2009 In Pictures

Normally I try to do a recap of my favorite posts from each year but here's the thing: I really didn't write much this year. So I decided to do a photo essay from 2009, which has some hidden posts included in the storyline.

Rang in the New Year in Marathon, Texas (et. al.) with my best friend and some really nice people who are terrible at dominoes.

Celebrated the inauguration of our first African American president.

Met Billy Joel at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas... (with Cvoss)

...and Jim from The Office (John Krasinski) at The Driskill in Austin.

Spoke at the Young Democrats of America State Convention in Texas, Lanier High School and St. Edward's University.

Went to four weddings, including my sister's.

Created and launched a new website, PR and marketing strategy at PetRelocation.com -- and threw a killer after party.

Learned how to play the fiddle, at least well enough to play with my mom in the Wings and Thighs.

Went with two girls and a dog on a road trip to New Jersey, New York and DC. Said goodbye to a best friend.

Went to the White House. For the first time.

Saw President Obama speak in College Station. Wrote one of my favorite posts because of it.

Went to Port Aransas for Thanksgiving for the third year in a row. A highlight of every year.

Stopped straightening my hair! No, really! And got to see Cvoss several times

Started riding again. Probably my favorite part of this year -- and the one thing that in 1999, when I was fifteen and horseless, I wanted more than anything and never got to do. It took 10 years but that is, after all, why we live.

Like Maya Angelou said: Lift up your hearts. Each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings.

Happy New Year.

TPA Texan of the Year Goes To Annise Parker

The Texas Progressive Alliance announced on Wednesday, December 30th that Houston Mayor-Elect Annise Parker is its "Texan of the Year" for 2009. The Texan of the Year Award is voted on annually by the members of the Texas Progressive Alliance, the largest state-level organization of bloggers, blogs, and netroots activists in the United States.

Also earning recognition from the Alliance were Ramey Ko, Hank Gilbert, Calvin Tillman, Texas Watchdog, and State Representative Elliott Naishtat, who were each recognized as "Gold Star Texans" for 2009.

With the election of Annise Parker as mayor of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States signaled that they pay more attention to qualifications than to sexual orientation. This news reverberated around the globe, and brought positive attention to Texas. National Democratic groups took note of a more progressive Houston than they assumed, and the talk and speculation turned to the possibilities of Texas turning blue sooner rather than later.

The Parker win was no accident. She put together a talented campaign team that ran on the strength of the grassroots, rather than City Hall insiders. Key Houston area progressive bloggers aligned themselves with Parker, and were embraced by the campaign. Blogs became an effective messaging strategy, emphasizing Parker’s qualifications, and her opponent’s weaknesses.

In the runoff, several third parties, including one longtime right wing operative who endorsed Parker's opponent, launched a series of homophobic attacks against her, but they failed to do her any serious damage because voters recognized her distinguished service as a member of Council and City Controller, and valued her experience and financial acumen. Voters knew who she was and what she was about because she had always been open and honest about it, and that was more important than anything some agitator could say.

For her historic victory, for making the rest of the world re-evaluate its opinion of Texas, and for running a truly modern grassroots campaign, the Texas Progressive Alliance is proud to name Houston's Mayor-Elect Annise Parker its Texan of the Year for 2009.

Congratulations to the Mayor-Elect and all of the Gold Star Texans. Thank you for all you do and all the best for 2010.

Larry Joe Doherty's Decision on the CD10 Race

Unfortunately, it looks as though Larry Joe Doherty won't be making another run for CD 10 in 2010.  

From an email I received this evening:
Rachel –

First, I want to thank you and all of the well meaning supporters who have encouraged me to consider running as the Democratic nominee for CD-10. However, to now be the unopposed candidate is an opportunity that I must decline. Depending on the outcome of the Republican Primary race for Governor, it is at best an opportunity for a pyrrhic victory, if at all, that could be snatched away in redistricting. At worst, my friends will be donating, if at all, to another losing cause. I cannot in good conscience ask them to do that again. 
As Texas Democrats I/we need to be involved in insuring the success of our State races. Join me in that effort, please. That is how the “Gerry Monster” can be slain.

