Thank you, Texas Legislature, for a job well done

Texas is facing one of the most serious crises in its history, and no, it’s not the wildfires consuming the state, the years-long drought that has helped cause many of the wildfires, or even our on-going budget crisis.

It’s the breakup of the Big 12 athletic conference. How does the Wine Curmudgeon know this is so serious? The Legislature, which usually approaches state government as if it needs to hurry up and get home, open a beer, and sit in front of the TV in its t-shirt, is actually concerned and threatening action. The governor and lieutenant governor even issued statements.

This is the same legislature, of course, that eliminated $4.3 million over two years in state funding for the Texas wine industry. Gone is the money spent on research, including key efforts to determine which grapes are best for Texas. Gone are the marketing dollars that helped make the Texas one of the top wine tourism destinations in the country. Gone are most of the state employees who helped make Texas the fifth biggest wine producer in the country. It was all part of the 40 percent cut to the agriculture department’s budget.

Full disclosure: The state paid me $5,000 in 2010 for two Texas-related wine events, the taste-off against New York and the Texas wine stage at the state fair. But I’d write this post regardless, because it has never been about the money (and I took less money to do the wine stage this year). Instead, it’s about doing the right thing, which I’ve always done and which I’ll always do.

As opposed to the legislature, which has an agenda of its own and which always baffles the rest of us. To the legislature, football is more important than creating jobs or helping an industry grow that has consistently produced jobs, especially in depressed rural areas — and that has a multi-billion dollar effect on the state. Wine apparently isn’t manly enough for the Legislature, which sees college football — corrupt, money-grubbing college football — as the proper venue for its efforts. They deserve each other.

How desperate is the situation for state’s wine industry? Ed Hellman, the Texas Tech professor who heads the state’s grape research funding, is trying to raise the millions of dollars needed to restore grape research through private donors. State funding, he says, has gone away and will never come back. Meanwhile, a group of Texas wine aficionados has proposed to restore the marketing money through another voluntary donation program. What’s next? Selling band candy or holding a bake sale?

What Hellman didn’t note, because he is too nice a guy, is that Texas Tech signed ex-football coach Mike Leach to a five-year, $12.7 million contract before firing him a couple of years ago. That $12.7 million would fund the state’s wine grape program for six years. Aren’t priorities wonderful things?