Patrick Svitek is new to San Antonio but a long time political reporter covering the state of Texas. He works for The Texas Tribune and covers Texas politics and policy from a local level to how they affect national discussions and trends. We have a lively discussion about what is happening in Texas and how he is enjoying San Antonio.
Justin: Hello. Bienvenidos, San Antonio, welcome to the Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian and keeper of chickens and bees. On the Alamo hour, you’ll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique in the best-kept secret in Texas. We’re glad that you’re here. Welcome to the Alamo Hour. Today’s guest is Patrick Svitek. He is the primary political correspondent for the Texas Tribune. If you don’t know, Texas Tribune is become a really a nationwide leader in nonprofit journalism and reworking the way the business model works.
He’s their primary political correspondent. He’s previously worked at the Houston Chronicle. He’s covered the 2016 campaign trail. He’s in my estimation one or two of the biggest Twitter accounts to follow if you’re interested in, especially state of Texas politics. For me, it’s really cool able to have you here because I’ve been following you for a long time. You recently moved to San Antonio so I took the opportunity to ask you to come on my show. Thank you.
Patrick: Thanks for having me. I’m excited about this.
Justin: You’re recent to San Antonio as of Labor Day, I think you said.
Patrick: Around Labor Day weekend, me and my girlfriend moved down to San Antonio. She got a new job here. We decided to pack up and come down here and we bought a home in Beacon Hill, and we’re loving it so far.
Justin: You’re living like real San Antonian and so many people are like, “I live in San Antonio, I live in our north or here,” but they are in San Antonio. It’s just a different experience. All my shows I always get some information on people, the city of San Antonio feel for you. You’re new here, so it’ll be interesting to get some of your takes. This is your first time to live in San Antonio, right?
Patrick: That is correct. Previously only had traveled to San Antonio for work basically. I think I’ve made a number of trips, but only even spent the night just once is usually an afternoon day trip [unintelligible 00:02:00].
Justin: Sure. You’ve spent so much time in other Texas cities. What stand out to you after being here for the last few months as what sets San Antonio apart in your estimation?
Patrick: I think it’s more laid back in a good way than other major Texas cities, especially compared to Austin. I think the two cities are hard to compare in some ways, but one comparison I will certainly make is that it’s more laid back than Austin, and in a good way. A big city with a small city culture, I think in some ways. Again, I mean that in a positive way. Absolutely. I’ve loved the people so far. I’ve loved living in Beacon Hill.
My girlfriend and I wanted to live somewhere really central in this city as we were talking about that also had its own identity, it wasn’t just blended into downtown or Midtown or the urban core. We’re getting that with Beacon Hill, and we like it a lot.
Justin: I think it’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Antonio. I’ll speak out to turn, but I remember when I was doing some research, I wanted to move by building over there and move office over there. I was doing some research, and I was surprised at how historic that neighborhood is for the City of San, which is already a historic city. Have you found any hidden gems in San Antonio that you’ve just been shocked by or surprised by? The first time I went to the Japanese Tea Garden, have you been there?
Patrick: I don’t know.
Justin: You’ll go and there’s a waterfall coming out of a limestone cliff and huge koi ponds and it’s in the middle of the city. Anything like that, that you’ve been able to experience and just been surprised by?
Patrick: We we’ve been to, I think at this point, all the major neighborhoods. In terms of, we like South Town, King William, we’ve obviously as I pointed out Beacon Hill, I think has a lot to offer. We have made it outside of the Outer Loop a little bit. We took our new Chihuahua dog on a hike at Government Canyon State Park a couple weekends ago. We enjoyed that a lot. Was surprised by how close that nature was to the city. I don’t know if I’d call that a hidden gem because I think everyone probably knows about the Government Canyon State Park but it was very [crosstalk].
Justin: I think there’s some dinosaur tracks out there, maybe. I’ve never seen those.
Patrick: We didn’t see them, but we read about them.
Justin: Because you had a dog, you can only go to a certain park.
Patrick: That’s true, it’s the front country trail.
Justin: I got lost there with my dog in what had to be like June one time. I had to carry him over my shoulders, he puked. It was hairy getting lost out there when the heat was really hitting, but it is, it feels very desolate out there. I was going to ask you about pets, you’ve already answered that. Any odd hobbies?
Patrick: Odd hobbies? No, I have a hobby, it’s not odd. I like to run most evenings of the week, and this is also ties into what I like about San Antonio. We live relatively close to San Pedro Springs Park. One loop around the park is basically one mile. If you’re like someone like me who likes to run round distances and challenge yourself based on a one-mile loop it’s a good place to be. I like running down there.
Justin: The Springs are beautiful.
Patrick: We, unfortunately, didn’t get to experience. By the time I started branching out after she moved in and looking around for places to go out to parks and stuff like that, it was getting a little cold and past the prime time for the spring. We’re looking forward to that this [crosstalk].
Justin: I don’t think anybody’s been in the Springs in years, I think because of COVID it’s been shut down. [crosstalk] Literally they used to have a fence around it. I thought there’s a fence around it and there is nobody in it. It is beautiful, and the theater there is actually really-
Patrick: Oh yes It’s gorgeous. I haven’t been in, but I run by it all the time.
Justin: We need to support, San Antonio doesn’t have the Zack. Austin has three professional theaters. That is our only professional theater and it struggles. San Antonio is a city that’s growing, so do go see it. Have you been to Fiesta yet?
Justin: Are you going to stay in town for Fiesta?
Patrick: Yes. Oh, definitely, planning on it. Haven’t experienced it yet.
Justin: Is your girlfriend from here?
Patrick: She’s not. She had lived in Austin for a number about maybe three or four years. Then before that she went to school in Virginia, lived in Virginia, but she’s originally from Colorado.
Justin: I’m jealous you’re going to get to experience Fiesta for the first time. We’re both looking forward to it. I think enough people don’t realize how much fun it is. It’s our Mardi Gras, and it is a huge party for multiple days. How many counties do you think you visited in Texas? I know a lot of political correspondence really get out and about.
