Mon July 21, 2014 10:25 am By Andrea Valdez

For our August cover story, we asked thirteen famous Texans—including Willie, Laura Bush, and Liz Lambert, among others—to show us their favorite place in the state. Below is our cover, featuring Willie's favorite spot: his ranch near Spicewood.

This is highly visual piece, and to capitalize on the natural beauty of Texas (our collective favorite place), we're turning to our Instagram account to showcase the beautiful photography that will accompany this story. Over the next few weeks, we'll unveil the rest of these pictures, taken by one of our favorite photographers, Jeff Wilson.

But we know each of you has a favorite place in Texas—and we want to see them. Post images of your most beloved spot on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, and tag the image #myfavetexas. We'll publish our favorite of your favorites on our account and on texasmonthly.com. 

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Tue July 8, 2014 11:41 am By Andrea Valdez

Brian D. Sweany, center, at the Texas Monthly office, where he was named the magazine's newest editor-in-chief.

We are beyond thrilled to announce that Brian D. Sweany has been named the editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly. And beyond thrilled is no exaggeration. When the staff congregated today to hear the news, sustained applause reverberated through the conference room, with a few hoots, hollers, and "hear, hear"s throw in for good measure. There's been an overwhelmingly positive response on Twitter, from staffers, former staffers, and well-wishing readers. 

And all this praise is for good reason. As anyone who has met Brian knows, there is no better person for this job. If you believe in birthrights, you might consider it more than coincidence that he was born on March 2, what anyone who passed seventh-grade history in Texas knows as the state's Independence Day. But for reasons well beyond a coincidental birth date, Brian embodies the Texas spirit. He works hard; he thinks big; he pushes himself and those around him to be better and stronger; and he does this all with grace, charm, and infinite good manners. 

He's also enormously qualified for the job. From the CV: 

A native Texan who was born on Texas Independence Day, Sweany was raised in Plano. He earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of North Texas, in Denton, and a master's degree in English literature from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Over the past two decades, he has covered all aspects of life in Texas, from sports and politics to food and music.  Sweany has served in a variety of leadership roles at TM over the years, including director of the magazine's political coverage, editor of special projects in charge of events, and digital editor responsible for helping rethink the magazine's web strategy. In May 2009 he edited "Still Life," by Skip Hollandsworth, which won the magazine's first-ever National Magazine Award for feature writing, and he has edited numerous stories that have won awards from the City and Regional Magazine Association and the Texas Institute of Letters.

But it's our president, Elynn J. Russell, who said it best: "Brian's knowledge of this state is rivaled only by his love for it. This is a match made in heaven, or, as we call it, Texas."

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Thu June 19, 2014 2:20 pm By Andrea Valdez

Now it's time to see off another pillar in the Texas community: our governor. Much like Strait, this month's cover boy is another small-town, good-lookin' swarthy Texan who, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, became one of the most influential people in his arena and held on to a reign of power that has never been seen before and likely will never be seen again. And that's about where the similarities end.  

Anyway, it's July, so some of you may be asking why we're saying sayonara to the governor, whose term doesn’t actually end for another six months. Because everything in politics is set against a seemingly interminable timetable? Well, yes, kind of. As Perry embarks on his valedictory lap that will segue nicely into a presidential campaign kick-off, it seems appropriate that we now begin to consider his legacy. As senior executive editor Paul Burka notes in his Behind the Lines column this month, with fourteen years as guv under his belt, Perry's tenure is unlike any of his predecessors. Which is to say, Rick Perry completely changed Texas politics, turning the governor's office, a historically weak position, into one of great power. During that decade and a half in office, Perry has had far-reaching influence over every major sector of our lives: transportation, education, criminal justice, and health care, just to name a few. It sort of seems appropriate that as we've become a state obsessed with grading and tests we would give Perry his own report card. And how does the governor feel about his accomplishments in office? Senior executive editor Brian Sweany asked him just that.

Also in the feature well you'll find an incredible portrait of Johnny Gimble, one of the greatest fiddlers of all time, and how his music influenced senior editor and masterful musician Michael Hall and his son, Jackson; and a you-can't-make-this-up true crime story about the woman in Houston accused of murdering her husband with her blue stiletto.

If all of this reading has you craving a drink, you can have the most adorable banana daiquiri ever (and yes, adorable is in fact the correct adjective to describe this beverage); you can float the river with some booze (though that now-defunct can ban is still a touchy subject down in New Braunfels); or you can enjoy a margarita, complete with a lime wedge (the Great Lime Panic of 2014, which scared us all, is finally over). 

You can talk about all of this and more at your date this weekend. However, if it begins going poorly, you can comfort yourself by reminding yourself that it's not a double date with Leatherface at the premiere of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Or maybe that's actually your thing and the date goes exceedingly well, leading to some Chainsaw-themed nuptials. In that case, I would bet that even you would glean some helpful tips on a long-lasting marriage from guest columnist Ruth Pennebaker. For good advice in general, read our estimable advice columnist the Texanist, who this month addresses some bygone dining traditions and how to combat the lonely feelings of being a Tex-pat. And in a savvy move by the magazine to tap into our Buzzfeed-y culture, CATS ("I can haz barn mice.")

There's so much to savor in our July issue, but the fun certainly doesn't end when you turn that last page. The site is going full throttle too. I mean, where else would you learn what "pizzle" is?  Or read about the rise and fall of Texas's teen matador? Or, on a more serious note, understand how Texas has become the leader in the world of fire science? Also, if you're following us closely, you'll know that we were among the first to break the news that the infamous Amarillo prankster, Stanley Marsh 3, died, just a few days before the Cadillac Ranch's 40th anniversary

Also, be sure to tell all of your friends to Like us on FB (more than 100K other people do!), and follow us on Twitter

And please let me know if you see problems with the site. I always rely on the kindness of readers. 

