By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Every true-blue Texan remembers where they were when the big man went up in flames. There in the heart of the carnival, stunned masses watched agape as an icon of the Lone Star State, whose squinty, handsome stare and vacuous drawl had represented the spirit of Texas for decades, disintegrated right before the nation's very eyes. Our heart died a little that day.
Governor Rick Perry was no longer a candidate for president.
Wait, what? You thought we were talking about Big Tex going up in flames? Oh, no. Sorry. That was sad, sure. But this. This was tragic. How would we go on? Was life as a snark-powered journalist even worth living?
It was a helluva way to start 2012, watching Candidate Rick disappear from the front of our morning paper. Which is why, as we set out to recap as much of the news of the past 12 months we can remember — about two weeks worth, give or take 11 days — we decided to start with Perry's presidential flameout.
Don't worry. We'll get to that other iconic bonfire in due time. But let's kick things off on a happier note: As recently as this month, Perry was hinting he was considering running for president again in 2016. As Christmas presents go, that would beat a pony hands down, and Buzz was so thrilled that we called up political scientist Cal Jillson at SMU to get his opinion on whether it could be true. Could Perry really overcome the Great Oops of 2011, the Final Flameout of 2012 and his general Rick Perryness to make a serious run for the White House? Could he, professor, oh please, could he?
We hope Jillson doesn't take it the wrong way when we say we bet he never bought anyone a pony for Christmas.
No, he told us, over our whisper-yelled cries of Please say yes. The odds of Perry becoming a legitimate presidential candidate are not good. While there's talk the governor is "considering" a 2016 campaign, Jillson said he doesn't think Perry's notion of consideration is the same as a basic rational person's — carefully weighing alternatives, examining potential courses and preparing for future challenges.
Studying, in other words. Not Perry's strong suit.
"I don't see him doing anything to be a better prepared candidate," Jillson said. Perry is the sort of guy who focuses on what's on his desk right now, and Jillson has seen "nothing to suggest he's preparing himself intellectually" to run for the presidency.
On that glum note, we might as well plow in to some of the other depressing moments of the year. Since Jillson dropped a lump of coal in our stocking, it seems only appropriate appropriate to kick off with:
Howdy, Fol ... AIEEE!
Perry's campaign vanished into the ether way back in January. It wasn't for another 10 months, on October 19, that Big Tex joined him.
That's the day an electrical fire started in Big Tex's Big Jaw, destroying the 52-foot-tall Dickies- and cowboy-hat-wearing figure and stopping the Internet in its tracks. Tributes were penned. Twitter profiles were started. Grams were Insta'd. Tex's "Howdy, folks!" had greeted visitors to the State Fair for more than half a century, and now he was gone. Our heart would have skipped a beat, but this was the final weekend of the State Fair. Our heart hadn't pumped in weeks.
Bereaved Dallasites comforted one another in their grief. Although, let's be honest: Surviving 60 years is a pretty good run, especially for someone in such close proximity to all those corny dogs.
Fair officials have vowed that Big Tex will return to the fair in 2013, prompting his less-bereaved-but-more-smartass fans to offer their suggestions for how Big Tex 2.0 could become more representative of modern Texas. Despite their efforts, though, chances of El Grande Caballero offering a hearty "bienvenidos, amigos" to fair goers at any point in the next 30 centuries appear slim.
In fact, Big Tex, according to a press campaign unveiled by fair officials in December, is recovering at an undisclosed "spa" somewhere in Texas after considering stays in several spas nationwide. (They really said this.) "A facility in Wyoming, 'where Western hospitality abounds,' attracted Big Tex with its high ceilings, platform beds and extra-large soaking tub. 'There are still a lot of real cowboys in Wyoming,'" gushed Big Tex, presumably between viewings of Brokeback Mountain.
"We looked for a place he could slow down and relax — a place where we could be sure Big Tex would leave happy," said Sue Gooding, the Fair's VP of Community Relations and Fake-Ass Press Releases.
