Tag Archives: Randall County

Yes, I also want to be called for jury duty

A member of my family is a happy young woman. Why? She’s been called for jury duty in Oregon.

She has been summoned to appear for jury duty in a Circuit Court, which is the highest level of trial court in Oregon. She is thrilled. I want to join her in her excitement at being called to perform a vital act of citizenship.

I long have bemoaned my own lack of jury-duty experience. Of course, I am much older than my great-niece.

I was called a time or two when we lived in Oregon. I never served.

Then we moved to Texas in 1984.

I have received summons while living first in Jefferson County and then in Randall County in Texas. But only one time have I been ordered to report. I did so around 1995. I went to the Randall County Courthouse, sat around for most of one morning and then we were informed that the litigants settled; we were excused.

Every other time has resulted in potential jurors being excused without even having to report to the courthouse.

My great-niece asked whether she is “crazy” to want to serve on a jury. No, honey, you are not crazy. You are a conscientious citizen of a great country.

I have been told that my job as a journalist likely disqualified me from jury duty had I been selected as part of a pool of potential jurors. Indeed, my wife once was chosen for a Jefferson County jury pool, but then was disqualified when one of the lawyers recognized her last name. He came back to her and said an editorial that I had written for the local newspaper suggested a bias on her part. Her response? “He wrote it. Not me.”

I’m retired these days. I am living in a county with a significantly larger population than any of our previous counties of residence. I figure my chances of getting a summons are reduced.

Rats! I would love to serve on a jury. Just as my great-niece asked: Am I crazy?

Political differences need not destroy friendships

I sent a letter via snail mail to a friend of mine this week.

His name is Ernie Houdashell. He is a devoted Republican Party elected official. He serves as Randall County, Texas, judge. Houdashell is as devoted a partisan as anyone I know.

He and I differ fundamentally on politics. We’ve actually argued a time or two over the years, particularly since my departure from the Amarillo Globe-News in August 2012.

But here’s the deal: He and I remain friends. I have great respect for this good man. I wrote him a note just to give him an update on where my wife and I have relocated. He’ll likely have received the letter, and I hope he takes to heart the way I ended it. I told him I am “proud” that he and I have maintained our friendship.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I want to illustrate how easy it can be for people with vastly different philosophical outlooks to retain their personal affection for each other. They can be friends, just as Ernie and I are friends. I believe in my heart that my friend feels the same way I do.

We hear too much these days on social media and in other media about those who have seen their friendships shattered in this toxic and divisive political climate.

I keep reading Facebook posts from individuals who admit to losing friends because of disagreements over policy matters. Man, that kind of news really saddens me!

I worked for more than two decades in a region known for its severe rightward tilt. The Texas Panhandle arguably is the birthplace of the modern conservative Republican movement. I lived for that entire time in Randall County, where Democratic elected officials have gone dormant since 1995.

I won’t belabor the point that I have many good friends in Amarillo who happen to view the world differently than I do. I’ve said it and I’ll leave it at that.

I just wish the current bitterness that infects our atmosphere wasn’t so destructive to so many other people’s relationships.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said of his opponent that year, President Barack Obama, that the two men had little time for personal animus toward each other. “There more to life,” Romney said, “than politics.”

Indeed.

Incumbents quite often got our nod

I published a blog post this week in which I declared that the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees needs to get a serious electoral wake-up call from voters this year. The board has delivered shabby treatment to a young high school girls volleyball coach, meaning that it didn’t measure up to its public office.

Then came a question from the reader of the blog. He wondered how many times during my years as an opinion writer and editor I endorsed those who challenged incumbent officeholders.

That was what I described to him as a “tremendous question.”

I edited editorial pages in Texas for nearly 30 years: 11 at the Beaumont Enterprise and nearly 18 years at the Amarillo Globe-News.

I had the pleasure of interviewing likely hundreds of political candidates during all those years.

I told the reader of my blog that during that time our newspapers recommended the re-election of incumbents far more frequently than we recommended the election of newcomers.

Why stay the course? Well, I suppose we placed a huge premium on experience. Absent overt malfeasance or incompetence on the part of incumbents, we usually gave them the benefit of the doubt. If the communities they served were doing well economically, they quite often deserved some measure of credit for that performance.

