AUSTIN (Nexstar) – The pandemic is bringing big changes to the Texas Tribune Festival. The festival is known for bringing thousands of people together in Austin for a weekend of discussions and debates.
This year, things are very different.
The festival started on September 1 and will run through the entire month. All of the panels and other events will be virtual. Most of the events are available on-demand for ticket holders. Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith says the response to the all-you-can-stream format has been positive.
“People who have come to the festival in person for many years in a row write us and say ‘I miss being out among the people, but I kind of like this better, because I can go on and watch content at any time,'” Smith said.
What has not changed is the festival’s broad list of topics and high-profile guests. Dr. Anthony Fauci will be featured in a one-on-one interview session on Sept. 29. Hillary Rodham Clinton will speak at the festival on Sept. 23. Willie Nelson and his wife Annie will be featured on Sept. 17 for a panel on marijuana policy.
Smith says there’s more to the festival than big name speakers.
“It’s about coming away better informed, smarter and more engaged,” Smith said. He pointed out that many of the panels are available online for free.
“We have not moved away from the public service mission aspect of this, especially in an enormously important election year,” Smith said. “We’re going to do everything we can to provide as much content as we can to as many people as possible.”
The Red Team and Blue Team panels
A big story line in the November election in Texas is the battle for seats in Congress. Texas Democrats are trying to flip several seats from red to blue, while Republicans have their sights set on winning back seats that flipped in 2018.
A pair of panels at Trib Fest aim to give insight into the ideas from the candidates aiming to reshape the House. The Red Team panel focuses on four Republicans running for Congress. The Blue Team panel focuses on four Democrats.
The panels included interviews from both the Democrat and the Republican facing off in District 24 in the DFW area. Incumbent Kenny Marchant is not running for reelection. Democrat Candace Valenzuela and Republican Beth Van Duyne are vying for the open seat.
“Families here are looking for people who represent their lived experience,” Valenzuela told Tribune reporter Patrick Svitek. “They’re looking for people who are concerned with making ends meet for their families, who are concerned with educating their children, who are concerned with taking care of their parents,” she added, making the case that the Democratic party is best addressing those issues.
“I’m running based on my experience,” Van Duyne said in her interview with Tribune Washington Bureau Chief Abby Livingston. Van Duyne previously served as Irving mayor. “I think I’m running so you have adults in the room focused on solutions instead of on party bickering,” she added.
The panels are available to watch on demand for ticket holders to the Texas Tribune Festival. Ticket information can be found here.
Energy in the Time of COVID
Thousands of Texans lost jobs when COVID-19 shutdowns slashed worldwide demand for oil. An upcoming panel at the Texas Tribune Festival will take a closer look at how the industry will come back from the changes.
“The pandemic and price wars that occurred globally have been both catastrophic and historic,” said Todd Staples, President of the Texas Oil and Gas Association. He will be on the Energy in the Time of COVID panel featured Thursday at the festival.
“I think any time there’s been a market correction or market circumstances, the industry has really focused on pioneering breakthrough technologies,” Staples said. He pointed to hydraulic fracturing technology, or fracking, as an example that helped the industry expand after a downturn.
“As I look at the pandemic and as I look at COVID, I know that oil and gas will continue to look into research and development and techniques that can deliver these products,” Staples said.
The House Agenda
The next session of the Texas Legislature will likely be one of the most challenging in years. Lawmakers will face battles over the budget in the wake of the pandemic, as well as divisive fights over criminal justice reform and redistricting.
Four state lawmakers will discuss the challenges ahead in a Texas Tribune Festival panel scheduled to debut on Labor Day. Political reporter Alex Samuels will interview State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo.
Howard says that while this session will be difficult, she and other lawmakers have faced daunting challenges before.
“You know, we had a shortfall in 2011 that was much greater than the one we’re facing now,” Howard recalled. “We got through that. We’ve learned some lessons.”
The shortfall this time around is significant. “Rather than having a 3-billion dollar surplus, which is what we left session with, we’re now looking at a 4.6-billion dollar shortfall,” Howard explained.
“But the good news is we do have some options,” Howard said. She pointed to the state’s rainy day fund as a cushion to reduce the impact of the shortfall.
“Health care, education, redistricting, the budget,” Howard said of the priorities heading into the session.