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Photo courtesy of Angela Davis

In partnership with Tejemos Foundation, Six Square, and Austin Justice Coalition, the Paramount Theatre will present a night of insight from American political activist, professor, and author Angela Davis. The conversion will be led by Dr. Peniel Joseph, with a welcome and intro by Pamela Benson Owens.

Greg Abbott/Instagram

Texas voters re-elect Abbott, Patrick, and more of the same in mid-term election

Election News

Texans maintained the status quo in the November 8 mid-term election, re-electing Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton by similar majorities.

Results of all elections can be found at results.texas-election.com/races.

  • Abbott won by 55.11 percent, with a tally of 4,335,425 votes, while runner-up Beto O'Rourke earned 43.52 percent or 3,424,074 votes.
  • Patrick garnered 54.08 percent or 4,216,864 votes, against Democratic challenger Mike Collier, who earned 43.18 percent with 3,367,033 votes.
  • Paxton trailed with 53.75 percent or 4,178,494 votes, against runner-up Rochelle Mercedes Garza, who got 43.36 percent or 3,371,361 votes.
  • Sid Miller was re-elected Commissioner of Agriculture with 46.63 percent or 4,372,741 votes, versus opponent Susan Hays who earned 43.37 percent or 3,349,247 votes.
  • Wayne Christian was re-elected Railroad Commissioner with 55.7 percent or 4,296,565 votes, beating top contender Luke Warford who scored 40.24 percent or 3,104,474 votes.

Austin's race for mayor will go to a run-off. None of the six candidates earned more than 50 percent, so voters will choose from the two top candidates — former Austin mayor and state senator Kirk Watson and State Rep. Celia Israel — in a runoff election on December 13.

In Dallas, County Judge Clay Jenkins was re-elected, as was District Attorney John Cruezot, who earned 59.36 percent of the vote against challenger Faith Johnson's 40.64 percent. The city also passed Proposition A, which will raise hotel occupancy taxes from 13 to 15 percent, with the funds to be used to renovate Fair Park and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

In Fort Worth, the new Tarrant County Judge replacing Glen Whitley will be Tim O’Hare, a former mayor of Farmers Branch who had the support of Donald Trump; he defeated Democratic candidate Deborah Peoples, who has run for Fort Worth mayor twice.

Houston experienced issues with polling places that did not open on time, or malfunctions that caused delays and temporary closures. A group called Texas Organizing Project successfully petitioned Harris County to extend the voting hours until 8 pm, but the Texas Supreme Court ordered Harris County election officials to separate out any ballots that were cast after hours.

A location at Texas State University in San Marcos also suffered malfunctions with five out of eight machines, causing wait times of four hours or more.

In San Antonio, U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar was re-elected, besting Republican challenger Cassy Garcia by 56.6 percent to 43.4 percent.

Five cities — Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin, and Harker Heights — approved propositions to decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana, following the example of Austin, which passed a similar proposition in May.

For the first time, voters were given "no straight ticket" option to vote quickly for all one party or another requiring a click on each individual race — the result of HB25, a law pushed through by Republicans in the Texas Legislature in 2017, which killed the straight ticket option.

Photo courtesy of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation

Wild Horse Freedom Rally of Texas

Nationwide rallies are scheduled in support of the S.A.F.E. Act HR 3355 currently awaiting markup by the House Energy and Commerce Committee to go to the House floor for a vote. With increasing public awareness of U.S. horses being shipped across our borders for slaughter, this is the furthest this bill has gotten since being introduced to the House of Representatives in one form or another over 20 years.

The movement, Nationwide Wild Horse Freedom Rally, is designed to bring public attention to the brutally inhumane and taxpayer-funded wild horse and burro roundups currently taking place in the American West. Many of America’s formerly wild horses and burros end up in Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses. The SAFE Act would make it illegal to transport horses and burros, domestic or wild, from the USA to other countries for slaughter.

Photo by Steve Rogers Photography

State rep staffer goes Over the Lege with stage show about life at the Capitol

Grand Ole Texas Lege

Stephanie Chiarello might be out of a job if the wrong person reads this. Not to alarm you, reader; this chief of staff to a state representative has been putting on her satirical play about the Texas legislature for seven years now, and she’s been thinking a lot about risk lately. She’s decided it’s worth it, just in time for the new season September 16 through 18 at the Long Center.

