Last Man Standing: Politics, Texas Style didn't start out as the story of Rick Green and Patrick Rose fighting for a Texas House seat in a district that included LBJ's home town. It was supposed to be about something bigger. It was 2002, and the Democrats had just put together a self-proclaimed "dream team" of candidates who looked great on paper — great enough that Texas might be on the verge of turning back into a real two-party state.
Wrong. Tony Sanchez, the Hispanic gubernatorial hopeful who headed the ticket, spent sixty-plus million dollars but remained the wealthy businessman/amateur politican he always was. Ron Kirk, the African American mayor of Dallas who was supposed to be Barack Obama before there was a Barack Obama, ran a terrible campaign. The electorate knew little about the other Democrats running. But in the midst of a statewide story gone south, we found two gifted, young candidates, Green and Rose, whose race was all about the nature of ambition and the politics of a Texas that's conservative and Republican but more open to change than the results that November might have indicated.
I've made documentaries about politics for more than twenty years now: about Martin Luther King's last year, about the emergence of black politics in the deep South and in my old home town, New Orleans, about George Wallace's life and its impact on our nation. I filmed in thirty states one year, to illustrate our national political culture. I followed the political biographies of Barack Obama and John McCain, in the midst of most interesting presidential election in our lifetime. For a political junkie, it's been a dream come true. Of all those projects, though, Last Man Standing may come closest to my own personal feelings about elections and candidates. Why does someone run for office? What happens when one's ideals are pitted against the reality of what it takes to win? How does the way we elect our leaders — and the way the system makes those candidates act — affect the government and the policies we get? Watch Rose walk away from the camera, going over the speech he's about to give at a little volunteer fireman's picnic, and you'll begin to understand political drive, and maybe the force of personality that succeeds in Texas and around the country.
In the years since, Rose has locked down his district and proved to be a true workhorse, a committee chair who knows more about his legislation than anyone else, the kind of legislator who makes the Texas Lege work. Green has travelled widely, preaching the gospel of conservatism in two national elections, while adding another child to his lovely family; this year, he's a viable candidate for the Texas Supreme Court. And Last Man Standing? I think it holds up. It's a pretty good film — not a bad way to start enjoying our 2010 Texas election season. Enjoy.
Paul Stekler is a documentary filmmaker who teaches at the Department of Radio-Television-Film and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas (http://rtf.utexas.edu/faculty/pstekler.html). To learn more about Last Man Standing, go to http://www.pbs.org/pov/lastmanstanding/ or http://www.docurama.com/productdetail.html?productid=NV-NVG-9676.
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