Editorial Roundup: Texas

San Antonio Express-News. Nov. 19, 2021.

Editorial: Release all JFK assassination records. It’s been 58 years

Fifty-eight years ago today, on the last full day of his life, President John F. Kennedy arrived in San Antonio for the first leg of a trip designed to mend a rift between Texas’ conservative and liberal Democrats that threatened his 1964 re-election. His purpose in San Antonio was to dedicate the new Aerospace Medical Health Center at Brooks AFB.

More than 100,000 people lined the streets to cheer the president and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the motorcade traveling from the airport, down Broadway and through downtown en route to Brooks. They were in San Antonio for less than three hours, an unforgettable visit made more memorable by what happened the next day in Dallas.

Only Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001, rival the power of Nov. 22, 1963, to collectively evoke searing memories of grief and loss among Americans. Memories of a motorcade moving slowly through the streets of Dallas until the gunshots, the stunned confusion, the blaring sirens and the race to Parkland Hospital where the 35th president of the United States was declared dead.

The 1960s were visited by a plague of assassins’ bullets that destroyed a harvest of young and talented leadership like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. All were horrific, but it’s what happened in Dallas that’s been called the crime of the century because of the office it was inflicted on and the man who held that office.

The Kennedys brought glamour, youth and young children to the White House. Until Barack Obama, no American president looked less like his predecessors than Kennedy. At his inauguration, the contrast between him and the older men on the platform — including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chief Justice Earl Warren, poet Robert Frost, even his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson — was striking.

Young, vigorous and standing in the subfreezing weather with no overcoat, he embodied the new generation of which he would speak. It is one of the images of him — forever young — forever frozen in the public mind.

No other president had looked like Kennedy, and no other president died the way he did, murdered at 46, in public, riding in a car on an American street.

His assassination is one of the all-time great “Who dunnits?” It’s either the greatest unsolved mystery of our time or the greatest mystery solved whose conclusion — a single gunman was responsible — is widely disbelieved. Despite the Warren Commission’s report that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, polls have consistently shown most Americans believe the president was the victim of a conspiracy.

That’s why it’s important that all government files related to the assassination be released and opened to the public. And that’s why it’s disappointing that the Biden administration is following the footsteps of the previous administration in delaying their release.

As the Washington Post reported, under the 1992 John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, all assassination records were supposed to be disclosed in October 2017. President Donald Trump postponed their release to Oct. 26, 2021. But an Oct. 22 memo signed by President Joe Biden says some documents will be released Dec. 15 while the bulk won’t be released until late 2022.

The administration attributes the delay to the pandemic without specifying how, saying more time is needed to make sure no harm is done to the military, law enforcement, intelligence or the conduct of foreign affairs. But the memo conceded the cases requiring continued protection are rare.

It’s been 58 years and most of those involved are dead. There are no legitimate reasons for blocking release of these records, whatever they reveal. The American government has an obligation to be transparent with the American people.

All of us deserve to know what came before and came after the events of Nov. 22, 1963. The president’s life was taken, but that motorcade continues its journey through history, all of us among its wounded passengers.

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Amarillo Globe-News. Nov. 17, 2021.

Editorial: High court can shape state’s execution-chamber accommodations

For now, U.S. Supreme Court justices are weighing legal options and future ramifications, but the court has a chance to clarify and safeguard religious accommodations for Texas prisoners facing death in the execution chamber.

The debate was animated last week as the justices listened to an attorney’s petitions on behalf of a prisoner seeking to have his pastor touch and audibly pray over him as the execution takes place. Certainly, there are several legitimate concerns, which were roundly aired during the proceedings.

Allowing this could open the door to subsequent appeals from prisoners seeking slight yet unarticulated accommodations for their own unique situation. “If we rule in your favor here, this is going to be a heavy part of our docket for years to come,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh told the prisoner’s attorney, as reported in the Texas Tribune.

Additionally, there is also the concern that future similar cases would be less about religious liberty and more about stalling an inmate’s long-scheduled execution. That would seem difficult to determine in some cases, although facing death often has been known to prompt sudden and intense religious interest. Chief Justice John Roberts said as much. “I suspect impending death focuses people’s concerns on religion in a way they may not have been before. Maybe he’s not sincere, but how do you tell?”

The case before the court concerns 37-year-old John Ramirez. The details of his arrival on death row are undisputed. He was convicted of stabbing a Corpus Christi store clerk multiple times in 2004 and arrested four years later. As his execution date was set this past summer, he asked that his pastor be allowed to lay hands on him and pray over him.

