Tag Archives: Texas Panhandle

RIP, David Swinford

I am saddened to hear of the death of one of the more interesting and provocative public officials I had the pleasure to know and to cover while I worked as a journalist in the Texas Panhandle.

David Swinford of Dumas has left us. He died on the final day of 2022 at the age of 81.

I actually knew of Swinford, a Republican state legislator a good bit before I made the move from the Gulf Coast to the Caprock in January 1995.

He took his House District 87 seat in 1991 and almost immediately caused a ruckus with a proposal for the Panhandle to break away from the rest of the state. His stated reason was a doozy. Swinford reportedly didn’t like the fact that on most state highway maps, the Panhandle was relegated to “other side” of the map, forcing anyone interested in traveling to, say, Dumas, had to turn the map over to find it.

After moving to Amarillo to become editorial page of the Globe-News, I asked Swinford about that notion. He kind of gritted his teeth and admitted it was true, that he was irked at the “mistreatment” the Panhandle got from cartographers … but then said he was only half-serious about the pitch for the Panhandle to separate itself from the rest of the state.

Our relationship developed over time.

He was one of the first Texas officials to tell me he saw legislative battles turning on rural vs. urban lines, rather than partisan divisions. He was right. He fought for the rural constituents he represented, as well as those who lived in the Potter County portion of Amarillo — which straddles the line separating Potter from Randall County.

Swinford got sideways with the newspaper one time during my stint there. It was over his decision to undercut then-Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, a Democrat from Hale Center. The GOP took control of the Legislature and Swinford — who claimed a deep friendship with Laney — decided to throw his support behind fellow Republican Tom Craddick of Midland. Craddick would replace Laney as speaker in 2003, angering Laney to no end. He felt betrayed by his Panhandle pals, such as Swinford and fellow GOP Reps. John Smithee and Warren Chisum.

Our anger with Swinford didn’t last forever. I am happy to report that when he left office in 2011, he and I were on good terms and remained so until news arrived of his death.

He was a good man. May he rest in peace.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

OK, Ronny … apologize!

Ronny Jackson shot off his big mouth — via Twitter, of course — and declared that a fellow member of Congress believes that pedophilia is not a crime.

Well, it turns out the person he accused of saying such a thing didn’t say it. Democratic Rep. Katie Porter made no mention of pedophilia in her comments, None of that stopped the Republican who represents the Texas Panhandle from popping off like the MAGA blowhard he is.

What did Porter actually say? She said gay people have been branded wrongly as “groomers” and “pedophiles.”

GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson’s false “pedophilia” attack on Katie Porter blows up in his face (msn.com)

But morons like Jackson aren’t about to reflect on the defamation they dish out on social media platforms. That is what Jackson did when he labeled Porter as someone who all but endorses sex with children.

It’s too much to expect Ronny Jackson to apologize to Rep. Porter for his incendiary comment on Twitter. Even though he won’t do so, I will take this brief moment to demand that he say three simple words:

I am sorry.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Feeling happy … and sad

A longtime colleague and friend has called it a career in print journalism and to be brutally honest, his announcement fills me with happiness for what awaits him but sadness over a revelation contained in his announcement.

Tom Taschinger served as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise from February 1995 until just the other day. That’s nearly 28 years in the saddle; his career spanned 40 years all told. Taschinger and I didn’t work together in Beaumont; he succeeded me after I departed the Gulf Coast in January 1995 for the Texas Panhandle. We knew each other well, though, as he served as editorial editor of the neighboring Port Arthur News during my time in Beaumont.

I wish him all the very best as he enters an exciting new phase of his life.

But he declared that he would be the “last full-time editorial page editor” of the Beaumont Enterprise. Thus, I feel a tinge of sadness.

You see, when I arrived in Beaumont in the spring of 1984, the then-executive editor, the late Ben Hansen, informed me that I would be sitting “in the catbird seat” writing editorials in a “great news town.” He was so right. Those were the days when communities, such as those served by the newspaper, depended on the opinion pages for leadership, for a touch of guidance … if only to remind readers that they should take the “opposite approach” to whatever solutions the paper sought to offer.

