Category Archives: local news

What will happen to the Barfield Building? Anything?

I have taken great pleasure in cheering on the progress I’ve witnessed in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

Abandoned buildings have been revived. New structures are being erected. Businesses are coming back into the district. They’ve broken ground on a new minor-league baseball park. Downtown is home to two first-class hotels.

Then we have the Barfield Building.

I drive by it a couple times a week and so help me, it seems as though every time I see that rotting hulk of a structure it looks more dilapidated than it does the previous time I looked at it.

I have lost track of the ownership changes that have occurred there. It’s been vacant for as long as my wife and I have lived in Amarillo; that’s more than 23 years.

An investor once started gutting the ground floor. Then the work stopped. The owner boarded up the floor. Nothing has happened since.

A Dallas-based investor took over the building with a promise to do something with it, or to it.

Then a consortium of local investors took it over.

That’s the last I heard of anything.

This past summer there was some reporting about tax incentives to turn the Barfield into a hotel/apartment structure. The incentives were to total $17 million.

The Amarillo Globe-News reported it as a possibility.

That was then. Nothing has happened.

I cannot help but think that a wrecking ball might be in the building’s future. The old Barfield Building keeps taking on the appearance of a structure that isn’t worth saving.

Let ’em allow guns anywhere

This editorial cartoon appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and it speaks to an interesting irony about those who believe “more guns will keep us safe.”

The Conservative Political Action Conference, the Republican National Convention and the White House all prohibit guns. That’s fine with me.

The cartoon, though, does remind me of something a former boss of mine once asked a prominent Republican Texas senator before the Texas Legislature enacted a law allowing Texans to carry concealed handguns.

The 1995 Legislature approved a concealed-carry bill, which Gov. George W. Bush signed into law. The Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked, opposed the legislation and we editorialized against it. The publisher of the paper at the time was Garet von Netzer, as conservative a fellow as anyone I’ve ever known. He didn’t like the concealed-carry bill.

I’ll never forget the time von Netzer asked the late Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, this question: “If you think it’s all right for people to carry guns under their jackets, why don’t you allow them to carry those guns onto the floor of the Legislature?” The Legislature chose then to ban guns inside the State Capitol Building.

I don’t recall Sen. Bivins’s answer.

Von Netzer’s question then seems totally appropriate today.

Parkland reveals disgraceful aspect of Internet

We’ve all known how the Internet reveals evil intent as well as producing positive impact.

I present to you the Parkland, Fla., massacre and the outrage it has produced among high school students in that community as well as around the country.

It appears some right-wing trolls are spreading lies about the students, calling them “actors” hired to present anti-Donald Trump rhetoric while standing up for the FBI.

I have insufficient knowledge of the English language to express my utter disgust at these Internet trolls.

A gunman opened fire on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He killed 17 people: 14 students and three educators. Police arrested the gunman and he now is accused of 17 counts of premeditated murder. The shooter reportedly plans to plead guilty so that he can avoid a death sentence.

But what about the students who are rallying this week in Tallahassee, Fla., to lobby state lawmakers to take action on gun violence? Are they “actors”?

No. They are not. They are survivors of a hideous act of violence committed against them and their friends and mentors.

That didn’t prevent an aide to a Republican Florida legislator from fomenting the lie that they are “actors.” The legislator fired the aide on the spot. He’s not alone, though. Other disgraceful trolls have sought to undermine the public statements of these students by alleging that they are hired by political interests that favor stricter gun control laws.

I am reminded of what a letter writer told me once while I was editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I rejected the letter because it contained falsehoods. When I spoke to the writer over the phone to tell him why I was rejecting his letter, he answered that he knows its contents were true “because I read it on the Internet.”

I laughed out loud.

On this matter — regarding the lies being told about these grieving students — I would laugh, except that it’s not funny.

It is an utter disgrace.

Candidates don’t deserve free ‘ad space’

I get that the Amarillo Globe-News has endorsed state Sen. Kel Seliger’s bid for re-election to the Texas Senate. That’s their call and, frankly, it was the wise decision.

Now, though, the newspaper has crossed a line it shouldn’t have crossed. One of Seliger’s Republican primary opponents, Amarillo businessman Victor Leal, has been allowed to write a letter to the editor excoriating Seliger’s voting record. The newspaper published it!

