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.   

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Texans went to the polls earlier this month to approve seven different constitutional amendments, many of which might have seemed to the casual voter like something that could easily have been dealt with by the State Legislature.

If you were wondering why you needed to go vote on whether sports teams should be allowed to hold charitable raffles, you weren’t alone.

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The Texas Department of Public Transportation is once again considering whether to extend Interstate 27 northward from Amarillo and southward from Lubbock down to the Mexican border.

I-27 currently stretches 117 miles from Amarillo to Lubbock.

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Fracking operations in Texas have awakened sleeping fault lines, leading to a spate of unprecedented earthquakes across the northern part of the state, reports Scientific American.

The appearance of the quakes echoes recent history in Oklahoma. As with its neighbor to the north, the frequency of earthquakes in Texas has grown year by year since the introduction of wastewater injection from hydraulic fracturing operations.

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The special session of the Oklahoma Legislature ended 10 days ago, and Oklahoma Watch has published a look at some of the session’s statistics.

The session lasted 54 days, during which 194 measures were proposed. Out of those 194 bills, a total of four became law—though one of those four successful measures—the budget bill—was line-item vetoed by Governor Mary Fallin.

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The two largest universities in Texas own hundreds of thousands of acres across West Texas—and the University of Texas and Texas A&M are increasingly leasing that land to solar and wind operations.

As The Daily Texan reports, the two universities combined control over 2.1 million acres of land statewide. The universities have often fueled their growth in the past by leasing acreage to oil and natural gas producers.

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Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed an executive order declaring that all school districts that spend less than 60% of their budgets on instruction should be consolidated, reports The Oklahoman.

Put more simply, a school district must be spending six out of every ten dollars to pay teachers. If not, the district will be forced to combine with a nearby district, or share budgets, maintenance, equipment, and other employees like janitors and counselors.

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West Texas oil producers are running out of places to send the growing glut of natural gas that is a byproduct of the recent oil boom in the region.

As Fox Business reports, all of the natural gas pipelines that stretch from West Texas to the gulf are basically full. And the gas can’t be sent north, because northern natural gas markets are already supplied by producers in Canada and the Rockies.

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Earlier this year, Texas Agriculture Secretary Sid Miller unveiled a wide-reaching plan to deal with the feral hog problem in the Lone Star State. He called the scheme the “hog apocalypse,” and the plan involved scattering the state with deadly hog poison.

But the plan was scuttled when nature advocates expressed concerns about the effects the poison would have on the food chain. In the meantime, rural Texas continue to battle the hog hordes.

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The Pumpkin
By John Greenleaf Whittier
 

Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

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Many Americans were taught in school that the tradition of Thanksgiving dates back to the pilgrims.

But, as The New York Times reports, the story most of us learned about the first Thanksgiving isn’t exactly accurate. In 1621 Pilgrims in Plymouth, MA, did indeed host a three-day feast that was attended by Wampanoag Indians. But this event wasn’t called “the First Thanksgiving,” until the 1830s. Abraham Lincoln finally made the holiday official in 1863 to celebrate Union Army victories.

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Texas has approved the closure of two more major coal-powered energy plants, reports The Houston Chronicle.

The news will mean the layoffs of over 800 workers. Texas’s electric grid operator has determined that the closures will not adversely affect the state’s grid reliability.

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Legendary country and western singer-songwriter Mel Tillis died this week; Tillis was a longtime friend and supporter of the High Plains region.

Tillis was famous for his mellifluous singing voice and his stutter when he spoke. Tillis’s self-effacing nature was in evidence when he purchased a country radio station in Amarillo and used the call letters KMML, a winking reference to his own speech impediment.

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Texas Republicans are fretting over a possible “blue wave” of anti-Trump voter sentiment during 2018’s November elections, reports The Houston Chronicle.

Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both been calling on Texas GOP operatives to batten down the hatches in anticipation of a Democratic tsunami. Yet many political observers in the Lone Star State say the traditionally conservative bastion has little chance of turning blue anytime soon.

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An Oklahoma regulatory board announced last week that it would cut the salaries of the state’s legislators, in an effort to ease the state’s ongoing budget woes.