Patrick: I would say, so we got 254 counties in Texas. I’m confident that I have at least driven through- it’s a bold claim to make. I want to make sure that I don’t get out in front of my [inaudible 00:06:41] here. I’ve definitely driven through over half the counties in Texas. I wouldn’t be shocked if I tied them all up, and I’ve driven through at least up to two thirds of them.
Justin: I didn’t know if you got stuck following Beto on his every county tour or something.
Patrick: In his 2018 campaign, I got to travel to some remote places, and we drove for Christmas from San Antonio to Fort Collins, Colorado up through Amarillo. That was I knocked out like probably 14 to 15 new counties in Texas for myself doing that.
Justin: Probably more.
Patrick: That added some new names.
Justin: Did you go up through Amarillo?
Patrick: Yes. San Antonio, basically nothing between San Antonio and Amarillo, I guess you go through Big Spring, maybe. I don’t know.
Justin: Maybe Abilene, Big Spring [crosstalk]?
Patrick: Your west of Abilene. Otherwise, there’s not much between San Antonio and Amarillo.
Justin: My dad was born up around Amarillo, but we don’t go up there. I grew up in the Wichita Falls area, but I’ve seen quite a bit of [crosstalk].
Patrick: Definitely got some new counties to add to the list from that drive.
Justin: I was doing some research. I saw you have a lot of TV appearances and you’re the guy who comes on, talks about what’s going on in Texas. Any particular interviewers that you thought were just really good and impressed by?
Patrick: I always like doing podcast interviews, or like the longer form interviews, whether it’s like sometimes the local TV anchors. They’ll have you on for like a five minute hit and then they got their personal podcast and like, come over here and talk for half an hour. Those are always more fun sometimes stuff. Exactly like we’re doing right now. I always enjoy that a little more.
Justin: Most of the ones I saw you were like two minutes and 40 seconds.
Patrick: Exactly. It’s like you come on MSNBC or CNN for a little bit, and you just got two questions about, tell us how big of a deal this is in Texas right now. How’s it playing out on the ground? I like the longer form stuff I’d say.
Justin: Do you like doing the TV stuff, or the written more?
Patrick: I like appearing for the Trib on TV gives a good opportunity to talk about, I think it’s good to show that the Tribune has reporters who are working hard on these stories and that have national impact the national reach. I enjoy that. I think it’s a great opportunity for the Trib’s profile. I’m also doing more video work for the Trib. We have this new campaign video series that we just started recently. We did a soft launch first episode that was about the governor’s race. We’re working on a second episode about the Republican primary for AG. I’ve been trying to do a little more video work for the Trib because it does continue to intrigue me.
Justin: I’m sure I butchered it, but for our audience, how would you describe the Texas Tribune because it is non-traditional media.
Patrick: Absolutely. We’re a nonprofit newsroom. I’d say our focus is statewide government and politics. If you want to know what’s happening at the legislature, if you want to know what’s happening in campaigns. If you want to know how our politicians and our policies are impacting the entire state and in some cases the entire country, we want to be the go-to source for that. Not just to explain those things and explain implications of those things, but to hold folks accountable, and really dig into what’s behind some of the decisions that our leaders are making.
Justin: Evan Smith was the editor, but he recently retired.
Patrick: He recently announced that he’ll be stepping down by the end of this calendar year so he’s still with us.
Justin: Yes, but he had come from Texas Monthly, he has a big pedigree.
Patrick: Exactly, yes and he’s [unintelligible 00:10:09] and he goes out saying Evan is a singular figure, not just in Texas media, but in the national media landscape, and is so central to the success of the Tribune.
Justin: Did you see the Washington Post about him today?
Patrick: I did yes, absolutely. [crosstalk] What the Trib has done over the years, in terms of trying to create a better environment for local news as a statewide organization, I think has been really important. Whether it’s just like the fact that we let local newspapers republish our content, as long as they give us credit, they put the byline on it, but we republish it, in its full form. I think that’s a really important thing the Trib has done over the years. Also and I know COVID has tamped this down, but our events business has increasingly held events outside of not just Austin, but outside of the big four cities or whatever the big Metro area is.
I think that’s obviously, really good for informing the public but also just good for our brand to be in places like the Rio Grande valley and Lubbock. Providing a forum for local legislators or local elected officials to face some questions, and not just from the moderators, but oftentimes from the public who come or something like that. Stuff like that makes me really proud to be [crosstalk].
Justin: Are those events just like Tribfest, we all have [unintelligible 00:11:28].
Patrick: Yes. If you think about the kind of events that you see at Tribfest, whether it’s a panel of like three lawmakers, two Democrats, one Republican, two Republicans, one Democrat. Yes, we have events like that in other parts of the state. I’m not involved in our events business, but that’s something that I always just, as a reporter working for the Tribune, and I was always have liked to see that. Because I knew when I was hired by the Trib several years ago, it had a robust events section.
One of the things I saw just being a reporter for the Trib over the years was how that events section branched out of just holding the typical interview with an Austin-based politician in downtown Austin in the Tribauditorium or the local, another venue. I think that’s important getting that [crosstalk].
Justin: What always surprised me about Tribfest was how successful it was in getting everybody to come. All the politicians wanted to be there so Texas Tribune, in a time when every media is somehow maligned as political or whatever. Dexter Tribune’s been able to stay above it and when they have events, people want to be part of it regardless of the party they’re in, which speaks a lot to the [crosstalk].
Patrick: Yes, we obviously, live in a very polarized political environment. We’re not going to get every elected official to show up at our events. I think that the ones who do never, by and large, never walk away feeling like they weren’t given a fair shot. Even the most Republican lawmakers or elected statewide officials who you think would be the most hostile toward the media. Those ones who choose to show up and participate, I’ve never heard them walk away and feel like they didn’t have a fair opportunity or a fair interview.
