Tag Archives: T. Boone Pickens

Time of My Life, Part 16: This was a ‘good get’

I once had to chase down individuals to interview. There were times I had to work exceptionally hard to persuade someone to talk to me while I worked in daily journalism. I always welcomed the challenge.

T. Boone Pickens — the legendary oil and gas tycoon — presented both sides of that coin. He was the toughest interview to nail down, but then he was what they call in the business a “good get” when he consented finally to talk to me.

A little history is in order.

I worked for the Amarillo Globe-News for nearly 18 years. I arrived in Amarillo after Pickens had departed Amarillo for Dallas. He left the city where he lived and did business in a huff. He was angry and decided to take his business to Big D.

He also was angry with the Globe-News. In the late 1980s, he began a campaign designed to inflict damage on the paper because he didn’t like the way it reported on him and on the community. He formed a group called People Committed for a Better Amarillo Newspaper — or PCBAN. He ran off the publisher of the paper and hung a banner off his Mesa Petroleum building saying “Goodbye Jerry” Huff.

I arrived in January 1995. Pickens was still mad at the paper. Not long after I arrived in Amarillo, Pickens announced an effort to create a wind farm complex. He also wanted to transport Texas Panhandle water to places downstate. I wanted to talk to him about it all. I called his public relations guy.

The PR guy resisted granted me any time with Pickens. I argued, dickered, bargained; I offered to meet Pickens at a diner in Pampa near his ranch and said I would “buy him a burger.” Pickens wouldn’t budge. The PR guy asked me if I was aware of the bad blood between Pickens and the G-N. Of course I knew about it. That was then. Those players all are gone, I told him.

No can do, I was told.

I called him again years later. I asked for an audience with Pickens. Two days later, Pickens agreed to meet with me. Just like that! He would come to the Globe-News. He would talk about anything I wanted to talk about. I thought: What the hell?

I knew about this guy. He was a ferocious competitor; a wildcatter who made a fortune exploring for oil and natural gas; he harbored grudges; he made lots of enemies as well as friends; he was a tough SOB.

I also had heard about his charm, his intelligence and his generosity.

The Boone Pickens who darkened our door at the G-N was what I have called “The Good Boone.” He was charming to the max. He was talkative. He dropped names like crazy: Barack Obama, George W. Bush, the King of Saudi Arabia, this and that potentate.

Pickens told me he read the paper daily. He said he took note of the columns I would write, or the editorials that appeared in the paper. I don’t know if he actually did all that or if he was just offering a form of false flattery.

Whatever it was, we got along well during the two hours we met.

Our paths would cross a couple more times. I saw him a second time while he was in Amarillo attending an oil/natural gas meeting at the Civic Center. Then, while working as a feature writer for KFDA NewsChannel 10, he welcomed a TV reporter, cameraman and me to his magnificent Mesa Vista ranch in rural Roberts County.

I hear that Boone Pickens has been in ill health. He’s in his 90s now and is divesting himself of his myriad and massive business interests.

I wish him well. Yep, he was a real “good get.”

No, sir, government isn’t the same as a business

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting on three occasions with one of the smartest men in America.

T. Boone Pickens has earned a fortune in the oil and natural gas business. He knows fossil fuels better than, well, almost anyone.

The former Amarillo resident and current fossil fuel tycoon, though, misses the mark when he says that you can run government “like a business.”

Pickens has written an essay for Texas Monthly, in which he says in part: “In the late eighties and early nineties, I considered running for governor of Texas. Now a lot has changed since that time. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the need to make sure we have a government that works.

“’Can you really run a government like a business?’ I was asked at the time. ‘Sure you can,’ I replied. ‘It’s a business to start with. Taxpayers are like stockholders, and both are entitled to a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. For a dollar spent, taxpayers ought to receive a dollar back in value.’”

Pickens is as smart a businessman as anyone you’ll ever know.

But as another tycoon is learning, government is a much different animal than a business. That tycoon, Donald J. Trump — who Pickens supported wholeheartedly for president of the United States — is learning in real time that the founders established a checks and balances system for a good reason. It is to ensure that no one branch of government runs roughshod over the other two.

