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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

September 25, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

The Eagle. Sept. 23, 2018.

In October 1919, with little more than a year left on his second term, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke shortly after an intensive public-speaking tour in support of America joining the League of Nations, the forerunner of today’s United Nations.

By the time the tour reached Pueblo, Colorado, Wilson was exhausted and suffered a collapse. The tour ended and the president returned to Washington. After the massive stroke — at least the fourth stroke he suffered, most of the others coming before he was elected president in 1912 — his second wife, Edith, and his doctor, Cary Grayson, decided to keep the extent of Wilson’s disabilities from the stroke quiet — from the Congress, from the American people — and from the president himself. Wilson believed he was in better health than he was and was convinced he would get better. He even contemplated running for a third term, which he could do back then.

Dr. Grayson met with the Cabinet to discuss the president’s condition. Cabinet members brought up removing Wilson from office and elevating Vice President Thomas R. Marshall to the top spot, but nothing came of those discussions.

For the remaining months of Wilson’s second term, few people saw the president. Instead, Mrs. Wilson would meet with visitors, convey the president’s regards and then go behind closed doors with Wilson to discuss the matter being presented. Since that time, historians have varied on the extent of Wilson’s participation, but it is clear that Edith Bolling Galt Wilson was the unelected default president.

Now we turn to today. Bob Woodward’s carefully researched book on the presidency of Donald Trump, “Fear,” and an anonymous column supposedly by a top White House official that appeared in The New York Times two weeks ago present a White House that is pathologically in disarray. Most of us realize and acknowledge that Donald Trump is unorthodox and doesn’t do things the way previous presidents going back to George Washington did.

That may be good or it may be bad. Only history truly will judge. But that unpredictability is what has drawn his legion of supporters to his side.

What is concerning — or at least should be — is that, according to Woodward and the anonymous author, top White House aides have taken to lying to President Trump, keeping important documents from him, and hiding pertinent information from him.

It truly is frightening if that, indeed, is the case. Like him, don’t like him, it doesn’t matter. Donald Trump is president of the United States, elected with an overwhelming majority in the Electoral College. Yes, he lost the popular vote, but that doesn’t matter, no matter how many times his opponents bring it up.

While we appreciate and understand the actions of his aides, they are wrong. Nobody elected them to run things in the White House. They have no constitutional authority to serve as unelected presidents, no matter how well-meaning their intent.

Donald Trump is almost halfway through his first term. If people want him out of office, they can elect someone else in 2020. Trump wouldn’t be the first president rejected for a second term.

If the members of the Cabinet are so concerned, they can invoke the 25th Amendment, passed by the states in 1967 in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to clarify the chain of command, as it were. It says that should the president be removed from office, dies or resigns, as did Richard Nixon, the vice president officially becomes president.

Should that happen, the new president nominates a new vice president, subject to approval by a majority of both the House and Senate.

But what happens when the president refuses to step down? The 25th Amendment says the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet may remove the president by declaring him or her unable to “discharge the powers and duties of his office.” The vice president then becomes acting president until the president reclaims the office. Members of the cabal have four days to decide whether to allow the deposed president to return. If they do say no, the matter goes to the Congress where two-thirds of the members of both houses must vote to remove the president permanently.

Supposedly, some members of the Trump Cabinet have discussed invoking the 25th Amendment, but have not done so. Should they move forward, they would create a constitutional crisis that could split this country further for decades to come if not longer.

The other way to remove a president is through impeachment, voted by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate. That has happened twice in this country, When Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the house, but ultimately not convicted by the Senate. Both times showed the highly partisan nature of the houses of Congress.

A third impeachment effort — this one valid — was conducted against President Richard Nixon, who resigned before the full House could vote on the matter.

Now, there has been talk of impeaching President Trump, although the reasons remain muddled. Some Republicans claim that, should the Democrats retake the House in November, they will move for impeachment.

Impeachment is a serious matter and should be undertaken for valid reasons. Politics should not play a role, although in Washington that may be impossible to prevent.

All this is to say that Donald Trump remains our president. If those who think he is not fit for the office want to remove him, they should be public and should clearly state why they seek that outcome.

