We Give Texas a Speaker: Dennis Bonnen

When my daughter came home during a break in her first year in college in 1996, she drove up to Angleton one day to meet me at work and have lunch. We headed over to the Texas Rose, an establishment run by a British expat who made the best hamburger in Brazoria County at the time. As we left the Texas Rose, young Dennis Bonnen followed us out the door and stopped us on the sidewalk.

“Mr. Fowler, I sure would appreciate your vote in the runoff next month.”

Dennis was pretty fresh out of college with a political science degree, a boatload of energy, and presenting for public office for the first time. He had barely made it into the runoff by edging out Beaver Aplin (yes, that Beaver) by ten votes. I had to tell Dennis that I was not qualified to vote in his runoff since I had voted in the Democratic primary.

The rest is history, of course. Beaver Aplin invested his free time in his gas station business and went on to develop the regionally famous “Buc-ee’s” brand. Dennis, won the runoff, served the next twenty-two years in the Texas House and on January 8 of this year was elected Speaker by unanimous vote of the membership.

Continue reading “We Give Texas a Speaker: Dennis Bonnen”

Growing Up White in Texas: How I Remember Dr. King

I grew up in the South in segregated neighborhoods, schools, and churches. I was born in 1943. The world was in violent upheaval across Europe and in the Pacific. That year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was finishing high school and preparing to enter college at the age of 15.

I can’t remember when I first heard of Dr. King but I think it was probably a six o’clock news report of one of the bombings of Dr. King’s home. Or maybe I saw him on the cover of Time magazine or television during the Montgomery bus boycott. 1957 was an eventful year in the life of Dr. King and in the life of our nation. When they were happening, these events didn’t make much of an impression on a white teenager from Houston’s blue-collar ship channel neighborhoods. I was in my middle teens and not as precocious as the young Martin, so the events of the day didn’t move me the way they would when I read about them later in my life.

At that age I was more interested in Houston Buffs and socializing with my church youth group than I was in the evening news. You may think that the brutality and injustice suffered by American citizens across the South would have gotten even a kid’s attention. But we white kids suffered from a vision problem that kept us from seeing the world of privilege we lived in and the injustices it had been built upon.

When I was a kid we listened to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon on the radio. If you ever listened to Sergeant Preston on the radio, you know that he sometimes got lost in the snow. Everything was white. The ground was white. The sky was white. Even the Yukon River was white. Everything ahead was white. Everything behind was white. White to the left. White to the right. He was blinded by the whiteness. Like Sergeant Preston, we had been snow-blinded.

Continue reading “Growing Up White in Texas: How I Remember Dr. King”

Breaking the Senate Republican Shutdown; Letter-Writing Time

This is my morning letter to Senators Cornyn and Cruz. I sent them identical letters since my needs from them are the same and their powers to address them are the same.

January 10, 2019

Senator Cruz:

Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats are offering a way to break the government shutdown deadlock. This is no longer the “Trump shutdown.” It now belongs to Sen. McConnell and the senate Republicans. You can break this deadlock and you must.

Please vote as the senate did earlier to fund government services and override the president’s veto if necessary.

In my waking hours last night, I thought a lot about a book by Senator John F. Kennedy that I read in high school: Profiles in Courage. Regrettably, I am not seeing much of it from senate Republicans in confronting this broken, foolish and unpatriotic presidency. Please, show some of the courage that is part of your proud senate tradition and vote to fund government services, override the president’s veto and then keep your supermajority together to provide the check on executive authority that is your constitutional duty to provide.

Young Texans will someday read the history of your service to America. You are writing it now. You will not want it to be the story of a Senator who wouldn’t use his constitutional power to help guide the nation in smarter, more humane ways. It is not your privilege; it is your duty.

Sincerely,

Here are their addresses in case you are moved to drop a loving note of your own:

Senator John Cornyn, United States Senate, 517 Hart Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510

Senator Ted Cruz, United States Senate, 404 Russell, Washington, DC 20510

I went to some trouble to make mine a personal reflection of my own position hoping that it wouldn’t be simply stacked and weighed along with all the emails and robo-responses from special interest sites and PACs. So, you please do the same. Do your own work and be respectful – even if it hurts a little.

 

My Camera Captured the S&L Bubble about to Deflate in 1984. Really.

See the savings and loan bubble go down, down, down.
In March, 1984, American Savings and Loan Association did a little promotional activity in Lake Jackson hoping draw a few more depositors. Five years later they were insolvent.

About a year ago I was going through some old family photos and slides picking out a few to scan for a digital collection. This one caught my eye because of its colorful depiction of a nice spring day in Lake Jackson when the local S&L flew a hot air balloon over town. When I saw that they were using the Shy Pond as a take off and landing area, I headed that way with my 35mm camera that was already loaded with Kodachrome, one of the best films ever made.

