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.   

Marjorie Kamys Cotera / Texas Tribune

After waiting almost two weeks to answer the question of whether he would call Texas lawmakers back to Austin for a special session to tackle the controversial bathroom bill, Governor Greg Abbott announced on Sunday that he would indeed call a special session.

As The Texas Tribune reports, Abbott expects Texas Legislators back in the capital in mid-July.

LM Otero / Houston Chronicle

Health officials announced last week that the threat from the Zika virus in Texas is much lower than it was last year. As The Houston Chronicle reports, the mosquito-borne disease has ebbed in Central and South America, and the risk of mosquitos carrying the virus across the Texas border has lessened.

Likewise, the number of international travelers carrying the disease into the United States is expected to wane this year. But, not all medical professionals are expressing optimism.

Dale Denwalt / The Journal-Record

Despite a years-long crisis that has led to dozens of rural hospital closures across the U.S., there are signs of life for at least one facility in Western Oklahoma.

Emily Wendler / KOSU

This year, Oklahoma lawmakers indicated once again that they were going to give teachers in the state raises. And, once again, the state Legislature failed to deliver.

The House even passed two budgets, one containing educator raises and one without them—and ultimately passed the one without raises.

Lawmakers couldn’t even pass a $1,000 teacher raise to keep up with inflation.

Jim Malewitz / Texas Tribune

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed a law that supposedly defangs the state’s controversial Voter ID law, the nation’s most stringent such law.

But, as The Texas Tribune reports, opponents of the former law aren’t backing down, saying instead that the new law does nothing to fix the old law’s discrimination—nor does it absolve Texas Republican lawmakers of their effort to disenfranchise minority voters.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Back in 2012 when voters swept a wave of Tea-Party Republicans into power, Oklahoma lawmakers looked admiringly to their neighbor to the north. Gov. Sam Brownback and his fellow Kansans had begun drastically cutting taxes in expectation that the move would result in a windfall of state revenue.

Pu Ying Huang / KUT

The number of refugee families that the State of Texas has helped resettle has dropped drastically this year, reports KUT.

Part of the reason: Despite the fact that President Trump’s travel ban has been repeatedly struck down by Federal courts, the effort has still wreaked havoc on refugee resettlement in Texas.

Aaron Rippenkroeger, president and CEO of Refugee Services of Texas, explains that the Texas resettlement system has a lot of moving parts.

Bob Daemmerich / KUT

Despite the gridlock and acrimony of the 2017 Texas legislative session, there was one group who came out as undeniable winners: the 12 member far-right contingent of the Texas House of Representatives known as the Freedom Caucus.

NY Times

As HPPR has reported in the past, the mortality rate for new mothers in Texas has skyrocketed in recent years.

Texas now has a higher rate of pregnancy-related deaths than anywhere in the developed world.

Yet, as Jezebel noted this weekend, Texas lawmakers did virtually nothing to try to fix the problem during the legislative session that just ended.

Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

Amid the budget talks during Oklahoma’s recently concluded legislative session, one of the major sticking points revolved around how much to raise the production tax on oil and gas companies.

As Oklahoma Watch notes, while Oklahoma is theoretically a two-party system, it often seems as though there’s a third party in the room during important economic discussions. That third party is the oil industry.

Bob Daemmerich / Texas Tribune

A new bill passed by the Texas State Legislature aims to make it easier for the elderly to vote, reports The Texas Tribune. The measure would also theoretically prevent voter fraud in nursing homes.

The bill was backed by both parties, a rare effort that sailed through the statehouse with ease amid a legislative session otherwise marked by partisan and intraparty rancor.

NC ND / Creative Commons

A new report finds that the Texas prison populace has been growing smaller, ever since reforms were instituted ten years ago.

Next to Kin / amarillo.com

The town square in Canyon, Texas, will be hopping on Thursday nights throughout June.

As Amarillo.com reports, the concerts will begin tomorrow night, June 8th, at 7:30 PM. Performing this week will be local Canyon favorites Next to Kin, led by the brother-sister duo of Danielle and Jeff Gerber.

Also set to entertain the crowds this summer, Amarillo alt-country faves Eddie and the Eat, as well as Jack Haney and the Geezers Gone Wild and, completing the series on June 29th, the Velvet Funk Band.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

This month Oklahoma will be gearing up for its annual rye harvest. Here on the High Plains we don’t hear as much about rye as we do about other crops like wheat, corn and sorghum.

