Tag Archives: Golden Triangle

Happy Trails, Part 143: ‘Forever’ comes into view

PRINCETON, Texas — This picture reveals to you where my wife, Toby the Puppy and I plan to live . . . hopefully for the duration, if you get my drift.

The “Sold” sign means we are in the process of purchasing it. Our retirement journey is taking a gigantic step forward this week. We will “close” on our house purchase in Princeton, about 6 miles or so east of McKinney in Collin County. We’ll lay down some cash, sign a large stack of papers, accept our “smart house” keys and we’ll be on our way.

My wife plans to start immediately laying down shelf liners in the kitchen. We’ll start moving the next day. We’ll take our time, but we won’t dawdle.

Yes, dear reader, this is our final stop.

What fascinates me as I think about it is that Princeton was one of the towns we considered when we first started pondering our move from the Texas Panhandle to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. The thought process came right about the time our son and daughter-in-law informed us that “You are going to be grandparents.”

That was more than six years ago. It took some time for us to make this move, but we did.

I already have told you about how we came upon his dwelling.

I only want to affirm once more the idea that even old folks — such as me — are able to adapt to new surroundings. I long thought of myself as a staid fellow, resistant to change. Then career opportunity knocked in 1984 and we moved our young family from a suburban community near Portland, Ore., to Beaumont, Texas. We stayed in Beaumont for nearly 11 years; our sons graduated from high school and were finishing up their college educations when my wife and I packed up again and moved from the Golden Triangle to the Texas Panhandle. We stayed in Amarillo for 23 years. The arrival of our granddaughter in March 2013 precipitated the move that is about to conclude in very short order in the house you see pictured with this blog post.

This is going to be a huge week for us.

I await it with great joy and excitement. Retirement is no time for complacency.

Time of My Life, Part 18: Serving as a judicial watchdog

Every so often reporters and editors encounter public officials who actually appreciate the work of holding those officials accountable for their actions.

I met a few of those folks along the way during my 37 years as a journalist. One of those individuals stands out. I want to discuss him briefly to demonstrate that some individuals do not view the media as “the enemy of the people.”

I arrived at the Amarillo Globe-News in January 1995 after spending nearly 11 years as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise way down yonder in the Golden Triangle region of the Gulf Coast.

We got into our share of scrapes in Beaumont. One fight we had was with a couple of state district judges in Jefferson County. They presided over courts with criminal jurisdiction, meaning that they only tried criminal cases; the civil caseloads were sent to other judges in Jefferson County.

Well, these two judges had to face the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, which had received a complaint about the judges’ sentencing practices. These two jurists were in the habit of backdating sentences for individuals convicted of crimes. Example: If someone committed a crime on Jan. 1, but was convicted on Dec. 30, the judge would sentence the individual to a prison term that began prior to the commission of the crime. Such a sentencing practice dramatically reduced the amount of time the individual would serve behind bars.

Such sentencing policies don’t sit well with prosecutors. The judicial ethics commission got a complaint and it dropped the hammer on the two judges. It issued a public reprimand, which in the world of judicial punishment is a real big deal.

We at the Beaumont Enterprise editorialized in support of the Commission on Judicial Conduct’s ruling. We were highly critical of the backdated sentences that were handed down. Our criticism of the local judges obviously angered the two men, but that didn’t dissuade us from calling it the way we saw it.

My time in Beaumont ended and I gravitated to the Panhandle in early 1995. I quickly made the acquaintance of one of the judges who punished the two judges in Beaumont. He was John Boyd, chief justice of the 7th Texas Court of Appeals headquartered in Amarillo.

Justice Boyd knew of my background and for years after our first meeting he would invariably bring up the editorial support we gave to the judicial conduct panel on which he served. He would tell others with whom we would meet of the position we took to endorse the punishment handed out to those backdating judges.

I always appreciated — and still do! — the recognition that we sought only to hold judges accountable for their actions. If any of “our” judges got stepped on, well, so be it.

Time of My Life, Part 17: Revealing a little secret

I want to reveal a little secret about newspaper editorials, particularly those that “endorse” political candidates or issues.

I lost count a long time ago of the number of editorial endorsement interviews I conducted. Despite all the high-minded talk we used to offer about our motivations, our intent was to persuade readers to buy into whatever opinion we expressed.

I wrote editorials for three newspapers in my career that spanned more than 37 years. One in Oregon and two in Texas. I interviewed likely hundreds of candidates for public office. We always used to say on our opinion pages that our intent never was to persuade readers to adopt our view. To be candid, that was baloney!

Part of the fun I had writing editorials was helping lead the community we served. Whether Oregon City, Ore., or in Beaumont or Amarillo, Texas, we sought to provide a beacon for the community to follow. By definition, therefore, our intent was to persuade readers of our newspaper to accept that what we said was the truth as we saw it. If you did, then you would follow our lead.

