1. When Tea Parties Attack!
Article III, Section 9, of the constitution of the state of Texas tells us that when a new session of the House of Representatives is seated, its first order of business is to elect a Speaker. What the constitution doesn’t tell us is that the Speaker’s election can produce one of the great dramas of Texas politics: a leadership struggle that amounts to a civil war.
Though the Eighty-third Legislature doesn’t convene until January, the battle lines are already being drawn. Bryan Hughes, a Mineola lawyer and ten-year veteran of the House, has signaled his intention to challenge Joe Straus, who will be seeking his third term. Both are Republicans, but there the similarities end. Straus is an establishment figure who social conservatives complain is out of step with the insurgent mood of the Republican base. Hughes and his supporters have been doing the complaining.
The race could get ugly, as it did last year, when tea party groups infuriated House members by threatening to oppose them in the next election if they supported Straus. But unless Hughes is a stalking horse for somebody else (and I don’t know who that would be, given that the most likely challengers to Straus—Kelly Hancock, Larry Taylor, and Ken Paxton—all won Senate seats), Straus is the favorite here. The natural inclination of members is to want to be “on the team” so that they will be rewarded with leadership roles. Straus, who has spent two sessions building a governing coalition and has been courting rookie legislators, is in the best position to give them that because he owns the most valuable asset in politics: incumbency. —Paul Burka
2. Animatronic LBJ: The Exit Interview
After undergoing a year-long, $10 million renovation, Austin’s LBJ Presidential Library will debut its new look on December 22—not coincidentally, the centenary of Lady Bird Johnson’s birth. There will be many new and updated exhibits and a major redesign of the interior. One of the most notable changes will be the refurbishing of the Animatronic LBJ, who has, since 1998, leaned against a fence and regaled visitors with a handful of the late president’s best yarns while dressed in a cowboy hat and casual ranch duds. The restyled Animatronic LBJ will wear a suit and tie and stand behind a presidential podium while spinning the exact same yarns. In advance of the big change, he granted us a brief audience.
Texas Monthly: I’m not sure how I should address you. “Mr. President”?
Animatronic LBJ: No need to stand on ceremony, son. LBJ wasn’t much for formalities, and neither am I. You could call a mule “Mr. Speaker” but it wouldn’t make him Sam Rayburn. Then again . . .
TM: It’s weird—even though you’re off the clock, you still talk like LBJ.
ALBJ: Playing a role can get under your skin, like a tick’s mandible. Or Hubert Humphrey. Back in the eighties I spent a few months working as a pirate at Disney World. It took me years to stop saying “Aaargh!” every time my lumbago acted up.
TM: So playing LBJ wasn’t your first time at the rodeo?
ALBJ: Hell, no! You slap a different faceplate on me, and I can do all sorts of things. My Keanu Reeves is uncanny.
TM: After fourteen years playing the “country” LBJ, you’re now going to be dressed in a suit and tie. Will that be a challenge?
ALBJ: A few months ago I got sent for reprogramming down at the Sally Corporation, in Florida. Those are the folks who create people like me for museums and amusement parks. It was a pain, but at least I had a chance to visit with some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while—Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Fred Flintstone. Good times. Just don’t get Ben and Fred in the same room.
TM: Are you looking forward to the new role?
ALBJ: I’ll be lip-synching the same five stories I’ve been telling since 1998. And let’s face it: that one about the guy who’s losing his hearing and his doctor tells him to quit drinking? It wasn’t that funny the first time around. Umpteen hundred thousand times later, it’s even less funny. I mean, a wardrobe change is nice, but how about some new material? I can do a lot more than set up, punch line, set up, punch line, you know?
TM: Anything in particular you’d like to lip-synch?
ALBJ: LBJ’s speech after Kennedy was killed: “An assassin’s bullet has thrust upon me the awesome burden of the presidency. I am here today to say I need your help; I cannot bear this burden alone.” I’d give my left nut and bolt to recite something like that.
TM: Last question: Can I see your gallbladder scar?
ALBJ: Don’t get cute, son.
3. Hanukkah Gifts for Young Texans
Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates a miracle created by God and his only begotten son, Adam Sandler. The holiday, which begins on December 8, lasts eight nights; children are given one gift each night. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Bow-hunting lessons with Ted Nugent.
2. A Neiman Marcus yarmulke with attachable Gucci chin strap, for riding on the ranch.
3. A brief lecture on the importance of showing respect for all religions. “Jesus loves you” can be very comforting words. Unless you hear them in a Mexican prison.
4. A Porsche, so he can grow up to be a jerk.
5. Tickets to a Billy Joe Shaver concert. As my father used to say, “Never underestimate the power of gentile prayer.”
6. A bottle of my Man in Black Tequila, which I call “the Barry Manilow drink” because it makes you feel good for a short period of time.
7. A brand-new Yom Kippur clipper, a.k.a. a Jewish Cadillac—it stops on a dime and then picks it up.
8. Some good advice, like the tip Willie Nelson once gave me: “If you’re gonna have sex with an animal, make it a horse. That way, if things don’t work out, at least you know you’ve got a ride home.” —Kinky Friedman
4. Popularized Science
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science may be the world’s most architecturally daring classroom, from the musical staircase (stomping encouraged) to the “living” roof, sprouted with native Texas plants. The $185 million Dallas facility—which received a gift of more than $50 million from Ross Perot’s five children and is the successor to the Museum of Nature and Science that once stood in Fair Park—opens in the Victory Park development on December 1. Here are three things I learned during a recent advance visit:
HOW TO FLY
One entire floor of the museum is an aviary, featuring 21 species of birds. Stop in front of an interactive screen and flap your arms with a bird avatar.
HOW TO MERCHANDISE
The museum shop features lots of cool stuff, including an ice tray that creates fossil-shaped cubes and a “global warming” coffee mug—pour in some java and watch the coastlines disappear.
HOW TO GET A DINOSAUR NAMED AFTER YOU
(Hint: it helps to be rich.) Say hello to the newly discovered Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum. —Jason Sheeler
5. Yule be Sorry
Though some acts that record Christmas albums get ambitious and try to create new standards, most revisit the same forty-odd songs—as if we needed another version of “Little Drummer Boy.” Case in point: new Christmas collections by Dallas’s Polyphonic Spree and Austin’s Eastern Sea. The Spree, known for overblown shows featuring twenty-plus members decked in choir robes, doesn’t do anything small, and Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays, Vol. One (Kirtland) plays like the Flaming Lips meets Phil Spector, with warbly vocals set over arrangements awash with harps and timpani. The song list is predictable but the experimental vibe isn’t. Anyone who can make “Silent Night” sound fresh deserves some kudos. The Eastern Sea’s digital-only First Christmas (WhiteLabBlackLab) offers a more straightforward take on the standards, though the young band tries some creative meter and melody changes. But the song choices are head-scratchers (the Chipmunks? Really?). Despite flourishes of original material, each band relies on the familiar (yes, “Drummer Boy” appears on both albums). The groups tried their best, but neither record is likely to stick around much longer than the average Christmas turkey. —Jeff McCord