Justin: Well, it seems like there’s a way to phrase questions that’s fair when you can ask it the same way with a different inflection, and all of a sudden feels like an attack. I’ve seen a bunch of Evan Smith interviews, and he just has that really good way of asking questions, even when it is, “Hey, here’s something that maybe makes you feel defensive, but I’m going to ask it in my way, and you’re going to feel comfortable answering it.”
Patrick: Yes, absolutely. I think he has a great interviewing style. He knows how to really push people, and maybe in some cases being- he would say sometimes I’m a dick in an interview, but it’s effective and people don’t walk away from it. The interview subjects often don’t get offended. They understand what’s behind the questioning and the persistence and the questioning.
Justin: You are a political correspondent. What is that?
Patrick: Yes, so it is covering all things politics in Texas. Correspondent obviously, is I think in journalism, maybe a little dated bit of a term. You think of someone on the scene in all these different cities. Although I do like to embrace that a little bit, pre-COVID, I definitely, took a lot of interest in traveling the state, traveling the country, even for the presidential campaigns, and really getting outside of Austin and covering the stories where they are at. As COVID has gone on and become the new normal. I’ve gotten back out on the road and I’ve really enjoyed it. Well, maybe a bit of a dated term correspondent, I do embrace the part of it that makes people think about someone out and all these different things.
Justin: You mentioned this before we got going, but sometimes you meet with sources and things like that. Part of it is you just being present, able to report on things that other people aren’t present for. Part of it actually has to do with like creating and having your own sources of information that it gives you insight and information that other people don’t have access to. How do you go about cultivating sources in, like you said, a highly charged political environment?
Patrick: Yes. I think you just get to know people through multiple election cycles and multiple campaigns. You try to keep an awareness of oh like that person worked on that race last cycle. Now I can see they’re working for this person this time around. Either I’ll proactively reach out to them and say, “Hey, it’s, Patrick Svitek. You maybe remember me from this race last cycle,” or something like that. I think it’s just a matter of having a good knowledge of what people are doing in their professional lives in the political and campaign realm. Staying in touch with them and always making clear to them that I’m always interested in sitting down having a beer, having a coffee, and talking off the record.
Make it clear to people that like, I want to have a relationship that’s not just based on you giving me some public on the record statement, or something like that. I’m sure if there’s any political journalist listening to this, this is not a crazy innovation for me to be saying this. I think that’s how political reporters tend to operate and tend to be successful in building relationships.
Justin: I’m sure, how you present the information given and how you keep your word ends that relationship or builds it over the long term, right?
Patrick: Yes, I think so. I think, especially in this day and age when political journalism is so fast-moving with Twitter, especially the Trib, deadlines at the Trib are like, sometimes we get hard deadlines, like 5:00 PM. I’m going to turn in this story, but because we’re an online news organization, deadlines are just constantly rolling. The stories I work on often it’s just like when the story’s ready let’s post it. Sometimes we’ll hold something for the next morning because we obviously, our analytics and we try to show when people are going to be looking at the website most often and get the most readers. In general, things are very fast-moving, especially in the day-to-day work that I like doing.
When it comes to source building and relationship building, I just try to be very transparent with people like, “Hey, we’re doing a story on this. We need a response ASAP probably going to be published around this time. If you can’t get me something, we’re an online news organization we can always update it to reflect your statement,” or something like that. Yes, I think just in this fast-moving environment, being transparent with sources about what you’re doing and what you’re looking for is important.
Justin: Is it like the movies to some extent or some of your sources, people that want nobody to know who they are, and completely in the dark? Or do they all have to be to some extent?
Patrick: No, I think there’s plenty of sources I have that, will never be quoted on the record in a story, but are incredibly helpful for the insight that they provide off the record, or on some other attribution basis. I wouldn’t say it’s like I’m meeting them in the dark [unintelligible 00:17:40]. Yes, absolutely but there’s plenty of people as I’m sure any political reporter would say in this day and age who are incredibly helpful, and may have an invisible input in a story just for what they’re able to provide you on a non on the record basis.
Justin: The people in Austin know who they are. It’s a high school out there, right? The people generally know who are going to be loose-slipped about things.
Patrick: I think in any state capital that there’s obviously a gang of 400 political insider class. I think that among those people, there’s probably half of them who can look at a negative story sometimes and detect where the fingerprints are.
Justin: I’m sure that’s right.
Patrick: Us reporters can do it too because we’ve been involved in those processes. I think sometimes you can see the fingerprints or even if someone’s [crosstalk].
Justin: Yes, so I am not in politics. I am very interested in it and follow it and it’s interesting to me. There’s the policymaking people and then there’s the political campaign type people. You cover both. Anyone interest you more than the other.
Patrick: Yes, you could probably just see it in the work that I do. Definitely, more interested in the politics campaign side of it but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in policy, and how it impacts Texans because that’s a huge part of the Trib’s coverage mission. I just happen to be the guy at the Trib who’s works skews more toward how that plays out in the political Arena
Justin: Well, a lot of the policy, especially this last legislative session was all about politics. You are going to get a lot of overlap in some [crosstalk].
Patrick: Oh, yes. They’re so enmeshed these days, whether it’s last session or anything in the past decade.
Justin: Yes, so one of the things I wanted to talk to you about, and I do not get into real political hot button stuff on here in terms of opinions. What are some of the big stories? From just a general casual observer, it sounds like the Rio Grande valley is one of those just like elephant in the room issues, in terms of how Texas is going to trend over the next 20 years. If the listeners don’t know in the last presidential cycle, it didn’t turn red, but it trended red in a lot of counties is that nobody expected that would happen. Now you have all the like, what caused it, and what are the reasons. Have y’all seen any data to come out of the Rio Grande Valley to discuss what was the cause of some of these big trends down there?
