TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of 10/18/10

It's the stuff of an Orwellian dystopia: a voting machine hacked, an election stolen, the public none the wiser. Yet some civil rights groups believe it's a legitimate threat in Texas, one of only 12 states that still use electronic voting machines. Ensuring the purity of the ballot box has been a point of concern for lawmakers since "hanging chad" entered the lexicon. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act to improve the administration of federal elections, but an irony of post-2000 reforms is that the electronic machines brought in to replace outdated lever-and-punch-card-based systems have their own flaws.

In the state's 15 largest counties, early voting has spiked. The percentage of registered voters who have already cast their ballots is nearly twice what it was at the same point back in 2006: 5.2 percent of registered voters this time, compared to 2.7 percent four years ago.

Dr. David Blumenthal, the national coordinator of Health Information Technology, talked to the Tribune about why it's important for Texas doctors to make the transition to paperless medical records, how they can do it while protecting patient privacy and why rural areas are not entirely on the e-bandwagon.

More than a quarter-century has passed since a landmark suit against Texas A&M University established the right of gay student groups to form on college campuses. Yet all these years later, half of the university systems in the state — the Texas A&M University System, the Texas State University System and the Texas Tech University System — do not include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies.

The drama of the gridiron has found its way into a federal courtroom in a standoff between the Texas Association of Sports Officials and the University Interscholastic League. With the threat of a lockout of referees and their ilk, the result could be the hiring of scabs to replace them — or even the halting of games — just weeks before one of the year's most eagerly anticipated moments in Texas: the start of high school football playoffs.

 

This week we added more than 20 new public agencies to The Texas Tribune's government employee salary database. The application now features payroll data on more than 620,000 employees from 88 school districts, cities, community colleges, universities, state agencies and transit authorities.

In House District 52 — southern Williamson County — incumbent Democrat Diana Maldonado faces one of her party's toughest challengers in Republican Larry Gonzales. Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune looked at how the candidates would set priorities for a fast-growing part of state.

Heavy truck traffic, some of it related to the wind industry, has increased sharply across the state in recent years, and it's taken a heavy toll on rural roadways. To its chagrin, the Texas Department of Transportation has little prospect of recouping repair costs.

Adrian Garcia, the first Hispanic sheriff in Harris County history, talked to the Tribune about growing up as a child of legal immigrants, how his mom helped change his liberal views about illegal immigration and whether Houston is a sanctuary city.

Last Friday, Gov. Rick Perry sat down with Evan Smith for an interview co-presented by the Tribune and Austin's public broadcasting stations, KUT and KLRU. We talked about the controversy over the Emerging Technology Fund, the calendar he makes public and the one he doesn't, how he'd cut the shortfall, which federal stimulus money he likes, whether Texas is a sanctuary state, the limits of abstinence education and more.

Last Friday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White sat down with Evan Smith for an interview co-presented by the Tribune and Austin's public broadcasting stations, KUT and KLRU. We talked about whether the big bucks he's raised from appointees qualifies as "government for sale," how he'd cut the shortfall, how he feels about Barack Obama, the health care reform he'd prefer, those lawsuits against the feds and more.

 

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.