Whenever we publish a cover package on politics, we can count on some of our readers to urge that we stick to stories on barbecue and boots, “the way Texas Monthly used to do.” We get that suggestion from Democrats when we put Beto O’Rourke or Wendy Davis on the cover of our annual Bum Steers issue. We get the same suggestion from some Republicans when we cast a critical eye on Governor Greg Abbott or House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Most of our longtime readers know that we have, in fact, held public officials and political candidates accountable since our founding, in 1973. If Republicans attract the lion’s share of our attention these days, that’s because in recent decades they’ve dominated state politics. Whether they can continue that dominance is one of the key questions we address in this issue.
Our election cover package represents the work of a team led by deputy editor Jeff Salamon and politics editor Forrest Wilder. Designed by Victoria Millner, with assistance from Jenn Hair, it includes stories by freelancers Cecilia Ballí, Robert Draper, Robyn Ross, and, making his first appearance in our pages, conservative activist Heath Mayo. Cecilia, a longtime TM writer-at-large, has been busy elsewhere for several years—including working on a study of Latino voters in Texas that informs her piece for us—and we’re pleased to welcome her back. Other stories come from TM veteran Emily McCullar and two relative newcomers to our staff: chief political writer Chris Hooks and associate editor Ben Rowen.
Chris, a native Texan, joined us full-time in April after freelancing for TM, Gawker, GQ, the New York Times, and others. His journalism sparkles with keen observations of scenes and apt references to history, literature, and pop culture. One of the best reviews of his work came from state representative Jonathan Stickland, a frequent target of Chris’s wit, who said he has never so “enjoyed reading things written by someone I dislike.”
Losing the majority in the Texas House in 2002, Chris says, seemed to represent “the last nail in Texas Democrats’ coffin.” Much of the tension in this year’s campaign has come from the prospect that “voters might be able to pry that coffin open with a crowbar.” Chris predicts lots of ticket splitting on November 3. “I think we’ll see Texans marking their ballot for Joe Biden and also [Republican U.S. senator] John Cornyn. Some might vote for Trump and not vote at all in the down-ballot races.”
Ben, a native of New York City, joined us in February, and helps Forrest edit the torrent of politics and policy articles we’ve published this year, in print and on our website. The pace doesn’t faze him, as he previously worked for Pacific Standard, in Santa Barbara, where in a typical month he would edit four dozen brief stories and two or three features. Moving to Austin hasn’t been as big an adjustment as he expected. He quickly found an excellent Ping-Pong bar and a new sport: kayak polo. Those pursuits have helped him meet Texans as well as plenty of fellow refugees from the Left Coast. “When I went to the DMV to get a Texas plate for my car,” he says, “the clerk saw my old driver’s license and asked whether there was anybody left in California.”
I hope you enjoy Ben’s work and Chris’s and the rest of this issue. Please drop me an email to let me know what you think.