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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Many Oklahomans will be forced to change the way they drive after a new law takes effect in November.

As KFOR reports, beginning Nov. 1, drivers will no longer be allowed to travel in the left lane permanently.

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This year’s regular legislative session ended with one GOP lawmaker calling Federal authorities on a group of peaceful protestors. That move was followed by a scuffle on the floor of the House of Representatives in which that same Republican Congressman, Rep. Matt Rinaldi, threatened to “put a bullet in the head” of one of his Democratic colleagues.

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Newly elected Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson has signed a letter asking Gov. Greg Abbott to reconsider the agenda for the special session that convened on Tuesday in Austin.

As The Amarillo Globe-News­ reports, the letter asserts that some items on the legislative agenda could directly impede the economic growth of Texas cities by taking away the sovereign right of municipalities to govern themselves.

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Recent polling has shown Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to be more popular than the other big-name Republican politicians in the Lone Star State. Abbott is up for re-election next year, and at this point his prospects are rosy.

But, as The Texas Observer reports, Abbott has thrown his full-throated support behind the controversial measure known as SB4, and his stance may be hurting the GOP’s long-term chances in Texas.

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In Texas, the special legislative session began yesterday with lawmakers returning to Austin to try to hash out various lingering issues from the contentious regular session. You might be wondering how much the 30-day special session will cost Texas taxpayers.

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A prominent Amarillo politician and state senator had some strong words regarding the special legislative session that begins today in Austin. As Amarillo.com reports, Senator Kel Seliger has called the special session an assault on the ability of local communities in Texas to govern themselves.

“There’s no other way you can look at it,” Seliger added.

Before his successful senatorial campaigns, Seliger was the mayor of Amarillo for eight years—and it’s clear that he still carries something of a mayor’s mentality toward local control.

Many of the 20 items on the special-session agenda are aimed at stifling the ability of local municipalities to decide their own tax policy or even who can use the bathrooms in their communities.

One controversial bill supported by Gov. Greg Abbott would place a limit on how much a city can raise its property taxes, even if the city itself favors the tax raise.   

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CNBC has released its annual “Worst States to Live In” list, and the news isn’t good for Oklahoma.

The Sooner State came in third on the list, which ranks livability based on a number of metrics including crime rate, attractions, air quality, health care, and legal protections against discrimination.

CNBC noted that heavy tobacco use in Oklahoma led the state to have one of the highest premature-death rates in the nation. Oklahoma also has one of the highest infant mortality rates, and has struggled with widespread mental health problems.

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The Texas Legislature spent much of the 2017 session grappling over whether to pass a law disallowing transgender students to use the bathroom where they feel most comfortable, requiring these students to instead use the restroom that correlates with their birth certificates. Now, as the Daily Beast notes, the controversial Texas bathroom bill may end up playing an outsize role in the 2018 GOP primary campaigns.

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Texas has more farms than any other state in the union. And now, as The Austin American-Statesman reports, the Lone Star State also leads the U.S. in number of farms owned by foreign entities. In the past 10  years, foreign companies and individuals have bought up almost two million acres of land in Texas.

The combined worth of all that land tops $3 billion dollars.

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The State of Oklahoma has drawn repeated criticism recently for leading the nation in funding cuts to K-12 public schools.

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For The Amarillo Globe-News, John Mark Beilue has written a remembrance of a bygone place that still holds a lot of nostalgia for some former residents.

Phillips, Texas, was founded near Borger during the heyday of the oil boom in the 1930s. The town swelled in the 1950s with Baptist and Methodist churches and businesses like the Jolly Drug, the 66 Cleaners and the Ostrum Grocery.

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Texas ninjas and barbarian warriors will soon have reason to rejoice.

As CNN reports, in September it will become legal to carry a sword in public in the Lone Star State. Until this year, knives with blades longer than 5.5 inches were illegal in public. But this autumn, after the new law takes effect, swords, spears, daggers, sabers and machetes will all be legal to wear and wield in public in Texas.

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Oklahoma Democrats had a couple of big wins this week, as they flipped two Republican seats blue.

As The Oklahoman reports, Democrats won two special elections for state congressional seats on Tuesday night. Both seats had been vacated after Republican lawmakers stepped down amid scandal. In Senate District 44, Democrat Michael Brooks defeated Republican Joe Griffin. And in House District 75, Democrat Karen Gaddis beat the GOP’s candidate, Tressa Nunley.

