How do we measure the pain we felt in 2023? Well, there’s the heat index, which hit unheard-of extremes last year. Then there’s the cheat index, which measures the willingness of some powerful Texans to lie, steal, sneak beans into chili, or otherwise try to put one over on their fellow Texans. The highest cheat index ever recorded occurred on September 16, 2023, when, despite overwhelming evidence supporting corruption accusations against Attorney General Ken Paxton, he was acquitted by a jury dominated by spineless state senators in a trial presided over by our shameless lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick. “Millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this impeachment,” Patrick said minutes after the verdict was announced, still seated on the Senate dais where he presided. That wasn’t the only outrageous event of the year, of course. Texas A&M University gave $75 million to Jimbo Fisher, just to go away. There was Elon Musk doing the Bastrop/Boca Chica/border three-step. There’s more, so grab a Topo, settle back, and let’s review the past year’s Bum Steers.
Bum Steer of the Year
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick
Dan Patrick has made himself the state’s most commanding politician. But with great power has come great irresponsibility. Read more.
When Elon Musk moved here, Texans rejoiced that he would create lots of jobs. He also created chaos. Read more.
The Aggies’ unofficial mascot, Ol’ Sarge, has a few things he may or may not like to say about his school’s many recent travails. Read more.
A “found” (as in, we made it up) letter from Texas attorney general Ken Paxton to his wife, state senator Angela Paxton, provides a firsthand account of his impeachment skirmish along with stirring reflections on the nature of freedom and vengeance, and the Republican Civil War. Read More.
The Rest of the List
Okay, everyone, nap time is over. I said, nap time is over. Colton, did you hear me? Colton?
A special ed kindergarten teacher in Humble, just northeast of Houston, resigned after school administrators discovered she had given melatonin gummies to students she found hard to manage.
You should see how many cops they have in Doughnut City
A Houston news channel revealed that Coffee City, about twenty miles southwest of Tyler, with a population of around 250, employed 50 police officers, more than half of whom had been terminated from, suspended from, or demoted by other departments for misconduct.
The important thing to remember is that she was somebody’s life-size silicone sex doll
Harris County deputies who were dispatched to investigate a dead body spotted in a wooded area discovered that it was actually a life-size silicone sex doll.
Tried to pick up a spare, ended up with a split
An assistant coach of the women’s bowling team at Stephen F. Austin State University, in Nacogdoches, resigned after it was revealed that he’d had an affair with a team member, a situation made more complicated by the fact that he was married to the team’s head coach.
Yeah, well, we’ve got way more uninsured diabetics, so take that, Sunshine state!
A report by PEN America, a free-speech advocacy group, counted 625 instances of book banning in Texas schools during the 2022–2023 academic year, placing us second behind Florida, which came in at 1,406.
The court wasn’t prepared for those kinds of motions
An online intruder “Zoom bombed” as many as seven Harris County court hearings on a single day with pornographic videos and images.
“You are now free to move about the airport aimlessly.”
Hamstrung by an antiquated scheduling system that insiders had warned about for years, Southwest Airlines—once regarded as the customer-service leader among major American air carriers—canceled a staggering 16,500 flights, more than all other major carriers combined, during a winter storm, stranding thousands of passengers across the country.
It was like Cinderella, except she gets run over by the carriage at the end
The fairy-tale journey of the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs ended unhappily, as the team that opened the season with 200–1 odds to win it all lost the 2023 College Football Playoff National Championship by 58 points, the biggest blowout in bowl-game history.
That’s one way to Handel it
To deter loitering, littering, and panhandling, a 7-Eleven owner in Austin started playing opera at ear-blasting volume outside his store 24 hours a day because, he claimed, “studies have shown that . . . opera music is annoying.”
Talk about #$@ING cancel culture!
Author Emma Straub learned that the Katy school district had canceled two readings of her children’s book Very Good Hats because of her social media posts. In 2022 Straub tweeted, “F— guns, f— people who care more about controlling women’s bodies than protecting all of us from people with guns, f—!” Those are sentiments that might not resonate with many Texans, but Katy ISD told parents it had canceled her events because of her “repeated use of the ‘f-word.’ ”
We’d call this a miscarriage of justice, but that might get someone arrested
In an unusual move, Amarillo-based federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk waited until the day before to publicly announce that his court was holding a hearing about revoking FDA approval of the abortion-inducing pill mifepristone, in an attempt to minimize public awareness. He went on to issue a stay on the FDA’s approval of the drug.
She wasn’t around long, but she still made an impact
The school district in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite fired a substitute teacher who ran a fight club inside her middle-school classroom, where she posted a lookout at the door and encouraged students to brawl.
Pomp, say hello to circumstance
Because 28 of 33 seniors failed to meet academic or attendance requirements and were not eligible to receive diplomas, the high school in Marlin, thirty miles southeast of Waco, postponed its graduation ceremony.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t fill
The school district in Melissa, forty miles north of downtown Dallas, unveiled a $35 million, 10,000-seat, state-of-the-art football stadium and $23 million practice facility that, for now, will serve a student body of about 1,300.