As KFOR reports, the state’s Legislative Compensation Board plans to cut state lawmaker salaries by almost 9 percent. The announcement comes as the Legislature continues to be gridlocked in the eighth week of a special session.

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The State of Texas is giving a controversial anti-abortion program a hefty new influx in funding, reports The Texas Tribune.

The program, known as Alternatives to Abortion, will receive $20 million in taxpayer money over the next two years.

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Amarillo College has formed a partnership with Texas Tech University to expand horticultural studies in the Texas Panhandle, reports The Amarillo Globe-News.

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The unemployment rate in Texas reached a record low last month, while the Lone Star State’s neighbor to the north is also approaching a record rate of employment.

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Texas has been front and center in the national debate over the last year, for a myriad of reasons. The Lone Star State has weathered a devastating hurricane, a horrific church shooting, historic wildfires, shaky trade negotiations with Mexico, and a controversial bathroom bill.

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The recent resurgence of Texas oil markets is causing some Texas prison guards to leave their jobs for the more lucrative work in the oilfields.

As The Houston Chronicle reports, in the last year alone, the state prison system has seen a remarkable 28 percent turnover rate.

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Yet another Democrat has pulled off an upset victory in deep-red Oklahoma.

As NBC News reports, Democrat Allison Ikley-Freeman defeated Republican Brian O’Hara in Tuesday’s special election for the Oklahoma’s Senate District 37. Ikley-Freeman is the fourth Democrat this year to flip a Republican seat in Oklahoma special elections.

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The oil boom continues in the Permian Basin region of West Texas, and with the boom comes an increase in natural gas flares. According to The San Antonio Express-News, natural gas flaring in the Permian Basin rose significantly from 2009 to 2014.

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Texas Panhandle Congressman Four Price announced this week that he will seek re-election next year, the Amarillo Globe-News reports.

Price has proven a popular candidate in the 87th district that includes Potter, Sherman, Moore, Carson and Hutchinson counties. He ran unopposed last year, and in his 2014 re-election bid he took 85% of the vote. 

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Gun deaths are on the rise in Oklahoma, reports Oklahoma Watch.

Despite the fact that it's been over three decades since the state has seen a prominent mass shooting, homicides by firearms have been increasing over the past decade.

Oklahoma has the ninth highest rate of per capita gun deaths among. The state now averages four or five murders a week, and more than one suicide per day.

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Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas have found themelves in a sticky position in recent days, as they continue to be peppered with questions about their support for Alabama Senatorial candidate Roy Moore.

Late Monday afternoon, Cornyn officially withdrew his support of Moore after a fifth woman charged the Alabama judge with pursuing her sexually as a teenager.

The new allegations would, if true, unquestionably constitute violent sexual assault. Moore has been accused of initiating sexual conduct with a 14-year old girl.

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The rate of people who smoke cigarettes in Amarillo remains higher than the national rate, reports The Amarillo Globe-News. The city is home to almost 32,000 smokers, and collectively, they cost the city over $2 million annually.

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Last week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives fell five votes shy of passing a tax bill that would have shut down the Special Legislative session and prevented the need for steep budget cuts.

As KGOU reports, the plan was supported by advocates from the health care, education, and public policy sectors. But the widespread support of nurses and teachers wasn’t enough. The tax plan would have eased the state’s budget woes by raising taxes on gasoline, tobacco products, beer, and oil and gas wells.

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In recent months, the rent-to-own furniture industry has gained attention in Texas. State officials have accused the industry, and especially the rent-to-own behemoth Rent-A-Center, of using deceptive and abusive practices against customers.

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Amarillo voters last week approved a massive $100 million bond proposal benefitting the Amarillo Independent School District. In response, AISD officials announced an aggressive construction schedule to spend the money on a wide variety of school repairs and renovations.

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The 2018 election season has officially begun in Texas. This weekend marked the neginning of the filing period for all Lone Star candidates who plan to run for public office.

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Texans are still reeling from the worst mass shooting in state history, but some in the Texas Legislature want to take action to prevent future massacres.

As The Texas Tribune reports, a number of Democrats and at least one Republican in the Texas Legislature are launching an effort to investigate the state’s gun laws. Ar a news conference at the capitol on Wednesday, state Reps. Poncho Nevárez, and Nicole Collier urged state leaders to declare gun violence a public health issue.

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