Texas Monthly

Going Postal

Dec 1, 2011 By Jake Silverstein

Back in February 1973, in the very first issue of this magazine, founding editor William Broyles wrote, by way of introduction, “If our readers have ever finished the daily paper or the six o’clock news and felt there was more than what they were told, then they know…

Cover Edge

Jul 31, 2011 By Jake Silverstein

One of the best—and the hardest—parts of being a magazine editor is deciding what goes on the cover every month. There is nothing else quite like that little rectangle of real estate. Book jackets and album covers are quiet­er, movie posters are less integral to the product, billboards are more…

A response to Michael Quinn Sullivan

Jun 29, 2011 By Paul Burka

Michael Quinn Sullivan has a bone to pick with me. I am the subject of a blog post by Sullivan published on the Empower Texans web site yesterday under the headline, “Texas Monthly: Disclosure-Free Zone.” Sullivan objects to the fact that in an April column about higher ed reforms, I did not disclose that I have taught at UT from time to time. Here are some pertinent paragraphs: Paul Burka, the “senior executive editor” at Texas Monthly has taken to defending the higher education status quo – skyrocketing tuition and a lack of transparency. He follows the administrative bureaucracy party line by deriding reformers, disparaging them and calling motivations into question. Couldn’t be because he has a financial interest in the status quo, could it? Mr. Burka received $10,159 in compensation ($9,295 in salary) for teaching 13 students. (NOTE: the numbers are from UT’s own data, which the institution says may or may not be valid or accurate.) He hasn’t disclosed in any recent writings supporting the higher-ed establishment that he is a “visiting lecturer” for the University of Texas, teaching a three credit-hour class – ironically titled “Right And Wrong In Politics.” Mr. Sullivan has a point, though he overplays it to a ridiculous extreme, as is his custom. I should have included a parenthetical statement in that April column saying that I had taught at UT on various occasions in the past (though I was not teaching there or receiving compensation at the time that I wrote the column). But it is far-fetched to suggest that I have any permanent attachment to UT, or a financial motivation to defend the university. I am not an academic, I am a journalist. Over the past twenty years or so, I have been fortunate enough to teach courses at UT (and also at St. Edwards). During that time, I have written several editorial columns about the university. One was supportive of tuition deregulation; one was critical of a watered-down degree program I referred to as “B.A. Lite” (this one, alas, is not yet available online). I have not tried to hide the fact that I teach at UT; in 2001, for example, I wrote about volunteering to evaluate applications for admission to the Plan II honors program, as I was eligible to do as an instructor. I have also written a skeptical column about the athletic department’s efforts to find a home for the Longhorns after the breakup of the Big XII conference. In short, I choose subjects that Texas Monthly believes are important, and I try to call ‘em as I see ‘em. I leave it to readers to judge for themselves whether they believe that my reporting on UT is influenced by what Mr. Sullivan refers to as my “financial interest in the status quo,” or whether it reflects my strongly held personal belief in the importance of allowing state universities to pursue excellence free of political interference.

App in the Heart of Texas

May 31, 2011 By Jake Silverstein

Only a few years ago, the word was understood (if it was used at all) to mean chicken wings or jalapeño poppers or nachos. That time is gone forever. As even the proudest Luddite now knows, an “app” is something you download onto your handheld device or tablet, a helpful…

The Fifty Best Burgers in Texas: The List

Jul 22, 2009 By Patricia Sharpe

You can access the full story on texasmonthly.com (subscriber-only), but here’s the list, just to get your tastebuds revved up. Also, there are lots of related burger sidebars that we couldn’t squeeze into the magazine. Check them out. The list is ranked in order of our preference from one to…