“If I get fired from my state job for a theater show that I consider as freedom of speech, that's a pretty good badge of honor,” says Chiarello. “I don't want that to happen at all, but maybe I could fundraise off that.”

The live sketch comedy show Over the Lege exists to keep the legislature in check, even if the legislative body at large doesn't know about it. Chariello and her team spin scenes off of actual events at the Capitol to help staffers blow off some steam, and to make sure Texans have an accessible shot at understanding the decisions being made.

2022 is an interim year, meaning that legislation is not being passed, but the committees are “homework,” as Chiarello explains. Over the Lege runs in the fall to coincide with election season, and she points out this is an especially important year due to redistricting, which placed every statewide office, senator, and representative on the ballot. The next legislature starts in January of 2023.

Chiarello first pitched the show to the Institution Theater in 2015, the year of the 84th legislative session, while working for then-Senator and former Austin mayor Kirk Watson. Even besides watching overtly distressing lawmaking decisions at council meetings and floor debates, she was witnessing more than her fair share of “juvenile” behavior.

One member asked an Asian-American speaker to change his name so she could pronounce it better; another member teased a heavy legislator with a cookie. Chiarello wondered why it seemed that no one was paying attention to these, or even more egregious offenses.

“Senators represent about a million people in Texas and representatives are, like, 220,000 people. You mean so much more here on this level than you do to the President of the United States,” says Chiarello. “People can tell you who the president is — and bless Ted Cruz’s heart, people seem to know who he is now — but no one right now, who's not involved in the Texas lege, could tell you who their state senator or their state rep are. And that's what I wanted to change.”

Unlike the legislative members Chiarello skewers, she and her writers try to keep their ribbing to what individuals have earned. She tries to stick to policy, unless certain members have consistently transgressed on the side of bad policy. State Representative Briscoe Cain bought his ticket from relative protection to a children of the corn comparison with sensationally hardline policy goals, public name-calling, and, in fairness, a lot of pictures in fields.

Over the Lege is a nonpartisan show, at least in theory, but Chiarello finds it harder to make fun of Democrats — not for lack of material, but weakness of punchlines. “I try,” she says. “I promise I try so hard, but the show is really about punching up to power, and Democrats have no power.”

One sketch from 2019 takes the form of a game show called “How Red Is It?” The first contestant is a handsy Pisces from Austin who cannot name any gubernatorial candidates besides Greg Abbott, but pledges “100 percent” of her support to whoever his opponent is. She snaps at a “white male” on her way offstage.

Games shows are the basis for the Over the Lege podcast, which is active in between live shows, much more frequently, and returning for its fourth season in October. Episodes contain radio-style game shows (like Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!) with local comedians as contestants and interviews with “legislative celebrities.” The most recent episode, released on June 2, 2022, features comedians Aaron Salinas and Shana Merlin, plus Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant.

The Long Center show for the 2022 season features one special guest per showing: Senator Sarah Eckhardt, State Representative Gina Hinojosa, and Democratic campaign consultant James Aldrete, in order.

Aside from guests, the show keeps multiple writers busy, especially head writer Amy Knopp, who does advocacy work and Chiarello calls “Capitol-adjacent.” Other writers and actors affiliated with Over the Lege were either invited in an open call early in the show’s life, or have since joined through word of mouth.

Chiarello is also responsible for all the administrative work, booking shows, and buying costumes — basically, anything that comes up. As much as the sketch show is an outlet, it is financial baggage. She hopes that the show will one day support itself, so it at least breaks even. For now, she considers it her “civic duty.”

“I justify [the personal risk] by saying … 80 percent of what's in the show is real. It's really happened. It's a real policy. It's a real conversation. It's [really] something in someone's past,” says Chiarello. “So if a legislator is proud of the work they do, they should fear not of this show. And if they're not proud, then that's the whole point.”

Over the Lege is available as a podcast wherever podcasts are. Tickets for the Long Center show ($17-25) on September 16, 17, and 18 are available at thelongcenter.org.

Over the Lege draws from real Texas politics, and the unreal drama they create.

Photo by Steve Rogers Photography
Over the Lege draws from real Texas politics, and the unreal drama they create.
Photo by Jessica Pages

SXSW unveils first round of featured speakers and sessions for 2023 festival

Get This

The beauty of South by Southwest is that attendees make their own lineups, even on the conference side. Still, there’s so much to look at every day, it helps that the festival chooses featured speakers to narrow things down.

