracle, the state money is gone until the next regular session in 2015. County commissioners are looking at options but there aren't many that don't involve Travis County taxpayers making up at least part of the shortfall.
The tab for Lehmberg's night out, then, is still being tabulated.
Lehmberg apologized, pleaded guilty and spent time in jail after her arrest. There's never a good time for driving around drunk, but for a local official whose office depends on state money to get busted in the middle of a legislative session, the timing couldn't have been worse.
The governor said he'd veto the money if Lehmberg, a Democrat, didn't resign. The district attorney said from the day after her arrest onward that she wouldn't resign.
The arrest and guilty plea provided the unit's legislative critics with plenty of ammunition. Yet, despite serious opposition, legislators approved $7.6 million in funding for the unit for the next two years. But that's as far as it got.
As promised, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the funding and cited Lehmberg's arrest as the reason. "I cannot in good conscience support continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public's confidence," Perry said in his veto message.
The veto was clearly the governor's prerogative, but as we noted before he cut the funding, just because he could didn't mean he should. The unit's mission is bigger than one person but that civics classroom thinking didn't survive this collision of egos.
Lehmberg should have resigned after her arrest because her reckless conduct damaged the reputation and integrity of the office. There are both civil and criminal cases that could result in her removal winding through the courts.
Meanwhile, Lehmberg is dug in. That posture opened the door for Perry's veto and for putting 30 or so people out of work and tossing the disposition of 400 pending cases into doubt. Commissioners sent out layoff notices last week even as they pondered funding options.
The county won't have any choice but to continue prosecuting crimes committed here, but the unit's statewide reach will be severely limited without the state funding.
One proposal is that commissioners ask other counties to pitch in when investigations involve officials elected there.
That would be the political equivalent of passing the hat. It's a highly unreliable way to run prosecutions, but there aren't many places to go for $3 million for this year. If commissioners wanted to pick up the entire tab, raises being considered for county clerical personnel might be reduced or eliminated. Incidentally, Lehmberg hasn't offered any of the revenue her office generates at least so far.
Commissioners are reluctant to raise the money locally because doing so would invite legislators to avoid restoring the funds later.
It's a concern, but Perry's veto targeted Lehmberg, which stirs speculation that the justification for eliminating the unit's funding goes when she does.
Assuming she survives the legal challenges, Lehmberg will serve until her term expires in January 2017. She has said she will not seek re-election.
The uncertainty of it all leaves commissioners to shape policy pushed by wishful thinking.
Maybe state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, can get the unit funding restored as he said he'd try to do. Maybe Perry won't run for re-election as governor and leave the path open for a restoration of the funding when the Legislature reconvenes in 2015. Maybe all will be forgiven by then. Maybe other counties will cheerfully chip in to help us out. Maybe a lot of things, but folding the unit altogether isn't a good option.
The unit may be eliminated, but its cases will have to be folded into an existing workload because its mission can't be abandoned.
That mission is bigger than the two people at the center of this test of wills but don't expect either to acknowledge that.