Get the Deets on Texodus, Pelosi and POTUS Wannabes at Texas Tribune Fest

Alex Samuels moderated the “Yes, We Cannabis” panel with speakers Morris Denton, Heather Fazio, Eddie Lucio III, and Stephanie Klick at the 2018 event.
Photo by Chris Carrasquillo for The Texas Tribune
Alex Samuels moderated the “Yes, We Cannabis” panel with speakers Morris Denton, Heather Fazio, Eddie Lucio III, and Stephanie Klick at the 2018 event.
How and where do you get your news? Do you wait for the carrier to toss your paper at the curb? Perhaps you live in a rural area where it's a financial choice between internet and cable TV. Were you letting Stephen Colbert feed you biased snippets on YouTube? Or maybe you're digital only, but lately have found yourself in an echo chamber with the same bloggers and talking heads, but don't have time for much more.

With so much talk about fake news, it's easy to become suspicious about the messages bombarding us on a daily basis. But one thing we can count on is intuition, gut instinct, and the ability to spot BS when it's reeking to high heaven. That's why nonpartisan events like Austin's The Texas Tribune Festival are important, where we can actually meet the names that crawl across our news feed, look 'em in the eye, and decide for ourselves whether they're full of it or genuinely speaking from the heart.

The event is bookended by an opening keynote with U.S. Representative Will Hurd, one of ten Texas Republicans in the House to announce retirement since the 2016 election (five of them this year, thus the moniker Texodus), and closing with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a one woman cat wrangler who keeps trying to steady the ship amid cries for impeachment.

While those keynotes require a badge, TribFest19 also has an Open Congress that is free to attend.

"We close off Congress in Austin between 7th and 11th, the heart of downtown. We have the street tented; guest speakers, policy makers, politicians get on stage with moderators. Anyone can attend and can walk through without a badge," says Emily Ramshaw, editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan digital news organization that presents the fest.

"We don’t care what you think, we just care that you think. We find it deeply valuable to bring Texans of all stripes to the table, to learn, to decide for themselves, and seek solutions," says Ramshaw.

"We don’t care what you think, we just care that you think." — Emily Ramshaw, The Texas Tribune editor-in-chief

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click to enlarge Saturday's Open Congress is free and open to all. - PHOTO BY ERIKA RICH FOR THE TEXAS TRIBUNE
Saturday's Open Congress is free and open to all.
Photo by Erika Rich for The Texas Tribune
Find respite from the sun at tents provided by POLITICO, TEXAS 2036, Texas Monthly, and the University of Texas at Austin, and meet lawmakers like U.S. Representative Sylvia Garcia, U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, and H-E-B President Scott McClelland (who serves as board chair of the Greater Houston Partnership), among others.

"We’ll also be having a wide range of conversations on the future of education, what’s next for the space program, health care, green energy, politics," says Ramshaw, who says there are "less meaty, more fun" things to do at the Open Congress as well.

"Cruz Ortiz is going to bring to life a mural smack in the middle of the festival; we have a book shop powered by BookPeople on site, fun prizes planned. On Congress Avenue there's a health screening by Walmart, performances by the Texas Cultural Trust Young Masters, fruit from Imperfect Produce and, of course, Austin’s hottest food trucks," says Ramshaw, adding that there's also a children's area this year.

Those purchasing a badge will have much to explore: a screening of Border Hustle, a documentary that alleges the only winners in the immigration crisis are the smugglers, cartels and the U.S. detention industry; and a chance to hear more than 30 second responses from Democratic presidential candidates — former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, former U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet — as well as former Massachusetts governor William Weld, just in case there isn't a Republican primary in Texas.

There's a panel with four of the Democratic candidates trying to unseat U.S. Senator John Cornyn: former U.S. Representative Chris Bell, Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, and state Senator Royce West.

Other highlights include Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counterintelligence for the FBI; he's on a panel that will look at whether the Mueller Report made a difference. And there's a chance to see Ted Cruz sit down with MSNBC host Chris Hayes in a live recording that looks at big tech, the Senate versus the House, and the U.S. Senator's relationship with President Donald Trump.

Dozens of authors also will be signing books on subjects ranging from national security to the Supreme Court and from the education system to behind-the-scenes drama within the White House. Read more in our companion story below.

The Texas Tribune Festival presented by Walmart is scheduled for September 26-28 at 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, and 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday in downtown Austin. For information, call 512-716-8603 or visit festival.texastribune.org. $200 to $500, with passes for students ($50) and educators ($75).

Open Congress is scheduled for September 28 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday on Congress Avenue in Austin. Free.