Turkeys of the Year

The worst flock-ups of 2003, starting with Big Tom himself

And that's enough to make a man the Runner-up Turkey of the Year.

Quitmire -- sorry, Whitmire -- got the cold shoulder from Democratic colleagues, some of whom muttered darkly that he caved in to pressure from his employer, a large Houston law firm.

And the union guys weren't too happy, either. "The steelworkers were mad as hell," says Chairman Birnberg.

Not just turkeys, but semi-reheated leftovers: 
Houston's ZZ Top.
Chad Crowe
Not just turkeys, but semi-reheated leftovers: Houston's ZZ Top.

"We told our members to dig deep into their pockets to fund this thing, and all of a sudden he's gone," Wortham says. "I told Whitmire, 'You have to understand -- our men think you're a strikebreaker.' "

A tense meeting in September went a little way toward cooling things off. Whitmire is not up for re-election until 2006, and has been a pretty reliable ally of labor in Austin. "I don't know if the relationship between John Whitmire and labor is severed," Wortham says. "I think most folks eventually will say, 'Okay, you messed up. Let's take a deep breath and get back on track.' But there are still some hard feelings."

Those hard feelings could have been avoided if Democrats had just done a little research into the Whitmire family tree before getting their hopes so high. Documents reveal some pretty interesting things:

December 1776 -- Lieutenant Jonathan Whitmire of Pennsylvania is handpicked by General George Washington to lead troops across the Delaware and surprise the Hessians in Trenton, New Jersey, while Washington remains in camp to supervise the reserves. Whitmire enthusiastically leads the troops away, only to return an hour or so later and report to General Washington that the water is "really cold."

Disgusted, Washington leads the troops himself. When Whitmire becomes a pest by insisting to everybody that he did the right thing, Washington has him transferred -- to General Benedict Arnold's unit, where he becomes a key adviser.

December 1944 -- In the frozen ruins of the Belgian town of Bastogne, Lieutenant J.Q. Whitmire of the 101st Airborne huddles with his men, surrounded by three German Panzer divisions at the spearpoint of the Battle of the Bulge. With no artillery or tanks of their own, the besieged Americans hold on grimly for days, hoping in vain for relief.

Knowing he could crush them at any time, the German commander sends in a group, asking the Americans to surrender. "God, yes," Whitmire says. "You got any hot coffee over there?"

Unfortunately for Whitmire, his commanding officer, General Anthony McAuliffe, overhears him and shouts, "Are you nuts?" The Germans hear only the word "nuts," and McAuliffe's one-word reply to the surrender demand goes down in military history.

July 1969 -- Navy Commander Jay Q. Whitmire, an uncle to the future state senator, is in the lunar landing module as Apollo 11 heads for the moon's surface. After the Eagle has landed, Whitmire, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin prepare to set foot on the moon, with Whitmire having the honor of going first.

"I'm kinda bushed right now," he says to his crewmates. "I'm gonna catch some z's -- why don't you take it, Neil?" Profoundly embarrassed, the navy censors the supposed-to-be-a-big-surprise news of the third guy in the capsule, leading eventually to rumors the entire moon landing was faked.

February 1999 -- State Senator Whitmire writes to President Bill Clinton, urging him to resign rather than lose the impending vote on his impeachment. "I know these Republicans," he writes. "There's just no way to beat them."

Judicial Turkey

Judges in Texas are a sober, restrained, reserved collection of public officials. Except when they're barreling six blocks the wrong way down a one-way street, pulling out a nine-millimeter pistol and shooting people, like then-judge Werner Voigt did in 1997; or when they're getting arrested for driving while intoxicated, like Judge Bob Burdette in 2001.

Making a bold bid to enter the judicial pantheon pioneered by those two is Municipal Judge Roxane Martinez, who faces trial on Class A misdemeanor theft and assault charges.

Martinez's adventures began in the wee hours of June 26 at Palmer's Ice House ("The Place 2 Be," according to its sign), an eastside dance hall where it was ladies' night (dollar beer for all the women, not just those with judicial ID).

According to police and media reports, Martinez got into an argument with a woman over whether the "penumbra of privacy" outlined in Griswold v. Connecticut could be applied to Second Amendment cases. Actually, the fight was over a pool game.

Witnesses said Martinez pummeled the other woman's own penumbra of privacy with a whack or two, then grabbed the woman's purse and drove off. The woman said she had $1,000 and a $280 cell phone in the purse.

The police complaint says that in a recorded conversation with an officer, Martinez said she had found the purse in the car with about $200 and the phone. "She spent the money and does not know what happened to the purse and cell phone," the officer's complaint says.

A colleague of Martinez's, who requested anonymity, describes her as "charming and funny," adding, "I would not have expected this to befall her. There are certainly some others on [the municipal court bench] that I would have expected to see do something like this." (Look no further for a stirring endorsement of the state of our municipal court bench.)

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