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AS IT HAPPENS, we had already planned a May cover on Tom DeLay—on his political difficulties, on his ethical problems, on the ongoing investigation by Travis County DA Ronnie Earle into various alleged campaign finance shenanigans—when the defanged House majority leader announced he was withdrawing from his reelection race and planned to resign from Congress this summer. In such situations, when events overtake you, you can either freak out or buckle down. Senior executive editor Paul Burka, who had written more than eight thousand words about DeLay without the cooperation of his press-averse subject—that’s another conversation entirely—chose the latter course after briefly flirting with the former.
CNN broadcast the breaking news at about nine-fifteen on the night of April 3. For the next two-plus hours, Paul calmly and methodically worked the phones, putting his fantasy baseball draft, which was very much in progress, on a rare back burner. Ultimately, his piece was recast as one about the swift and precipitous fall of the most important Texan in Washington. “Without DeLay” is must-reading not just for political junkies in Austin and Houston but for casual observers of the 2006 election cycle. Democrats have long hoped for some version of “as goes DeLay, so goes the country” to take hold. His decision to remove himself as their walking, talking bull’s-eye cannot be good news for a party in desperate need of a selling proposition—even if DeLay’s departure is, as many people believe, good for the country. Paul, by the way, argues eloquently that whatever you might think about DeLay, he was actually quite a good advocate for Texas in the congressional appropriations process and that we’ll suffer greatly without him in office. That remains to be seen, as does so much of this rapidly unfolding and incredibly fascinating story.
NO WRITER AT THIS MAGAZINE has a subject all to himself, but executive editor Skip Hollandsworth is unofficially our man on the old-fashioned-crime beat. A few years back, he found a guy in a Dallas suburb who, with a few friends, spent his nights breaking into safes. Last fall he recounted the life of a bank robber who, in this day and age, still handed tellers a note announcing her intentions (the robber was a cross-dresser, so the story had an admittedly modern twist). This month, Skip’s on to cattle rustling (“The Last Rustler,”). Cattle rustling? What year is it? Just once, can’t we do hacking into government computers to steal state secrets or insider trading by cable TV stock pickers?
To Skip’s credit, these seeming tales of yore are great fun to read, largely because he has the full cooperation of the perp and/or the perp’s friends and family. As you’ll see, Roddy Dean Pippin’s willingness to sit across from Skip in the visitor’s room at the state prison in Huntsville, separated by bulletproof glass, and spill the secrets of his cow thievery is the whole ball game. How he gets folks like Pippin to talk is beyond me, but they come to trust him enough that they not only agree to be interviewed, they hand over tons of intimate snapshots that end up adorning his stories. When all this is behind him, he may have a second career as a photo editor.
Great things to do on, in, and around Texas lakes; race, money, and murder in Houston; Chris Bell’s uphill battle; Sarah Bird’s dancing feet; Virginia Postrel’s kidney; Turk Pipkin’s life as a bit player; and the truth about the Marfa lights.