Category Archives: local news

Canyon joins 21st century

Well done, Canyon, Texas voters.

You’ve awakened to the reality of life in the second decade of the 21st century, which is that we’re a mobile society and it no longer makes sense to cloister your community in the notion that staying “dry” somehow protects you from the evils of alcoholic beverages.

Canyon voters agreed to make the city “wet,” meaning that merchants will be able to sell adult beverages and eating establishments will be able to service liquor by the drink.

Will this turn Canyon into a din of debauchery where people get so drunk they stagger into the streets en masse?

Umm, no.

It means that businesses will be able to generate a little more revenue, improve their bottom lines and pump some of that money back into a community that can use a little help.

This hidebound notion of keeping a community dry used to make sense when we all got around on foot, or rode on horseback, or even at the start of the automobile age.

No more. We’ve gotten mobile. People are able to travel easily to the next city to purchase their hooch and bring it back.

I’m reminded of what a Department of Public Safety officer told me once while my wife and I were visiting Perryton, in Ochiltree County. He called the seven-mile stretch of U.S. 83 between Perryton and the Oklahoma state line one of the “most dangerous stretches of road in Texas.” Ochiltree County was dry and motorists would drive across the state line, get tanked up on liquor and then drive back home. They were impaired and the roadway was the scene of numerous wrecks each week, the DPS officer told me.

Ochiltree County has since gone wet. Traffic accidents along U.S. 83 have declined and business is booming in Perryton.

Canyon now has joined the 21st century club.

Welcome aboard.


Republican wave douses Potter County

Just how serious is this Republican wave that the GOP is proclaiming from the Tuesday mid-term election?

Consider what happened in one justice of the peace precinct in Potter County, Texas. It had been served since 1998 by a Democratic justice of the peace, who on Tuesday got drummed out of office by a first-time candidate who –near as I can tell — no one had heard of.

My pal and former colleague Jon Mark Beilue talks about this in a blog he wrote this morning.

Texas is seriously Republican. The Panhandle of our state is even more so. Democratic stronghold pockets are dwindling with each election cycle. Another of them bit the dust Tuesday.

JP Nancy Bosquez soon will be a former justice of the peace. Her successor will be a fellow named Richard Herman, a retired Army sergeant.

Potter County’s Precinct 2 long has been considered relatively “safe” for Democrats. No more. To be a Republican running for anything in Texas, let alone the Panhandle, is now to be a juggernaut. Herman won even though he’s lugging some considerable personal baggage, which includes multiple arrests on felony charges.

The Republican tide Tuesday was real. It swept out a dependable officeholder who had the misfortune of being from the “other” party.

However, here’s one head-scratching element to this story. The county commissioner from that very precinct, Democrat Mercy Murguia, was elected to a full term. She survived the GOP tsunami, while Bosquez was getting swamped.

Very strange.



Chaos will reign supreme in 2016 election, if …

Randall County is going to need a serious reworking of how it conducts its elections in 2016, based on what I witnessed all day today in this mid-term, supposedly “low-turnout” election.

The county established “voting centers,” which effectively eliminated many traditional polling places around the county.

One of those centers happened to be at the County Courthouse Annex on Georgia and the Canyon E-Way in south Amarillo. I worked all day there conducting exit polling for a public opinion research company.

I witnessed considerable chaos, some chagrin from disheartened voters and some angst among county election officials seeking to manage the mayhem.

The voting center system allows voters who live anywhere in the county to vote at whatever polling site they wish. It turned out today that nearly 2,000 of them decided to vote at the courthouse annex. It started off fast when the polls opened at 7 a.m., slacked off just a bit right after noon, then it got seriously busy and crowded from about 2 p.m. until the polls closed at 7.

I was camped just outside the west entrance and I watched voter after voter walk in, look at the crowd, then walk out proclaiming they’re “coming back later,” or “I’ll go vote somewhere else. I ain’t waiting in that line to vote.”

