1. Bills,Bills, Bills
The calendar says that the Eighty-third Legislature began on January 8, but insiders know the real action doesn’t begin until 59 days later. Oh, there are plenty of speeches and resolutions during the first two months, recognizing groups like the Texas Association of Health Underwriters. But the tone changes on March 8, the filing deadline for most bills and joint resolutions. Without suspending its rules, neither chamber can debate a bill on the floor prior to that date; afterward, the machinery of passing (or, more than likely, killing) legislation kicks into gear until the session ends, on Memorial Day. The system is designed to give lawmakers plenty of time to consider bills in committees—and to keep controversial measures from arising late in the game and clogging up the process. As of press time, nearly two thousand bills and resolutions have been filed, ranging from the serious (Senate Bill 182, which would allow concealed handguns on college campuses) to the frivolous (House Bill 778, which would require the University of Texas and Texas A&M football teams to play each other every year). Soon, the political jostling will begin: the pointed questions from other members; the art of delaying debate, known as chubbing; and the invocation of POO (points of order, often intended to derail a bill). And to those legislators whose efforts don’t succeed, take heart: as the late Fred Agnich, a longtime Republican representative from Dallas, once said, “Hell, we’ve got too much damn legislation anyway.”
—Brian D. Sweany
2. State’s Evidence
How do you win a murder conviction 27 years after the crime took place? That’s the challenge that lies before the attorney general’s office, which on March 18 will begin its prosecution of drifter Mark Alan Norwood for the 1986 Austin murder of Christine Morton. In 1987 Christine’s husband, Michael, was wrongly convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison. In 2011, testing of a bandana found near the crime scene identified Norwood’s DNA intermingled with Christine’s blood, which led to Morton’s exoneration. So now what? Since this DNA evidence alone is probably not enough to win a conviction, the AG’s office will likely introduce other evidence suggesting Norwood’s involvement. Here are some pieces of evidence—and some big questions—that close observers of the case are focused on.
Michael Morton’s .45 The gun went missing from the Morton home after Christine’s murder. Can it be connected to Norwood?
The Green Van Neighbors saw a van behind the Morton home around the time of the murder. Will the prosecution be able to tie Norwood to the vehicle?
Fingerprints Approximately fifteen fingerprints found at the crime scene have never been identified. Can they be identified now?
Additional DNA In 2011 Norwood’s DNA was discovered amid evidence from the scene of another Austin murder. Will this evidence be admissible?
3. The One-Question Interview: Roland Swenson
Q: Besides the fact that you were, obviously, personally devastated by Brent’s passing, how panicked were you about the prospect of putting together this year’s festival without him?
A: One of the great things about Brent was that he was not afraid to delegate and give people a lot of responsibility and trust them to perform. So over the years he had developed a team of people who really knew what they were doing. The thing that worried me was not having access to his hefty intellect. Every day something comes across my desk that I would have asked Brent about or asked him to handle. He was my friend. He was my co-conspirator. He and I almost always saw things the same way, which was reassuring and saved a lot of time. We didn’t have to explain things to each other.
4. Lost Soul
if you need a reminder of just how arbitrary success in the music business can be, spend some time with the Eccentric Soul compilations from the Numero Group. These collections feature talented also-rans who lacked the sanded edges of Detroit, Memphis, and Philly hit makers. The latest installment, Eccentric Soul: The Dynamic Label—the first in a series of records intended to excavate the secret history of San Antonio music—pulls together 21 songs put out by recording enthusiast Abe Epstein. Though Dynamic was adept at brassy productions, the only thing approaching a chart success here is “No Time for You,” a minor 1966 hit by the Commands. You’ve probably never heard it, or the worthy soul-crooning of Doc & Sal and Little Jr. Jesse & the Teardrops. But a twist of fate—the right manager, say—could have landed a few of these tracks on the radio. It didn’t happen, but at least now they’re not completely forgotten.
6. The Last Days of J.R. Ewing
When Fort Worth native Larry Hagman died the day after Thanksgiving, following treatment for cancer, he was in the midst of shooting the second season of the revived version of Dallas. His untimely passing forced the show’s writers to quickly rejigger the arc of the rest of the season, which will now include a “Who killed J.R.?”–style mystery. (An episode memorializing J.R. will air on March 11.)
Cynthia Cidre, the show’s executive producer, says she and the writing staff dealt with the situation more or less on the fly. “Obviously, we had talked about a plan B,” she says of her concerns about Hagman’s health. “But if you have a plan B, you don’t commit to plan A, and plan A was Larry Hagman as J.R. We had the whole season arced out, all fifteen episodes, and all the episodes had him in it. When we found out that he was in the hospital the week of Thanksgiving, we wrote him out of the next episode, which was shooting immediately—though he’s in it still, through some ‘magic.’ Then he passed away, and we had to postpone an episode while we rethought the end of the season. And we’re going whole hog. There’s only two ways for a character to go: of natural causes or unnatural causes. And natural causes just would not do justice to the show, or to Larry Hagman. Or to J.R.”