Paul Burka: “Principles, Schminciples”

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No two words ever summed up Paul Burka better than two he offered last week: “Principles, Schminciples.”

While “reporting” on voter ID over the last few days, Paul Burka has become the stenographer for the Republican Party of Texas. Following one of his rants on voter ID, Democrat Glenn Smith — who has posted a few items of his own here on BOR over the last few days — correctly pointed out that Burka is lambasting Democrats for standing up for our principles on voter ID; which is the same thing Republicans are doing.

Burka's response (emphasis added):

Principles, schminciples. This is about public opinion. The Democrats are on the wrong side of public opinion and they’re behaving like children. That is not a good combination.

The “wrong side of public opinion” for standing up against voter suppression? And we're not even the ones who have to call it voter suppression — Burka did it himself not more than a month ago, in his piece for Texas Monthly, “Manic Suppression.”

What started out as a fear that hordes of illegal immigrants would descend on the polls—a ridiculous scenario, since illegal immigrants want nothing to do with official government activities—has now become voter suppression, pure and simple. […]

Voter ID is a terrible idea, bad for democracy and mean-spirited to boot. We can only hope it won’t soon be the law in Texas.

So what has happened to that “we can only hope” over the last month? Politics, my friends. Politics. And if there is one thing that Burka will place over “voter suppression, pure and simple” it is politics. Because he is not a reporter; he is not a party advocate; he is not a policy expert; he is not a Democrat; he is not a Republican. Paul Burka — as soon as there is any partisanship — forgets that he is one of the brightest political reporters in the state, and becomes that guy sitting at the horse track, eating bags and bags of peanuts, yelling at the horses and jockeys at how they are all doing it wrong.

Principles, schminciples.

From his post, “Too Clever by Half” on Friday, May 22:

The Democrats’ problem in Texas is that although the favorable/unfavorable view of the Republican party has declined from 62/26 in 2000 to 45/42 in 2008 (Texas numbers), the Democrats can’t close the deal with these disaffected voters. Their party’s favorable/unfavorable numbers have hardly changed over the last eight years. This juvenile display is not going to help.

From “Manic Suppression”

If voter ID is going to be defeated, House members will have to be the ones to do it. This puts new Republican speaker Joe Straus, who supported voter ID in 2007, in the hot seat.

From his post, “Will the Democrats walk on voter ID?” on Saturday, May 23:

If they walk on this issue, they will do harm to their party. It makes no sense to go nuclear over an issue on which public opinion is 70% against you. And that number will climb if the D’s walk.

From “Manic Suppression”

Straus’s speakership is at risk on this bill. He could face a revolt from Republicans if he cooperates in killing it or a revolt from Democrats if he aids its passage and sends it to a conference committee with the Senate, where he will be subject to enormous pressure from Perry, Dewhurst, and GOP donors.

From his post, “How the Democrats passed voter ID” on Monday, May 25:

I don’t know whether a photo I.D. requirement will reduce Democratic voting, but it appears to Democrats as if Republicans think it will, and that is why the battle is raging.

From “Manic Suppression”

The Democratic trend in urban and suburban Texas continues, making voter ID an issue not only for Republican primary voters but also for Republican legislators themselves as they face electoral battles with a reinvigorated and well-financed Democratic opposition.

Why has Burka ignored everything he wrote a month ago? Why is he now constantly calling out the Democrats and posting Republican talking points? Why isn't he putting pressure on Straus — which is where he said it belonged a month ago — and focusing his ire on Democrats?

Principles, schminciples. That's why.


About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.


  1. Sounds to me…
    like BOR should think about putting together a “10 Best-10 Worst Journalists” issue.

    /I take all my cues regarding immoral legislation from a travel magazine, don't you?

  2. BlackSheep1 on

    Who paid off Burka?
    That's the real question, isn't it?

    The ownership of Texas Monthly, IIRC, isn't now and hasn't been for years in Texas.

    Like many other “regional” or “national” magazines, TM has become an organ of a corporate ownership. Burka's been brought into line with the party position. That's all.

    The surprise to me is that y'all are surprised.

  3. Paul may be inconsistent…
    but he is not for sale.

    For some reason this issue does not strike him as purpose-driven. Don't ask me why. The nobility of the Killer Bees is immaturity with the 2009 Texas House. Go figure.

    But I don't think he is bought and paid for. He just doesn't see eye-to-eye on this and someone has talked him into believing that (1) someone must assign blame, and (2) blame the Democrats.

    Another day, another time, he would think this is brilliant. I think he is having flashbacks of Craddick and believes the Ds are not appreciating how good they have it this session.

    Personally, I think that the role of the speaker should be to keep the hyperpartisan point-scoring legislation off the House floor, but I am old school that way.

    Paul has long had a hang-up with rating legislators on how “effective” they are in passing bills, etc.  For many years all his “10 worst, 10 bests” have been based on this approach.  It was not that way in the beginning when he would smite a legislator for being a lobby-whore or doing things to hurt the public.  But that was long ago.  He also wants them to be the type who can work with anyone to get things done…That's why he disliked Craddick…He does not see merit in blocking things on “principle” but always seems to think a compromise is possible.  Of course some things just can not be compromised. You can not change it so why fight it or get that excited.  Just expect it.  

  5. BlackSheep1 on

    Money matters
    Burka may not be for sale, but the magazine's ownership can still exert influences on his writing.  

    • They *can*
      but (1) there is no evidence to suggest that Emmis gives a rats behind about Texas politics and (2) Burka has 34 years of service at TM and is one of the magazine's icons. They could not afford the bad publicity and tarnish to their reputation were Burka to leave should a publisher exert influence, and I believe he would.

      Just because someone is illogical and we disagree with him does not mean he is without integrity. Sometimes, we just disagree. If he's getting played, so be it. But there is no smoking gun here.

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