Leal’s letter makes no mention of the editorial. It doesn’t challenge the G-N editorial board rationale for its decision to back Seliger.

Read Leal’s letter here.

Instead, it challenges Seliger’s statements touting his voting record on a variety of issues.

Why does this set a slippery-slope precedent? Because political candidates should have to pay for their political advertisements. Newspapers and other media offer candidates space and air time to espouse their own real or perceived virtues, but they don’t usually give it to them for free.

I worked for a couple of newspapers that didn’t even allow people to speak on behalf of candidates during election season for that very reason. The idea was to reserve the free space for issues and discussions that steered away from political campaigns. As a former boss of mine used to say, “We aren’t going to give away political ad space with letters to the editor that endorse a candidate’s virtues.”

I moved away from that policy years later. The candidates themselves, though, did not get that space to speak for free to speak on behalf of themselves or against their foes. If they wanted the space, they had to pay for it.

We now can await Seliger’s response to Leal and quite possibly Mike Canon — the third GOP candidate in this contest — will get to boast about his own virtues.

Sheesh!

Sen. Seliger? No one is perfect

I have spent a good deal of emotional capital via this blog speaking on behalf of state Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who’s fighting for re-election to the Texas Senate.

My view is a simple one: Seliger is head and shoulders above the two men challenging him in the GOP primary: Victor Leal of Amarillo and Mike Canon of Midland.

He has done a good job representing West Texas. He has acquainted himself with the unique issues in the Permian Basin as well as the Panhandle, from where Seliger hails.

I’ve laid down that marker yet again, but I do have a caveat.

Sen. Seliger isn’t perfect. He does have a vote in the recent legislative session that I want to revisit briefly. Seliger voted in favor of the goofy Bathroom Bill that became one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s major legislative priorities. Senate Bill 3 then went down the hall to the Texas House of Representatives, where GOP Speaker Joe Straus made damn sure it wouldn’t see the light of day.

You remember the Bathroom Bill, yes? It would have required people to use the public restroom that coincided with the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. It meant that transgender individuals couldn’t use restrooms in accordance with their current gender. It was discriminatory on its face.

Straus saw that and also noted that business groups — not to mention law enforcement officials — all opposed SB 3.

Seliger’s vote in favor of the bill was not decisive. He joined all other Senate Republicans in backing the bill. I only wish he would have stood up to Patrick on this one, just as he has done on other legislative matters during the two Senate sessions the men have served together.

It well might be that Seliger knew SB 3 was doomed in the House, which enabled him to favor it in the Senate.

OK. So there’s this vote that’s troubling. However, it is far from a dealbreaker, given the (non)quality of the opposition that is challenging Sen. Seliger in the GOP primary.

I have declared already that I consider Seliger to be a friend. I have long respected his commitment to the Panhandle and to West Texas.

But he is as imperfect as the rest of us.

***

Just for kicks, I thought I’d share this post from 2014:

Is Kel Seliger in the wrong party?

Declaring intentions ahead of primary

I am not usually one to declare how I intend to vote before I actually do it, given that we do cast our votes in secret.

This year presents some serious concern for me. It’s enough to make me declare my intention to do something I usually keep semi-secret.

My intention is to vote in the Republican Party primary. Not only that, I am going to vote early; as much as I detest early voting, my wife and I will be unable to vote on primary election day, as we’ll be out of town celebrating our granddaughter’s birthday. Hey, we have our priorities, you know?

I have a particular concern, and it involves Texas Senate District 31. I want Kel Seliger to win the GOP primary. He faces two challengers, Victor Leal of Amarillo and Mike Canon of Midland. Both of those individuals are trying to outflank Seliger on the right wing of the GOP electorate. They contend he’s one of those damn liberals. What they don’t say, of course, is that they are being backed by interests from far outside the Texas Panhandle.

Seliger is a mainstream conservative. His only “sin,” in the eyes of Leal and Canon, is that he is not a crazy right-wing extremist.

I’ll stipulate once again that I believe Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, has done a fine job representing West Texas in the Legislature. He needs to stay on the job.

I wish I could throw my support behind state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, too. I cannot. I am registered to vote in Randall County; Price represents Potter County and other rural counties in his House district.

I have known Price and Seliger for as long as we have lived in Amarillo. I like and admire them both and I want them both to win their party’s primary.

Given as well that Price has garnered the attention of Texas Monthly, which considers him one of the state’s best legislators, I believe the Panhandle is well-served to keep Price on the job right along with Seliger.

