Texas Monthly

When the Political Gets Personal

exans take a singular pride in their state’s politics. Where else can one find such entertaining grandiosity, unpredictability, and sprawling variety in one place? Pretty much nowhere, as the veteran Austin journalist Bill Minutaglio knows. His tenth and latest book, (University of Texas Press, May 4), leans hard—perhaps too hard—into the crowd-pleasing nature of Texas public life. This latest installment in UT Press’s Texas Bookshelf series—Stephen Harrigan’s 2019 history of Texas, was the first—is a readable, even rollicking survey of a century and a half of political conflict. But though the narrative will offer surprises even for those who know the material well, it too often errs on the side of telling a good story over painting a richer portrait of its subject. ¶ The title’s references to “bloody knuckles” and “race” are key to understanding the book. The first phrase comes from Uvalde congressman John Nance Garner, the pugnacious a page-turner. Minutaglio has no use for an academic historian’s need to analyze and classify political movements or issues. For him, the issues matter less than the fight itself. ¶ The one exception— and it’s a big one, as the title indicates—is race. places this fraught issue at the heart of Texas politics as a through line from the 1870s to the present. Minutaglio directly argues that the state’s denial of African Americans’ legal existence outside of slavery was “one of the founding principles of Texas politics”—it’s right there in the 1836 constitution of the Republic of Texas—and even today sets Texas legislators against the federal government over the state’s desire “to keep minorities segregated and forcibly excluded from the democratic process.”

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