Revisit some of The Texas Tribune’s best stories of 2019

Our reporters crisscrossed the Texas Capitol and traveled to the Panhandle and East Texas — as well as the Netherlands and Honduras — to tell stories about the state's politics, people and places. From a story on a migrant's desperate journey to a look at how coal companies are leaving behind contaminated land, here is a selection of their best work of the year.

2019 took Texas Tribune reporters to the Capitol — but also to the Netherlands and Honduras.

1. Under the Dome (video series)

State Capitol insiders, as well as Texans who are unfamiliar with the world under the pink dome, will enjoy taking a journey behind the scenes of the 2019 legislative session through this documentary series. The videos — which feature lobbyists, legislation and, occasionally, laughter — are the work of Tribune multimedia staffers Todd Wiseman, Alana Rocha and Justin Dehn, as well as a talented team of student fellows: Woojae Julia Song, Richard Loria and Jianing “Holly” He. The episode about the legislative staffers is especially delightful.

2. Border Hustle (video)

Texas Tribune reporter Jay Root partnered with TIME on this documentary that follows two Honduran migrants, Carlos and his daughter Heyli, 6, on their journey to the United States in search of a better life. Along the way, Root writes, “they become small players in a shadowy, multibillion-dollar global enterprise: the smuggling of human beings for profit.”

3. Texas police can seize money and property with little transparency

Law enforcement agencies across the state bring in about $50 million per year through asset forfeiture laws, which allow police to take and keep a person’s cash, cars and other property without charging him or her with a crime. But there is little data on how this powerful tool is used in Texas. So reporters Jolie McCullough and Chris Essig — and Acacia Coronado, a reporting fellow who was a student at the University of Texas — got the data themselves.

4. Texas coal companies are leaving behind contaminated land. The state is letting them.

Texas regulators have allowed coal companies to do the bare minimum when cleaning up their mining sites, according to an investigation by The Texas Tribune’s Kiah Collier in partnership with Naveena Sadasivam of Grist. “The result of these practices is that there are potentially thousands of acres across Texas contaminated with toxic chemicals,” Collier and Sadasivam write, “which can leach into the groundwater and soil and endanger people’s health.”

5. Running while brown: How Julián Castro is navigating white presidential politics

The Tribune’s Alexa Ura takes a look at the political hurdles facing the only Latino in the presidential race. She explores the “existential crossroads that people of color often confront when seeking elected office — navigating the thin line between not being defined by their race or ethnicity while honoring what it means for someone who looks like them to be running.”

6. Can the “masters of the flood” help Texas protect its coast from hurricanes?

Collier, the Tribune’s energy and environment reporter, traveled to the Netherlands to learn how that low-lying nation became the world leader in flood control — and what Texas is learning from the Dutch. “Their expertise is helping Texas design what would be come the nation’s most ambitious — and expensive — coastal barrier,” Collier writes.

7. Is Texas really going purple?

It’s a hot topic in political circles across the country: Is Texas nearing the end of its red streak? To help answer that, data visuals fellow Shiying Cheng and Executive Editor Ross Ramsey created a Heat Index that measured whether each legislative and congressional district favored Democrats or Republicans in statewide elections. Their analysis showed that the number of competitive congressional districts in Texas grew dramatically in 2018. That suggests that Texas could be a battleground in 2020.

8. Anti-abortion activists take their fight to small towns

Reporter Edgar Walters traveled to East Texas to report on an emerging movement of small towns passing ordinances seeking to outlaw abortion. In places such as Joaquin, conservatives were frustrated by what they saw as an unwillingness of the Texas Legislature to limit abortion. Critics of the ordinances, meanwhile, questioned their legality.

9. At 69, she's still paying off $12,000 of student debt — including out of her Social Security checks

When we think of student debt, we often think of millennials. But thousands of Texans ages 60 and older have student loan debt. Reporter Shannon Najmabadi went to Amarillo to meet one of those people: Lynda Sue Costley, who attended college decades ago and still owes thousands of dollars for those long-ago classes.

10. Students face felony charges, expulsions as Texas schools ramp up fight against vaping

From the Panhandle to South Texas, “terrified Texas school officials are aggressively attempting to quash the newest public health epidemic sweeping the nation’s youth and playing out in their bathrooms, classrooms and football stadiums,” write the Tribune’s Aliyya Swaby and McCullough. “But they’re unsure whether the best approach is to discipline students or treat them.”

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