Tag Archives: Lamar University

That’s how you handle inter-legislative district affairs

I attended a public hearing this week that featured something that, in the moment, I didn’t consider all that significant. I gave it some thought and have decided that I watched a display of inter-legislative district cooperation.

State Rep. Jeff Leach is a Plano Republican who came to the Texas Environmental Quality Commission public hearing in Farmersville to speak against a proposed concrete batch plant for Farmersville. Leach said he there to represent other members of the region’s legislative delegation, all of whom also opposed the plant application.

Farmersville is actually represented in the House by Justin Holland of Rockwall. Holland wasn’t there. Leach carried his water.

Why is this interesting to me? Because once upon a time I witnessed two legislators go at each other’s throats because one of them thought he needed to intervene on a matter affecting his colleague’s legislative district.

It happened in the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Texas.

One of the legislators there, the late Rep. Al Price, D-Beaumont, was an ardent foe of Lamar University’s hiring practices. He railed constantly against Lamar because, in his mind, it didn’t hire enough African-Americans to fill administrative positions; Price, of course, was an African-American.

Then came his fellow Democratic colleague, Mark Stiles, also of Beaumont, who interceded for Lamar, pushing through some funding legislation that the university thought it needed.

Prices’ reaction? Was he thrilled that his colleague went to bat for Lamar? Oh, heavens no! We went ballistic! He accused Stiles of meddling in affairs that weren’t his concern. He threatened to derail whatever it was that Stiles sought to do on Lamar’s behalf.

I said at the time that Stiles was concerned that LU, which drew students from his legislative district as well as from Price’s, needed the money and that it was a regional concern that transcended legislative boundaries.

He was correct. Price was wrong to react as he did.

I have thought about encounter since visiting briefly Tuesday evening with Jeff Leach and hearing how he would speak for his legislative colleagues regarding an issue that is important to all of them and the constituents they represent.

That’s how it should work.

Time of My Life, Part 11: This banty rooster stood tall

There once was a time when public figures embraced the attention of newspaper editorial boards, of those who sought to help guide their communities’ future.

I was able to play a small part in that relationship. One such figure thrust himself onto the Texas public stage by popping off about what he saw as the abysmal quality of public education in the state.

I had the chance to meet this man up close. Man, what a time!

H. Ross Perot built a fortune in technology. In 1983, he sounded off publicly about his belief that Texas was more interested in turning out more “blue chip athletes” than “blue chip scholars.” He lamented the poor quality of public education in Texas.

Gov. Mark White picked up the challenge that Perot implied and said, in effect: OK, buster, if you think you can develop a better plan for educating our kids, I’ll appoint you to a commission to lead that effort.

Perot accepted the challenge and led the Perot Commission, a blue-ribbon panel of business and civic leaders and educators.

I arrived in Texas in the spring of 1984 to write editorials for the Beaumont Enterprise. Not long after I took my post, Perot issued his report to the public. His recommendation, in short, called for standardized testing of public school students; it set a minimum standard for passing before students could advance to the next grade. The plan included a provision known as “no pass-no play,” meaning that if a student didn’t maintain a 70 percent academic average he or she would be ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities.

Perot then launched a statewide barnstorming tour to sell the plan to a public that had never seen or heard such a thing. Perot came to Beaumont to speak to a group of civic leaders.

Let me just say this about H. Ross Perot: The man is able to totally command a room despite his short stature. I had never been in the presence of someone who had that kind of charisma. The room was mesmerized by his presentation. He made a tremendous pitch selling the merits of the plan he would propose to the Legislature.

Later, after his talk, I got invited to meet with Perot along with a handful of other media representatives. We gathered at the John Gray Institute on the Lamar University campus in south Beaumont. I wasn’t exactly star-struck by the man, but he certainly did impress me with the detail he was able to deliver with his pitch.

Gov. White called the Legislature into special session later that year and it approved House Bill 72, which enacted the public education reforms recommended by the Perot Commission.

Yes, indeed, those were the days when public officials didn’t view the press as the “enemy of the people.” They sought us out, answered our questions forthrightly and enabled us to report on — and comment on — the content of their ideas.

Hutchison came to region’s aid


BEAUMONT, Texas — A news story in the Beaumont Enterprise brings to mind a memory I have about a former U.S. senator who came to the aid of a region that had been struck by what’s been called “the forgotten hurricane.”

It was nearly a decade ago when the Gulf Coast, which was reeling from what had occurred in August 2005 in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore, suffered another killer storm.

Its name was Rita and it slammed into the coast at Sabine Pass, which borders Texas and Louisiana. It roared inland and tore into Beaumont.

City, county and state officials were having trouble getting the feds’ attention. Then came Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, who managed to parlay her good relations with Senate Democrats to fast-track aid to the region that had been walloped by Mother Nature’s fury.

As the Enterprise reported today: “I’ll never forget what Sen. Hutchison and her staff did for us, as a community,” said former Jefferson County Judge Carl Griffith. “(Hutchison) made a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives.”

