Watching the world watch Texas.

May 4, 2023

In this issue of Branding Texas: The Texas brand is strong and growing stronger; Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo makes the pages of Vogue; Houston’s Lady Tigers win national cheer-squad honors; Magnolia magnate Joanna Gaines revisits her South Korean heritage; Texas cow massacre gets “explosive” media interest from London and Paris to Singapore; Texans won’t quit their love for public schools; Bitcoin vampires put the bite on our state’s electrical grid.

Thomas Graham


Texas brand is strong and growing stronger

We are our own lead story this time – on May 2 we announced the results of our own national poll and were pleased to see that most Americans believe Texas is a good place to start a business (66%), a 13% increase from last year; to raise a family (64%), a 12% increase; and to travel for vacation (69%).

Here are the highlights:

  • 27% of Americans polled have a very positive view of Texas
  • 18% have a somewhat positive view
  • 14% of Americans polled said they have a somewhat negative view of the state
  • 17% held a very negative view
  • 21% of those surveyed held a neutral view of the state

The poll was featured in local media including the Houston Chronicle,  the San Antonio Express-News and by FOX News 4 in Dallas-Fort Worth.  As I told the Houston Chronicle, we encourage the stewards of the Texas brand, the Governor’s office and our outward-facing state agencies – e.g., Travel TexasTexas Economic Development Corporation – to make good use of the new poll results … and help us turn around the 31% who still hold a negative view of the state.


Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo makes the pages and pictures of Vogue

Annie Leibovitz has photographed some of the most significant personages across two centuries, beginning with rock stars of the seventies and now including Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Hidalgo is the focus of a short feature story in the May 2023 issue of Vogue, possibly the most powerful fashion magazine in the world.  Author Emma Specter writes this about Hidalgo: “She could be the most powerful Democrat you’ve never heard of: a young, recently reelected leader overseeing a multibillion-dollar county budget in the country’s second-most populous state.”

In a country where Republicans and Democrats increasingly take on uncooperative postures in public places, Hidalgo has embraced her contrarian posture and has turned it into a pose for one of the world’s most notable photographers in her urban domain, the county seat, of course, is Houston.  She was born in Colombia and proudly told Vogue: “I’m an immigrant who was elected five years after becoming a U.S. citizen.”

Vogue seems to want her to run for governor but she refuses to be set up as a “saviour” for the state’s Democratic populace.  She doesn’t mind being a mentor for others, however.  She told Vogue’s Spector: “I’m a woman who’s five two on a good day, and I don’t straighten my hair, and I was elected at 27. All that means someone else—someone from whatever background—can do whatever it is they want to do.”


Texas Southern Cheer: First HBCU squad to win an NCA National Championship title

Sports Illustrated briefly covered the victory of the Lady Tigers cheer team from Texas Southern in Houston, which placed first in the NCA National Cheerleading Contest, with a substantial lead over second-place finisher Niagara University.

The win by the Lady Tigers made them the first squad from a historically Black college to come out as the Number One cheerleading choice.  SI’s posting, however brief, was also a milestone victory for cheerleading in general which is finally seeing national recognition that participants are among the most disciplined and talented athletes on any college campus.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized cheerleading as a sport in July 2021 — a first, critically important step to becoming an Olympic sport.

Kyle Mosley, who wrote the piece for SI, is the respected dean of HBCU sports writers who has made a career out of tracking and celebrating Black sports stars.  Black Enterprise magazine, which is based on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, also devoted feature space and competition pictures to honor the upset victory.


Joanna Gaines travels from Waco to South Korea, embracing her Asian heritage

People Magazine lifestyle reporter Natalia Senanayake writes about the trip of Magnolia design magnate Joanna Gaines from her business base in Waco, Texas to her mother’s homeland, South Korea. Gaines took along her daughters and reported on the trip herself with a series of Instagram postings.

Said Senanayake: “Her adventure to her mom Nan’s homeland comes after the star recently opened up about learning to embrace her Korean heritage after being bullied for it as a child.”  Gaines spent most of her childhood in Kansas with her sisters where she told People magazine last year: “We were literally the only Asians in our entire school.”

Joanna Gaines shares ownership of the Magnolia brand and businesses with her husband Chip Gaines.  Their huge marketing empire includes Magnolia Journal, a TV network partnership with streamer Discovery Plus, brick-and-mortar establishments in and around Waco, and various home goods lines carried by national retailers including Target and Lowe’s.


