The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 14, 2012

The Big Conversation:

Hope for an April primary hangs in the balance as redistricting lawyers return to court today.

Both parties fighting over the state's maps will meet today with the three-judge San Antonio panel, which last week called on lawyers to redouble their efforts to find a compromise in time for the state to hold its primaries in April.

Negotiations between the two parties — the Republican-led state forces on one side, and Democrats and minority groups on the other — appeared to have stalled again over the weekend. Fracturing within the coalition of minority groups has previously slowed negotiations.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a court filing Monday that wrangling over Austin Democrat Lloyd Doggett's congressional district may prevent the sides from reaching an agreement.

“The State cannot compromise on this district and that may prevent a global compromise on the Congressional map,” Abbott wrote.

If the parties reach an agreement, the court — which has been tasked with redrawing the maps as they await federal approval in Washington, D.C. — has several options. As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey notes today, pushing the election from April 3 to April 24 would give counties and other administrators, which say they need 60 to 80 days to put together a primary, 70 days to schedule their elections. But the court would need to approve maps immediately, and that doesn't take into account any appeals that parties may file.

The state may also split the April 3 primary into two elections, letting Texans vote in the presidential race in the first and then in congressional and other legislative elections in the second.

Culled:

  • After weeks of defending her decision to move to San Antonio to challenge fellow Republican Jeff Wentworth for his state Senate seat, Elizabeth Ames Jones resigned from the Railroad Commission on Monday. In a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, Jones said she would step down from her statewide position, quieting concerns raised by Wentworth about whether she could remain in office without residing in the state capital. Perry will appoint her replacement.  
  • Ron Paul is battling Newt Gingrich for third place in Michigan, which, along with Arizona, will hold its primary on Feb. 28. A new Public Policy Polling survey shows Paul in third place, with 12 percent, statistically tied with Gingrich, who's in fourth place with 11 percent. Rick Santorum currently leads Mitt Romney, 39 percent to 24 percent. The New York Times puts Santorum's odds of winning the state at 80 percent.
  • Florence Shapiro, the Plano Republican who chairs the education committee in the state Senate, was among four senators who on Monday sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency saying it has the power to delay a requirement that the state's new STAAR exams count toward 15 percent of students' final grades. "In the last couple of weeks, there's been a lot of angst and anger, and I'm hoping with this it will temper things a little," Shapiro told the Tribune's Morgan Smith.

"With the Governor no longer running for President, there is no reason to keep playing politics with this issue. It is time to do the right thing and invest in our students."Anthony Gutierrez, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, on the party's new call for a special session

Must-Read:

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