Tag Archives: Beaumont Enterprise

Ross Perot: This man stood tall

My journalism career enabled me to cross paths with a lot of interesting, provocative and even great people over the length of its time. I want to include Ross Perot as being among the great individuals I had the pleasure to meet.

Perot died today of leukemia. He was 89 years of age. He died peacefully in Dallas, where he built his fortune and lived most of his adult life.

He wouldn’t have remembered me had anyone thought to ask. But I surely remember the time I had the pleasure of meeting him and visiting with him about one of his pet issues in that moment: the quality of public education.

He had mouthed off about how Texas was more interested in producing blue-chip athletes than blue-chip students. The Texas governor at the time, the late Mark White, challenged Perot to craft a better education system for Texas. Perot took up the challenge and led the Perot Commission to create a system that set certain achievement standards for all Texas public school students.

He then launched a statewide barnstorming tour to pitch his findings to business leaders, politicians, civic leaders and, yes, media representatives; I was among the media types Perot met.

He came to Beaumont and delivered a stemwinder of a speech to a roomful of the city’s movers and shakers.

As an editorial writer and editor for the Beaumont Enterprise, I had the high honor of meeting later with Perot along with other media reps at Lamar University.

That was in 1984. Little did we know at the time he would become a political force of nature as well, running for president twice in 1992 and 1996. At one time prior to the 1992 fall election, Perot actually led public opinion polling that included President George H.W. Bush and a young Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton.

He finished third that year. Clinton got elected. Bush served his single term and disliked Perot for the rest of his life, blaming him for losing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. President Bush is gone now, but my own view is that Perot — contrary to popular notions — did not deprive a chance at re-election. He took roughly the same number of votes from both Bush and Clinton, meaning that Bill Clinton was going to win the election anyway.

Still, Ross Perot was a player, although he was prone at times to acting a little squirrely. He also was a patriot who loved his country and gave back many millions of dollars of his immense personal wealth to make his community and country better.

I am grateful beyond measure that his path crossed mine if only for a brief moment in time. Take my word for it, this man made a serious impression on those he met along the way.

Time of My Life, Part 35: This was one memorable encounter

News of the Beaumont Enterprise building heading to the “For Sale” block brings back a flood of memories of great times there and many memorable encounters I experienced while toiling in the Golden Triangle of Texas.

I want to share one of them here. It takes a bit to explain, so bear with me.

I was walking across the newsroom one day, heading for the third-floor elevator. I noticed a gentleman standing next to desk occupied by our newsroom secretary, the legendary Marie Richard, who was on the phone at that moment. I walked past the gentleman, then did a bit of a double-take.

I stood by the elevator, pushed the call button and waited. I then leaned around the corner, got Marie’s attention and whispered — apparently in a “stage whisper” sort of voice — “Is that Jim Lehrer?”, the longtime co-host of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS.

Marie shrugged silently, but then the man standing at her desk said, “Yes. It is.”

Oh, brother. I was, um, a bit embarrassed. I walked to Marie’s desk, extended my hand and introduced myself to one of the great broadcast journalists of his era.

Lehrer then began to tell me why he was standing in the Beaumont Enterprise newsroom. He needed to go the newspaper library, he said, to do research on a book he was writing about when he lived for a time in Beaumont as a youngster.

We walked back to the library and spent the better part of the next hour or so talking about this and/or that. I learned that Lehrer attended middle school and then French High School in Beaumont, that his father drove a bus (either Greyhound or Trailways, I cannot remember) and that Beaumont was one of many stops the Lehrer family made when young Jim was coming of age.

We hit it off well … I believe.

He wrote the book. I believe it was a memoir titled “A Bus of My Own,” published in 1992.

Lehrer returned the next year to be the keynote speaker at the Press Club of Southeast Texas annual luncheon. We shook hands at that event, too.

And, yes. Jim Lehrer remembered this chump editorialist who embarrassed himself at the elevator.

‘The Executioner’ wrote the book on impeachment

There are times when you think you know someone and you find out things about that individual that you might have suspected, but didn’t ever confirm.

The late U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks of Beaumont was my congressman for nearly 11 years. I commented on his public service while working as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise. I spent many hours visiting with him when he would return to the Golden Triangle to do whatever members of Congress do when they meet with their constituents.

I knew a few aspects of the man who dubbed himself Sweet Old Brooks: He was a ferocious Democratic partisan who detested Republicans; his mentor was the famed House Speaker Sam Rayburn; Brooks was in the motorcade the day Lee Harvey Oswald murdered President Kennedy in Dallas and stood behind Lyndon Johnson as LBJ took the oath of office as the 36th president of the United States.

