Build­ing’s name changes our Earle

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - Ken Her­man

You know that deal when you don’t im­me­di­ately rec­og­nize some­body’s real name?

Ge­orge Her­man Ruth? Oh, yeah, the Babe.

Thomas Jonathan Jack­son? Stonewall.

Richard Starkey? Ringo.

I kind of sort of had one of those mo­ments this week while walk­ing on West 11th Street across from the Travis County Court­house. Bold let­ters on the bright and brand new, seven-story build­ing there iden­ti­fies it as the “RON­ALD EARLE BUILD­ING.”

Ron­ald Earle? Yet an­other coun­try singer I’ve never heard of ? A long-ago hero of some long-ago war? A light-hit­ting util­ity in­fielder who some­how mer­its hav­ing a Travis County gov­ern­ment build­ing named for him?

No, no and no. My crack in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing skills re­vealed that the Ron­ald Earle on the Ron­ald Earle Build­ing is none other than Ron­nie Earle, the for­mer long­time Travis County district at­tor­ney who, best I can tell, no­body ever called Ron­ald. At least I never heard any­one call Ron­nie Ron­ald.

And, be­cause he left of­fice (vol­un­tar­ily) at the end of 2008 af­ter 32 years as our district at­tor­ney, there could be a few of you new­er­com­ers around here who don’t re­mem­ber Earle (Ron­ald or Ron­nie). Quick high­lights:

■ Born Ron­ald Dale Earle in Fort Worth in 1942.

■ Came to the Uni­ver­sity of Texas in 1960.

■ Got a law de­gree.

■ Worked in state gov­ern­ment.

■ Helped lead the lo­cal ef­fort for a fair-hous­ing or­di­nance.

■ Be­came a mu­nic­i­pal judge at age 26.

■ Drew some heat for say­ing “mar­i­juana is not a nar­cotic.”

■ Elected to Texas House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 1972, where he ad­vo­cated for the quaint no­tions of fair­ness and jus­tice.

■ Also drew some heat for be­ing an early ad­vo­cate of im­peach­ment of Richard Nixon.

■ Elected Travis County district at­tor­ney in 1976. He had never been a pros­e­cu­tor but promised to bring to of­fice “a vir­gin mind and a keen sense of jus­tice.”

And that re­mained his guide­post — though at some point he ac­knowl­edged his mind had lost its vir­gin­ity — un­til he re­tired af­ter a ca­reer that in­cluded high-pro­file pros­e­cu­tions of politi­cians of var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal stripes.

There was, how­ever, one loss at the end of his long po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. In 2010, for some rea­son, Earle sought the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor. He ran third, be­hind win­ner Linda Chavez-Thomp­son and ahead of deli king Marc Katz (an­other name that might be un­fa­mil­iar to rel­a­tive new­com­ers).

Ev­ery­body who ever lived in Travis County while Earle was our DA agreed he was the great­est DA ever. OK, so not ev­ery­body. Does ev­ery­body around here ever agree on any­thing? Im­pres­sive and telling statis­tic: Earle only drew op­po­nents twice (1996 and 2000) in his many re-elec­tion at­tempts.

Earle made his mark, enough so to get the Travis County Com­mis­sion­ers Court to vote for the bonds to build the Ron­ald Earle Build­ing. OK, so the vote was 3-2. But the bat­tle was about the cost, not the name.

The name got unan­i­mous bi­par­ti­san ap­proval from the com­mis­sion­ers. The build­ing is 125,000 square feet of of­fice space for the Travis County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice. The ini­tial price tag was pegged at about $29 mil­lion. It wound up cost­ing $46.5 mil­lion. And it was sched­uled for oc­cu­pancy in April 2016.

Hey, th­ese things hap­pen. You ever try to build a build­ing for a district at­tor­ney’s of­fice? It’s not easy. And if you’ve ever built any­thing, you know how costs can spi­ral out of con­trol (es­pe­cially if you’re spend­ing other peo­ple’s money).

There’s a ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony planned for 10 a.m. Mon­day at the new build­ing. As of now, Earle is sched­uled to at­tend.

“Ron­nie is cur­rently deal­ing with med­i­cal is­sues about which we re­quest the com­mu­nity’s un­der­stand­ing and re­spect for his pri­vacy,” said his wife, Twila Hu­g­ley Earle. “We are deeply grate­ful to the peo­ple of Travis County for their stead­fast sup­port through all his decades of public ser­vice and for hon­or­ing him and his work now in such a pro­found and beau­ti­ful way.”

Here’s what Earle said so ap­pro­pri­ately when he thanked the com­mis­sion­ers for nam­ing the build­ing for him: “This new build­ing is where jus­tice is to be done. That makes it a sa­cred place. Jus­tice is the high­est ex­pres­sion of the hu­man spirit. It calls us to be bet­ter than we are. We may all hope to honor that call.”

And he added this: “It is my dream that those who fill this build­ing live up to the majesty of the dream with which they are en­trusted. It is the dream of democ­racy un­der the rule of law that this com­mu­nity de­mands and holds so dear.”

Here’s wish­ing Earle well. Ditto for the Ron­ald Earle Build­ing as it pur­sues the elu­sive, en­dur­ing, es­sen­tial goal of hous­ing jus­tice for all.

One more thing: How ’bout if we just call the build­ing The Ron­nie?


Travis County’s Ron­ald Earle Build­ing will be ded­i­cated at a cer­e­mony on Mon­day. Earle is plan­ning to at­tend but is deal­ing with health is­sues.


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