If you’ve been reading Burkablog over the past thirty days, you know that it’s business as usual for the Eighty-fourth Legislature: Ethics have been called into question (“House Will Investigate Stickland Witness Fight”), politics have trumped policy (“The Plot Against Public Education”), and drama, as always, is at a premium. The conspiracy theories surrounding Jade Helm went mainstream (“Jade Helm and the Second Battle of Bastrop”) and the tensions between the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker boiled over (“The Big Three Breakfast Blows Up”). That’s been more than enough to keep Erica Grieder and R.G. Ratcliffe occupied, but as the session hurtles toward its final day, they have their eyes set on a larger prize: naming the season’s Best and Worst Legislators. Check back next issue for the results.
And now, a sampling of feedback from our readers.
Thank you for the articles in the May issue on Big Bend National Park [“Big Bend 2015”]. They brought back many memories of my days there in the sixties as a biology graduate student studying the life of the roadrunner.
There is, however, a mistake on the Field Guide drawing on page 95 that I must point out. The roadrunner feather is completely inaccurate. The feathers are not striped, but rather a solid dark color, with all but the center two tipped with a white dot. I imagine that other readers noted this as well, for we Texans know our flora and fauna.
Martha Maxon, via email
Tales as Old as Crime
What a fascinating story [“A Deadly Dance”]—and for all the wrong reasons.
San Rafael Blue, via texasmonthly.com
Sounds like a Peyton Place sequel, for sure. Love and betrayal. Oldest story on earth, sadly.
LauraTXN, via texasmonthly.com
This month’s bonkers Texas Monthly true-crime story: I give it a four out of five on the bonkers scale.
Anne Helen Petersen, via Twitter
Is there a magazine that produces as much crime nonfiction as Texas Monthly? So great.
Ryan McCarthy, via Twitter
Texas Monthly really does the BEST true-crime stuff. Possibly because Texas?
LadyHawkins, via Twitter
Loren Steffy’s critique of the unpopular margins tax misses the point [“Margin of Error”]. Steffy indicts the Legislature and former comptroller John Sharp’s special commission for devising the unwieldy measure in 2006, but in fairness, the Texas Supreme Court deserves the blame. After arrogating to itself the role of school finance czar in the 1989 Edgewood decision, the Supreme Court issued a series of Delphic pronouncements, declaring various legislative schemes unconstitutional and offering no clear guidance on how to comply with Edgewood’s shifting dictates.
The court struck down SB 1 in 1991 and strongly suggested that the Legislature equalize funding by consolidating the state’s 1,052 school districts. The Legislature did so in SB 351, which the court promptly declared unlawful. With a judicial “gun” to its head, the Legislature passed the controversial Robin Hood law (SB 7) in 1993, taking money from “rich” school districts to give to “poor” districts. When the “recapture” provisions of SB 7 began to take effect, the rich districts were outraged and challenged the law, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in the 2005 West Orange-Cove II case, ordering the Legislature to enact a new system by June 1, 2006. The Legislature met in special session and hurriedly passed HB 1, which contained property tax cuts that needed to be backfilled elsewhere. Hence, the margins tax.
If the Supreme Court had not meddled to begin with, or persisted with micromanagement through the incessant school finance appeals, the Legislature may have figured out how to raise the necessary revenue without resorting to the much-criticized margins tax. In their defense, legislators tried several times but were stymied by the recalcitrant court. Edgewood was wrongly decided in 1989, and its entire 26-year legacy consists of unnecessary legislative miscues and interminable litigation. Edgewood should be overturned and the margins tax should be repealed. Judges make lousy legislators, and even worse school board members.
Mark Pulliam, Austin
Our politicians have crowed for years about Texas’s not having an income tax, and the national media have eaten it up. What a farce. The franchise tax is far more evil than an income tax; your business can lose money and still be faced with whopping franchise tax bills. Nice job, Texas pols!
I say dump the franchise tax and go to a state income tax, even if it won’t play well in the national press.