In a related fantasy-news note, police in La Grange say they are on the lookout for a "52-foot-tall sooty, elderly horn dog" who has been harassing residents by approaching them on the street and booming, "Howdy, folks. Say, can you tell me where the Chicken Ranch has done got to?"
Lords of the Flies
Way back in January, an aerial photograph of the Trinity River revealed a large, suspicious plume of red flowing down Cedar Creek and into the Trinity River south of downtown.
Environmental investigators sped to uncover the source of the red liquid, quickly tracing it back to the administrative salaries budget at Dallas Independent School District headquarters.
No, wait. Our bad. Mike Miles didn't start as DISD's new superintendent until July.
The plume turned out to be pig blood discharged into the creek by a Columbia Meat Packing Co. plant, whose owners soon were up a different sort of contaminated creek. In March, the city's board of adjustment voted unanimously to revoke Columbia's certificate of occupancy, closing the operation.
City officials called the loss of the 11th Street plant a small price to pay to ensure that the Trinity remains a vital natural resource untainted by anything other than its usual wholesome load of PCBs, e. coli bacteria, heavy metals and the occasional city-made, potentially lethal concrete whitewater feature.
"If there's any blood to be spilled in that river," a City Hall spokesman told reporters, "it's gonna be done by us."
Speaking of Blood in the Water
Much like a lazy river of pig blood, the FBI investigation into allegations of corruption and financial misdeeds by Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, southern Dallas' self-proclaimed "man downtown," meandered on its slow-rolling course in 2012, hitting the occasional snag and cresting in a flood of claims and counterclaims that threatened to drown a raft of commentators in a tide of misguided, overwrought similes.
Year two of The John Wiley Price Saga: The Chickens Come Home to Roost (And, Man, Are They Pissed) centered on a running tug-of-war between federal authorities and Price over $229,590 in cash that FBI agents confiscated from Price's home in 2011, plus $230,763 from a questionable land deal involving Price and his assistant Dapheny Fain. The feds claim the money was obtained illegally, though Price has not been charged with any crime. Price counters that he has perfectly good explanations for having nearly a quarter million dollars in his home safe, which he will provide as soon as he can remember what they are.
The Dallas Morning News uncorked the latest details of possible misdeeds by Price in November. The paper found a 10-year-old outsourcing contract for information technology services at the county, showing that Price broke protocol by insisting on private meetings with the companies bidding on the contract. FBI affidavits cited by the newspaper claim that the winning bidder paid Price's longtime political consultant Kathy Nealy more than half a million dollars during the past decade. Nealy, in a move that Price's defenders says is "just a coinky-dink," gave Price hundreds of thousands of dollars during the same time frame.
The county's computer operations, meanwhile, remain what IT experts call a "royal clusterfuck." (Please excuse the technical jargon).
Explanations for why an IT firm seeking a professional services contract would give money to a political consultant, or why a political consultant would send similar amounts of money to politician employing her, are not forthcoming. Federal agents say, however, they became suspicious of the deal when they noticed the winning IT firm's engineers all had AOL email addresses.
What a Dick-ey Move
The year's news wasn't entirely bad for Price, as 2012 brought about the retirement of County Commissioner Maurine Dickey, one of two remaining Republicans on the commissioners court and Price's longtime political nemesis.
Although she won praise for her service from both Republicans and Democrats, Dickey's departure was marred by a jarring note in her swan song. In October, as the commissioners approved domestic-partner benefits for county employees on a 3-2 party-line vote, Dickey objected to being photographed by an audience member and referred repeatedly to the photographer as a man.
The person taking the snapshots was C.d. Kirven, well-know LGBT activist, core member of GetEQUAL Texas and the proud owner of a vagina.
"I think she has issues with my look," Kirven later told the Observer.
Dickey protested that she had made an honest mistake. "To be fair, the gentle ... ah ... person looks — what's the word those people use? — very Dutch, though I don't know what being Dutch has to do with being gay. Is Dutchland a gay country? I just don't know. AOL won't let me read all those naughty web page thingies."
