Start with a regular session where lawmakers more or less get along.
Follow it up with three special sessions where lawmakers more or less don’t get along.
Stir in tough political and policy issues, from water to redistricting to abortion to transportation.
Blend in singular political events, from Wendy Davis’ filibuster to Ted Cruz’s fauxlibuster to Rick Perry’s decision to opt out of a re-election bid to a flood of Republicans elbowing their way into the most crowded primary in two decades.
That (and more) was 2013.
Some of The Texas Tribune’s big stories and projects of the year:
Our Bidness as Usual project is a particular point of pride — an effort to connect the private and political actions of some of the state’s officeholders and to give you a glimpse into what currently constitutes acceptable behavior in state government. We assembled an Ethics Explorer that details the records on each state officeholder and compiled months of stories into a Bidness as Usual e-book. Two standouts in the series: Jay Root’s reports on state Sens. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and John Carona, R-Dallas.
Texas remains deep in a record drought. Cities are rationing water, lawmakers successfully asked voters to help fund water projects and the state’s rivers, meanwhile, are in various stages and forms of stress. Our Troubled Waters series took a close look at each of the state’s major rivers.
Morgan Smith’s four-part series on private tutoring paid for with taxpayer money under the federal No Child Left Behind policy — Faking the Grade — found that the state’s poorest students got little benefit from the program.
Brandi Grissom’s reporting on criminal justice and mental health led to Trouble in Mind, a six-part series on Andre Thomas. He is a death row inmate who began exhibiting signs of mental illness as a boy and who committed a brutal triple murder in 2004.
In the wake of the 83rd Legislature’s regular and special sessions, we reprised our 31 Days, 31 Ways series from 2011, using each day of August to focus on a different way legislators changed the law this year.
The year was full of spot news, too, including the dramatic June filibuster by Davis, the Democratic state senator from Fort Worth. She was trying to block consideration of legislation regulating abortions and women’s health clinics — an effort that ultimately fell short when that law was passed weeks later. But her filibuster and the Senate’s dramatic actions to end it were streamed live by the Tribune, capturing an international audience. Davis, leveraging her celebrity, is now running for governor of Texas. Here’s a link to our liveblog from that night.
Davis won’t have Perry on the other side of that ballot next November. He announced this summer that his tenure — the longest of any governor in the history of Texas — will end with his current term. Perry, who has been governor longer than FDR was president, didn’t say what he’ll do next. But don’t rule out another run for the job Roosevelt himself once held for so long.
Another Texas pol rode a microphone into the public imagination this year; Cruz talked for nearly a full day on his objections to the Affordable Care Act. It wasn’t a filibuster, exactly, as the state’s junior U.S. senator had agreed to put down the talking stick at a set time. But he captured public attention and focused it on the program he would like to end. And he boosted his own profile, too: National news media are talking about him as a presidential candidate in 2016.
We’re proud of our multimedia work, too, as you can see in the 31 Days, 31 Ways series. Some of those stand alone, like this one by Todd Wiseman and Reeve Hamilton on meningitis vaccines.
Finally, we kept up a steady diet of data applications — designed to make sense of everything from ammonium nitrate storage to the drought to public school testing — from Ryan Murphy and the rest of our news apps team. Here’s one that maps fracking and water use.