Herman: A Texas town weirder than Austin?

Dec 16, 2017
Jasper County Jail
James Mikel Lout, a former Jasper mayor, was charged with assault after punching another former Jasper mayor. JASPER COUNTY JAIL

Yes, we all know that Austin is the righteous and rightful center of the universe and there’s not much reason to care about what goes on in the lesser world around us.

But I think it’s healthy to periodically glance outward beyond the Superiorplex and see what’s going on elsewhere in Texas, especially when the goings-on going on in other towns rival our town’s weirdness.

So let’s peer today behind the Pine Curtain, the mythical yet powerful barrier between the Deep East Texas Pineywoods and The Rest of The Known World.

I speak from some experience, having done my first newspapering in Lufkin, the county seat of Angelina County, the only Texas county named for a female. You didn’t know Angelina Jolie was such a big deal in East Texas, did you?

There’s nothing quite like East Texas. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

READ: A peek behind the Pine Curtain

The East Texas town of Jasper is home of the Jasper Newsboy, a fabulously named weekly newspaper that, in business since 1865, claims to the oldest continuously published weekly in Texas. The city of Jasper’s website claims the town, population 8,500, “is known far and wide as the ‘Jewel of the Forest.’” In East Texas, “far and wide” means all the way from the Louisiana border to Huntsville.

“Jasper boasts southern charm and a small-town atmosphere while offering many modern amenities,” the city website says. (Here’s where you, as an Austin elitist who reads books without pictures, make your little joke about indoor plumbing.)

A Jasper fact for you longer-time Longhorn fans, Jasper gave us Max Alvis, who went on to a decent Major League Baseball career (two-time all-star) after playing football and baseball at UT in the 1950s.

And though it has no place in a light-hearted column about small-town foibles, many of you will remember Jasper as the home of James Byrd Jr., an African-American horrifically murdered in 1998 by white supremacists. Blindingly disgusting though that was, I caution against thinking it in any way typifies East Texas.

But the recent event I’m about to tell you about might indeed say something about the East Texas ethos.

It seems there was a recent little disagreement between the two most recent former mayors of Jasper. James Mikel Lout served from 2009 to 2015 and was term limited out of office. Randy Sayers was elected to succeed Lout but resigned on Nov. 18 for health reasons. We wish him well.

Ex-Mayor Lout apparently does not.

It came to pass that the two ex-mayors met mid-morning on Nov. 21 in Sayers’ office. This account of the unpleasantness that ensued is courtesy of KJAS.com, the website of the Jasper radio station owned by Lout. My sympathy to Steve W. Stewart, the KJAS staffer who had to report on news involving his employer.

“Lout said that he and Sayers were engaged in a verbal argument,” Stewart reported. “Lout said that Sayers got up from his desk and approached him and said, ‘You think that I’m a p***y?’ Lout said Sayers ‘bowed up on me,’ and Lout said he then punched Sayers in the face.”

In East Texas, “bowed up on me” can be an invitation to something other than calm discussion.

Lout, 62, was charged with Class A misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury and released on bond.

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Now we get to the real East Texasy part of the story. It’s in a statement issued by Billy Morian, Lout’s lawyer, and it brings to mind a simpler time when men could reconcile differences without involving billable hours for lawyers:

“There was a day when two men who decided to settle a dispute could pair off, get in a fight and it was over,” Morian said in the statement on his client’s behalf. “Now, it seems if you stand up for yourself, all you can count on is being arrested.”

Sad, isn’t it?

“Mike Lout clearly acted in self-defense but was arrested because of the local personalities and politics involved,” Morian continued. “It is unfortunate that this fight occurred, but Mike Lout chose to act in self-defense rather than resort to cowardly submission.”

Real East Texas men do not resort to cowardly submission.

“Mike Lout maintains his innocence and looks forward to being completely exonerated of these charges,” Morian concluded.

Me? I hope the charges are dropped and the two ex-mayors can finish the fight. Sounds like it has Pineywoods pay-per-view potential.

Sayers told his side of the story in a statement in which he spoke of an “unprovoked assault by Lout.”

“I have reported the matter and the truthful facts as I know them to the appropriate authorities,” Sayers said. “While I do not own a media outlet, I have eagerly served the city of Jasper as its mayor and as a community member.”

He said he’s confident “the ultimate factfinder will render justice according to the facts.”

I think he’s talking about the criminal justice system. But, knowing East Texas, he also could be referring to The Ultimate Factfinder.

So there’s your update on what’s going on over in Jasper. Oh yeah, one more thing: Jasper County Tax Assessor Collector Bobby Biscamp has turned himself in and is out on bond on felony charges of theft by a public servant and “securing execution of a document by deception.”

Morian, Lout’s lawyer, also represents Biscamp and said in a statement that Biscamp “maintains his innocence and is eager to have the chance to address these charges” and “will continue to work hard and serve the taxpayers of Jasper County and asks for their patience and support while this matter is sorted out.”

Good for him.

Lest you think that nothing good ever happens in Jasper, let me call your attention to a recent “Jasper County Sheriff’s report,” a recurring feature on KJAS.com.

“We have 115 in jail,” Sheriff Mitchell Newman reported. “Some won’t be getting out until income tax time. The Cowboy Church group that comes and holds Bible studies with some of our inmates recently baptized 12 young men in our facility. We want to thank everyone who comes to the jail to try and help these men and women get on a better path.”

But back on the negative side, there also was this headline: “Man notorious for filing lawsuits has sued City of Jasper for $100 million.”

Final note: We have several ex-mayors floating around here in Austin. Violence is rarely the answer, but it might be interesting to see what would happen if, say, ex-Mayor Bruce Todd bowed up on ex-Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

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