The columnists at The Dallas Morning News are pretty sophisticated, befitting a large metropolitan paper, though they don’t exactly startle or surprise. Carl Leubsdorf, formerly the Washington bureau chief, writes in the establishment voice of a longtime Beltway observer—which, of course, he is. Leubsdorf was the Morning News’ DC bureau chief from 1981 to 2008. At this point, a Washington columnist has the temptation to run with the story of the day. But Leubsdorf has a sharp eye for subject selection and wields a pretty critical keyboard. Of Jeb Bush on immigration he wrote: “What Pete Wilson did for California, Jeb Bush would apparently like to do to the rest of the country.” Remembering a political figure that has faded for so many in memory—that gift of experience—led Leubsdorf to recall that Wilson, a Republican, so alienated Hispanics that he inadvertently helped turn California solidly Democratic.
The smaller papers in San Angelo, New Braunfels, Abilene, and elsewhere rely on Dave McNeely, formerly of the Austin American-Statesman and the other unofficial Texas dean (as well as a friend and contemporary of Molly Ivins).
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.”