Takeaways From The Texas Tribune Festival

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Last weekend the Texas Tribune hosted their 4th annual Tribune Festival at the University of Texas. This year featured over 200 speakers from high ranking elected officials to policy experts on a wide range of topics affecting Texas.

I attended a panel on Saving the Texas coast where the discussion of climate change led to an agreement that regardless of the cause, something must be done to protect residents and industry from the inevitable destruction caused by rising sea levels. I also attended a panel on urban mobility that included Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, the new Mayor of San Antonio Ivy Taylor as well as representatives from Uber and Tesla. In that panel the talk of inevitability was about the impact of tech-based transportation and not mother nature.

Most of the panels included thoughtful discussion with a wonky bent, but there were a few headline making instances and tense moments.

The festival kicked off with a viewing party of the gubernatorial debate between Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott. You can see more BOR coverage on the debate, but it was clear why Abbott limited his time facing off with the Senator. Wendy Davis would also do her own one on one with Tribune CEO Evan Smith, but Greg Abbott passed on that opportunity preferring to continue his pattern of avoiding media scrutiny in favor of running TV ads.

Avoiding the media during campaign season seems to be the shared playbook of the Texas GOP, but there were notable exceptions this weekend where even Dan Patrick showed up for a one on one interview.

Governor Perry was the closing keynote at the festival and nearly made it through the hour long conversation without an oops moment. Evan Smith opened the interview with questions about Perry’s indictment, but the Governor refused to take the bait.

Smith also pressed him on some of Texas’ not so flattering rankings on social issues including leading the nation in uninsured and performance of our public schools.

Throughout the discussion he tried to stick to his tried and true theme of attacking the federal government and promoting low taxes and minimal regulation as the answer to our nation’s ills — but could not find a reasonable answer to health care crisis in our state.

Smith asked Gov. Perry how he felt about leaving the state with over 5 million individuals uninsured to which he responded by saying insurance isn’t important and that Texans have access to healthcare. Smith replied by stating that the tab for those who show up at hospitals is paid by local property taxes and they continue to mount as the state avoids accepting Medicaid dollars from the federal government. The bottomline was Perry had no advice for uninsured Texans who simply could not afford treatment or insurance, but that was more of a matter of course than a bombshell.

On the question of 2016, Perry regretted his “heartless” comment on immigration in 2012 but reaffirmed that the Texas Dream Act that which he signed in 2001 was the right thing to do then and remains so in 2014. He said he thought the biggest mistake of his career had been using his executive authority to push the HPV vaccines on Texas’ teenage girls.

Perry’s big oops moment came on another health care front, when he insinuated that Joan Rivers death may have been avoided if her operation had been performed in a facility that met the ambulatory surgical center standards proposed by the controversial anti-abortion bill HB 2. The comments were inappropriate and off base, and highlight why politicians should not play doctor.

It was interesting that when Joan Rivers — and the procedure that she had done, where she died — that was (at) a clinic. It’s a curious thought that if they had had that type of regulations in place, whether or not that individual would be still alive,” – Gov. Rick Perry

Those weren’t the only headline making comments at the festival regarding abortion. Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) revealed that she herself had an abortion. It was something she had never made public before.

From the Texas Tribune:

“After Dukes argued that there are false perceptions about the psychological effects of abortion, Republican Molly White, who is running unopposed to represent House District 55, said that women who have not had abortions don’t have the same understanding about the effects of the procedure.

“To the world, I had an abortion,” Dukes shot back, adding that she had not suffered from any psychological effects because of the procedure. White, who has had two abortions, said her experience had led to drug and alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts.”


Overall I highly recommend anyone interested in networking and important policy discussion to attend the festival. Given that they packed so much into so little time my only regret is not attending more panels. The good news is you can catch up on many of the conversations you missed at the Texas Tribune‘s website.

Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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