It was an impressive display of voter interest in an election that pundits said would produce a tepid turnout. I don’t know what the final numbers are just yet and I don’t think they’ll really rival presidential election-year vote totals. The pandemonium at the annex, though, needs to be examined.

We’ll be electing a new president in 2016. The turnout for those elections always is greater than these mid-term elections.

What’s the county to do? Elections officials told me tonight they’re going to need to reconfigure the ballot box setup, the course of the lines that will be sure to form and look for better ways to manage the crowd packed into the area in front of the tax office.

Good luck with all of it.


Here's what I am doing on Election Day

My granddaughter likely never will ask me this question: Grandpa, what did you do on Election Day 2014?

But if she did, I would have something rather interesting to tell her.

I would tell little Emma I worked all day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. as an exit pollster.

My job, which I’m doing for a public opinion research firm, is to interview voters as they exit the polling place at Randall County’s Courthouse Annex. Well, I don’t “interview” them per se. I will ask them if they would mind filling out a short questionnaire telling who they voted for, what are the key issues of the day and then a little bit about themselves.

I’ve got to log every person who takes part, everyone who refuses and everyone I “miss,” those who walk by without being asked if they’ll participate. I have to be sure to make a record of it.

Three times during the day I’ll call in voting results; I’ll report the total number of people voting, total “misses” and “refusals.” The polling firm is interested in the races for Texas governor, lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate.

The polling is being done on behalf of all the major media outlets in the country: CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, The Associated Press.

They gather this data from all across the country during the day, compile and then report their findings nationally to an audience awaiting the election returns when the polls start closing around 7 or 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

It’s going to be a challenge to make sure I get all the data collected that’s required.

My adviser at the polling firm assures me it will be fun. She also believes I’ll find my rhythm once I get going. I’m going to take here word for it.

So, with that I’m off to my polling station for what I believe will be a most interesting day watching democracy at work.

Oh, by the way: Be sure to vote.


Back to Standard Time

Now that we’ve turned the clocks back and we’ve all gotten that hour’s sleep we lost in the spring, it’s fair to ask: Why do we “spring forward” in the first place?

My old pal Jon Talton, an Arizona native and blogger who writes about issues in his home state, says Arizona was right to forgo the switch to Daylight Savings Time when it was introduced back in the old days.

You know, I’m beginning to agree with that notion.

Why switch?

Well, the modern version of DST had its origin in the 1970s energy crisis. U.S. politicians thought that turning the clocks ahead in the spring would give us more late-afternoon and evening daylight, thus reducing demand for electricity in the form of street lights and such.

I guess it just stuck. People in most of the states got used to the switch to DST and then back to Standard Time in the fall.

Perhaps the older I get the less I care about having to change every clock in the house or in my vehicles.

I do like the extended periods of sunlight in the evenings in the Texas Panhandle. Given our location, just about 70 miles or so from the Mountain Time Zone, the sun sits in our huge sky for a very long time when the Summer Solstice arrives in June. It doesn’t get seriously dark until well after 9 p.m.

Now that we’ve flipped our clocks back and gained that hour of sleep, the sun goes down a whole lot earlier.

I’m still asking why the need to keep switching our clocks in the first place.


Strong mayor? Not for Amarillo

A friend and former colleague shared a story out of Sacramento, Calif., that he thought might pique my interest.

He’s right. It did.

The story concerns a ballot referendum that calls for a strong mayor form of government in California’s capital city.

It asks voters if they want the mayor to have appointment powers and to wield serious power over city government, which now runs on a council/city manager system.

My hometown of Portland, Ore., is run that way, with the mayor having the power to appoint city commissioners to oversee various city departments. Portland has no city manager; the mayor and the council do all the heavy lifting.

However, in my current hometown of Amarillo, we’ve got something quite different.

