The dean of Texas editorial boards is setting down his pen.
Arnold García has announced his retirement after 38 years at the American-Statesman — including 22 of them leading the editorial pages. Those 22 years have made him the longest-serving editorial page editor among the state’s metro papers.
It has been a distinguished tenure, and it would be difficult to overstate the impact that García, 65, has had on this paper and the community it covers.
On these pages in recent years, García and his staff have led the campaign for affordability in Central Texas government, pushing for elected officials to be more accountable not only to their agencies but also to the taxpayers and renters who pay for the operation of those agencies. He also introduced weekly Two Views columns on local issues, which allowed more people to join the debate on the editorial pages.
But García’s leadership at the Statesman extends far beyond the opinion section.
His efforts to shape the quality of coverage in the paper over the past couple of decades didn’t occur through news assignments, as he understands and believes in the separation between news content and opinions. But he has been an eager mentor to many reporters and editors in the newsroom.
García has also been an honest critic regarding mistakes we’ve made or coverage we’ve missed, all in the spirit of pushing the paper to become better. I hope that continues when he’s a reader and no longer an editor.
One of a handful of Latino editorial page editors in the country, García has been at the forefront of efforts in the newsroom to try make sure coverage of Austin truly reflects the diversity of the community in which we live. He was at the table for the creation of our Spanish language paper, ahora sí, and he has been involved more recently as we have discussed strategies to better reach Central Texas’ fastest growing demographic, Hispanic residents.
García started his career as a reporter at the San Angelo Standard Times while still a student at Angelo State University, which later named him a distinguished alumnus. When he came to the Statesman at 26, he was also an Army veteran, having served from 1969 to 1971. He left the military as a sergeant and later joined the Texas National Guard in 1980, where he served as a captain. His empathy for soldiers is strong , and some of his best columns, such as a piece on the Vietnam War published March 22, have focused on the sacrifices they have made and the issues they face.
García’s first job at the Statesman was as a courthouse reporter, but he also spent time covering state agencies, schools and more. He became an editor, including running the metro desk overseeing local coverage, before becoming a political columnist and, in 1991, editorial page editor.
And over the years García became one of the best-sourced journalists in the state. That sourcing has allowed him to break news on the editorial pages and to provide regular authoritative political insight in his columns.
He has ruffled some feathers along the way, because you can’t have strong beliefs without riling folks every now and then. And as the political climate has gotten more polarized, the pressure to see everything in black and white (or blue and red, as the case may be) has increased. Still, García counts friendships from Democrats and Republicans, enjoying the bipartisan rounds of golf and poker.
García has given us time to search for a replacement and help with the transition.
We want an editor who can serve as a moderate voice of the institution in the midst of liberal-leaning Austin and conservative-leaning Texas. We’ll be looking for someone willing to rethink our editorial coverage as we start this new chapter. And finally, we’ll need someone who shares our goal of getting more readers actively involved in our commentary in print and online, and of making sure that we emphasize balance, diversity of thought and background, and inclusion of many viewpoints.
Re-envisioning the editorial and opinion coverage is an exciting opportunity to look at things in a new way, but certainly bittersweet because of Arnold’s departure.
For the past two years, as I have grown into this job, he has been a steady ally and a steadfast sounding board. A natural-born storyteller, he has a tale to fit every occasion, and I’ll miss those parables about Texas politics or newsroom foibles. I’ll miss the excitement he still has passing along a bit of behind-the-scenes intelligence or a tip about news that was going to break. And I’ll miss his columns, which were almost always written with a dose of historical context for a present day dilemma that shed light on where an issue was headed next.
And I suspect Arnold will miss all of that, too, but I’ll save that story for him to tell before he goes. For now, I’ll just wish him the best as he crafts the tale of his next stage of life.