With The State At The Center Of Political Universe, Another Texas Tribune Festival Kicks Off

Tribune CEO Evan Smith says the program will focus on Texas’ Legislative sessions, national issues like climate and infrastructure and a preview of the 2022 elections.

By Rhonda FanningSeptember 20, 2021 1:34 pm, , ,

The 11th annual Texas Tribune Festival gets started Monday. A hybrid festival had been planned this year with some events taking place in-person, and others virtually. But the spread of the delta variant in recent months led organizers to make their program completely virtual for a second straight year.

Texas Tribune CEO and cofounder Evan Smith says there’s plenty of content for TribFest fans to watch on their computers or phones, from politicians of both parties to sports figures and authors.

“Texas is the center of the news universe, always, but especially now, in good ways and bad ways simultaneously,” Smith said. “It’s a little bit like a firehose turned up to the highest setting, and so we had really an unlimited number of things to choose from.”

Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below to learn more about how to register, and what to expect from this year’s Texas Tribune Festival.

Texas Standard: Can people still register for TribFest? What should attendees expect?

Evan Smith: We made the decision a couple of months ago that looking at stage five and the public health emergency that we needed to take this festival, which was imagined to be hybrid, some online, some in-person back to all virtual. I’ll miss being in person with everybody. But to your point, you [can] still get passes and see everything.

One of the advantages we discovered last year during this festival was that everything is streamed and therefore everything is on demand. So buying passes this year, which are indeed available at festival.texastribune.org means that at your convenience, you have the opportunity to access what is going to be an extraordinary program. More than 60 sessions, nearly 200 speakers, a real range of conversations about politics and policy and news of the day.

How are you breaking the festival down this year? What are your themes?

Texas is the center of the news universe always, but especially now in good ways and bad ways simultaneously. It’s a little bit like a fire hose turned up to the highest setting. And so we had an unlimited number of things to choose from. Of course, I’m thinking about the never-ending legislative session. As we talk today, Monday, the third special session of our Legislature has begun. And there’s been enormous impact, I think, felt out in the world, whether it’s voting rights, abortion, purposeless, [open] carry, critical race theory. You kind of go down the list. This was a Legislature that had a very long punch list and checked off nearly every single box. There are a range of issues, both state and national: guns to the grid, climate change to infrastructure investment that will be on our program. And then, of course, a preview of next year’s elections.

But we tried to focus on the stuff that was right in front of us and again, where we don’t lack for things that people are concerned about.

I want [you] to drop a couple of names here – some of your guests.

I would say if you’re a Republican, if you’re a conservative, if you’re interested in Team Red, we have John Cornyn, We have Dade Phelan the speaker of the Texas House. We have members of Congress from Texas like Mike McCaul and Van Taylor and Tony Gonzalez.

If you’re a Democrat, you will like to hear from Veronica Escobar, congresswoman from El Paso, Sylvia Garcia of Houston, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, the associate attorney general of the United States. Vanita Gupta. The Justice Department has taken more than a passing interest in Texas these days.

We have Pulitzer Prize-winning authors. We have war heroes. We have world class athletes. One of my favorite things that we have at the whole festival is the conversation about sports and social responsibility with NBA Hall of Famer Chris Bosh of Austin, Texas, Andy Roddick, the retired world number one tennis player, interviewed by University of Texas at Austin, graduate Brian Curtis, who is at the Ringer and does the Press Box podcast, talking about the sports of politics and the politics of sports.

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