McNeely took out after Sen. Ted Cruz and Rick Perry recently, and he has a fine eye for politics, noting the impact of a recent, obscure special election for the Texas Senate that would not only provide a safe seat for the occupant but keep enough Democrats in the Senate to block legislation. And he has been among the few to note how Cruz’s Hispanic surname didn’t carry much water with Hispanic voters themselves last fall. His analysis of the Medicaid controversy was straightforward: Other Republican governors are taking the federal money and Texans would otherwise be paying taxes that simply go to other states. But it was brass-knuckle critical of Perry, saying maybe it was time for him to go. There’s not a lot of nuance with McNeely, who is also a contributor to the Nieman Watchdog project. But he gets to the point and he backs up his argument with facts.
Experience is great. But it can be a double-edged sword. The Austin American-Statesman, the capital city’s newspaper, has a very experienced journalist, Ken Herman, writing a column on politics and policy. But it is about as nuanced, witty, and analytical as a cinderblock. (It should be noted that Herman helped the Lufkin Daily News win a Pulitzer Prize in the 1970s and went on to cover George W. Bush as both governor and president. He later moved to the editorial page and then to the metro section.) A recent example? Herman wrote that Texas Republicans have put more Hispanics and African-Americans into statewide office over the last 19 years than Democrats did in the previous 100 which would, he argued, throw cold water on the idea of Texas becoming Democratic.
But: of course they have. Republicans have controlled Texas politics for the last 20 years. So unless they’re just out and out racists or really bad at politics and math, of course they’ll have a better track record over those two decades. Plus, the previous 100 years? Hispanics and African-Americans had to fight for the right to vote, let alone get elected to office for most of that century. Herman has previously—and oddly—written that perhaps threatening to withhold the right of Hispanics to vote would turn up participation. He wrote the column, particularly singling out Hispanics for not turning out for a local school board election—for which, as he noted—nobody turned out. On guns in schools, Herman has favored firearms training for students, saying flatly that it’s somehow part of teaching history and the Constitution. And Herman penned a light-hearted column questioning whether Texas needed more concealed handguns—published rather unfortunately the day
before of the Newtown massacre. He apologized and called for a reasonable dialogue on guns. Later Herman wrote on the need to balance liberty and safety when it comes to guns, talking about “acceptable levels of death” and noting that the Texas Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, the state’s leading gun advocate, has said, “Liberty can have bad outcomes.”
Not everyone can be Molly Ivins or Bill Safire. But then, not everyone can be a Peggy Fikacs or Dave McNeely either, and they are doing valuable work in our time. When it comes to politics and policy, newspapers tend to have an experienced and intelligent analyst in their midst. And if they don’t they better get one or groom one. Newspapers are still the primary generators of original news. But people need context and perspective, not just news. And not just opinions.
Here are some free samples from the newspaper columnists of Texas:
Call it Gov. Gandalf vs. Gov. Goodhair—but above all, call it Rick Perry’s signature style of in-your-face politics. Gov. Perry got a publicity windfall with a relatively tiny $24,000 investment in radio ads around California, slamming the Golden State’s business climate in the wake of a recent tax increase and urging companies to come to the Lone Star State.
Rick Perry has now maneuvered himself into a position where CEOs from every major employer in the state, and their lobbyists, will be on his doorstep. The state’s hospitals, nursing homes, and health care providers are next in line. This is just another case of how Perry’s ideological blinders have damaged this state for the past thirteen years.
Well, that didn’t take long. Or, as NBC broadcaster Andrea Mitchell put it recently, “Ted Cruz has made his mark already.” If The Cruz were a missile, there might be a plaintive call to mission control: “Houston, we have a problem.” In just six weeks, Texas’ new U.S. senator has irked just about everyone he’s encountered in Washington. Those spared simply have yet to be in the Cruz Missile’s path.