Tag Archives: Amarillo Matters

Amarillo channeling OKC?

I’m hearing some similar-sounding economic rumblings from two places: Amarillo, Texas and Oklahoma City.

An acquaintance of mine, Jason Herrick, active in Amarillo Matters, a pro-business political action group, writes this via Twitter: You mean the same OKC that first built a downtown ballpark, then attracted a minor league team and kicked off a revitalization of downtown? And now they are attracting new hotels and investment because there is demand for the product?

I am going to surmise from Herrick’s message that downtown Oklahoma City is continuing to stir, to come to life, to enjoy the fruits of public investment.

Amarillo’s downtown district is beginning to rumble in much the same manner, again thanks to some public investment.

You see, OKC decided some years to invest some public money into construction of a new ballpark near what’s now called Bricktown in the downtown district. The ballpark is now home to the city’s AAA minor-league baseball franchise. Bricktown took off, too.

The city encouraged development of an entertainment district along a Canadian River tributary that flows through the downtown area. Abandoned warehouses were re-purposed. The city built a new sports venue downtown, where the Oklahoma City Thunder play NBA basketball before packed houses.

Life is good in downtown OKC.

So, where is Amarillo tracking these days? From my vantage point it appears that the city of my former residence well might be along the same track. Yes, I get that Amarillo doesn’t have a river running through its downtown district. I also understand the disparity in the size of the two communities: Amarillo has 200,000 residents; OKC is home to around 700,000. Still, there are signs of life to be seen in little ol’ Amarillo.

A downtown ballpark is under construction. The city has opened a first-class convention hotel. Polk Street is stirring back to life. Residents are moving into newly developed dwellings.

Where will the future take Amarillo? It needs to look just a bit eastward along Interstate 40, toward OKC, perhaps to get a clue.

Seliger re-focuses his re-election strategy

If you want to witness how the fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party is taking shape, those of us in West Texas need look no further than right here at home.

State Sen. Kel Seliger is in the midst of what could become a hard-fought GOP primary battle against two men who are trying to outflank the Amarillo lawmaker — on the right.

Seliger is having none of it.

This Facebook image tells me how Sen. Seliger is showing off his own brand of conservatism to voters who might have their doubts about him. I also have noticed a significant change in the tone of his TV ads of late.

There’s an ad showing Seliger talking about his desire to see local control have preference over the running of public education. Then he piles into a pickup and drives away; but then you notice a National Rifle Association sticker on this rear window as he puts the pedal to the metal.

Seliger’s two GOP foes — former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo restaurant owner Victor Leal — are getting backed by ultraconservative political action groups. Seliger isn’t relying on that kind of political activism, although Amarillo Matters — a local PAC — has signed on with its own endorsement and efforts to push Seliger across the primary election finish line well ahead of his challengers.

Let me be clear: I want Seliger to return to the Texas Senate, where he has served with clear-headed distinction since 2004.

Seliger’s endorsement from the NRA doesn’t exactly thrill me. I am no fan of the NRA and its hard-core resistance to any kind of legislation that seeks to end the scourge of gun violence. That group’s backing of Seliger, though, doesn’t dissuade me from backing his re-election bid.

What I find fascinating about Seliger is his knowledge of all the issues relating to the sprawling District 31, which runs from the very top of the Panhandle to the Permian Basin, which is about 400 miles — or about a seven-hour drive just one way. As I’ve noted, Seliger — a Borger native — is just as fluent in Permian Basin-speak as he is in Panhandle-speak.

His immediate political goal is to win the GOP primary in March outright. He doesn’t want to end up in a runoff. So, to avoid that possibility Seliger is highlighting his brand of conservative values. It’s not a holier-than-thou brand. Instead it is a level-headed realization of the constituency he represents.

If he is looking for any political advice on how to avoid a runoff, perhaps he should seek it from Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner, who in 2014 managed to win her primary race outright, with four other candidates on the ballot; and to think that Tanner pulled off that feat in her first political campaign.

Let it be said, too, that Sen. Seliger is no novice.

Is a vet school coming to the Panhandle?

Texas Tech University officials want to put a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. That’s the word from the chancellor’s office and from others within the sprawling university system.

The notion has a couple of big obstacles. One of them involves money; the other involves politics.

First, the money obstacle.

The Texas Legislature has appropriated about $4 million to Texas Tech to start researching how it can install a large-animal veterinary school that would serve the Texas Panhandle and, indeed, the rest of the state and perhaps the tri-state region.

