The Brief: Top Texas News for Oct. 31, 2012

State Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, looks through redistricting maps on display during debate on the House floor on June 14, 2011.
State Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, looks through redistricting maps on display during debate on the House floor on June 14, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

Less than a week before Election Day, the politics of redistricting continue to reverberate in Texas.

On Tuesday, state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, joined Democratic lawmakers who have questioned the tactics used by House Speaker Joe Straus' office during the redistricting process last year.

Democrats, including state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, have accused Straus' office of leading the discriminatory conduct that got the maps thrown out in federal court in August.

"The House members who in good faith voted for these redistricting maps certainly have the right to know that the process was conducted properly and fairly," Zedler wrote in a letter to Straus dated Monday. "I respectfully ask that you respond to the claims made so that the House and the people of Texas will have all of the facts."

 

Zedler has become the second Republican lawmaker to question Straus' role in the process. Last month, state Rep. David Simpson, a conservative Republican from Longview, said he was "dismayed" when he saw testimony detailing Straus staffers' discussions with lawyers. "You expect to have winners and losers in a political fight," Simpson said, "but you expect it to be done in the proper way."

Straus on Tuesday sent a letter to Simpson defending his office's work, saying that he stood by the "fairness of the House of Representatives' redistricting process" and that "all members were able to participate in the process." The letter was copied to Martinez Fischer and Zedler.

As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey writes, the dispute — though centered on the relatively arcane redistricting process — highlights the broader opposition Straus faces from a small group of conservatives intent on removing him as speaker. State Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola has already declared his intention to run against Straus for the position next year.

Culled:

  • Starting in 2014, automatic admission to the University of Texas at Austin will only be extended to students who graduate in the top 7 percent of their high school class, the San Antonio Express-News reports. UT had previously been allowed to cap the number of students it admits under the state's top 10 percent law to 75 percent of its freshman class, thus cutting the number of students who receive automatic admission. The change for 2014 doesn't directly involve Fisher v. University of Texas, the Supreme Court case challenging the university's use of race in admitting students who don't receive automatic acceptance into the school.
  • A new state audit shows that while many Texas agencies cut workers last year amid major budget cuts, the offices of the governor, attorney general and land commissioner each added workers, The Dallas Morning News reports. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson's office, for example, added 21 employees, while Attorney General Greg Abbott's added 13.7. The offices maintain, however, that they remain below employee caps and have cut their workforces in the long run while increasing efficiency.
  • A new national poll says voter enthusiasm among Hispanics is up — way up. According to a new impreMedia-Latino Decisions survey, 87 percent of Hispanics say they'll vote next week, and 45 percent of them say they're more excited to do so than they were in 2008. "It looks like the 'Sleeping Giant' has woken up. The poll shows that this year we can anticipate record participation among Latino voters," Monica Lozano, the CEO of impreMedia, told NBC News. In the poll, Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney by 52 points, 73 percent to 21 percent.

"They needed more staff and had the clout to get them, while human service agencies had the need, but not the clout." — Scott McCown of the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities on a state audit report showing agencies led by officeholders added workers last year

Must-Read:

Early voting ends Friday. Use the secretary of state's website to find a polling place!

 

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