EP. 68 Betomania

BETO O'ROURKE: We are not running against anyone or anything or any political party. We are running for one another and for this country that we love so much. This is a campaign for the future, because the people of the future, our kids and our grandkids, are depending on what we do at this moment. Let tonight be a message to the future. Let them know, let them know who we are, what we believe in and what we are willing to do to accomplish our goals. Let them know that we believe in this country. Let them know that we believe that we can come together and do great things for this country. And let them know that we believe that Texas can lead the way.

NICIE PANETTA: Welcome back to Texas and Betomania. It was in late September that Heather and I decided to fly back to Texas to Austin, attend Trib Fest put on by the Texas Tribune, and tell you the story of Beto O'Rourke's inspiring run for Senate against Sen. Ted Cruz. We also had the opportunity to check in on some key Texas House races and enjoy lots of great Texas food. What was the best Heater?

HEATHER ATWOOD: Geez that's really hard to say Nicie, but I do have to say that my heart goes out to Joe's Bakery and Cofffee Shop because I had a really long conversation with them. The food was delicious. I hate to use the word authentic, I'm going to say real, it was real Tex Mex you know fringy Austin but family business it's been there for 56 years.

NICIE: Welcome to another edition of The MidPod: Tex Mex edition.

NICIE: So before we tell you all about the excitement that we saw in Texas, we do have to shout out all the listeners we hung out with and new ones we inspired while we were there. Heather tell about our Texas water guru.

HEATHER: Yeah he this is a pretty exciting story. We met him at a dinner at Trib Fest. He was sitting next to me and he has started a company called Texas Rainwater and he was passing around bottles and he has this whole system of collecting rainwater and bottling it. He has a long story about why rainwater is better for us than water that goes through pipes. I'm a believer. We did a little taste test at the table and his water was light and smooth and we should all be drinking rainwater. That's my feeling.

NICIE: And what's been his feedback on The MidPod so far?

HEATHER: This is even better. Alexander, our new friend Alexander, loves The MidPod and he binged 40 episodes maybe three days after we met him in Texas. So dear new or first time listeners take heart you've got plenty of time to listen to all the episodes of The MidPod that you haven't listened to yet. You've just got to start bingeing.

NICIE: And drinking rainwater.

HEATHER: Exactly.

NICIE: OK so we had this great idea for this episode that we would go back to Texas, a place we have fallen in love with, and we would finally have the chance to tell you the story of Beto O'Rourke's incandescent campaign for Senate, a grassroots, completely improvisational yet brilliantly organized effort to unseat Ted Cruz and as well as check in on some of these key House races that we've been so interested in. But then something happened pretty much while we were there just before we got there what was it?

HEATHER: It was the Christine Blasey Ford/Kavanaugh hearings.

NICIE: Which took place on Thursday I guess basically our second day in town and threw quite a shadow over the entire United States of America while we all stopped and absorbed both of their testimonies so we had a couple of important conversations. One was a conversation with Rick Wilson, the leading never-Trumper which you'll you'll be hearing on The MidPod. But I think the thing that kind of turned it around for us was heading over to Ted Cruz's office where there was a spontaneous protest.

HEATHER: You need to talk about that Nicie.

NICIE: Well we we had heard from MoveOn.org that they were encouraging people to just show up at their senator's office specially if their senator was on the Judiciary Committee the day after the Ford Kavanaugh hearings and there we found four strong Texas women who were giving their feedback to to their senator's staff.

Does this feel different to you than when Donald Trump was elected? No. We were talking about it. It feels just, we feel like, we cried for a week. And still do. It feels the same way. It twangs the exact same string as that. That honestly women don't matter. I feel a little bit subhuman and I promise you. And I'm a professional individual. I earn great money and pay in one of the highest tax brackets, so I know that I'm contributing but I still feel subhuman, I feel like my values and my opinions and my comments aren't as important.

NICIE: But it did make our time in Texas hard.

HEATHER: Yeah and what was interesting about those women is they were not indivisible people. I don't even think they actually knew each other before they maybe two of them knew each other when they got there but they felt so strongly they were standing there with the signs they had bonded in that lobby. And it was a tense moment when the woman from Ted Cruz's office came down to write down what their messages were for Ted Cruz. There's a lot of tension in the air.