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A landmark redistricting trial got underway this week in Texas, with prosecutors attesting that Republican lawmakers intentionally redrew district maps in 2013 in order to weaken the voting power of minorities in Texas, a move that would have bolstered the political heft of the GOP and led to an unfair balance of power.

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A Texas nonprofit recently injected a lot of life—and money—into the Texas public education system. The Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation will put $50 million toward scholarships for teachers over the next decade.

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Texas ranks 41st among states when it comes to child educational achievement. That’s nothing new; Texas has hovered near the bottom in this category for years.

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When it comes to safety in the workplace, the State of Oklahoma has been given a grade of F. The failing grade, delivered by the National Safety Council, sent shockwaves through the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.

As The Oklahoman reports, the finding received harsh criticism from State Labor Commissioner Melissa McLawhorn Houston.

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Four states in the HPPR listening area are among the top 10 states to start a business, according to a new study.

The personal finance website Wallethub compared several key metrics, including business environment, access to resources and business costs.

In the analysis, Texas was found to be the second best state in America for new businesses, while Oklahoma was number four, Nebraska number five and Colorado number seven.

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In 2012 Ted Cruz was elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas, largely on a platform of demolishing the newly enacted Affordable Care Act.

Five years later, Cruz is doing his level best to fulfill that promise, despite the fact that the political landscape has shifted beneath his feet.

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The proliferation of wind farms in the western part of Oklahoma has been causing headaches for the U.S. military’s aeronautical operations in the region, reports The Tulsa World.

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As Britain continues its faltering attempt to extricate itself from the European Union—a process better known as “Brexit”—some Texans may be wondering whether the same thing could happen in the Lone Star State.

Is a “Texit” possible?

Texas State Library and Archives Commission

This week The New Yorker published an extended essay about Texas, calling the Lone Star State “the nation’s bellwether” and pondering if the future of the United States might look something like the current situation in Texas. The author of the essay is Lawrence Wright, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author and long-time Texan.

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Oil rigs in Oklahoma are being taxed through a dual-rate structure that may not be the best method of insuring that oil and gas profits are benefiting the state in the most effective way possible.

As Oklahoma Watch reports, oil rigs are taxed at a much lower rate during their first three years. But half of a well’s lifetime oil and gas production usually occur during those first three years.

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Two more farmer’s markets recently got underway in the Texas Panhandle, according to The Amarillo Globe-News. All kinds of treats and vegetables will be available this summer in Amarillo and Canyon—from locally produced clothing and art to locally grown produce.

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Last December an Amarillo woman claims she was raped in Canyon, Texas, while working as an Uber driver. Eight months later, she’s still waiting for justice. After the incident, it didn’t take long for the Randall County District Attorney’s office to present their evidence to a grand jury. But the jury decided to hold off on making a decision until the results of the victim’s rape kit came in.

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Overcrowding in Oklahoma’s prisons is still a major problem as the dog days of summer approach, and state Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh says he’s expecting an uprising or other serious event at some point.

And a recent editorial in The Oklahoman insists Director Allbaugh isn’t being dramatic.

“It's going to happen one way or the other,” Allabaugh said. “You can't keep packing people into facilities that are decrepit and expect everybody to behave.”

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As HPPR recently reported, the rivalry between California and Texas has grown more heated since the election of Donald Trump.

California has banned all official state travel to Texas, in protest of the state’s law allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against gay couples. In turn, Texas lawmakers have embraced anti-sanctuary city legislation and taken up the rally cry “Don’t California our Texas!”

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One of the world’s most prominent international publications has published a look into the peculiar politics of southwest Kansas.

The English newspaper The Economist this week released a special report on Kansas, which it calls “the birthplace of populism.” In particular, the paper delved into the unique local political flavor of Liberal, Kansas. Despite its name, the town went for Donald Trump in a big way last November.

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The election of Donald Trump has thrown the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement into a tailspin. The President has openly derided NAFTA as “the worst deal ever.”

But, as The Atlantic noted this week, Trump won’t find many who agree with him among America’s farmers.

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Texas is hoping to soon begin the work of cleaning up the nursing home industry in the state.

A recent AARP report determined that the condition of nursing homes in Texas was, on average “shamefully poor.” And, in a separate report from 2015, more than half of the long-term care facilities in the state received just one or two stars out of a possible five.

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