TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of Mar 15, 2010

The stories scroll by one after another on an online petition to repeal a law called the Driver Responsibility Act. Nearly 4,000 angry and devastated drivers, who have either lost their licenses or in some way dealt with the exorbitant surcharges of the program, have lent their names to the effort — just a fraction of the more than 1.2 million Texas drivers who have lost their licenses because of unpaid surcharges.

Barring the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is Hank Skinner’s last hope for reprieve from the poison-filled syringe he is set to meet on Wednesday. The seven-member board makes life-or-death decisions, recommending to the governor whether an execution should be delayed, called off or carried out, yet it’s one of the least transparent agencies in state government.

Texas nurses with substance abuse problems — including showing up to work drunk or high, stealing narcotics meant for patients, and forging doctor signatures on prescriptions for pain-killers — are often not punished for their acts for months or even years and continue to practice in the meantime, according to a Texas Tribune review of state nursing disciplinary records. Texas gives some nurses with substance abuse problems second chances. The Texas Board of Nursing enrolled her in the Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses, a state-run rehab program for nurses with chemical dependency or mental illness.

Ever since Rick Green’s narrow March 2 win in the GOP primary for the Place 3 seat on the Texas Supreme Court set off a collective grumble from the legal establishment, there’s been a movement afoot to shore up support for his runoff opponent, Fort Worth family court judge Debra Lehrmann. Now the fruits of those efforts have ripened.

The Census will have significant implications for Texas politics, as lawmakers return to Austin next year to redraw districts based on the updated snapshot of growth. The state is likely to receive an extra three to four U.S. House seats based on current demographic projections.

It’s hard enough to find people who can name their state senator, let alone their SBOE member. While the board determines much of the education policy for almost five million children, few people have more than a passing familiarity with its activities or the election of its members. But the SBOE's recent battles over textbooks and curriculum have changed all that — and the composition of the board itself.

As they head into the runoff, Brian Russell has been anointed by social conservatives, while Marsha Farney carries local name recognition and money — lots of it. The race may come down to a battle between financial resources and Christian conservative grassroots muscle.

Republicans in southwest Travis County still need to pick between Paul Workman and Holly Turner before setting their sights on State Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin. They're trying to draw distinctions that matter to voters, though the candidates agree on many issues.

Meria Carstarphen, Austin ISD’s new superintendent, has made the turnaround of the district’s long-failing schools on the city’s impoverished East Side a centerpiece of her tenure. In many ways, she has little choice. A handful of Austin schools have failed to meet state standards, so they either already have or could soon come under state mandates for closure or “repurposing,” which involves transferring the principal and most of the staff.

Steeped in the annals of America's symbiotic relationship with Mexico is the two countries’ long-standing and sometimes tense agreement over an issue more far-reaching than border security and immigration: water.

Randy Robles witnessed the FOX News-hyped, rock-concert crowds of the first tax-day Tea Party protest first hand, hoping it would appeal to his fiscally conservative leanings. But standing in the crowd on April 15 last year, he realized quickly that it didn't. Last Saturday afternoon, the 27-year-old full-time janitor sat nervously in a meeting room at San Antonio's Grace Coffee Café for the inaugural meeting of the city's Coffee Party USA. This time, instead of being one of the crowd, he's one of the organizers.

Kesha Rogers is keeping busy. Not only is she taking on Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson in a heavily conservative district this fall; she’s busy waging a war against the British Empire.

Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale saying at his party's national convention that he'd raise taxes if elected. Gov. Bill Clements getting blasted by his fellow Republicans for signing what was then the largest tax bill in state history after promising he wouldn't. And the granddaddy: President George H.W. Bush breaking his "read my lips" pledge to sign a tax bill — a move that helped hold him to one term in office. The best examples of taxes tripping high-level politicians are a couple of decades old, but they still shape the conversation. Now it's Bill White's turn.

And finally, we've posted our interview with Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, the authors of Game Change, a look behind the presidential campaigns of 2008.

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