It’s been quite a year. So much so, in fact, that the end of 2016 has become a meme (“me at the beginning; me at the end” being the most recent incarnation of the Internet’s call for 2016 to just be over).
Texas has, as usual, has made its fair share of national headlines. As we look back over the year, we selected a few handfuls of photos that illustrate some of the bigger moments that occurred across Texas in 2016. This is by no means a comprehensive retrospective, but it does offer a glimpse into some of this year’s defining moments.
On January 1, Texas’s open carry law went into effect. As Erica Grieder detailed earlier this year, it was a controversial piece of legislation that stoked passionate debate over Second Amendment rights.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in West Texas on February 13. Presidio County, a sparsely-populated part of the state, was swarmed by the media after the unexpected loss of the 79-year-old justice. The nation continues to feel the effects of Scalia’s absence: the Supreme Court was left with just eight members, and no one has been confirmed as his replacement. The appointment of a new justice also became an issue during the 2016 presidential campaign.
When Texas Senator Ted Cruz entered the crowded Republican primary field, he was largely considered a dark horse. But the senator began picking up steam around “Super Tuesday,” and he won handily won Texas, as well as our neighbors to the north, Oklahoma, and Alaska. His strategy appeared to shift at this point to push Marco Rubio out of the race and create a two-man competition between himself and Donald Trump.
On March 2, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case. Under consideration was HB2, the controversial Texas law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and that clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. The definition of “undue burden” was largely the focus of the arguments, stemming from a 1992 Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the court found that states could impose abortion restrictions so long as they didn’t pose an undue burden on the rights of the person who seeks the procedure.
SXSW, already a premiere event on the global stage, upped its game by landing a sitting U.S. president and first lady as keynote speakers for the 2016 festival in March. President Barack Obama discussed the lessons he learned from rolling out Obamacare; the intersection of government services, technology, and the private sector; and increased access to internet. The keynote with Michelle Obama, who spoke five days after her husband, primarily focused on her Let Girls Learn initiative, a program that works to address education access for girls around the world.
In April, the Centers for Disease Control concluded that Zika causes microcephaly and other birth defects. Cities along the Texas-Mexico border began preparing for the arrival of aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the virus, by trapping and testing the bugs. As the year progressed, Zika concerns escalated. In June, a baby in Harris County died from Zika-related symptoms, though the mother contracted the virus in Colombia and not in the state. Then, in November, Texas saw its first case of locally-transmitted Zika in a Brownsville woman. Still, Texas officials are not too worried. “We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw a Zika case spread by a mosquito in Texas,” Dr. John Hellerstedt, the state DSHS commissioner, said in a press release. “We still don’t believe the virus will become widespread in Texas, but there could be more cases, so people need to protect themselves from mosquito bites, especially in parts of the state that stay relatively warm in the fall and winter.”
On April 18, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. Texas, a high-profile challenge to President Barack Obama’s controversial executive actions on immigration. The issue before the court was an injunction upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, which would grant undocumented immigrants who met specific criteria exemption from deportation. As Erica Grieder wrote in April, many considered the case to be more about limiting presidential power than stymying immigration policy.
Tim Duncan played what would ultimately be his last professional basketball game on May 12. It was a disappointing way to go out—the San Antonio Spurs lost game six of the Western Conference Semifinals to the Oklahoma City Thunder 99–113. But Duncan, beloved by his fans and teammates, capped his nineteen-season run with the Spurs with a respectable 19 points and five rebounds in his final game.
On May 26, following months of news about a sexual assault scandal, Baylor University released the “findings of fact” from an external investigation into the matter. The administration also made big personnel changes: University president Ken Starr was demoted (and later resigned), head football coach Art Briles was fired, and athletics director Ian McCaw was sanctioned and placed on probation.
Floods plagued the Houston area a couple of times this year. April showers brought a “hundred-year flood” to the metro area, dumping more than a foot of rain in some areas of the city and prompting many to wonder if Houston’s infrastructure could sustain these weather events, which are becoming more and more frequent. Then, in June, the Brazos River reached record levels, rising more than 54 feet and displacing residents in Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.
In a 5-3 decision announced June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of Texas’s HB2 legislation—specifically the part of the bill requiring clinics to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center and requiring doctors at those clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals—saying the bill put an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion. The decision came nearly three years to the day after then-state senator Wendy Davis’s historic filibuster to kill a version of the bill.
On July 8, five police officers were killed and seven others were injured during a Black Live Matter rally in Dallas protesting the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was the deadliest day for American law enforcement since September 11, 2001.
At July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ted Cruz made what many construed as a public act of defiance against Donald Trump: Cruz stood in front of the gathered crowd of delegates and urged them to “vote their conscience.” The statement elicited boos, and at the Texas delegation’s breakfast the next day, the senator was met with anger from his own constituents. Cruz went on to endorse Trump in September.
