TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of 12/27/10

Come January, as Texas lawmakers begin work to pass bills and tackle the yawning budget gap, they will go up against a simple but implacable barrier: time. Texas is one of a dwindling number of states whose legislatures hold scheduled meetings only every two years. Just three other, far smaller states — Montana, North Dakota and Nevada — still have biennial legislative sessions. Lawmakers differ on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, especially for budgeting. Regardless, Texas seems unlikely to change anytime soon.

Politics, like football, is a full-contact sport — and the 2010 election was filled with the kind of brawling you would expect. It also had plenty of bizarre moments of the sort that make the rest of the nation believe Texas really is a different country.

2010 didn't turn out like it looked a year ago. Unexpected people showed up. The political environment bloomed red instead of blue. The Tea was strong. And big shots turned into paper tigers. Here are some of the political personalities who mattered.

Lobbyists are required by law to notify their clients if they represent two or more groups with clashing agendas. They are also required to notify the Texas Ethics Commission. Scores of lobbyists have done so in recent legislative sessions. What is not required is for the public or elected representatives to be informed.

For the seventh consecutive decade, Texas will gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the decennial apportionment process, which means extra clout after the 2012 elections. With Republicans in control of redrawing the state's congressional districts — and adding the four new seats — they stand to benefit the most.

Filmmakers Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr. are putting the finishing touches on  a new documentary about the Cameron Todd Willingham case that focuses almost entirely on forensics — on the science behind arson investigations like the one that led to the Corsicana man's arrest, conviction and execution following the death of his three small children in a 1991 house fire. Mims and Bailey aren't political activists; the former lectures in the University of Texas' Department of Radio-Television-Film, while the latter is a graduate of UT's law school. But they were so moved by an article about the Willingham case in The New Yorker that they decided to tackle one of the most controversial topics in the modern era of state's criminal justice system. Well in advance of the film's release, they've carved out this excerpt of about eight minutes exclusively for the Tribune.

Cockfighting in Texas has been illegal for decades, but a lengthy Humane Society investigation uncovered more than a dozen active rings throughout the state. What's not illegal is raising fighting game cocks, attending a cockfight or possessing paraphernalia related to cock fights — such as gaffs, the razor blades owners strap to the birds' legs to make them even more lethal. Animal rights activists came close in the last legislative session to getting such activities criminalized, which they say is critical to putting an end to cockfighting. They plan to try again next year

As a gift to Trib readers this holiday week, we're pleased to reprint Calvin Trillin's New Yorker profile of 1972 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frances "Sissy" Farenthold — one of a dozen and a half articles and poems that will be published early next year in Trillin on Texas, a new anthology from the University of Texas Press. A staff writer at the magazine since 1963, Trillin has long seen the state as a rich source of material; elsewhere in the anthology are meditations on subjects ranging from Texas barbecue to the fictional film critic Joe Bob Briggs. He also considers Texas to be a part of his ancestral narrative, as several members of his family arrived in the United States by way of Galveston. "Yes, I do have a Texas connection," he writes in the introduction to the anthology, "but, as we'd say in the Midwest, where I grew up, not so's you'd know it."

 

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