Here’s what I did not know about Sweet Old Brooks: He authored the articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in 1974. Brooks served on the House Judiciary Committee and took it upon himself to ensure that the panel dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” perfectly.

Politico Magazine has published a fascinating article about my former congressman that lays out the reason why President Nixon labeled Jack Brooks “The Executioner.”

Read the article here.

Brooks represented Southeast Texas for 42 years in the House before losing a re-election battle in 1994 during the Republican sweep of Congress. He returned to Beaumont and continued to serve on various bank boards until his death in December 2012.

I lost track of Jack Brooks after he lost his House race. I moved from Beaumont to the Texas Panhandle the next month and became involved in my new duties at the Amarillo Globe-News.

Politico’s article about Brooks discusses how the cantankerous old Marine essentially wrote the book on how the “opposition party” should respond to political crises involving a president of the other party.

As Politico reports:

A list of 37 potential charges against Nixon, introduced in various resolutions and including crimes ranging from domestic surveillance to illegal campaign practices, were now the subject of intense debate in Congress. The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Peter Rodino, and special counsel, John Doar, equivocated on how to decide the official charges against Nixon. Neither one felt confident, and the committee’s proceedings seemed to languish month after month, capturing headlines but moving nowhere. Observers wondered whether the chairman was unwilling or just inept.

Brooks, on the other hand, felt assured. In early July 1974, he seized the initiative by drafting the articles himself, along with the help of staff. As far as Brooks, the tough-talking former Marine who relished legislative fights, was concerned, Chairman Rodino “wasn’t worth a shit” in the impeachment process, as Brooks later told an interviewer. He was certainly fair and experienced as a legislator, but Brooks thought Rodino “didn’t have the guts a chairman needs to have.”

While other lawmakers were concerned about looking too overzealous or partisan, Brooks’ concerns were larger. Nixon was clearly guilty of impeachable offenses, had violated his oath and needed to be removed, regardless of any future political fallout the Dems might suffer for it. Brooks made it no secret that he was enthusiastically pursuing impeachment and conviction. At a Democratic caucus amid the Judiciary Committee hearings for his impeachment articles, for instance, someone asked about the theme of the second article concerning Nixon’s alleged misuse of the FBI, CIA and IRS. Brooks, as one staffer remembered it, was leaning way back in his chair and smoking a cigar. He came down on the chair hard, took the cigar out of his mouth, and said, “The theme of this article is we’re gonna get that son of a bitch out of there!”

To Brooks, the Judiciary had been chosen to be the tip of the spear. Brooks was determined that it be a sharp one.

Well, there you have it. Is there a lesson to be learned as today’s congressional Democrats ponder how to respond to another Republican president?

Man, oh man. You think you know someone . . .

As many of his supporters used to say about Rep. Brooks, “He might be an SOB, but he’s our SOB.”

Time of My Life, Part 32: In the company of media greatness

The name of a one-time Texas media giant came up today during a discussion I had with a dear friend of mine and it prompts me to look back on an extraordinary meeting I had with this individual back when I wrote editorials and edited the opinion page of the Beaumont Enterprise in Southeast Texas.

You remember the great Molly Ivins, I’m sure. She died of cancer in 2007. She was just 62 years of age.

Ivins was an unreconstructed liberal. And she was damn proud of it! She is the originator of at least two quintessential quips regarding politicians she railed against regularly: She was fond of referring to Texas Gov. George W. Bush as “Shrub”; then she hung the label of “Gov. Goodhair” on Bush’s successor as governor, Rick Perry.

Those legendary nicknames came after I had left Beaumont for the Texas Panhandle. But one afternoon in the Beaumont Enterprise newsroom brought me up close and personal with Molly Ivins.

She had come to Beaumont from Austin to cover the state of politics in the Gulf Coast community. She wanted to watch the Beaumont City Council in action. Ivins was not impressed, as I recall, with the quality of Beaumont’s municipal leadership, let alone its governing body.

I recall one column she wrote at the time in which she ridiculed the late Councilman Andrew P. Cokinos, the youngest of four brothers, all of whom had been players on the Beaumont political stage. She wondered about the middle initial “P.” that all the brothers used. She knew the “P” stood for “Pete,” and poked fun at them in general, and at Andrew in particular.

She wandered into our newsroom one afternoon. My memory is shaky at times, so I cannot recall the precise date of that meeting. I believe it was in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

She held court in the newsroom for well more than an hour. She regaled the journalists gathered around her with story after story of the characters she encountered during her years as a Texas journalist.

