Tag Archives: Beaumont Enterprise

When, oh when will the water recede … and to where?

I’m having what I guess you could call a 9/11 Moment as I watch the heartache associated with the cataclysmic flooding throughout Southeast Texas.

Over the years since 9/11 it has become harder for me to watch the Twin Towers collapse. Or to watch the jetliners fly into them.

It’s taken a fraction of the time for me to shudder at the sight of the flooding in Houston and in Beaumont. You see, I have this connection with that part of the world.

My family and I moved to Beaumont in 1984. I had taken a job as an editorial writer at the Beaumont Enterprise and my boss at the time me I would be sitting “in the catbird seat” in the midst of a great “news town.” He was right.

We stayed there for nearly 11 years. My sons graduated from high school and went off to college before my wife and I pulled up stakes and left Beaumont for Amarillo in early 1995.

I learned a couple of things about the Texas Gulf Coast rather quickly.

One is that it rains a lot there. We occasionally would get about 6 or 7 inches of rain in the span of about, oh, an hour. It would produce local flooding. Storm ditches would fill up and the water would run into ponds built for the purpose of holding rain water.

I also learned that the water table along the Gulf Coast is not far at all below Earth’s surface. I don’t know the precise measurement, but I became aware that it takes virtually no time at all for water to fill the spongy, goopy soil throughout the region.

All that is worth mentioning as we watch the horror that continues to play out in Houston and in the Golden Triangle today. Those folks are receiving epic amounts of water. Fifty inches are expected to fall on the region by the middle of the week.

I look at the video on TV and wonder: Where in the world is that water going to go? How long will it take to recede? How does that much rain water recede in a region that (a) sits only about 30 feet above sea level and (b) is as flat as it can possibly get? The Gulf of Mexico only is about 20 miles south of Beaumont; I believe Houston is a little farther inland, but not much.

The misery that is unfolding down yonder is far from over … and it is shattering my heart in a way it hasn’t been broken since 9/11.

Does the sound of rain now frighten our friends?

I cannot stop thinking about something a former colleague of mine once told me about how an extreme weather event changed his view of what used to comfort him.

We were working in Beaumont, Texas, together at the time. He was an editor at the Beaumont Enterprise, where I worked as editor of the opinion pages.

I think of him now as we watch the horror continuing to unfold in the Golden Triangle and in nearby Houston.

My friend lived at the time in a suburban Beaumont community near Pine Island Bayou. The Golden Triangle is known to get a lot of rain in a major hurry. One such event occurred. My friend, his wife and their two small sons got caught in the rain.

The bayou spilled over. Roughly two feet of water poured into my friend’s home. They had to evacuate. I cannot recall nearly three decades later where they ended up, or even how long they were displaced from their home.

The water eventually receded. They repaired the damage. They moved back in.

“You know there once was a time,” my friend said — and yes, I am paraphrasing — “when the sound of rain would lull me to sleep. These days, after what just happened to us, the sound of rain now scares me half to death.”

It’s impossible for me to believe that millions of Texans who are battling the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey aren’t now frightened for life at that very sound.

My heart breaks for them.

I lost touch with my friend many years ago as we went our separate ways. I just hope by now he’s gotten over his fear of rainfall.

RIP, Racehorse Haynes

I just heard that one of the more fascinating characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting has passed away.

Richard “Racehorse” Haynes died early today. He was 90.

Man, I’ve got a short story I want to tell. So I believe I will.

Many years ago, when I was living and working in Beaumont, Texas, I walked down the street from the Beaumont Enterprise — where I worked as editorial page editor — to the Jefferson County Courthouse.

I approached the front door and waved at a fellow I knew, a local lawyer named Gilbert Adams, who motioned for me to approach. I did and at that, Adams introduced me to Racehorse Haynes, who standing next to Adams puffing on a pipe. “Hey, Race,” Adams said, “I want you to meet this fellow.” We shook hands and Adams then informed Haynes that I was editor of the local newspaper.

So help, as God is my witness, when Haynes heard that that I was a member of the media, his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. We stood there for seemingly hours. I barely got a word in edge-wise. Haynes regaled me with his tales of his relationships with the media; he managed to tell me why he was in Beaumont in the first place, which was to assist Adams on a case that Adams was working on.

I ended up having to break off the visit. I am pretty sure it would have gone on until the next great flood.

Two things stood out about Haynes, whose reputation as one of the nation’s top criminal defense lawyers was well-known; I certainly knew of him. I knew that he was from Houston and that he had defended some very high-profile defendants.

The first thing I recalled at the time was how grandfatherly he appeared. He was not a physically imposing man. He was dressed in a plain dark suit and he looked like, well, anything but a flamboyant barrister.

The second thing, of course, was how he garrulous he was with a media guy. His status as a “famed” lawyer didn’t seem to impede his willingness to talk about anything with yours truly.