The crux of Pickens’ essay was to extol the need to make the United States energy independent. He’s right about that need. He’s also got a dog in that fight, given that he owns a whole lot of fossil fuel rights in the United States and stands to benefit tremendously from pumping these fuels out of the ground.

He misses another point, though. It is that we already have made huge strides toward that goal in the past eight years. The Obama administration sought to provide incentives for investment in alternative energy sources: wind, solar, hydropower, biofuels. The big spike in oil prices in recent years has prompted much more fossil fuel exploration in this country. Add to that the fuel efficiency standards mandated on automakers and you have a sort of perfect storm that weans us from foreign oil.

Back to my main point.

Business is business. Government, though, is another creature altogether. I get that Pickens desires a business-like approach to government. However, the principles one applies to running a business do not transfer straight into the act of politicking, legislating and the making of laws.

Business executives can make decisions that stick, with no questions asked. Politicians have a different platform on which they operate. They have voters to whom they must answer. They also have colleagues who might have different points of view, a differing world view. They are as wedded to their view of the world as the businessman or woman is wedded to whatever he or she believes.

The “business” of running a government requires a certain skill set that business executives need to learn. From what I’ve seen of the businessman/president, he hasn’t yet learned it.

Perhaps someone like Boone Pickens could figure it out. If only, as he said, he had less history behind him and more in front of him.

You have unprofessional, petulant, petty … and then you have this

Take a look at this page. It’s today’s Opinion page from the Amarillo Globe-News, the newspaper where I worked for nearly 18 years.

What you see here is the product of a personal feud between the newspaper’s publisher, Lester Simpson and Amarillo’s now-former interim city manager, Terry Childers.


Words damn near fail me as I ponder what the publisher has done under the name of the organization he has overseen since the summer of 2002.

Childers quit his municipal post this week after muttering a profane epithet at a constituent during an Amarillo City Council meeting.

This is the response today from the newspaper of record. Did the city manager deserve criticism for his own brand of  unprofessional behavior? Of course he did. The newspaper should have delivered it in the form of an editorial explaining why the manager was out of line. But no-o-o-o. The paper delivered this instead.

A few words come to mind: petulant, unprofessional, bullying, petty, shameful, reprehensible, disgusting. Pick one. Pick more if you like. Pick ’em all. Add some more if you choose.

Rarely during the nearly four decades I worked in daily print journalism have I seen such a display from an organization that is charged with being the voice of reason in a community.

Some longtime Amarillo and Texas Panhandle residents will have looked at this page this morning and have been reminded of another such display.

It occurred in the late 1980s when the former Amarillo resident and oil/natural gas tycoon T. Boone Pickens got into a beef with the newspaper over its coverage of local issues and — namely — Pickens himself. Pickens launched a boycott against the Globe-News. He then persuaded the paper’s corporate ownership, Morris Communications, to “reassign” the then-publisher, Jerry Huff.

On Huff’s last day as publisher, one could see a banner hanging from the side of what was known as the Mesa Building. It read: “Goodbye Jerry.”

That, ladies and gents, is the model of decorum that the current publisher of the newspaper demonstrated today with that ridiculous and childish message.

Simpson and Childers have been feuding for nearly the entire time that Childers took over as interim manager. I am not privy to the root of their mutual displeasure. Simpson reportedly disliked the way Childers handled downtown redevelopment. The disagreement likely turned into something much more heated with the forced resignation of Melissa Dailey, former head of Downtown Amarillo Inc., with whom Simpson had worked on downtown issues.

Suffice to say, though, that this example demonstrates how low one can go when disputing matters of public policy.

There’s intelligent, reasoned disagreement. Then there is this.

Good grief!

This thought comes to mind. Given that the Globe-News endorsed Donald J. Trump for president, perhaps the publisher of the paper can seek a job in the Trump administration.

He’d fit right in with the bully in chief.

Has conflict frayed Trump’s fundraising efforts?

