I’m back in the USA after a two-year gap (you can read about last time here). About half of my time will be in Texas, so this series takes its title from a song from one of the state’s favourite sons.
For my first post I’m going to reflect on the first two places on my itinerary, the Texas city of Fort Worth and Oklahoma’s capital, Oklahoma City. My next post will catch up on the news as seen from the Lone Star State.
Fort Worth is a city of contrasts. It is proud of its cowboy history – nicknamed Cowtown, it was the southern point of the Chisholm Trail. I stayed in the Stockyards area – the centre of the cattle trade in the city – which is full of 19th century style saloons, cowboy heritage and boasts the world’s largest honky-tonk bar, Billy Bob’s Texas: a massive converted barn that used to host cattle sales. Men walk round in Stetsons, women in cowboy boots.
Yet, it is also proud of a very different culture – culture with a capital C. The Kimbell Art Museum has work by Canaletto, Caravaggio, El Greco, Mondrian, Monet, Picasso, Poussin, Rubens and Van Gogh. Across the road, there’s the Modern Art Museum with Picasso (again), Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.
It loves its guns and its ‘second amendment rights‘. But plenty of those wearing the Stetsons and cowboy boots and whooping it up in Billy Bob’s are black. The man most honoured around town was Democrat-supporting humourist and broadcaster Will Rogers (more of him later).
Downtown, the president that gets a sizable memorial is liberal hero John F Kennedy – although this might well be to cock a snoop at its larger neighbour, Dallas: “you might be bigger, but at least we don’t kill presidents”. Kennedy’s last speech was in Fort Worth on the morning of his assassination, and the headline on the front page of the Fort Worth Press the next day was “Pres. Kennedy Slain By Dallas Assassin” (Lee Harvey Oswald was from New Orleans).
As you might expect from a city of such contradictions, it is politically divided. The current mayor is a Republican, her predecessor was a democrat. Its two congress representatives are from different parties.
12th congressional district – very Republican, with a Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of R+17 (which means that in an average presidential election, the Republican vote will be 17% greater here than nationally). The 12th district covers the west of the city, including downtown. Republican Kay Granger won the seat in 2012 with 70% of the vote.
33rd congressional district – almost as Democratic as the 12th is Republican: a PVI of D+14 (i.e. if the nation split 50-50 between the parties in a presidential election, on average the 33rd would give 64% of its votes to the Democrats). The 33rd was created in 2012 and covers the east of the city, stretching eastwards to take in some western suburbs of Dallas, and includes the Stockyards. Democrat Marc Veasey won 72% of the vote in 2012.
Whilst Fort Worth is politically contested, the same cannot be said of Oklahoma City. Oklahoma has only voted Democrat in two presidential elections since World War II: for Truman in 1948 and Lyndon Johnson in his landslide 1964 victory. Before that however, it usually backed the Democrats.
Unlike other cities in southern states, Oklahoma City doesn’t buck that trend either: Romney took 58% of the vote here in 2012.
There are many reasons, but two were evident from my visit: religion and oil. Churches abound in the city. Even more striking is the number of current and former oil wells in the city – there is an old well right in front of the state capitol and more in the grounds. Small wells, with their nodding donkeys, are throughout the city and then litter the landscape along the rail route to Texas.
Of course, there are still some pockets of liberalism, most notably in Bricktown, the laidback entertainment district around a rejuvenated canal just to the east of downtown. It even boasts a Flaming Lips Alley, honouring the city’s most famous band. In the state capitol building itself, pride of place goes to a picture of Democratic Will Rogers (that man again) who came from the state, and next to it is one of a communist, Woody Guthrie. The state was once proud of its populist lefties.
The most moving site in the city is the memorial (see photo) to the 1995 bombing, which killed 168 people and damaged almost 100 buildings. The memorial has transformed the street where the bomb was detonated into a long reflecting pool with arches at either end showing “9:01″ at one end (the minute before the bomb went off) and “9:03″ at the other. The site of the Alfred P Murrah building (the target and host of a number of federal agencies) is now a lawn with a memorial chair sculpture to remember each of the 168 victims.
Even more moving is the museum next door: taking you through the events of the day through film and exhibits. Some of it was almost unbearably poignant – hardest to hear was the concerned parents trying to find their children who were in the second floor nursery – police initially had no idea that there was a nursery there and so wrongly directed them to where the children from another damaged nursery were being looked after. Each victim is shown by a photo and some personal momento in a gallery: unlike the larger tragedy of 9-11, the numbers allow you to both read and know a little of each victim whilst still being shocked by the numbers.
5th congressional district of Oklahoma – the seat has been Republican since 1975, when its previously Democrat congressman crossed the floor. It has a PVI of R+13 and James Lankford took 59% of the vote in 2012.
Today’s guest paper (see photo)
The City Sentinel. To be frank, its a bit useless, but I couldn’t get hold of a copy of The Oklahoman. The City Sentinel is a weekly, but given that the lead story is about something that isn’t happening (the state’s sizable native American population – who were not in much evidence in the city – not setting up an online gambling site) you know it isn’t going to be a great read.