People may not like or trust Donald Trump, but until he is out of the Oval Office, he is our president, with all the authority that implies.

___

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Sept. 24, 2018.

Usually when we mark the passing of an important person, the honoree was a high-ranking public official or celebrity. Bill Sanders was important, but for none of those reasons.

He’s just one of those many departed people who richly deserve this kind of attention for how they lived, but don’t receive it because they lived obscurely. With Sanders we’re making an exception, and if he proves to be the first of many such exceptions, let it count as one more of the many positive marks he made on this world.

Corpus Christi’s homeless knew and appreciated Sanders as a cheerful, tireless volunteer with Tacos Not Bombs, the informal group that feeds them on Sundays at Artesian Park. Sanders’ role could be described best as a combination host and waiter, helping them seat themselves, carrying their food and drinks and fetching refills — but most of all making them feel appreciated.

Sanders was a retired police officer. He worked in Waco for 35 years, in uniform, plainclothes and undercover. He and his wife, Liz, moved four years ago to Corpus Christi, where daughters Barbara Ellis and Lacy Sanders reside.

Those who knew Sanders in Corpus Christi but not in Waco had a hard time imagining him as a police officer, partly because he was physically small but mostly because he was so gentle-natured. Their disbelief was understandable. But it also was unfair both to him, because they underestimated his steely resolve, and to the countless peace officers who keep the peace peacefully, with disarming smiles and words. Many of those officers would be quick to recognize his service to and advocacy for the homeless as a natural progression from his former profession.

Sanders also was widely known to the members of First Baptist Church, who will not find it odd at all that we would choose to mark his passing. His daughter Barbara said she and husband Kelly Ellis have lived here 17 years but got to know twice as many people since her father moved here. Consider that both Ellises are financial advisers, a people-oriented profession.

Sanders was diagnosed with cancer in June, gone in September. Sometimes the most interesting part of an obituary is what is requested in lieu of flowers. Sanders asked that people contribute their money to the Corpus Christi Independent School District’s program for homeless students and their time to Tacos Not Bombs.

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Houston Chronicle. Sept. 24, 2018.

Are Texans too proud to admit they have a drinking problem? That misplaced pride needlessly costs the lives of hundreds of people every year who dare to travel on roads made dangerous by too many motorists, too many speeders, too much construction, and, way too often, too many drunk drivers.

Nowhere is that more true than Houston, which, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis, had more fatal drunken-driving crashes over the last 16 years than any other major metropolitan area in the country. More than 3,000 wrecks with fatalities caused by drunken or drugged drivers occurred. That’s nearly 1,000 more fatal wrecks than Los Angeles, which has about double the population.

Dallas-Fort Worth was almost as bad as Houston. It had 2,425 fatal crashes involving drugs or alcohol over the same 16-year period. But Houston is “ground zero for DWI fatalities,” to use the words of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.

It might not be that way if local law enforcement agencies assigned more officers to the task. The 5,000-employee Houston Police Department has only 25 officers and supervisors assigned to DWI enforcement. The Harris County Sheriff’s office has five deputies on DWI patrol, but many local forces have no one doing that life-saving work.

Ultimately, this is about personal responsibility. Drunken driving wouldn’t be so common if fewer people thought it was OK to get behind the wheel after having a few drinks. But that deadly combination is considered part of Texas’ culture by some people, along with driving the type of heavy, fast vehicles that are more likely to cause fatalities in a wreck.

Changing that culture requires more than police work. The courts can do a better job too. The Chronicle analysis showed more than a quarter of the 30,000 people arrested for DWI in Harris County since 2015 were repeat offenders, but many of them avoided prison time even after being convicted of DWI following a crash where fatalities occurred.

Offenders could have their licenses suspended, but Texas has some of the most lenient license suspension laws in the country. Judges also can order interlock breathalyzers placed in cars, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the device indicates its driver has been drinking. But there were only 4,190 interlock licenses issued in 2016, which was a 16 percent decline.

