The dean of the Capitol press corps, senior executive editor Paul Burka joined the staff of Texas Monthly one year after the magazine’s founding, in 1973. For nearly forty years he has led the magazine’s political coverage and spearheaded its storied roundup of the Best and Worst Legislators each biennium. A lifelong Texan, he was born in Galveston, graduated from Rice University with a B.A. in history, and received a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law.

Burka is a member of the State Bar of Texas and spent five years as an attorney with the Texas Legislature, where he served as counsel to the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

Burka won a National Magazine Award for reporting excellence in 1985 and the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award. He is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and teaches at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a frequent guest discussing politics on national news programs on MSNBC, Fox, NBC, and CNN.

Articles by Paul Burka

Williams, Perry, and the Budget

May 16, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

This morning I wrote about the prospects for a budget deal, the topic du jour that is uppermost in everyone’s mind. The post contained, among other comments, this line: “House Democrats complained that Senate budget chief Tommy Williams had ‘misled’ them.” That is what I was told by…

Things Fall Apart

May 16, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

As we tweeted last night as events were rapidly developing, the hopes for a budget deal that would send everyone home happy appeared to evaporate yesterday. House Democrats complained that Senate budget chief Tommy Williams had “misled” them. Dewhurst showed up in the House chamber and disappeared into the back…

Disorganization in the House

May 8, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Yesterday’s scene at the end of the floor session in the House was all too familiar. The proceedings limped to a close. Members milled about in the aisles. A major tax-cut bill, HB 500, was on the calendar but hardly anyone knew what was in it. Or cared. This scene…

Remember the School Finance Case?

May 6, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

In February, Judge John Dietz ruled that the state's current school finance system was unconstitutional. However, the legislature's restoration of some of last session's deep cuts to schools during the 83rd legislative session could be a game changer for the lawsuit.

What Is Going on With Calendars?

May 5, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

How could Chairman Todd Hunter allow HB 1076, by Steve Toth — the “nullification” bill — to get on the general state calendar? Calendars is not a charity booth for clueless tea party members. It’s serious business. This is the worst breach of the way Calendars is supposed…

Abbott and Domestic Partner Benefits

Apr 30, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Senator Dan Patrick and Attorney General Greg Abbott have teamed up to try to prohibit Texas employers from providing domestic partnership benefits to their workers. Patrick got the ball rolling when he discovered that Pflugerville ISD offered domestic partnership benefits to employees. Abbott made his ruling through an…

How the Water Bill Dried Up

Apr 30, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

It was a wild night in the House yesterday as Democrats and Republicans battled over their respective priorities: water, for Republicans and education, for Democrats. The leadership could not get the votes for taking money out of the Rainy Day Fund for water—even though Perry came out for…

Water, Water, Everywhere?

Apr 29, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Today is the pivotal moment of the session—a vote on HB 11, the funding bill for the water plan. The vote was preceded this afternoon by a meeting of the House Republican caucus, at which Rick Perry was in attendance. Afterward, he told reporters that the prudent…

The Opening of the Bush Center

Apr 26, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

The opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center went smoothly, complete with blue skies and warm feelings. There were a few protestors with signs on the SMU campus, but they were stationed a long distance from the area occupied by the presidents–and out of their sight. The best description…

Perry’s Response to West

Apr 24, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Gov. Rick Perry said Monday that spending more state money on inspections would not have prevented the deadly explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant that was last investigated by Texas environmental regulators in 2006. Excuse me for asking, but … how would Perry know? You…

The House Calendars

Apr 22, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Has anyone else noticed how innocuous the daily House calendars have been? General State is short and filled with bills of little consequence; debate proceeds at a snail’s pace, maybe six bills covered in a day. Major State is primarily for Sunset bills. I do not believe this is happening…

Perry’s Tax Cut

Apr 19, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

At a press conference on Monday, Governor Perry called for $1.6 billion in business tax cuts–including 5 percent off the margins tax–in an attempt to make good on his promise for “tax relief” this session. What does this prove? That Perry never seems to run out of bad ideas. In…

The Tea Party, Rick Perry, and Debt

Apr 18, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

I seldom find myself in agreement with the tea party, but they are dead right in their skepticism of debt. This is why you can make the argument that Rick Perry is not a true conservative. He won’t raise taxes, but he doesn’t mind going deep into debt–and retiring debt…

The Battle for UT Is Far From Over

Apr 17, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

In October 2012, I wrote a cover story about the battle over UT. That battle, which matched regents appointed by Rick Perry against the leadership of UT-Austin, has not abated. I’m going to discuss portions of Brian Sweany’s recent interview with regent Wallace Hall as well…

An Easy Ethics Fix

Apr 15, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

I have to admire the Tribune‘s Ross Ramsey. If you have to adopt a cause, you might as well make it a hopeless one. In Ramsey’s case, it’s ethics reform. I’m going to make a small suggestion that might spur the Ethics Commission to action. Two high-profile cases…

Road to Somewhere?