NICIE: Yeah. And I'll just share just on a personal note that Thursday was just so tough that Heather and I actually left the conference and found a sculpture garden in Austin a beautiful place across the river and just took some time to walk around and absorb everything. But spending time with these women was really helpful and us seeing how our disappointment shock anger can get turned into positive energy for this election. And I think you're gonna be hearing more of that as we get closer to Election Day. So that was the shadow but we nonetheless had an amazing experience and it did give us a chance to check in on the key House races in Texas and I will just say quickly as a round up for all of you. As you know Texas is not just a red state it's a non-voting state. And the struggle that a lot of these House candidates face is to get voter turnout on the Democratic side up so that they can get close to the vote totals that these House Republican incumbents have been accustomed to racking up and I'll refer you back as well to our interview with Cristina Ramirez about her organization Jolt which is working on Latino youth voter turnout. But this is a long-term project.

NICIE: So the key races you'll remember that are swing districts in Texas or at least competitive this cycle are the 7th, the 21st, the 23rd, the 31st, and the 32nd and you should take a look at the New York Times CNN upshot polling if you haven't but the ones that seem the closest right now are the 7th and the 32nd. That's Lizzie Fletcher's race against John Culberson and Colin Allred's race against Pete Sessions. And what we've been hearing from analysts is you know the key difference here right now is barns versus cul-de-sacs. If you are running right now in a pretty red or purple district that's got a big rural tinge to it, you may be having a tougher time than if you're running in a more affluent suburban educated district where women voters in particular seem to be fleeing the Republican Party. So that that would be characteristic of of kind of what what's happening in Texas. So by all means listen to our our interviews with Joseph Kopser in the 21st and Gina Ortiz Jones in the twenty third. And you're going to hear a little bit from M.J. Hager in the 31st in a bit. I think we should say that Heather picked our hotel extremely well because we were staying up near the Capitol building and the University of Texas at Austin and we found a perfect breakfast haven did we not?

NICIE: We certainly did. You discovered it before I did but it was heaven and it was called Arturo's Underground Cafe and it had all the funkiness that that name implies. And the best breakfast tacos that this New Englander was ready for. I mean there are lots of great breakfast tacos in Austin. But it was so wonderful to have that right by our hotel and I have to also say their coffee was incredible. Austin Coffee Roasters and I actually own a five pound bag of their coffee now.

HEATHER: Oh really. You got that in your suitcase.

NICIE: Yeah. And it was just so great to be staying in a Hampton Inn. We know a lot of Hampton Inns but to have this great coffee and great breakfast tacos right down the street. So Arturo's definitely check that out. Our other major breakfast experience which Heather found was the Elizabeth Street Cafe.

HEATHER: Yes this was a recommendation from a young woman who had grown up in Texas and she now lives close to us and the Elizabeth Street Cafe is it's the place where you want to go with a girlfriend or have a nice breakfast even by yourself, it's French and Vietnamese fusion. Some parts were twee.

NICIE: Yeah it's a little frou frou.

HEATHER: Yeah exactly.

NICIE: But I got to have for the first time ever in my whole life breakfast Bahn mi.

HEATHER: Yeah. And I had pork belly steamed buns with poached eggs. So you know I don't have that often for breakfast.

NICIE: And then the truly best part of the whole thing happened which was that two young women came in and sat next to us and one of them had a baby. Yes. We got to hug the baby. Hold the baby.

HEATHER: We got to hold the baby and as our Lyft driver waited for us we were like wait just like three more seconds with the baby OK?

NICIE: Exactly. Exactly. All right so we're going to hear more about Joe's bakery in a little bit. But first we want to take you out on the campaign trail and we are going to introduce you to MJ Hager. She's an amazing veteran. And if you haven't heard from her check out her video "Doors" on YouTube. And she was having a rally before going door knocking with volunteers. And there was a special guest, James Clyburn the Democratic representative from South Carolina a long long time member of Congress. And he talked a little bit about how Obamacare was very similar in his mind to Civil Rights Act of '64 in that it was just the beginning. It was by no means perfect. It was missing all kinds of pieces including housing, including public sector protections and so forth. And so he made a really compelling case that we need to fight for Obamacare and for what comes next to make it better. Here is MJ Hager talking about knocking doors earlier that morning in the rain and meeting a 40-year veteran of the U.S. Army.

