Jonathan Baker

News Curator

Jonathan Baker recently returned to the High Plains from New York City, where he was the assistant to the editor-in-chief at W. W. Norton & Co. At Norton, Baker worked with a wide variety of authors, including Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael Lewis and Larry McMurtry. During his time in publishing, Baker worked on books that were shortlisted for a National Book Award and a Booker Prize, and Norton was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in History.

A former professional comedian, Baker has performed all over the United States and appeared on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. He holds an undergraduate degree in English with a History minor from West Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in the humanities from the University of Chicago. At UChicago, Baker focused on American literature but studied a wide range of topics, from architectural history to 19th-century landscape painting to the history of the natural sciences. His master’s thesis was on glaciers and ice age theory in the Victorian Era.

When not curating stories for High Plains Public Radio, Baker writes advertisements for publications like Esquire and Car & Driver. He also writes crime novels. Baker just finished his fourth book, a murder story set on the barren Texas plains.

Baker is the father of a 12-year-old boy, Inigo. They live in Canyon, Texas, in a tiny wooden house, where they watch a lot of cheesy old horror movies.   

West Texas A&M University will host a prominent water conservation expert on Tuesday night, as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series.

Dr. David Sedlak is a professor of environmental engineering at UC Berkeley, and he has gained an international reputation for his clear-eyed solutions to a crowded world increasingly threatened by water shortages.

In a 2016 TED talk, Sedlak outlined a four-part plan for rethinking water supply sources in water-starved cities like San Francisco. Dr. Sedlak further expanded on these ideas in his book, Water 4.0.

Public Domain

A tent city of homeless campers in Amarillo was told last week that they must once again shut down their camp and go elsewhere.

As KFDA reports, the Christ Church Camp must disband by the end of this week or the city of Amarillo will begin fining the camp’s homeless residents $2,000 a day for being on the site.

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The Oklahoma Legislature’s plan to fix the state budget failed spectacularly this week, sending lawmakers scrambling to defend themselves from widespread criticism.

The Step Up Oklahoma plan had seemed to many like it held promise.

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Xcel Energy crews from West Texas have been hard at work in Puerto Rico, helping to restore power to devastated hurricane victims there, reports The Amarillo Globe-News.

Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves says some crews will be returning this weekend, at which point another energy crew will head out for a three-week deployment.

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In the midst of one of the worst droughts to hit the state in decades, Texas is experiencing another kind of drought.

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Another bill that would have given teachers a pay raise failed on the floor of the Oklahoma Legislature this week.

As it stands now, Oklahoma teachers haven’t received a raise in a decade. As KFOR reports, the bill would have paid for an educator pay increase by raising taxes on tobacco, diesel fuel and wind energy.

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President Trump unveiled his plan to overhaul the U.S.’s infrastructure this week, and the initiative is raising some big questions on the High Plains.

The plan essentially calls for local municipalities to pay for their own upgrades. And this in turn would mean that cities and counties would be forced to turn to borrowing, taxing, tolling or cutting budgets at the local level. For states like Oklahoma, which has been struggling beneath the weight of a massive budget crisis for years, finding room in the budget for a huge infrastructure overhaul simply isn’t feasible.

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There’s a debate swirling in Texas Panhandle political circles about whether a conspiracy is afoot in the race for Kel Seliger’s State Senate seat.

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A nonpartisan Oklahoma political group has recommended that the state get rid of the current political primary system.

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The Amarillo region has now gone 124 consecutive days without any measurable precipitation.

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The Amarillo City Council has approved a plan that would create one daily flight from Amarillo’s Rick Husband International Airport to Phoenix, Arizona.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the decision means American Airlines can now begin preparing direct nonstop air service between Arizona and the Texas Panhandle. The city council voted unanimously to approve the plan, which will open Amarillo air customers up to 89 domestic destinations and four countries out of Phoenix.

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Oklahoma’s Chief Executive Mary Fallin gave her State of the State address last week, in which the Governor detailed her plans to fix the state’s ongoing budget crisis.

As KFOR reports, the speech made headlines as much for Fallin’s words as for the interruption at the end of the address by protestors, who hung a sign from the gallery that read “State of Despair” and shouted the word “liar” at the Governor.

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More than half of Texas public school students are in districts that don't require teachers to be certified, according to state officials, due to a recent law giving schools more freedom on educational requirements. 

A 2015 law lets public schools access exemptions from requirements such as teacher certification, school start dates and class sizes — the same exemptions allowed for open enrollment charter schools. Using a District of Innovation plan, districts can create a comprehensive educational program and identify provisions under Texas law that would inhibit their goals.

