The Brief: Top Texas News for Nov. 29, 2010

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Budget talks got a surprise visitor last week: candor.

Comments from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts in response to an attendee of a local Tea Party meeting last week crystallized the challenges that conservative lawmakers, now dominant in the House, face as they toy with the idea of cutting Medicaid and other substantive social programs to balance a ballooning state budget.

"If we have any savings on getting out of Medicaid, we will have to throw some people out in the street," Pitts told one questioner who said he had a friend on Medicaid. "I’m not telling you that your friend would be, but the eligibility to receive state benefits will go down." Pitts added that an initial budget proposal will eliminate entire agencies and cut others by up to 80 percent — "huge cuts," as the Waxahachie Republican described them.

Pitts' frank talk contrasted sharply with recent comments from other conservative legislators "who've painted a rosy picture of a potential health-care restructuring without filling in the details," says Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express News.

And as our own Ross Ramsey writes today, Pitts' comments weren't merely candid but also politically purposeful: "The message is clear: There’s carnage ahead. Pitts is getting his local folks ready for the impact, laying out specific cuts so that people who generally like the idea of smaller government can get a look at which services they and their families and friends and communities would actually have to give up."

CULLED:

  • Election season may be over, but November hasn't seen its last political contest: Today marks the start of early voting in the race to replace Edmund Kuempel, the state representative who died of a heart attack earlier this month. Ten candidates are running to replace the beloved lawmaker, including his son, John Kuempel.
  • Dick DeGuerin, who led Tom DeLay's defense team in his money-laundering trial, said Friday he was confident that Austin's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals would overturn DeLay's conviction. "This is the first and only time that a prosecution like this has ever taken place in Texas. It's totally unprecedented, and we believe we're right," DeGuerin said. But legal experts say the deck may be stacked against DeLay, noting that Texas' conservative appellate courts rarely side with defendants.
  • In what one government transparency group called a "major open records victory for Texas," the Texas attorney general has ruled that the Hidalgo County Clerk's Office must provide access to records using a computer's USB port.

"There's no way I will ever attempt to fill his shoes. He was his own man. I'm my own person."John Kuempel on running to replace his father in the state House

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