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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Early voting began yesterday in Texas, ahead of the state’s March 2 primary, which is the earliest in the nation.

As The Houston Chronicle reports, state electoral officials are warning residents to know ahead of time what is needed to make your voice heard.

In a statement, Secretary of State Rolando Pablos said, “It is imperative that all Texans wishing to cast a vote start early and undertake the necessary preparations to be able to vote.”

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Oklahoma’s seemingly endless budget woes continue.

As KFOR reports, the state is facing down a potential $167 million budget shortfall for the 2019 fiscal year. However, that number is a marked improvement over the $900 million budget gap for the current fiscal year, or the $1.3 billion the year prior.

Gov. Mary Fallin seemed optimistic.

Voting in the Texas primary elections is underway, and the Texas Panhandle is already seeing remarkably heavy turnout.

In fact, as The Amarillo Globe-News reports, Potter and Randall Counties are seeing more primary voters than in either the 2016 or 2014 primary elections.

Potter County Elections Administrator Melynn Huntley expressed surprise that this year was beating 2016, as that year featured a presidential primary with big-name Texas candidates like Ted Cruz vying to occupy the oval office.


I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’ve been asked to talk a little about this month’s Radio Readers Book Club selection, Burning Beethoven by Erik Kirschbaum. The book is subtitled The Eradication of German Culture in the United States during World War I, and it contains a multitude of scary echoes for 21st century America.

I recall, back in 2003 after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, eating at a steak joint out on the Claude Highway near the Palo Duro Canyon. I ordered my New York Strip, but I hesitated about ordering fries. I simply couldn’t bring myself to say the words “freedom fries.”

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A recent poll reveals that Texas voters overwhelmingly support criminal background checks on gun purchases.

According to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, more than half of Texas voters “strongly support” mental and criminal background checks, while another quarter of respondents said they “somewhat support” them. Only 17 percent of voters say they oppose background checks.

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Oklahoma’s Health Department is still struggling to gain its footing after being racked by scandal and turmoil in recent months. In the most recent development, the Health Department’s interim commissioner abruptly resigned this month, after allegations of domestic violence surfaced.

As Oklahoma Watch reports, the Board of Health unanimously accepted Preston Doerflinger’s resignation. Specific details for Doerflinger’s resignation weren’t given.

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A recently implemented program at West Texas A&M University’s School of Music has been gaining a good deal of attention.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, WT’s partnership with Belmont University in Nashville gives students in the Panhandle a pathway toward careers in the music industry. Darrell Bledsoe, coordinator of music business at WT, said the program is exploding in popularity, adding: “It’s amazing.”

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.

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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.

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.

The Texas Tribune

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.

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 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.