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The Last Forty Years–and the Future

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I joined the staff of TEXAS MONTHLY on October 1, 1974, and after much consideration, I have decided to retire in March. I have had a rich and rewarding forty-year career as senior executive editor of TEXAS MONTHLY and have been enabled by my editors to do what I love most: cover Texas politics. I will continue to be engaged with TEXAS MONTHLY on several fronts, including coverage of the 84th Legislature. But the time has come for Sarah and me to move on to the next chapter of our lives.

I am proud of the fact that my colleagues and I created one of the most impactful stories that has influenced Texas journalism: the compilation of the “Ten Best and Ten Worst Texas Legislators.” I am grateful to my incredibly talented colleagues who joined me in covering the Legislature over the years, to my editors who have enabled me to pursue the fascinating world of Texas politics, and above all to the readers of BurkaBlog. Thank you for reading.

If you’d like to see the email that my editor, Brian Sweany, sent to the staff this morning, keep reading after the jump:

I find it hard to believe that I am typing these words, but I have the unhappy duty of letting you know that the end of a defining era at Texas Monthly is fast upon us: Paul Burka, our senior executive editor and the dean of the Capitol press corps, has decided to retire on March 1. This is difficult both professionally and personally: Paul is one of the most important writers/editors/bloggers/wise men to have ever worked at the magazine, and I’m confident that no one will ever rival the body of work he published over his forty-year career. But perhaps most important, he is one of the smartest, most supportive colleagues I’ve ever worked with, and he helped train many of the writers and editors on staff today. Texas Monthly will not be the same without him.

Paul’s byline first appeared in the magazine in the March 1974 issue under the pedestrian-sounding “Contest, page 112,” a back-page puzzle he wrote that challenged readers to pen limericks with a focus on “an aspect of Texas life.” The following month he published his first story for TM, a column called “At Play in the Fields of the Lord,” about the closing of Clark Field, UT’s old baseball stadium. Here’s his opening: “The big first baseman watched the curve ball break across the plate and knew he was out. He even started to leave the plate, and news reports recorded that he smiled when the umpire gave him a reprieve.” That batter, it is later revealed, was Lou Gehrig, who on the next pitch hit “the longest home run ever hit by man since the beginning of baseball.” Even in 1974, with that terrific style and graceful pacing, Paul Burka was Paul Burka.

He joined the staff full-time on October 1, 1974, as an associate editor and soon emerged as an unparalleled force in the editorial department, whose deep love for the state meant he had an opinion on just about everything: politics, barbecue, the Houston Astros, criminal justice, the best spot in Big Bend, the problem with the Southwest Conference, great Texas authors, and Galveston—always Galveston. (Paul is BOI and proud of it.) He went on to write more classic TM stories than he probably wants to admit, including a National Magazine Award for reporting for his two-part story on Clinton Manges in 1984, which I once attempted to diagram as an intern.

There’s also this profile of John Connally, from 1979, which remains one of my all-time favorites political pieces; his cover story christening the Suburban the “National Car of Texas” in 1986; his spot-on examination of the struggles of the Stoner ranching family from Uvalde from 1996; this emotional and unexpected essay about his father in 2008; and the most-moving BTL ever written, about the Bonfire tragedy and the A&M-Longhorn football game that followed. Of course his greatest legacy is as the single most consequential observer of state politics that Texas has ever produced. Paul is a legend at the Capitol, and I’ve seen it first-hand while walking with him through the hallways: people turn and look when he passes by. I’ve always thought that the best seat in the House (or the Senate) is next to him because he understood everything that was happening on the floor, often better than the members themselves. I would make the joke that sitting next to him was like watching a pop-up video of the Lege, because he would explain the history of a bill and then offer up a line like, “This reminds of the time when Gib Lewis was Speaker and . . . “

Paul took the idea of the Best/Worst Legislators list and transformed it into an indispensable way to hold lawmakers accountable—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And despite all of the changes to political coverage over the ensuing decades, Best/Worst maintains its currency because of his knowledge, fairness, and deep belief in what is good for Texas. For the younger generation, Paul is known as the greatest blogger this magazine has ever had, an unlikely occurrence that even makes him chuckle. Truly, no other writer on staff has so smoothly and wisely embraced the web or had a larger presence there. Ever since its launch, Burkablog has been one of the most popular pages on our website.

On a personal note, I first met Paul way back in 1997, when I was a newly minted copy editor and I was working on Jan Reid’s piece about the Kickapoo Indians of Eagle Pass. Paul was the editor of that story, and I’ve been learning from him ever since. Over the past several years, we have worked closely together, and I’ve tried to soak up as much of his knowledge as I could. Covering the Lege with Paul has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my career.

Even in retirement, however, Paul will still be part of Texas Monthly, and I fully expect to seek his advice and counsel on the Lege as the session continues and we get ready to publish the 2015 installment of Best and Worst (just try to keep him out of the Capitol while the Lege is in session). Burkablog will continue to bear his name, and he will continue to contribute as he sees fit. And it won’t surprise you to know that Paul wants to take on new writing projects, including perhaps a book on the history of TM.

I will let you know about our plans to celebrate Paul and his career at a later date, but please join me in thanking him for everything he had done and everything he means to us.

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  • formerlyanonymous

    God speed, Paul. Enjoyed the columns for years.

  • Unwound

    best wishes paul. a lot of us here wouldnt have as good a grasp on whats happening in our state and its history without you and this blog.

  • José

    Thanks for the past. Best wishes for the future.