The hope would be for Panhandle residents to get their DVM degrees and then stay home to serve the community.

But Tech needs about $90 million more, according to Amarillo Matters, a political action group formed to speak on behalf of issues and officials who want to improve Amarillo and the surrounding region. Time isn’t on the side of Texas Tech. They don’t have much time to raise the money and they’re searching for the deepest pockets possible to help finance construction and development of the school.

I happen to believe a veterinary medical school makes perfect sense for Amarillo and the surrounding region. Texas Tech, based in Lubbock, is the ideal school to establish it, given that it already has medical school and pharmacy school campuses in the city. Indeed, the Tech School of Pharmacy came to being after the community ponied up a lot of money to show Tech that it had sufficient interest in the project. It has been a successful venture.

Now for the politics of it.

Texas A&M University doesn’t want Tech to proceed with a veterinary medicine school. Aggieland is totally opposed to Tech impinging on the monopoly that A&M has on veterinary education in Texas.

This interference doesn’t make sense.

There surely must be ample opportunity for a second top-tier university system to develop a veterinary medical school. Last time I looked, I noticed that Texas is a mighty big state, comprising more than 250,000 square miles and stretching more than 800 miles east-west and north-south.

Tech and A&M apparently haven’t yet worked out their differences. My hope is that Texas Tech wins out in this battle of university system wills.

Then the Tech System needs to find the rest of the money.

Amarillo (still) Matters

I had been wondering whatever became of Amarillo Matters, a political action group formed early this year to campaign for a slate of City Council candidates.

A High Plains Blogger post posed the question: Where have they gone?

Just wondering: Amarillo Matters … where is it?

I have some news. Amarillo Matters has re-emerged. It’s not exactly a scoop, but I’ll take a touch of credit for prompting Amarillo Matters to show itself again on the public landscape.

It’s now a 501(c)4 non-profit group, according to a press release issued by Amarillo Matters. It has some ideas on how to make life better in Amarillo. I certainly welcome Amarillo Matters back into view.

Amarillo Matters has elected a board of directors and it has chosen a president, Jason Herrick. The group’s press release talks about Amarillo Matters’ interest in promoting projects designed to improve the city’s economic well-being.

One particular project is one that caught my eye when I first heard about it: Texas Tech University’s proposal to build a large-animal veterinary medical school in Amarillo.

According to Amarillo Matters’ release: “We started working on this during the last legislative session. Our goal was to get funding in the state budget for a vet school in Amarillo,” Board Treasurer Andrew Hall said. More than $4 million was eventually allocated to Texas Tech to begin initial plans for a school. “This is the perfect example of the types of projects we are going to focus on. It’s something that will not only benefit Amarillo but the entire Panhandle and beyond,” Hall added. 

It’s fair ask: What can be wrong with that?

I have lamented about flashes in the pan that come and go on occasion in Amarillo. We hear from political candidates who emerge at election time; they lose and then they disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.

The same can be said of the organization formerly known as the Amarillo Millennial Movement. It formed to pitch its support for the multipurpose event venue. The MPEV was put to a citywide referendum vote in November 2015; it passed and then the AMM went poof! when the young woman who founded the organization moved to Fort Worth.

I’m glad that Amarillo Matters has resurfaced in some other form.

The city already is undergoing a significant makeover in its downtown district. Mayor Ginger Nelson has declared her intention to clean up residential alleys that have become cluttered with trash. Interstates 40 and 27 both are under major construction, as is Loop 335 along its Hollywood Road right-of-way.

Amarillo Matters will retain its PAC status as well, as the release notes: The group … will be involved in local elections. “We’re going to limit the races to those that have a direct impact on our city, economy and future,” Herrick said. The PAC has been watching the upcoming primary election and is expected to issue endorsements soon. 

I suspect those “endorsements” will generate their share of public discourse, debate and perhaps even a little dissension.

There’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Just wondering: Amarillo Matters … where is it?

A political action group emerged from nowhere earlier this year. It called itself Amarillo Matters. Its mission, as I understand it, was to elect a slate of candidates to the City Council.

It succeeded. This past spring, voters flipped the entire five-member council, electing five newbies. Amarillo Matters then seemingly packed its bags, and its members went back to whatever they were doing before they formed this political action committee.

