Bud Kennedy

Who's a hero or villain in Texas politics? It's in this book

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford is a member of the Freedom Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives.
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford is a member of the Freedom Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Fort Worth is the home of Texas' best museums.

Arlington, though, is at risk of damage from Tea Party Republicans and wild hogs.

Texas is a wondrous place, but a wacky one. Pulitzer-winning author Lawrence Wright does his best to explain in the new book, “God Save Texas.”

The state's most powerful politician, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, is a recovering sportscaster. Leaders divide sharply, even among Republicans, over whether to spend more or less on children and education.

The book is subtitled: “A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State.”

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Author Lawrence Wright speaks at a Dallas bookstore on the promotional tour for “God Save Texas.” Terri Langford twitter.com/TLangford

“I love Texas, and I care enough about it to be critical,” Wright said. He's lived in Texas almost 50 of his 70 years, as a boy in Dallas and now in Austin.

When he grew up, Texas books were defined by Fort Worth author John Graves' “Goodbye to a River,” and by former TCU instructor Larry McMurtry's novels.

“God Save Texas” (Knopf, 349 pages, $27.95) is this generation's definitive Texas book, with plenty of sunsets and sagebrush but also chapters on energy genius George Mitchell's Wise County natural-gas magic and on musical heroes like Al Stricklin, the Johnson County piano star of Bob Wills' Western swing band.

Mostly, though, Wright dwells on Texas' full-throttle politics, with Patrick and Tea Party Republicans pushing the gas pedal..

Dan Patrick 1984 ADJ by Jan
In 1984, now-Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had quit his job as a Houston TV sports anchor. He owned a bar, Dan and Nick’s Sportsmarket. Janice Rubin

“Texas is doing a dismal job of educating our young people,” Wright said between Dallas appearances last week.

“The fact that we're near the bottom in spending on education is shameful. And in healthcare … Texas is behind in almost every category.”

To Wright, the villain is Patrick: “If there's anyone who's really driving the train in Texas now, it's him.”

The hero is outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, also a Republican, for staving off a spiteful and retaliatory “bathroom bill” meant to stoke evangelical anger against LGBT Texans after courts legalized same-sex marriage.

(Unlike in former Star-Telegram columnist Molly Ivins' searing books, Democrats appear in “God Save Texas” only in small supporting roles. Same as in Austin.)

Wright devoted a couple of pages to state Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, a Tea Party darling with a “Falstaffian beard,” and his near-fight with another House member in the Capitol after Stickland tried to cut state spending for killing feral hogs.

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Pulitzer-winning author Lawrence Wright of “God Save Texas” grew up in Dallas. ©Kenny Braun

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Gainesville, stood in response and offered an amendment to cut out all state highway money in Stickland's district, which includes Hurst, Euless, Bedford and north Arlington. Stickland rushed to confront him,

Meanwhile, Straus sidled up to Wright and joked, “I guess all the hogs are going to move to north Arlington.”

“And just think,” the speaker added — “these are the people responsible for spending $218 billion.”

On his Dallas visit, Wright said he took a political interest because “I started wondering who was behind all this. … We are failing in our schools, we are failing in our infrastructure and we are totally failing in our immigration policy.”

Then he slipped easily back into a story about playing keyboard at the Skylark Lounge in Austin last Sunday behind musician Joe Ely.

Music, politics and the Western sky form the backdrop for “God Save Texas,” with a richly illustrated map of landmarks from Marfa artworks to Tyler roses.

“My editor asked me to explain Texas,” he said.

“So I went out talking to people. … The book is kind of a travelogue.”

It's much more.

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