Larry Joe
I hope this isn't Doherty's last consideration for a run for public office -- in fact, earlier this week on Twitter, many wondered if he might consider making a run for Land Commissioner.  

I leave you with a thought -- an allegory, really -- of the Republican party in Texas: Michael McCaul, tonight taking a nice, deep sigh of relief in his water-guzzling Westlake ivory tower in the belly of the dragon.  

I hope he gets comfortable, as it won't last much longer.


Larry Joe Doherty Takes Another Look at CD10

Yesterday, I received an email from Larry Joe Doherty letting me know that, after Jack McDonald's announcement that he would not be running, he was taking a look at the poll numbers regarding another race for Congressional District 10. He closed in typical Doherty fashion with an epigram: "You may tell all interested that I'm interested."

Some history, for the sake of disclosure: One benefit -- of from what I can tell is often many -- of not working in politics is that no one can ever accuse you of a professional bias. While the lines blur between bloggers and paid communications specialists, press events become steak dinners and receiving a CHI Iron is a party favor, I get to stand on the sidelines and help those who I believe in. I also get to enrage those who I don't and remain unconcerned with the consequences.

I was very involved in the Larry Joe Doherty for Congress campaign in 2008, supporting Larry Joe through the primary and into the general after seeing his somewhat fire and brimstone style at a candidate forum. I was never associated with the campaign professionally and, while I spent countless hours phone banking, blockwalking, putting up yard signs and annoying his staff, I was never a paid employee of the campaign. I believed Larry Joe could win then, and I believe he could win now. These are my opinions and do not reflect that of any campaign that does not exist yet.

There were, like any campaign, some mistakes. The previous campaign began with an expensive primary battle in Austin, and it never really left primary mode. Harris County outreach seemed neglected leading up to the general. Ideally the campaign would have moved to Houston -- it didn't and the numbers on Election Day showed this mistake. Wounds that seemed to run deep between Austin Democrats weren't mending, and as far as I could tell, winning the hearts and minds of Austinites became a constant struggle and sore spot for the Doherty campaign. No one rolled out the red carpet for Doherty. There seemed to be an immediate visceral reaction to the way Larry Joe sounded and looked -- twangy and in cowboy hat. We were almost rid of George Bush. Who on Earth wanted another urban cowboy?

This was my first thought when I went to see Doherty and Dan Grant speak. My second thought was that both candidates were incredibly well-versed on the issues. But my very next thought was that Doherty was as angry as I felt. There was a lot to be angry about then. One could argue there's even more to be angry about now, we just have someone else delivering the bad news.

If Larry Joe runs again, I don't know what his platform will be or where he'll end up on the issues. But I know that if you get him talking about water conservation, you won't be able to make him shut up. I know that he believes dung beetles -- and our farmland -- are more important to our long-term ecosystem than Rick Perry's failed Trans-Texas Corridor. I know he respects the Bible but he believes in the Constitution. I know he's not afraid to say things that another candidate might shrink away from, usually because they really need to be said.

I hope this is the kind of campaign Larry Joe decides to run, should he end up running. When you've already lost, you have nothing to lose. Karl Thomas Musselman from Burnt Orange Report asked me on Twitter yesterday if I thought Larry Joe had a better chance of winning. Hard to say. I don't care about his chances -- I only have to believe that if he did win, Doherty would be a better Congressman than McCaul and that I can help him win. "It's time, money and votes," Doherty says. In varying sums, I can offer all three.

And if Democrats, the DCCC, moderates, independents, and disenchanteds are really as tired of Michael McCaul as we all say we are, it's time to put our time, money and votes on the table.

