Category Archives: local news

Masks are … everywhere!

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

As long as we’re still politicizing the issue of mask-wearing and keeping our distance from each other, I feel the need to offer a good word about what I am seeing in my neighborhood.

Look, I live in a conservative, Republican-leaning county in North Texas. They make jokes about our part of the nation, about how Texans don’t like being dictated to by the federal government.

OK, as long as we’re clear about that, I want to say that I continue to be pleasantly surprised/impressed that so many folks I see in the city of Princeton where I live still wearing their masks, still observing social distancing, still doing the things that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us to do to avoid getting sickened — or killed — by the COVID-19 virus.

Yep, I see it when I venture out among the masses. At the grocery store. At the convenience store. When I fill my truck with fuel. When I stop for an occasional egg roll at the truck stop west of us on the highway toward McKinney.

I find myself wondering what in the world happened to that myth that Texans bristle at government mandates. Perhaps it’s because it is a myth. That it doesn’t really exist. That we’re just as concerned as other Americans that the danger of the virus is real and that we need to do what we can to protect ourselves.

Imagine that, eh?

Say it ain’t so, David

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

David Dewhurst might be in trouble. Or … he might not be.

I don’t know. What I do know is that Texas’ former lieutenant governor was arrested by Dallas cops the other day on a domestic violence accusation. I want this to end well for Dewhurst, but if it doesn’t, well …

David Dewhurst arrested on domestic violence charge in Dallas | The Texas Tribune

You see, he and I had a professional relationship that I recall with fondness. He is a Republican former politician who rose to prominence out of virtually nowhere back in the late 1990s. He had been a big-time political donor/back bencher in Houston when he ran for Texas land commissioner. He then gravitated to the lieutenant governor’s office in 2003, where he served until losing a re-election bid to Dan Patrick in 2015; Patrick is still the lieutenant governor.

David Dewhurst proved to be a formidable fellow while he served in state government. How so? He is the type of fellow who, when asked what time it is, is prone to tell you how to build a watch. He is as detail- and minutiae-oriented as any public official I’ve ever known.

I want to relate a quick story about Dewhurst that I think illustrates what a good guy — at a certain level — he can be.

My wife and I were in Austin once touring the State Capitol with my sister and her husband. We came upon a conference  room that was closed to the public. I asked a young man standing at the door what was happening inside. “Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is conducting a closed-door meeting,” he said. I cannot remember with whom. I gave the young man a business card and told him to say “hey” to Dewhurst for me. He said he would do that.

I got back to Amarillo and found a phone message from Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. He had called my office phone number and sought to find me so he could take me, my wife and our family members on a tour of his office complex in the Capitol Building. Dang! I’m still kicking myself that we didn’t hook up that day.

That’s the kind of relationship I had with him.

All that said, I hope David Dewhurst didn’t do what has been alleged.

Cruz gets fascinating Texas endorsement | High Plains Blogger

Summer might be as nasty as winter

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Goodness, I wasn’t ready to hear about this predicament from the folks who manage our electric grid.

Our summer might be as miserable as the winter we endured in North Texas and throughout the rest of the state. That is, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — our electrical grid managers — might suffer more power outages on the scale of what occurred when the snow and ice ravaged us.

Hmm. How “reliable” is that? Not very.

The Texas Tribune reports: “This summer, I am as worried right now [about the grid] as I was coming into this winter,” said Curt Morgan, CEO of Vistra Corp., an Irving-based power company. “Sounds like I’m the boy that cries wolf, but I’m not. I’ve seen this stuff repeat itself. We can have the same event happen if we don’t fix this.”

More from the Tribune: As state lawmakers continue debating how to improve the grid after February’s storm nearly caused its collapse, on Tuesday Texans were asked to conserve electricity because the supply of power could barely keep up with demand. A significant chunk of the grid’s power plants were offline due to maintenance this week, some a result of damage from the winter storm.

ERCOT messed up royally in February with the way it shut down power supply while temperatures hovered at zero or below. Millions of us lost power and water. It’s not as though Texas is a total stranger to this kind of winter savagery. Still, power plants froze; they weren’t properly winterized. Natural gas lines were rendered inoperable.

