Tag Archives: Texas Panhandle

Take it from this fellow: Texas judicial election system stinks

There can be no diplomatic, or judicious way to say this.

The system we use in Texas to elect our judges stinks to high heaven … and beyond. It is filled with the stench of rotten money.

There. Now that we’ve laid that all out, I now shall offer some evidence. It comes from a marvelous Texas Tribune article about a fellow I don’t know well, but someone about whom I have known for many years.

Salem Abraham lives in Canadian, which I call “the pretty part of the Texas Panhandle.” He earned a fortune trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He knows how to play numerical probabilities.

As the Tribune reports, Abraham knows as well as anyone in Texas that the more you donate to Texas judicial candidates the better your chances of winning a judicial verdict/settlement in their court.

Texas is one of six states that elect judges on partisan ballots. The Tribune notes, too, that many judges owe their campaign donations to “the white-shoe lawyers and law firms who appear before them.”

The Tribune also reports that every living former Texas Supreme Court chief justice has called for reforming the system. To no avail. Their pleas have fallen into the abyss of indifference to — at a bare minimum — the appearance of impropriety.

Abraham notes in the article that the more money that pours in the more likely one will get a favorable ruling from the court.

Pass the collection plate?

This is no way to adjudicate fairly, impartially and without bias.

That ‘organic’ smell might be harmful to your health

When my wife and I moved to the Texas Panhandle in early 1995, we thought we were relocating to a place where the “smell of money” had a more, um, organic origin … that it wouldn’t be harmful to the health of those closest to it.

We had lived for nearly 11 years in the Golden Triangle, the heart of the Texas petrochemical and oil refining industry, where the smell of money was full of cancer-causing agents.

It now turns out, according to the Texas Observer, that the Panhandle’s money smell is, shall we say, not so healthy after all.

It’s called “fecal dust,” with the incessant wind blowing clouds of dirt filled with cattle dung particles. The result has been increases in respiratory illness, extreme discomfort and a smell that forces feedlot employees to shed their clothing the minute they go home after working among thousands of head of cattle.

The Panhandle produces roughly one-fifth of the beef consumed in the United States. The beef, as we know, comes from cattle that are sent to feedlots to fatten up prior to the beasts being “processed” into the meat we enjoy at our dinner tables.

It’s what they do in those feedlots that is the center of the Observer’s investigation. There’s no nice way to say it: They crap on the ground inside the pens; the wind blows the dirt across the sprawling, open landscape. Those who are near the source suffer from assorted respiratory ailments.

As the Observer reported: “You go outside and it’ll just burn your nose and your eyes,” (Lawrence) Brorman says. The dust brings foul odors so pervasive that they can penetrate the Brormans’ farmhouse even when the doors and windows are closed. Lawrence and his wife, Jaime, use a more explicit term for the fecal dust: “shust,” a portmanteau of “shit” and “dust.” (Other folks who live here are partial to “shog,” a mashup of the same first word and “fog.”)

Read the Observer story here.

This story alarms me. It concerns me because I have friends who live near those feedlots. My wife and I have dear friends who live in Hereford, which is the undisputed, if unofficial, “capital” of the cattle-feeding industry in the Texas Panhandle.

There needs to be a careful monitoring of that fecal dust matter, for sure. Let us hope Texas environmental regulators are keeping an eye — and a nose — open to what’s transpiring up yonder on the Caprock.

Indeed, “organic” doesn’t always mean “healthy.”

Happy Trails, Part 176: Rediscovering anonymity

Ahh, anonymity is grand.

It is one of the joys I have discovered on this retirement journey on which my wife and I have embarked.

We relocated more than a year ago to Collin County, Texas, after spending 23 years in Amarillo and nearly 11 years before that in Beaumont. I don’t want to oversell or overstate anything, so I will take care when I write these next few words.

The craft I pursued in the Golden Triangle and then in the Texas Panhandle — as opinion page editor for two once-fairly significant newspapers — gave me a bit of an elevated profile. I was able to write editorials for both newspapers as well as publish signed columns with my name and mug shot along with the written essays. Readers would see my face on the pages and then would greet me with, “Oh, you’re the guy in the newspaper!” 