Not only that, there’s considerable chatter around the state that Price might ascend to the speakership of the Texas House of Representatives. Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio is not running for re-election and Price — shall I say — is not discouraging talk of him succeeding Straus. I consider that a form of code that Price is quite interested in becoming speaker.

Think of the potential that could await the Panhandle if one of our own takes the House gavel and directs the flow of legislation in that chamber.

I won’t surrender my own progressive political leanings by voting in this year’s GOP primary. We do have a general election coming up this fall and my intention is to back candidates up and down the state ballot who adhere to my own world view.

When you live as we do in Ground Zero of Texas Republican Land, you have to cast your vote where it will do the most good for the region where you live.

That’s my intention. So there.

Empower Texans, or empower the powerful?

Mailboxes all across the Texas Panhandle are filling up with campaign flyers.

They promote candidates endorsed by some outfit out of Austin called Empower Texans. This PAC represents the far right wing of the Republican Party and it might not surprise anyone reading this blog that it is unloading its heavy fire on three Panhandle legislative incumbents who — and this is so very rich — aren’t conservative enough to suit Empower Texas.

My buddy Jon Mark Beilue has written a fabulous essay for the Amarillo Globe-News that peels the hide off of Empower Texas.

Read it here.

This group baffles me. It has targeted state Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who’s been in the Senate since 2004. Why try to take down the former Amarillo mayor? He isn’t fond of Michael Quinn Sullivan, the brains and the bankroll behind Empower Texans. He also is a strong proponent of local control which, according to Beilue, runs counter to Empower Texans’ desire to draw power to Austin.

Seliger also isn’t nuts about Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, even though he supports much of Patrick’s legislative agenda.

Empower Texans has endorsed former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, the TEA Party golden boy who speaks in right wing talking points and cliches. Much of the PAC’s money comes from Midland-area oil and natural gas interests.

This group also dislikes state Rep. Four Price, another Amarillo Republican. By almost anyone’s estimation — whether they’re Republican and Democrat — Price has emerged as one of the House’s rising stars. He might become the next speaker of the House when the 2019 Legislature convenes. Empower Texans has tagged Price as a legislator who allegedly “favors” late-term abortions — despite his rock-solid pro-life voting position.

Empower Texans has endorsed Fritch City Manager Drew Brassfield over Price. Here’s a tip for Empower Texans to ponder: Take a look at the Texas Constitution and find the passage that prohibits officials from holding two public offices at the same time. Then it ought to ask Brassfield if he intends to keep his job at Fritch City Hall in the longest-shot chance he gets elected to the House. Brassfield is playing coy on that matter, declining to say whether he’ll quit his day job to go to the Legislature next January.

The Panhandle is being invaded by interests with no particular interest in this region’s representation. Empower Texans seeks to call the legislative shots from somewhere else and is looking for stooges to do its bidding.

Panhandle Republican primary voters need to take heed if they intend to vote for their interests or the interests of a PAC whose leadership doesn’t give a rat’s rear end about this part of Texas.

Beilue quotes someone with extensive knowledge of Panhandle politics:

“It’s intellectually dishonest,” said Sylvia Nugent, a veteran Republican campaign manager and strategist. “I don’t mind a bloody race when you stick to the issues, but they throw a lot of money into intimidating and discrediting a person. They don’t want independent effective members of the legislature. They want sheep.

“I think eventually people will figure them out. They want Neville Chamberlains, people who will appease them. We need to have more Winston Churchills.”

The “Winston Churchills” are in office already, standing for the Texas Panhandle.

Happy Trails, Part 76

Retirement has delivered many changes for my wife and me. We expected some of them. Others have kind of caught me by surprise.

One of the surprises has been the realization that no longer are we bound to others’ deadlines, others’ demands.

We are free to make our decisions on our own time.

It’s quite cool, yes? Of course it is!

We moved from Oregon to Beaumont, Texas in the spring of 1984 so that I could continue to pursue my career in print journalism. I was hired and I had to move by such-and-such date and report for work on a certain day and time.

Then we moved from Beaumont to Amarillo to continue that pursuit in early 1995. The same requirements forced me to report for duty at a prescribed date and time.

I met those deadlines. My wife came along later after working feverishly to clear up matters enough to enable us to make the move.

We were operating on others’ timetable.

