A version of this story ran in the April 2015 issue.
Above: Andrea Grimes
When state Rep. Jonathan Stickland proudly declared himself a “former fetus” a few weeks ago by posting a sign over the nameplate near his office door, the first people to notice were habitués of the #txlege hashtag on Twitter, a repository for all news—and jokes—pertaining to the Texas Legislature. If you waited for the inevitable Texas Tribune story to catch up on the political posturing, you were already hours out of the loop.
Don’t let it happen again. Keeping an eye on #txlege is a must for policy wonks, politicos and people who don’t want to miss the latest Photoshopped Dan Patrick selfie. But the sheer volume of information parading by at #txlege—everything from daily news reporters posting their latest stories to your tea-partying uncle wildly tweeting his 50 favorite Obummer memes to Jonathan Saenz screeching about the gays—can make it more than a little difficult to parse.
First, rather than using Twitter in your browser, get an app like TweetDeck, which makes it easier to manage lists of Twitter users and separate the wheat from the chaff. In TweetDeck, you can set up and monitor customized feeds and easily put spammers on mute. I recommend setting up an overall #txlege hashtag feed, and then making a dedicated Twitter list for the best of the #txlege tweeters.
Many lawmakers have accounts, but most rarely use them or post nothing but self-congratulatory blather and humblebrags. Your best bet is to follow lawmakers who at least appear to run their own accounts. If you ever wonder how state Sen. Donna Campbell’s mind works—and who doesn’t?—her @DonnaCampbellTX account offers insight (and bible verses, because she’s #blessed). Other legislator accounts to watch, not just for the tweets, but for the shares and retweets, include Beaumont Rep. Joe Deshotel (@RepJoeDeshotel), Austin Sen. Kirk Watson (@KirkPWatson), Houston representatives Jessica Farrar (@JFarrarDist148) and Gene Wu (@GeneforTexas), and Dallas Rep. Jason Villalba (@JasonVillalba).
Lawmakers aside, the Capitol press corps is teeming with reporters sharing their work via #txlege, but you need to follow just few folks to keep up with the goings-on. The Houston Chronicle’s Lauren McGaughy (@lmcgaughy) misses nothing on education, LGBTQ and gun-policy issues; The Texas Tribune’s Alexa Ura (@alexazura) is a fine follow for big-umbrella political issues; ditto Tribune executive editor Ross Ramsey (@RossRamsey). If you’re wondering what the left-leaning kids are into these days, Burnt Orange Report’s Joe Deshotel (son of Rep. Joe; @joethepleb) has you covered. The Austin American-Statesman’s Kiah Collier (@KiahCollier) breaks down wonky fiscal issues and is a dedicated live- tweeter of committee hearings. And Austin freelancer Kimberly Reeves lives up to her @edwonkkimmy username on education issues and much more.
On the policy side, the Center For Public Policy Priorities’ Dick Lavine (@dlavine) is a must-follow for perspectives on weedy fiscal issues. Texas Right to Life lobbyist Emily Horne (@missemhorne) tweets about the latest anti-choice machinations in complete sentences and without creepy fetus memes. And if anything’s happening on the other side of the fight for reproductive rights, Amanda Williams (@fullfrontalfem) is probably tweeting about it.
For a look behind the scenes, you’ll want to follow staffers, schmoozers and satirizers: Texas Legislative Service Capitol correspondent Robyn Hadley (@capitolcrowd) seems to be everywhere all at once, while Total Staffer Move (@StafferMove) is an ostensibly satirical account that offers snarky but salient insights into the day-to-day Capitol. Actual staffer Antonio Marcus (@AntonioMarcus_) brings humor and verve to his chronicle of an often thank- less job. And professional progressive Harold Cook (@HCookAustin) offers a meaty mix of insight and side-eye developed over decades—sorry, Harold—of dedicated Lege-watching.
Sadly, true jokester accounts can be hard to maintain on the ever-ephemeral platform that is Twitter, but I really hope the folks behind Dan Patrick Selfies (@DanPatrickTX) stick to their schtick: ’shopping the lieutenant governor’s head into a bunch of places it should never go. And no, I’m not talking about the Senate chamber.
But if #txlege ever gets to be a little too much to swallow, remember that you can always take a break and check in with Gov. Greg Abbott’s dogs, @OreoAbbott and @TexasPancake. You know, for when the going gets ruff.