TWO WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE:
JOE STRAUS - MAN OF THE HOUSE
Texas has come down with the modern disease of bipolar government in a more advanced stage than many states. Democrats babble on about some vague 'resistance' while trying to outdo each other presenting meaningless 'impeachment' resolutions, while majority Republicans use their strength to actually propose bad legislation, like the completely unnecessary 'Bathroom Bill' that key movement Republicans appeared inexplicably wedded to in this years' two Legislative sessions. But, for the past six years, standing athwart misrule from both extremes, has been Alamo Heights State Representative Joe Straus, holding down what early Twentieth Century political operative Mark Hanna called 'the vital center,' which is, like it or not, where the business of governing takes place.
Straus' decision not to seek another term in the Legislature is demonstrating, at a time we need it the most, that the center may not hold. As an almost 'accidental' Speaker, drafted to end what many saw as the dictatorial rule of Tom Craddick, Straus was able to bring true wisdom to a political body that was almost created to be unruly and contentious and, even against the House's own will, crafted landmark bills on topics from education to economic development.
What lies beyond Joe Straus for Texas politics is impossible to discern. If both parties continue to play to their core primary voters, which was particularly vivid in 2017, real damage could be done to the state's future, a future Joe Straus has nurtured so carefully for the past six years.
WENDY KOWALIK - THE DIFFERENCE MAKER
All communities are the sum of their best parts, and Wendy Kowalik, who heads the local financial planning firm Predico Partners, is an example of how one person, without a badge or an elected office, can make a community better.
It was Wendy's alert eye, when Tim Duncan came to her firm for a financial audit, which noticed irregularities in his books. She took that to federal prosecutors, and in June, financial planner Charles Banks was sentenced to four years in prison, an example of 21st Century greed.
After Hurricane Maria leveled much of Duncan's home in the Virgin Islands, it was Wendy whom the former Spur turned to.
"When I approached WK with my idea of a relief fund for my hometown, never did I imagine tht she would put such time, energy, love and resources into helping me see and execute this endeavor," Duncan wrote. "Without her foresight and perseverance there is no way that we would have been able to organize, transport, and distribute the quantities of items that we were able to deliver."
This is the private sector engaged for the public good, the basic substance that turns a city into a community. Every day, San Antonio has thousands of Wendy Kowaliks, using their positions in a wide variety of businesses to perform similar good works, to make a difference, effectively, quietly, and beyond the pursuit of profit. In this case, one person helped better the lives of many thousands. In other examples every day, Kowalik and thousands of equally noble private sector leaders help better the lives of those one or two whom they serve, outside of public attention, but with equally noble results.
2017 SAN ANTONIAN OF THE YEAR
THE FIRST RESPONDERS - HOLDING BACK THE DARKNESS IN UNCERTAIN TIMES
It's a Sunday night in May, and a business owner is making a deadly decision. Prosecutors say the owner of a gym in the Ingram Square Shopping Center torched his own company, in hopes of getting out of a lease. On a sunny afternoon in June, bullets fly as two police officers were checking for stolen cars just north of downtown. The most powerful hurricane ever to menace Texas looms off the coast, and specially trained teams are heading toward the landfall. A troubled young man with a grudge only he could feel violates the sanctity of the Sabbath on a Sunday in November in out of the way Sutherland Springs.
But these horrible events that left a firefighter and a police officer dead, unimaginable damage to much of southeast Texas, and 26 lives, including the promise of the lives of babies who could very well have lived into the next century, ended, are not the only reason why The First Responders are the 2017 San Antonians of the Year.
Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have been tasked with higher powers and authority to maintain the barriers of that civilization, and preserve it from those who would tear it down out of anger, jealousy, or personal greed. In our time, those threats are growing stronger and more monstrous, be it a terrorist plowing down people with a truck in New York City, a gunman killing dozens in Las Vegas, or the selfish and confused gangs who have brought desolation to San Antonio neighborhoods.
Into these vacuums of desolation some force will move. It is a responsibility which has seldom been more difficult, or more important, to make sure that is a force for preservation, and not for destruction. This thing we call the rule of law, which has allowed the United States to prosper while a Bolivia or a Zimbabwe does not, is hard to define, essential to preserve, and very very dangerous to lose, even for an instant.
In 2017, the perils faced by the first responders, and those brave individuals who were first responders without badges, like Steven Willeford and Johnny Lagendorf, who chased down and stopped the Sutherland Springs killer from carrying out more destructive work, seemed to be deeper and more intense than ever. From violence to political opposition, that thin line has seldom seemed so frayed. But our society cannot exist without that line, and the men and women who stand at the edge of the abyss. Miguel Moreno. Scott Deem. Ken Copeland. Unfortunately, the list is long this year, but the line did not break. Nothing short of the future of civilization is in your hands...and in your debt.