No more. We’re now on our own deadline. We can set it. Or we can choose not to set it.

We’re awaiting word on the sale of our house. We have accepted an offer. We are going to jump through the usual hoops: inspection reports and then signing of plenty of papers to transfer ownership of our property to another party.

Then we prepare to move.

People ask me almost daily: What are your plans? My answer is the same: We don’t have any plans. We’re retired now and we aren’t obligated to make plans by a certain date. We have nowhere to be at a particular date and time.

We are, as I’ve said only half-jokingly, making it up as we go along.

That is the truth!

Yes, we have a general idea where we intend to move. The precise destination isn’t determined.

We will take our time looking for it. Given that our “home” these days sits on four wheels and rides behind our pickup truck, we are free to go wherever we please, whenever we please.

Our first order of business will be to determine where we want to park our RV while we scour North Texas looking for a place to call home yet again.

This foray into the world of retirement has given us the luxury of time and the freedom to use as much — or as little — of it as we desire. Ain’t it cool?

Happy Trails, Part 75

The time has arrived for me to start thinking about what I am going to miss about the Texas Panhandle.

Our retirement journey this week took a big step forward to the next place.

This place, though, has been good to my wife and me. We’ve called it home for 23 years … plus a couple of months. As we prepare to move on down the road, I am filled with many memories.

One of them slapped me in the face the first time I ever laid eyes on this region. It occurred in late 1994. I flew from Beaumont to Amarillo to interview for a job at the Amarillo Globe-News, which had a post to fill: editorial page editor of both papers, the Daily News and the Globe-Times.

I landed at Amarillo International Airport, walked into the terminal and met the man I hoped to succeed. Tom Thompson was about to become press secretary for the newly elected congressman from the Panhandle, Republican Mac Thornberry.

We walked out to the parking lot and I noticed right away: Man, this place looks so … big!

I could not get over how far one can see here. We walked to Thompson’s car and even riding from the airport toward downtown I couldn’t take my eyes off the panorama.

I don’t recall my precise words to Thompson as we drove into the city, but I think it was something like, “I cannot believe how big and spread out everything looks.”

If you’ve been the Golden Triangle, or seen the Piney Woods of Deep East Texas, you get what I meant. The pine trees and the dogwoods are lush. The highways that course through the woods, however, do tend leave one with a bit of claustrophobia.

Not here, man! You see the High Plains of Texas for the first time and you feel, well, sort of liberated.

Yes, I will miss that feeling here. I will miss the big, beautiful sky that I’ve said before is God’s payback to the region for neglecting to grant this part of the world with purple mountain majesty.

I’m like to have more to say in the days and weeks ahead about the many friends my wife and I have made here. I’ll offer a word or two about the professional fulfillment I received while working for nearly 18 years at the local newspaper. I might even say something about how I managed to navigate my way through a community with a significantly different world view than the one I carry with me.

Today, my mind takes me back to that first glimpse of the wide open spaces this region provides. One’s first impression of a place often is the most compelling. So it was when I first cast my gaze on the place we would call “home.”

Senate race starting to get … nasty

Here come the grenades.

They’re being lobbed at Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who is facing a GOP primary challenge from former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo restaurant owner Victor Leal.

The live ammo is being tossed by Leal, who has approved a TV ad that accuses Seliger of being “liberal” and “corrupt.” Leal puts the two words together — in that order — at the end of his ad, which seems to equate liberal political views with corruption.

Seliger, meanwhile, is running hard on his own conservative credentials, proclaiming himself to be pro-local control, pro-life and pro-National Rifle Association.

As someone who plans to vote quite soon — my wife and I will be unavailable to vote on March 6, which is primary Election Day — I am taking a keener-than-usual interest in this race.

Just maybe Leal ought to take a deep breath before he airs this ad too many more times. I happen to remember the first time Leal ran for a legislative seat. It was in 2010. He wanted to succeed David Swinford, who retired from his House District 87 seat.

But here’s the deal: Leal had resided for many years in Randall County, which is not part of District 87. He then rented a house in Potter County, which falls within the legislative boundary. Questions arose about whether Leal was residing in the Potter County house.

I will not divulge whether I believe Leal actually lived in that Potter County residence. However, questions surrounding that messy residence matter can — and occasionally do — find their way back to the front burner.

Especially when politicians toss around words such as “corrupt.”