Top Texas News for the Week of August 23 to 27, 2010

Rick Perry's Democratic opponent, former Houston mayor Bill White, criticized the Republican incumbent in June for "working part time" after his schedule for the first six months of 2010 showed an average of seven hours of state business per week and 38 weekdays with “no state scheduled events.” Perry responded that he simply doesn’t write down much of his work for the state. By contrast, according to records obtained by The Texas Tribune, Perry's gubernatorial counterparts in California, New York and Florida do write down what they do, and they make their seemingly busier schedules readily available to the public.

Only 10 days out from Labor Day — the unofficial start of the campaign season — we bring you a scouting report on the 21 Texas House races to watch. We based our picks on dozens of interviews with politicos and our own analysis of district voting patterns, campaign coffers, the relative strength of the candidates and issues that could turn each contest. Most of the vulnerable incumbents are Democrats, which is no surprise in a Republican year. But a few veteran R's are at risk, thanks to alleged ethical lapses that could swing voters against the national mood.

He can't read or write, struggles to speak, and at age 19 has an IQ of 47: the mental capacity of a kindergartner. Yet a judge in the northeast Texas town of Paris still sentenced Aaron Hart to 100 years in prison for performing sexual acts on a 6-year-old neighbor. An appeals court overturned Aaron's conviction this spring, ruling that he pleaded guilty only because his court-appointed attorney told him he would be eligible for probation. (He wasn’t.) Now he sits in jail facing the same charges a second time, and his family is praying for a different outcome.

Over the past decade, the men and women chosen by Gov. Rick Perry to serve as regents of the state's universities have given his campaigns a total of at least $5.8 million, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. Ninety-one of Perry’s 171 appointed regents are also his donors; of those who gave, the average total amount was about $64,000. The top giver, University of Texas System Regent Paul Foster, has given nearly $400,000. Using our data application, you can search and rank every current and former regent who gave to the governor — by university, by amount, by city.

Texas has always operated its own electricity grid, separate from the two other grids that span the rest of the nation. But a project quietly emerging in eastern New Mexico could curb that independence — and affect energy prices here in ways that remain much in dispute.

The intent of the law seemed clear: The state’s 39 Mental Health and Mental Retardation authorities would, wherever possible, stop offering direct medical services and start managing networks of private providers. But a bureaucratic scrum has delayed the privatization of care.

Texas Appleseed and a key state lawmaker think that may be the only way to address persistent reports of violence, poor living conditions, and subpar education and mental health care at youth lockups across Texas.

State lawmakers looking for guidance on how to draft immigration legislation that can withstand legal challenges may not have to wait for resolution of the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Arizona. A case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court could light the path.

Debra Medina, the third-place finisher in this year's GOP gubernatorial primary, talked to the Tribune last week about whether she'll vote for Rick Perry, how she feels about the mosque near Ground Zero and what her reaction to Glenn Beck should have been.

Do two recent U.S. Supreme Court opinions have the far-reaching effects on Texas judicial elections that some in our legal community fear? Or do the state's current campaign finance laws adequately address the issues presented by both cases?

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