Debbie Riddle responds

Jun 8, 2009 By Paul Burka

The following is a release from Representative Debbie Riddle, concerning her appearance on the Ten Worst list. I will reserve my remarks until the end. Some responses have been updated with clarifying information. Dear Mr. Burka, Being named one of your Ten Worst Legislators has become a perennial cornerstone of my reelection campaign, but I prefer to receive this honor on my own merits and not as a result of shabby research and irresponsible reporting on the part of you and your staff. I would appreciate it if you would give me a chance to correct several errors you made in your story. To begin, I think it is well documented that the now infamous “Pit of Hell” monologue I delivered to the El Paso Times in 2003 was never a comment on the concept of free public education for citizens and legal residents, although the insistent prejudice of columnists like yourself who parrot rumors and innuendo rather than unbiased fact has certainly established it as such. Rather, that quote was a reaction to testimony from the Texas Department of Health regarding the cost of health care along the border as the result of illegal immigration. The comment was clearly applied only to those who were here illegally. That same session, in order to combat soaring costs to his local school districts, an El Paso representative filed legislation to deal with the fact that Mexican citizens were sending their children across the border every day to attend public schools in Texas. I do not recall your magazine placing him on the worst list then or even six years later. I also do not recall your magazine ever running an additional quote from me that was part of the same story in the Times: "In a perfect world, I think it would be wonderful to open our doors to any and all, young and old, for health care. But this isn't a perfect world. We have got to decide if we are going to just open our borders for any and all that come through for health care, education, and services.” Proper context is always difficult to achieve more than a half-decade after the fact. In the future, you might consider evaluating legislators based on things they said and did in their most recent session rather than relying on a spotty long-term memory. On second thought, given the fact that you were unable to accurately report on the events that took place this session, perhaps your long-term memory is not the issue. One of the reasons you rate me as among the ten worst legislators in the state is because you claim I shifted money from incarceration diversion programs to programs that “weren’t requested, such as $20 million for new cars for the Department of Public Safety.” If you disagree with the funding decision to give DPS the tools they need to do their job, that is a legitimate political viewpoint. However, there are two major errors in your claim. First, the funds for the cars were not shifted away from any program. The money my subcommittee spent on this item was a one-time expense from freed-up general revenue as a result of the federal stimulus money. It was one of the last things we funded, and even then only after we fully funded the diversion programs (the same ones you claim I shortchanged) at the levels they were appropriated last session. However, the more glaring error on your part is that those black-and-whites actually were requested by the DPS. In fact, it was one of their top exceptional items, and they backed this up in public testimony on more than one occasion. That leaves just two issues outstanding, one of which was my criticism of the journalist shield law. I cannot imagine why you, a member of the media, would be in favor of a measure that gives you a privilege that exceeds the privilege for attorneys, doctors, clergy, and spouses. All kidding aside, I expect the “giggling” of my colleagues regarding the shield law and the Pope was due to the absurdity of the fact that we would afford journalists more protection than we would his Holiness. Giggles or no, it is now a law in Texas. Finally, I am once again one of the Ten Worst Legislators in Texas because my vision is no longer sharp enough to differentiate between two colleagues who are consistently mistaken for one another from more than 100 feet away. I take it from this pettiness that you have no physical attributes yourself anyone has ever taken advantage of. I will make a mental note to myself in the future that eyesight is now synonymous with legislative ability. You and your colleagues should be congratulated for your magazine’s success and what it has accomplished as an entertainment periodical. If you wish to claim that you are true journalists, however, I suggest you consider holding yourself to the same standards of excellence to which you claim you hold the legislature. Partisanship and mean-spiritedness are two criterions you have always claimed to weigh against lawmakers. You might add “hypocrisy” to the list as well, if the irony is not too much to overcome. Sincerely, [My comments appear below]

Best and Worst Legislators forum

Jun 5, 2009 By Paul Burka

Readers are invited to comment and/or submit questions about the Ten Best and Ten Worst selections, as well as Honorable Mention and special awards. The full article is here. I suppose it may seem strange for me to request, after putting these folks on the Ten Worst list,…

Flores fires back

Jun 5, 2009 By Paul Burka

Kino Flores was on Texas Monthly's list of the Ten Worst legislators that was released today. Since he chose to issue a response, I felt that he was entitled to have his concerns appear in this space. We have had our say about why he is on the Ten Worst list, and he's entitled to his say. It would not be appropriate for me to elaborate further on what appears in the story. I will make other remarks following his. Texas Monthly, which on Friday, June 5, released its list of the best and worst state lawmakers, has again portrayed Hispanic and border lawmakers in a negative fashion, said Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview. "As has happened in previous years, South Texas fared poorly," the Rio Grande Guardian, an award-winning internet political newspaper which focuses on the Texas border, noted in its coverage of the Texas Monthly story, which was posted on the magazine's online edition. "Not one border or Hispanic legislator made the Ten Best," The Rio Grande Guardian observed. In the final days of the legislative session, which ended on June 1, Flores successfully championed two major issues of statewide impact: he received approval for a bill that will provide up to 100 percent property tax break for tens of thousands of U.S. military veterans who are disabled as a result of their service to the country, and he passed a bill that will require the state government to work with the U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration to build a VA Hospital in the Valley and in other portions of the state. Also, Flores played a crucial role, along with other border and Hispanic lawmakers, in passing legislation in late May that will place the Tejano Monument – a planned bronze monument that will honor the past and future contributions of Texans of Mexican American descent – on the historic south lawn of the Texas Capitol. The Valley legislative delegation also excelled in securing passage of a bill – its number one priority – that will lead to the creation of a $100+ million University of Texas Health Science Center in deep South Texas that will include a major medical school. The list of accomplishments for border, Valley, and South Texas legislators just this session alone "could fill the pages of Texas Monthly," said Flores, the only Valley representative on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which helped write the state's $182.3 billion budget. He said the article is just the opinions of a few writers, with little understanding of the complicated legislative rules that govern the passage of laws, and even less time to review the actions of 181 state lawmakers. "Readers should take the magazine's story with a grain of salt, particularly when considering Texas Monthly's documented history of ignoring South Texas," he added. "There is only one minority lawmaker on their Top 10 list, even though minorities represent more than 50 percent of our state's population."