And he was usually up to something behind the scenes. There is some evidence that a stormy attempt at recalling all four commissioners was partially a product of his design and pocketbook. And there always seemed to be a John Birch Society contingent at commission meetings who had rehearsed their bit in advance with Stroud and who railed against accepting federal money for urban or regional planning and for bolstering the city police force. One housewife trying to brace the city against the federal/communist encroachment was asked by one of the commissioners if she were a Bircher. She replied, “Well, John Birch was a Baptist, and I’m a Baptist, so I guess that makes me a John Bircher.” So much for the Baptists. It even caught on with the neighbors. At the center of the controversy concerning federal money for police was the omnibus crime bill. A housewife in Canyon, just to the south, was reported to have railed before one of that city’s commissions for a good while against the whole deal, and her kicker was to tell them to just look up the name of the bill in the dictionary and see if they still thought its authors had good intentions. “Here it is,” she said, “o-m-i-n-o-u-s. …” Then there was the water issue. Apparently years ago when plans were being formulated for construction of the Lake Meredith damsite near here the most ideal location found by the planners for the dam was at a point on the Canadian River northwest of Amarillo where the river basin is almost pure sand. But as it turned out the planners evidently gave in to oil pressure about everything does around here and the dam was finally built northeast of Amarillo near the thirsty oil production center and oil by-product factories around Borger. Well, the river basin there is salty. and contains a lot of gypsum, so the taste of the lake water when Amarilloans began drinking it last year was quite a shock, local citizens having been accustomed, as they were, to excellent tasting well water. The first thing you knew some bait seller in Borger was complaining that the water had poisoned his African Red Crawlers, and some people with exotic plants in their dens began to discover ominous leaf discolorations. All the hypochondriacs in the city got sick and moaned in concert, and people began to complain about being off schedule. Tests were made. Chemists said the water was safe. Doctors said the water was safe. Taste tests were held in neighboring cities with lake and well water in unlabelled bottles, and in some cases the lake water emerged as the favorite. Stroud heard the rumble and said what the city needed to do was turn off the valve to the lake water and crank up the local wells. Someone reminded him that the city was committed to pay millions of dollars for the lake water whether it was used or not. So he said fine, let’s just raise the water rates \(little peoples’ and drink the good well water. And, believe it or not, there wasn’t a commissioner, a “responsible” citizen, or journalist with a free hand who bothered to make note of the fact that here was a man who has been for years emotionally outspoken against public spending of any kind who was willing to indulge in a multi-million dollar luxury while parts of the city are rotting away. AND THEREIN probably lies the reason Stroud was elected mayor again: the people in a position to challenge him on the issues have been either incapable or unwilling to do so. There has been here for so long with the complicity of the press bosses, the “responsible” higher city officials a governing philosophy of what-they-don’t-know-won’thurt-’em; no one or no element that “mattered” has seemed able to jump in and participate in a public laundering of the linen. Red-faced and reticent, worried that any additional sound would heighten the controversy and embarrass the city further, everyone who “mattered” has tried to kill the whole affair with solemnity. So when an issue has been discussed, Stroud always has been one-up on his opposition with a non-sequential distortion, and the opposition has dropped the matter. After a while, without even remembering what the issue had been, all those folks out there would be saying, “I guess ol’ Ernie told those guys again, didn’t he?” In the mind of the majority of the public, Mayor Stroud versus “those guys” has become the only issue, and after years of those guys they were tired as hell of them. Thus it was possible for Stroud to campaign almost solely on the water issue and lead his two opponents with nearly 45% of the vote in the April Fool’s election while his “Return to Well Water” proposition on the same ballot was opposed by over 80% of the electorate. Preparing for the runoff with Thompson, Stroud glued other slogans over the water issue slogans on his billboards, pointed out that all the press polls had predicted Thompson would win without a runoff, called attention to the conspiracy against him by the “power clique,” intimated the newspaper was the head of it all, and headed for victory. One of the many ironies and paradoxes Stroud’s ascension has brought to surface on the political scene here lies in the relationship between the Amarillo newspaper monopoly and Amarillo politics, and between Amarillo politics and Mayor Stroud. The Amarillo Daily News \(mornAmarillo Globe-Times and the Sunday News-Globe are owned and managed by the same people and produced by overlapping staffs. Somewhere along the line the myth has been perpetrated and has been perpetuated by some employes of the paper who sincerely believe it that the monopoly reflects a sufficiently broad spectrum of political opinion to please everyone by having placed the morning paper editorially on the far right and the evening paper a short distance to the left of that. Now that claim is justified only if your view of the political spectrum extends from, say, Robert Welch on the right and, say, Preston Smith on the left. The papers’ emphasis and management of the news reflects this narrowness with the result that, as one example, a notable figure like Allard Lowenstein could come to town while figuring profoundly in the dumping of LBJ [Obs., Dec. 22, 1967], and the reporter is instructed to “keep it short” and to stay away from Lowenstein’s “radical” background. On the other hand, any number of nobodies have been to town with new documentation of the latest progress of the Communist Takeover, dr who wants to impeach or hang Earl Warren, and they will nearly always get the works features, pictures, and news coverage. As a result, it would be at any time on the streets of Amarillo difficult to drum up much of a conversation about LBJ’s abdication. Few would consider it of much historical significance, nor would you find anyone who understood or much cared how it happened. But you could always get into a good conversation here about hanging Earl Warren, and just about everybody could tell you why it should be done. So, to those who concern themselves with such things, the newspaper is mostly responsible for the atmosphere here in which Stroud and the far right \(you’ve got to understand that the terms “conservative” and “liberal” have been as irrelevant here for a long time as they have ply and grow loud and powerful out of proportion to their numbers, which is considerable. And while the newspapers, as a monopoly, enjoy great profits and control of the news, they also, as a monopoly, are the object of great resentment. About everybody reads them and finds some reason to be mad at them. So there was old Stroud, throwing rocks at, his old soulmates and driving around in his big Cadillac attacking the rich and powerful of the city among whose ranks he has comfortably thrived. And neither the newspapers nor the rich and powerful have seemed to know what to do about i t. MEANWHILE, his opponent, Commissioner Thompson, who works for wages as an oil company chemist, had placed his candidacy in the hands of the rich and powerful, and they seemed loathe to stoop and court the poor and working classes. The few times they tried were exceedingly awkward. As a result, May 23, 1969 9
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