They Don't Like Mike
Mike Miles, the man soon to join Waldemar "Tin Cup" Rojas and Yvonne "Prisoner No. 3213" Gonzalez in the pantheon of great Dallas school superintendents, took the helm at DISD in late spring. Miles, who made his name as a dynamic, fast-moving school reformer in Colorado Springs, set a new DISD record by dynamically and fast-movingly pissing the bejesus out of large swathes of the city before he even formally assumed the post in July.
Miles' rocky journey began in May, when he hired fellow Coloradoan Jennifer Sprague as the district's communications director at an annual salary of $185,000. The move drew the ire of reporters chagrined to realize that their own communication skills are worth roughly one-sixth that amount. In an absurd defense, Miles blamed the controversy on shallow sexists who question Sprague's professional qualifications simply because she is an attractive woman with lustrous blond hair, a flawless complexion, firm, full ...
Wait, what were we talking about?
Oh, yeah, Miles. Yeah, that guy just really pisses everybody off — increasing the number of six-figure administrative salaries, lengthening teachers' works days, and dismissing a critical audit as a "witch hunt." Which, look, it may be. The problem for Miles is, so far he looks like a floater.
In July, Irving-based syndicated radio host Kidd Kraddick drew fire nationally for expressing doubts on-air about the truthfulness of women who claim they have been "roofied" and then raped. Rape-victim advocates condemned Kraddick for telling his listeners that women who say they had drugs slipped into their drinks are often just looking to excuse themselves for drinking too much.
"Here's why I get mad about it," Kraddick actually, truly said. (Like, with his mouth and everything.) "It's because normal guys are suspect. ... It is hard enough for guys to meet girls without them throwing around these stories, and every strange guy is a candidate to drop something in your drink. It doesn't happen very often at all. Almost never. ... I would love to have a built in excuse every time I got so wasted I don't remember anything."
Victims organizations countered that Kraddick already has a perfectly good excuse for a poor memory: general stupidity.
Thrown Down a Well
After months of heated debate, a special Dallas advisory committee finally recommended a new ordinance controlling gas drilling within city limits. If adopted by City Council, the proposal would regulate the permitting and location of wells that use the process known as fracking, a controversial drilling technique that involves pumping millions of gallons of pig blood under high pressure into subterranean rock formations to release trapped gas.
Well, it could be pig blood. Drillers are not required to reveal their proprietary blend of chemicals. Assume pig blood until further notice.
Anyway, industry supporters have long claimed that the proposed regulations would result in a virtual moratorium on drilling within the city. But the City Council, which had already cashed checks for more than $33 million from drillers in exchange for mineral leases on city property, is moving swiftly toward a vote on the committee's recommendations, tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2037.
Just two days before Big Tex went up in flames, so too did Dallas' plan to cash in on its citizens' trash. That's when U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor barred the city of Dallas from enforcing its "flow control" ordinance, which would have required trash haulers operating within to city to dump their loads at city-owned landfills.
Waste companies, which already had costly franchise contracts with the city to operate in Dallas, claimed the ordinance violated their contracts and would have cost them additional millions in dumping fees paid to the city. City officials contended that the ordinance was necessary to increase recycling, limit illegal dumping and improve the environment, and had absolutely nothing to do with collecting scads of extra cash. Well, every city official but Mayor Mike Rawlings, who eventually acknowledged that the whole thing was not a quest for some greater good but just a big ol' money grab, sort of like the time he urged his guys at Pizza Hut to shove a Prius wagon in some cheesy bread.
Maybe He Was Roofied?
The arrest may have slowed down a lesser trainwreck. But Travis endured, catching a DWI in August after he allegedly walked buck naked into a Grayson County convenience store to buy cigarettes, then crashed his car and reclined unclothed in the middle of Farm-to-Market Road 922 until police arrived. (Wait, is that against the rules?)
Travis made bail in that case, only to be cited for misdemeanor assault later the same month, outside of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. It was there that he allegedly shoved his girlfriend's estranged husband, causing Travis' country-music peers to shake their heads and mutter, "Damn, that guy's got a lot of material for his next record."
