WASHINGTON — Ask a Texas transplant about living in the nation’s capital, and you are likely to get an answer with a wistful memory about his or her former home.
“In D.C., if you haven’t moved a nanosecond after the stoplight turns green, they’re honking their horn,” said Barry Brown, a lobbyist with the Alpine Group and a former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville. “There’s a lot less patience. In Texas, people wave.”
Despite the capital’s buttoned-up atmosphere, many Texans have flocked here for government posts and lobbying jobs. They are always eager to meet fellow Texans, grab some barbecue and talk about life back home.
“There is a real sense of camaraderie” among Texans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington, said Martin Frost, a former Democratic congressman from North Texas who stayed in the Washington area after losing his seat in 2004. “We’re not bashful, we let people know we’re from Texas.”
Texas has the second-largest congressional delegation, behind California, and those 38 members usually bring their hometown staffs with them.
“For those of us who served together in Legislature, Democrat or Republican, we hung out and were friends in Austin, so now we’re friends here in D.C.,” said U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. “I think that bond of legislative service binds a lot of us together.”
There are no figures on the number of Texas transplants in the Washington area, but some are part of the Texas State Society, a 110-year-old social and volunteer organization that has more than 2,000 active members.
Texans say that despite the bustle of the Beltway, it is easy to find folks from home.
“There’s hardly any place I go, on Capitol Hill or in D.C., where I don’t run into someone daily who’s from Texas,” Brown said. “It’s a great calling card.”
When Dave Levinthal, a former Dallas Morning News city hall reporter, moved to Washington to cover national politics, it was not difficult to reach Ron Kirk, the former U.S. trade representative, but better known in Texas as the mayor of Dallas from 1995 to 2002.
“All it took was one phone call to his aide, and I said, ‘I’m formerly of The Dallas Morning News,' and I was on the phone with Kirk later that afternoon,” Levinthal said. “I refuse to give up my 817 area code.”
Many Texans find one another at Hill Country Barbecue Market, just north of the National Mall. More than 60 people gathered there to celebrate Texas Independence Day this month and chowed down on breakfast tacos, which can be a tough get.
“Good ones? They’re a challenge to find in D.C.,” said Gallego, who co-hosts bipartisan delegation breakfasts every six weeks.
After a long day on Capitol Hill, a sandwich can go a long way toward fixing things, said Elizabeth Karmel, executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market.
“You can have a really stressful day, but then you walk in and smell it, and all of a sudden your blood pressure goes down,” Karmel said. “In one bite, it takes you home.”