They were mostly successful businessmen and women. Their agenda included electing individuals who shared their pro-business tilt. Hey, I have no problem with that.

There’s been some success in the months since the new council members took office. Chief among them is the landing of that AA minor-league baseball franchise that is relocating to Amarillo from San Antonio and will play baseball at the new ballpark that will be built in downtown Amarillo; they’ll toss the first pitch in April 2019.

That’s a big deal, man.

But what has become of Amarillo Matters? It’s no longer garnering headlines, or any discussion on local broadcast media. I looked at its website this evening. It’s still up. AM has a link where one can contribute money; I am not giving them any dough.

I’ve written plenty about them already:


Given that I am unplugged from most of what’s going on at City Hall these days, I am left to use this blog to pose questions about some of the community’s key players.

I consider Amarillo Matters to be an important cog in the city’s civic machinery. I know many of the folks who formed the PAC’s leadership team earlier this year. I respect them, too.

I hope it hasn’t become what the Amarillo Millennial Movement turned out to be: a flash in the pan. AMM formed to promote the approval of the ballpark in the November 2015 municipal referendum. The measure passed — and AMM then vanished, vaporized, disappeared. Yes, I am aware that the AMM comprised essentially one individual, a young woman who moved to Fort Worth. But you get my point, yes?

Amarillo Matters, where are you and what are you doing to make sure that that Amarillo still, um, matters?

City’s political mini-deluge about to end

I’ve wondered from time to time about what it might be like to live in one of those presidential “battleground states,” where candidates flood the local TV airwaves with ads and residents’ mailboxes with campaign circulars.

Living in Texas for the past nine presidential election cycles has inoculated my family from that kind of political browbeating. The presidential candidates haven’t fought for our votes.

Ahh, but then we get to 2017and little ol’ Amarillo has received a tiny smattering of what our battleground-state residents endure every four years.

Amarillo Matters has taken root in our city. It has generated a fair amount of interest in Saturday’s municipal election. Voters who haven’t cast their ballots early are going to show up at polling places to cast their votes for all five City Council seats.

Then the mini-deluge from Amarillo Matters will end.

My doorbell has rung three times during this campaign as Amarillo Matters volunteers have handed out circulars. My mailbox has contained campaign material almost daily for the past two weeks. Today, my wife and I returned from our daily walk through the ‘hood and listened to the tail end of an Amarillo Matters robo-call on our home phone.

I’m glad to see such activity in our city. Amarillo Matters has sought to generate some increased interest in our municipal election, and not just for the City Council. It’s been working as well on behalf of candidates for Amarillo College Board of Regents.

Amarillo Matters has kicked a lot of money into this campaign as well, reportedly spending a significant six-figure amount to back the slate of City Council candidates it has endorsed.

I haven’t heard a lot of grumbling about all this attention, although there’s likely been some muttering under people’s breath around the city. That goes with the territory.

But here comes a dose of bad news.

All this juice from a well-heeled, deep-pocketed political action committee isn’t likely to boost total voter turnout in Amarillo to anything remotely significant. Mayor Paul Harpole, who isn’t running for re-election, said on Panhandle PBS that he projects a turnout of 12,000 to 14,000 voters. Hmm. That’s slightly more than 10 percent of the city’s registered voters.

To be candid, I am far less concerned about whether Amarillo Matters’ slate of candidate wins on Saturday than I am about the dismal turnout we can expect when all the ballots are counted.

Ten-plus percent turnout doesn’t grant bragging rights to anyone.

Thus, Amarillo Matters’ infusion of interest in this campaign has a long way to go to declare victory.

Still, I now have a smidgen of an idea of what occurs in those presidential battleground states. If only it translated to more involvement at the polling place — where it really counts.

Amarillo election produces some push back

This next weekend is going to produce a new Amarillo City Council majority, with at least three new members joining the five-member municipal governing panel.

However, in the run-up to this election I’ve been detecting a whiff of something about this campaign that sets it apart from recent municipal campaigns. It’s the presence of a well-financed political action committee, Amarillo Matters, that is backing an impressive slate of candidates seeking election to the council.

My mail box is getting nearly daily deliveries of circulars touting the virtues of the Amarillo Matters Five. Our southwest Amarillo neighborhood is sprouting lawn signs faster than the dandelions we see each spring. I’ve greeted three Amarillo Matters volunteers at my front door as they have handed out campaign material.