We said goodbye and went our separate ways.

Years later, I moved to Amarillo to become editorial page editor of the Globe-News. Then I learned of Haynes’ connection to the Texas Panhandle. It was where a Tarrant County judge had moved the trial of one Cullen Davis, the Fort Worth millionaire who was accused of murdering the live-in boyfriend of his estranged wife and his 12-year-old stepdaughter. Davis was thought at the time to be the richest man ever accused of a capital crime in the United States.

A Potter County jury acquitted Davis, whose lead counsel in that trial was Racehorse Haynes.

So, one of the nation’s more notable lawyers has passed from the scene. I just felt compelled to tell you my Racehorse Haynes Story.

May you rest in peace … “Race.”

Small-town paper makes it … big time!

I love hearing stories like the one that brought a lot of attention to a small Iowa town and the newspaper that serves its residents.

The Storm Lake Times was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Big deal, you say? Damn right it is!

The winner of the prize is a fellow I don’t know, although I feel a certain kinship with him. Art Cullen is his name. I have had a long personal friendship with his brother, Jim, with whom I worked at the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise. Jim moved eventually to Austin, where he covered state government for the newspaper. He now is editor of the Austin-based Progressive Populist.

His brother Art’s big prize speaks to the value of community journalism, the kind practiced by small newspapers all across the nation.

Taking on the big interests

The Pulitzer committee recognized Cullen “For editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”

Those “powerful” interests are important at many levels to the readers of the Storm Lake Times, given Iowa’s heavy reliance on farming and ranching.

It’s also fascinating to me that the Pulitzer committee gave Cullen the award over finalists from the Houston Chronicle and the Washington Post. It simply shows that size — meaning the amount of corporate funds and resources — matters less than the quality of one’s work.

We hear all the time about reports from vaunted big-city media organizations. You know, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times … and on and on.

It gladdens my heart to know that a 3,000-circulation newspaper — which is published twice each week — has received such high praise from a panel of peers who recognized the courage it takes to challenge such important players in the community it serves.

I offer my own congratulations to Art Cullen and his colleagues at the Storm Lake Times.

Enter the USS Carl Vinson

I heard the news of a Navy carrier battle group heading toward the Korean Peninsula and took special note of the aircraft carrier leading the group.

It’s the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered beast with which I have some limited familiarity.

I don’t know, of course, what all this means overall. North Korean madman/dictator Kim Jong Un is rattling his sabre yet again. He’s launching missiles into the Sea of Japan and threatening war against South Korea, Japan and maybe even the United States.

So the Carl Vinson battle group is heading toward the peninsula in a show of strength.

I received a marvelous assignment in 1993 at the invitation of the late U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson, an East Texas Democrat who was a huge supporter of military affairs. I was editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise at the time and our paper circulated deeply into Wilson’s 2nd Congressional District.

He invited me to join him on a tour of the Carl Vinson, which at the time was home-ported at San Diego, Calif. The ship was at sea at the time of Wilson’s invitation. I asked my editor if I could go; he said “yes.” The paper purchased my plane ticket and I flew to San Diego to meet with Wilson and his congressional party.

We landed on the Carl Vinson and spent three days and nights aboard ship. Rep. Wilson spent time talking to pilots, deck crew members, machinists, cooks. He told all of them how much he appreciated the work they did and the service they performed in defense of the nation.

By the way, you have not lived until you’ve been through a tailhook landing and a catapult launch off the deck of an aircraft carrier. Believe me, there is nothing in this entire world quite like either experience.

During a tour of the flight deck, the skipper of the ship at the time, Capt. John Payne, told us of the immense firepower contained on the ships comprising the battle group.

He then said something quite astonishing. He said the group — which comprised several warships, including cruisers, destroyers and frigates as well as support craft along with this monstrous carrier — contained more explosive firepower than all the ordnance dropped during World War II.

Of course, that prompted the question from yours truly: “Skipper, does that mean this ship is carrying nukes?” Capt. Payne looked me in the eye and said, “Now you know I can’t answer that question.”

OK. Got it.

Twenty-four years later, the USS Carl Vinson is still on active duty. It’s now heading for a potentially very dangerous zone. I do believe the ship and its massive crew will be ready for whatever occurs.

Another old-school journo calls it a career

Of all the colleagues with whom I worked during my 37 years in daily journalism, I am hard-pressed to think of anyone who fit the description of “ink-stained wretch” better than a fellow who has just retired from a newspaper where we both once worked.

His name is Dan Wallach. He is a native of New York state. He graduated from the University of Arizona and ended up in Beaumont, Texas, where he worked at the Beaumont Enterprise for more than three decades.

Dan represents — to me — the individual who is committed fully to covering his community, of telling the myriad stories that give that community its life, its personality.

