Still a bit exhausted from our previous long day, we grabbed a coffee and departed at dawn to secure a spots in the inevitable line…
One-on-One with Beto O’Rourke (Sawyer Massie)
And we were right. The line for Beto O’Rourke at the Paramount Theater venue had formed over an hour earlier than the start. Even still, we were happily surprised with our seats, although that mattered little, since everyone rose to their feet when Beto took the stage.
Despite being in the audience when he appeared in Huntsville during his Senate campaign, we were interested to hear him, especially concerning the recent impeachment inquiries announcement. He filled his hour, ranging from gun control, to immigration, to decriminalization, and, of course, the topic of TribFest, impeachment. When he opened up Q&A, we sent in questions pertaining to his policy discussions, but none of ours were selected.
The crowd erupted when he stood up from his chair and waved goodbye, but that was that. Regardless of party affiliation, we all agreed he’s a talented orator.
The group diverged, attending sessions in completely different “spheres”: health care and space.
Up in the Air (Sawyer Massie)
This panel, designed to answer the question: “What is the trajectory of our space program?,” featured Douglas Brinkley, Lori Garver, and Thomas Zurbuchen – a distinguished author, former NASA Deputy Administrator, and NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, respectively.
Brinkley has extensive knowledge in the field of space exploration and keeps close ties with many of the industry’s big names. He was also promoting his newly-published American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race. To give context to those attending the panel, he explained that “moonshot” has garnered colloquial usage over the years to signify exploration in any field, although first gaining popularity during the late 50’s Space Race. Brinkley also stated that without the persistence of JFK despite an opposing population, no humans would have ever gone to the moon.
Garver added that in the coming years, there will at least be one woman going to space in NASA’s upcoming “Artemis” missions. She shared a story of being employed on the John Glenn campaign, although at the time did not know he advocated against women becoming astronauts; one of her missions now is to promote women in the space and science industries.
Thomas claimed that Apollo 11 changed his life, in spite of having no memory of it whatsoever. Sparked by interest in peering at Switzerland’s night sky, he devoted his life to becoming an astrophysicist. He emphasized the importance of space exploration and challenged the audience to be involved in innovating humanity.
No Thanks, Obamacare (Esmeralda Mata)
Panelists Elena Marks, Avik Roy, David Balat, Stacey Pogue, and moderator Emma Platoff discussed the cost of healthcare in Texas, and regional hospital and global pharmaceutical monopolistic behavior.
They argued that hospitals are able to negotiate fees with insurance companies that may seem beneficial to the consumer, but are not in reality. Some regional hospitals and global pharmaceuticals are taking advantage of the market power to charge higher fees for health care, when 40-50% of these typically are paid to administrators and intermediaries who never touch a patient. So, now the argument is whether we should pay hospitals directly, excluding insurance companies, to lower the cost of healthcare. Geographically, this will benefit those who live near a hospital, which hurts rural patients.
Break! Although the Obamacare panel was a lot to digest, we decided that it was time for a snack. Since we were already waiting in The Driskill between panels, it was an easy decision to try a couple of pastries from the 1886 Café, including the “signature” 1886 Chocolate Cake. Amazing!
Trade Off (Miranda Estrada)
Politico’s chief economic correspondent, Ben White, moderated a formidable panel of two: former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and US Trade Representative Carla Anderson Hills, and former Dallas Mayor and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
Our conversation started with the question of Congress’s ability to pass serious trade laws with only 33 days remaining in this session. Both Hills and Kirk agreed that several items still need to be passed and whether that would happen would rely heavily on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, about which they were optimistic. Turning to US economic vitality, Kirk stressed the importance of the need to attract people to the high quality of American-made goods and the need have Americans producing those goods. (Kirk explained in an aside that he is an anomaly of sorts, a pro-trade Dem.)
He stressed the importance trade has on our country but also that trade in Texas in particular employs thousands of people and brings in revenue.
When asked what the world would look like without NAFTA, Hill defined NAFTA not as a diplomatic agreement but rather as a “constitutional province of Congress,” along with commerce and taxes. She also spoke of the competitive supply trade NAFTA has created and that together we buy and produce for one another globally. Hill stressed the importance of every person needing to stand up and fight for trade, to not rely on Washington D.C. Kirk spoke of the privilege that often in America we forget, and that we benefit economically down to the family unit level due to trade. Kirk offered the notion that we did as a country need to upgrade NAFTA and the importance and consequences of losing that ground.
We made a quick connection with Kirk after (Sawyer & Miranda are from the Dallas area, but they let Annie & Esme in the pic, anyhow), briefly chatting on the “supertrain” connecting Dallas and Houston.
Break, part I: Lunch at Cava (Annie Jamarik)
Between discussions, we squeezed in a quick lunch, and because we like to reach a little outside of our comfort zone when it comes to food as well as politics, CAVA was a great choice for a quick lunch that still pushed boundaries for some of us – but not too far! Not native to Austin, this Mediterranean restaurant is a frequent stop for the LEAP Center whenever in town. A large variety of sauces and toppings makes it easy for everyone to get something they like, something a little different. (That said the braised lamb grain bowl with sriracha Greek yogurt was a group favorite!)
Break, part II: Texas State Capitol (Annie Jamarik)
Because lunch was quick and easy, we had some time to kill before our next event.
Because we hadn’t had enough walking yet, and since Esmeralda had never been, we took advantage of the extra time to wander up Congress Avenue to look around the State Capitol building. We ventured on to the House and Senate floors for quick look-see before venturing back to TribFest, where the Capitol remained in our line of vision.