On Tuesday, August 30, the storied Austin festival revealed a cast of 13 featured speakers for 2023, featuring personalities and experts in sports, business, music, food, and more.

The conference events — less talked about than the flashy music and film festival events, which are technically all under the former umbrella — include more business and information sharing than entertainment, in several formats. Keynotes are presentations in the form of conversations with a wide range of recognizable guests, often visiting to perform at some other time. Panels are slightly different, more topic based, and are mostly picked by the community. Workshops, mentor sessions, and meetups are more personally involved.

This leaves featured sessions, which the conference sets aside for industry leaders. Following 25 tracks including huge topics like civic engagement and niche ones like psychedelics, these presentations are all about finding the zeitgeist, and likely interrupting it with innovative questions and lenses.

Featured speakers (by individual) and sessions (by topic) include:

  • Kyle Andrew, Allyson Felix, and Gloria Riviera: Andrew, chief brand officer at Athleta will talk with track and field Olympian Felix, who also works in athletic wear, and reporter Riviera, who podcasts about childcare. About what? It’s anyone’s guess with this eclectic group.
  • Amy Gallo: Gallo is the woman you want on your side at work. Along with contributing to the Harvard Business Review and co-hosting its Women At Work podcast, she has her own book coming out soon called Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People).
  • Sophia Roe: James Beard Award-winning chef Sophia Roe hosts Counter Space, a Vice TV series that examines the world through food; not just culture but innovation and climate change. Her explorations are mainly in the name of inclusivity, sustainability, and food equity.
  • “2050: Digital Identity is a Human Right”: Working from home, staying in touch with friends, or even just using a site that requires a log-in, everyone who uses computers and smartphones has a digital identity, and Unstoppable Domains senior Vice President Sandy Carter wants that ubiquity acknowledged.
  • “Data Privacy After Roe v. Wade”: The last thing many U.S. citizens want right now is to leave a record that they may become pregnant…and not deliver. Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood, Alexandra Reeve Givens of the Center for Democracy & Technology, and Nabiha Syed The Markup talk protections.
  • “RTR 2023: The Neuroscience of Self-Renewal”: Resilience has been a trending topic for a long time, but in this talk by Chief Technology Officer of Everbridge John Maeda, it’s narrowed down to self-renewal. Can trusting that process help people overcome upheaval?

The rest of the featured speakers announced in a press release containing the above developments are Ian Beacraft, Rohit Bhargava, Henry Coutinho-Mason, Bryony Cole, Alex Naghavi, Chris Hyams, Daniel Lubetzky, Guy Moot, Douglas Rushkoff, Joost Van Druenen, Amy Webb, and Molly White. It also details a featured session called “Design for a Better Future.”

The 2023 South by Southwest conference will take place March 10-19. Current selection processes include music and film submissions, and pitch entries. Registration to attend (starting at $595) is open at sxsw.com.

Courtesy of Unite Here

Texas hospitality workers serve up ‘bill of rights’ at Austin summit

Standing up

Workers in the state’s hospitality industry — hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns — and their advocates have crafted a hospitality workers’ “bill of rights.”

Unionized hospitality workers and allies gathered August 20 in Austin for the first-ever Austin Hospitality Workers Summit, where they outlined a new bill of rights for Texas hospitality workers. Among those in attendance were Austin City Council members Vanessa Fuentes and Ann Kitchen, former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson (who’s running for mayor again), and former Austin Council Member Greg Casar (who’s seeking a congressional seat).

As of July, more than 1.4 million people worked in the state’s hospitality industry, up dramatically from a low of 850,000 in April 2020 at the outset of the pandemic.

The bill of rights lays out these priorities:

  • Every worker will be treated with respect, have a voice on the job, and have the right to join a labor union.
  • Every worker will earn a living wage.
  • Every worker will enjoy access to good, affordable health care for themselves and their families.
  • Every worker will have access to decent, affordable housing.
  • Every worker will have access to affordable, reliable public transportation.
  • Every worker will have equal treatment and opportunities, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.

Aside from Fuentes, Kitchen, Watson, and Casar, officials who support the bill of rights include Austin Mayor Steve Adler and an array of other city, county, state, and federal officeholders from Austin, Houston, and elsewhere in Texas.