MJ HEGAR: And he was talking about the same things that drove me to run. He was saying, you know the things we were fighting for are under attack by our own government right now. The things we were going to die for, the things we’ve bled for, the freedom of the press, the right to vote. Freedom of religion, freedom from oppression and discrimination and bullying. The actions of some of the governments that we are in places, in conflicts right now, trying to stop them from doing to their own people, we're doing at our southern border. Policies of fear and totalitarianism, as a deterrent, to get people to stop looking at this country as the beacon of freedom and hope and democracy that we spent centuries building. I got news for some of the people outside this room who don't know it, that is what makes us great, that is what gives us our position of influence in the world and makes us a world superpower and makes us have our influence at the UN and protect our way of life. That is what makes us great.

HEATHER: So, MJ Hegar is absolutely one of my favorite congressional candidates this year. She joined ROTC and had an incredibly brave and detailed career in the military. She protested. She changed things. She was injured. She was courageous. She really has a great narrative and I have a daughter who has joined ROTC so you will hear my meeting with M.J. Hager. I was very touched and it was a pretty meaningful moment for me.

HEATHER AND MJ HEGAR: l have a daughter in ROTC. We love you. Your daughter then is part of why I'm doing this. You’re going to make me cry. I know, I'm going to cry myself, I know a lot of people putting on the uniform that I'm mentoring that I believe we owe a stable world environment to, so I'm going to do everything I can to keep your daughter safe. OK.

NICIE: So as we shared earlier that Thursday we were in Austin was pretty tough. And everywhere we went people were stopping at whatever TV monitors were around to watch the hearings, office building lobbies, hotel lounges everybody stopped to watch. And I have to say it brought to my mind a famous quote from the amazing Texan Ann Richards and she said, "Power is what calls the shots and power is a white male game," and I think that's you know something we're really dealing with in 2018. I think during the Obama years we had such a feeling of change and progress. And this has been such a setback. And that day it just felt like a white male game. And that's that's been really hard. So the next day as I mentioned we decided to go check out and see if anyone would show up at Ted Cruz's office to protest. And we found some pretty strong women. And here they are.

I'm Marie Ruis. I'm from Austin, Texas and I sat in front of that TV all day long yesterday. And what I saw is so shameful. Did you have anyone with you, were you watching alone? Yes, my husband and I were watching and he felt the same way. And I guess I just saw it as part of the victim's side. I’ve known and worked with so many victims of domestic abuse, rape whatever. And she went up there and she told her story, honestly. So for her to have done that takes so much courage. And he gets up there and tries to draw sympathy from the public by shedding tears and throwing a fit, actually, and the way these men reacted to him. Acting like he was the victim. And I guess that that's what made me so sad. The fact that they were treating him like the victim and he played his part very well. Very well. He was so disrespectful to the people that were questioning him. He was so disrespectful, like I said, I just saw it on the part of the victim.

HEATHER: So as we mentioned these women were really moving the rawness of the whole situation. We all felt it at that protest. But I had to run off because I had an appointment at Joe's Bakery and Café to speak to Regina Estrada who is the granddaughter of Joe's and she is now running that business with her mother and her aunt. And we had a really wonderful conversation about all kinds of things from Tex Mex, what Tex Mex culture means, to running a family business, to education and voting. In fact when I met her she was wearing an "eat tacos and vote" T-shirt.

NICIE: And you got me one, thank you!

HEATHER: She gave us both one. Thank you so much for that Regina. And here's a little bit of our conversation in a very very popular restaurant. You'll hear how noisy it is.

REGINA ESTRADA: I am a third generation American with Mexican descent. But I am also a 3rd generation Texan. Until you’ve been immersed into the culture, into, like, the Texan culture, and you’ve been immersed into what it is to be TexMex food, you really don't get it. The recipes my grandfather baked from were very much kind of like a fusion of what his stepfather, brought from Mexico, what he used to make, but also he used to work in American bakery, he would make donuts, he was making French bread, he was making all of these very American baked goods. So, it's very much a fusion of Mexican recipes, but also with traditional.