The Stories of 9/11 (Esmeralda Mata)
Garrett Graff, author of The Only Plane in the Sky, and late substitute Karl Rove, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush, completely moved the audience. The moderator asked them to focus on the two different Americas—pre and post “9/11.” Both panelists stated after the first hour of the first attack, there was a noticeable difference across America.
First responders arrived, completely clueless of the full extent of the tragedy that has occurred, many of them falling victim themselves. President Bush was in Sarasota, Florida, visiting a school. Rove shared his thoughts after seeing the President enter the makeshift command center after he was informed by then White House Chief of Staff Andy Card: “A different guy walked through the door that day.”
Both Graff and Rove recounted a number of stories, although most centered on the specific events and timeline for the day of the attack, with details on the actions taken by United Airlines Flight 93 passengers, first responders fearful of subsequent attacks, and the massive undertaking (logistically and length of time) of grounding all aircraft across the nation. Both also noted that many, while consumed with the shock, turned quickly to what would happen the next day, and the next, and how we would react, recover, and in the American spirit, press on.
History Class (Sawyer Massie)
On another adventure in the ever-elusive quest for a break from political discussion, we were able to witness three historical authors discuss Texas history and–oh wait, the current political climate. (We were unable to fulfill that quest…) Nevertheless, S. C. Gwynne, H. W. Brands, and Stephen Harrigan had a lot to say, and elegantly, all three.
One poignant question from the audience, “Will we be okay?,” demonstrated the asker’s undeniable concern with the polarized political climate we face today. H.W. Brands, the only professional historian of the three, took the lead in answering.
Citing history’s cyclical nature, he stated that these times are not the worst our nation has faced. We have faced bloody wars and devastation beyond what we face now so, logically, he concluded, we will be okay.
We were particularly happy to see Stephen Harrigan, who has been a guest of ours at SHSU. He spoke insightfully, as usual, and he has a whole new perspective on his discussion, having just completed a six-year history of Texas: Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas.
After the panel, we rushed (next door) to the festival “hub” to be first in line for the book signing. Sawyer attempted conversation with S.C. Gwynne; Stephanie spoke with Stephen Harrigan, mentioning LEAP and SHSU. He immediately recognized the Center and asked about Professor Yawn. (We were giddy knowing that a very famous author remembered us.)
One-on-One with Julian Castro (Miranda Estrada)
Meanwhile, the others had the opportunity to add another Democratic Presidential Nominee hopeful “arrow” to their quiver of presentations: Julian Castro, former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Director. Our moderator was NBC Correspondent Katy Tur, and she asked several questions that really allowed Castro to speak openly and honestly about his plans if he were to receive the nomination and then win.
Regarding Castro’s recent pleas for funding and possible inability to make the needed polling numbers, Tur asked if he would drop to the Senate race, challenging Senator John Cornyn. He said very confidently that he would not run for Senate because his experience is as an executive. He claimed federal leadership experience, and he explained that he was running for the position that is relevant to his experience. Tur noted that the three current major poll leaders are all Caucasian, and asked Castro if he would support a nominee if Caucasian, and Castro said that he would fully support the party nominee regardless of race.
Asked from the audience what it would mean for Castro, son of a Mexican immigrant, to stand on the stage and debate President Donald Trump. Castro spoke of recent criticism that he is “too harsh” in debating, and stated that he hoped voters saw that instead that he is more than capable and prepared to debate Trump, along with the importance of his representation for Mexican-American children, to see someone that looks like them on the stage with the chance of becoming the next president.
Closing Keynote: Nancy Pelosi (Annie Jamarik)
The closing chapter of The Texas Tribune Festival “book” is easily the most anticipated. This year, TribFest closed with a one-on-one discussion with the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, as moderated by Evan Smith, CEO and co-founder of The Texas Tribune. Because the closing keynote is generally highly anticipated, and especially after this busy news week regarding the impeachment inquiry, the Paramount Theatre reached capacity before we were able to grab a seat.
Long before we reached the front door. Instead, we gathered at the Politico “tent” (yes. A tent set up out on Congress Avenue) for livestreaming.
During the talk, Speaker Pelosi addressed the impeachment inquiry stating that this is not about politics or partisanship, but rather emphasized the solemnity of an elected official’s oath of office.
She discussed some of the issues with President Trump’s lack of response to congressional subpoenas, to date, even citing similar action during President Nixon’s impeachment. Speaker Pelosi spoke at length about unifying our country and, singling out Willie Nelson in the front row (who garnered an impressive applause as well), also suggested that the arts will be important in healing the country.
But irrespective of the issues, the audience was in broad agreement, and maintained applause through the end.
Dinner at Clay Pit (Annie Jamarik)
After another long day of walking all over downtown Austin, Texas, we were ready for a good dinner! The Clay Pit is an Indian restaurant that LEAP enjoys nearly every time we visit Austin. We started the meal with garlic & basil and jalapeno & cream cheese naan for the table. For our entrees, we attempted a variety of traditional dishes, including: Butter chicken; Lamb tikka masala (which was supposed to be chicken); Chicken korma (which was supposed to be lamb); Lamb vindaloo; and Bhindi masala.
Our new-to-Indian-cuisine guests said they loved their dishes – even though our waiter Tom had a challenge in getting some of them correct…
Because we never do anything halfway, we ended our large meal with vegan chocolate cake and chai spiced crème Brule to share. We were most happy for our shortest walk of the day – back to the hotel!