Patrick: I know there’s been a number of autopsies done by the Texas Democratic Party by local, civic, and political groups about what happened down there. Obviously any of those autopsies, first and foremost, they just chronicled the numerical shift. Biden carried this district by X number after Hillary Clinton carried it by four times that number or something like that. There’s that kind of analysis, then there’s the anecdotal interviews, whether it’s from focus groups or local Democrats who talk about what they were hearing, and what they were seeing in their districts or in their races in 2020, where this shift really got supercharged.
You talk to them and I know Filemon Vela, for example, Congressman from Brownsville, he’s talked about how the perception, at least, that Democrats were hostile to the oil and gas industry, hostile to law enforcement. Didn’t play well in, at least, parts of south Texas because, you have people in South Texas who the oil and gas jobs are some of the best paying jobs available to them. You have people who have law enforcement in their family, whether it’s border patrol or other law enforcement agencies in the area. I think you do have in South Texas, there is more of a pro-law enforcement culture that cuts across, party lines.
I’m not trying to suggest that those are the exact causes of that [crosstalk]. I’m just saying if you look at the anecdotal, I’ll call it analysis, but if you look at what anecdotally people are saying, whether it’s elected officials like Congressman Vela, or other folks in the community, they talk about how that perception damaged them. They talk about the perception of, Democrats being more in favor of business shutdowns due to COVID being more damaging. They talk about Hispanic voters I think this is born out by the data. I’m not speaking out of line here, but particularly, Hispanic men being more motivated by economic concerns.
That being more of a top issue versus, concerns about social issues or, migration issues that Democrats have tended to prioritize sometimes in the messaging in these communities. Again, there’s obviously, the quantitative analysis, the qualitative, and the anecdotal analysis. I’m not trying to say that one is the determinative answer for everything, but that’s what you hear when you dive into those numbers. It obviously, provides a really good offensive opportunity for Republicans in ’22, but they still have a lot to prove. We can’t forget too the redistricting process, they used the redistricting process to further this narrative.
They drew districts in South Texas to be more competitive for them. While I think there is a meaningful political shift happening in South Texas, you have to keep in mind that, Republicans and, if you were in power, why would you not do this? That they are also using the powers of incumbency and the powers of controlling the redistricting process to further will this narrative into existence.
Justin: Did they redistrict Ryan Gin’s, district into a Republican district?
Patrick: To his credit, he already won reelection as a Democrat in a district that went for Trump by a double-digit margin, his current district.
Justin: Was that Autauga County?
Patrick: I don’t know. I think his is based in Star County. [crosstalk]. Spreads farther north all the way up to Wilson County closer to San Antonio.
Justin: Does he pick up Zapata, which did go red?
Patrick: That may be him as well. In his case, he was uniquely strong incumbent in that he was able to win re-election as a Democrat in a Trump plus at least 10 point district. It was redistricted to be even much more pro-Trump, like double that. I think redistricting is a factor there, but it’s not the entire story. Anytime a Democratic state representative can win re-election, and he won re-election by a wide margin in the district that Donald Trump carried by double digits. You gotta give ’em a little credit for that right?
He was always [crosstalk]. We would call him a Conservative Democrat, by today’s standards, at least. If you look for example, in the statehouse districts. The Republicans use redistricting to basically create an entirely new district in Cameron County that is basically a battleground district. They could very well win that, and good for them if they win that, but it will be the result of them controlling the redistricting process and creating that opportunity for themselves to win.
Justin: The Cameron’s always been a little more conservative than Hidalgo in some of those anyway.
Patrick: I think so.
Justin: I know they’ve elected some Republican state judges. I think that ended about 10 years ago, but it was always one of those places. What do you think are some of the biggest stories politically that are going to bear out between now and the election?
Patrick: Yes, in terms of the issue set statewide, I think is really interesting because the grid persists as an issue, and that’s an issue that,= Greg Abbot is fully aware of his vulnerabilities on that issue. He’s made some very bold pronouncements that issue’s going to work out for him.
Justin: By rich donors have assured me it won’t fail.
Patrick: There’s obviously an influence and accountability angle on it too, from that perspective. It’s an interesting issue set, because you have the grid which is really not a statewide issue anywhere else in the country. It isn’t. There’s no other country where you’re going to see a TV ad in November about the electrical growth, but you will. I’m sure you’ll see it in this one from Beto O’Rourke assuming he’s the Democratic nominee. That strikes me as interesting because you have unique issues set statewide. You have a governor who number one issue is the border. Right now, if you look at the Republican, primary electorate, the border’s number one issue for them.
There’s not enough any Republican incumbent can do in this environment to be seen as fighting hard enough on the border. That’s why you’ve seen so much from Abbot on this issue, because I think he realizes he’s operating in at least a primary environment where the border is number one. You have to be racing to your right on the border not to be vulnerable in a primary. That’s just we can to talk about, what the actual immigration numbers are, how much of a real problem there is, but just because I don’t want to [crosstalk].
Justin: How much a state elected official can actually [crosstalk].
Patrick: Problems with some of the policies that he’s developed, we can have those discussions, but just in terms of political reality right now. The border is number one for these voters. You don’t want to be a Republican in a primary seen as insufficiently, tough on the border. I think that’s, that’s really interesting. I think COVID continues to be a lingering issue. We are totally for Republicans we’re in this environment where, COVID, I don’t want to say they believe COVID is over, but they believe, COVID is here to stay it’s part of life, no new rules.
You continue to have this tension with local governments that want to implement new rules. The border and the COVID, response, I think are the two big issues for Abbot and this primary. That’s why you’ve seen him try so hard in recent months to keep catching where the conservative base is on those issues.
Justin: You think he’s going to try to do the Youngkin and DeSantis CRT again. Texas already passed their CRT bill, which arguably don’t really address a problem, but it has been shown that it is effective at turning out voters. Do you think Abbot’s probably going to head hard in that direction too?