The state denied his request, citing security concerns, despite, as Ramirez’s attorney told the court, there not being a single incident of a spiritual adviser interrupting an execution. As a result, other scheduled executions in the state are on pause pending a decision.

For its part, the state has a less-than-stellar history of providing an even-handed approach when it comes to the federally protected religious liberty of prisoners. Currently, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which oversees executions, allows properly credentialed spiritual advisers to be present, but they are not allowed to touch the prisoner or speak, according to the Tribune’s account.

This is a difficult balancing act where security must be maintained while religious liberty is protected. Nevertheless, the security risk is low. Spiritual advisers understand they have a specific role and sacred responsibility. Their primary job is to bring comfort and minister to the person about to die and remind them God has not forgotten them.

As the Tribune reported, Alabama has recently updated guidelines for these situations, allowing spiritual advisers in the execution room, where they can anoint prisoners’ heads with oil, pray with them and hold their hands.

This seems a reasonable approach. What Texas needs is clarity around its policies, spelling out rules and accommodations that can be applied evenly across faith traditions for inmates seeking religious liberty as they face execution.

The Supreme Court justices have the opportunity to make that happen.

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Dallas Morning News. Nov. 20, 2021.

Editorial: Someone tell Michael Flynn and Allen West that theocracy is un-American

Michael Flynn, former National Security Advisor under President Donald Trump, set off a firestorm last weekend with calls for an American theocracy at a rally in San Antonio. Patriots should be aware of this un-American ideology, and reject it.

Speaking at the ReAwaken America tour, Flynn said “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion.”

We would prefer to ignore Flynn. After all, this is the attention hound who has previously called for a coup and who continues to assert that Trump is the president. Flynn is not a serious constitutional thinker or American patriot. But ignoring him isn’t made any easier by the fact that Allen West, the former Texas GOP chair turned gubernatorial candidate, proudly announced Flynn’s endorsement Wednesday, just days after the theocracy hubbub.

Nor can we ignore the Americans who seem to approve of Flynn’s message. The ReAwaken America tour played to a packed house at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio where attendees chanted “Let’s go Brandon,” a semi-encrypted insult toward President Joe Biden.

Even more concerning, thousands of Americans say they would prefer the religious hegemony Flynn describes, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. In a PRRI survey released this month, only 13% of white Evangelicals prefer religious diversity, while 57% of them agree with the statement, “I would prefer the U.S. to be a nation primarily made up of people who follow the Christian faith.” White evangelicals are the only religious cohort in America from which a majority holds that view.

It is, of course, an unconstitutional view. The First Amendment expressly forbids state endorsement of religion (presumably, the only way to realize Flynn’s theocratic fever dream.) It may shock Flynn and West to realize that, far from being patriotic, their rhetoric could be laying the foundation for our democracy’s greatest threat. Those of us who were horrified at the events of Jan. 6 can see that, even if the ReAwaken America crowd hasn’t awoken to it.

Adding to the absurdity here, an internet sleuth named Jim Stewartson discovered that part of Flynn’s presentation may have been copied from a non-Christian source. About 80 words of a prayer he offered are identical to a speech given in 1984 by cult leader Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Only the pronouns have been changed.

Finally, it’s hard to ignore Flynn’s remarks since they happened here in Texas, and since the ReAwaken America tour is scheduled to visit Dallas next month.

As Christian Nationalism grows, Americans should know that it is neither Christian nor American to promote Flynn’s thinking. Ideology like this should be rejected. Mainstream Republicans must speak out against this troubling trend in the party.

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Houston Chronicle. Nov. 21, 2021.

Editorial: Greg Abbott or Beto O’Rourke? We heartily endorse a competitive race, at last

So, Beto O’Rourke made it official last week with his announcement that he will run to be Texas Democrats’ candidate for governor. The announcement pleased every member of that party not pining for actor Matthew McConaughey as Gov. Greg Abbott’s successor.

For the former El Paso congressman, success is a long shot in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to high office since the Spice Girls were riding high, twitter was a bird trill and the modern internet was still a hazy concept for most of us. The Democrats’ exile is now approaching biblical proportions, specifically the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the wilderness.

O’Rourke’s candidacy is likely to be as quixotic as his ill-starred campaign for the presidency in 2020, maybe as unlikely as the 1-8 Kansas Jayhawks coming into Austin expecting to vanquish the Texas Longhorns (which is to say, possible but highly improbable).

A third loss in a high-profile, high-expectation race would probably be the political death knell for the slightly tarnished Democratic darling — anybody seen Wendy Davis lately? — and yet for Texas itself we say “Hurray!” And again, “Hurray!”

