Building’s name changes our Earle
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.