Simone Biles, a nineteen-year-old from Spring, won her fourth gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics on August 16, setting the record for most golds won by an American gymnast in a single Olympics. (She also won a bronze at Rio, making her only the fourth American gymnast to take home five medals in one Olympic year.) She clinched her final gold medal at the games during the floor exercise, in part due to her signature move, the Biles: a double-layout with a half-turn.
Students at the University of Texas at Austin held a protest called “cocks not glocks” on August 24, which encouraged attendees to wear sex toys strapped to their backpacks as a way to call attention to the controversial campus carry law, which went into effect on August 1, fifty years to the day after the UT Tower shooting. The rally garnered national attention, including interest from The Daily Show.
Ninety seconds into Tony Romo’s first pre-season game on August 25, the Cowboys’ starting quarterback was injured after Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril tackled him during a slide. It was, as Dallas writer Michael J. Mooney noted, “a very Romo thing” to happen. (Mooney also wrote our September cover story on Romo’s “now or never” moment, an issue that was hitting newsstands literally the day Romo was hurt.) Romo fractured a vertebra and was out for several weeks.
On September 7, the Apache Corporation announced that it had made an “immense” energy discovery, finding a new field in West Texas—dubbed “Alpine High”—that could hold up to three billion barrels of oil and 75 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Crude oil prices experienced tumult throughout the year: early in 2016, they fell nearly 60 percent globally, but towards the end of the year, they ticked back up to highs not seen since mid-2015.
Tragedy struck in Alpine when a freshman high school student shot another student on campus before turning the gun on herself. The incident on September 8 shook the small West Texas city, and left locals surprised something like that would happen in their community. As one parent put it to Rachel Monroe, who reported on the shooting for Texas Monthly, “Everybody’s saying, a shooting in Alpine? Really? Alpine?”
Blue Bell landed back in the news over listeria concerns on September 21. The company recalled two flavors of ice cream—Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Cookie Two Step—produced in an Alabama plant. Blue Bell was still recovering from a 2015 recall stemming from listeria issues.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection released data on October 17 showing a sharp rise in migrant families crossing the Texas border. As we wrote then, “thousands more families and unaccompanied minors were apprehended or turned themselves in at the Texas border in fiscal year 2016 than the previous period. The El Paso Border Patrol sector saw a 134 percent increase in unaccompanied minors since fiscal year 2015, and the Rio Grande Valley region saw a 54 percent increase; in the 2016 period the same regions experienced hikes of 364 percent and 90 percent, respectively, in families who were apprehended compared to the 2015 period. Overall, 88,720 families and unaccompanied minors were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley region, by far the region with the most apprehended migrants, compared to 51,273 in FY 2015 and 102,285 in FY 2014.”
On November 2 Beyoncé performed her song “Daddy Lessons” at the fiftieth annual CMA Awards with help from the Dixie Chicks. It was a big year for the Texas artists, with Beyoncé headlining the Super Bowl, the BET Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards, and the Country Music Awards, and the Dixie Chicks receiving a (mostly) warm welcome on their reunion tour after years spent in country music exile.
Nearly twenty years after the “San Antonio 4″—Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez—were falsely accused of sexually assaulting two children and convicted of the crime, the women were officially exonerated on November 23. The case was often called a “witch hunt” and the women spent years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
On November 26, the University of Texas at Austin fired head football coach Charlie Strong. Strong coached three seasons at the university, finishing with a 16-21 record. The coach was deeply respected by his team, staff, and many fans, but ultimately, the university cut ties with him due to his losing record. UT poached the University of Houston’s head coach, Tom Herman, reportedly giving him a five-year, $5 million contract.
Donald Trump tapped ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson to be his Secretary of State on December 10. As with many of the president-elect’s cabinet members, Trump’s choice for the powerful position caused some controversy, with some people examining Tillerson’s potential conflicts of interest stemming from his connection to Exxon.
On December 13, President-elect Trump tapped yet another Texan for a top cabinet position: former Texas governor Rick Perry for energy secretary. As with Tillerson, the choice came under scrutiny for Perry’s potential conflicts of interest. Also, the decision gave reason for the media to trot out Perry’s infamous “oops” gaffe when, during a presidential primary debate in 2012, the governor couldn’t remember the third agency he would cut if he were elected president (it was, ironically, the energy department).
Tim Duncan, who officially stepped away from the game in July, was honored in San Antonio for his nineteen seasons with the Spurs on December 18. His number, 21, was retired in a ceremony celebrating the power forward’s long career. Head coach Gregg Popovich has made statements suggesting that Duncan may coach.
The Houston Texans announced it would be benching starting quarterback Brock Osweiler and moving backup Tom Savage into the top spot on December 19. The decision was met with cheers from many fans, who had been shaking their heads all season at Osweiler’s dismal performance. The Texans picked up the quarterback, giving him a four-year, $72 million contract.
On December 22, the Dallas Cowboys clinched the NFC East and secured the top spot in the playoffs. The team is currently sitting at a 13-2 record, with starting quarterback Dak Prescott winning fans (and games), and running back Ezekiel Elliott emerging as one of the top players of the 2016 NFL season.