Three prominent Austin  media personalities worried out loud late last week about the acceleratng  demise of the daily newspaper. Paul Burka, political edtor of Texas Monthly; Ross Ramsey, publisher of Texas Weekly and Harvey Kronberg of the Quorum Report, all offered their views during a political panel discussion led by George Scott Christian at the Texas Legislative Conference in New Braunfels.

“We all need newspapers”, said Burka, noting that TM has 12 editions a year needing  good political stories. It was pointed out that “we now have a huge ‘echo chamber’. Newspapers run articles and a lot of people comment on them”  But what if there is no original material to comment on?  It is no secret that rip and read voices on radio and television swipe  local news from the morning Statesman.

And as Texas newspapers  are forced to continue staff cuts in the face of crumbling revenues, the skilled reporter who spends the time and shoe leather to develop the stories is becoming an endangered specie. That has become especially troubling for the future of investigative journalism.

The ultimate consequence of the shrinking newsroom? “There’ll be fewer watchdogs” predicted Ramsey. “And we may have to rely on opposition research writers for our information,” said Kronberg, adding a colorful imaginary example of such prose laced with trash talk.

As a climax to the panel,  the three were asked by Christian who will win the upcoming heavyweight bout between Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Two of the the three picked Hutchison; the other handicapped Perry. For who picked whom, you’ll have to ask the players or another witness.                                       

                                                                                                                                  -Julian Read

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Enjoying  Asleep at the Wheel Ray Benson’s delightful “On the Road with Bob Wills”  last weekend at the Long Center in Austin brought back memories of long ago, together with political history that few Texans may know.

Ray’s play/musical is about the life of western swing icon Bob Wills. In his early days, Wills  and his band were employed by a Fort Worth flour salesman, W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel of Burris Mills, who named the group the “Light Crust Doughboys” and sponsored their mid-day broadcast on KFJZ radio.  I remember very well that as a youngster working on my father’s ice wagon, I watched them perform on a flatbed tailer alongside a boarding house on West 6th Street in downtown Fort Worth, and hearing O’Daniel hawk his flour,

Wills split with O’Daniel and his band became “The Texas Playboys” . “Pappy”  founded his own O’Daniel’s Hillbilly Flour Company and formed a new band, Pappy O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys. Riding his notariety from years on the radio, O’Daniel ran for Governor of Texas in 1938, pitching his flour and the need for pensions and tax cuts. He won the Democratic Primary with 51 percent of the vote over 12 opponents. (No worry abot Rs–they hunted Republicans with dogs in those days).  Once in office, O’Daniel proposed a sales tax, which did not  pass. He handily won re-election in 1940.

In 1941, O’Daniel ran  for the U.S. Senate in a special election. He defeated a young Lyndon B. Johnson by 1,306 votes in one of the most controversial elections in history. He is the only person ever to defeat Johnson for elective office.                                                                 –Julian Read

Bob Banta’s tribute to Matt Martinez Jr. of Matt’s El Rancho in Monday’s Austin American-Statesman,  following the junior Matt’s passing in Dallas, quoted former Texas Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong as one of several Austin affectionados of the legendary  Tex-Mex palace, established by Matt Sr. back in 1952.

But Bob modestly failed to mention that one of the popular restaurant’s tastiest favorites of  insiders is named after him. There is a longstanding difference of opinion on who came up with the idea of  jazzing  traditional  Con Queso with a scoop of Guacamole and a dab of taco meat– whether it was Matt Jr. or Bob. Whatever, it became known as  Bob Armstrong Dip–an appetizer to die for.

Even in today’s contentious legislative climate,  both Republicans and Democrats  who frequent the South Lamar tradition agree on non-partisan Bob Armstrong Dip.  With the Photo ID  brawl facing the House this week, Speaker Joe Straus should have the House meet as a Committee of the  Whole at Matt’s and discuss their differences over bowls of the delicacy and some cold beers.  Who knows what agreements might result. 

Austinites will treasure warm memories of Matt Jr, and wish the best to sisters Gloria, Cathy and Cecilia as they carry on Matt Sr’s family tradition.

                                                                                              –Julian Read

Scooped by Selby

March 12, 2009

I really wasn’t ready to go public, but Statesman sleuth Gardner Selby learned about the blog from former Senator Babe Schwatrz, one of my first contributors, who has been known to talk.  Thanks for the link, Gardner.

