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”

Sometimes It Helps to Keep a List

The fog of news about the corruption and policy sins of the Trump administration can be overwhelming. One misdeed follows another so quickly that we simply have to file and forget – which is exactly what El Commandante Naranja wants us to do.

This morning, I discovered a helpful weekly list that is kept by a woman named Amy Siskind. Yes, Lake Jackson, you can trust her. She supported John McCain for president in 2008 and even went out on the Sarah Palin limb with him. While that last “credential” may make her a little scary to some, you have to admit that she covers a wide range of political respectability and has the kind of conservative chops that even an LJ Republican should be able to trust.

She decided soon after the 2016 election that the direction America had taken in the election was more sinister than simply the choice of poor leadership. We had accepted an assault on truth and a free press as somehow normal. On advice she had read from people who suffered through the authoritarian regimes that grew up in otherwise civilized nations, she set out to document the things that happened on a week to week basis that citizens seemed to accept as normal but which, in fact, constituted a slow slipping away from the moorings of democratic government. Each week’s list is headed by this reminder: Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.

From week to week, the list has grown. Her first list, dated November 20, 2016, cited nine items worth remembering. Her most recent list of January 12, 2019 (Week 113) cites 183 instances of corruption and corrosion of democratic norms, each one of which we may tend to overlook and forget unless somebody keeps a list. It starts out noting Kevin Sweeney’s resignation as Pentagon chief of staff and ends with half a dozen or so @RealDonaldTrump tweets, each one twisting the truth (that’s maybe too kind) and dripping with disrespect and hostility toward most of the nation’s voters.

So, next time you vote be sure they know that we are “keeping a list and checking it twice.”

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.

 

A Prayer at Christmas

We offer our thanks today for the gift of a story of a baby born in Bethlehem whose own offering of grace and love has sustained us for centuries and given us hope and strength to overcome murderous dictators and those who have brokered power through violence.

We give thanks for our own free press and reporters like Nicholas Kristof who recently forced us to look see the image of Abrar Ibrahim whose starvation in Yemen at the hands of powerful men, able to give her the needs of life but use her instead as a pawn in struggles for power. The image of a 12 year old girl who weighs 28 pounds on a planet of plenty gives us no room for excusing ourselves. And, in her misery, she represents millions of suffering children and adults. Continue reading “A Prayer at Christmas”

Beto O’Rourke comments on the holiday shutdown and the motives behind it

The government of the greatest country the world has ever known, the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet: closed until further notice.

This shutdown – hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans working without pay during the holidays, basic government functions no longer available to the taxpayers who fund them – didn’t have to happen. The Senate passed a compromise government funding bill two days ago, 100–0. The men and women who can’t agree on what to name a post office were able to unite and unanimously agree on how to fund the entire government.

But maybe it was intended to happen. Continue reading “Beto O’Rourke comments on the holiday shutdown and the motives behind it”

The Press and the Prez

I watched the latter stages of the White House press briefing yesterday. The one some call the leader of the free world appeared in person. He behaved in all the disgusting ways you have come to expect. He is full of hate for everyone except, of course, himself.

The performance for the press corps was much more alarming than it was informative. And, yes, performance is the correct word. I left the experience with renewed disdain for His Worshipfulness. (Thank you Han Solo for allowing me to borrow the appellation and its load of irony.)

I always find it interesting to read The Guardian for a slightly different view than I get in American media. Their writers are often confounded by their spinoff ally that poses as the very model of the modern major democracy. More Americans should read this discussion of the structural elements of our system of representation. I’m not sure that most people really understand how grossly un-representative our system is.

But back to yesterday’s press conference with the president. A Guardian writer reminded me that the American press is like a bag of candy for a demagogue. They have a symbiotic relationship in which a president with no manners co-exists perfectly with a press with no cojones. The Brits see it clearly. Today’s piece in The Guardian by Suzanne Moore makes the case for a press corps walkout. What they were able to deliver to their readers and viewers as their work product yesterday was all reality show and it had little to do with the work of a democratic government. Trump was the star and they were the foil.

Ignore him and let’s get on with the business of governing America. There are taxes to collect, schools, bridges and hospitals to build, people to be educated, a nation to be protected from other countries’ dictators, and, of course, the golden door must remain open and managed for the welfare of both the current citizens and those who seeking asylum. He doesn’t seem interested in any of that business. But I am. And you should be, too.