Movie Review: Into the Wild

It's rare that I sit down long enough to watch a movie and even rarer that anything about it stays with me long enough to write about. But last night and today, both happened. I picked up Into the Wild at Cheapo's a few weeks ago in hopes of watching it over Thanksgiving. As it turned out, everyone at the beach had already seen it, so last night I popped it into my computer when I couldn't sleep.

I'll assume that the one or two people who still read my blog have already seen this movie when it came out in 2007 (spoilers might follow). I found it particularly compelling to watch, mostly because it hit on some themes that I've felt struggling to work their way to the top in my life as of late: escaping the norm, reinvention of oneself, ignoring society's pressures. The movie, which is based on a true story, centers on Christopher McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch), who sheds the expectations of his family after graduating from Emory and strikes off on a quixotic journey "into the wild." His goal is to make it to Alaska, and this quest for freedom and solitude ends up ultimately being more of a trap.

I joke that I never joined the Peace Corps because I have a strange habit of having to wash my feet each night before I get in bed. As I watched the McCandless character (who goes by Alexander Supertramp after he roasts his Social Security card), I found myself at stages wanting to take a shower for the guy. But part of me, even during his starving, frozen gasps at the end of the movie, felt sharp pangs of envy.

Captive horses have very little to look forward to outside of their feeding time, which causes them to become fierce and often frightening. Protecting their backs, they kick out at anything that walks behind them, pin their ears and snake their muzzles around, teeth gnashing. Even in an enclosed space, they spin and stomp, rattling the bucket with their angry nose, eyeballs rolling backward looking for predators -- or competitors.

I've felt this way lately: a rather possessive, paranoid beast with my nose stuck firmly at the bottom of a feed sack, spending half of my time looking over my shoulder and the other half reaping the rewards of whatever is put in front of me. It's a vulnerable way to live and, like McCandless believed, a way that society forces us to conform to. Things, goods, wants, needs -- all of this stacks up in our buckets and we grind our teeth and greedily look forward, wanting more of the next thing.

McCandless -- and also his alter-ego Supertramp -- escaped this cycle by heading somewhere where your only vulnerability is your actual life on Earth; your only need is food and water; your only desire is to live another day in a very harsh environment. Some skeptics later called McCandless foolish and argued that he was under prepared for the realities of wilderness. But even in his moments of foolishness, I think he was most certainly aware that he was at least living a full life -- and if we could all say that for our own moments of foolishness, we'd certainly have some interesting stories, wouldn't we.

An Open Letter to the Hair Guy (the little one)

Hey Farouk - you didn't have to wait for Barack Hussein Obama to open the door for you to care about politics or to begin voting or to run for Governor. You could have just opened it yourself. People do it all the time.

Houston elit un maire gay.

Over the weekend, Annise Parker was elected to be the next Mayor in Houston, Texas. Not only is this openly gay woman now Mayor of the 4th largest US city, but that city is in east Texas.

Now I know Houston is very different from rural east Texas but I'd like to pause for a moment and pose a question to anyone who doesn't think that the spectrum of eligible voters giving a damn whether someone is gay or not is growing rapidly:

In 2005, when Texas voted to ban gay marriage, had you ever heard of Twitter?

Our lives are changing at a rapid pace, one in which people -- very, very young people -- are exposed to varying degrees of culture and ideas on a second-by-second basis. Hell, iPhones didn't even exist until 2007. Everywhere around us is change, and not the Obama kind of change but real things. Ones that we can hold in our grubby hands and find where the nearest liquor store is or that tells me when a Parisian newspaper tweets about a gay woman getting elected in Texas.

And while maybe people in metropolitan areas are catching on faster than others, sprawl and widespread desensitization to these wedge issues is inevitable due to these very inventions that connect us and break down our privacy. This generation is growing up to songs with lyrics like "I kissed a girl and I liked it" and "bluffin' with my muffin." The dying generation's wedge issues are a simply like cassette players in cars -- as people stop asking for them, they won't even notice when they're gone.