Too many people are dying in car wrecks in Texas. That means the police and courts must do more to keep drunk drivers off the roads. So does the Legislature, which acts like it would be an affront to Texans to pass a law allowing sobriety checkpoints. Relying on drunk drivers to act more responsibly hasn’t worked before, and it won’t work now.

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San Antonio Express-News. Sept. 24, 2018.

Never one to pass up the opportunity to make a political appointment, Bexar County commissioners plan to fill the Court-at-Law No. 1 bench left open by the resignation of John Fleming.

Commissioners recently began accepting applications for the post and are likely to announce a selection soon, ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

Going through the process of screening candidates for a short-term appointment to the abandoned judicial bench could create more chaos for a troubled court.

Fleming’s erratic behavior in the weeks leading to his resignation last week helped bring a much-needed spotlight on a court that had been dysfunctional for years.

Fleming first announced his intent to resign in mid-August but then quickly changed that to plans to retire at the end of the year, when his term was set to expire. At the same time, he attempted to get his name off the November ballot. That move did not sit well with local Republican Party officials who were surprised by the sudden move, and they rejected his request to withdraw from the race.

That leaves Fleming, a reluctant candidate, facing Democrat Helen Petry Stowe on the ballot.

It would make sense for the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court to appoint Stowe, an assistant district attorney, to the bench. If she is the victor in November she will have a head start on the job. If commissioners don’t want to appoint Stowe, they should wait until after the November election to make the appointment. Bringing a third party into this troubled court a few short weeks before the election makes no sense.

Although Fleming has stated he does not want the job, it’s possible he could still come out ahead at the polls. If despite his best efforts to hang up his judicial robe, Fleming gets re-elected, it does not mean he would have to keep the job. He could once again resign, creating a new vacancy for commissioners to fill.

Commissioner Paul Elizondo cited the growing backlog in the misdemeanor court as one of the many reasons commissioners want to make an appointment before the election. This court has been operating with visiting judges for months and could have used serious intervention months ago. Waiting a few more weeks to fill the post wouldn’t change things much. Fleming’s court-at-law colleagues have volunteered to help handle his docket until the court gets back on track.

Elizondo said the county is soliciting applicants for the job because that is policy. We get that, but this is an unusual circumstance occurring only a few weeks before an election. Appoint Stowe or wait until after the November election to make the appointment.

If previous judicial appointments are any indication, the stack of applications will be tall and the line will be long of those seeking private audiences with commissioners to make their pitch.

It is a disservice to make candidates go through a screening process for a short-term job when the position is on the upcoming ballot.

If this appointment process is used to bestow the prestigious title of judge, if only temporarily, on a Commissioners Court favorite, it will only serve to further undermine public confidence in a judicial system already suffering the fallout of Fleming’s bizarre behavior.

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The Dallas Morning News. Sept. 25, 2018.

We have a simple test when it comes to mitigating the risks of the natural gas pipes underneath our feet here in Dallas. And it is this: When one or more houses explode in the city and natural gas is involved, top officials from the company responsible for those gas lines need to publicly testify about what is going on and what’s being done about it.

So following the latest revelations involving Atmos Energy, as reported by this paper recently, we believe it is high time for the Railroad Commission of Texas to hold public hearings about the state of the gas lines in our fair city. And, yes, we think these hearings should happen in Dallas, not Austin.

In case you missed it, here is a quick recap of what we’ve learned. Since 2006, nine deaths and least 22 injuries occurred in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as a result of gas explosions due to leaking natural gas. All of them occurred in a network of pipelines owned by Atmos. Additionally, Atmos received 2,000 citations alleging violations of pipeline safety rules.

What’s more, the regulators involved appear hesitant to impose fines of significant enough size as to spark a different approach from company officials.

Atmos CEO Mike Haefner said in April, “I can assure you our system is safe today, and with recent investments, it’s safer than it’s ever been.”

All of us, of course, hope that he is right. But we’ve said for months that part of Atmos’ responsibility here is to afford the public a full view of all of the relevant information. That’s critical because in addition to natural gas, public concern is the other volatile energy involved in this issue. To ensure the public has the information it needs and that proper steps are being taken, it’s time for public hearings.

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