What’s more, he is unafraid to reveal the community’s scars and to press relentlessly the individuals who are responsible for inflicting those wounds.

He has just entered my world … of retirement. I welcome him gladly and wish him well, but I am absolutely certain that journalism as we both understand the craft is going to be a good bit poorer without more people such as Dan pursuing it.

I now want to tell a short story that personifies the kind of tribute that Dan earned from news sources over his many years in print journalism.

In the spring of 1995, just a few months after I had left Beaumont to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, I got a call from then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s office. The governor invited me to Austin to meet with him.

I arrived at the State Capitol Building a few days later. Gov. Bush and I  shook hands and he led me to his office. We exchanged a few pleasantries before we got down to brass tacks.

The governor knew I had worked at the Enterprise and he thanked me for the newspaper’s editorial endorsement in the 1994 governor’s race in which Gov. Bush defeated incumbent Democrat Ann Richards.

“It kind of surprised me,” Bush said. “Why is that?” I asked.

He told me about a “reporter you had there who gave me all kinds of trouble” when Bush talked to the media during his campaign stops in the Golden Triangle.

“I can’t remember his name,” he said. I responded, “Oh, you must be thinking of Dan Wallach.”

“Yeah, that’s who it was,” the governor said.

“He was one tough son of a b****.”

We both laughed out loud.

I told Dan not long after that meeting what the governor had said about him. I took it as a statement of high praise and I believe to this very day that’s how George W. Bush intended for it to be taken.

I have wanted for years to tell that story in some public forum. Dan’s retirement has given me that chance.

Well done, Dan.

Holiday recalls acts of kindness

I think of people from my past occasionally for the oddest of reasons. Today might qualify as one of them.

St. Patrick’s Day has me in a reminiscing mood. I am recalling a young man my wife and I knew in a prior life — in Beaumont, Texas.

His name was Kevin Carmody. He was an Irish-American and a damn fine journalist. He and I worked together at the Beaumont Enterprise. I worked on the paper’s editorial page; Kevin covered environmental issues for the paper, back when daily newspapers had enough personnel to assign reporters to specific beats.

Kevin was a kind young man. He was compassionate. He had a heart as big as, well, Texas. Maybe bigger.

He demonstrated his kindness in many ways, but I want to share a particular act he extended to me.

I arrived in Beaumont in the spring of 1984 ahead of my wife and sons. They stayed behind in Oregon while my wife prepared to put our house on the market. I went ahead to start a new job.

I met Kevin right away. He knew of my separation anxiety and he invited me to join him and his many other friends for after-hours fellowship at local watering holes. I agreed.

I had arrived in Beaumont after St. Patrick’s Day 1984; my family got there that summer, just in time for our boys to start school.

I told my wife about this young man. When I introduced her to Kevin, she understood completely why he was such an endearing fellow. She took an immediate liking to him, as he did to her.

The next year we attended a St. Patrick’s Day party at the house where Kevin lived in Beaumont’s Old Town district. It was a raucous affair, with lots of laughs and plenty of good “cheer” in the form of green beer that Kevin was proud to serve his many guests.

There would be more get-togethers with Kevin. He always made sure to invite the old guy, me, and my wife to these affairs. We always enjoyed his company and I will continue to believe he enjoyed ours as well.

We didn’t know it in those early years, but Kevin was ravaged by demons. He suffered terrible depression. I would learn later he took medication to fight it. We all sought to tell Kevin how much we loved him and how much we appreciated the good work he did for the newspaper and the kindness he always extended to others.

He moved away later, to Austin. My wife and I would move from Beaumont to Amarillo in early 1995.

We would see Kevin — who had since gotten married — one more time. It was at a reunion in 1997 of Beaumont Enterprise reporters and editors in Galveston. We partied at a posh hotel on the waterfront. We had a marvelous time.

That evening I took Kevin aside and told him how much I appreciated — with all of my heart — the kindness he extended to me a dozen or so years earlier. I told him in his wife’s presence how much I appreciated his intuitiveness by inviting me to those gatherings; he understood I was a bit lonesome without my family nearby — and I reminded him of that fact as well.

We said goodbye at the end of the reunion.

I wouldn’t see Kevin again.

The phone rang one day at my office in Amarillo and a mutual friend of ours called to tell me that the demons that had ravaged and savaged Kevin caught up with him. He had taken his own life.

I won’t dwell on that, however. Today — on St. Patrick’s Day — I choose to remember a kind young man who exhibited a level of wisdom and kindness one doesn’t always find in anyone, let alone someone so young.

You were the best, my friend.

Butt out of couples’ lives, Texas Legislature

A bill being pitched for consideration in the 2017 Texas Legislature is getting a hit from a newspaper editorial page where I used to work.

