east texas
west texas
rio grande valley

2010 – 2014




The Strangest State 

While I was in college I started writing for The Texas Observer, the oldest alternative magazine in the country and a pillar of the old-school Texas liberal establishment. The Observer was dedicated to, as the magazine's slogan said then, "Sharp Reporting from the Strangest State in the Union," and its editors were willing to coach young writers and pay them fairly. (If not for Observer editors' willingness to pay $.50 a word to no-name freelancers, it is very possible that I would not be a journalist now.)

Observer editors gave me great freedom to range across the state pursuing such tomfoolery as:

  • an abortion worker turned pro-choice activist

  • the young-earth creationist rewriting Texas' high school science standards.

  • government scientists trying to introduce invasive wasps to Rio Grande Valley

  • a crazed cropduster pilot terrorizing the small farmers of Hunt County, Texas

The reporting that follows is a collection of Texas as I saw and experienced it, from the asphalt ghettoes of Houston to the canebrakes of the Rio Grande and the back roads of the western desert. It flows through the strange years of the Obama presidency and the fracking revolution; the rise of the Tea Party and the fall of Rick Perry, when it seemed that anything was possible. 



Part I

Old White Republicans

The central paradox of Texas in the 21st Century is this: it's a state with an ever younger, more diverse, and more urban population that continues to be run by an establishment that is disproportionately rural, Anglo, Protestant, and male. These are notes of the Texas mainstream, portraits of the Texas' Republican establishment as it struggles to hold on to power in the face both of Texas' rising minority population and a gathering populist rebellions from below.



Why Texans Don't Vote

The Texas Observer
September 27, 2012

Why one of America's most diverse states is run by old white Republicans.



The Curious Faith of Don McLeroy

Texas Observer
February 20, 2009

In 2009 Texas' Board of Education met to discuss the state's new science curriculum. In charge of the board: Don McLeroy,  young earth creationist.  



Conversion Story

The Texas Observer
January 28, 2010

A militant Planned Parenthood director becomes a pro-life celebrity.



The Extra Lite-Gov

The Texas Observer
October 28, 2010

The lieutenant governor is Texas' most powerful politician -- at least, until the short, unhappy reign of David Dewhurst.



The Boy From Haskell

The Texas Observer
September 21, 2012

How Rick Perry's family built an old-school political empire to make him the most powerful Texas governor since the Civil War.



Part II 

Down Back Roads

Stories from diverse parts of Texas.



Fehrenbach's Texas

The Texas Observer
October 12, 2012

Discussing lost stories and terrible truths with T.R. Fehrenbach, the grand old man of Texas history.



Get Your Norteno Out of My Conjunto

The Texas Observer
March 10, 2011

In the Rio Grande Valley, a blood feud between two nearly identical forms of Latino music. 


Saving the Mint

The Texas Observer
March 10, 2011

The lives of Frank Garcia: as hood-rat, thug, community builder in the emerging slums of Houston.



The Myth of Marfa

May 7, 2010

Field notes from an Anglo outpost.



Keeping Time in Lockhart

The Texas Observer
February 2, 2012

In a small Central Texas town, a chance favor leads to obsession. 



Cuero Bets on Fracking

The Texas Observer
September 8, 2011

At the dawn of the fracking boom, a small town bets big.



Caldwell Czechs In

The Texas Observer
January 9, 2012

The last days of a forgotten ethnic enclave.



Combating an Invasion

The Texas Observer
January 21, 2011

At a federal research station in the Rio Grande Valley, scientists pit one invasive species against another.