We offered those opinions. We sought to guide the community. We sought to provide a forum for debate and discussion. Now, to hear that my old buddy is leaving a post that will be filled with part-time help leaves me with a sense that he and I are part of a sub-species of journalist that has entered the “endangered” list of professions.

I left Beaumont for Amarillo and worked at my craft for nearly 18 more years. The newspaper where I served as opinion editor until August 2012 no longer publishes a daily opinion page. It has no opinion editor. I don’t even know who writes editorials for that once-vibrant newspaper.

I know it’s a sign of a changing media era. The Internet has consumed much of what Tom Taschinger and I used to pursue with great joy.

I am left, therefore, to shrug and wish my old pal safe travels as he continues his journey toward parts unknown.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Clearing the air on GOP

I feel the need to clear the air and disabuse some readers of this blog who might be drawing an incorrect inference … which is that I hate all Republicans.

Not true. Not even close to being true. What I do hate is what has become of the Republican Party, which has morphed into a cult dedicated to the ambition of one man, a former president who has managed to persuade his followers that he has more talent, more know-how and more knowledge than he actually does.

My final stop in my 37-year print journalism career took me to the heart of conservative Republicanism. The Texas Panhandle is as rock-ribbed Republican as any region in America.

As a consequence of my working there, I managed to make many acquaintances and friendships with those who happen to be Republicans. It makes sense, right? Of course it does!

My career ended in the summer of 2012, but my friendships with Republicans lives on. One of my best friends in my post-journalism years turned out to be the late Ernie Houdashell, the Randall County judge. He and I jousted frequently over Asian food about politics. He didn’t change my mind and I didn’t change his. However, I loved that man.

I came to know and respect many GOP politicians. They served in county offices; they were legislators; I came to know those who worked on the grassroots level, active in Potter and Randall County Republican politics. They are fine men and women.

I aim my anger at those who have perverted the Republican Party. The No. 1 GOP pervert, of course, happens to be the 45th POTUS. The New York attorney general today filed a lawsuit against the ex-POTUS and three of his adult children, alleging widespread fiscal fraud. The craven cultists’ reaction? They’re going to accuse AG Letitia James of all manner of misdeeds, malfeasance and mischief.

The perversion has spread throughout Congress, into statehouses, even into county courthouses, city halls and school board conference rooms. Those who continue to foment The Big Lie about the alleged “theft” of the 2020 presidential election will continue to receive my unadulterated scorn and rage.

So will those who continue to throw their blind loyalty to a crook, a liar and a self-aggrandizing narcissist who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about them … but only about himself.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

A surprising bit of candor

It just flew out of my mouth the moment I heard the question: Do I miss Portland? My answer, which came without the slightest hesitation: No. I do not.

I was wearing an Oregon Ducks ballcap when we walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Frisco, Texas, the other day. The lady at the counter saw the hat, recognized me as a Ducks fan and made some comment about the hat I was wearing. I asked her where she is from; she told me Lynwood, a suburb of Seattle.

We chatted for a moment and I told her I grew up in Portland. I thought for a moment about mentioning how the Ducks have owned the University of Washington Huskies over the past 15 years of the schools’ football rivalry, then thought better of it. Then came the question about missing it and my strangely quick and candid answer.

Portland doesn’t resemble the city I knew as a boy and then as a much younger man. It’s gotten, to my way of thinking, a bit full of itself. Traffic is terrible. Streets are narrow. Real estate prices have rocketed into outer space. The lady mentioned how “quirky” Portland always has been, but that it’s gotten a bit strange in recent years. Quirky, I can handle. That doesn’t bother me. It just no longer feels like “home.”

All of that plus the fact that I am now well into my 70s. I no longer work full time.

Do I miss my family members who still live there or nearby? Yes. Do I miss our many friends? Yes … of course to both questions.

But we moved away in the spring of 1984 to pursue a journalism career that took me many places over the course of many years in Texas. We built a good life, first in Beaumont, then in Amarillo, and now in Princeton, where we settled into what we call our “forever home.”