Patrick: Obviously, he championed what he called a critical race theory. In fact, the first bill that was passed in regular session, he thought was insufficient and he put on the special session agenda, a call for a more restrictive ban, and that passed to, and he’s campaigning on that. You hear him talking about that we passed two bills, banning “critical race theory in Texas.” I think the issue of what he would call parental rights is going to continue to be big for him. I think that obviously, that rolls in a bunch of different issues. That’s an umbrella issue for these curriculum issues like you just mentioned.
It’s an umbrella issue for not letting schools, close down for in-person learning, not letting schools require masks or require vaccines. It really is an umbrella issue for all of that. He unveiled a “parental bill of rights in his campaign” recently. It wasn’t super sexy, I would say, but it’s clearly an issue for him. It was sexy from a new policy standpoint. I’ll say there was nothing on there that was a headline-worthy policy proposal. It’s clearly front of mind for him. I think he’s definitely tapping into what you said with the questions and concerns that were raised by Glenn Youngkin in that race.
Justin: When I followed politics and Rick Perry was our governor, he was always very transparent on where he stood on issues. It seems Abbot is almost as far to the opposite of that and that he doesn’t let anybody know where he stands, and then the CRT in a special session. That wasn’t telegraphed, that really wasn’t part of the plan publicly. Then it just, is there. Is the rumor at least, or is the Austin hubbub that he is more politically careful? Is it more of a, let’s see what advisors say? Why is his public pronouncements of position so different than what we’ve seen in previous governorships? Is there some basis for that or reasoning for that?
Patrick: Yes. I think in general, he’s been a very cautious governor, when it comes to laying down clear positions on these hot button issues. I will say this year, may be because the train was leaving the station on some of these issues, and he wanted to get on it before it was too late. He did put out some pretty clear signals on these issues. I remember when the State House last Spring or last March maybe, passed their permitless carry bill. At the time, Abbott had not said anything, at least in the context that session about permitless carry.
When they passed the bill, I remember thinking to myself, “Oh God, here we go with that, but I’m sure it’s going to be a three month unclear situation of whether he supports it, whether he’ll sign it. Maybe his officer put out something saying, ‘Abbott reviews every bill carefully, and we’ll weigh the pros and cons.'” A few days after the House passed that bill, he proactively went on a conservative radio show and says, “I’m ready to sign it.” That was to me, that was a little striking. Again, maybe because he saw the writing on the wall, didn’t want to be seen as the impediment to this policy that appeared to have new momentum.
To me, that was interesting, because I feel like the history of Abbott with these hot button conservative issues is he’s not the first, second or third person, statewide leader to bring support for it. Sometimes you don’t even know if he’s going to support it until he actually signs it. Remember, that was the case with I believe the- oh, man it was 2017, I think the statewide texting and driving ban. If I recall correctly, and I’m sure Abbott staff from the time [crosstalk] correct if I’m wrong.
Speaker: In a few sessions too, that passed and then died a few different times. I remember in that case of that issue, I’m almost certain we didn’t know until he actually signed it-
Justin: Oh, it makes sense.
Patrick: -that he supported it. Of course, he got questions about it, and his office deflected. I would say, in general, he’s a politically cautious governor. This past year, in particular, it’s been interesting to see him give clear signals on some of these hot button issues. Again, I don’t know if I want to give him credit for being particularly courageous in supporting these issues because he may have just been sensing at least the political environment within the Republican primary electorate was shifting quickly. He needed to be [crosstalk].
Justin: Yes. For so many sessions, he was able to blame Strauss for the failure of the far conservative agenda, and he couldn’t do it anymore. Then also, there’s the rumor, he’s obviously running for president, dude. You have to see that as people get closer to a national run, they start to change your positions, or become strident in what they think, in a way they didn’t previously, right?
Patrick: Yes, yes. I think that if he does run for president in 2024, he doesn’t want to have any conservative vulnerabilities on his resume in 2022. I think if you’re looking at this in terms of a potential presidential context, you want to be running, even if not just a little bit behind Ron DeSantis on all these issues. Because DeSantis, I think has set the tempo for this hard right conservative policymaking in Florida. I don’t necessarily think that Abbott is always looking at DeSantis. If Trump doesn’t run especially in 2024, you want to be aligned with the Santos.
Justin: These Bill of Rights things he’s doing right after DeSantis did him as well. You see is an almost identical copy. I read his Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It’s just a lot of platitudes without any real policy proposals. Because the state doesn’t really have a ton to say in property taxes. [crosstalk] They always bring it up, but there’s not a lot that they can do.
Patrick: They’re working very hard to figure out how to influence property taxes given the lack of responsibility over them assigned to them by state law of the Constitution.
Justin: The alternative is, then you starve out things like police. It’s the way cities pay for these services that they say they’re behind. There’s just not a lot that they can do it seems like but it’s always something they talk about doing.
Patrick: Yes. There’s an increasing vocal segment of the Texas Republican Party that just supports and is campaigning on eliminating property taxes altogether to the extent that you think [unintelligible 00:34:19] is the primary challenge to Abbott. Regardless of the extent, it’s clear that one of the top lines is top issues is in property taxes. You drive anywhere in Texas you probably have seen in property taxes and billboard from [unintelligible 00:34:30] who hasn’t exactly detailed how that would look. It’s a quick and sexy political slogan.
Justin: It’s got a lot of lack of details in a lot of positions. Because I follow him on Twitter and it’s just all these [crosstalk].
Patrick: You don’t see a lot of footnotes to white papers on those billboards.
Justin: Never. Yes. [laughs] I’m going to tell the federal government what to do about that this [crosstalk] That’s how it works. Is the polling showing or data showing that Abbott really has any vulnerabilities?
Patrick: No, I think he’s well-positioned in his primary. I think he wants a resounding win in his primary. He wants the United Republican party going into the battle against Beto O’Rourke. I think that that’s partly why you’ve seen him move to the right. I also think he’s personally sensitive more to criticism on his right, that he may be to criticism from the center or from the left. By all accounts, this is a governor who you may not think he’s politically savvy. Even if you don’t think he’s politically savvy, he’s a very politically informed governor. He’s reading the tweets. [chuckles] He knows what people are saying about him. I think he’s particularly sensitive to criticism on the right.