The Beaumont Enterprise calls state Rep. Matt Krause’s bill the “early favorite” for worst legislation of the session.

Krause, a Fort Worth Republican, wants the state to force couples to live apart for three years before they divorce; he stipulates, though, that the state would exempt couples separating on the basis of domestic violence or adultery.

Ugghh! He wants to make no-fault divorce illegal.

Hold on here. What about the couples who discover after they get married that they just cannot live together? They are incompatible on one or more levels. They don’t like each other’s eating habits. Maybe one of them snores too loudly.

C’mon, Rep. Krause. Get real. As the Enterprise notes in its editorial, a three-year waiting period punishes the couples needlessly.

http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/opinions/editorials/article/EDITORIAL-Proposed-bill-is-divorced-from-reality-10841203.php

Yes, society should fight for the sanctity of marriage. I’m all for it. I’ve been a married guy for 45 years. I get it.

Legislating this kind of solution, though — shall we say — is ridiculous on its face.

Besides, I always thought conservatives fought against government intrusion into our lives.

Texas GOP coasts while others sweat Trump

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The Texas Tribune headline describes the article below as an analysis of how the Texas Republican Party is so serene in this tumultuous election year.

While other state party leaders are sweating bullets over the fate of their down-ballot candidates in a campaign led by GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, Texas’s Republican Party is as confident as ever about success.

I think I know the reason.

It’s the lack of a viable Texas Democratic Party.

https://www.texastribune.org/2016/08/24/analysis-why-texas-gop-isnt-panicking-over-trump/

Trump continues to hold a lead over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Texas. The latest PPP poll puts Trump up by 6 percent; yes, it’s a smaller margin than what Mitt Romney or John McCain won by over Barack Obama in the previous two elections, but it’s also outside the margin of error.

Ross Ramsey’s piece in the Tribune seeks to break apart where Democrats remain strong and where Republicans maintain their strength.

I think it’s a simpler issue than that.

The Texas Democratic Party hasn’t found its voice. It hasn’t discovered a way to break the GOP vise grip on statewide offices. It hasn’t fielded candidates for statewide or regional offices who can find the magic it takes to persuade diehard Republicans to cross over.

Republicans win in this state simply because they are of the “right” — meaning “correct” — political party.

Trump likely win the state’s 38 electoral votes this fall because (a) we still have straight-ticket voting available and (b) because the state’s Democratic Party doesn’t have the heft to mount any kind of ground game challenge.

Do I wish it were different in Texas? Certainly, but not necessarily for the reason you might think.

Some readers of this blog consider me to be a yellow dog Democrat. Not true. I bemoaned the same one-party domination when I first arrived in Texas back in the spring of 1984. I took up my post with the Beaumont Enterprise, in the Golden Triangle region of the state, where Democrats controlled everything.

I called then for a stronger Republican Party because I feared the dominant party would become arrogant and would force-feed its agenda on constituents without proper debate.

The same thing has happened now that Texas has flipped from solidly Democratic control to even more solidly Republican control.

Texas GOP pols have good reason to feel “sanguine,” as Ramsey states.

They have no competition.

Open-carry law might need some tinkering

New_Hampshire_Open_Carry_2009

Did the Dallas shooting that killed five police officers and injured several others reveal a flaw in the Texas open-carry law?

Consider what transpired during the Black Lives Matter march that turned violent when the shooter opened fire on the cops.

Several individuals were seen at the march carrying weapons in the open, which they were entitled to do under the state’s open-carry law. One young man was arrested, handcuffed and detained for some time while police investigated whether he took part in the shooting. It turns out he didn’t.

Which brings to mind the question: How do police determine who are the heat-packing bystanders in the heat of an adrenaline-filled moment in which tensions run at fever pitches?

Here’s a thought put forward by others, but which seem to make sense: The Texas Legislature ought to consider tweaking the open-carry law when it convenes in January to give cities the option of banning people from carrying weapons in the open during political demonstrations.

http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/opinions/editorials/article/EDITORIAL-Open-carry-doesn-t-mix-with-political-8353183.php

As the Beaumont Enterprise noted in an editorial, guns and political demonstrations just don’t mix.

I’ve been able to take part in simulated shooting demonstrations with the Amarillo Police Department. I can tell you from personal experience — and this involves use of weapons that did not carry live ammo — that the adrenaline that courses through one’s body in a shoot-don’t-shoot situation can cloud one’s judgment.

I cannot imagine the chaos that ensued in Dallas that evening when gunfire erupted. Police responded immediately to protect crowd members. Then some of them spotted spectators carrying weapons. What does a cop do — in an instant?

So, let’s fine-tune this law. If Texans are going to insist on the right to carry guns in the open, then there ought to be some reasonable restrictions on where they can pack them.

It seems quite reasonable to me to let cities decide whether to allow them at political rallies.