I long have been amazed at how adaptable I proved to myself I could be when we decided to take a leap of faith some 38 years ago. That was then. I sense I am a good bit less adaptable these days.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Media relevance vanishes

A quick return to a community where my wife and I lived for nearly half of our married life together has produced a series of bittersweet memories.

We came back to Amarillo, Texas, for a quick visit with our son and to acquaint our new Ford pickup with our new travel trailer. We didn’t get out too much to mingle with friends, but we see did a number of them at a Rotary Club luncheon.

I must have heard a dozen references to the job I used to do in Amarillo, which was to edit the opinion pages of a once-vibrant newspaper, the Amarillo Globe-News.

That paper, or what’s left of it, has become a non-presence in the community that once relied on it to tell the Texas Panhandle story, the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows.

“Man, we sure miss you,” came one greeting. “Why don’t you move back?” another friend said. “I once read the newspaper to know about the community, but I can’t find anything in it that tells me what I want or need to know,” yet another friend said.

Hey, I don’t say this to shore up my own ego. I want to relate to you what I sense is missing in a city of 200,000 residents that once turned to its newspaper of record to report on what is happening around the corner, or at city hall, or at the county courthouse.

I went shopping for a copy of the Globe-News. I couldn’t find one anywhere on sale. Surely, they still peddle the newspaper … somewhere! Don’t they?

It’s always good to see good friends and to catch on their lives. The good feelings are diluted by the bitter feeling that boils up when I realize that such a big part of my professional life no longer matters to the people I enjoyed serving.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Panhandle spoiled us!

My wife and I started a new life with our sons when we moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Golden Triangle region of Texas in the spring of 1984.

It was there that we got acquainted with the legendary Texas heat and humidity. We got acclimated — eventually! — and lived in Beaumont for nearly 11 years before my wife and I (the boys had since gone off to college) relocated again, this time settling in the faraway High Plains of the Panhandle.

It was the Panhandle where we discovered something else about this wonderful place we now call home. It is that the Caprock of West Texas has four distinct seasons … and that the summer, which can get brutally hot, does bring relief on occasion, even during the hottest period of the year.

It spoiled us. We grew accustomed to the lack of humidity in Amarillo, with its 3,676-foot elevation above sea level and its proximity to the Rocky Mountains.

We stayed in Amarillo for 23 years, which is the longest stint we ever have completed during our nearly 51 years of marriage.

Then we moved to the Metroplex in late 2018. We settled in Princeton, which is about 30 miles northeast of Dallas and, more importantly, is about nine miles NE of our granddaughter, who lives in Allen with her Mommy, Daddy and her two brothers.

It has been in Princeton where we’ve been reacquainted with the Texas humidity that accompanies the heat.

It’s been hot, man! We’ve had more than 30 days this summer of 100-degree-plus days. It’s not the hottest on record. For us, though, it’s been too hot, given that we are still feeling spoiled by all those years up yonder on the Caprock.

This is my way of reminding my bride and me that we’ll just need to suck it up and settle in every year for the Dog Days of summer … and remember what it was like when we first arrived in Texas those many years ago.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Blogging keeps me relevant

Blogging has produced many joys in my post-full-time-newspaper world.

One of them is that it allows me to keep doing what I did with modest success for nearly 37 years: offering opinions on issues of the day.

A corollary to that joy is the notion that it also allows me to cling just a bit to a career that gave me great satisfaction and it perhaps will allow young people coming of age in this era a chance to understand and perhaps even appreciate the craft I pursued.

Whether these young people will be reading blogs or writing them remains to be seen, of course. I hope they do both. I want to remain relevant, even in some small way, to how they search for news and information and, yes, even opinion on issues of importance.

To be crystal clear, I am not yet out of the newswriting game. My full-time career ended just a month short of a decade ago; wow, it seems like just yesterday when my boss told me my services would no longer be sought at what once was the leading newspaper in the Texas Panhandle and one of the leading media outlets in West Texas.

I walked away from that post on the spot and haven’t looked back — too often in the years since.