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Mon June 9, 2014 11:00 am By Andrea Valdez

As Texas hurdles headlong into campaign season, one name will be notably absent from the ballot: Rick Perry. For fourteen years and three gubernatorial election cycles, the man from Paint Creek has held the position, making him the longest-serving governor in Texas history. And so before we fully turn our focus to the players who have emerged in his wake, we first wanted to assess Perry's legacy:

Our July cover story is actually two pieces: an exclusive interview with Perry, who discusses, quite frankly, both his accomplishments and his missteps, and a piece we're calling "The Perry Report Card," where, as the title suggests, we grade the governor in eight policy areas. This week and next, we'll be giving you a preview of what those areas are and asking you how you would rate Perry.

First up: transparency and ethics. So take out your red pens (or, actually just leave your grades and notes in the comments) and tell us how you think the governor did on that front—and no matter what you think of our current governor, fair assessment and critical thinking are requested. 

For some extra reading, revisit Paul Burka's Behind the Lines column from April 2007, "More Power to Him?", in which Burka explains how Perry turned a historically weak office into one of the most powerful positions in the state's legislature—and how with great power comes great responsibility:  

Rick Perry believes that, as governor, he has broad power to influence and even create, unilaterally, public policy in Texas. He has been bent on expanding executive power since his party gained total control over state government in 2003, a year in which the Legislature rushed through a bill giving sweeping new powers to the Texas Department of Transportation, including the ability to privatize highways; passed a reorganization of health and human services agencies that centralized power in a single bureaucrat appointed by the governor; gave the governor a $295 million fund to dole out to companies for economic development; and allowed him to participate fully in the process that crafted the state budget. In August 2005 Perry instructed the commissioner of education, by executive order, to institute education reforms that the Legislature had considered but declined to pass. He followed up that order with another one—since voided by an Austin judge—for expedited hearings on TXU’s request to build new coal-fired power plants.

But it was not until February 2 of this year that lawmakers woke up and finally said, “Enough!” That was the day Perry issued his executive order to Albert Hawkins, the executive commissioner of Health and Human Services, to institute a program requiring young girls, prior to the sixth grade, to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, the cause of most cervical cancers. The order was hailed in some quarters and reviled in others. Women’s health advocates praised it. Parental-rights advocates—particularly those in the Legislature—strenuously objected, complaining that the vaccination was made mandatory rather than elective (although parents could opt out by signing an affidavit) and that adolescent girls were being immunized against a disease that is sexually transmitted. Longtime Perry critics rolled their eyes at the unsurprising revelation that the governor’s office had been lobbied by his former chief of staff Mike Toomey, now a lobbyist for Merck, the first drug company to market an HPV vaccine. But beyond the politics-as-usual reactions lay the larger issue of the extent of gubernatorial power. If a governor can do what Perry is attempting—establish a program that costs $71 million, including $29 million in state funds—the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches will be forever altered.

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Wed May 14, 2014 9:00 am By Andrea Valdez

Earlier this month, we revealed that George Strait, the King of Country, would grace our June cover. I won't torture you with any fanfare; here it is: 

It's a beaut, ain't it? And what you're seeing is the cover that will go out to subscribers (and the people who order a copy of the magazine here). If you buy it on the newsstands (available May 22), we adorned it with a little cover type:

The cover story, penned by senior editor John Spong, is a masterful companion to this stunning image (read an excerpt here). But almost equally enjoyable is the tale of how the cover was made. It's no secret to the media that George Strait is an elusive subject. It's not because he's a diva. In fact, it's the exact opposite—aside from performing, he's just not one for the limelight. But this was George's "Last Ride," and, as John told me when I asked him what it was like to write this story, "We knew we had to do this story as big as possible. This is George Strait's farewell tour, and there's no chance we could do it too big." Damn straight, so to speak.  

Now for those of you following along at home for the last 41 years, you may remember that George has appeared on Texas Monthly's cover twice before—October 1988 and September 1993. But our creative director, T.J. Tucker, didn't "want this to look like any George Strait cover anyone has ever seen before." At this point, it's probably worth noting that T.J., a native of Baird, a small ranching town in that area of Texas we call "God's Country," is a HUGE Strait fan. Loving George is part of the DNA of being Texan, but growing up country in Texas means T.J.'s Strait DNA is just a little purer than most. So of course he wanted to do right by George and capture the image that would cement George's legacy as an icon of Texas music. 

To that end, T.J. and John attended George's farewell show in Kansas City, sort of to scout the experience for photography for the story, but mostly because they're two big, geeked-out fans. It was toward the end of the night that T.J. saw it—the perfect shot. Soon after the show, he wrote an email to George's people, pleading his case to memorialize that moment. 

We’d like permission and access to photograph George as he sings his final song and all of the goodbyes afterward. It was in that small window that I was moved by his clear love and respect for the fans, and his mannerisms were very revealing. This is where I noticed the hand-to-heart gesture which I think is really visually powerful. …My request is a bended-knee plea to have our own photographer photograph George. Picture George, hand to heart, with a contemplating smile, looking slightly off to the distance or down. The very thing that grabbed me when I saw him do it in KC.

George read the email. He agreed. And God bless him for that. 

(Cover photograph by Joe Pugliese.)

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