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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On Tuesday night, the citizens of the state of Maine voted by a wide margin to expand Medicaid coverage in the state. This vote could have repercussions in states like Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas that have refused to expand Medicaid.

As NBC News notes, Democrats “are hopeful their victories are a harbinger of further gains . . . with more ballot initiatives [and] legislative efforts to come.” Maine has tried in the past to expand Medicaid through legislative means, but the state’s Republican Governor Paul LePage vetoed five separate attempts to do so.

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A group of small oil and gas producers in Oklahoma has grown frustrated with the lack of progress in the Sooner State. In their view, the state Legislature has been negligent by failing to raise taxes for necessary state business like teacher pay raises. In response the group, known as Restore Oklahoma Now Inc., has announced its plan to try to bring the matter to voters.

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Oklahoma teacher Teresa Danks recently made national news when she began panhandling beside the highway to raise money for school supplies.

On average, American teachers spend $500 a year of their own money on school supplies for their students, but that number can be much higher in states like cash-strapped Oklahoma. American teachers are currently eligible for a small tax break of $250, to reimburse themselves.

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The Texas Panhandle has a long tradition of going its own way when it comes to politics. Now that State Sen. Kel Seliger is in the midst of a pitched re-election battle, he may pay for his legislative independence. Last session Seliger voted with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick 30 times, but he voted against the Senate leader twice. Those two “no” votes were enough to ignite the wrath of Patrick, according to Lubbock Avalanche-Journal columnist Jay Leeson.

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West Texas A&M University in Canyon is working on a new campus blueprint, an effort to improve movement and accessibility across the campus.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the $400,000 plan was launched under the direction of new WT president Walter Wendler.

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A charter school association in Oklahoma has brought a lawsuit against the state, in hopes of diverting more revenue away from traditional public schools and into charter school coffers.

As The Tulsa World reports, the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association's lawsuit hopes to do what similar suits in Colorado and Florida have achieved: sharing local tax money equally among district and charter schools.

Jonathan Baker

The Indian community of the Texas Panhandle met this weekend for an evening of dancing, singing, and community. The event, held in the auditorium at Amarillo’s Caprock High School, was a celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, which is held every autumn. Children of all ages danced in traditional garb, and adults sang and danced alongside them.

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Oklahoma has become the poster child for a wider national trend of states experiencing budget problems, as reported on Governing.com.

The news site notes that Oklahoma proves that one-party states are not immune to major budgetary problems. As it stands now, Oklahoma Republicans are gridlocked about how to deal with a $215 million budget shortfall left by the collapse of a cigarette fee earlier this year. The $1.50-a-pack fee, a one-time fix which was supposed to plug the gap, was rejected by the state Supreme Court.

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Two more powerful Texas Republican lawmakers announced their retirements last week, reports The Texas Tribune.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, the influential chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, announced he will not run for re-election, sparking a flurry of conjecture over who will run for Lamar’s central Texas seat. Lamar has been in Congress for over 30 years.

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Medicaid is failing children with disabilities in Texas, according to The Austin American-Statesman.

Medicaid services in Texas have steadily declined in recent years for children with the most severe disabilities. The decline is due to cost-cutting measures by congressional leaders.

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Seventeen years ago, at the dawn of the new millennium, the State of Texas scrapped its traditional white license plates for a more graphics-heavy design.

The 2000 plate, with its cowboy and space shuttle and oil derricks and moon and stars, gained popularity among some but was lambasted by others who saw the design as an unfortunate departure from the clean design of the past.

If you fall into the first group, then you have cause to rejoice this month as the state has announced that independent contractor My Plates is bringing back the millennial design.

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The head of Oklahoma’s state health department has resigned amid questions about mishandling of funds.

As Oklahoma Watch reports, the Oklahoma State Board of Health accepted the resignations of Health Commissioner Terry Cline and his top deputy late Monday night.

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If you don’t have health care, this week marked the beginning of the open enrollment period on Healthcare.gov. If you plan to get care on the Healthcare.gov exchanges, you only have until Dec. 15 to find coverage.

When it comes to having a high ratio of doctors to citizens, the State of Texas ranks near the bottom. In fact, as The Dallas Morning News reports, 43 states have a higher proportion of primary care physicians to residents than Texas.

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A new law in Texas will require all insurance companies to include 3-D mammograms as part of their coverage plans, reports The Texas Tribune.

The new law was introduced into the Texas Legislature by State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat from Houston. Congresswoman Thompson is herself a breast cancer survivor. She stressed the importance of the advanced screening technology, which can detect cancer early and reduce false positives.