No, this is not — repeat NOT — an endorsement of O’Rourke in his quest to deny Abbott a third term. It’s way too early to be making any kind of endorsement (even if we could be assured that the energetic, charismatic Democrat won’t be gazelling onto a barroom table top this time around).

We are endorsing O’Rourke’s candidacy — just as we endorse the efforts, however far-fetched, of Abbott’s two challengers from the GOP’s far-right fringe. Just as we endorse the candidacies of challengers to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and other statewide officeholders. In a healthy democracy, every officeholder is held to account. Even with the aid of partisan gerrymandering and party-serving barriers to voting, no one is anointed.

We endorse these candidacies because we endorse competition — the lifeblood of a healthy democracy.

It’s ironic that a state that prides itself on being hard-headed and ruggedly independent is sheeplike when it comes to its politics. “Come and Take It” implies a scrap, and yet for more than a century, if you were a true Texan, you fell in line and voted Democratic. Even a fabled “yellow dog” had a better chance of being elected to public office than a Republican.

The Democrats’ Old Yeller died 30 years ago, and since his demise, true Texans have voted almost lock-step Republican. Despite sliding-scale predictions that Democrats are going to break the GOP headlock any day now, there’s little sign that statewide Republican candidates are going to lose their hold anytime soon.

Abbott seems to be worried, nonetheless — not so much about O’Rourke but about his aggressive GOP foes, former state Sen. Don Huffines and former state party chairman Allen West. Although the governor is sitting on a campaign cache of at least $55 million, those Huffines billboards along Texas interstates seem to be making him jumpy. How else to explain his Pavlovian pandering to the far right? Whatever cock-eyed notion that comes along to enrapture the Trumpian majority in his party, from anti-mandate COVID mandates to school library witch hunts, a trembling Abbott is going to endorse it.

Watching a seasoned politician who had slightly moderate tendencies in years past kowtow to the extremists in his party is downright embarrassing. Still, we’re happy to see him looking over his starboard shoulder. Whatever the prompt, Texas voters need to hear him justify his positions. Next year’s race is a referendum on his performance.

O’Rourke has his own issues, namely an ill-considered remark during his presidential campaign about confiscating guns. Yes, he was talking only about assault rifles intended for the battlefield — but in Texas, that distinction is mere semantics. A gun is a gun is a gun. And nobody is taking it!

Nevertheless, if O’Rourke becomes the Democratic nominee, the former congressman is knowledgeable and articulate enough to force the governor to defend his record on issues that really matter.

The most obvious is Abbott’s dangerously inadequate response to the devastating winter storm last February, a natural disaster, compounded by a man-made energy grid disaster, that not only left millions without power and water but also claimed an estimated 700 lives. Abbott, his lackeys in the Legislature and the outrageously compromised Texas Railroad Commission addressed the state’s grid failure by authorizing billions in ratepayer-backed bonds to cushion the bottom line for utilities stung when natural gas prices soared during the height of the storm. Natural gas suppliers, whose lack of winter-preparedness played a major role in the crisis, got off light.

Abbott also will be called to account for his rigid ideological response to the coronavirus pandemic. He seems to be vying with his Florida counterpart, Ron DeSantis, to see who can throw more sand into the gears of an adequate national response to a deadly plague. Both, of course, have higher political ambitions; both seek to appease the Trumpians.

Border security, Medicaid expansion and related health issues, the environment and climate change, the state’s infrastructure needs, public education, gun violence, property taxes — after eight years in office, the governor has much to answer for. In a healthy democracy, it’s good that he will have to.

It’s a good thing, as well, that the state’s most powerful politician, Patrick, won’t be waltzing to victory this time. Three capable and experienced Democrats are vying for the opportunity to send the hyper-partisan former radio shock jock into political retirement.

Former Republican Mike Collier, a Houston-area accountant, came within 5 points of knocking off Patrick three years ago. Collier is running again, although he must run through another former Republican, Matthew Dowd, before he can take on the man who has never seen a divisive cultural issue he doesn’t like. Dowd, a former adviser to George W. Bush and a prominent political analyst on network TV, is already better known than Collier, despite never having run for public office. State Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton also announced her candidacy last week.

In the attorney general’s race, it’s the Republican primary that holds out hope for sending Paxton home to McKinney (or prison). As in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, capable and experienced public officials are betting that Texans, even Republican Texans, are tired of an AG better known for allegedly breaking the law than enforcing it. State Land Commissioner George P. Bush and retired Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman are both viable Republican candidates. So is Joe Jaworski, the former Galveston mayor running in the Democratic primary.

