T-Squared: Zach Despart is joining The Texas Tribune as a politics reporter

Zach Despart is joining The Texas Tribune as a politics reporter. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/Houston Chronicle, Godofredo A. Vásquez/Houston Chronicle)

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We’re thrilled to announce that Zach Despart, one of the finest accountability journalists in Texas, is joining our politics team.

Zach hardly needs an introduction. Many of us have been longtime fans of his watchdog reporting for the Houston Chronicle, where he has been covering Harris County, the nation’s third most populous.

Unsatisfied with the state’s undercount of deaths from the February 2021 winter storm, Zach demonstrated that the true death toll was likely much higher than the state’s estimate.

Zach led the Chronicle’s investigation after a stampede at Travis Scott’s performance at Astroworld Fest left 10 dead and many more injured, revealing concerns about staffing and security, inadequate police and fire oversight, and a dangerous venue layout.

Recently, Zach wowed us with his powerful reporting on pay-for-play among the Harris County commissioners, who have been awarding no-bid public contracts to their donors without disclosure.

Zach has also been a dogged beat reporter. He was the first to profile Lina Hidalgo as a candidate for county judge. He examined underfunding of flood protection in poor communities and communities of people of color. He wrote authoritatively on how COVID-19 became a proxy battle between Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and local Democratic leaders.

“We have an unhealthy political culture where many voters are disengaged and others face impediments to participating; where officials flout public records laws and make false statements about their actions, without consequence; and where decades of one-party rule have had a corrosive impact on state agencies and institutions,” Zach wrote in his cover letter. “Meticulous, data-driven reporting, told narratively and centered on regular Texans, can expose failures of governance and abuses of power in a way all readers can understand.”

We couldn’t have put it better.

A New York native and a 2011 graduate of the University of Vermont, Zach began his career as an assistant director at the CBS affiliate in Burlington before reporting for the Addison County Independent and then the Burlington Free Press. He moved to Texas in 2016 to become managing editor at the Houston Press, where he was recognized by the Association of Alternative Newsmedia for his reporting on Venezuelan corruption in Houston and Miami. After its print edition folded, Zach moved to the Chronicle at the beginning of 2018 and served temporarily as weekend metro editor before moving to the Harris County beat.

Zach starts March 21. He’ll report to politics editor Rebekah Allen and work alongside Patrick Svitek, James Barragán and Abby Livingston, cementing our standing as one of the best politics teams in Texas.