Apr 12, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

At last, Rick Perry has decided to back more spending on transportation. His plan, which  was developed by a group of trade associations (Realtors, Texas Association of Business, Texas Oil and Gas Association, and Texas Motor Transport Association) and announced today at a meeting of the Texas Lyceum, calls for…

Perry: Due for a Comeback?

Apr 12, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Wayne Slater has a piece in the Morning News today that touts Rick Perry’s viability for a political comeback. His thesis is that Americans love a good comeback story, and he cites the examples of former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and former New York congressman Anthony Weiner.

Return of Super-PAC

Apr 11, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

The Hill reported on April 9 that the anti-incumbent super-PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability is back, and it will once again target long-serving lawmakers. Why should this concern us in Texas? It so happens that one of the targets of is Lamar Smith, of San Antonio. I trust…

The Difficult Question on Vouchers

Apr 10, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

The main bill up for discussion was Dan Patrick’s SB 23, which would establish the Texas Equal Opportunity Scholarship Program. It would allow certain organizations to award scholarships to pay educational expenses for eligible students in public elementary or secondary schools to attend private or parochial schools. To…

Being Tested on Testing

Apr 10, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

UPDATE: This post has been corrected to accurately reflect the graduation requirements under HB 5. Yesterday I wrote about the Washington Post’s editorial on the changing graduation requirements that are working their way through the Legislature. I received a call yesterday from Tom Luce, who had read my…

Area 51

Apr 8, 2013 By Paul Burka

The first day of debate over the House Appropriations bill is typically one of the most consequential events of a legislative session. Last Thursday’s debate was no exception. The highlight was a school vouchers amendment by Democrat Abel Herrero, of Corpus Christi: The language of Herrero’s amendment read,…

Abbott’s Redistricting Play

Mar 29, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Attorney general Greg Abbott’s push to reopen the redistricting battle that was waged in 2011 and wound up in the federal courts threatens to blow up the session. The District Court of the District of Columbia has already ruled that Republican lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters while…

The House That Straus Built

Mar 28, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

AP Photo | Eric Gay Joe Straus said at the beginning of the session that he was going to put the House to work on the state’s biggest problems, and he is making good on his vow. On Tuesday the House passed HB 5, a major public education…

Perry 2016

Mar 25, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

We’ve been through this before, so permit me to ask the question: Can anyone make the case that Rick Perry has a realistic shot at the Republican nomination for president? Okay, the National Journal did (sort of), but I can’t. The race for the 2016 nomination will take…

George P. Bush and the Burden of Expectations

Mar 24, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Perhaps it is unfair to heap high expectations on a political neophyte, but if you spend months discussing your political future and publicly weigh which office you intend to grace with your presence, you had better perform when you get the chance. That was the challenge facing George P. Bush…

Am I Blue? (Part Two)

Mar 22, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

In the current issue of Texas Monthly, I wrote about the prospects of Battleground Texas in a column titled “Am I Blue?” Writing in the National Journal, Ronald Brownstein speculates that one politician has the power to turn Texas Blue. That politician is … Rick Perry.

Sauce for the Gander

Mar 19, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Today was the long-awaited meeting of the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance. This was strictly an organizational meeting, and no members of the UT Board of Regents were present. But it was another front in the increasingly tense battle between the UT System Board of Regents and UT…

Am I Blue?

Mar 11, 2013 By Paul Burka

The consultants behind Battleground Texas believe the state is ready to swing back to the Democrats. They could learn a thing or two from the Republicans.

How Should History Be Taught at A&M and UT?

Mar 6, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

In a story with the headline “Legislators Seek to Tweak College History Requirement,” Ralph K.M. Haurwitz writes in today’s Austin American-Statesman: Some history courses offered at the University of Texas, Texas A&M University and other public institutions of higher learning in the state would no longer count toward…