NICIE: You can't go to Austin Texas without having tacos at a taco truck right now. And we discovered one of the best ones apparently in the country because of the Food Network has declared Veracruz All-Natural Tacos number four in the country. How much do we love that there's like a leaderboard for tacos in America right now.

HEATHER: Right exactly. And so we went there around 10:00 in the morning. There are four different sites for Vera Cruz tacos in Austin. And it was really fun right there were families there.

NICIE: Oh my gosh and doggies and just like the whole Saturday morning feel.

HEATHER: Yeah but there's a really great story behind Veracruz all-natural tacos. It was started by two sisters from Veracruz, Mexico. They're undocumented. The younger sister was determined to do this she loves cooking she loves serving people she loves service. She loves her family's recipes and she really wanted to start this business in Austin, Texas. And now it's an incredibly successful business and she is a U.S. citizen.

NICIE: Wow that is such a cool story. And I will not soon forget those delicious it was a breakfast taco that had a lot of like almost like a ratatouille-like vegetable melange with squash.


NICIE: Zucchini and yellow squash was so fresh and good.

HEATHER: Yeah I think well her sort of aesthetic is organic and all natural and fresh tasting and yet you know their roots in Veracruz cuisine.

NICIE: Yeah. Across from the Veracruz truck was a beautiful Airstream trailer the home of Compass Coffee and I got a latte and I think you got to pour over.

HEATHER: I just had pour over yeah and it was perfection, yeah coffee perfection.

NICIE: The whole coffee and breakfast taco scene in Austin is what was really exciting I think. And we asked these guys at Compass Coffee to sort of describe it for us.

What would you say if you if you were going to try to describe the food and coffee culture here in Austin how would you describe it for people around the country. Our listeners are all over America.

I would say craft Yeah. Everybody has their own thing and they wanted to show off their own thing. I know it's very artsy bake crafts like. And the same for us the concept of Compass is just doing your own thing going your own way. So I think that's pretty much it.

In Austin we did have coffee at one other place Houndstooth downtown. What would you say, like if you if you were going to try to describe the food and coffee culture here in Austin, how would you describe it for people around the country, our listeners are all over America. I would say craft. Yeah, everybody has their own thing and they want to show off their own thing and, you know, it's very artsy, very craft-like. And it’s the same for us. The concept of Compass is just doing your own thing, going your own way. So I think that's pretty much it in Austin. We did have coffee at one other place, Houndstooth, downtown. So how would you like compare and contrast some of the different styles and philosophies and what your philosophy is with coffee? We push more like coffee and people. And I think that's really the general theme of the coffee industry here in Austin. And again, they have their own way of doing things, their own coffees that they use, I know they roast their own coffee, as well. They have a few shops here and also, you know, I think in Dallas. We're pretty similar in the same way that we use specialty coffee and we're all kind of trained the same with SEAA standards. But, again, they have their own philosophy, their own thing and ours is really more of just kinda like just chillin’ in this environment, in the park out and about with people, as well. But, yes, serving great coffee and just talking to folks like you all.

Nicie and Heather heading to the Beto-Willie Rally: All righty. We are making our approach to Auditorium Shores along the Texas Colorado River. It's a beautiful night. Cloudy, but very pleasant yeah, not pouring rain and tout le monde is strolling and scooting off to us all of Austin is either cycling scooting or perambulating to see. There are crowds, walking along the river waiting to get are aiming for exactly Beto Willie Rally. Yes. OK we're continuing to approach the show. There are about 7000 porta potties out there. So they could run a marathon or they can have a big rally. Or probably both. EMS is here. Cops are here. But food trucks are here. All is peaceful.

Hi there, can I ask you a question. Is everybody waiting for this truck. What is this truck? It's grilled cheese. And what is its magic that causes like a thousand people to stand in line for it? I wish I knew. Have you had it before? Nope. You just want grilled cheese right now. Yup. And tell me what brought you out here tonight. Here for the show. For Beto, yeah. Have you seen him before? No, this is first time. Wow. What intrigues you, what interests you. I just love the message. And is there anything particular about it? The honesty, that he's forthright, he's not afraid to speak his mind.