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Renewable wind and solar energy, along with a booming natural gas industry, continue to win the battle over coal in Texas.

As The Huntsville Tribune reports, last year Texas lost 455 coal-mining jobs, more than any other state. And the state’s biggest power supplier, Luminant, announced that it would be shuttering two massive coal-fired plants this year.

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Wayland Baptist University officials announced this week that the university has received an anonymous gift of $8 million, reports The Amarillo Globe-News. The money came from one of the college’s alumni, and it’s the largest single cash donation the institution has ever received.

University President Bobby Hall praised the donation, saying, “Words cannot express how grateful we are for the generosity of this gift.”

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The State of Texas may soon close some of its state-run juvenile prisons, reports The Houston Chronicle.

The juvenile prisons have been the focus of controversy in recent months, and the newly installed executive director of the beleaguered Texas Juvenile Justice Department hopes to change that image.

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A private organization announced this week that it is supplying every sheriff’s department in Oklahoma with a drug that can reverse opiate overdoses.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says he plans to continue his crusade to curb what he calls an epidemic of voter fraud in Texas, reports The Texas Observer.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General remains under felony indictment for allegedly violating state securities law. Paxton sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Election Integrity this week, in which he outlined his plan to purge voter rolls of non-citizens and to ensure that voters aren’t registered in multiple states.

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An influential Texas conservative group mailed letters to school district employees across the state last week, asking for them to report teachers who they believe are trying to accomplish liberal political objectives in Texas classrooms.

As reported in The Dallas Morning News, the letter from Empower Texans asked educators to report “suspicious activities” among their fellow teachers.

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The Oklahoma Legislative Session for 2018 began yesterday. Here are some facts about the Sooner State’s legislative body, courtesy of The Tulsa World.

The regular legislative session begins each year on the first Monday of February.

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A prominent policy expert wrote an editorial in The New York Times this week predicting that the recently passed Republican tax plan could result in a Democratic wave in 2020, if not this November.

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According to recent polls, Texans are for the most part no great fans of President Donald Trump. But, as the online statistics blog fivethirtyeight.com notes, Trump’s abysmal polling numbers in the Lone Star State don’t necessarily signal a Democratic wave in Texas’s upcoming November elections.

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A controversial new bill in Oklahoma would allow the state to chemically castrate sex offenders, reports TIME magazine.

The proposed law is being sponsored by Rep. Rick West, a Republican from the small southeastern Oklahoma town of Heavener. If the bill passes, sex offenders who are released back into society would be required to take drugs that lower testosterone and decrease sexual libido.

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Oklahoma is the number two producer of wind energy in the United States.

Yet, as The Christian Science Monitor reports, the Sooner State has recently soured on this form of renewable energy.

Due to the state’s crippling budget woes, in addition to pressure from the state’s powerful oil and gas lobby, Oklahoma has been phasing out the key tax incentives that had, in large part, been responsible for the booming wind industry in the state.

Jonathan Baker

A massive crowd gathered in a large dirt field in downtown Amarillo yesterday to witness the groundbreaking of the city’s new baseball stadium. Mayor Ginger Nelson delivered a heartfelt speech to the throngs who had amassed on a chilly February afternoon.

Mayor Nelson was joined by the team’s new general manager, as well as D.G. Elmore and his father Dave Elmore, owners of the group who are moving the new AA baseball team from its former home in San Antonio.  

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News of Oklahoma’s struggling public education system has now reached London, where the legendary news magazine The Economist published an analysis this week of the state’s pervasive and seemingly insurmountable school funding issues.

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On a recent report card comparing rural health care among states, Texas received a grade of D-.

The report card, published last month by researchers at Texas Tech University, compared several key metrics including mortality, quality of life and access to care.

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The Texas oil and gas workforce has reached a seven-year low, according to The Houston Chronicle.

The news comes even as oil prices have stabilized.

When crude prices plummeted three years ago, after the economic glory years of the fracking boom, the Texas energy industry scrambled to find ways to produce more oil using fewer bodies.

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If you live on the High Plains, you’re likely familiar with grackles.

In Amarillo the birds can often be seen in prolific numbers, lurking in trees above strip mall parking lots, like an image out of a postmodern Edgar Alan Poe spoof.

KTRK recently published a few facts about the black birds, courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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After steady gains over much of last year, Texas employment growth appears to have stalled last month.

As The Houston Chronicle reports, the Lone Star State only added 400 jobs in December, after gaining nearly 54,000 in November and more than 67,000 in October. That puts the state unemployment rate at 3.9 percent, slightly higher than November’s record low of 3.8.

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