It's not just that we're a state in which a Republican candidate can get into a pissing contest with an oil tycoon. It's that they do it in public that makes this state so special.
To say Dallas oilman T. Boone Pickens and state Senate candidate Jesse Quackenbush disagree on water rights is an understatement.
After Quackenbush — an Amarillo attorney and restaurateur — commented in the Odessa American newspaper about Pickens' attempt to sell Panhandle water, Pickens' attorney fired off a letter threatening a libel lawsuit.
Quackenbush, who considers the tone of the letter "threatening," is refusing to be muzzled.
"Tell Mr. Pickens I'll be his huckleberry. Please let him know that if I'm elected to represent the 31st District, the only water he'll leave the Panhandle with will be the urine I leave on his pant leg," Quackenbush wrote to Pickens' attorney, James A. Besselman, also of Amarillo. The letter is dated Jan. 5.
Jokes aside, the article is pretty interesting in its own right. Here's the nub of the dispute:
Quackenbush is making water rights a theme in his campaign and name-dropped Pickens in the newspaper story.
"The rapidly approaching special election should be about issues, not the popularity contest it's turning into," Quackenbush told the American. "T. Boone Pickens is closer than ever to stealing and auctioning off the 31st District's limited water supply."
In a letter to Quackenbush from Besselman dated Dec. 23, Besselman wrote that the water underlying Pickens' ranch and the ranches of a separate landowner group belong to them "as a matter of law."
Besselman also wrote that Pickens has put forth a "viable solution to the state's impending water crisis that should be debated as a public policy issue."
"Your public statement that Mr. Pickens is going to 'steal' water that somehow belongs to the 31st District's water supply is a libelous misstatement that is offensive to Mr. Pickens and appears to be a blatant mischaracterization and untruth published by you to gain some advantage in your election efforts," Besselman wrote.
"We view this known untruth and malicious lie, to further your own political ambition, to be a very serious error of judgment."
The letter stated it was Quackenbush's only reminder to never again refer to Pickens in any further "untrue fashion" about his proposed use or sale of his water.
"To do so will assuredly cause you to be a defendant in a libel lawsuit, and I can promise you that your time will be saturated with the prosecution of that case," the letter states.
Quackenbush said he doesn't agree with water being sold for profit and transported to other areas. He equated it to the sale and transportation of oxygen. He said he is trying to protect the interests of farmers in the 31st District, which goes from the Panhandle through counties along the New Mexico border to the Permian Basin. It includes Amarillo, Midland and Odessa.
"We don't think water should be treated as a commodity," Quackenbush said. "The people in the Panhandle do not understand the commodity that's about to be taken away from them."