The Brief: Top Texas News for Nov 2, 2009

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Don’t look now, Senator, but the vultures are circling.

“If politics is sometimes a game of musical chairs,” Theodore Kim writes in this morning’s Dallas Morning News, “then this is the quiet moment before the song starts.”

Only, in this game, all the chairs are occupied by people who refuse to move even though they’d much rather play something else.

Last week, State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, gave up his designs for the Attorney General seat, saying, “the prospect of an open seat appears unlikely.”  In order for that to change, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison would have to resign in time for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to run for U.S. Senate, allowing current AG Greg Abbott to run for Dewhurst’s seat. Similar would-be candidates are piled up all around the state.

If and when Hutchison resigns to campaign full-time for Governor, her opponent, Gov. Rick Perry, will have an opportunity to appoint her interim successor until a special election can be held. The Houston Chronicle’s R.G. Ratcliffe writes that Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who would be Texas’ first black senator, is “emerging as a favorite” and “has his pitch ready.”

That’s all well and good, but that pitch doesn’t get made until Hutchison says so.  Or, as a frustrated current State - would-be U.S. - Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, told Kim, “There's one change at the top and everything is affected by it."

CULLED:

* A brand new state agency opens its doors today. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, which will spin out of the Texas Department of Transportation, will have 600 employees and it will oversee the state’s motor vehicle services.  Naturally, TxDMV will have no control over driver’s licenses, which will remain the responsibility of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

* The City of Presidio will become a new – how did Gov. Rick Perry say it in his angry letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano? - “way station for the repatriation of illegal immigrants.”  Today marks the beginning of the U.S. Government’s Alien Transfer and Exit Program (ATEP), which ships about 100 undocumented immigrants each day from Arizona to Mexico via Texas. Bill Brooks, spokesman for the Border Patrol Marfa Sector, told the Tribune’s Brandi Grissom the plan would not create any undue burden.

* Gone today, here tomorrow - Comptroller Susan Combs changed her mind after sending letters to investors in a struggling pre-paid tuition plan explaining that, should they seek a refund, they wouldn’t receive their accumulated earnings. For now, the program will carry on – earnings and all – until the Legislature can (hopefully) figure out what to do.

* What’s a politician without a little legal trouble? The San Antonio Express-News profiles the struggle of State Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, against claims made by a New York finance company that he has defaulted on $5.5 million in debt. Meanwhile, State Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, insists that her reelection campaign will not be derailed by her impending trial on federal bribery charges.

Challengers continue to reveal themselves.  Republican businessman Paul Workman will run for the seat currently occupied by State Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin. Jay Kleberg  confirmed that he’ll run as a Republican against State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso.  Put Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert down as a "maybe."  His chief of staff, Paula Blockman, will be stepping down in the near future, sparking speculation that Leppert might soon be the running for higher office.  

* Coming Soon: The Texas Tribune, a new non-profit, non-partisan news organization devoted to Texas politics and public policy launches tomorrow.

"I was about to ask him what he smoked, and he was like, ‘Would you like a cigar, Hunter?’ I was like, ‘Yes sir!’" – 19-year-old Hunter Cunningham on meeting Democratic candidate for Governor Kinky Friedman.

MUST READS:

Protecting Texas children: Abuse 'huge problem'Amarillo Globe-News

Jobs created with stimulus funds lag in TexasDallas Morning News 

Texas' School Fund might invest in charter school facilities Austin American-Statesman

AG thwarting transparency on justice mattersGrits for Breakfast

Enthusiasm a no-show with votersHouston Chronicle

Kinky makes case for governorOdessa American

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