Rookie Rep. Dan Branch and his long future in politics, the return of the silent movie, the Dixie Chicks get neologistical, Q&A with dog painter Michael McWillie, model/rodeo star Fallon Taylor, a frequent-flyer shower, Kelly Clarkson Watch, The List, and

Man of the House

He’s only a rookie state legislator.  For now.

ON THE TOTEM POLE OF AMERICAN politics, Dan Branch is close to the bottom. For one thing, he’s a member of the Texas Legislature, which is the junior varsity of American government. For another, Branch is a rookie representative and, at 45, a relatively old one. But sportswriters would describe Branch, who is articulate, smart, and well-connected, as “the complete package.” In a rare honor for a rookie, he was appointed in his first session this year to two prestigious House committees. It won’t be long before he climbs what Benjamin Disraeli called “the greasy pole” and joins the big leagues in D.C. You heard it here first.

Until then, Branch continues to go about his business in a cramped, underground office in the State Capitol annex. The space is unremarkable, except for the photographs, like the one of Branch posing with Governor Rick Perry. And there he is with Attorney General Greg Abbott. There he is with House Speaker Tom Craddick. There he is with his spectacularly attractive family. And, most noticeably, there he is with President George W. Bush. I am not the first person to make this observation: Dan Branch looks more like President Bush’s younger brother than President Bush’s younger brothers do.

The similarities between Bush and Branch don’t end with their appearances and arboreal surnames. In 1991, in his only other try for public office, Branch ran for Congress here in Dallas in a special election. There were 10 candidates in the field, and Branch finished fourth. George W. also lost a Congressional election in his first bid for public office, in 1978, at the same age as Branch. When Branch lost, then-citizen Bush, who had an office near him in Preston Center at the time, wrote Branch a warm one-and-a-half-page letter congratulating Branch on his effort and offering his sympathy. The letter fortified Branch and solidified a friendship.

There are differences between Branch and the commander in chief, to be sure. For instance, Branch is typically serious in his demeanor, unlike his often playful look-alike. Also, President Bush’s down-home manner belies his Andover-Yale-Harvard education. Branch, on the other hand, has a professional persona that many people would describe as worldly, especially for a graduate (summa cum laude, 1980) of Oklahoma Christian College. Branch fits in anywhere he goes. His deep, resonant voice has no accent—not Canadian, even though he was born in Montreal, and not Texan, even though his family moved to San Antonio when he was 10.

By all accounts, Branch is doing a terrific job representing the 108th legislative district in Austin. The 108th includes the Park Cities (Branch lives in University Park), Greenway Parks, Lower Greenville, the Central Business District, Uptown, and Old East Dallas. With impeccable business and political credentials, Branch was a natural for Appropriations and Public Education committees. For a rookie to get these two very desirable appointments is so rare that nobody can remember when, or if, it has ever happened.

He has already impressed Democrat Steve Wolens, a 23-year veteran of the House. “Branch is smart, a team player,” he says. “Like Clark Kent, Dan is a mild-mannered attorney, who, disguised as a state legislator, fights a never-ending battle in Austin for Dallas.” Wolens’ compliment may sound like a book-jacket blurb, but that’s how people in Austin talk about Branch.

True to his district, Branch’s goal in his first session was to end Robin Hood. Considering how many times such efforts have failed, the success of the anti-Robin Hood forces in the House this year have been nearly miraculous.

Branch was picked for Appropriations because he served as chairman of the finance authority under Governor Bush. With the state’s $12 billion deficit at the top of the session’s agenda, the work is tremendously time-consuming, with the committee meeting late into the night, four or five nights a week. That is quite a sacrifice for a family man with five school-age children. Fortunately, the Legislature only meets for five months every other year.

Branch says that he is “deeply honored” to get the opportunity to represent the 108th in Austin. Undoubtedly, his name will appear on all the Top 10 lists when the session ends. But the thing about Branch is that the buzz about him started the first few weeks he was in the House.

When anyone sees a good politician at work, the speculation about higher office starts. Branch himself is not a parochial figure. Not only does he enjoy a warm relationship with the president, he already sits on the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes Foreign Affairs.

If a local high school quarterback goes on to star in the NFL, attention turns to which promising young player might make it next. One Dallas resident has made it to the top of the political pole. Could another one be close behind? —Shad Rowe

Woman on Top

“When I told my parents I was going to be on VH1, they didn’t know what that was,” says 20-year-old FALLON TAYLOR. “My mom kept telling family and friends I was going to be on VHS.” Taylor has been a PRCA barrel-racing champion since she was 9, and the music-video channel is making the Ponder, Texas, resident one of the subjects of its latest reality program, Rodeo Road. When she’s not competing or hanging out on her parents’ 15-acre ranch outside of Dallas with her 22 horses, including Dr. Nick Bar, the winningest barrel-racing stallion in the nation, Taylor models for the Campbell Agency. She got her first sports endorsement and modeling job for Wrangler Jeans when she was 14 and made a temporary move to New York three years later. But city-livin’ didn’t suit Taylor’s active rodeo schedule, and she soon moved back to Ponder. “I’m not your typical rodeo girl,” she says. “I don’t chew tobacco, and I don’t have a mullet.” Look for Rodeo Road this fall on VH1 and CMT. —Kristie Ramirez

Photo Courtesy of Fallon Taylor


Land, Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Businessman Bill Casto has a private jet. But the owner of 19 Wendy’s franchises sometimes chooses to leave it at home, parked on the tarmac in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. “Whenever I’m flying east, I always try to go commercially through Dallas, simply because of the showers at Terminal A’s Admirals Club,” Casto says. “The showers are just so spectacular.”

Among the millions of travelers who make their way through DFW every year, Casto is one of an elite few who know about the showers. Even many members of the Admirals Club—where the showers have been built in the last two to five years—are unaware that they exist.

“Shower” is too plebian a term for these modern-day Roman baths. Each cavernous, pink-marble shower is housed in its own private suite, with a heated towel rack, marble washbasin adorned with an orchid and linen hand towel, telephone, hair dryer, and cabinet to hang a wrinkled suit for the valet. There are showers in 16 of the 44 clubs located in 38 cities around the world, but most aren’t as elegant as the seven at DFW’s Terminal A.

“Executives flying in from London or Tokyo arrive here having slept on the plane, and they want a shower before going to their meetings in downtown Dallas,” says Bill Stigliano, supervisor of the club at Terminal A. “People tell me all the time, ‘That’s the best shower I ever had.’”

The spa-like layover is a perk, but a perk that makes sense. Businesspeople in town just for the day find it more convenient and cheaper to bathe at the Admirals Club than to get a hotel room for the express purpose of taking a shower. For the cost of membership—$275 to $450, depending on your frequent-flyer status—a traveler can get an entire year’s worth of showers for the price of one at a nice hotel.

The shower suites, open to all club members and to first- and business-class travelers on 15 international flights daily, offer service one would typically expect of a concierge. For instance, when a Dallas woman asked a manager to keep her soap separate so that she would not waste a new bar with every visit, he of course obliged.

At DFW, 20 percent of the bathers are domestic travelers; 80 percent international. But with the recent reduction in American’s international flights, even the small group of savvy travelers who know about the showers is shrinking. On a recent noon visit to the 36,000-square-foot club, not a single visitor chose to undress.

All of this makes us wonder whether American’s executives shouldn’t pick up the slack at these facilities. Given the hot water they’ve been in lately, a cool shower might help. —Jane Wolfe


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