His primary is interesting race in that regard. Because so far, the quantitative data, that the polling fundraising points that he’s safe in his primary. The policymaking makes it look like he’s down 20 points in his brain. [laughs] It’s a unique primary to cover from that perspective because usually the policymaking is aligned with the quantitative data for the [crosstalk].
Justin: Does he have to get majority to move on?
Justin: Okay. He could end up in a runoff, which would be [crosstalk].
Patrick: 50% percent plus one vote.
Justin: I think a runoff will be a loss for him.
Patrick: Statewide runoff in Texas are–
Justin: I don’t think he would lose, but I’m saying that would just really take a chink in his armor?
Patrick: Of course.
Patrick: Who knows in a runoff how farther to the right he’d have to be dragged, and how damaging that could be in the general election against Beto O’Rourke. Yes.
Justin: How much money he’d have spent.
Patrick: Yes. I think for Abbott, there always be money for him. Money’s an object for him but sure, yes, money will be spent.
Justin: Speaking of the storm, you see how much money those oil and gas companies made. Then they’re still just no fixer. It really is one of those things that I’m really surprised that just the everyday voter hasn’t just gotten behind this issue, is such an important issue. Because in San Antonio, our electricity rates are going up because of that storm. Yet nothing has been done to avoid that storm, or from what if it was gasoline would be a criminal offense to raise prices in a disaster. It’s just all of these things we’ve been taught are not okay still happen, and there hasn’t been a fix. I’m surprised it just has not continued to be the biggest issue in the room.
Patrick: Yes, it’s interesting, because personally, I’m desperate for a pollster to include the electric grid when they ask about what’s the most important issue to you? Or what do you think is the biggest issue facing the state right now? I haven’t seen a lot of public polling that does that. Because I think the salience of the issue is a little unknown. We know that when voters are asked about, “Did lawmakers do enough to fix a situation?” They say, “Hell no.” I think in one poll, it was 26, and it ended up 60 said no, not enough.
We know where the public opinion is a basic question, how salient of an issue is it? Is it up there competing with the border, the economy, and other issues that voters tend to say are top of mind for them in these races? I just haven’t seen the public polls that include the grid as a category there.
Justin: I think San Antonio is also different because we have a public utility, that is our electricity. Whenever the rates going up, it’s in the news and it gets voted on, and you know about it. I think the people that just buy from resellers out in the country. Where I grew up, they’re probably just getting higher rates, and it’s in a letter and they never even know what’s going on. Place like San Antonio it’s in the forefront of the news that your rates are going up because of that storm in which people were making billions of dollars at the same time.
It’s funny how that will affect it because a lot of these cities and publicly owned utilities are already blue. I’m sensitive to it because I watch all the rate increase meetings and things like that.
Patrick: Yes. Beto O’Rourke is calling those rate increases being passed on to consumers “added tax” which is, I think a savvy way to extend this issue beyond just the more immediate prospect of the grid failing. Because how do you talk about this issue after the cold weather months? I think Beta O’Rourke has, obviously, zeroed in on talking about those rate increases.
Justin: 700people died. You don’t hear enough about that too.
Patrick: Yes, that too. I think from his perspective, it’s like how do you talk about this issue once you get through February and March when it’s not like there’s an immediate-
Justin: We’re still paying for it?
Patrick: We’re paying for it, yes. [crosstalk] exactly talk about it. We’ll see how that plays out.
Justin: One thing that struck me, and I’m selling myself because I watch tons of committee hearings and four debates this last session. It’s just such a dense issue that you got the feeling that a lot of people didn’t want to deal with it. It’s so dense, it’s so hard to wrap your mind around. The one thing was for sure is they weren’t going to stop the profiteering off of it, and that was what was true. Not only that, they didn’t want to force winterizing because it’s expensive. All these things that they should have forced 10 years ago, nobody seemed to have the political courage to take it on, so Ken got kicked down the road.
Patrick: It’s complicated to explain just to begin with, it’s complicated to explain what, because it wasn’t zero down on it, it’s complicated to explain what there was done on it. I think that’s why you’ve seen Abbott just gravitate towards just what do you think is politically smarter or not, just being like, “We’re going to be good.’ Because this is so complicated.
Justin: There were lots of bills passed, but it was lots of best I could tell, and I have a friend who was testifying a lot of it, a lot of small fixes along the way. There wasn’t a massive piece of legislation that addressed it.
Patrick: I think not enough forcing these actors to do what’s right without potential to opt-out. Again, from political messaging perspective, I think that’s why Abbott has just gravitated toward just making these bold, declaratory statements because explaining it to the average voter is difficult.
Justin: Over the last 20 years, it has seemed as though Texas has had this almost like monarchical system of, Abbott was a Supreme Court judge, then he was attorney general, then it was his turn to run for governor. You had these people that just worked through the system, and then you had Dan Patrick, who was a rebel who came in and nobody thought he could win. Now he’s maybe the most powerful guy in the state of Texas. You’ve got all these people challenging the AG, you’ve got all these people challenging the governor.
Do you think a lot of this is a result of how successful Trump was in his positions that people in Texas to the right or some of our electeds think that they have a chance they didn’t have before?
Patrick: I think this is a [unintelligible 00:41:50], I think it varies race by race. Obviously, with Paxton, he’s had mounting vulnerabilities over the years. I think for these people who are challenging him, the claims by his former top deputies who were well-respected in conservative legal circles, the claims of corruption by those former top deputies was the straw that broke the camel’s back for them.
Justin: I think that the indictment wasn’t enough, the FBI investigation.
