Who reads Harvey Kronberg's dispatches from the state legislature? Everyone.
The nexus of political gossip right now isn’t the Cloak Room, the Austin Club, or any of the dark, whiskey-soaked haunts where politicos while away their evenings. It is the precise location, at any given time, of Harvey Kronberg. The short, bespectacled chronicler of Texas political dramas, Harvey—as practically everyone at the Capitol knows him—might not immediately strike you as a power broker. He doesn’t wear the high-dollar, hand-tailored suits of top lobbyists. He doesn’t have the glib ease and polish of state senators who take him into their confidence. A part-time flag salesman, the fifty-year-old Houston native is decidedly ordinary. He would be easy to overlook if his newsletter, the Quorum Report, and its Web site had not become required reading for Austin politicos. The man who once made a living selling belt buckles on the Drag is now a force to be reckoned with.To walk through the Capitol with Harvey is to understand that he is exceedingly well connected. Senator Jane Nelson squeezed his arm one morning this spring and said, “Behave yourself, Harvey!” Senator John Whitmire: “What kind of skulduggery are you up to, Harvey?” Senator Ken Armbrister: “Whatever you want to know, Harvey, I don’t know it.” All the while, a faint bzzz emanated from Harvey. He is constantly buzzing and vibrating with tips, thanks to the cell phone and two-way pager he keeps strapped to his belt.
His preferred method of information gathering, however, is what he calls trolling. This consists of working the hallways outside committee rooms, where guys wearing loud ties and too much cologne slap him on the back. “Harv!” they shout. Or the more discreet ones: “Can we talk?” Then they lean closer and divulge political dirt—some of it reliable, some of it spin. Harvey nods and smiles. “That’s interesting,” he might say, or “Tell me more.”
“I’ve heard twice that Laney’s thinking about running for ag commissioner,” confided one lobbyist.
“Really?” said Harvey, intrigued.
“Well, I live on rumor. I’ll run some traps.”
Harvey had begun the day at Austin Flag and Flagpole; though politics are his passion, flags help pay the bills. The office was cluttered with miniature Old Glories and graced by a photo of him and Bob Bullock, on which the late lieutenant governor had described Harvey as “the Capitol’s most astute observer.” Sipping coffee, Harvey fielded calls about redistricting (“The Panhandle’s taking it on the chin”) and flags (“Sure, we can get you a pole for the fire station”) before donning a sports jacket and heading up to the Capitol to troll. Then there was lunch with a “secret source” at the white-linen Austin Club and an afternoon of more trolling, with much hand-wringing over the new census data. “Maybe we should annex Oklahoma,” joked one rural lawmaker grimly. By four o’clock, Harvey was pecking away at his keyboard, speculating about redistricting. The headline he would post at quorumreport.com less than an hour later screamed, “the maps reek of carnage.”
Long before becoming the Capitol’s scribe, Harvey graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1972 and “worked really hard at being a hippie.” He read Marx, peddled clothes at flea markets, and starred in a student film called The Tomato That Ate Cleveland. (Harvey played the tomato.) By the mid-seventies he had become a dyed-in-the-wool businessman, with a keen interest in politics. At the urging of his high school friend David Mincberg, who bought the obscure, six-year-old Quorum Report newsletter in 1989, Harvey became its editor and sole staff writer. Despite initial snubs from the Capitol press corps, he knew he had arrived when Bob Bullock called at dawn one morning in 1994 to berate him for being “a sorry excuse for a journalist.” (Harvey had reported that Bullock’s support for a state income tax had become a liability.) Still, the newsletter had only six hundred subscribers. It wasn’t until September 1998, when the Quorum Report went online, that it found a larger audience. In January alone, the Web site received an impressive 200,000 hits.
Now it’s the quickest way to get news and scuttlebutt about the Lege. Part analysis, part gossip, it has the inside-baseball feel of C-SPAN and the breathless style of the Drudge Report, a marked contrast from the more polished Texas Weekly, Kronberg’s primary competition. “I never sandbag sources, and I rarely quote,” says Harvey, of his ability to dig up dirt. “Worst case scenario, people stop subscribing and I have to sell flags.”