The summit was organized by a 10-city chapter of Unite Here, a labor union, and was held at the Hilton Austin hotel.

The bill of rights comes at a time when local hospitality workers are struggling to make ends meet. A 2021 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition noted that the hourly pay needed to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in the Austin metro area was $27.58, which Unite Here says is more than twice the median hourly pay for local hotel workers.

Unite Here member Cindy Gonzalez, a cafeteria worker at Google’s Austin office, says there was “an overwhelming sense of togetherness and solidarity” at the summit.

“To be surrounded by all these hospitality workers from different areas of Austin, coming together to discuss the rights we deserve, was empowering, and collectively, I know we can achieve all those things. We have a vision for the future, and as long as we keep making our voices be heard, we’ll get there,” Gonzalez says in a news release.

Unite Here is a member of the coalition that persuaded the Austin City Council to adopt a $22-an-hour minimum wage for City of Austin employees and contractors.

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H-E-B unveils merch for super fans, plus more hot Austin headlines

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. H-E-B unveils merchandise for brand super fans, available exclusively at one store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise in celebration of its 117th anniversary.

2. Austin bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season. Don your favorite elf socks and meet the lovely citizens of “Tinseltown.”

3. Draft 'Vision Plan' for Zilker Park unveils land bridge and more possibilities. Austinites are invited to comment on a vision plan that will inform the future of Zilker Park.

4. Austin ranks among world’s 100 best cities in prestigious new report. Austin is the No. 43 best city in the world, according to a new study. (And yes, we beat Dallas.)

5. Austin airport launches new SkySquad travel assistants in time for the holiday rush. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is keeping lines moving during a period of heavy travel with a new team of airport assistants.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquires award-winning California resort

tilman goes laguna

Fans of Tilman Fertitta's nationwide hospitality brands are in for a treat. The Billion Dollar Buyer has just secured an award-winning, 30-acre resort in sunny Southern California.

Fertitta has purchased the acclaimed Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel, a premier beachfront property in the sunny SoCal getaway destination. Notably, the Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel is one of only six hotels in the U.S. to score the Forbes Triple Five-Star hotel status. The Montage has also been included among Travel + Leisure’s Top Hotels in the World.

Image courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach

Fertitta's newest purchase overlooks the ocean in Laguna Beach.

“I am truly thrilled to acquire this world-renowned property and add one of America’s most iconic trophy resorts to our luxury hotel portfolio,” Fertitta noted in a statement. “I have been traveling to Laguna Beach for over 30 years. It is one of my favorite places to visit and one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The Montage is a stunning oceanfront property and one of the premier hotel brands in the world.”

Press materials didn't list the property purchase price, but Law360 reports that the deal is in excess of $660 million.

The Craftsman-style resort sits on a coastal bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Impressive amenities are highlighted by the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage, which offers eucalyptus steam rooms, dry redwood saunas, ocean air whirlpools, fireplace lounges, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a movement studio, and a lap pool.

More outdoor fun includes two pools and direct beach access, a museum-quality fine art collection, and more than 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, per press materials.

Every resident space — the 260 guestrooms, including 60 suites, beach bungalow-style rooms, and multi-bedroom villas — boast stunning views of the Pacific.

Dining destinations offer chef-driven interpretations of coastal California flavors inspired by region. The property is designated and included in the distinctive Legend Collection of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

“We are thrilled that Tilman is the new owner of this one-of-a-kind property and welcome him into the Montage family,” said Alan Fuerstman, founder, CEO, and chairman of Montage International. Mary Rogers, the Montage's GM added, “The staff is thrilled to be working with Tilman. Everyone here at the property is tremendously excited about his purchase and look forward to continuing to provide a world-class experience to all of our guests."

Aside from his palatial Post Oak Hotel in Houston, Fertitta also owns 14 other hotel properties around the country, including the award-winning San Luis Resort in Galveston, plus five popular Golden Nugget casino and hotel locations.

Another feather in Fertitta’s luxury portfolio cap is the iconic Huntting Inn, one of the most charming and historic locales in East Hampton, New York.

No stranger to California, Fertitta's presence there includes Catch Seafood and Catch Steak, Mastro’s Ocean Club and Mastro’s Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, The Palm, and more — all part of his 60 brands and more than 600 concepts nationwide.