Patrick: Those FBI investigations related to these claims, but clearly, they weren’t troubled enough by the securities fraud indictment in 2015. It’s funny, I was just thinking about this last month, because I was at the Republican Party of Texas headquarters with an hour to go into the filing deadline. I always try to hang out there to see if anyone shows up at the last minute. It reminded me that for years previously, on that evening in December 2017, I did the same exact thing, because I was waiting to see what anybody filed a challenge Ken Paxton in the 2018 Republican primary, and nobody did.
Justin: That’s what I’m saying, even when people were vulnerable, they didn’t challenge each other, and you see a lot more of [crosstalk] it’s a party fight club.
Patrick: Clearly, folks, weren’t troubled enough, at least Republicans, weren’t troubled enough by the indictment to field a serious challenge against him, now this FBI investigation, the claims that are under-girding it are enough for them. That’s the unique race, I think Abbott’s race is just driven by folks seeing a pendulum swinging after 2020 increasingly to the right in Texas.
We are definitely getting back to, this has been aided, of course, by redistricting, but I think just in terms of the trend in Texas right now, we’re definitely getting back to a point in Texas politics where you need to be much more worried about losing a primary than the general election. The threat is back in the primary. I think Abbott recognizes that, I think that explains some of the challenges that he’s facing, because the environment and again, not an arbitrary, but in these legislative races, obviously, the District of Texas is still the same, but redistricting, it accelerates that a little bit too.
Justin: The Paxton stuff has been interesting for me being a lawyer, because it has just kept piling up in terms of how much water is under the bridge. Then we have an agricultural commissioner, who’s got some allegations of some untoward activity as well. Are voters really paying attention down-ballot on those races, in your estimation, or is a lot of this pulling the lever and pulling the incumbent lever for, Governor, maybe aside.
Patrick: Are you asking how much voters care about those ethical issues in these races?
Justin: Educating themselves on those kinds of races. Do you think the majority of voters are really paying attention to those, or are they paying attention to who our incumbent is?
Patrick: I don’t think the ethical issues are the number one issue for some of these Republican primary voters. I think if you’re George P. Bush, if you’re James White [unintelligible 00:44:52] at Sid Miller, you got to be able to connect those ethical issues to some broader concern about their ability to represent the conservative cause. That’s why you see George P. Bush, or any Paxton’s challengers saying, “We can’t be fighting the Biden Administration with an indicted AG, twice indicted.”
That’s why you see James White and even Paxton’s challengers talking about other issues that appeal to conservative voters. Anybody following politics, who is involved in campaigns will not be surprised about this, but what was George P. Bush’s first TV ad about? It wasn’t about Ken Paxton being indicted, it didn’t mention Ken Paxton. It was about George P. Bush, being tough on the border, and that just shows the salience of that.
Justin: Was that his first ad with him on the four-wheelers?
Patrick: First TV ad. Of course, even if you’re well-known, you usually don’t go negative in your first TV ad, but I think it just shows that these challengers to these incumbents of ethical issues know that they still have to build credibility with primary voters on these other issues that are important to them. You can’t hang an entire campaign on these ethical issues, because clearly their primary voters they reelected Paxton in 2018. They reelected Sid Miller in 2018, and he had a well-funded primary challenger who was also claiming that Sid Miller was ethically compromised. These challengers know that you just can’t run a single-issue campaign, because primary voters want more than that.
Justin: Sid Miller had some allegations of lobbying, he should have gone on or something, I can’t remember now.
Patrick: It’s almost baked in at this point, I think with Republican primary voters, especially with Sid Miller that this is who we have.
Justin: If I’m a Democratic interest group, I’m just putting up random interviews with Sid Miller on TV. He just says things you should not say, and don’t care and voters keep reelecting him. Let’s talk about San Antonio. You said you’re waiting for filings at the Republican headquarters. A lot of people here thought Nico LaHood, our former district attorney was going to announce that he was going to, well, he did announce and thought he was going to follow it around in LA Larson seat, he did not. You really don’t have many other competitive races in San Antonio.
One thing that I’m just curious about, as far as cities go in the legislative process, you have some cities that probably work together and some cities that don’t. If San Antonio is elected, do they usually coalesce around San Antonio issues and work together pretty well?
Patrick: Yes, I’d say so. At least legislatively, it’s usually been a relatively united delegation, maybe compared to other major city delegations. You do have tension sometimes, you might remember Trey Martinez Fisher challenging Diana Ravello two, three years ago, and successfully getting his old seat back. A number of his San Antonio colleagues endorsed him in that race at the time. You do have I think, situations like that, but I think for the most part, it is at least Statehouse delegation.
Justin: For the most part, you don’t see the far-right fringe or the far-left fringe from our sort of delegation. They’re not at the back mic putting people down or trying to be purists about things. Cities tend to trend, San Antonio was one of the last cities, I guess Fort Worth, really. San Antonio, we were purple for a little while. Is the expectation that cities are going to just keep trending blue and the rural is going to just keep trending red, is that sort of the expectation in Texas?
Patrick: I don’t think necessarily, I think, the Bexar County Judge [unintelligible 00:48:32] is going to be interesting barometer of that cycle. Clearly, Trish DeBerry, the county commissioner who got at the last minute, see some opportunity.
Justin: Gave up a good gig for it.
Patrick: Only two years into it, too, I don’t follow municipal politics that closely, that’s my understanding. She sees an opportunity countywide. If this national environment continues, where Biden is so unpopular, especially in Texas, there’s no reason that Republicans shouldn’t try in Bexar County, they shouldn’t make a real effort here. In fact, Greg Abbott was in San Antonio over the weekend, and this may have just been rally talk, but he said, “I believe Republicans are going to win, ‘at the local level’ in Bexar County this election cycle, not just that in the state at the statewide level.” I think he carried Bexar County in his first race in 2014.
Justin: He’s probably right, because he’s a non-presidential years, right?
Justin: You’d see swings in non-presidential years, especially to the right?
Patrick: I’ve always, at least since I’ve been in Texas since 2014 I’ve considered Bexar County a Democratic-leaning County, but one that’s not immune to national swings.