Some liked it not
After parents complained that a few actors in the Main Street Theater’s production of James and the Giant Peach played both male and female roles, Spring Branch ISD, which covers an area just northwest of downtown Houston, canceled an elementary school field trip to see the play.
God save us when he graduates to index cards
Four Houston banks were robbed in the span of two weeks by a man who handed tellers threatening messages written on adhesive notes and was dubbed the Sticky Note Bandit.
Guess she can kiss that visit to the Katy schools goodbye
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee apologized after an anonymous emailer sent news organizations a ninety-second recording in which Lee referred to one of her employees as a “fat-ass stupid idiot” and chewed out a staffer, calling him and his colleague “two g—damn big-ass children, f—in’ idiots who serve no g—damn purpose.”
Giving new meaning to public service
During a Texas House committee hearing, Collin County representative Jeff Leach called on someone who had signed up to speak, only to discover that the man was a process server who notified Leach that he was being sued for defamation by a conservative activist.
Hey team, it’s called zookeeping . . .
Two emperor tamarin monkeys that were stolen from the Dallas Zoo were found 36 hours later in a closet at an abandoned house fifteen miles away.
. . . Not zoo losing
The Dallas Zoo was forced to close for the better part of a day when personnel discovered that a clouded leopard had escaped its enclosure. It was found on zoo grounds later the same day.
. . . Also, “keeping” means keeping alive
The Dallas Zoo reported that a an endangered lappet-faced vulture was found dead in its enclosure from “an unusual wound and injuries.”
Honestly, we’re too appalled to write a funny headline about this one
A Department of Public Safety trooper complained to a superior about the enforcement tactics he and his colleagues were urged to use as part of Governor Abbott’s border-security effort, including a directive to “push the people”—including nursing mothers and their babies—“back into the water.”
“I’m not big on social media graces / and I fall for stories with no real basis / so I retweet posts / from low places”
Attempting to dunk on Garth Brooks for alleged “wokeness,” Governor Greg Abbott retweeted a fictional story by a news-satire site that claimed Brooks had been booed off the stage at a music festival in Hambriston, Texas—a town that the governor of Texas failed to recognize does not exist.
There’s tortilla chips, and then there’s tortious injury chips
After reports of possible injuries caused by one of its products, Austin’s Amplify Snack Brands pulled from the shelves its Paqui One Chip Challenge, which consisted of a single tortilla chip dusted with two of the world’s hottest chile peppers and encased in a package emblazoned with a skull.
Siblings or not, they’ll always be bros
After learning that Matthew McConaughey’s mother and Woody Harrelson’s father “knew” each other, in the biblical sense, many years ago, Maury Povich offered to come out of retirement to conduct a DNA test to confirm whether or not the True Detective costars are half brothers.
No, homeowners, you are not eligible for this rebate
A money-losing company that specializes in mining Bitcoin digital currency—a practice that requires tremendous amounts of energy—received a $31.7 million credit from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for curtailing its usage, and that was just for the month of August.
Turns out “Ain’t no laws when drinking claws” holds up in court
A grand jury dismissed a felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon that had been filed against a Houston man who, at the Astros’ World Series parade, threw two unopened cans of White Claw hard seltzer at U.S. senator Ted Cruz.
Hey, ChatGPT, write the dumbest, most racist tweet ever
Richard Hanania, a right-wing visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin with a history of incendiary social media posts, drew widespread opprobrium when he tweeted, under his own name, “We need more policing, incarceration, and surveillance of black people. Blacks won’t appreciate it, whites don’t have the stomach for it.”
This guy, again?!
Progressive news outlet HuffPost revealed that Hanania had, in the 2010s, written blatantly racist and misogynistic content on white-supremacist websites. Among other things, he stated that Hispanics “don’t have the requisite IQ to be a productive part of a first world nation.” He posted a long, semicoherent semi-apology that acknowledged that his earlier writings were “repulsive,” “embarrassing,” and had “crossed the line,” and that he had matured since then and was now a believer in “classical liberalism.” Even so, UT apparently cut ties with him.
Dude, if we gave you a year, you couldn’t write a Shakespeare-quality tweet
After leaving UT, Hanania, the newly mature believer in classical liberalism, advised men “to start dating a fat girl with a pretty face (undervalued stock), make her like you, and then hint the relationship depends on her being skinny.” He also tweeted that he was “pretty sure if you gave me a year I could write Shakespeare quality work.”
Welcome to the turd coast
A recent study found that 90 percent of Texas beaches tested for fecal bacteria were contaminated at hazardous levels.
How do you say “muy estúpido” in English?
In response to a complaint that two bilingual employees were gossiping in Spanish, Erath County’s tax assessor–collector implemented an “English-only rule,” which listed termination as the punishment for speaking in a foreign language. The employees known to be bilingual were the only ones asked to sign acknowledgment of the rule, leading one of them to resign.
Pick your headline!