Texas could face ERCOT power crisis, blackouts during extreme summer heat | The Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature is meeting at this moment seeking to strengthen the grid. Its regular session ends on May 31. Legislators will need to return in special session if they don’t have a grid repair strategy on the books. They had better prepare for a long and tiring summer of work on our behalf if they can’t get it done when they gavel the regular session adjourned.

It looks as though whatever the Legislature comes with must include a plan to deal with our long, hot summer.

ERCOT’s warning about potential power outages brought about expressions of anger across the state, the Tribune reported: The warning triggered a torrent of outrage from residents and political leaders across the state who questioned why the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the grid, allowed it to come so close to emergency conditions on a relatively mild spring day. “I appreciate the increased effort toward transparency, but wow this is nervewracking to see in April,” state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, tweeted Tuesday.

C’mon, ERCOT. None of us wants to see a repeat while we are sweltering of what happened when we were freezing.

Home rule charter anyone?

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My wife and I love the city where we chose to settle in Collin County.

Princeton, Texas, is a rapidly growing community that appears to have great things in store for it. However, it needs to accomplish something that most cities its size have done: It needs a home-rule charter to govern its affairs.

It appears the City Council might be on its way toward making its fifth — yes, its fifth — try to persuade voters that home rule is better than being governed by the dictates of the state.

Now if I were to advise the city, I would make sure that it tells voters one key point above all others, given that this point apparently sunk previous attempts at approving a home rule charter. It would be that the Texas Legislature made sure that the city cannot annex property without the property owners’ consent.

Annexation appears to have been the deal breaker in previous attempts at approving a home rule charter. Some residents — led by a gentleman who doesn’t live within the city limits — got scared away from approving the charter over fear that the city could just grab their land and pull it inside its corporate limits. The 2017 Legislature wrote a law that prohibits such ham-handed annexation. It said cities need to ask permission. If they don’t get it, cities cannot annex the land.

Princeton’s population, which was recorded at 6,807 after the 2010 Census, will at least double when they count heads effective with the 2020 Census. That would make Princeton the largest city in Texas without a home rule charter, according to a story in the Princeton Herald.

We hear it said that “local control is best.” I believe that to be true. So, when someone espouses “local control” of municipal affairs, the city needs to govern itself, not allow it to be governed by “general law” set by the state.

The Princeton Herald reported this week that the council has decided to appoint a charter commission that will draft a proposed home rule charter, discuss it openly and publicly, then ask the City Council to refer it to voters. State law prohibits the city from campaigning actively in favor of any political issue. However, a citizens committee can carry that water for the city.

It’s time, folks. Great things await if Princeton’s residents are willing to take command of their city’s future.

ERCOT deserves to be sued

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Here is an item that frustrates and angers me at the same time.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas is going to argue, according to the Texas Tribune, that it is immune from lawsuits filed by Texans over ERCOT’s handling of the Texas ice and snow storm this past February.

I am frustrated because a Dallas appeals court has ruled that ERCOT, despite being a private non-profit organization, might be protected because it operates as an arm of state government.

I am angry because ERCOT deserves to be sued over the power outages across the state that forced millions of Texans to endure the bitter cold without electricity.

The Tribune reported: “ERCOT has and will continue to assert that it is entitled to sovereign immunity due to its organization and function as an arm of State government,” the organization wrote in a Wednesday court filing requesting to consolidate several of the lawsuits it’s battling.

ERCOT to argue it is immune from winter storm lawsuits | The Texas Tribune

My wife and I were two of those Texans who struggled without power for a couple of days while the outdoor temperature plunged to zero. To make matters worse, the Princeton municipal water supply went kaput for a day because the electricity to its treatment plant also failed.

ERCOT mismanaged the electrical grid, which it operates throughout the state.

Board members resigned. Other board members fired its CEO. The Public Utility Commission resigned en masse. Gov. Greg Abbott has called for a legislative investigation into ERCOT. The Legislature is meeting right now to craft some needed reforms of the state electrical grid.

And ERCOT is going to declare some sort of sovereign immunity?

Amazing.

Happy Trails, Part 191: Easy transition

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

One of the many pleasant surprises I have found on my retirement journey has been the ease of adapting to this new way of living and thinking.