She got away somehow with crafting copy that no one else could. She wrote with biting humor, but lurking just below her trademark sarcasm one could find a serious theme to her commentary, as she was a serious journalist, although political conservatives (chiefly Republicans) usually found a way to belittle her.

However, in those days when newspapers actually mattered greatly, when they were relevant to telling communities’ stories, Molly Ivins was a giant among Texas journalists.

To be candid, I always envied her writing skill and more than once I lamented under my breath, “Damn, I wish I could write like that.” I was glad I was able to tell Molly Ivins that very thing to her face that day in Beaumont, Texas.

Happy Trails, Part 157: oh, the joy of anonymity

It takes me a while at times to recognize blessings when they present themselves, but I surely have found one related to our move from the Texas Panhandle to a small — but rapidly growing — community northeast of Dallas.

Forgive me if I sound a bit high-falutin’. It is not my intention, but please bear with me.

The blessing is in the anonymity I am enjoying in Princeton.

I spent many years in two Texas cities — Beaumont and then Amarillo — working in jobs that elevated my visibility. I wrote for newspapers that were essential to the communities they served. My face was in each publication fairly regularly; my name appeared on the pages’ editorial page mastheads daily. Those who read the papers — and they numbered in the tens of thousands in each region — got to know my name; many of them recognized my mug.

Even after I left daily journalism in August 2012 in Amarillo, I would hear from those who would ask, “Hey, aren’t you the guy from the newspaper?” Yes, I would say, although I might say that “the guy in the paper is my evil twin.”

Indeed, when my wife and I were preparing to sell our house in Amarillo, we moved into our fifth wheel, found an RV park on the east side of town. We checked in and the lady who worked the counter that day recognized my name and chortled, “Oh my! You’re famous!” It turned out she is related to a former neighbor of ours . . . but, I digress.

I no longer have those encounters in Princeton. I blend in. My wife and I are just two new folks strolling around our neighborhood with Toby the Puppy.

We go to the grocery store, we make our purchase, we leave. We’re just two folks doing whatever it is we want to do.

And so . . . I welcome this newfound status of being just another face in the crowd. Don’t misunderstand, I occasionally would get a rush over being recognized, especially when someone had a good word to say about the work I did at those earlier stops on our life’s journey. To be sure, not everyone I met in that fashion was complimentary, but that goes with the territory, too.

That was then. Those days are long gone. My life these days is so much better.

Time of My Life, Part 30: Remembering all those colleagues

When I read stories these days about newspapers’ shrinking newsrooms, I remember how it used to be in print journalism.

I was fortunate enough to be part of two newspapers that sold enough copies each day and raked in enough advertising money to invest deeply in personnel who were assigned to cover specific issues, work specific “beats.”

The most recent present-day tale I read came from Politico and it tells the story of the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, the one-time media titan in a state where presidential politics kicks off every four years with those vaunted Iowa caucuses. The Register, as are all newspapers these days, is retrenching. It is doing as much with fewer individuals to do it.

Read the Politico story here.

In the 1980s and into the 1990s, newspapers were flush with cash. I went from a small, five-day-a-week afternoon suburban daily in Oregon City, Ore., in 1984 to a mid-sized newspaper in Beaumont, Texas. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. The Beaumont Enterprise had a huge staff of reporters. They were assigned many specific beats.

The paper had an education reporter, police reporter, entertainment reporter, environmental reporter, courts reporter, someone to cover City Hall, someone to cover county government, reporters assigned to cover surrounding communities, we had a business editor who had a reporter working under his supervision. Then we had a sports department with about 10 reporters, including someone who covered “outdoor sports,” meaning chiefly huntin’ and fishin’. We had a photo staff of around six photographers.

Then, of course, we had copy editors, line editors who assigned stories to the reporters.

Then we had an editorial page staff, of which I was a member. I went to work in Beaumont as an editorial writer. The page had an editor and a cartoonist.

The Beaumont Enterprise, as the saying goes, was a “cash cow” for Jefferson Pilot, the owners who ran the paper when I got there and then for the Hearst Corporation, which bought the paper late in 1984.

I stayed for nearly 11 years before gravitating from the Gulf Coast to the Texas Panhandle. My professional journey then took me to a post where I served as editorial page editor for two papers in Amarillo, the morning Daily News and the evening Globe-Times.

The Globe-News, as everyone called it, was as rich as the Enterprise. The staff there was as diversified and exclusive as the paper I had departed. Its reach was enormous, covering the Panhandle, eastern New Mexico, the Oklahoma Panhandle and a small slice of southwestern Kansas.