I took up blogging along with a few part-time, temporary gigs along the way. I have managed to stay fresh and alert writing blogs for Panhandle PBS, for KFDA NewsChannel 10 in Amarillo and now for KETR-FM radio at Texas A&M-Commerce and for the Farmersville Times near where my wife and I landed in late 2018.

I even had a month-long stint as an editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News! That gig ended at the end of 2021, but at least I can say I wrote for a major metropolitan daily newspaper … if only for a flash in time!

The one constant in all of that has been High Plains Blogger. I decided to keep the name even though I no longer reside on the High Plains of Texas. Hey, it developed a brand … you know? Why mess with it?

So, with that I will keep on blogging. My work might not always remind others of the once-glorious craft I pursued, it surely keeps me energized enough to keep going for as long as I am able.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

When will denigration stop?

I cannot help but wonder how a member of Congress can continually denigrate the president of the United States, suggesting the president is mentally unfit for high office and then possibly expect that president to respond to a request — were it to come from the congressman — for help in any fashion.

U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson is a freshman Republican member of the House from the Texas Panhandle. Ever since taking office after winning election in 2020, Jackson has been on a constant Twitter harangue over President Biden’s occasional verbal stumbles.

He doesn’t refer to Joe Biden as “President” Biden. He continually harps on what I believe is a red-herring argument that the POTUS would fail a cognitive test.

Jackson recently declared that the nation needs Donald Trump “more than ever.” No, Ronny, the nation does not need the serial liar and philanderer, the crook, the insurrectionist, the power-hungry narcissist, the a**hole who cannot articulate a single public policy with any degree of intelligence.

Back to my point. There could come a time when the 13th Congressional District of Texas needs immediate federal attention. Natural disasters do strike, you know. How does the congressman, the author of the string of idiotic, moronic and disgraceful Twitter messages ask the president for help?

Moreover, how does the president, who has been on the receiving end of these vile epithets, respond to those requests, were they to come?

I mention Jackson mainly because he represents a region I used to call home. He also has become a bit of a national media star, given his extreme anger aimed at President Biden; Fox News loves having this clown on air expressing himself in such a cavalier fashion … without ever challenging the veracity of the claims he makes.

Hey, I am just asking … for a friend.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Save the message

The building where my full-time journalism career came to an end has changed hands, with a new owner taking possession of an iconic structure that sits on the fringe of downtown Amarillo, Texas.

The Globe-News building has been purchased by a company that manufactures lubricants. Strange, I know. However, this blog post isn’t about that change of occupants. Instead, I want to wonder aloud about an aspect of the Globe-News building that I hope the new owners can preserve.

On the Harrison Street side of the building, an inscription is carved into the stone face. It comes from a comment attributed to the late Gene Howe, publisher of the Globe-News. It states: A newspaper can be forgiven for lack of wisdom but never for lack of courage.

Those were words of wisdom that many of us took seriously. Indeed, after I started work at the Globe-News in January 1995 as editorial page editor, I decided to include the message on the editorial page masthead. We strived to meet that standard every day.

The building where I worked for nearly 18 years is vacant. The corporate owners sold the paper some years ago. The new owners then gutted the staff in all departments and moved who remained into an office suite in a downtown building.

The inscription carved into the stone building front, though, needs a permanent home. I did some sniffing around and learned today that there has been some discussion about whether they can remove the slab with the engraving from the building and find a spot for it in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on the campus at West Texas A&M University. Whether it’s just idle chatter or something that could result in a serious move remains to be determined.

I found out today from a former colleague that the PPHM already houses many of the print archives, photo negatives, bound volumes and assorted artifacts from the Globe-News’s glory days.

Indeed, I also learned that the new property owners recently uncovered the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service medal the newspaper won in 1961, when the late editor Tommy Thompson uncovered county government corruption. The medal, too, is now in safe keeping!

I intend to continue sniffing around my old haunts. The engraving means a lot to those of who worked inside that old building. It should mean a great deal to the community that benefited from the effort to keep the faith with what those words urged us to do.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com