I went through that little ritual for more than three decades in vastly different regions of Texas.

We now live far from either place. I do write for a couple of weekly newspapers these days — the Princeton Herald and the Farmersville Times. It’s a freelance gig that I sought out. The publisher of the papers has been kind enough to put me to work — but on my terms!

I now blend into the scenery. No one recognizes me on sight. I’m unsure whether my name will remain anonymous, given the exposure it will get by appearing on top of news features I hope to write for the Herald and the Times.

One more point I want to make. In Beaumont and in Amarillo, I occasionally found myself discussing politics and public policy in the most unusual locations. I would encounter friends and acquaintances who seemed to presume that since I wrote about politics at work, that I live and breathe it when I am off the clock. They are mistaken.

I once vowed that I would not discuss work in some places, such as at church. More than once I have told folks in the pew next to me that “I came here to talk to God, not to talk about politics with you or anyone else.”

So far, so good here in Princeton. Anonymity is a joy I intend to cherish for as long as humanly possible.

Happy Trails, Part 175: Adaptability accentuated

The longer we live as retired folks, the more I realize just how adaptable I am.

I’ve told you already about how I discovered my adaptability gene when we moved in early 1984 from the community where I was born, was reared, where I came of age, where I got married and where my sons came into this world. We moved from Portland, Ore., to the Golden Triangle of Texas. Talk about culture shock, not to mention humidity shock!

We settled in just fine there.

Then we relocated to Amarillo a mere 11 years later. Once again, we settled in. We sank our roots deeply into the Caprock soil.

Then retirement arrived, albeit a bit unexpectedly. I learned quickly to welcome it. I discovered almost immediately that separation anxiety from work is greatly overrated.

We love telling people that “we’re retired.” We have learned that weekends no longer exist, that every day is a proverbial Saturday.

My wife and I both worked hard at our jobs for many years. We effectively retired the same year.

After living in the Panhandle for more than two decades, we relocated to the Metroplex. Adaptability anyone? We’ve got it in spades, man! We sold our house, we moved into our fifth wheel RV, lived in the “house on wheels” for a few months, then headed down the road, where we found our forever home in Collin County.

I mention all of this because the longer we live here, the longer we go about our days as retired folks, the more comfortable we both feel with this life we have embraced tightly.

At this point in our journey through life, I suspect strongly that our adaptability will start to exhibit some limitation. Neither of us, for example, is going back to work full time.

However, as we look back on our lengthy and fun-filled journey — and speaking only for myself — I am amazed at the adaptable nature I have been able to show … much to my pleasant surprise!

Partisan labels are so, so, so distracting

I detest — no, I actually hate — electing judges on partisan tickets, forcing them to run either as Democrat or Republican.

That is no surprise to those who have been reading my musings over many years. I have tried to make the case that Texas needs to shed its partisan election of judges in favor of a system that allows voters to look more critically at someone’s judicial philosophy than at his or her party affiliation.

We’re heading into another election year. It’s going to be a doozy. We get to choose a president; in Texas, we get to select a U.S. senator. There will be a whole host of local offices as well, at the legislative and county levels.

Thus, I want to offer something that I once posited in a newspaper column back in the Texas Panhandle when I was a working stiff writing for the Amarillo Globe-News.

Why must we elect district attorneys, sheriffs, treasurers, tax assessor-collectors, district clerks, county clerks and — gulp! — constables on partisan ballots? I won’t mention justices of the peace, because I include them as judges.

I wrote a column once for the Globe-News in which I pitched the idea that partisan labels don’t apply to many of the officials who must run under either party’s banner. I got a surprising endorsement of that view from the Randall County tax assessor-collector at the time, who said she agreed with the basic tenet of my column. It was that there is no difference between what a Republican tax collector does and what a Democratic tax collector does. They both swear to follow Texas statute, which makes no delineation between the parties.

The same can be said of sheriffs, DAs, district and county clerks, treasurers. How does a Republican sheriff do his or her job compared to a Democratic sheriff? Are GOP sheriffs tougher on bad guys than Democrats? Please.

Same with DAs, which I suppose you could lump into the same sort of mold as judges. Why not judge these DA candidates on their legal philosophy rather than on whether they have a D or an R next to their name?