Then the bottom started to fall out. It happened in the early 2000s. The Globe-Times was shuttered. The paper began to retrench. I heard that the Beaumont Enterprise did the same thing.

But the good old days were grand, indeed. They brought lots of fun, fellowship with colleagues and a joint pride in being able to assemble a publication each day of the week.

I don’t sense as much pride these days in the publications that employed me. Neither paper has nearly the staff they had back when they were flush with money.

I just recall all those friends and colleagues who have gone on to “pursue other interests.” I think of them often and hope they’re all as happy I am now that it’s over.

Toughen up, Mr. President

Donald J. “Faux Tough Guy in Chief” Trump needs to toughen up, suck it up and go with the flow.

He won’t, of course. I just thought I’d admonish him anyway.

The president seems to want to take action against comedy shows (for crying out loud!) that make fun of him. “Saturday Night Live,” a show he says he doesn’t watch, is a favorite target of his threats of political revenge.

Trump talks tough. He bellows about how we oughtta take protesters out back and “beat the sh** out of ’em.” He sidles up to worldwide strongmen, while denigrating our own intelligence experts. Oh, and while he continues to pile on to the memory of a legitimate American military hero, the late John McCain.

He bullies his foes via Twitter, hurling insults and innuendo at them willy-nilly.

But the dude just cannot stomach the idea that others poke fun at him. Donald Trump is a wuss in wolf’s clothing.

I am reminded at this moment of a politician I used to cover when I worked in Beaumont as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise. The late U.S. Rep. Charles “Good Time Charlie” Wilson was an East Texas Democrat known for (a) his love of the military and (b) his desire to surround himself with attractive women.

Wilson also was an effective congressman who understood the role of the media that covered him. We covered his comings and goings at the Enterprise and on occasion we would chide him for things he would say or do.

We had a cartoonist on our staff, Jerry Byrd, who would illustrate our newspaper’s criticism with his editorial-page artwork.

What was Charlie’s response? How did he react? He would call us and ask us for the original cartoon so he could display it on his office walls in Washington, D.C., or in his district office in Lufkin, Texas!

Yep, Wilson was a grownup who knew that criticism from the media came with the job for which he took a solemn oath.

Donald Trump has yet to understand that truth about public service. I doubt seriously he’ll ever get it.

Time of My Life, Part 26: They kept me humble

I operated under a number of principles during more than 30 years in daily print journalism. I always sought to be fair; accuracy was critical.

I also never took myself more seriously than I took my craft.

The readers of the newspapers where I worked all served as great equalizers. I started my newspaper reporting career full time in 1977 at the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier; I gravitated in 1984 to the Beaumont Enterprise in Texas; and then in 1995 I moved on to the Amarillo Globe-News.

All along the way I contended with readers who shared a common quality. They generally lived in the communities we covered. Thus, they had skin in the game; they had vested interests in their cities and towns.

So if I wrote something with which they disagreed and they took the time to call me to discuss their disagreements I tended to take them seriously.

I tried to learn something about the communities where I worked. Readers often were great teachers. They would scold me. They would chide me. They mostly were respectful when they disagreed with whatever I wrote, how I reported a story or offered an opinion on an issue the newspaper had covered on its news pages.

I always sought to return the respect when they called.

To be sure, not everyone fit that description. More than few of them over all those years were visibly, viscerally angry when they called to complain. I tried to maintain a civil tongue when responding to them. I’ll be candid, though, in admitting that at times my temper flared.

I usually didn’t mind someone challenging the facts I would present in a news story, or in an editorial, or in a column. I did mind individuals who would challenge my motives, or ascribe nefarious intent where none existed.

And every once in a great while I would a reader challenge my patriotism and even my religious faith. That’s where I drew the line.

However, over the span of time I pursued the craft I loved from the moment I began studying it in college I sought to maintain a level of perspective. I took my job seriously. I always sought to remember that all human beings are flawed.

It kept me humble.

Time of My Life, Part 24: Some fights are worth having

My career in print journalism, while providing me with unforgettable experiences and much joy, also provided some angst, heartburn and at times a touch of dread.

Now and again I would encounter situations that compelled me to look more deeply into the affairs of public officials I respected. Such was the case about 30 years ago while I worked as editorial page editor for the Beaumont Enterprise in the Golden Triangle region of Texas.

I went to work one morning and while reading that day’s edition I came across a story about a Jefferson County Commissioners Court meeting. Near the end of the story, we reported that “In other business,” commissioners approved a contract involving the opening of a café in the courthouse that would be run by a state district judge, Larry Gist.

