How Texas lawmakers are navigating the personal and professional during coronavirus pandemic

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State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, also works as an emergency room physician. Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Railhead Smokehouse says it has the best barbecue in Fort Worth — beef, beans, beer and all.

But state Rep. Charlie Geren, who has owned the joint for 34 years, says he recently laid off about two-thirds of the roughly 34-person staff at the restaurant, including some who had worked there for decades, after the mainstay had to shut down its usual dine-in operations and shift to takeout only.

“There is a lot of anxiety,” Geren, a Fort Worth Republican, told The Texas Tribune this week. “The people that I have working, I’m grateful to them. But obviously there is a [virus] out there, and they’re scared.”

Even for state lawmakers, things are no longer normal thanks to the novel coronavirus that has upended every aspect of life as Texans know it. Legislators like Geren would normally be focused on their professions in between biennial legislative sessions, completing the occasional interim work and gearing up for the November elections.

Instead, lawmakers are occupied with conference calls and constituents desperate for guidance on their financial futures — all while navigating the impact the pandemic has had on their own careers.

“We’re facing a defining moment right now,” state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, told the Tribune last week. “Every generation, I think, has a defining moment, and this is probably ours.”

Campbell, who was first elected in 2012, is an emergency room physician for both the Kyle ER and Hospital and the Columbus Hospital ER. She recalled working through past pandemics like the one in 2009, but the coronavirus, she said, “is the first time I’ve seen anything like this. … The economy did not grind to a halt for any illness in my lifetime.”