I happen to be acquainted with many of the principals involved with Amarillo Matters. They are successful men and women who have sought to make a positive difference in the city. However, social media have been chattering of late with some push back from individuals who question the motives behind Amarillo Matters. They can’t fathom why a PAC would spend a six-figure amount to elect a council whose members earn a paltry $10 per public meeting … plus some expense reimbursements.

There’s been the implication in some of these social media posts about possible payback, that Amarillo Matters’ members are looking for favorable treatment by the council.

I’m not going to jump onto that runaway bus.

I am no Pollyanna and I do retain a healthy skepticism about politics — even at the local level.

Truth be told, I am glad to see a healthy discussion taking place about the municipal election and about the stakes involved. Electing the governing City Council will produce far more tangible impact on voters than electing members of Congress or the presidency. I would argue, too, that even countywide elections have significantly less impact on those of us who live within a city’s corporate limits; we are governed in Amarillo by a city charter.

One of the better aspects of City Hall’s governance is that the council is elected every two years, which is the same length of time a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. That means council members could, if they choose, kick right back into re-election campaign mode right after the ballots are counted; that’s how it works in Congress, right?

Voters would do well to stay alert to any sign of favoritism or deal-making with certain PAC principals at City Hall. My guess is that the new City Council — whether it comprises some or all of the candidates endorsed by Amarillo Matters — will be leery of falling into that trap as well.

At least they’d better be.

Negativity rearing its head down the stretch

Amarillo’s municipal election campaign never figured to be one conducted entirely with sweetness and warm-and-fuzzy expressions of grand visions for the city’s future.

There’s been some negativity expressed of late.

Moreover, I’ve heard a bit of grumbling from some residents who dislike what they’re hearing.

Let’s hold on.

What I’m hearing so far hasn’t been of a destructive nature. It has challenged — in a couple of instances — assertions made by a couple of incumbents; both councilmen, Elisha Demerson and Mark Nair, have responded to the challenges.

Amarillo Matters enters the fray

The political action committee formed to help shape the discussion has decided to weigh in. It has endorsed a slate of candidates, calling for an entirely new City Council to be elected on May 6.

There’s been some push back against some of the recommended candidates. Again, it’s nothing to cause extreme angst and anxiety, although I’ve learned over the past two-plus decades living in Amarillo that the community often doesn’t respond well to any sort of negativity when it involves our friends, neighbors, fellow church attendees and parents of children who attend school together.

My hope is that this election produces a voter turnout that far exceeds the norm for our municipal campaigns. The way I see it, voters respond to negativity. It’s not an indictment, per se, of this community; I merely am stating what I believe to be an obvious trait among red-blooded American voters.

I still like the slate of candidates that Amarillo Matters recommends. I continue to endorse their general outlook and the approach they bring to City Hall governance.

As for some of the negative stuff that’s starting to get a bit of traction, that’s, too, is the longstanding nature of American politics — even at the local level.

Even in Amarillo, Texas.

Early voting begins today. Per my usual practice, I intend to wait for Election Day to cast my ballot. One never knows what could erupt down the stretch.

Amarillo Matters shucks the gloves

Amarillo Matters came into being as a pro-business political action committee with the aim of developing a “vision for a strong Amarillo built upon the first principles of free enterprise, economic growth, fiscal responsibility and traditional family values.”

I support Amarillo Matters’ overall agenda. I like and respect many of the men and women who are active in the organization.

Then something arrived in the mail today that gives me some concern. It’s not enough to turn me against Amarillo Matters, but it does make me wonder whether this outfit is as high-minded as its campaign rhetoric would suggest. It has driven its campaign buggy onto the low road.

It has endorsed a wholly new slate for Amarillo City Council. I strongly support some of the candidates Amarillo Matters is backing: Ginger Nelson for mayor; Freda Powell for Place 2 and Eddy Sauer for Place 3 all deserve to be elected. I also have lined up behind Elaine Hayes for Place 1 and Howard Smith for Place 4, both of whom are running against incumbents who are seeking re-election.

Here is where my concern rests with the Amarillo Matters flier the postal carrier dropped into my mail box today. It uses some curious language to describe Elisha Demerson, the Place 1 incumbent councilman. It calls him a “long-time Democrat officeholder and politician.”

For starters, I seriously dislike the term “Democrat” when used as an adjective. It’s the kind of language adopted two decades ago by far-right Republicans who sought to demonize in a subtle fashion their Democratic opponents. Demerson wasn’t a “Democrat politician”; he was a pol who belonged to the Democratic Party. Do you get it?