Isn’t that a simple concept? Sure it is! It’s also one we avoided confronting head-on while we published editorials endorsing candidates or supporting issues that were placed on ballots.

I never was naïve to think that readers of our newspapers would be malleable creatures whose minds could be changed by what they read in the newspaper. But by golly, we never stopped trying to change minds.

We used to say publicly on our pages that we recognized and accepted that our readers were intelligent enough to make up their own mind and were able to cobble together rational reasons for the point of view they held. I’ll stand by that principle even though I no longer write for newspapers, but write only for myself.

I was having the time of my professional life interviewing those individuals, who came to us in search of our editorial endorsement or, if you’ll pardon the term, our blessing.

However, when you hear an opinion writer say with a straight face that he or she doesn’t intend to change anyone’s mind with an editorial, well . . . just try to stifle your laughter.

You want big sky? Try this

AMARILLO, Texas — We came back to the Texas Panhandle — and got a look at this!

Let me be clear: I have talked already on this blog about how God gave the Panhandle the kind of sky that makes jaws drop. It is the Almighty’s payback for declining to give the region towering mountains and tall trees.

But I don’t care that you’ve heard it already. It bears repeating.

The sunrises and the sunsets are two of the reasons we enjoyed living here. They reminded us frequently that natural splendor isn’t contained in snowcapped peaks or endless miles of virgin forest.

Indeed, we moved to Texas in 1984 from a part of the country — the Pacific Northwest — that contains plenty of both tall mountains and tall timber.

We settled initially in the Golden Triangle along the Gulf Coast, where we were treated by thunderstorms that roared incessantly.

We ventured to the Top of Texas nearly 11 years later. Sure, we had our share of thunder and lightning. We learned early about Palo Duro and Caprock canyons. We discovered how you can lose sight of your location on that flat terrain called the Caprock when you ventured into the floors of those chasms.

That sky, though . . .

It ignited again tonight with the sunset that took my breath away. As a matter of fact, at the very moment I snapped this picture the voice on the radio made specific mention of that “gorgeous Texas Panhandle sunset.”

So, there it is. I’ve said it again. Who knows? There might be more to say the next time the day ends in such spectacular fashion.

Happy Trails, Part 136: Planning our destinations

I have decided that perhaps the coolest aspect of retirement is thinking of places to see and then just deciding when we’ll get there.

We have so many places we still want to see on this continent of ours. We are planning an April excursion that will end up in New Orleans. We’ll hitch up our RV in Amarillo and then haul it to the Hill Country, to the Golden Triangle and then through the Atchafalaya Swamp en route to the Big Easy.

But then the thought came to me tonight: I want to see Monument Valley, Ariz. I told my wife and she agreed, just as I agree with her travel-destination ideas.

I don’t know when we’ll get over there. I am betting it will be soon after we return from New Orleans.

But my point is that retirement has given us the freedom to just think of these places we want to see. All that is left for us to do is decide when to shove off.

Do we have a “bucket list” trip we want to take? You bet we do.

The Big Journey will take place across Canada. Our plans call for us to haul our fifth wheel to Vancouver, British Columbia, from where we will trek east. We intend to haul our RV across Canada, perhaps as far as Nova Scotia. Then we’ll come south along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, visiting friends and family in Virginia and in Washington, D.C.

Yes, retirement for us has opened up so many opportunities. In a strange way all the travel destinations we have laid out before us remind me of how busy my work as an editorial page editor had become, especially after 9/11.

That was the date when all hell broke loose. There was so much on which to comment, my task each morning was to decide which issue we would tackle for the next day’s newspaper edition — and which issues we could set aside for another day.

The United States and Canada comprise between them more than 7.5 million square miles. Surely that means we have enough destinations awaiting us to last for the rest of our lives.

Time of My Life, Part 12: Whom or whether to ‘endorse’

We have entered an era of enhanced distrust or mistrust of the media. That wasn’t always the case and I was proud to practice a craft that the public held in much higher regard than it does now.

We weren’t universally adored and admired, but come election time we had politicians lining up — quite literally — waiting for a chance to be interviewed by those of us who comprised an “editorial board.” They sought our “endorsement” for the campaign they were waging for whatever public office was on the line.

It’s a bit different these days. Politicians are forgoing those meetings with editorial boards. The most memorable “snub” occurred in 2010 when Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided he wouldn’t speak to any editorial boards in the state. He said he preferred to take his re-election message “directly to the people.” We got the message. What did we do? The Amarillo Globe-News decided to invite his Democratic Party challenger, former Houston Mayor Bill White, to talk to us. White accepted. He came to Amarillo and sat down for an hour or so talking about issues affecting his campaign and the state.