Sure, we would go with challengers on occasion. In Beaumont, the Enterprise once recommended the election of former Beaumont Mayor Maury Meyers, a Republican, over incumbent U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks, the irascible Democrat who chaired the House Judiciary Committee; Brooks won re-election anyway, but held a bit of a grudge against yours truly for authoring the editorial. Many years later, the Amarillo Globe-News recommended the election of Patti Lou Dawkins over incumbent Randall County Judge Ted Wood in the county’s Republican primary; Wood defeated Dawkins.

Perhaps the most controversial non-incumbent endorsement we made in Amarillo occurred in 2010 when we recommended former Houston Mayor Bill White over Texas Gov. Rick Perry. White, the Democratic nominee, got thumped by the Republican governor. The reaction from our readers was ferocious. But . . . we called it the way we saw it.

But over the span of time, we usually went with the incumbent mostly on the basis of the experience they brought to the office.

All of this, I suppose, is what got my blog reader’s attention when I recommended that the AISD board of trustees incumbents get shown the door when Election Day rolls around later this year.

I just try to call ’em the way I see ’em.

Early votes keeping piling up

Texas well might be on the verge of shucking a title I am quite certain Texans don’t want their state to hold.

The Texas Tribune reports that in several of the state’s most-populated counties, the 2018 early vote totals have surpassed the entire number of ballots cast during the entire early voting period during the 2014 midterm election.

Texas, sadly, is known to be one of the country’s most underperforming states in terms of voter turnout, particularly during these off-year elections. Is that going to change?

There appears to be no letup in store during this year’s early voting season leading up to Election Day on Nov. 6.

Democratic partisans suggest the huge spike in this balloting bodes well for their candidates. Republican partisans counter that their folks are energized, too, which will benefit the GOP slate of candidates.

I’m out of the loop. I haven’t spoken to party officials on either side in Collin County, one of the state’s larger counties. Collin County is known to be a heavily Republican bastion, although it’s not nearly as dependably Republican as Randall County, where my wife and I lived for 23 years before moving to the Metroplex earlier this year.

The question facing congressional candidates in places like Collin County rests with how “suburban women” are going to vote. We live in a suburban county populated by many thousands of such women who well might be turned off by the rhetoric that comes from those on the right and far right. The Senate hearings to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh brought many of their concerns to the fore, given the accusation leveled against Kavanaugh by a woman who alleges he assaulted her sexually in the early 1980s.

Does this represent a groundswell against Republican candidates for Congress — for the House and Senate? Democratic senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke’s supporters certainly hope so.

Oh, one more thing: I hope so, too.

Why endorse in primaries?

A newspaper editorial endorsement for a political primary election brings to mind a decision I made several years before the end of my own journalism career.

It was that we shouldn’t make such an endorsement unless a primary race was tantamount to election, meaning that there would be no contested two-party primaries for that particular office.

The endorsement that got me thinking about the issue came from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which recommended former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in that state’s Republican primary.

Read the endorsement here.

It wasn’t always that way. I used to work for newspapers in Beaumont, Texas and in Oregon City, Ore. We made primary endorsements at those newspapers.

Then I moved to Amarillo to become editorial page editor of the Globe-News. After a period of time, I persuaded the publisher that primary endorsements were not nearly as relevant as general-election endorsements. So, why do them, especially when the candidates had another election in the fall?

Amarillo is in the middle of heavily Republican territory. In many instances, particularly in Randall County — which comprises the southern half (roughly) of Amarillo, Democrats damn near never run candidates for local offices. That means the GOP primary means the winner is all but assured of election, barring a surprise and successful write-in campaign.

We elected then to endorse only in those primary races featuring contests in just one party. That meant the Republican Party.

I came to realize that primaries are essentially a political party function. They are run by the political parties. The local party chairs are in charge of managing the ballots and ensuring that all the fees are paid.

If by chance there would be contested primaries in both major parties, we would take a pass on offering a recommendation in the primary; we preferred to wait for the general election campaign to make our recommendation known.

That was then. I now wonder whether newspaper endorsements mean anything any longer. Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided in 2010 to forgo any editorial board interviews with Texas newspapers; he was angry at the way newspapers treated him. The Globe-News that year endorsed former Houston Mayor Bill White, as did the vast majority of Texas newspapers. Gov. Perry won big anyway.