It caught my eye. I took it up with my boss, the executive editor, and inquired about looking further into that matter. It didn’t seem appropriate for a state official to be operating a private business inside a county courthouse.

I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version of what I learned.

Judge Gist had prepared a bid to operate the courthouse café with a friend and business partner of his. He communicated with the county auditor, a young man named Jerry Ware, about his interest in running the café. He used what he told me later was “facsimile” county stationery, meaning he paid for the letterhead that would go atop the documents he was submitting for the auditor to consider.

But he signed the documents, “Larry Gist, judge.”

Here is where it got real sticky. Ware was appointed to his office as auditor by the district judges. So he considered a bid by one of his employers, one of the individuals to whom he answered. State law, interestingly, does not require a county to accept the lowest bid on projects such as this; it gives the county discretion to determine the “best bid” offered.

So, Ware — who works for Larry Gist (among other judges) — selected Gist’s bid to operate the café on the ground floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

That seemed strange. I thought it smacked of conflict of interest. I talked with Judge Gist, asked him about the stationery and quizzed him about whether he put any undue pressure on the county auditor to look favorably on his bid. I talked to Jerry Ware, and asked him whether he might have been influenced by the facsimile letterhead and the signature that contained the word “judge” alongside the name of the individual who was bidding on the courthouse business.

We published an editorial that questioned whether the county was adhering to all the proper ethical standards by allowing the judge to bid on a project to be housed inside a courthouse where he worked and whether the auditor was applying objective standards to all the bidders who had sought the contract.

Quite obviously, Judge Gist and Jerry Ware were unhappy with the newspaper and with me. Ware hated my guts for the rest of his life. He died of cancer not too many years later.

As for Gist, I learned through other channels that he sought to sue me and the paper for libel. The only sticking point for Gist in his pursuit of a legal challenge was that nothing we published was untrue. As you might know, truth is the first and last line of defense in any libel lawsuit.

Judge Gist and I endured a frosty relationship for the rest of my time on the Gulf Coast. I am happy to say, though, that it thawed over time. I had occasion to talk to Judge Gist on another matter once I made the move from Beaumont to the Texas Panhandle.

I don’t know the status of the courthouse café. That was then. The here and now allows me to look back on that episode with just a touch of relief that it never got past the threat of a lawsuit.

Time of My Life, Part 23: Welcome to the ‘catbird seat’

I grew up in Oregon. A career opportunity beat on my door in late 1983. The knock on the other side of that door came from a former boss of mine, Ben Hansen, who had gone on to become executive editor of the Beaumont Enterprise in the Golden Triangle region of Texas.

I had been a full-time journalist for about seven years when Hansen called with an offer for me to come to Texas to interview for a job as an editorial writer for the Enterprise.

He told me over the phone that Beaumont was a fabulous “news town,” that there was much happening there and that as editorial writer, I would be perched in the “catbird seat” from which I could comment on the issues of the day.

Hansen hired me and I started working there in April 1984.

Ben Hansen was so very correct about Beaumont, about the liveliness of the news there.

My culture shock was fairly profound as I packed up from the community I knew well, Portland, and headed for a whole new environment. Beaumont was a world away from what I knew. Adding to the stress of that change was the absence of my wife and my still-young sons; they stayed behind while my wife sought to sell our house. They joined me later that summer, just in time for the start of the school year.

However, a couple of things happened to relieve me of the stress of being without my family.

One was the amazing pace of news that unfolded that spring. Beaumont is a racially diverse community, roughly 50 percent white and 50 percent black. The first month of my employment at the Enterprise featured an election that resulted in the election of an African-American majority on a newly reconstituted Beaumont Independent School District board of trustees. Also on the ballot was a referendum to rename a major Beaumont thoroughfare after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The street renaming effort failed narrowly. The new BISD school board took office amid a palpable sense of tension in the community. Beaumont was late in the school integration game. A federal judge ordered the merger of the Beaumont and South Park school districts; the “old” BISD was mostly black, while the South Park district was mostly white.

Tension anyone? They had it!

Ben Hansen’s description of Beaumont was spot on. I was thrilled to be part of it, to watch it up close and to be able to offer some commentary that sought to lead the community through its travails.

The second aspect that lessened the impact of missing my wife and sons was the amazing embrace I received from my colleagues at the Enterprise. They knew of my circumstance. They went out of their way to include me in their after-hours fellowship.

The friendships I developed among many of those individuals are among the most solid I have forged with anyone I’ve ever met over my many years on this Earth.

My love for them is deep and is indelible.

We all shared a love of our craft and we would laugh and occasionally argue over what that day had brought.

Man, it was more fun sitting in the catbird seat than I ever deserved.