The paper then recommended White for election as governor. We were far from alone. However, judging from the response we got from our readers, you would have thought we had just endorsed Satan himself. The anger was palpable based on the mail we got from our heavily Republican-leaning readership.

It didn’t matter. Gov. Perry was re-elected in a breeze. And he established a trend for others to follow:

Ernst follows Perry model: Who needs editorial boards?

One of the more fascinating after effects of these editorial endorsement interviews — particularly with candidates running for local offices — was that every election cycle proved to be a learning experience for me. I always learned something at some level about the community where I lived that I didn’t know. Whether it was in Oregon City, Ore., or Beaumont or Amarillo in Texas, I learned something new about the community.

I was able to interview candidates who were invested deeply in their communities and they would share their often heartfelt experiences growing up there. I tried to take something new away from those encounters. Did I learn all there was to know about Clackamas County, Ore., or the Golden Triangle or the High Plains region? No. However, I did know a lot more about all those areas when I left them than I knew going in.

I was privileged to meet a future president of the United States, U.S. senators, members of the U.S. House, movers and shakers of all stripes, men and women who wanted to serve on city councils, or county commissions, they sought legislative office, various statewide public offices, school boards . . . you name it, we met ’em.

It always was a privilege to get to know these individuals, even those who weren’t serious in their quest. Believe me, we encountered our share of those as well.

They were willing to subject themselves to the grilling we provided them. They withstood our sometimes-difficult questions. There is something good to be said about them, too — and the process in which we all took part.

Fear not, others will step up

The news of the death this week of Wales Madden Jr. in Amarillo hit me hard, as it hit others who knew him equally hard.

As sad as I am at this good man’s passing, I find myself resisting the urge to wonder: How will the community replace him? How does any community full of giant men and women replace those who pass from this good Earth?

Well, I have what I hope is an acceptable answer.

I don’t know how a community replaces someone of Wales Madden’s immense stature. I only know that Amarillo, Texas, will move forward.

Amarillo is like any community in this great country of ours. It comprises roughly 200,000 residents. It has a long and storied tradition of embodying the pioneer spirit. Trail blazers settled on what was seen as a desolate landscape in the 19th century. They built a thriving community of farmers and ranchers that has grown into the unofficial “capital” of the High Plains region that includes parts of four states.

They endured hardship the likes of which few communities have ever experienced. The Dust Bowl? The misery of that terrible time in the 1930s was centered in the High Plains. Many of them fled. Many others stayed. They powered through it. They rebuilt their shattered lives. That’s how communities learn to thrive past their hardship and sadness.

Other communities with which I have some familiarity also have suffered grievous loss. Civic giants pass from the scene and somehow other emerge to take their place.

Before I moved to Amarillo, I lived and worked for nearly 11 years in Beaumont, Texas, another wonderful community along the Gulf Coast. It, too, is full of dedicated citizens who are the direct descendants of those who built that oil and petrochemical refining community into what it has become. Men and women pass from the scene and others step up, they fill the breach.

Amarillo is going to gather Saturday at the church where Wales Madden worshiped with his beloved wife, the late Abby Madden. Folks will hug each other, talk about Wales and Abby, remembering their philanthropy, their love for each other and for the community. They’ll remember Wales’ passion for climbing all those “14ers” — the peaks that exceeded 14,000 feet — in Colorado and California.

They need not worry for an instant whether anyone will emerge to replace the great man.

Great communities find a way to keep moving forward even as they bid farewell to those who helped build them.

National Climate Assessment: Harvey wasn’t a one-time event

Get ready, my fellow Texans. It’s quite likely, according to the National Climate Assessment, that Hurricane Harvey wasn’t a one-time catastrophe; there might more of them perhaps in the near future.

Hurricane Harvey delivered in the late summer of 2017 a one-two punch never seen before along the Gulf Coast. It roared in as a monstrous hurricane at Corpus Christi and Rockport, delivering huge storm surges off the Gulf of Mexico along with heavy wind.

It backed out over the water, then meandered up the coast and came in — again! — as a tropical storm. The second hit delivered 50 inches of rain over Houston and the Golden Triangle, putting vast stretches of the upper Texas coast under water.

Well, the National Climate Assessment says we can expect more of the same, or perhaps even worse. Why? Earth’s climate is changing. And, yes, the assessment delivered by the federal government is in direct contradiction to the half-baked pronouncements delivered by the president of the United States, Donald John “Stable Genius” Trump.

Trump says climate change is a “hoax.” He doesn’t accept the scientific community’s findings about the changing climate and the warming of the planet.

What’s more, scientists are concluding that human activity is a significant contributor to these changes.

According to the Texas TribuneThe White House downplayed the findings of the report, saying in a statement that it was “largely based on the most extreme scenario.”