We have a council/manager government. What’s more, the council is a volunteer outfit, with five members — including the mayor — serving the city essentially for free. They get $10 every time they meet, which is weekly. The manager does all the grunt work. The only hire the council makes is, that’s right, the city manager, who then hires all the department heads.

I don’t know what would work for Sacramento. That’s the voters’ call.

Amarillo? It’s not in the cards.


Having said that, though, I have been entertaining second thoughts about whether the city should retain its at-large system of electing all council members.

Amarillo’s population is closing in on 200,000 residents; heck, it might even be there by now. With that population growth comes an increasingly diverse population. There’s a growing ethnic diversity, with residents of various ethnicities and races seeking City Hall’s attention on all manner of issues.

The argument here has been that each of the city council members represents the entire city. If someone has a concern, he or she can call any one of the five council members. But do they listen as intently to someone of, say, a different ethnic or racial background than they do one of their own? They all say they do, but not everyone believes what they hear.

The all-for-one approach, furthermore, reduces the mayor’s actual power. The city mayor’s main job, therefore, is just to preside over those weekly council meetings. Beyond that, the mayor has as much stroke as the other four council members.

One day — maybe soon — the winds of change will arrive at City Hall. It’s going to spark an interesting fight over whether to upset the norm that makes a lot of folks comfortable.

Continued growth, which the city fathers and mothers say they want, is going to change it.



'Reading between the lines'

A column in today’s Amarillo Globe-News encourages folks to “read between the lines of newspaper endorsements.”

OK. I usually do that. I also read between the lines of this particular essay, which contained a couple of points worth noting.

One is the timing of a particular endorsement mentioned by the author of the essay, Globe-News director of commentary David Henry. He writes about the paper’s impending endorsement in the Leticia Van de Putte-Dan Patrick race for Texas lieutenant governor. More on that in a moment.

Second is this: “The reason Patrick isn’t piling up newspaper endorsement is — let’s face it — his habit of saying politically incorrect things, and some editorial boards consider themselves above such behavior.”

I am almost ready to lay down some real American money and suggest that the Globe-News endorsement, when it comes, will back Patrick in the race to become the state’s next lieutenant governor. Columnists and editorialists usually don’t refer to political correctness unless they intend to make light of it, denigrate it, or say they outright they oppose it. The tone of the statement quoted on this blog suggests one or both of the first two points.

That’s fine. Any newspaper is surely entitled to endorse whomever they wish.

However, the timing is a bit troublesome.

The election occurs on Tuesday. The endorsement will come out on Election Eve or on Election Day. Either way, the response time from readers either endorsing or opposing the newspaper endorsement — whichever way it goes — is extremely limited. Readers likely will have little or zero time to write something, submit it and then get it published prior to the time voters go to the polls.

Oh yeah. They’ve got the digital edition. Readers can post comments online. Good luck getting to them if you don’t pay to read the digital version of the newspaper.

Back in the old days, when I ran editorial pages in Amarillo, in Beaumont, or back in Oregon, we had a policy that cut off campaign-related letters to the editor one week before election day. We sought to avoid what a former editor of mine would call a “last-minute dump” by foes of a candidate who would disparage a candidate without giving the other side enough time to respond.

Accordingly, we usually managed to get our editorial recommendations on races published well before Election Day. With the advent of early voting, indeed, it became imperative that we get our endorsements on the record prior to the start of the early-voting period.

I guess that’s changed these days. The timing of the newspaper’s endorsement in this highly important race amounts, in my mind, to a last-minute dump.

That’s their call. I’m still looking forward to reading what my former newspaper has to say regarding this important statewide race.

I might be surprised. Then again, probably not, if what I read between those lines is accurate.


'Spanishgate' is beginning to smell

An unpleasant aroma is beginning waft out of West Texas A&M University’s campus.

I don’t believe it’s the smell of cattle.

My pal Jon Mark Beilue has referred to an incident as Spanishgate, referring in tandem to the infamous Watergate scandal of 1973-74 and an incident that has just erupted at WT involving a young football player who did schoolwork for a teammate in a case of academic fraud.