Second of all, Demerson has been out of elected partisan politics for two-plus decades. The last political post he held before being elected two years ago to the City Council was as Potter County judge, a countywide elected office.

Therefore, I challenge the assertion that Demerson is a “long-time” pol. Good grief! He had been sitting on the sidelines since leaving his county office.

Thirdly, the City Council is a non-partisan governing body. Its members do not run as Democrats or Republicans. Partisan affiliation should not inform council members as they deliberate municipal policy.

I recall in the 1990s when a mayoral candidate, Mary Alice Brittain, sought to rally all the city’s “good Republicans” to vote for her over incumbent Kel Seliger. I called her down then, citing the non-partisan nature of the city ballot. She lost badly to Seliger — and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

I don’t mind that Amarillo Matters has weighed in on this campaign. It’s the prerogative of every individual — and, yes, any PAC — to make their voices heard.

Amarillo Matters does bring a valuable perspective to this campaign. I welcome it and I support generally the ideas it seeks to promote.

But not at any cost.

Amarillo Matters hits the streets for its City Council slate

The doorbell rang this evening.

I went to the door and greeted a young woman who was handing out single-page campaign sheets.

It came from Amarillo Matters, a political action group formed to promote a pro-growth agenda for Amarillo. I’ve written about this group a couple of time already. What’s interesting is the slate of City Council candidates that Amarillo Matters has endorsed and is recommending for election on May 6.

It’s an interesting and impressive slate of candidates.

Two things stand out about this slate: First: Amarillo Matters is recommending a female-majority City Council. Second: The group is recommending the election of an entirely new slate of council members to take office when all the ballots are counted.

You want “change,” Amarillo voters? Consider this slate of candidates. Not a single one of them has served on the City Council or on its earlier incarnation, the City Commission.

Amarillo Matters is recommending Ginger Nelson for mayor, who the group calls a “renowned lawyer and successful small business owner.” Interestingly, it doesn’t mention Nelson’s stint on the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation. That’s fine; I’ll mention it here.

It is recommending Elaine Hays for Place 1 instead of incumbent Elisha Demerson. It cites Hays’ work as a financial planner and calls her “one of the community’s best authorities on fiscal responsibility and smart budgeting.

Freda Powell gets the nod for Place 2 from Amarillo Matters, which cites her “balanced approach to problem solving.”

The PAC endorses Eddy Sauer for Place 3, recommending him as a “voice for positivity and real solutions to the challenges we face.”

Howard Smith gets Amarillo Matters’ endorsement for Place 4 over incumbent Mark Nair. The group cites Smith’s “kind, charitable spirit” and his desire for “helping countless Amarillo families find their home.”

Three incumbents are not running for new terms: Mayor Paul Harpole, Place 2 Councilwoman Lisa Blake and Place 3 Councilman Randy Burkett.

In my 22 years as an Amarillo resident, this is the first time anyone has ever rang my doorbell and handed me a piece of local campaign stationery stating an organization’s preferences for candidates seeking local government office.

You want change yet again at City Hall? Consider that Amarillo Matters wants to wipe the slate clean; it wants voters to fill all five council seats with newbies. Imagine that, will you?

I also am intrigued by the idea of a slate of candidates comprising mostly women. Big deal, you might say. What’s so special about that? Only this: Amarillo for many years has been run by various network of good ol’ boys. I am not demeaning the gender of the city’s political leadership, per se. I merely am noting that an influential political action group has decided to buck what I perceive to be the norm in Amarillo, Texas.

Demerson, Nair and Burkett joined the council in 2015. They all pledged “change” would come to city government. Of the three new guys, Burkett emerged as the loudest, most obnoxious agent of change. Demerson and Burkett knocked off incumbents who were seeking re-election; Nair won a seat that was vacated by an incumbent who was appointed to fill a seat upon the death of an incumbent, but who chose not to seek election.

Demerson and Nair have been more circumspect than their new-guy colleague, but their presence on the City Council seemingly hasn’t earned them recommendations from Amarillo Matters for new two-year terms.

Hey, I’m just one voter. My wife is just one more voter. I am impressed that Amarillo Matters’ door-to-door messenger this evening thought enough of us to talk at some length about this important election.

Oh, and make no mistake. This election, um, matters.