Hi, how’s it going? It's amazing I'm having so much fun I'm so glad to be part of it. Great. Tell us what's your name. Where are you from. Deanna Campos I'm from Round Rock, Texas. And what brought you out here tonight. I just want to support Beto and have bring my grandkids to enjoy, part of this, amazing Change for Texas. So tell us who you're holding up right now into the night sky. This is Sophia Turner. She is my granddaughter. How old is she? She's two years old. Wonderful. Tell us what really is inspiring to you about Beto O’Rourke? It's just truth. He wants to know how he once represented. He's for immigration. He's protecting the equality, having a gay sister that means a lot to me. With wanting to have minimum wage, wanting to have health insurance for everybody. All that stuff and more stuff. And what about Ted Cruz? Ted Cruz, he just needs to get out. I'm sick of his lies, I’m sick of him, just with all the negative stuff out there. He just doesn't have anything nice or positive to say and I just really like the fact that Beto is nice and positive and he's not trying to bring all the dirt and trash out. And I think that’s all that Ted says, is bad, just negative stuff. So, Texas is a pretty low voting state, do you think that's going to change? Yes I think people want change and I'm doing my part to get my daughter and all her friends to get out their vote and to make a change.

Hi there, we have to say hi because you are so sparkly. Thank you. Yes we're definitely sparkly.

We're here from The MidPod: The midterms podcast, just wondering what brought you out here tonight. Beto for Texas. Beto for change. Beto to get Ted Cruz out. What is there is this the first time you've seen Beto? This is going to be the first time I've seen him yes. And is there is there a particular thing was there one thing you could really point to that inspires you? I really enjoy the way that he has been baited by everyone that's interviewed him to say something negative and he has yet to do it. He's always crafted it in a way that is positive but also very worthy. And also completely valid for change. I mean he is just reiterating what all of us are thinking he's just incredibly articulate. Tell us your name and where you're from. My name is Kristin, I'm from College Station, originally the hill country.

NICIE: OK. So everyone gathered and the rally began with some remarks by the mayor of Austin and then a couple of musical performances. You're going to hear a little bit from a musician named Tomeka at the end of the show but it was again just an amazing feeling with a lot of little kids and a lot of really nice men.

HEATHER: Yeah I was really struck with there were a group of men near us maybe in their early 20s some of them had girlfriends and they were so kind to their girlfriends and sensitive to the people around them letting them pass excuse me one of them asked me if I wanted a space in front of them. They were just really kind in the wake of these hearings it was just really nice to have young civilized young men around us.

NICIE: Yeah. Yeah. And so speaking of civilized young men here's a little more from Beto O'Rourke.

BETO O'ROURKE: In every single one of the two hundred and fifty-four counties of Texas coming together for this great country at this critical moment of truth that will define not only us those of us who are here right now but this country for generations to come and we cannot be found wanting. The people of the future are counting on us while we can still get this right. But it's all people no PACs, all people, no special interests, all people, no corporations. All people. All the time. Everywhere. Every single day. That's how we're going to win this election.

NICIE: So there you have it. Beto O'Rourke with his positive vision and his difficult but not impossible prospects for electoral success this year even if he loses he's going to help candidates up and down the ballot and strengthen the Democratic Party in Texas for the future. And his message of integration and fusion. It's like the tacos.

HEATHER: It's all about the tacos. I'm telling ya. I learned so much about Tex Mex and that's what food is really about. You know that's why I love writing about food because you're really telling the stories of the people and what I learned in Austin talking to Regina and then the story of the Veracruz all natural. It's about their stories and these cultures coming together you know and Tex Mex culture happened because these people crossed the border and they started adapting and making flour tortillas because they were made in a bakery. It's about the cultures being recreated every time you know cultures people move and people join other neighborhoods.

NICIE: We do better when we work together and we have better food.


NICIE: All right. So we're going to leave you at the rally with two of the musical artists. First Tomeka singing I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends and you'll hear what she does with that at the end.


NICIE: And finally, the great Willie Nelson an incredible voice at what age? 80 something. His voice is no different than the first time I heard it like 30 years ago. But he had something new to share with us and here it is.

“Vote Em Out!”

Eunice Panetta