Donald Trump got few newspaper endorsements in 2016. You know how that election turned out.

If I had to do it all over again, I think I’d do it the way I decided to do it. No primary endorsements unless a party’s primary meant virtual election to office.

I also might give serious thought to giving up on the idea of offering endorsements for any race … ever!

I mean … what’s the point?

USS Arizona to add to War Memorial

AMARILLO, Texas — I guess it can be stated clearly: A piece of one of the darkest days in U.S. history is going to adorn the Texas Panhandle War Memorial in south Amarillo.

It’s the product of some wheeling and dealing by Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell, who has been working with federal and state of Hawaii officials to bring a piece of the USS Arizona to the Texas Panhandle.

They’re going to add the piece to the War Memorial on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7. It will arrive around 11 a.m. Saturday at the Randall County Event Center, where they’ll have a welcoming ceremony.

This is an extremely poignant addition to the War Memorial, which already includes — in addition to the stone tablets chronicling the conflicts this nation has engaged in and those who died in them — an F-100 Super Sabre jet and a UH-1 Huey helicopter.

The Arizona was one of several big ships sunk in Pearl Harbor more than seven decades ago in the event that brought the United States into World War II. President Roosevelt called it a “date which will live in infamy.”

It’s a date we cannot forget. We must always remember it.

Judge Houdashell told me some months ago about the Arizona memento coming here. He was thrilled beyond belief to get it done.

I am proud of my friend for scoring this magnificent addition to the War Memorial.

Political learning curve about to commence

I met a most interesting gentleman this morning, someone who almost immediately after extending his hand to greet my wife and me invited me to come to Fairview’s town hall to familiarize myself with the community’s political climate.

This fellow is a member of the Fairview Town Council. I am reluctant to give you his name, as he doesn’t know I’m writing about him. Maybe I’ll divulge it later.

Our relocation has been pretty smooth and seamless as we have settled in this community tucked between Allen and McKinney in Collin County. My wife and I are registered to vote now in our new community of residence, which removes any chance for us to vote in Randall County, where we lived for 23-plus years.

I wanted to vote in the race for 13th Congressional District. That won’t happen now. We’ll get to vote for a new representative in the 3rd Congressional District, which has been represented since 1991 by U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (pictured), a former Vietnam prisoner of war. Johnson is retiring at the end of the year.

I’ll need to study up on the individuals seeking to succeed Rep. Johnson.

My new friend from Fairview implied that next year’s municipal election will be a contentious affair. He didn’t go into detail; the setting of our meeting this morning made it difficult for him to spend too much time explaining what he implied.

My career took me to Amarillo in January 1995. My job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News required me to get acquainted in a hurry with the political lay of the land, just as it had required the same of me in Beaumont, when we moved to the Gulf Coast in the spring of 1984.

I have no job requirements these days. However, my instinctive nosiness — which was bred and nurtured by nearly four decades in print journalism — compels me to sniff around at Fairview’s Town Hall.

So, I believe I will seek to satisfy my nosy nature by continuing this relationship with my new acquaintance.

Hey, my retirement doesn’t render me disinterested … you know?

Eight years on, it’s still pretty — and still empty

Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell can claim many successes during his years presiding over the county’s Commissioners Court.

For instance, the sheriff’s department has built a complex on South Georgia Street; the county just recently opened its new courthouse annex on Western Street in southwest Amarillo.

Oh, and the county was able to spruce up the 1909 Courthouse building on the Square in Canyon.

I found a High Plains Blogger post from March 2009 that commented on the old courthouse. I noted that the outside looks good. The inside, well, is unusable. It was then. It still is today.

Pretty on the outside

Let me be crystal clear: I am glad that the county was able to renovate the exterior of that courthouse. It was able to secure a state grant, and then spent local tax funds — with voters’ approval — to finish the job.

The county vacated the courthouse years ago. It moved some functions across the street into the old jail building. The Justice Center was opened a few blocks away across the street from West Texas A&M University.

The old building? It’s empty. Its interior is a mess.