Robert Fly Jr., Bulverde
Ms. Swartz poses the question “Why do the state’s biggest nonprofits struggle when it comes to Hispanic representation?” [“A Seat at the Table”]
The answer is less nefarious than Ms. Swartz suggests. In contrast with for-profit boards, who look for diversity (at least most do) and require extensive business experience at an executive level, a nonprofit board looks for, among others, these three things in its members: (1) a passion for the cause or the need that the nonprofit serves, (2) a willingness to donate personal time to the organization, and (3) most important, cash or access to cash. For the most part, the only individuals serving on nonprofit boards are those who contribute large sums to the nonprofit or can find others who will. In fact, most nonprofit boards require that members donate a substantial sum on an annual basis.
I would suggest that any Hispanic, if he or she were to demonstrate a true passion for a nonprofit’s cause by donating both his or her personal time and a meaningful amount of personal wealth (and/or arranging for sizable donations by others), would be welcome on any nonprofit board in Texas, large or small.
Jennifer Stewart, Huffman
Thank you for providing me with all the ammo I needed to show my wife why I’m dumping the jeans she has been buying me since we got married, twenty years ago [The Texanist]! Your comments hit on one of the longest-running (and funniest) debates in my marriage.
I grew up in Austin and attended Austin High and the University of Texas. I had three pairs of Wranglers that helped me get through those formidable years: two for going to classes during the week and one always pressed and ready for the weekend. I moved to Atlanta and met my wife wearing those same jeans. I learned from my soon-to-be bride that her friends called me “the Wrangler” and that, to them, this was not a term of endearment. I caved to her demand that I ditch the Wranglers (but I’ve held firm on queso always being served in our house for any occasion, Longhorn stickers and decals on the cars, and raising our three kids as full-blooded Texans . . . who just happen to live in Georgia!). With my oldest child on her way to the Forty Acres later this year and your wonderful wisdom and advice to Mr. Faulks, I’ve decided it’s time to saddle back up in my favorite jeans. Just for a moment I thought of finding the old Wranglers that my wife hid in the attic, but my waistline may have grown an inch or two (did I mention we eat a lot of queso?).
Doug Lindauer, Atlanta, Georgia
I appreciate your printing my letter in last month’s issue. Apparently, like me, everybody starts with your column. I have received a couple of calls already from some upper-level people I work with who were quite offended with my opinion.
They have all started with “You had better not be talking about me.” I think we just crashed the bedazzled-booty market in the industry. Now I can prove to my folks that the seven-year Southwest Texas State education was well worth the investment.
Russell Faulks, Fort Worth
From the Unconventiona Letter Department:
In the May issue, we ran an original poem by Naomi Shihab Nye on the Stars of Big Bend. It begat this submission from frequent Roar of the Crowd letter-writer Paul Anton Schweizer, of Dallas.
WEST OF A DREAM
The Alamo timeless, the evening moonless,
Phantoms beckon, Highway 90, to more than is,
to what was:
Hondo, Sabinal, Uvalde, Brackettville,
winding through Del Rio,
tracing Amistad across the Pecos,
Langtry, Dryden, Sanderson,
Marathon, the Gage,
A forgotten movie set—the bridge, courthouse,
and saloon, among vast
Texas land—the country of Judge Bean, Governor
Stillwell, and Pancho Villa, natives, lingering,
Their elusive whispers call further, deeper,
into another state
Their ghosts, our lives, pass by.
South into the Park, greeted by the nocturnal—
ephemeral rabbits, mice, coyotes—chasing
edges of light, crossing into darkness.
The Basin and the Lodge, hosted by panthers and
bears, seeing without being seen.
Restless at midnight, slumbering awake,
rustle and shift,
Remain intrepid, surrounded by a sense of loss,
seek to know,
wondering while wandering,
Go east and then south, closer to a
Mile 17 and Hot Springs,
Hushed sounds, Sagan’s billions shimmering
on navy velvet, a footpath and
Scorpio’s touch, muddy warmth.
The road behind, the river beside, the millennia
above, the destination:
Life’s Big Bend, the phantoms’ arms enfold you.
Listen. See. Breathe. Be, for the moment.