The Brief: Texas Political News for Dec. 2, 2013

The Big Conversation

T.R. Fehrenbach, author of the book "now widely regarded as the canonical version of our state’s singular history," died Sunday in San Antonio.

He was 88. The book is Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, and the description quoted above came from Michael Ennis' 2006 reconsideration of that book's primacy in telling the narrative history of the state for Texas Monthly.

In the obituary published in the San Antonio Express-News — where Fehrenbach wrote a column for nearly three decades — his appeal was summed up this way:

"Admirers of his writing style said he often used the lessons of the past to guide his analysis of current events. His most famous work, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, has been called the most widely read history of the state.

 

"The book, praised for its attention to detail and narrative style, opens with a descriptive declaration that hints at his writing prowess: 'In the beginning, before any people, was the land: an immense region 265,000 square miles in area rising out of the warm muck of the green Gulf of Mexico, running for countless leagues of rich coastal prairies, forests and savannahs.'"

Since the book's publication in 1968, though, it has been criticized as well for championing a strain of Texas exceptionalism developed earlier by Walter Prescott Webb and J. Frank Dobie. As the appreciation in the Austin American-Statesman described it, "Some academicians have recently challenged its assumptions and conclusions, specifically aspects of what Fehrenbach viewed as Anglo-Celtic triumphalism."

Still, author Stephen Harrigan told the Statesman that Lone Star is the “classic Texas history. People still read it and think of it as the go-to source for learning about Texas. For sheer narrative power Fehrenbach set the standard everyone has to reckon with.”

If anything, the fact that Fehrenbach's now 45-year-old history is still the subject of fierce discussion says a lot about the staying power of his work.

"To move forward, we’ll have to accept that our history, however sacred and deeply embedded in our culture (most of us drink the Kool-Aid in seventh-grade Texas history), really isn’t inerrant scripture after all; our perspective on the past changes with time, cultural and political maturity, and new information," Ennis concluded in his 2006 column. "Gibbon, for all his brilliance, wasn’t the last word on the fall of Rome, and it’s a good sign of our continued ascendance that Fehrenbach’s literary classic is no longer the last word on the rise of Texas."

Culled

•    Why has wave of Obamacare insurance cancellations mostly missed Texas? (The Dallas Morning News): "The little-noticed advisory may have steered as many as 2.2 million Texans who are in individual or small-group plans around the federal health care law’s demands for richer benefits and tighter caps on out-of-pocket expenses until almost 2015."

•    Texas to get new teacher evaluations (Houston Chronicle): "Trailing most other states after a legislative effort failed this year, Texas will finally have to revamp how it evaluates teachers and principals to keep its federal waiver for the No Child Left Behind Act. This month, the Texas Education Agency will release a draft of standards teachers, and, for the first time, principals, will be expected to meet."

 

•    Texas charter-school donations rising (The Associated Press): "A new landmark law to boost public school alternatives in Texas followed a surge in political contributions by current and former board members and employees of the state's six-largest charter school operators, an analysis by The Associated Press has found. Texas Ethics Commission filings show charter school-affiliated donations to officeholders and key candidates peaked during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles with a combined $518,000 — nearly double the total from the election cycles of 2006 and 2008."

•    Dems talk about turning Tarrant blue, but they’re not showing up (Fort Worth Star-Telegram): "If Texas Democrats are counting on Tarrant County to carry them to victory next fall, they’re in trouble. ... With no high-profile Democrat lined up for local office behind Fort Worth gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, that won’t change anytime soon."

•    Primary Race for Attorney General Slowly Taking Shape (The Texas Tribune): "But with less than three months before early voting starts, the race to succeed Abbott — which also features state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, and Barry Smitherman, the chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission — has not caught the general public’s eye. 'There is not a natural shape to the attorney general’s race,' said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University."

•    In Ad, Rival Hits Carona as "Career Politician" (The Texas Tribune): "In the first ad of his campaign to unseat state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, businessman Donald Huffines slams the 22-year incumbent for being a 'career politician.'"

Quote to Note: "I think it would be a fool’s errand to try to compete with Lone Star. That kind of music can only be composed by one person.” — The Gates of the Alamo author Stephen Harrigan, explaining his decision not to re-read T.R. Fehrenbach's classic Texas history while preparing to write his own history of the state. Fehrenbach died on Sunday.

Must-Read

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.