What she did was work with Louisiana U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, to obtain military aircraft to aid in evacuation and the delivery of supplies to the region. Other efforts to get the White House — where Republican President George W. Bush lived at the time — had fallen short.

Hutchison’s work made the difference.

Hutchison came through

Indeed, my memory of her familiarity with this part of Texas is quite vivid. I had the honor during my nearly 11 years working at the Enterprise to interview Sen. Hutchison as she would come by to, um, chat and to update us on senatorial goings-on.

And almost always, without fail, Hutchison would remind me of how she spent time visiting extended family members living in Old Town, a noted residential district in Beaumont.

She knew the region and wasn’t about to let bureaucratic bumbling stand in the way of relief for the home folks.

Nor was Hutchison going to waste the political capital she had piled up with her friends across the aisle.

Bruce Drury, a retired political science professor at Lamar University — who I knew fairly well while I worked in Southeast Texas — said that Hutchison’s ability to cross party lines is not nearly as evident with today’s Texas congressional delegation. “We have two Republican senators, neither one of whom have attempted to cultivate goodwill with the administration,” Drury told the Enterprise, adding that “to some extent the administration hasn’t been overly active in trying to establish links.”

As the former senator demonstrated, it’s nice to know people in the right places.


Powerhouses vs. Cupcakes

I truly get that upsets can and do happen on college football fields.

Still, it was a bit shocking to read early Saturday that Lamar University was going to take the field against Texas A&M University in a game played at Kyle Field, home of the Twelfth Man.

Why the shock?

Well, for starters, Lamar is just three years into a return to college football. It shelved the program in the 1980s over lack of money, enthusiasm and ability to win games. I was in Beaumont at the time and I remember the demise of the program.


So, to get a revenue boost for its athletic department, Lamar University scheduled the Aggies, one of the better teams in the country and the school that produced last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny “Football” Manziel.

I do not understand why schools need to overmatch themselves in this fashion. The Aggies put a serious beat-down on the Cardinals, winning 73-3.

What does a beating like that do to a college athlete’s emotional structure? I’ve never heard that issue discussed. Perhaps there ought to be some conversation about it.

I get why they play the game at the powerhouse’s home field. The visiting team gets a cut of the revenue generated and they take the money back supposedly to invest in the future. The money pays for better equipment, scholarships, those kinds of things.

I also know that — on occasion, but it’s very rare — the visiting Cupcake surprises the dickens out of the host Powerhouse. Do you recall when Appalachian State went to Ann Arbor, Mich., a couple of years ago and upset the mighty Wolverines in The Big House? It’s a rare event. To be sure, Lamar wasn’t the only college football to get hammered into the turf Saturday.  

Sure, upsets do occur. It’s also possible — although not likely — that the sun could rise in the west.

The kind of score that we saw run up against Lamar by the Aggies, however, doesn’t do much good for anyone.



This man's death really hurts

Maybe you’ve known someone like this individual.

Really smart. Lots of what’s called “institutional knowledge” of a community. Great word skills. A historian who could recite in minute detail the unfolding of significant events.

Add to that a heart that seemed bigger than his body.

That’s how I am attempting to describe a longtime friend and colleague who, I have just learned, died early today. His name was Julian Galiano.

I worked with Julian for several years at the Beaumont Enterprise way down yonder on the Gulf Coast of Texas. We struck up an almost-immediate friendship.

We were both of Mediterranean descent — he was Italian, I am Greek — and he picked up on that right away. He’d greet me with common Greek sayings. I’d respond with the tiny bit of Italian I know. We laughed a lot about large and trivial things.

I was struck almost immediately at how much he knew about Beaumont and the surrounding area. He was dedicated deeply to Lamar University, where he earned his degree. He could recite facts about people and events related to Lamar.

It dawned on me early on that I needed to rely on this guy as a source for local knowledge. I was new to the region. Julian knew that and always made himself available to this new guy — me — whenever I needed to fill in some blanks to understand the full context of a story.

Not long after I learned what a valuable source he was, it occurred to me that the newspaper that employed us both was underutilizing this guy’s talent. He was a sports copy editor, which he loved doing. I concluded that he needed to be the city editor of the newspaper, the newsroom’s chief line editor, the guy who made assignments to reporters, told them where to look for leads, gave them tips on who to call, what to ask, where to go.

I told Julian all of that. He laughed. He wanted no part of it. He was happy doing the job to which he was assigned, which was to make reporters’ raw copy more suitable for publication.

Fair enough.

Julian and I stayed in touch for many years through social media — and through occasional phone calls — after I left Beaumont for the Texas Panhandle. And almost without fail, he would ask about my family: How’s Kathy doing? And how about Peter and Nathan?

I’m grateful that we never lost contact.

Now he’s gone. What a huge loss for those who called him colleague and friend.

This one hurts. A lot.

Lamar educator ends 40-year stint

Time does fly, doesn’t it Sam Monroe?

