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Carville brings 'Ragin' Cajun' barbs to right, left for Kuehne series
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PLANO — James Carville was an equal-opportunity barb-slinger at the 2021 UNT Kuehne Speaker Series on Thursday afternoon. The series is one of the University of North Texas’ biggest donor-funded scholarship programs.

Several hundred guests and donors attended the event at the Renaissance Dallas at Plano Legacy West.

Carville called U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “naive and idealistic” but said Texas Republican Louie Gohmert “is nuts.” For good measure, Carville took a lighthearted jab at the people who gathered Wednesday on Dealey Plaza in Dallas hoping that John F. Kennedy Jr. or his father would come back to life and restore the presidency to Donald Trump.

Mostly, though, Carville considered the deep costs of the country’s deepening political and cultural divide and shared his thoughts on how Americans might find some common ground.

Carville, a Democratic political consultant best known for his work on the winning campaigns for President Bill Clinton, joked and answered questions from G. Brint Ryan, for whom the UNT business college is named. Carville wore sneakers with bright orange soles and casually silenced his cellphone when it rang during his conversation with Ryan, and generally appeared utterly at home in the limelight.

Ryan said Carville was the perfect speaker for politically fractious times and asked Carville to talk a little about his personal life. Carville is famously married to Republican political consultant Mary Matalin. He reminded the attendees that he and Matalin tied the knot on Thanksgiving in 1993 — meaning that, yes, the two were dating while Clinton was challenging George H.W. Bush for the presidency.

Carville and Matalin have often been asked if their marriage might mean a big shift in their political philosophies.

“I got married for the first time when I was 49,” Carville said. “And I always tell people I’m not changing wives, political parties or sexual orientation. I’m pretty much who I am now. … I believe it was Woody Allen who said being bisexual doubles your chances of getting a date. Well, I can’t do that, but being bipartisan doubles your chance of getting a date. When you look like me, you can’t be too picky.”

Carville said neither he nor Matalin have converted one another politically, and he doesn’t try to persuade her.

“It’s easier to be married to someone who hates my politics than who hates my mother,” he said.

Carville’s criticisms of Democrats indicted the party’s habit of communicating by condescension, calling it a “faculty lounge” method of talking to people. Most Americans don’t understand political-speak of the party, he said, citing terms like “Latinx” and “communities of color.”

“I’m a communicator,” he said. “If you want to convince people, you have to communicate with them in the language that they speak. They come up with all these coded words. My pronoun is human being. That’s what I am. And I want to be treated as a human being. I want to treat others as a human being.

“It should be irrelevant what your race is, your ethnicity, your sexual orientation or anything else. I know that’s an aspirational way to look at life. But if we want to keep advancing, and I do think things are hardly perfect — I think they’re improving. But the idea of the faculty lounge, if you tell two-thirds of the country that you’re inherently evil and racist, you’re not going to win elections with that.”

Carville denounced far-left priorities such as defunding the police — “No one wants to do that. You put that on the ballot, and you’ll get slaughtered,” he said. His take on some leftists’ push to penalize iconic historical American leaders and thinkers: “People want to take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of a building? Are you crazy?”

Carville also defended the foundational philosophies of the Democratic Party.

“I’m not a conservative Democrat, I’m not a moderate Democrat — I’m a liberal, all right?” he said. “I believe in progressive taxation. I believe in total equality before the law. I believe in vigorous funding of education. I think climate is a gut-wrenching, nauseating issue that we live with in Louisiana like you wouldn’t believe. I think inequality is a terrible problem that [will] really, eventually cause division in this country like you can’t imagine. But I’m not a leftist. Even Lenin wrote a book Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. If Lenin couldn’t take these people, how can I take them?”

Carville pondered a host of other questions, including the end of the war in Afghanistan: “The exit wasn’t the problem. The entrance was the problem.” He also spoke about the eroding trust in American institutions, a phenomenon he lays at the feet of the church, Wall Street and causes that have been turned into profit centers. He said he believes in mask mandates during COVID-19 and questions the religious commitment of Christians who resist the COVID vaccine and refuse to mask up and love their neighbors.

“People slugging waiters? That’s crazy,” he said.

The luncheon wrapped up with Carville and Ryan musing over the future of the Louisiana State University football program now that Ed Orgeron is leaving. Carville said if he knew, he wouldn’t tell.

“People get upset and say all you guys think about is winning,” he said. “Well, what else are we supposed to think about?”

Denton agrees to pay $4.1 million for man's home, property in long-running eminent domain suit

Robert Donnelly, a man with properties in Denton and Krum, will receive more than $4.1 million in a land settlement with the city of Denton.

The land is set to be used for Denton’s Mayhill Road construction project that would expand the road and include a stormwater detention pond for flood control.

Barring further inquiries from the judge, a lawsuit filed nearly three years ago should come to a close in the near future.