Jon Mark asks: What did head WT football coach Mike Nesbitt know and when did he know it?

Meanwhile, WT has agreed to “nullify” the games it played with an “ineligible player.” Nullify? I’ve read the Amarillo Globe-News story several times today and I still don’t quite understand. It’s like being given punishment with no real penalty.

Jose Azarte Jr., a former placekicker for the Buffaloes, did the work on behalf of starting wide receiver Anthony Johnson.

The penalty handed the Buffs doesn’t require them to forfeit any wins while playing with an ineligible player. It basically removes them from any playoff seeding after the regular season. Whatever that means.

Meanwhile, it is imperative that we get to the bottom of who know what and when.

Head football coaches are supposed to have their hands on all the levers of their team. An assistant coach, Joel Hinton, has left the team, although it’s not yet been established whether he resigned or was fired because of his involvement in the case involving some Spanish classwork that Azarte did for Johnson.

There remain some questions that demand answers, as Beilue has noted.

The WT brass needs to come clean.


Early voting still not as good as Election Day

Here’s what I did this week. I voted early.

I’ve said it to anyone who’ll listen that I hate to vote early. I did it this week because next week I’m going to be busy throughout the entire Election Day.

I’ll be working as an exit pollster representing news gathering organizations: all the major cable networks, the broadcast networks and The Associated Press.

A polling research outfit has hired me to interview voters leaving the Randall County Courthouse Annex in south Amarillo. Their answers will be confidential and my goal is to give questionnaires to every other voter who leaves the annex. Good luck with that.

So, I voted early at the annex.

It still isn’t nearly as much fun as standing in line on Election Day, chatting with fellow voters and awaiting my turn to cast a ballot on one of those fancy-shmancy electronic voting machines.

There remains a certain pageantry to voting. People in countries where voting isn’t the norm have stood for hours, even days, waiting to do their civic duty. Surely you remember the 1994 presidential election in South Africa, the one that elected Nelson Mandela. Black South Africans who never before had been given the opportunity to vote stood in line for days awaiting their turn at the polling place. Imagine something like that happening here.

I didn’t vote in all the races. I left some of them blank. Rather than just cast a vote against someone because I don’t like their views or their party’s views, I didn’t vote for candidates about which I know too little.

Yes, I split my ballot. I cast votes for some Republicans as well as Democrats.

I feel good that my vote has been recorded. It’ll be spit out when the polls close Election Night at 7.

Having declared to you all that I’ve actually voted, I hereby reserve the right to gripe when the folks who actually win take office and fail to run things the way I want them run.



Now, about that statewide texting ban

Let’s call this election right now.

Four Price is going to win re-election Tuesday to a third term in the Texas House of Representatives from House District 87.

There. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time to insist that the Amarillo Republican pick up where he and his colleagues left off in 2013 regarding a statewide ban on texting while driving motor vehicles.

Price has said he supports a ban. He’s voted for it twice. The 2011 Legislature — where Price served as a freshman — approved a bill banning texting while driving and sent it to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk. But the governor said it was too “intrusive,” or some such nonsense and vetoed it.

The 2013 Legislature, spooked by that veto two years earlier, didn’t get it approved.

Well, Gov. Perry is going to be gone in January. He’ll be polishing himself up and getting ready for another run for the presidency — unless he gets convicted of abuse of power back home in Texas.

The door is open once again for Price and his 149 House colleagues to do what they should have been able to do by now.

Ban the use of texting devices while motorists are driving their vehicles on our state’s highways.

Price is gathering some seniority in the House. He’s no stranger to the legislative process. His pal John Smithee, another Amarillo Republican, is one of the House’s senior members. He’s returning, too. The two of them can team up to strong-arm their colleagues to get this issue done.

Send the bill to the new governor’s desk and insist that he or she sign it into law.

It’s good for Texas.