The Brief: Top Texas News for Jan. 7, 2013

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on July 31, 2012, in Houston addressing the crowd at a watch party following the announcement that he lost the U.S. Senate runoff to Ted Cruz.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on July 31, 2012, in Houston addressing the crowd at a watch party following the announcement that he lost the U.S. Senate runoff to Ted Cruz.

The Big Conversation:

The approaching legislative session — now less than a day away — has pushed one politician squarely into the spotlight.

Talk of the coming session has largely centered on issues like the budget, public education and water, as well as the politics of the speaker's race and Gov. Rick Perry's future. (Check out the Tribune's full session preview here.)

But the session may prove the biggest test for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. And he seems aware of it, six months after losing a Republican primary for U.S. Senate in which he was tarred as a moderate.

"I am 101 percent committed to run for re-election. There is no question about it," Dewhurst told The Dallas Morning News on Friday, adding, "I will be doing things over the next six months and through the summer to make sure that I win re-election in 2014. I am real excited about putting in place a legacy for the state and the things that are necessary for this state to stay No. 1 for decades to come."

 

As the Austin American-Statesman notes, though, Dewhurst's newly declared determination comes at an awkward time for him. Not only must he, the leader of the Texas Senate, contend with conservative critics who attacked him during the primary, but a criminal investigation into his campaign manager has added a layer of intrigue to the lieutenant governor's political career.

As reported late last month, the campaign manager, Kenneth "Buddy" Barfield, is suspected of embezzling at least $600,000 — and possibly up to more than $1 million — from Dewhurst's campaign account. And the disappearance of the money, the Statesman reports, has left Dewhurst with just over $7,200 in his fund.

The allegations have opened up another line of attack for Dewhurst's critics. "This should be embarrassing for him," Craig McDonald, head of the liberal watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, told the Statesman. "He is responsible for overseeing how public money is spent, yet he can’t even keep track of campaign money."

The lieutenant governor is seeking full repayment of the stolen money, but the controversy will likely continue to draw attention as questions about the allegations — like how so much money went missing without anyone's knowledge — go unanswered.

Culled:

  • A small burst of activity has provided some last-minute drama in the speaker's race, which will come to a close Tuesday, the first day of the new session. As the Morning News reports, state Rep.-elect Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, wrote Saturday in a Facebook post that Rep. David Simpson, the Longview Republican challenging incumbent Joe Straus, had "broken his promise" to supporters by seeking a floor vote Tuesday despite lacking the votes to win. Toth, whose post suggested that he had supported Simpson, blamed Democrats for Simpson's lack of support. "It looks like we’ve been played (as I was told by another Democrat in the House Wednesday night)," Toth wrote. "They (the Democrats) were just using David for leverage against the Speaker. I was shocked that they would be so brazen as to admit that."
  • Days after they were sworn into office in Washington, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz yesterday made their first appearances on the Sunday morning talk shows as members of Congress. On Fox News Sunday, Cruz said lawmakers calling for stricter weapons laws in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting were politicizing the tragedy. "Within minutes, we saw politicians run out and try to exploit this tragedy, try to push their political agenda of gun control. I do not support their gun control agenda," Cruz said.
  • Both of Texas' U.S. senators, Cruz and John Cornyn, said Sunday that they would likely oppose former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination as defense secretary, which the White House is expected to announce Monday. The potential nomination of Hagel, a Republican, has drawn opposition from several GOP senators concerned about his positions on Iran and Israel. "As Iran becomes increasingly hostile and gains influence in the region, the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East is Chuck Hagel," Cornyn said in a statement.

"I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. I don’t think I have ever been more disappointed, mad as hell, hurt, stunned and shocked." — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to the The Dallas Morning News on his reaction to learning that his campaign manager had been accused of embezzling at least $600,000 from his campaign account

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