‘Singing cowboy’ commissioner connects with Texas constituents
Once deemed “the most recognizable face on the Houston music scene” by The Houston Chronicle, Presidio County, Texas Commissioner David Beebe can more recently be found discussing county roads at a Marfa coffee shop, strolling across the county seat with his Border Collie Australian Shepherd mix – who may or not be sporting her “Vote for Beebe” sweater – or cooking chili at the Presidio County Courthouse.
Beebe fell into public service after moving to Marfa in 2007 to convert an old funeral home into a music venue. Running into inconsistent zoning regulations, Beebe decided there needed to be more transparency in government and started regularly attending city council meetings and posting summaries on his blog, which led to him actually serving on the Marfa City Council, and then later as Presidio County’s Justice of the Peace and his current role as county commissioner.
Beebe has kept that mission to increase transparency through his own public service and holds regular “office hours” at local coffee shops and restaurants to discuss what’s going on in the county and how it affects residents.
“You can just come and ask me questions or come and listen to other people or share your criticisms, suggestions, small things, whatever,” Beebe said.
“… We’ve got a lot of statewide legislation that’s affecting what we do here on the border, so there’s a lot to cover and to consider, and it’s all real confusing, so it’s my job to get educated and try to break it down for people about sort of how things are going.
“… I think the public oftentimes thinks that elected officials are not available, and the honest truth is in small counties, we’re all just regular people trying to be public servants.”
Another way Beebe connects with Presidio County residents is through music — both his own performances and DJing his own radio show “Night Train Express.”
Beebe has played in numerous bands and in what he deems to be thousands of shows since he started performing original music and covers in high school.
Now Beebe primarily performs Ranchera music, a popular Texas/Mexican border genre, with his musical partner Primo Carrasco.
The duo released their second album in 2022, and Beebe said the music has helped him build a relationship with the community, particularly with Presidio County’s Hispanic population, which makes up about 80% of the county.
“Music is a bridge, so if somebody hates you because you’ve made a decision on the commissioner’s court that they disagree with, but they see you the next weekend playing at the Marfa Lights Festival, they’re probably not going to hate you as much,” Beebe said.
“There were people who would not talk to me who now they feel like we’re on the same page because we know the same music. “It’s kind of crazy actually, but music is one of those things that when it’s done right and for the right reasons, there are no losers.”
Beebe has been DJ’ing for Marfa Public Radio every Tuesday from 9 p.m. to midnight since 2008. He plays what he describes as Southern soul and R&B classics and has many loyal listeners — some of whom are incarcerated at a prison within the radio station’s broadcast range and who he’s received letters from on and off over the past decade.
“There’s a maximum-security prison within our listening range and the inmates that are on good behavior are permitted to purchase an earphone and can listen to the radio in their cells on the earphone after 8 p.m.,” Beebe said. “Those guys of course don’t have email or telephones, but they can pay to mail letters, so I have a group of prisoners that listen to the show every Tuesday and they write in and give requests and thank me profusely.
“… When something like good songs on the radio can be the highlight of their week, that just tells you how bad things are over there, but it also means this radio show is having an effect on people that value that, and that’s real cool.”
The 6,000-person Presidio County is unique in that in many respects, it’s your average rural, West Texas county, aside from its county seat of Marfa. The small desert city has been dubbed “the country’s coolest art town” by Vogue magazine and is known for its sculptural art, like the Prada Marfa installation, and has not one, but two NFT (digital artwork) galleries.
“What the articles tend to not mention … is the influence of second- and third-generation Texans who came from Mexico, because that’s about 80% of the population,” Beebe said.
“The strong culture, pride in family and upbringing. Everyone’s Dallas Cowboys fans, so it’s barbecue and Cowboys – what is more Texas? And that’s here, right alongside Donald Judd and his modern art.
“… I’m trying to figure out solutions to mitigate the sort of ‘Martha’s Vineyard-ification’ of Marfa, but that’s a real good problem to have if you’re a 2,000 person town in West Texas though. If you look at the alternative, it’s essentially a slow death and we don’t have that.”
Although he calls running for office “a special kind of torture,” Beebe said he doesn’t feel like he’ll be done with public service once his first term on the county commission is up.
Regardless of whatever’s next for him though, it’ll be in Presidio County, he said.
“I didn’t think I was going to stay here for more than two or three years, but as it turned out, even though my business basically went bankrupt and I almost did too … even though I was scraping by, I was like, ‘This is such a great place to live,’” Beebe said. “… I see all the projects I’m working on right now and they’re going to take incremental change of policy and procedure and also time elapsing for the changes I want to make and how we do things at the county level to take effect and become permanent.
“Good things don’t happen quickly kind of anywhere, but in government, good things are designed to happen slowly.”
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