Texas Matters
12:57 pm
Fri July 5, 2013

A Literary Trifecta: Austin, Redistricting And Desperation

Texas Matters: This week's show is literally a literary lament (in one way or another). First, an interview with author Jeffrey Stuart Kerr about how Austin came to become the capitol. Crying foul over redistricting in Texas isn't exclusive to the Democratic party, as it is today, the story of the Republican party's go of it is covered in a new book edited by Gary Keith. Finally, Tom Walker, a writer based in San Antonio, talks about "Signed Confessions," a collection of short stories based on themes of guilt and desperation.

Making Austin weird, how the state capitol was born

Texas in the early days of the republic was very different than it is today. There was no city named Austin, but that is where the republic's, and later the state's, capital would be built. This is all due to the vision and determination of one man, Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of the Republic of Texas.

The story of how that came about is the focus of the book "Seat of Empire: The Embattled Birth of Austin, Texas" by Jeffrey Stuart Kerr.

"Lamar specifically wanted it out west (the capitol) preferably on the Colorado River because he and a lot of other people believed that this would entice New Mexico to join us. At the time there was this very lucrative trade that traveled overland from the Mexican territory of New Mexico from Santa Fe all the way up to St. Louis and into the United States and a lot of people were getting wealthy on this. Lamar's idea was to reach out and divert that trade to Texas...they intended to take this overland trade and load it on boats and float it down the Colorado River to the gulf, load it on ships from there and take it to the East Coast of the United States. If that worked, it would cut weeks or even months off of the overland route through St. Louis. Of course, just about every assumption they made proved to be wrong in particular the distance and then Mexico's willingness to let this happen."

Also on this edition of Texas Matters:

How Republicans turned the tables in their own redistricting fight

Recently the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case Shelby County Alabama v. Holder – the decision gutted a critical part of the 1965 voting rights act – the cornerstone of civil right reform from the 1960s.

That ruling will have an impact on redistricting in Texas, and will make it more difficult for minority voting rights advocates to prove in court that the new redistricting maps approved by the state leadership discriminate against Latino and African American voters.

Redistricting has always been contentious and controversial in Texas, but there was a time that it was the Republican party in Texas that was taking the state of Texas to federal court and arguing that the maps were discriminatory against them.

This is covered in the book "Rotten Boroughs, Political Thickets, and Legislative Donnybrooks: Redistricting in Texas," which is edited by Gary Keith.

"This is a typical pattern across the United States: Whoever is in tries to use redistricting to lock-in their power and minimize the power of whoever is out. So Republicans used to be out, now they're in, the roles have reversed."

Finding inspiration in darkness

Guilt and desperation are two dark motivators that frequently drive people out of their comfort zones to confront something, sometimes anything. This is the running theme in a collection of short stories titled "Signed Confessions."

Many of the stories take place here in Texas and they were written by San Antonio native Tom Walker, a writer who lives in the Alamo city.

"In each one of the stories the male protagonist has something in his past that he's hung up on -- he wants to talk about it, he wants to confess -- and he tells us about it but he doesn't get the forgiveness or the pardon that he's looking for in the process because really the only person who can forgive him is himself and so the pardon eludes him."

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