  • Beerman

    Paul, I want to congratulate you and extend my best wishes for your retirement. You are to be commended for your many years of productive and innovative work at TM. Personally, I have always enjoyed your many writings and your pride in the great state of Texas. Please accept the gratitude of your many followers, and enjoy your future leisure time. Again, best wishes from an old fellow Galveston native.

    • WUSRPH

      Beerman: Welcome back. Your observations have been missed.

      • Beerman

        Thanks, been observing, just not commenting much. It is hard to digest the JBBs oN the blog……

        • WUSRPH

          I know it is hard sometime…but just ignore him.

        • I admit it my comments mostly go over your head….

  • Senator John Carona

    Best wishes, Paul, on your upcoming retirement. I have always admired your candor and intellect. Thank you for your words of wisdom and cautionary guidance to the Legislature. Whether I appeared on your Ten Best or Ten Worst lists over the years, I was always amazed by your ability to capture the essence of each session. You are a Texas treasure.

  • Gunslinger

    Paul, thanks for everything you’ve written and said. Texas owes you a great deal of gratitude for your work. You’ve more than earned your retirement. Enjoy it!

  • jerry patterson

    Paul, I guess this means I can’t scare the crap out of you flying to Galveston after Hurricane Ike and landing on a partially closed runway under water on one end. I find retirement ain’t all that bad-at least you got to pick when! JP

  • Blue Dogs

    I take it Burka is getting out of dodge as Abbott & Co., wreak epic HAVOC !

  • Gary Scharrer

    Brian said it all in his email.

  • CH

    It’s the end of an era. Texas Monthly will never be the same.

  • WUSRPH

    Welcome to the world of the observers, rather than the doers. Your insight will be missed.

    • Blue Dogs

      But will Burka Blog disappear once Burka leaves in March?

      • WUSRPH

        Not according to the e-mail included in he text. The name will remain he same even after Paul has moved on to a more than earned rest.

  • susanr

    Best wishes, Mr. Burka. Your encyclopedic knowledge of Texas politics will be greatly missed.

  • allmaya

    You are one of those rare individuals who can be opinionated and fair at the same time. Godspeed, Paul.

  • Lynda Blakeslee

    Congratulations and may your next adventures bring you much enjoyment as well! Thank you for your years of steady observation of Texans whether in the Lege or in their daily lives – you have contributed much to our understanding of how we go about our bidness as it were!

  • John Johnson

    I knew how perceptive you were when you called me an old codger years ago. Appreciate the insight you have shared over several decades.

  • Ralph

    A sad day for Texas.

  • bj1650

    I’ve been reading you, Paul, for more than 50 years–back to your sports reporting days at the Rice Institute “Thresher,” and almost always agreeing. But it is the insight–political and otherwise–that has been most appreciated. We’ll have to depend on Sarah to keep you in the game. Warm regards, Barry

  • Treehugger

    Thanks for linking Brian’s email with the many articles for easy reference and thanks also for the education on and about Texas politics.

  • another texan

    Why not finish session? I’m so confused.

  • disqus_PN5R9xYUsC

    “legend…wise man…BOI” What more could anyone want?

  • disqus_PN5R9xYUsC

    Vandy

  • Paul you fought long and hard in the left’s losing effort. While I don’t admire your politics I admire your tenacity. You’re a gentleman and a scholar and I wish you well.

  • Indiana Pearl

    I’ve learned a lot about Texas politics from reading your column over the last three years.

  • Antony

    I come to bury Burka, not to praise him. Congratulations on a job done.

  • Quancho

    Hah! I’ve been writing for Texas Monthly since my letter for the editor in Vol 1, No. 2. I knew I could outlast that liberal windbag.

  • Wichitan

    Sorry, Paul. You can’t retire. Just like the Capitol can never go dark. And Barton Springs can never dry up. And West can never stop selling kolaches. And Lubbock can never be hilly. Sorry.

  • Blue Dogs

    Jon, CA State AG Kamala Harris (D) officially declared she’s running for the United States Senate in 2016.

  • WUSRPH

    Straus 127 Turner 19 PNV 0
    Take that MQS.

    Craddick was in Midland. Dukes also ABSENT. Two vacancies.

    The future looks better today.

    PS I had only predicted 125 for Straus.

  • Will Harkey

    Best wishes on your retirement and thank you for your contributions over the years. I enjoyed reading the Clinton Manges article again and remember it well from when it was originally published in 1984 (I was eleven at the time). Mr. Burka, you have been a sagacious scribe who has allowed many to have a front seat view of Texas politics. Your other articles have always been entertaining and well written. I hope that you will continue to contribute an occasional article to Texas Monthly (an epilogue on the characters from the Clinton Manges story would be an interesting read). Thanks again and good luck.

  • Ken Esten Cooke

    Best to you, Mr. Burka. Thanks for your time observing the Lege and your fair takes on both right and left. I look forward to your future work, and may your departure from TM infuse Erica with the gift of brevity.

  • Mark Walters

    Any one man (person (PC)) who remains with the same company for 40 years is a dying breed. This is something from our fathers and grandfathers generation. Paul, you love what you do and the tens of thousands of readers who have enjoyed your columns, disagreed with your positions, and scorned you for hating chili, will still envy you for accomplishing something that many of us cannot. Love what we do. Best of luck, but please, for the sake of Texas bar-b-que, do not stop lobbying for BBQ to be the official state food. Aho-

  • All the best to you, Paul. Will keep an eye out for your (now-infrequent) contributions, and keeping a link to the blog close at hand.

  • Sarah Warnock

    I just heard about this. I’m completely crushed Mr.
    You had remained a pure drop in an ocean of… noise. But, thank you and enjoy all that’s ahead.