January 20, 2015, was an unexpectedly warm day in Austin that capped a predictably heated political season. At eleven o’clock on the south steps of the Capitol, beneath broad blue skies, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick were sworn in as the state’s governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. It is a powerful feeling to see the pages of history turn before your eyes, and the people who had gathered along the Great Walk that morning, myself included, knew they had witnessed the start of a new era in Texas.
Despite the fanfare and speeches, however, darker clouds were gathering around the Eighty-fourth Legislature. Members from an open carry group had already caused an unseemly spectacle in state representative Poncho Nevárez’s office that heightened the tension between the Second Amendment activists and, apparently, anyone who has the nerve to disagree with them. A few weeks later, on Texas Muslim Capitol Day, state representative Molly White posted on her Facebook page that her staff would require visitors to her office to swear allegiance to the United States and renounce Islamic extremism; later that afternoon a group of protesters itching for a confrontation heckled and then took the microphone from Muslim speakers on the south steps. These episodes are an embarrassment to our state, and I can only hope that the political conversation returns to the issues that are critical to Texas.
Am I optimistic? To paraphrase a familiar line, “No one’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the Legislature is in session.” But regardless of what unfolds, you can rest assured that Texas Monthly will provide you with a front-row seat to the action under the dome. Though Paul Burka, the dean of the Capitol press corps, announced earlier this year that he will retire this spring (more on that in the next issue), he intends to cover the entire session. Erica Grieder, who reported on the Senate in 2013 and recently profiled Patrick, will be back as well in an expanded role. I’m also pleased to announce the addition of R. G. Ratcliffe to our team. Capitol veterans will recognize his name from his long career at the Houston Chronicle. He covered his first session in 1983, and he adds instant credibility and institutional knowledge to our stories. All three reporters will be at the Capitol each day; you can keep up with them on Burkablog, and be sure to look for their work in the July issue, when we release our biennial Best and Worst Legislators roundup. Given the start to the 2015 session, the slots on that list are filling up fast.