Anyway. Go Mayor-Elect.

Yes please.

We interrupt this normally scheduled political blog to bring you Matt Damon playing a super hot South African in a feel-good movie with an African music soundtrack!



If only your campaign was as smooth as your hair products.

Oh, Shami, Shami, Shami. What a shame-y.

You're firing your top staffers.
You've given money to the RNC and -- gag me -- Nader.
You have roughly 13 people in Austin who actually care about your campaign attending your meet and greet event at Carmelo's.
Even your endorsement from Hank Gilbert is under scrutiny.

Can I be honest with you? Your entire campaign is like watching a drama-filled episode of Shear Genius.

Minus that whole "genius" part.

I'll give you the same advice I'd give Governor Rick Perry if I ever ran into him: You should stick to what you do best.


How Not to Exit a Race: Hank Gilbert Style

Today, as everyone expected and some had hoped, Bill White announced he would be switching from the Senate race to the Governor's race.

Democratic candidate Hank Gilbert then wasted no time in switching to the ag commissioner race and announcing his endorsement of CHI-man Farouk Shami for Governor. Gilbert's move is coming across as sour grapes on Gilbert's part because White had told Gilbert he wasn't going to run for Governor.

You follow?

Hank's not the only one feeling swindled though. I mean, Hank told me he was running for Governor. Now he's running for ag commissioner? How dare he! I guess by his logic, I should transfer my support to someone else for ag commissioner!

The Dallas Morning News forgot to point out this in their story about Gilbert's switch, so I'm offering this addendum, replacing "Gilbert" with "Farris" (that's me!) and "White" with "Gilbert."

Farris says Gilbert broke his word about running for Governor, not ag commissioner. "I was raised to be a woman of principle and always thought that if a man gives you his word, his word is his bond," Farris said in a noon conference call to reporters. On multiple occasions including one questionable Texas Tribune poll and a gaggle of press releases sent at early hours of the morning with large attachments and novella-style fact sheets, Farris says Gilbert assured her he wouldn't be a candidate for anything but Governor. "My particular value says I've got to support someone I can trust. And he lost that trust factor with me."

Might want to extend your hairbrained logic to your own race before you start publicly proclaiming your distrust of other people, Hank.

Also, rumor has it Kinky's dropping out on Monday! Cheers!

Candidate 101: The Do's and Do Not's of Blogger Relations

Tonight is the eve of the beginning of the filing period for the 2010 elections, which means that many rumored candidates who have been biding their time will need to step out of the outhouse and into the game. For all of the Democratic primary candidates out there, I thought I'd offer ten general rules on how to approach and appeal to bloggers (or at least, this blogger) during the primary season. Gentlemen, please shelve your egos.

1. Don't buy any blogger anything. There's a line between bribery and good blogger relations. The line isn't that thin. Chances are, if you can't see it you'll make a great politician and a terrible elected official. We aren't as cheap as we look (or act).

2. Don't ask for our support repeatedly. We're not soccer moms who got distracted by the Bobby Bones Show while listening to a KUT story on your excellent platform. We know who you are and whether we are likely to support you. We don't need hounding. It's okay to ask once -- phone calls are nice, personal emails are better, tweets are hot. But leave it at that. If and when we want to support you, you'll know where to find out (hint: at the end of our URL).

3. Don't send a fundraiser who has more money than God after me to ask for money. If I wanted to give money to someone who doesn't understand what $500 means to the average citizen, I'd be supporting Republicans.

4. Don't compare yourself to famous people. This is just generally a bad idea. No one cares if you look like Reese Witherspoon or if your mom thinks you're the next Obama. Until proven otherwise, you just have a small head or big ears.

5. Have an event somewhere other than Scholz. I'm all for legacy, but have you heard? We live in Austin. There are hundreds of locally-owned bars worthy of patronizing that don't leave me smelling like smoked pickles for a week and sell vodka. I suggest you utilize them. Oh and bar owners tend to have money and care about the world around them. You might try reaching out to them every so often.