It’s been a few years now since I decided to quit working full time. I turned 66 years old and then filed for Social Security benefits. I had been collecting a small newspaper pension for about a year, along with a 10 percent Veterans Administration disability benefit, which I started collecting in 1970, the year I separated from the Army.

One of the truisms I have been telling retirees who have taken the leap is that “separation anxiety from work is vastly overrated.” I learned that right away.

After spending nearly four decades battling deadlines, writing breaking news stories, editorials and persona columns for newspapers in two states, I thought there might be some anxiety associated with no longer having to fight those battles. Oh, brother, was that ever a misfire.

I have found much to my liking that I prefer at this stage of my life the joy of rolling out of the rack when I damn well feel like it. I enjoy being able to go where my wife and I choose to go in the middle of the week. I get a kick out of those who wish us a “good weekend,” knowing in my heart that every day is a weekend.

We relocated about three years to Collin County, Texas, to sink our roots deeply into turf near our granddaughter, who lives about 20 minutes away. We found a home that is perfect for just my bride and me. I am not what you could call “fully retired” at this moment. I sought a chance to work on a freelance basis for a husband and wife who own a group of community weekly newspapers. They hired me with the understanding that we would load up our fifth wheel and take off to explore this marvelous continent. “No problem,” they said.

The daily grind? It’s a thing of the increasingly distant past.

Moreover, I do not miss a single, solitary moment of it.

This House seat has been hijacked

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Admittedly, my view of my former haunts up yonder on the West Texas Caprock is a bit jaded.

I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995 to begin a stint as editorial page editor of the Globe-News. The congressman for the region was taking his oath of office that same week. Mac Thornberry rode the Republican wave in the Contract With America election in 1994. He settled in quickly and became a quiet back-bench member of the new congressional majority comprising Republicans.

Thornberry is out of office now. He called it quits at the end of 2020 after a quarter century in Congress. His successor, Ronny Jackson, has assumed quite a different posture than the man he succeeded; I won’t say “replaced” because Jackson’s behavior so far doesn’t warrant that kind of accolade.

What I think we are witnessing in the 13th Congressional District of Texas is a boiled-down version of what has happened to the Republican Party. It has become the Party of Donald Trump. Jackson’s behavior, which includes multiple Twitter sniper shots daily, is indicative of that change.

Whereas the former congressman, Thornberry, would exercise some discretion, would be circumspect, wouldn’t seek to bloody the water, Jackson is an entirely different swamp creature.

It’s kinda like the way Trump acted during the time he served as president. You know?

Jackson has been ranting and railing against the border crisis, which he blames on President Biden’s alleged “open border” policy. He also has been bloviating and blustering about the Second Amendment to the Constitution, blaming Democrats of trying to “take your guns away” while they seek a legislative remedy to the spasm of gun violence that Biden has called — correctly! — an “international embarrassment.”

I sought out one of Thornberry’s closest aides this week, asking this staffer what Thornberry thinks of Jackson’s behavior. This aide responded, “Honestly, he doesn’t betray how he feels,” adding in a personal aside to me that “you know him” Well, I was not surprised to get the answer to that question. Still, I thought it was worth asking.

I am troubled by the representation my former neighbors in the Panhandle are getting from their member of Congress. I wonder if Rep. Jackson is going to settle down long enough to actually craft legislation that deals specifically with issues important to the constituents he now represents.

Oh, let me add that Rep. Jackson only moved into the district in time to run for the seat that Thornberry vacated. The congressman needs to bone up on the issues that matter.

He ought to take a break from his bluster to give thought to how he intends to represent the sprawling Texas congressional district.

Betsy backs Ginger

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson is touting a re-election endorsement she has received … from someone who lives way down the highway in Fort Worth.

The endorsement comes from Mayor Betsy Wright, who’s not seeking another term as Cowtown mayor.

I am not going to denigrate Betsy Wright’s mayoral legacy over yonder in Fort Worth. She appears to be quite popular among those she serves. Moreover, I happen to believe Ginger Nelson deserves another term as Amarillo mayor.

I do have a question: Does it really matter in real, tangible vote-harvesting terms to trumpet an endorsement from someone who serves a city that is more than 300 miles away?