I wrote a feature story for NewsChannel10.com years after leaving the Amarillo Globe-News about a possible new tenant for the 1909 Courthouse: The City of Canyon considered moving in, according to City Manager Randy Criswell. Then the city backed off when the cost estimates proved prohibitive.

The Square has blossomed since the exterior renovation. Judge Houdashell is proud of what has happened to the Square: Businesses have sprouted up along once-empty storefronts. It’s active, vibrant, busy in downtown Canyon.

Houdashell credits the 1909 Courthouse for luring that activity.

That’s fantastic! Houdashell’s pride is justified. However, there must be a move afoot to complete this mosaic.

I haven’t asked my friend, Judge Houdashell, what he has in mind for landing a new tenant for the structure. My strong hunch is that with the Courthouse Annex project complete, he is likely to turn his significant deal-making skill to finding an organization interested in fixing up a grand-looking old building.

My sense is that the success already brought to Canyon by a renovated exterior will explode even more once they find someone who fix up and occupy its interior.

Democrats feeling a ‘wave’ coming on?

Democrats across Texas are heartened by a surge in their party’s early primary voting numbers, saying that they are rivaling the primary interest generated by the 2008 presidential campaign struggle between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Hill reports a surge in some urban areas, such as Harris County. They believe the Democratic primary uptick signals a potential “wave” sweeping across the state this fall.

Count me as mildly skeptical of that, although I do hope for a wave, given my own progressive leanings.

I clearly recall the heavy Democratic interest in 2008, even in heavily Republican Randall County, where I am registered to vote. The lines at the Democratic polling station was far longer than it was at the GOP station, signaling to my mind a bit of GOP crossovers seeking to commit a bit of mischief in the other party. Hey, that happens on occasion.

The Democratic surge then didn’t translate to victory in the fall, as Democratic nominee Obama lost Texas to GOP nominee Sen. John McCain.

Moreover, I don’t necessarily equate large early-vote numbers to increase overall turnout. It means quite often only that more voters are casting ballots early … and that’s it!

My own preference this year was to vote in the GOP primary, given my intense interest in helping return Kel Seliger to the Texas Senate. But that’s just me.

“You can’t underestimate the surge that we’re seeing out there with the blue wave coming,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of the Democratic-leaning Progress Texas.

Let’s just wait this one out. Shall we?

Randall County set to open a new shop

In just a few hours, they’re going to unlock the front door at a Texas Panhandle county complex.

It will mark the beginning of a new era.

Randall County’s new courthouse annex will open for business as the county vacates its former annex. The new site will be on Western Street and Paramount Boulevard. It will be about six times larger in terms of floor space than the other place. It will be essentially a “full-service county government operation.”

As a resident of Randall County, I am delighted that County Judge Ernie Houdashell’s hard work and hard-nosed negotiating skills have borne fruit.

The new annex will sit on a parcel that used to be home for an insurance firm. The firm went bankrupt and moved out. Houdashell set about negotiating with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation to buy the building.

AEDC finally sold the site to the county for $2.5 million. That was nearly two years ago. The county then tore the old building apart and has turned it into a state-of-the-art government complex.

Whereas the old annex, at Georgia Street and the Canyon E-Way, comprised the tax office, a justice of the peace court and a small sheriff’s office presence, the new place is much more complete.

It will contain all of the above. It also will have a county clerk operation, a district clerk office, a county court-at-law, a second justice of the peace courtroom; the district attorney will maintain a presence there as well.

It’s full service, all right.

Randall County’s population is around 125,000 residents; it has overtaken neighboring Potter County in size.

Although the Randall County seat is in Canyon, about 80 percent of the county population resides in Amarillo, providing about 80 percent of the county’s total revenue in taxes and fees. It makes perfect sense for the annex to provide more county government services for the vast majority of the county’s taxpaying residents. It saves them drive time to Canyon and provides better service closer to home.

What happens to the old annex building? It will be taken over by the Texas Panhandle War Memorial board, which operates the memorial next to the Georgia Street complex. Houdashell told me the War Memorial board plans to use the annex as a chapel, while it continues to raise money to erect its long-planned education center next to the garden and the monuments that honor Panhandle residents who’ve fallen in battle in defense of our country.

I guess all that’s left to say is: Well done, Ern.