6. Respect bloggers' time. Most of us have real jobs that require us to put on pants and leave the house every once in a while. We aren't sitting around waiting for your call. Be brief and to the point. Don't call during the work day when I'm trying do my job to ask for advice about or support for yours. But you have other things to do in the evenings? Guess what. So do I.

7. Tell me more about your compelling life story and your vision for your time in office than your opponent's stance and story. Otherwise I'll assume you don't have your own.

8. You have a Facebook page/group/account/event and you want me to join. I get it. I am aware of how it works. Stop sending me requests. If I say "No" to an event or group, do not keep asking. You can segment out "No" people on events on Facebook so they don't receive updates about an event they don't plan on attending. Learn how to do so immediately. And don't get your feelings hurt. Sometimes I just want to sit at home.

9. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT! EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER! say "Now write something nice about me" after you've gained a blogger's support. That's what consultants are for. Hire one of them if you want a soapbox to stroke your ego. Better yet, find one with a blog. Everyone else has.

10. Admit when you're wrong or when you've made a mistake. It happens. But what shouldn't happen is covering it up. If you do something stupid or get something wrong, just come out with it. Cringe if you must but I recommend doing so in an open forum or in a social way that allows your supporters to do what they're meant to do publicly: support you. Hiding mistakes is just throwing chum to the sharks.

A warning: it's primary season. They're circling. And they're hungry.

Want to keep up with Democratic filing news? Check out the Texas Democratic Party website where they will be posting the latest filing information at the end of each business day. Or you could read any other one of the Texas blogs or newspapers or live Twitter streams, which will likely also be doing the same.

Pick your battles.

"Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian's fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them."
-Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Tonight's speech in front of gray shouldered West Point cadets was a stark, stuffy contrast to the speeches in which Obama has most moved me -- from a misty shoreline in Austin in February of 2007 to a wide-open stadium in Denver with confetti dripping from the skies -- but it wasn't that kind of speech. If Obama's speech was a horse, a judge would have called it "workmanlike." It got the job done, with little emotion or thrill, in a manner that was both tidy and flat. Despite all of this, sometimes in a field of distracting showboats, those horses actually win.

No one trusts the Afghanistan government. And the war that President Obama has supported since its inception -- yes, this war -- has until now escaped the attention it deserves from not only our nation but from our past administration. We've broken more than one item at Pottery Barn this past decade and continue to be paying for the damage in lives and money, despite the fact that our nation is currently short on both. This isn't and never has been Pearl Harbor and alluding to it isn't going to make anyone feel any differently.

Which leads me to the question: Why now? Obama could let us continue to flounder around in Afghanistan, blame the terrorists' evasiveness on the caves and crossing into Pakistan, and we could spend years upon years doing more of the same. The terrible timing of committing more money and troops to a war that seems so futile makes me think -- despite my utter dislike of the plan -- that it might actually work.

I use the word "work" loosely, like many people use the term "paradigm," having no idea how to define it. I don't know what would "work" at this point in Afghanistan but I do know that while Obama has always supported the Afghanistan war, he's also a bit of a control freak and a perfectionist. If he didn't think this was a battle worth fighting, and worth fighting now, then I'd like to believe -- and I think that I still have enough faith in him to do so -- that he's right.

After the speech, Texas blogger Steve Southwell, who writes Who's Playin', tweeted that his oldest son was motivated to write a letter to Obama. When I asked what his son's take on it was, Southwell replied that his son wants Obama to "'bring them home' and 'fix this war'." But despite these desires, Southwell continued to say that his son "says he wants to fly a bomber when he grows up, but not in a war."

Gently, I'd remind his son that you can't have bombers without wars. And to Americans frustrated with the situation in Afghanistan, but unhappy with the President's decision tonight, I'd remind them that we can't have peace until we've ended the wars we started.