1. She cut him short
2. To clarify, he’s not against her, he’s foreskin
3. With these guys, if you give an inch . . .
An anticircumcision activist disrupted a San Antonio show by the pop star Pink, displaying a protest message in front of the stage before the singer, who is Jewish, had security remove him.
Apparently Mrs. Transportation had grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle
A Texas Department of Transportation commissioner known as Mr. Transportation, who had resigned from his post in 2018, continued for another five years to get monthly paychecks, for a total of nearly $92,000. He said, “It is not my place to be involved in a postmortem discussion of what could or should have been done differently.”
Bum Steer Color of the Year: Burning Orange
Maybe we’re suffering from “long” heatstroke, but was this year more . . . orange than usual? A certain pumpkin meets saffron meets withering hellfire? Years from now, when we think back on 2023, we’ll see it through flame-colored glasses, thanks to . . .
But we thought conservatives were antigrooming
Texas agriculture commissioner Sid Miller issued a “dress code and grooming policy,” with which employees had to comply “in a manner consistent with their biological gender.”
Having driven in Austin, we find this completely understandable
Brian N. Lovell, an associate district county judge in Oklahoma, was arrested in Austin just after allegedly shooting at parked cars and intentionally ramming one that was stopped at an intersection. According to a police affidavit, “Lovell advised he did not know why he would have shot his gun.”
“. . . And ignore our tasteless marketing ”
On Memorial Day the sign outside Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin read “Remember the Fallen, Savor the Flavor.”
A son of Buc-ee’s cofounder Don Wasek was arrested in Travis County after friends discovered a hidden camera in the bathroom of the family lake house he’d invited them to.
Shanks for the memories, Brett!
Dallas Cowboys placekicker Brett Maher missed four of the five extra-point kicks he attempted during a playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, making him the first player to miss that many extra point attempts since 1932, when the stat was first tracked. (He was not re-signed after the season.)
Is it just me or is this chicken extra extra crispy?
Three executives of a Texas-based meat supplier were found guilty of extortion, wire fraud, and bribery in a kickback scheme that allowed chicken containing pieces of bone, metal, and plastic to be served to New York City public school students.
We guess his lawyering skills are a little rus—ah, that one’s too easy
Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, a prosecutor in the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton, accidentally rested his case before letting the defense finish cross-examining the witness.
Speak now or forever hold your piece
While officiating at his nephew’s wedding, an Ector County commissioner extended his arm forward and fired a blank round from a pistol to signal the start of the festivities, injuring his twelve-year-old grandson when part of the blank struck the boy just below his left shoulder.
Inappropriate headgear removal: automatic ejection
In the middle of a play, a Whitney High School linebacker bumped into an umpire, who yanked the player’s helmet off, threw a flag, and ejected him. The ejection was overruled, and the official has been suspended, pending a league investigation.
And a Life-time Achievement Award Goes to…
WHEREAS Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz has served as the junior senator for Texas for what seems like forever but actually is only eleven years; and fell for an obviously photoshopped tweet of a shark supposedly swimming in a flooded L.A. roadway, tweeting “Holy crap”; and portrayed himself in a PR stunt as outraged over a “liberal” beer limit that doesn’t exist, saying, “Well, I gotta tell ya, if they want us to drink two beers a week, frankly, they can kiss my ass”; and, Lord help him, congratulated the “Dallas” Rangers on their American League pennant win; BE IT RESOLVED THAT Texas Monthly bestows upon the senator a special “Gohmie” award (named after the hapless former Texas Congressman Louis Buller “Louie” Gohmert Jr.) and welcomes him to the Bum Steers Hall of Fame.
From Abbottabad to about as bad as you can imagine
Former Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill, who controversially claimed he fired the shots that killed Osama bin Laden, was arrested on two misdemeanor charges after he allegedly passed out at a Frisco hotel bar and was then escorted to his room by a security guard, whom he struck in the chest and called the N-word (the guard was white). “Robert stated he did not palm strike Johnny because he does not strike people; he stated he would have choked Johnny,” the police report reads. O’Neill pleaded not guilty.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Mom to God knows where
A Houston man accused a moving company of losing his mother’s ashes after unknowingly packing them with household items, including silverware.
Speaking of streaks
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and Tyler native Patrick Mahomes admitted to wearing the same pair of red underwear to every game of his entire six-year, one-hundred-plus-game NFL career. And further said that he sometimes forgoes washing them if the team is on a hot streak.
It’s a much grater problem than you’d imagine
Customs inspectors at the border crossing in Presidio, four hours southeast of El Paso, caught a man trying to smuggle into Texas 17.8 pounds of cocaine that had been stuffed into four large, hollowed-out wheels of cheese.
In his defense, he did remember to flush
A high school teacher in Granbury, 38 miles southwest of Fort Worth, also worked as an armed school marshal but was suspended and had his law-enforcement certification revoked after he absentmindedly left his handgun in a faculty restroom.
This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Bum Steers of the Year.” Subscribe today.
- More About:
- Bum Steers