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Several small towns in the Texas Panhandle may soon be losing a storied part of West Texas culture.

As KAMR reports, approximately 70 Dairy Queens across Texas and New Mexico may soon close due to bankruptcy.

The parent company of the DQs, Vasari LLC, has indicated that it is scrambling to find a way to keep the fast food restaurants in business. While some locations will be closed, others have a chance of being sold and staying in business.

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Over the past 10 years, American schools have been slowly decreasing the amount of recess time for students. The reduction in playtime is part of an effort to make more time for students to prepare for standardized tests.

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The Lone Star State has been attracting droves of new Texans each year, newcomers who are attracted to the state’s low tax rates and plentiful sunshine. Meanwhile, Texas has a lower percentage of residents moving away than any other state.

Jonathan Baker

In a VFW hall near downtown Amarillo, a group of former energy workers met to drink coffee and reminisce about their days working at the Pantex Plant, the nation’s primary facility for the assembly and disassembly of nuclear warheads, located northwest of Amarillo. Monday, Oct. 30, was designated the 9th Annual National Day of Remembrance for nuclear weapons workers by the U.S. Senate.

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Texas lawmakers are considering changing the way the state punishes residents who default on payments for furniture and merchandise rentals.

As The Texas Tribune reports, the law currently allows companies to pursue felony charges against furniture rental defaulters.

That means not making your payments on that sectional sofa could land you in prison—and critics say that punishment is overly harsh.

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The State of Oklahoma’s health department is in the midst of a financial crisis, reports Oklahoma Watch.

The department laid off a number of employees this month and announced further job cuts in an attempt to shore up the unexpected cash crunch. The state has also requested a special audit of health department finances by State Auditor Gary Jones. The cash shortfall is so severe that the department has activated a state of emergency normally reserved for public health crises such as disease outbreaks.

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Three more coal-powered plants in Texas will be shutting down soon.

As The Dallas Morning News reports, this development means that Texas will likely be getting more of its power from wind than from traditional coal plants. The Trump administration has rallied to try and save coal operations, standing by its stance that coal is the victim of efforts by environmental activists to close the plants. In fact, the closures of coal facilities began a decade ago, after the price of natural gas plummeted.

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The Trump administration’s decision to end the DACA program could adversely affect the number of teachers available for schools across America, including schools on the High Plains.

As The Washington Post repor­­­­ts, there are an estimated 20,000 educators in America who came to the U.S. as undocumented children. In Texas alone, there are around 2,000 such teachers.

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New job numbers were released this week for Oklahoma and Texas, and things appear to be moving along in both states at a steady clip.

As The Oklahoman reports, Oklahoma's unemployment rate in September remained unchanged at 4.5 percent. State employment officials say Oklahoma is showing especially strong movement in the private sector. One year ago, the jobless rate in the Sooner State was half a point higher, at five percent.

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A study released yesterday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation has found that black and Hispanic children in Texas have significantly more barriers to success than white and Asian students. These barriers include poverty, health care availability, and access to a good education.

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Texans will go to the polls soon, to vote on seven amendments to the state Constitution, and The Texas Tribune has published a quick guide to the measures.

The first proposal would authorize property tax exemptions for certain disabled veterans or their surviving spouses.

The second would grant Texans easier access to their home equity.

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Amarillo and the surrounding areas continue to be overrun with large numbers of feral cats and stray dogs. In fact, the ratio of humans to animals in Amarillo is larger than in bigger cities like Austin and Waco.

But now, as The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the Amarillo Humane Society has a plan to do something about the problem, and it could mean big changes in the way the local Humane Society operates.

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Researchers in Texas recently spent a year watching low income Hispanic kids engage with a new kind of classroom environment.

In this new method, kids are given much more freedom to decide who to work with and which projects to initiate, and they’re allowed to ask questions without raising their hands. The result? The kids scored 30 points higher on tests than students in traditional classes.

Seems like cause for change, right? Not so fast.

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The State of Oklahoma imprisons twice as many women as any other state, reports The Atlantic.

A recent documentary made by two filmmakers working on behalf of The Center for Investigative Reporting set out to uncover why Oklahoma has such a staggeringly high incarceration rate for women.

Despite the fact that it’s almost Halloween, the weather in the Texas Panhandle has yet to turn cold for any significant length of time, and mosquitoes continue to plague the region.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, recent rains combined with warm temperatures have resulted in rampant breeding grounds for the bloodsuckers. Since July, Amarillo has received 17 inches of rain—the third highest amount ever.

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