But, as StateImpact reports, Oklahoma is actually the largest producer of rye in the United States, and demand is on the rise due to America’s craft beer and whisky explosion.

Annie Langthorn/Elle

Oklahoma’s Democratic Party has elected its youngest party chair ever.

In a profile in Elle magazine, 24-year-old Annie Langthorn says she became interested in politics in high school, volunteering and interning with candidates. She even skipped her own high school graduation to attend the Oklahoma State Democratic Convention.

Langthorn beat out four other candidates for her new role as state chair.

Bob Daemmerich / Texas Tribune

Late last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into a law a bill that loosens restrictions on the state’s controversial voter ID law.

Stuart Seeger / Flickr Creative Commons

During the legislative term that concluded last week, Texas lawmakers approved a measure that would legalize certain unrecognized stem cell therapies.

As STAT.com reports, this means Texas is the first state legislature to explicitly give these experimental treatments the go-ahead.

But the deal isn’t done yet; Gov. Greg Abbott still has to sign the bill.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr Creative Commons

A couple of weeks ago when President Donald Trump was rumored to be on the fence about whether to abandon the Paris climate agreement, 22 Republican Senators sent him a letter urging him to back out of the deal.

The letter’s signatories included Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, and both Senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

Certain sectors of the oil and gas industry have supported leaving the Paris accords, assuming deregulation will drive oil profits.

Bob Daemmerich / Texas Tribune

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has postponed his announcement about whether he will call the state Legislature back for a special session, reports The Texas Tribune. The Governor had indicated that he planned to make the announcement late this week.

But now he says he’s holding off until next week.

Tom Reel / San Antonio Express News

A couple of prominent Texas Republicans are doing their best to save American trade with Mexico, reports the San Antonio Express-News.

Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Will Hurd have been urging business leaders to try to salvage the North American Free Trade Agreement, otherwise known as NAFTA.

amarillo.com

The Amarillo Independent School District voted this week to give all Amarillo public school teachers a $1,500 raise, reports The Amarillo Globe-News.

The Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees voted for the raises unanimously, 6-0. The plan gives raises to all AISD employees, not just teachers, and it comes with a price tag of over $5 million.

Bob Daemmerich / Texas Tribune

The regular session of the Texas Legislature has ended, but some of the high-profile bills passed into law this year will likely end up in court, reports The Texas Tribune.

ICE/Creative Commons

Texas’s controversial new “sanctuary cities” law has raised some thorny legal questions, notes The Houston Chronicle.

First, does Texas now have the legal authority to force a town or county to deport a resident?

OklahomaWatch

For months, Oklahoma was overtaken by fears that drastic cuts were coming to state agencies, in order to plug the state’s massive budget gap.

But this week, as OklahomaWatch reports, lawmakers finally came to an agreement on a budget that raises enough to avoid those staggering cuts. Here are some of the winners and losers in the deal.

KVII

The Texas Legislature passed a new budget last week, and the plan included a healthy chunk of change for Texas Tech University's proposed veterinary school in Amarillo.

Julian Aguilar / The Texas Tribune

The dust is still settling from the last official day of the Texas legislature, which was fraught with tensions and even a scuffle on the floor of the state House of Representatives.

NTSB/Amarillo.com

The National Travel Safety Board has released documents related to a massive train collision last year that occurred outside of Panhandle, Texas. The accident resulted in the deaths of two train conductors and an engineer.

Bob Daemmerich / Texas Tribune

Among the many battles between the Texas House and Senate during the past session, one of the most acrimonious involved the Senate’s wish to slash funding for disabled children in Texas.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been a staunch supporter of cutting funding for speech, physical and occupational therapy services for kids with disabilities, calling the programs wasteful. Speaker of the House Joe Straus was hoping to restore that funding this session.

Shawn Sheehan / The Washington Post

Low teacher pay in Oklahoma has led to a high-profile defection. This week Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year announced he’s moving to Texas.

Shawn Sheehan currently teaches special education in Norman, and in addition to winning the award last year he was also a finalist for National Teacher of the Year.

Sheehan says he loves teaching, and wouldn’t want to do anything else, but he just can’t do it in Oklahoma anymore. As a result, he and his wife have accepted positions in Texas, where teachers are paid at much higher rates.

Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons

Lawmakers in Texas are fed up with educators having sex with students.

The number of teachers having inappropriate relationships with their students has been rising, and State Sen. Paul Bettencourt has even called the problem a “statewide plague.”

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