–Julian

The Texas State Senate pulled an all-nighter in Austin this week to debate the merits of Voter ID legislation. But while groggy Senators might not agree, the 22-hour vigil did not compare with the all-time record marathon filibuster in the mid 60s when Fort Worth Senator Don Kennard stood in the chamber for 44 hours with the aid of Senator Babe Schwartz of Galveston to debate a bill sought by Texas Board of Regents Chairman Frank Erwin to create a two-year university at Arlington. Kennard  wanted a four-year school.

Former Senator Schwartz, still hard at work at the Capitol every day as a sought-after lobbyist, shares his memories of those historic hours.   

                                                                                                      —Julian Read

BABE SCHWARTZ RECALLS:

“In the Senate’s best years between 1960 and 1981, we had half a dozen all -nighters during filibusters by me and several others. Don Kennard was the most fun. He and (Board of Regents Chairman) Frank Erwin were fighting over whether UT would have a two-year or four-year school at Arlington. Of course, Frank won, but Kennard holds the valid filibuster record of 44 hours bacuse of his dedication to the cause.  (Lt. Governor) Ben Barnes also wanted to keep him on his feet without any vodka for the sobering influence he would gain from the experience. It worked well for Don.

“As I recall, Don began to imagine a great university at Arlington, having a Hall of Fame loaded with wax busts of famous Texans meriting recognition of their accomplishments and convictions. The rascal I remember best who deserved conviction, but only gained notoriety, was Frank Sharp (Sharpstown Bank scandal). Kennard proposed a wax bust commemorating the Frank Sharp School of Crooked High Finance. Then there was the West Texas fertilizer king who was convicted for his high finance deals, and that would be the Billy Sol Estes School of Manure Finance, of course, with appropriate bust. Woodrow Bean of El Paso was indicted for failing to file income taxes for 12 years.  He was convicted and served a little time, which entitled him to a bust and the honor of a school named the Woodrow Bean School of Income Tax Evasion Tactics.

“We had great fun with ideas for 50 or 60 others. But nothing else equalled the discussions betwen Don and me over fertilizer finance, income tax evansion, or Frank Sharp’s avoidance of indictment by throwing all of his best friends and lobbyists to the wolves. The lobbyist, John Osorio, later became fmous for having won a $22,000,000. Texas lottery.  Better luck than being Sharp’s lobbyist.

“I remember asking several questions of an hour or two duration each during the night  to which Kennard replied after a moment of consideration by asking me to ‘please repeat the question’, which I did.

“It is important to note that several years later, Senator Bill Meier received recognition in the Guinness Book of Records for fraudulently breaking Kennard’s record. (Lt. Governor) Bill Hobby let Meier leave the Senate floor for a restoom break in the Ladies Room, which was in the hallway close to his desk.  Hopefully, that correction can still be made in the Book of Records to give Kennard the credit he is due.”

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Wednesday Morning Wisdom

March 6, 2009

The Waterloo Ice House on 38th street just west of Lamar in Austin has become home of a weekly Wednesday morning  roundtable of  several notable Austinites who have left their marks on Texas political history.

The breakfast clubbers  include former Governor John Connally staff members John Mobley and Terrell Blodgett, retired LBJ Library honcho Harry Middleton, former LBJ staffer Jim Wilson and long-ago Texas legislators Bill Abbington of Fort Worth and George Nokes of Waco, along with retired executive Frank Cahill. And I am their latest invited member.

Founded by the late Congressman Jake Pickle, the  weekly conflab is a refugee from the sadly assassinated Holiday House, victim of the  Wicked Witch of  Tarrytown Center. Blodgett recalls that “we interviewed for a new home all over West Austin and  The Waterloo Ice House was the only place that would take us.”   Small wonder: the most requested breakfast order is oatmeal.  Not surprisingly, the favorite  subject of conversation is politics, and there is no shortage of opinions.

–Julian Read

Former U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer came to Austin yesterday to shop his likely candidacy for Texas Governor to the media.   But one of the sidelights of his background did not make the Statesman.

While a student at the University of Texas in the early sixties, Schieffer worked in the mailroom of Governor John Connally, along with other to-become-well-known Austin personalities Nick Kralj and Joe Longley.  The Ambassador joked that “we used to tell people that ‘we handle paroles’ That really meant that we carried paperwork back and forth between Ethel Weitzel’s office in the Reagan Building (Pardons and Paroles) and Mike Myers in the Capitol (Connally’s aide)”

A more serious Schieffer has cited his concern for education in Texas as his motivation for running for Governor,an echo of the battle cry that John Connally sounded as he ran for that office 47 years ago.

— Julian Read

I am launching this on Texas Independence Day to provide a new vehicle to free story tellers from years of silence to share their rich experiences with today’s generation of Texans.