Thursday, September 29, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Donaldson Recalls Old Segregationalists and Warns of Huns

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 29, 2011

ALBUQUERQUE — With all its partisan gridlock and people’s growing tendency to demonize politicians with whom they disagree, Washington, D.C., in recent decades has gotten worse in many ways, former ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson observed Wednesday.

But Donaldson, speaking at the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government’s “Your Right to Know” luncheon in Albuquerque, said there’s one area that’s noticeably improved since he first went to the nation’s capital in the 1960s.

Access to government and public information.

He’s not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. He said politicians are always promising open, transparent governments but backsliding once they get into power. President Barack Obama is an example, he said. Despite campaign promises to the contrary, “the Obama White House is as secretive as any,” Donaldson said.

But things really are getting better, he insisted.

“When I first went to Washington, a bunch of old guys ran the place,” he said. Speaking of Congress, Donaldson said, “Autocratic committee chairmen had absolute power.”

He gave the example of Rep. Howard Smith, D-Virginia, an outspoken civil-rights opponent who chaired the House Rules Committee in the 1960s.
Rep. Howard Smith, D-Virginia

“Nothing got to the House floor without his approval,” Donaldson said. Smith would hold up civil-rights legislation by leaving town and going back to his farm in Virginia, he said.

“The mark-up of bills was all done behind closed doors,” the former reporter said. “You didn’t know what the oil companies were doing.”

Then Donaldson joked, “But I’m sure they were doing wonderful things. I know where I am,” referring to the fact that the oil and gas industry, which is responsible for a huge chunk of state revenues, has enormous political sway in New Mexico.

Donaldson should know where he is. Born in El Paso, he was raised in Southern New Mexico and graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. For years, he’s lived on his ranch in Hondo.

He made lots of comments on the current presidential race. He spoke with dismay how some audience members at recent Republican debates have applauded executions in Texas, yelled that a hypothetical young man without health insurance should be left to die and booed a gay soldier in Iraq asking about the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.
Vote Atilla 2012

He said Republicans are in danger of playing too much to the hard-right party base.

But, because of the poor economy, he said, Obama’s chances for re-election are looking dimmer and dimmer.

It seems now that the only way Obama could get re-elected, Donaldson cracked, is “if the Republicans put up Attila the Hun.”

Sunday will never be the same: Since Thanksgiving Day 2001, this column has run Thursdays in this newspaper’s Local section — except during my vacations.

Well, just shy of its 10th anniversary, you won’t find this Roundup in this section more. Or anywhere else on Thursdays.

But don’t cancel your subscription. Beginning three days from now, this column moves to the Sunday Opinion section.

I’ll still be writing about politics inside and outside of the Roundhouse, laced with scuttlebutt and wisecracks. And I’ll still be doing it weekly — except for vacations.

See you on Sunday.