Bad Boys Bad Girls, What Ya Gonna Do
Hurst police officer Disraeli Arnold was placed on administrative leave in November after he was videotaped delivering a flying knee to the back of the head of a prone 17-year-old who was being arrested by another cop on an old truancy charge.
The teen, Andrew Rodriguez, was charged with resisting arrest and spent three days in jail. But Hurst police apologized for the incident after the video of the attack — in which Arnold told Rodriguez "move and fuckin' die" — was posted to the website World Star Hip Hop.
Dallas police Lieutenant Regina Smith, head of burglary and theft detectives in the southwest and northwest patrol units, had an equally shitty end to her year. Smith was placed on administrative leave after news reports revealed she had an off-duty job running Big Rush In, LLC., a small hip-hop label, and that she performed herself under the name Lucille Baller.
"Don't push Ms. Lucy, because you won't like the consequences. Mess with me or I will shoot a [expletive], cuz Lucille Baller, she been to hell and back," Smith raps on her first single, which we assume was called "Move and Fuckin' Die."
If her superiors weren't disturbed enough, they also found a video on her website in which Smith holds up a bullet and says: "You know what I would do to somebody who tried to take advantage of me? You see this bullet right here? I'll stick it from they rooter to the tooter and bring it out."
On a happier note for Smith, country star Randy Travis is said to have seen the video and plans to use her plight as inspiration in his forthcoming double album, Rooter to the Tooter: Life and Love on Farm-to-Market Road 922.
Hard to Be a Woman
The battle between Planned Parenthood and Texas conservatives brewed throughout 2012, as state leaders continued their quest to kick the family-planning organization out of the Texas Women's Health Program. It's hard to keep up, but we're pretty sure the latest rule prohibits giving state money to groups whose names include the letter "P."
Planned Parenthood leaders, whose clinics provide care to 40 percent of the women enrolled in the program, politely point out that no state funding has ever gone to provide abortions. To anyone. Ever. The organization is engaged in an ongoing court fight with the state over whether it can be kicked out of the WHP, which provides general health screenings and reproductive services low-income women and is 90 percent funded under the federal Medicaid program.
The feds have threatened to cut off federal funding for the WHP at the end of December if the state boots Planned Parenthood. But Rick Perry, leading the important fight against low-cost cancer screenings, says the state will create its own Texas-funded program. Money for the Texas program will eventually be cut, but in the meantime sources say it will be helmed by popular Texas radio personality Kidd Kraddick.
Oh, So TwinkiesDo Expire
In November, Irving-based Hostess Brands, mired in labor disputes and red ink, declared bankruptcy, closed 33 plants and laid off more than 18,000 employees. According to company executives, the refusal by unionized bakers to accept an 8 percent wage cut led to the demise of the iconic brand.
Fans of the products were aghast, telling reporters, "Those things were made by bakers?"
Hostess' liquidation does not necessarily spell the end for its popular brands, as roughly 100 bidders have vied to purchase the company's assets, including its well-known product names, logo designs, patents, and absolutely zero plan for adapting to the passage of time.
Can't We Just Throw Old Twinkies at 'Em?
A record outbreak of infections caused by the mosquito-borne West Nile virus killed dozens across North Texas over the summer, prompting local officials to spray pesticides and prompting everyone else to freak the hell out.
Outraged environmentalists fretted about the pesticides' unintended effects on both animal and human life, particularly the fetuses of pregnant women hit by the chemicals. GOP leaders in Austin even threatened to intercede to block the spraying, but they backed down when they were assured that none of the chemicals started with the letter "P."
Dallas County health officials have vowed to carefully monitor the effects of the pesticide to determine whether it was helpful in stemming the outbreak. There remains fear that the local mosquito populations are developing a tolerance for the chemicals used in the campaign, which would suck for vulnerable old people but would make really good B material for our forthcoming screenplay, It's Raining Chem.
County health officials say they expect the chemicals are effective. But if not, sources indicate that there is a back-up plan: a fine misting of Trinity River water. If the chemicals don't get' em, the pig blood should finish them off.