Mayor Nelson could benefit in a real way with formal endorsements from those who work with her at the highest levels of government. How about a nod from, say, Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner and newly installed Randall County Judge Christy Dyer? Or from each of their commissioners courts? Or from mayors of the towns scattered across the Panhandle landscape?

All that said, from what I have witnessed from afar, Amarillo is continuing to make steady and enviable progress as it continues its journey from dusty burg to a city of major consequence.

So, with that she has my endorsement, too … and it likely won’t win Nelson a single vote.

 

Proud of ‘Ike’s park’

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

EISENHOWER STATE PARK, Texas – Every so often I feel the need to extol the virtues of enjoying the great outdoors in our great state.

That urge has overtaken me yet again.

I offer this brief missive aiming to entice fellow North and Northeast Texas to enjoy the state park system that I continue to believe is one of the major accomplishments of our state government which occasionally draws barbs from me.

My wife and I ventured to Eisenhower State Park, just outside of Denison, right on the Red River and in this region the local news media refer to as “Texoma.” This place is a jewel. It’s clean, well-managed, with well-marked hiking and biking trails. We did pick up an empty Coke can on one of our hikes through the park, prompting my wife to wonder out loud how someone who ventures to one of these places to “enjoy nature” could possibly toss an aluminum can into the bushes.

Summer break is coming up for students all across Texas. That means, of course, that demand on these parks will increase dramatically during the summer. Listen up: If you intend to camp at nearby Eisenhower State Park, you’d be wise to book your campsite soon, perhaps even right now!

Gov. Greg Abbott has lifted many of the mandated restrictions brought to us by the COVID pandemic. That doesn’t mean you can ignore safety measures recommended by infectious disease experts, a point that Abbott has sought to make. Texas Parks & Wildlife officials continue to disallow public use of office. TP&W staffers are still masked up and keeping their distance from those of us who venture to the park.

I want to make another point about Eisenhower State Park. It is named in honor of a great American, the nation’s 34th president, Dwight Eisenhower, who was born in a modest home in nearby Denison. Ike went on to do a couple of pretty big things. He helped defeat the 20th century’s most evil tyrant during World War II and then got elected to two terms as president of the United States. He famously warned us during his farewell address in 1960 to guard against the “military-industrial complex,” which even at the time was an amazing admonition from a man who bore the title of general of the Army.

The National Park Service has put together a wonderful exhibit at Ike’s boyhood home. That, too, is worth seeing … along with the state park that bears his name.

Take my word for it: spending time away from the hubbub and hassle of today’s news provides great therapy for the soul. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has answered that need with this – and many other – wonderful parks.

NOTE: This blog post was published originally on KETR-FM’s website, ketr.org.

Soddies can proclaim: We’re No. 6!

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Texas Monthly has weighed in with its strangest and coolest minor-league baseball team names for 2021.

Drum roll for Amarillo Sod Poodles fans: Your team made the cut as the sixth-strangest/coolest name in Texas minor league baseball.

As TM writes: As a new team, the Sod Poodles had the advantage of history in knowing how fans had taken to other quirky team names in choosing their identity, but we can’t argue with the results: prairie dogs are certainly plentiful out near Amarillo, and the old settler term “sod poodles” is definitely a fun way to refer to them. Locals didn’t exactly cotton to the name at first—in fact, all five finalists for the team’s name drew eye rolls in the town—but can you really look at the family of grass-chewing, Stetson-wearing prairie dogs in the team’s logo and not find yourself rooting for the lil’ guys? 

Texas’s Best (and Weirdest) Minor League Baseball Team Names, Ranked – Texas Monthly

I’ll be candid. The name had to grow on me. I wasn’t crazy about the name when I first heard it had made the list of finalists under consideration. I didn’t know what a Sod Poodle is, but I found out it’s an old cowboy name for prairie dogs.

Whatever its historical significance, the Sod Poodles have played some good hardball in their single year in existence.

They are set to open their new season in early May.

Yes, the Sod Poodles won the Texas League pennant in their first year in Amarillo. They are starting a new season this week. Maybe they’ll win another pennant, this time in the Central League.

Now they have made TM’s roster of cool/strange team nicknames.

Play ball!