Incumbents invariably have an advantage, particularly a Texas Republican who has raised more money than any American governor in history. With a weakened Democratic incumbent in the White House and with Texas Democrats trying to fend off existential despair — even with O’Rourke on the ticket — Abbott is likely to be cruising in 2022. Still, it’s way too early for predictions.

Contested elections like those shaping up in the Lone Star State remind us that one-party rule is so much more efficient, so much simpler for voters, who don’t even have to think about their choices. But efficiency is not a hallmark of a healthy democracy, a system that’s supposed to be characterized by tumult and contentiousness in the service of the common good. O’Rourke and his fellow challengers make democracy messier — and thus, healthier.

It’s a long way to next November, but to borrow from the late children’s book writer Maurice Sendak, “Let the rumpus start.” And let the people decide.

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Abilene Reporter News. Nov. 17, 2021.

Editorial: NCCA sacks Hardin-Simmons, which earned berth in Division III football playoffs

The lights are on but nobody’s home.

The Clint Black hit song seems to be the theme for local football this year.

Three Abilene football teams lost their first-round playoff games last week, including a surprise at Shotwell Stadium. Abilene High drew a bi-district game at home against an El Paso team. Looking by history, that should’ve worked in the Eagles’ favor.

It did not.

El Paso Eastwood avenged a loss last year in Fort Stockton with a road win, making the 450-mile, one-way trip worth it for the Troopers.

It was Hardin-Simmons, not an opponent, that got sacked Sunday when the NCAA did not select the Cowboys for its 2021 playoff field despite a 9-1 record and close loss to the No. 2-ranked team.

The lights remain on at Shotwell, but now it’s for an Abilene-area playoffs team. The Snyder Tigers are there Thursday night to face Graham.

Cooper and Abilene Christian High also lost. We’re out of the playoff business before Thanksgiving.

But the shocker is Hardin-Simmons.

The Cowboys went 9-1, losing only to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton. HSU had a 28-7 lead but couldn’t hold it in a narrow 34-28 loss.

That alone should get HSU into the 32-team NCAA Division III as an at-large team. The Cru’s win over the Cowboys secured another league title and automatic playoff bid.

But no.

Though ranked No. 10 nationally, HSU stood just No. 5 in Region III, behind Mary Hardin-Baylor, unbeaten Trinity, Birmingham Southern (9-1) and Randolph-Mason.

Randolph-Mason did not make the field but Birmingham Southern did, as well as No. 6 Washington & Lee.

The Generals are 8-2 with a one-point win, a pair of two-point wins and two four-points wins. Can you say “powerhouse?”

We can’t.

Johns Hopkins, No. 5 in Region II, made it.

To say Hardin-Simmons players and coaches were disappointed is an understatement. Fans are reeling, too.

“Honestly, shock would probably be the first thing that comes to mind,” Cowboys coach Jesse Burleson told us.

Credit for Burleson for biting his tongue, as least publicly. He said coaches will use this as way to build the program. The Cowboys were bucked off and now have to get up and dust themselves off.

But it’s hard.

The football playoffs have been unkind to HSU. Obviously, the solution would be to win the American Southwest Conference but the Crusaders have built just a bit better program. HSU can’t seem get around them, at home or in Belton. Oddly, the road games seem to be more competitive.

If Hardin-Simmons makes the playoffs, the Cowboys are often matched against ... Mary Hardin-Baylor.

This year, it’s Trinity, which had its season opener against McMurry canceled due to COVID, facing the daunting opening-round game.

Trinity is ranked No. 16 nationally by d3football.com.

Playoff-bound Washington & Lee is not ranked.

There was no national championship decided in 2020 due to the pandemic. HSU was its own worst enemy in 2019, when it also missed the playoffs, giving away a game at home to Texas Lutheran and losing to the Cru.

But this time, outside of losing the second half in Belton, the Cowboys checked all the boxes. Except maybe for playing an NAIA team in its only non-conference game. A win over an in-region team would’ve padded HSU’s resume but Burleson said that’s hard to do. HSU would have to travel.

Which is what the NCAA tries to avoid with first-round games, keeping opponents fairly close to home. It’s 140 miles between Belton and San Antonio for the Trinity vs. UMHB game.

For seniors such as record-setting kicker Jamie Pogue and tight end Jonathan Castaneda, both Cooper grads, the end of their football careers comes suddenly.

For other players, such as Wylie grad Gatlin Martin and Abilene High products Terrell Franklin and Rae Millsap, there is next season.

But there should’ve been more to this season.

END