Oklahoma State alum T. Boone Pickens, Jr. fires up the Cowboy fan base during a tailgate party on the East Plaza of AT&T Stadium before the Cotton Bowl game against Missouri, Friday, January 3, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News) 01042014xSPORTS

T. Boone Pickens says he’s committed to electing Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, is far friendlier to the oil and natural gas industry than his likely Democratic foe this fall, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Pickens — a former Amarillo resident — made his immense fortune in oil and natural gas.

It follows, then, that Pickens would be in Trump’s camp.

But there’s been a hiccup. Maybe. Perhaps.

Pickens was going to play host to a meeting at his sprawling Mesa Vista Ranch north of Pampa on June 11-3. The meeting was for a super-PAC supporting Trump. It’s been called off.

Why? Pickens’ spokesman blamed it on “scheduling conflicts,” which often becomes kind of a throwaway excuse for anything that gets postponed, or canceled.

There have been reports, though, of strife and turmoil among the Trump campaign and its fundraising machine, according to the Dallas Morning News.


Which is it? Scheduling and logistics? Or is there trouble in Trump World?

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Pickens three times — the most recent time just two weeks ago. I don’t know him well.  I know a lot more of him, though, having studied him from some distance over nearly 30 years.

A part of me just doesn’t believe he would have announced a big event at his ranch without having nailed down all the particulars he needed to make it a reality.

And that kind of makes me wonder if the issue doesn’t lie within the Trump apparatus.

Pickens’ team says the event will occur later this summer, after the Republican convention.

We’ll just have to wait and see … yes?


Downtown momentum facing serious trouble

Amarillo’s downtown revival might be heading for the cliff.

Here’s what I’ve heard just in recent days.

The city is going to fill the final spot on the City Council when it conducts a runoff election for Place 4 between Mark Nair and Steve Rogers. Nair, who finished first in the May 9 election, is considered the favorite. He’s a bright young man, who happens to believe voters should decide whether to build the multipurpose event venue planned for construction on a now-vacant lot just south of City Hall.

Two other brand new council members, Elisha Demerson and Randy Burkett, have taken office. They are sounding as if they, too, want to put the issue to a vote.

If Nair defeats Steve Rogers in the runoff, that means the council will have three members who want voters to decide this issue; the council comprises five members, so … there’s your majority.

The city says the MPEV will be paid with hotel-motel tax revenue. Why that revenue stream? Because the city also is planning to construct a convention hotel, which also will be paid with private investment money — and which will generate more tax revenue, and a parking garage, also financed with private investors.

The so-called “catalyst” project is the MPEV, according to City Hall officials. If the MPEV isn’t built, then nothing else happens. The developer who wants to build the Embassy Suites hotel complex will back out; the parking garage doesn’t get built.

The city is then left with, well, nothing!

Years of planning, cajoling, discussion, debate and negotiation will be flushed down the proverbial drain.

Amarillo, then, as a leading City Hall official told me this morning, will become as the cantankerous oilman T. Boone Pickens once described it: A glorified truck stop.

I happen to remain committed to the concept that’s been developed by planners, city leaders and local businessmen and women. The MPEV, or “ballpark,” will tie itself to the hotel, which will be linked with the parking garage.

But some folks somehow think the MPEV is a lemon. They believe the city needs to invest first in improvements to the Civic Center.

Do they actually understand that Civic Center improvements — which would cost more than the three-pronged construction project already on the table — is going to require more public money, meaning more tax revenue, meaning more money out of their pocket?

City officials have told me they plan to improve the Civic Center eventually. They remain confident in the results that will come from the rest of the projects that already have been set in motion.

Let’s also understand one final point.

A citywide referendum would be a non-binding vote. The city isn’t required by law to abide by the results of such an election, any more than it was bound by the 1996 vote to sell Northwest Texas Hospital to a private health care provider. The city did the right thing, though, in ratifying the results of that hospital sale vote. To do otherwise would been to commit political suicide.

Such would be the case if an MPEV referendum went badly for the city and the council ignored the voters’ wishes.

There had better be some serious soul-searching as the city prepares to take the next big steps.

Either it revives downtown, or it doesn’t.

If it’s the latter, well, let us just kiss the future goodbye.