The photo also caught my eye because it is symbolic of the fate of S&Ls in America that was due to befall them over the next five years. Do you remember the savings and loan bubble and how quickly they fell from their high-flying, money-making ways and deflated for all the world to see? This S&L held the original mortgage on the home we bought in Lake Jackson in 1982. Rates were sky high but due to plunge like the pretty balloon in the picture.

Ours was one of American S&L’s good mortgages at 13%. So, of course, we refinanced it at our first opportunity as did most of their other borrowers. By spring of 1989, just five years later, American Savings and Loan was insolvent and its chairman was being charged with financial misdeeds which earned him a little time in jail.

I remember standing in line to withdraw a CD they were holding for our United Way. The ten per cent yield was a good deal, of course, but I have never trusted high interest rate offers since then. Outliers are sometimes outlying (or maybe out lying?) for a reason that ought to be easy enough to understand: they need your cash more than you need the security and return they are offering. Sometimes the return exceeds the security. It took something called the FSLIC to make that CD good. I’m glad I got there before the FSLIC went under, too.

I wonder who got the hot air balloon in their insolvency settlements?

 

D Day, November 6

Next Tuesday, November 6, 2018, is a crucial day in our history.

The United States Constitution is a masterpiece of Eighteenth Century Enlightenment mechanics. Part of its genius is in the system of checks and balances that protects against the concentration of power in the hands of a single actor or group within the constitutional system.

Different actors are beholden to different electorates and some roles are selected at different times to provide overlapping periods in power. The effects of momentary passions are tamped down through these and a variety of other means. People in different power roles are accountable to different electorates and are chosen at various times to reflect and sometimes neutralize the passions of the day.

Thus, the nation has survived some perilous times and, often, the effects of incompetent leaders.

However, when all three branches of the government come under control of a single party, we have a problem. Assuming an ordinary level of party discipline, the checks and balances are upset and any hegemonic entity – we usually think of the presidency – has relatively unrestricted power to impose its will on the polity.

That brings us to our urgent need to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 6, if you have not already participated through early voting.

The president currently operates without any effective check on his power. Even if you love the man and his leadership, you should hope for a change of power in the Congress so that he will not operate unchecked any longer. While he provides some policy outcomes that some voters prefer, he has many disturbing leadership traits that ought to make any “small d” democrat very uncomfortable.

There is no need to list these traits here. If you read a newspaper at all you are well aware of his anti-democratic behaviors and the terrible example of his amoral leadership. He seems to know next to nothing about our country’s history, our leadership in the world, the ethic of sharing, or the constitution he is sworn to preserve, protect and defend.

Furthermore, the world hangs in balance as he ignores science and commits us to a course that will almost certainly make the planet uninhabitable by human life. Our summers get worse with fires, storms and floods. Each new announcement coming out of climate science seems to confirm that all their earlier alarms were underestimates of the damage already done, its irreversibility and the amount of time left to take action before we hit a final tipping point.

Our job on November 6 is as serious as the job of the allied forces waiting in the English Channel in June, 1944. The labors they undertook and the sacrifices they sustained were profoundly more daunting than anything required of us to go vote next Tuesday. But what we do may be just as important for the future of mankind.

Your vote is a right. It is a responsibility. And this year you need to vote for Democrats at least for the Senate and House of Representatives. For us Lake Jackson folks, that means a vote for Beto O’Rourke and Adrienne Bell. They will be a major part of the constitutional structure that will hold this president accountable. Even better, they are both excellent candidates and people.

And they really will keep the pre-existing conditions requirement of the Affordable Care Act. They were in favor of it before it was cool.

I Meet Our New Justice . . . He Likes Beer

I had no plans for watching the Kavanaugh hearing today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I had heard about all I needed to know about the president’t nominee for the Supreme Court. And somehow I knew I was going to feel a little dirtier if I spent a day watching the U.S. Senate at work.

But I turned it on early, just after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had been sworn in. Her testimony was riveting as the Republican majority sat off to the side and had a local government sex crimes prosecutor ask all the questions. They apparently didn’t want to risk seeing themselves later in their electoral opponents’ campaign commercials questioning Dr. Ford. They didn’t want to make it too easy for to show them as what they are: white male Republicans with no aptitude for empathy.

I decided to continue watching after lunch and saw our future justice performing most un-judicially for the next three hours. He was angry. He was aggressive. He was rude. He interrupted U.S. Senators. He cried. He told touching stories about his family. He blamed everyone else and took no responsibility for anything. He congratulated himself at every opportunity on how great he is. He had finally mastered the skills of a reality television star. He conducted himself a lot like his new role model, Donald J. Trump.

So much for judicial temperament.

Good luck, America.