“Explosive” international coverage of the Texas cow massacre


International media couldn’t resist the story of the massive South Fork Daily  explosion near Dimmit, Texas that killed 18,000 cows. Authorities believe methane gas was ignited by the machinery in the dairy farm facility. The Times of London and the BBC covered the inferno, as did Paris Match and the Straits Times in far-away Singapore.

So far, the disaster seems to have been an accident and the task still underway is to dispose of the dead farm animals.

Typically, dead farm animals – even scores of them, such as those killed in the wake of hurricanes or blizzards – can be buried, hauled to landfills or even composted, Florida aggie professor and disposal expert Saqib Mukhtar told USA Today.  “But the sheer number of carcasses in this incident makes the task monumental.”


Texans not ready to let private schools grab state and local funding from public campuses?

The New York Times, which sometimes seems to us convinced that every conservative whim has its origins in Texas, sets the record straight that the continuing trend among Republican state legislators outside Texas to open public education vouchers for private schools just isn’t that popular here.

Cautioned the Times: “A national movement to give parents public vouchers to spend on private schools has run up against the deep loyalty Texas has always had for its public schools.”

Author of the article is the very levelheaded J. David Goodman, that paper’s erudite and energetic Houston bureau chief: Goodman took over the post in August 2021 after 12 years in Albany, New York, but come into our state from the start with determination to get us right for those East Coast elites for whom the Times is newspaper of record: “I report what goes on in Texas — politics, culture and life — from El Paso to Beaumont, Amarillo to Brownsville.”

Goodman notes programs in Florida, Iowa, Utah and Arizona to expand state aid “to all students, then adds: “But Texas has been an outlier so far, in large part because of the longstanding support for public schools in deep red communities like New Home. In far-flung districts around the state, parents and educators have defended their [public] schools, which are often the biggest local employer and the center of community life.”


Does voracious Bitcoin mining mess up our Texas power grid?

Texas has declared itself open for Bitcoin mining, reports The Week magazine which has companion editions in the U.S. and the U.K. and is owned by former London Fleet Streeter Jolyon Connell.

But are our state’s energy grid — and its customers — suddenly feeling the strain?

Yes, according to the magazine’s on-line editor Peter Weber who is based here in Austin: “… Bitcoin mining, an energy-intensive endeavor that involves warehouses of powerful computers [is] trying to solve complex mathematical problems to unlock valuable cryptocurrency tokens. Texas also has an increasingly strained power grid that serves only Texas and keeps failing or threatening to overload during winter storms and summer heatwaves.”


Is Berkshire Hathaway’s power-grid backup idea a bad fit for Texas?

The Week isn’t the only Tier One publication watching our state’s energy moves.  The Wall Street Journal has also weighed in.  Jinjoo Lee, who writes the WSJ’s powerful Heard on the Street column, is also an energy markets expert.

Lee writes: “The failures of the Texas grid in 2021 showed that the price signals alone were not enough to ensure reliability. It didn’t provide enough signals for power plants—whether natural gas or wind—to sufficiently winterize. Texas last year passed winterization requirements—both for power plants and for natural-gas companies.”

State legislators here in Austin, inspired by a recommendation from Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, are working on a system of selecting so-called back-up gas-fired power plants that will rev up to full capacity only in emergencies.

Adds Lee: “The proposal isn’t cheap. Building out 10 gigawatts—the upper limit of what the bill envisions—would cost about $18 billion, according to a recent estimate from the Lower Colorado River Authority, a nonprofit public utility with headquarters in Austin, Texas.”

Lee also reports that the moves have drawn fire from established power producers in the state that fear interference with programs already in place to manage loads better in the market – undermining wind and solar elements already in the power mix.


FBI-led Nuclear Training Exercise in Texas with Military Involvement

Of course, Texas is home to several nuclear reactors and the nation’s sole assembly and disassembly facility for our nuclear arsenal, the PANTEX Plant in Amarillo, so it should be no surprise to global readers and Texans alike that we conduct a drill alongside the federal government to prepare for nuclear incident. The multi-agency nuclear incident training exercise will include military personnel and aircraft and take place all week long in Houston.


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