I know this will go absolutely nowhere. Texas legislators are so very resistant to change, let alone resistant to doing anything that would require amending the Texas Constitution.

I just want to express a continuing frustration with Texas’s love affair with partisan labels.

There. I’ve done it. I feel better already.

Getting to know I-35 up close and, oh, so personal

As you no doubt know, our retirement journey has brought us to the Dallas/Fort Worth Mega-Metroplex, where we now call home.

This enables us to see family members who live in the Hill Country without having to drive damn near half a day to get there; by “half a day,” I mean it took us nine to 10 hours at times to drive there from the Panhandle.

The route from Princeton to Dripping Springs/Austin is much more direct. There is a big “however” I need to attach to that.

However, it also is a good bit more harrowing than our Amarillo-Dripping Springs/Austin jaunts. You see, our route takes us along Interstate 35 from Dallas to Austin, at which point we take a sharp turn west along U.S. 290, enabling us to cruise — more or less — into Dripping Springs.

We just completed a round-trip visit with family folks. The trip home was, shall we say, bracing.

I-35, as I have known for many years, is a virtual free-for-all. Traffic was thick all the way from south Austin until we turned off that interstate highway and headed east for a bit along I-20; we then resumed our northbound trip along I-45.

This traffic flow will take some time for me to get used to it. What’s the answer? Is there a remedy?

Hah! Texas continues to grow rapidly. The Hill Country region is among the state’s high-growth regions. Austin’s population may have passed the 1 million-people mark. It’s exploding down yonder in the People’s Republic of Austin.

There was talk some years ago about building a bullet-train track from Houston to D/FW, or from Austin to D/FW. Then we had that discussion about that monstrous highway from Laredo all the way to the Red River; that talk dissipated when the cost of invoking eminent domain on all that privately held land became known.

Whatever. The traffic problem is only going to worsen in the immediate future as more folks move into Texas and hit the highway from the Metroplex to the Hill Country and beyond.

The traffic flow along that Interstate 35 racetrack has gained one more vehicle, the one my wife and I use when we hit the highway. There will be many millions more to come … for certain.

Still wondering: Do we really need constables?

I want to soften my criticism of Texas constables, but only just a little.

You see, I have made the acquaintance of one of Collin County’s four constables. His name is Shane Thomas, who serves as Precinct 1 constable. He is based in McKinney, the Collin County seat.

I have railed, ranted and vented my anger at constables since, oh, just about the time I arrived in Texas more than 35 years ago. I’ve seen the office at its worst, first in Jefferson County way down yonder in Beaumont, and then in the Texas Panhandle.

Then we moved to Collin County, which has functioning constables who actually do work for the county.

Thomas has five deputy constables who report to him. He was asked recently at a Rotary Club meeting, “Who is your boss?” His answer: “You are. I answer to you. The voter.”

So I am not going to bash Constable Thomas the way I have bashed the office while working as a journalist in the Golden Triangle and the Panhandle.

I still wonder, though: Why do we need to have another layer of law enforcement when we have sheriff’s departments that are capable of doing the work that constables do? We elect sheriffs, who then hire deputies. They have budgets that are set by commissioners courts, which also must budget money for constables. I cannot stop thinking that the serving of civil papers, warrants and providing justice of the peace court security could be done by sheriff’s deputies, who also serve as patrol officers in the unincorporated regions of Texas’ 254 counties.

The existence of constables offices seems to my mind to be superfluous and, well, wasteful. It’s like an add-on police force.

I get that the JPs and the constables have powerful lobbies in Austin that are able to persuade legislators to keep their hands off the office.

If all the constables in Texas are as productive as Collin County’s Precinct 1 constable, then I won’t raise too much of a ruckus to get rid of them.

AQHA gets an offer for a new home

Well now, it turns out I’m a bit slow on the uptake … which isn’t too much of a surprise. My critics accuse me of such things on occasion.

The Fort Worth City Council has approved a 50-year lease that could portend a relocation of the American Quarter Horse Association Museum from Amarillo to Fort Worth.