Jim Simms gets one more honor

The late Jim Simms now has his name on a public building.

It’s called the Jim Simms Municipal Building, named in his memory by the Amarillo City Council, which broke with tradition in honoring someone who gave so much of his time and energy to improving the city he loved.

The decision is prudent in another regard. Simms’s death the other day at age 73 means his legacy is now complete. There will be no chance of his messing it up with a big mistake.

Occasionally public entities make the mistake of honoring living individuals, only to have them embarrass themselves and the institution that honored them.

Universities are known to put themselves into that kind of bind on occasion. West Texas A&M University once honored T. Boone Pickens — who’s very much alive — by putting his name on a building at the College of Business, only to pull it down over a misunderstanding that involved a financial commitment Pickens had made to the university.

Amarillo’s building naming policy doesn’t allow for that kind of thing to happen.

As far as I know, the only other city-owned structure bearing an individual’s name is the international airport, which is known as Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport — named after the Amarillo native who commanded the shuttle Columbia on that tragic mission in early 2003. Husband and his six crewmates died when Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry.

I’m glad to see Simms’s memory honored in this manner.

He loved this city. Simms poured his soul into any project he undertook. The city has done right by honoring him in this fashion.


Water supply excellent … for now

Lynn Tate, head of the High Plains Water District, gave the Rotary Club of Amarillo some good news Thursday.

Amarillo is in excellent shape with regard to its long-term supply of water. We’re in far better shape than almost any other significant city in Texas, he said. T. Boone Pickens once had this idea of pumping water from the Texas Panhandle to places downstate; it didn’t work out, Pickens never found a willing buyer and he ended up selling the water to the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, which quenches Amarillo’s thirst.

We’ve got about 200 years worth of water available to us from the Ogallala Aquifer, which covers several states from Texas to Nebraska and even parts of the Dakotas.

Hey, no problem with water supply.

Should we be complacent? I don’t think so.

I didn’t hear Tate say anything about whether cities — namely Amarillo — should institute mandatory conservation measures.

He seemed curiously serene about it.

I am in no position to question seriously Lynn Tate’s expertise on these matters. He’s a lot more educated than I am on these matters. He grew up in a farming and ranching family in the eastern Panhandle. He went to law school and has had a successful law practice in Amarillo. He’s a first-rate agriculture lawyer.

However, I cannot help but think the city ought to be a tad more proactive in its water conservation efforts than it seems to be at the moment. Same with CRMWA and the High Plains Water District.

Tate did mention that irrigated agriculture accounts for 85 to 90 percent of all water use in the Panhandle, which means there’s little that homeowners in Amarillo can do to prevent the decline in water resources. He also said he believes the aquifer is recharging in some areas and that the water levels are “stabilizing.”

Isn’t it time, though, to discuss openly what we should do to forestall the day when crises arrive and we might not have enough water to take care of our needs?

I know that 200 years is a long way off. We’ll all be gone by then. So will our kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. Good stewardship requires us to think even beyond that time, doesn’t it?

Just sayin’.

A billion here, a billion there …

A Dallas Morning News blog notes that “A billion dollars isn’t what it used to be.”

Boy, howdy.


It talks about a list of billionaires in which the starting point now stands at $1.3 billion. T. Boone Pickens, the one-time Panhandle oil-and-gas magnate, didn’t make the grade. He is worth a “mere” $950 million, according to Forbes magazine, which did the survey.

The blog takes note of Pickens’s reaction, which is that he is “doing fine.” Pickens also said his $1 billion in charitable giving is more than his net worth.

This item brings to mind just how much inflation has devalued money.

I remember when Aristotle Onassis died in 1975. The Greek shipping magnate was considered then to be the world’s richest, or second-richest man — depending on who did the figuring.

Onassis’s net worth at the time of his death 38 years ago? It was around $500 million.

In today’s terms, the value of Onassis’s wealth would be considered chump change when compared to the ledger sheets produced by the likes of, say, Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.

Or, as the late Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois once said about the cost of prosecuting the Vietnam War, “A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon we’re talking real money.”