More than 300 speakers – from national big shots like former Secretary of State John Kerry to policy wonks like Ann Beeson, CEO of the Center for Public Policy Priorities – will converge in Austin for the eighth annual Texas Tribune Festival Sept. 27-29.

What started as a largely Texan politics festival has grown far beyond the Lone Star State.

“It’s really become a national draw,” Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Emily Ramshaw told the Rivard Report last week. “There is so much national interest in Texas — and so much interest in Texas at what’s taking place on the national stage — that it only made sense to grow the festival for everyone.”

It’s also grown beyond the University of Texas campus, spreading out into several different downtown venues including the co-working space Capital Factory, Texas Public Policy Foundation, and St. David’s Episcopal Church.

Emily Ramshaw

Part of that growth includes Open Congress, a free street festival on Congress Avenue offering original programming from the Tribune and festival media partners.

“For years we’ve wanted to provide greater opportunities for free programming — for folks who aren’t coming to the Tribune Festival for work, for example, or simply don’t have the budget or time to make a weekend-long commitment,” Ramshaw said in an email. “Open Congress gives us that opportunity. Yes, in order to get into ALL the good stuff at Fest, a badge is totally the way to go. But if you want to sample here or there, or get a taste so you know what to expect for next year, Open Congress might be the route for you.”

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg will be featured on a panel on urbanism, and Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) will be part of a discussion on the rising cost of living in Texas cities.

While there will be plenty of talk about local and state politics during the festival, Ramshaw said, a lot of conversations inevitably will lead to President Donald Trump and his policies.

“Obviously, I think the escalation of drama in and around the Trump White House is an emerging theme; there’s no way around it,” she said. “But I also think the 2018 midterms, which are just around the corner, will be a major focus. And you can see from the lineup that there are several potential presidential hopefuls coming to Fest, so I imagine 2020 will be a key theme as well.”

Among those possible presidential candidates speaking at the festival are former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), and U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona).

Some special events and dinners are sold out, but conference passes include access to three days of programming for $300. Discounts are available for Texas Tribune members, students, and educators. For more information visit

Ramshaw is host of the Tribune‘s first-ever Women at #TribFest18 lunch on Thursday and she’s looking forward to another first: yoga on the Capitol lawn on Friday and Saturday mornings.

“There are also some phenomenally timely panels that are sure to be newsmakers, from Friday’s ‘Threat Assessment’ — a conversation in the Trump administration track with [former CIA director] John Brennan and [retired Navy Admiral] William McRaven, among others — to CEO Evan Smith’s one-on-one conversation with Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti,” she said.

“On Saturday, I’m looking forward to my own one-on-one interview with [Castro], and of course, the closing session with Congressman Beto O’Rourke,” who is challenging two-term Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the state’s most closely watched race.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at