LITTLEFIELD, Texas — I drive for what seems like hours through the Roscoe Wind Farm, watching endless armies of turbines briskly spinning their blades. Texas, famous for its oilmen in 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots, is actually the foremost state in the union for production of wind power, with a total capacity of more than 10,000 MW of renewable energy.
Texas is chock full of quirky, sometimes noble, contradictions: a state with one of the worst civil rights records in the country produced a president who arguably did more than anyone else to enshrine equal rights in the law. Of course, Lyndon Baines Johnson had other qualities that made him seem more typical of the great Texas tendency towards excess: just think back to his blithe, very public unveiling of his gall bladder scar.
I spent an afternoon in the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, dedicated to the “spirit of cowgirl” — in short, “I can do anything, if I want it badly enough and work at it.” I had not thought of Texas as a bastion of feminism, but it was there, loud and clear.
I discovered, to my shock, that Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Justice of the Supreme Court, was a cowgirl honoree, courtesy of her upbringing on a cattle ranch in Arizona. I cannot quite picture Justice O’Connor in the rhinestone chaps, turquoise leather boots, or solid gold buckles prominently featured in the multi-media museum, but she was in good company. Other honorees included Georgia O’Keeffe, the great painter of the Western desert; former First Lady of both Texas and the United States Laura Bush; Nebraska author Willa Cather, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for fiction; and Patsy Cline, the famed country-western singer. Oh, and Dale Evans, of course.
My favorite Texan so far, though, is Molly Ivins, whom I “met” at the theater the other night.
Ivins herself is, most unfortunately, not around, having succumbed to breast cancer in 2007, at the age of 62. But in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” I found a woman I could admire.
The play tracks the syndicated columnist through her career, as she skewers Texas politicians, exposes hypocrisy, and occasionally lauds a public figure for courage.
She is especially merciless regarding George W. Bush, whom she relentlessly calls “Shrub.”
“A thousand points of light, and we get a dim bulb,” she snorts.
In back of the actress playing Ivins, a large photo of Governor Rick Perry flashes briefly on the screen.
“Next time I tell you not to elect someone from Texas, I hope you’ll listen,” she said, to general, if nervous, laughter. Perry is still popular here, although some were embarrassed by his less than stellar showing during the Republican presidential primary campaign.
Ivins does laud former Texas Governor Ann Richards, who once, it is said, persuaded the ACLU to drop their objections to a nativity scene on the Capitol lawn by saying “Oh, let It be. It’s the closest that three wise men are ever gonna get to the Texas legislature.”
Slapstick and drama, tragedy and farce — Texas has it all.
After the play the other night, I gathered with some other playgoers. They, like me, had enjoyed the show, and I soon gathered that these were quite liberal Texans — all lawyers, most of them transplants.
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I asked, as always, how they thought things would end up in the fall.
“I hope Texas will go for Obama,” said one of them, Abe. “But it’s gonna be close.”
I was very comfortable with the group until they started talking about guns.
“Yes, we have several,” said Abe. “My wife has an unfired Colt 45, and I’ve got some in very good shape. We keep them on top of the refrigerator.”
They have passed their love of firearms on to their children, it appears.
“Yes, indeed, our son was just accepted to college in D.C.,” laughed Abe. “We were worried, though — D.C. tried to pass an ordinance to ban guns from college campuses. We weren’t sure that our son would agree to go without his firearms.”
The matter has, fortunately, now been cleared up, according to Abe. Junior can pack his Remington, or whatever he has, in his college backpack.
I hightailed it out of Fort Worth the day after the play, looking for more exotic locales.
I am now in the middle of nowhere — just a little northwest of Lubbock, in a town called Littlefield. The skies are blue-black, with a promise of golf-ball sized hail and dangerous lightning so I decided to check into a hotel for the night.
“Boy, you are far from home,” said the tall, buxom receptionist, whose name was Kim.
I explained my mission to drive all over the country and look at the political climate in this election year. She shook her head ruefully.
“Politics!” she said. “That’s a dangerous subject ‘round here. Everyone is Republican. You can’t really talk to them about anythin’. They just take a position, and there’s no reasonin’ with ‘em.”
Kim, herself, is an Obama fan.
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“He won my heart in 2004,” she said. “His appearance at the convention was the best speech I have ever heard.”
Then Illinois State Senator Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July, 2004 — an electrifying performance that effectively kicked off his run for the presidency, which he won just four years later. Texas gave its 2008 electoral ballots to John McCain, though — he took the Lone Star State with 56 percent of the vote.
Kim cast her ballot for her hero, but has had to pay for it.
“My former boss was, like, ‘So, what, you are in favor of abortion? You want the government runnin’ everthin’?’ But I told her, ‘Hey, it’s none of your business.’ And my grandmother? She doesn’t know ‘African-American’ or ‘black’ or anythin’ like that. She just uses the ‘n’ word. That’s the way people around here are.”
Kim is an anomaly in Texas — she laughingly calls herself the product of a ‘mixed marriage.’
“My father is a Texan, my mother is from Oregon,” she said. “My mother takes all of this very seriously. She loved JFK. Now she gets all her news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.”
Thinking back to the Obama magic of 2004 and 2008, Kim sighs a bit sadly.
“I know it was only words and promises,” she said wistfully, “but I am sticking with him anyway.”