Hmm. What do you know about that? It turns out my Fort Worth pal was right when he sent me that message, that a move might be in the works. And it further cements the reason for the petition drive launched by Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson to try to persuade AQHA to stay put, to remain where it has called home for 70 years.

I hope the petition drive succeeds and that the AQHA board feels the love that it has enjoyed in the Texas Panhandle for all that time.

However, major cities such as Fort Worth don’t approve 50-year lease agreements without some confidence that the move will bear fruit.

AQHA officials say the “ground lease” does not guarantee a move is imminent. They note that that fundraising efforts in Fort Worth have accelerated. They also express appreciation for their “Amarillo employees” who have worked to make the AQHA museum such an integral part of the community.

OK. So the die isn’t cast. At least not yet.

I wish I felt better about Amarillo’s role in the AQHA future. I am trying to remain optimistic that AQHA will stay put.

However, at the moment it is a serious struggle.

AQHA now the subject of a ‘stay in Amarillo’ petition

A friend in Fort Worth sent me a message a while ago telling me about reports surfacing over there about the American Quarter Horse Association possibly relocating from Amarillo to Cow Town.

I called Fort Worth City Hall and confirmed that there was a City Council agenda item dealing with a possible permit request from AQHA. The City Hall source couldn’t confirm that AQHA was set to pull up stakes and move from Amarillo to Fort Worth.

Now I see a social media link from another friend of mine that deals with a petition drive — begun my Mayor Ginger Nelson — that seeks to keep AQHA in Amarillo. There’s no mention of where the AQHA museum would go, only that it is seeking support calling for it to remain up yonder in the Panhandle.

To quote the comic Arsenio Hall, it’s one of those things that “makes me go ‘hmmm.'”

The message notes that AQHA has been in Amarillo since 1949. It was formed to salute the impact that horse-breeding has on working ranches throughout the entire High Plains region, which includes the Oklahoma Panhandle and much of eastern New Mexico.

The post concludes: “Amarillo and Canyon Citizens: Help us tell the story of AQHA and why it is important that they stay here along the I-40 corridor where millions of people travel through Texas. Let’s show some AQUA love. Let’s save the horses.”

They have even developed a hashtag: #PleaseStayAQHA.

I have determined, therefore, that two plus two still equals four. My Fort Worth friend well might be on to something with regard to the future of the AQHA.

It truly would be a shame if the association vacates Amarillo for another Texas community.

Check out the petition information here.

It looks to me as if something is afoot.

What does future hold for Amarillo’s daily newspaper?

I chatted this morning over KETR-FM public radio at Texas A&M University-Commerce about the state of journalism in one of the Texas communities where I worked before my career ended in August 2012.

On the weekly broadcast “North by Northeast,” we talked about the decline of daily newspaper circulation and the struggle that many print media are having as they transition to the “digital age” of news and commentary.

Well, we didn’t discuss it on the air today, but I want to broach this subject briefly here.

The Amarillo Globe-News seems infatuated with reporting on issues involving Texas Tech University, which is headquartered about 120 miles south of Amarillo in Lubbock. I see the G-N on my smart phone daily. I am able to read headlines and I look occasionally at stories under those headlines.

I am struck by the preponderance of stories related to Texas Tech. Sports coverage, general news coverages, features, editorials, guest commentary … a whole lot of it relates to Texas Tech.

I’m wondering: Why? What is happening here?

I’ve reported already on this blog about how the newspapers — the Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal — are being managed under a “regional” operation. The papers have a regional executive editor, a regional associate editor/director of commentary; they have combined their business operations, their production ops, circulation and some advertising functions.

It’s the news and editorial coverage that piques my interest.

So much of it these days relates to Texas Tech. Back when I worked at the paper, we hardly ever gave Tech any notice. I mean, the university is way down yonder; the Panhandle is served by West Texas A&M University and the newspaper concentrated its higher education coverage on WT and on Amarillo College.

Texas Tech seemingly has supplanted WT and AC in garnering the attention of the Amarillo Globe-News.

I keep feeling the rumble in my gut that is telling me that something is going to happen to the Amarillo Globe-News … and that it won’t be a good thing for the future of print journalism in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle.

I want in the worst way to be wrong.