Denton City Council members unanimously approved the settlement agreement without discussion during their Tuesday meeting.

It’s common for items listed in the council’s consent agenda, as was the case for the agreement, to not garner specific comments from council members and staffers.

Neither Donnelly nor his attorney responded to several requests for comment.

The land was bought using the city’s power of eminent domain, which allows it to force purchases of private land if the sale would be sufficiently within the public interest.

Denton residents, being no strangers to the practice, might remember the University of North Texas’ use of the practice to buy New York Sub Hub’s building in 2020.

The city of Denton decided in 2017 it needed Donnelly’s land, located at the corner of South Mayhill and Quailcreek roads, for the Mayhill Road expansion project, but that wasn’t the first time city officials tried to buy the land off Donnelly.

Condemnation suits were filed against him in 2011 and 2014, according to court records.

City staffers contacted Thursday said they couldn’t speak to prior eminent domain cases against Donnelly in detail.

Both cases were ultimately disposed, with the city dismissing its 2014 suit. That case sought to acquire just under 4 acres of land that didn’t include Donnelly’s home.

City officials said they entered into the eminent domain process — also known as condemnation — to force Donnelly to accept what everybody could agree would be just compensation for his land after being unable to come to an agreement.

Donnelly bought a house and nearly 19 acres of land around it in 1992, according to Denton Central Appraisal District records.

R. Matt Molash, Donnelly’s attorney, wrote in a plea filed in July 2019 that “the City now wants to acquire Mr. Donnelly’s entire approximately 18.97 acres and evict Mr. Donnelly from his home of over 20 years.”

DCAD records show Donnelly’s homestead tax exemption was attached to a home in Krum, which indicates he doesn’t primarily live at his house in Denton. It is not clear from records available online how long that had been the case.

The 2019 plea framed the issue as repeated attempts by the city of Denton to forcibly buy land from Donnelly with the most recent iteration of that plan including kicking Donnelly out of his home.

City officials instead view the eminent domain case against Donnelly as a necessary step toward completing a construction project already years underway.

Construction on the first phase of the Mayhill Road overhaul was completed this past summer, and construction was originally scheduled to begin on the second phase in January 2022.

Al Key/DRC 

The southwest corner of the intersection of Quailcreek Road and South Mayhill Road is shown Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

The first phase widened Mayhill Road from U.S. Highway 380 until just north of Quailcreek Road and added water lines, sewer lines and drainage structures, among other additions. The next phase would continue the widening toward Colorado Boulevard and include a bridge over the railroad.

Rachel Wood, Denton’s deputy director of capital projects, said Donnelly’s property made the most sense for the location of necessary drainage in the area because it already lies in the floodplain.

She said the lawsuit with Donnelly dragged out the process significantly from initial estimates that construction might begin in January 2022.

She projected construction would begin sometime in 2022, but she said she wasn’t able to give a more accurate estimate Thursday.

Wood said it wasn’t clear yet how much more the delay would cost the city as it relates to rising construction costs from 2017 until Tuesday’s settlement agreement.

Trey Lansford, deputy city attorney, estimated the city spent a little over $300,000 to reach a settlement in this case, but most eminent domain situations the city is involved in are negotiated without the need for that kind of court proceeding.

“This is not typical for a condemnation case,” Deputy City Attorney Trey Lansford said. “Neither in the expense nor the time.”

Party like it's Star Wars: Denton wraps 2021 with Hoth Fest (costumes welcome)
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Saddle up your Tauntaun. Denton is headed to Hoth.

Jonathan Baker calls Fort Worth home, but the Star Wars enthusiast is the guy behind No Hope for Alderaan, a production company that books music shows all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area. On Dec. 3-4, Baker and his company will stage Hoth Fest at Killer’s Tacos, 424 Bryan St.

For the uninitiated (or just the casual consumer of all things Star Wars): Hoth is the icy planet where the leaders of the Rebel Alliance would gather in The Empire Strikes Back. And Alderaan is the home of Princess Leia and a key player in the creation of the Rebel Alliance.

Lucinda Breeding/DRC 

Jonathan Baker, the founder of No Hope for Alderaan, shown here with his personal 400-plus-piece Lego Millennium Falcon, will throw a Star Wars-themed party — complete with a live music lineup — on Dec. 3-4 at Killer’s Tacos in Denton.

“I was an ’80s baby,” Baker said. “My mom is the one who grew up with the movies, and she made sure I could watch them on VHS. Why do I love Star Wars? It’s just the story. When I was a kid, it was the light sabers and space — and a scary villain. But as you grow up some, and they introduce more stuff, it’s the story that makes you come back.”

Baker said he never gets tired of the franchise. He watched the more recent films as they’ve been released.

“If I’ve had a bad day at work, I’ll come home and watch Star Wars and eat some pizza. Even the new stuff. You don’t make a franchise without having something. It gets into you and becomes a part of your life. Sometimes I see something, and I’m like, ‘Do you hear yourself? You sound like the Empire.’”