But the report makes a compelling case for the reality of disastrous climate change impacts — in large part because they are already occurring. The report highlights Hurricane Harvey, wildfires in California and other recent extreme weather events, describing them as consistent with what might be expected as the planet warms. It also details the crippling impact a multi-year drought had on Texas agriculture from 2010 to 2015, thanks not only to less direct rainfall but to the reduction of water released to farmers for irrigation.

Who are you going to believe, a politician — Trump — with no background in science, let alone public service or scientists who make their living studying and determining these things?

I’m going to stand with the scientists.

One-party rule: dangerous for democracy

High Plains Blogger critics aren’t likely to believe this, but I have been opposed to one-party domination for, oh, as long as I can remember.

Yes, that means Democrats who control all the power can be as harmful to the cause of good government as Republicans.

That stands as one of the reasons I favor flipping at least one congressional chamber on Tuesday when we go to the polls for the 2018 midterm election. I want Democrats to seize control of Congress to act as a check on the narcissistic maniac who has hijacked the Republican Party and brought otherwise sensible GOP members along with him on his dangerous journey toward who knows what.

You can stop chuckling now, critics of mine.

There was a time when I commented publicly about how Democrats controlled local government in a region I used to call home. That would be the Golden Triangle of Texas, that region between Houston and the Sabine River, which serves as the border between Texas and Louisiana.

I arrived in that part of the world in the spring of 1984. Democrats occupied virtually every public office there was to be found. Republicans were an endangered species in that bastion of Democratic policies and politicians. The Triangle was so reliably Democratic that Democratic politicians running for statewide office rarely campaigned there. They took the region for granted. They knew they could depend on their votes on Election Day.

That began to change before I left the region in January 1995 for the Texas Panhandle. Jefferson County elected a Republican to its commissioners court and GOP candidates began winning a smattering of offices.

Then we moved to the heart of Republican Country, where the modern Texas conservative movement called its heart and soul. The Panhandle is as reliably Republican as the Golden Triangle used to be reliably Democratic.

The Panhandle isn’t changing its stripes.

But on the national level, we see the GOP in control of both the legislative and executive branches of government. I do hope that changes when the ballots are counted late Tuesday and/or early Wednesday. I want Democrats to seize control of Congress. It appears they might take control of the House; the Senate likely will remain in GOP hands.

Whatever the outcome, if the Democrats take the House, they’ll at least be able to institute some checks on the nutty nonsense that emanates from the White House and is endorsed by the Senate.

If it happens, then we might see a return to good government.

Let us hope for the best.

Editorial boards need not reflect the community

A friend of mine challenged a blog item I posted earlier today that called attention to the Dallas Morning News’s endorsement of Beto O’Rourke in this year’s campaign for the U.S. Senate.

My friend noted that “of course DMN” would back the Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Dallas County voted Democratic in 2016, as well as in 2012 and 2008. The paper, my friend noted, was going with the community flow.

I felt compelled to remind him that newspaper editorial boards — at least in my experience — do not necessarily strive to reflect the community’s leaning.

The example I gave him involved my nearly 11 years in Jefferson County, the largest county of the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Texas.

I worked for the Beaumont Enterprise, serving as editorial page editor. On my watch, the Enterprise endorsed Republican presidential candidates in three elections: 1984, 1988 and 1992, even though Jefferson County voters endorsed by significant majorities the Democratic candidates for president in all three elections. I told my friend the following: So … newspapers do not always reflect the communities’ political leaning. They adhere to their own philosophy or — more to the point — to their ownership’s philosophy.

So it was in 1984 particularly, when the publisher told us point blank that we were going to recommend President Reagan’s re-election. There would be no discussion. A different publisher told us the same thing in 1988 and 1992: We were going to endorse George H.W. Bush for election in ’88 and for re-election in ’92.

That’s how it works. The newspaper and its corporate ownership march to their own cadence, not necessarily the drumbeat of the community it serves. I went to Amarillo in January 1995 and learned the same thing, although the Texas Panhandle is even more solidly Republican than the Golden Triangle was solidly Democratic in the 1980s and early 1990s.

What’s more, Morris Communications, which owned the Amarillo Globe-News until 2017, is far more wedded to conservatives and Republicans than the Hearst Corporation, which still owns the Beaumont Enterprise.

It is true that Dallas County has tilted Democratic in recent election cycles. It also is true that the Dallas Morning News has endorsed plenty of conservative candidates and stood behind plenty of conservative issues over many years.

The Morning News is not a doctrinaire publication. Although I do not know what transpired when the paper’s editorial board deliberated over whom to endorse in this year’s Senate contest, I know that the published record reflects an editorial board that is far from rigid in its political outlook.

Believe me, I know a rigid media organization when I see one. I’ve worked for them.