Justin: You see a bunch of Republicans signing up to run in races that they didn’t last cycle as well, even Trish DeBerry’s race, I think there was room as other people were going to get into that. People thought Brockhouse was going to get into it and all those things, and none of that came to be. From a trend standpoint, do you think the pendulum for Texas ever comes back left?
Patrick: Yes, there’s always potential for Republican leaders to overstep this. Even though the pendulum just started swinging back in the right direction post-2020 in Texas. ’22 is certainly going to be a test of whether the Republicans have overreached in passing permitless carry, the near-total abortion ban, some of these voting restrictions. I think this is still going to be a relatively good election cycle for them. I think that there’s always the risk that they continue pushing on these issues, continue trying to appease parts of a base that is insatiable on some of these issues. I mentioned the border, for example and how right now in Republican primary, you just cannot do enough on the border.
Justin: Do you think the voters realize that the wall doesn’t stop them from becoming part of the system? I think Republican-based voters think the wall is literally a physical barrier that keeps somebody from entering and becoming part of customs or INS or however it works. I’ve had that discussion with people. You realize when they get to the wall, then they just get picked up, and they still get processed through the immigration system. That’s not a thought process that people have, which is just a strange thing that–
Patrick: I don’t know if in the political realm where anyone’s really thinking it through that but quite frankly, to agree with your point. Absolutely, I do think the pendulum could swing back if Republicans are seen as overreaching. I think that’s TBD but I think there’s no doubt though. In the national and statewide environment right now is pretty much in favor of Republicans. I think Democrats are going to be playing a lot of defense.
Justin: Outside of these get-elected issues, what do you think are some of the most important issues for the state of Texas going forward? These are the ones people get elected on, but I think the grid really is a real issue for people. There’s discussions that some businesses have chosen not to come here because a grid reliability issues. What are some of the real issues that you think people should maybe spend more time educating themselves on?
Patrick: I think healthcare is always a top you in Texas. I think obviously one of the highest uninsured rates in the country that is always cause for concern and alarm. I think it sometimes is underappreciated including by reporters like myself, just because there’s such inaction on it by the governing majority. There’s not much to write about it but it’s still an important issue just morally.
Justin: Our Lyle Larson was the only Republican to vote for expanding Medicaid.
Patrick: Right. Yes, exactly. That’s one that I think is just important issue regardless of the politics. I think voting in Texas is an important issue. There’s no doubt that in the name of election security, this latest legislation created new processes that do create new hurdles to voting. Republicans believe those new hurdles are justified because of their interest and what they would say is restoring confidence in the elections. Anytime new hurdles are created for voting, I think that’s an important issue for anyone to weigh the cost and benefit of those new hurdles.
Justin: I’d say, have you done any reporting on our foster system?
Patrick: I’ve not been the Trib’s main reporter on that, so I can–
Justin: Even ProPublica has done some stuff with you all on that. In San Antonio just recently, a woman got arrested, a two-year-old and a three-year-old. I think 24, 23, one of them was hogtied. One was tied to a crib. Nobody was there. Turns out that they were kids that had been taken by CPS and given to this person. I think the Federal Judge in Corpus Christi also has said that that’s unconstitutional. It’s a major issue in our state that also seems like every session that can gets kicked down the road, that there’s a few fixes. You just continue having these horror stories about what’s going on, and nobody pays attention to it.
Patrick: There are issues like that that have been persistent for years in Texas that continue to fly under the radar I think.
Justin: What about you personally? Any specific policy issues that you really geek out about?
Patrick: In my reporting, I like campaign finance. I don’t know if that can be a policy issue. The rules that are made by the Texas Ethics Commission about how campaign should be run, how things should be disclosed in Texas, I think are important. I know that’s an insider discussion, but we do live in a state where there are no campaign contribution limits. I think in a state like ours, following those policies and those rules is a worthwhile endeavor as a reporter.
That personally interests me. I can’t necessarily speak to how this plays out in every city in Texas, but as I mentioned before, we started recording. When I was in college, I covered a lot of gun violence. I’m always interested in crime issues and how those trends are playing out in different cities. I can’t say at the Tribune that I’ve covered that closely as a policy matter, but if you ask me my personal interests, that’s up there as well.
Justin: We’re fixing the end. The last thing I want to ask you is, anything you’re looking forward to learning in San Antonio or doing in San Antonio or getting to know?
Patrick: I’m just interested in getting to know the local political scene more. I’ve always been aware of the State House Politics, and the congressional politics that touch San Antonio. I’ve covered a few of them, written about a few of the mayoral races here, talk about the pendulum swinging over the past decade in San Antonio. I’m interested in getting to know more about local politics, both as a resident, and then just as a political observer.
Justin: I don’t think people realize how diverse our mayor’s office has been over the last four cycles. Our four mayors. It is not what people would expect if they came down here and really paid attention to our politics.
Patrick: Yes, absolutely.
Justin: The one thing that’s interesting to me is to see how much that DSA influence from Austin City Council is going to bleed over to San Antonio because you have Greg [unintelligible 00:56:19] coming down here now and doing campaign rallies with people that did get elected. It’s an interesting [inaudible 00:56:27].
Patrick: I was going to mention earlier that the election of Jaylen McKee Rodriguez and I think it’s in Terry Castillo was a particular interest to me just in terms of municipal politics. I want to pay more close attention to that stuff.
Justin: Well, welcome to San Antonio.
Patrick: Thank you for having me,
Justin: Thank you for doing this. I hope I can have you on here some more after some things happen politically, but that’s going to do it, and I appreciate your time and welcome.
Patrick: Thank you so much.
Justin: Thanks for joining us on this episode of the Alamo hour. You all make this city so great. We hope you join us next week. In the meantime, subscribe to our podcast, check us out on Facebook @facebookdotcom/alamohour or our website alamohour.com. Until next time Viva San Antonio.