But you don’t have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the force to enjoy Baker’s galactic party. Just come (and wear a costume, if you want to, but be careful with that light saber).

Hoth Fest will have two performance spots, the Empire Stage and the Rebel Stage. The bands don’t have to cover any of the songs or motifs from the sprawling franchise soundtrack, but Baker said the musicians are welcome to riff on ”The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme),” ”The Force Suite” or “Cantina Band,” the famous jazz track played by the big-headed Bith.

During Hoth Fest, attendees can enjoy Star Wars-themed cupcakes, and Baker said he might have The Empire Strikes Back playing in the backyard of the restaurant and bar. Attendees will see a lineup that mixes up sound, style and energy.

“It’s definitely a mixed-genre event,” Baker said. “We’ll have everything from acoustic acts to heavy metal and everything in between. It’s not genre exclusive. I find that putting a bunch of genres on one show together gets people to come out, and you reach more people that way.”

Past the festival, Baker is looking to join the ranks of label owner under the No Hope for Alderaan umbrella. Baker plays with two North Texas bands, drumming for a group called Forget Conformity and the instrumental outfit Aphasic, which is playing the festival.

Lucinda Breeding/DRC 

Jonathan Baker, the founder of No Hope for Alderaan, will throw Hoth Fest — two nights of live music and a celebration of Star Wars — next month at Killer’s Tacos.

Baker said Hoth Fest will be a success if the bands have fun and attendees enjoy the music and buy band merchandise.

“I felt like this was a good time to do it because of the COVID and the lockdown,” he said. “I felt like this would be a good way to introduce another fest toward the end of the year. People are ready to get out and enjoy themselves.”

Jenna Ryan gets 60 days in prison for entering U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6
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A U.S. district court judge Thursday morning sentenced Jenna Ryan, a Frisco real estate broker who flew from Denton to Washington, D.C., and entered the U.S. Capitol building during the Jan. 6 riot, to 60 days in prison.

The sentencing is what U.S. prosecutors recommended in Ryan’s case, while Ryan’s attorney argued for probation. Along with incarceration, Ryan was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and $500 in restitution for parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.

Ryan’s statements in television interviews and on social media were some of the factors U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper took into account for his decision in Washington, D.C.

“Your statements and media appearances in the aftermath of Jan. 6 I think demonstrate a lack of accountability for your actions,” Cooper said. “You played down your role, you’ve been upfront you feel no sense of shame or guilt … And perhaps most famously, in words you may regret, you said that because you had blond hair and white skin, you wouldn’t be going to jail.”

Jenna Ryan

Cooper acknowledged Ryan’s case is one of a few that people are interested in and that his decision would be important.

“People will be interested in knowing what sentence you get,” Cooper said. “It’ll tell them something about how the courts and country responded to what happened on Jan. 6. The sentence should tell them we take it seriously.”

Ryan was arrested by the FBI on Jan. 15 after she turned herself in. She was originally charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds but agreed to plea guilty to the misdemeanor parading charge.

At least 24 other people connected with the riot have been sentenced as of Thursday. Ryan is among nine others getting time behind bars. Ryan’s sentencing is among the least in prison time. Cooper said the court recommends Ryan be incarcerated in a prison near her home in Texas, but it will be up to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Ryan was ordered to report to the Bureau after Jan. 3, 2022.

Jenna Ryan sentencing

Cooper and U.S. prosecutors agreed Ryan’s role on Jan. 6 wasn’t as grave as other defendants who are charged in connection with hurting officers, bringing weapons and damaging the Capitol building. Despite her argument, prosecutors said they believe she went down to the Capitol knowing people were breaching the building.

“You probably didn’t appreciate the full seriousness of what was going on that day, but it was more dangerous than your stepping into the Capitol for two minutes,” Cooper said.

In a letter to the judge Saturday, Ryan emphasized she didn’t see, hear or know of any violence. U.S. prosecutors said otherwise, citing videos.

Both prosecutors and Ryan’s attorney, Guy Womack of Houston, brought up the First Amendment in arguments. Cooper said no one charged in connection with the riot is being prosecuted for going to Washington, D.C., or believing the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

“The only reason you’re here is because you decided to join in and go into the building,” Cooper said to Ryan.

Womack said a U.S. probation officer recommended probation for Ryan because she is among the least culpable. He also said Ryan was cooperative with the FBI and up until last week offered to meet with agents, to no response.

“The date Ryan pleaded guilty was the very first date available,” Womack said. “We tried to schedule it for immediately. She was asking for that plea agreement back in February, before I was even admitted to the district.”

Ryan in a letter to Cooper apologized for her actions and restated that to the court Thursday morning.

“I was foolish, and I made a mistake, and I learned from that mistake,” she said. “And you will never see me in this light again. [Jan. 6] is not anything that remotely resembles who I am, and I’m sorry.”