The president of Lamar State College-Port Arthur is leaving the post he has held for 40 years. That’s four decades as head of an institution of higher learning. Let me repeat that: Four … decades!


I got to know Monroe when I worked in Beaumont, just up the road from Port Arthur. I knew him as an earnest and upstanding fellow, which one would hope held in good stead at a college that went through some tremendous change over many years. Most of it was good; some of it was not.

It was the good stuff — Lamar-Port Arthur’s growth and academic progress — that helped keep Monroe on the job he’s held longer than any other higher education administrator in Texas history.

I cannot let it pass, though, that Monroe almost got caught up in some bad times at Lamar.

The two-year campus used to be part of a free-standing university system — the Lamar University System. Back in the 1980s, the Lamar system got entangled in some serious personnel issues. Regents fired the Lamar chancellor, C. Robert Kemble, and replaced him with George McLaughlin. I recall at the time I didn’t believe McLaughlin was qualified for the job, but Kemble got crossways with key regents, so he was out.

The firing sent shockwaves throughout the system, of which LU-Port Arthur was a part. The Lamar system has since been rolled into the Texas University System.

Monroe survived all that tumult and has carried on.

As the Texas Tribune article notes, Monroe was a boyhood friend of arguably Port Arthur’s most famous resident, the late Janis Joplin. Monroe used that friendship to promote the region’s unique and interesting musical history, which might have been as key to his keeping his job this long as anything he did administratively.

Higher education can become a sausage grinder for administrators, as University of Texas-Austin President Bill Powers might attest.

I am totally amazed that Sam Monroe stayed the course through the good times and the bad.

Nice going, Sam. Enjoy your retirement.

Terrible story playing out in Beaumont

It pains me terribly to watch this story play out in a city I grew to love while I lived there.

The Beaumont Independent School District is no longer “independent.” The Texas Education Agency, led by Education Commissioner Michael Williams, is about to take over the public school system.


This is not pretty. However, it contains a lesson that other school systems across the state ought to heed with great care.

I lived in Beaumont for nearly 11 years before moving way up yonder to the Panhandle in January 1995. I saw the Beaumont district go through a lot of pain starting in 1984. The TEA at one point brought in monitors to watch the district’s every move up close and personal. The district worked its way through some messy administrative issues then.

Now it’s come to this.

Williams has named seven managers to oversee operations at the school district. The superintendent has been stripped of his duties. The board members are out of office. The managers comprise local leaders with a keen interest in restoring trust to the public school system. Of the seven people named, I know only one of them: Jimmy Simmons, president of Lamar University.

I’m not up to speed on all the particulars of what ails the Beaumont district. Near as I can tell, the district has fallen into a spasm of incompetence, fiscal mismanagement to the max, conduct that borders on malfeasance — all of which has destroyed the public’s trust in its school system.

I’ve been acquainted with Commissioner Williams for a number of years, going to his days as a Texas railroad commissioner. He’s an aggressive, proactive guy. He’s a West Texan, a lawyer from Midland. He doesn’t appear to suffer fools … at all!

The lesson here for the other 1,000-plus school districts is to ensure you keep your houses in order, spend your money wisely, do the best job possible educating the students in your charge — and do not anger those students’ parents.

I hope this Beaumont story ends well. If it does, it will emerge a better public school district. It might even become a great one.

Good luck, board of managers.

Political hero has left us

Politics occasionally produces heroes.

One of them has just died and I wanted to call attention to this man’s heroic deed.

His name was Jimmie Cokinos. He served as mayor of Beaumont, Texas in the late 1950s and later was elected as the first Republican to serve on the Jefferson County Commissioners Court.

I knew Cokinos pretty well owing to my time as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise. He and I became good friends. He came from a large and boisterous family of brothers, which also comprised Pete, Andrew and Mike.


But I grew to respect Jimmie as well for what I learned about what he did while serving as Beaumont mayor.

Lamar State College sought to integrate its student enrollment in 1956. The White Citizens Council — a racist group active in the region — got wind of it. It started a demonstration to protest the enrolling of black students at Lamar. Cokinos, without approval of any of his city council colleague, acted as mayor and ordered the chief of police to break up the demonstration — which was threatening to turn into a riot.

The police chief did as he was told. The demonstration was quelled. The White Citizens Council responded by trying to firebomb Cokinos’s house; the effort failed. The racists then bombed the church Cokinios attended and a synagogue.

Cokinos stood firm.

It’s good to understand the racial divisions that exited in Beaumont at the time. They were quite noticeable when I arrived there in the spring of 1984. The city was divided deeply along racial lines, given that Beaumont’s culture is quite akin to the Deep South’s prevailing attitudes about black-white relations.

Jimmie Cokinos resisted a very strong tide in 1956. He didn’t have to do what he did. He acted heroically and his actions spoke volumes about the character of a man whose spirit and soul was far greater than his diminutive stature.

Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor.