The Brief: Top Texas News for Jan. 14, 2013

The Big Conversation

Vanquished in his fight to unseat House Speaker Joe Straus, state Rep. David Simpson isn't backing down.

Simpson, a conservative Republican from Longview who challenged the speaker but withdrew shortly before the vote last week, today will lead an effort to try to weaken Straus by changing the House rules, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

The proposed changes include measures that would limit the speaker's committee-naming authority and give members more power when pushing legislation opposed by House leaders.

"The basic idea is to level the power a little bit," Simpson told the Statesman, which notes that Reps. Van Taylor, R-Plano; Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola; and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, will help Simpson's efforts. 

The challenge underscores perhaps the biggest hurdle Straus faces this session: taking on issues that have proven tricky for Republicans in the past while trying to avoid further angering the far right, which has long viewed him as insufficiently conservative. Tackling such issues, like public education and transportation infrastructure, is essential not only for the state, but also for the future of the Republican Party in Texas, he recently told the Tribune.

How much support Simpson's rule changes will draw, though, remains unclear. Rep. Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican and Straus ally, warned, "If you change too much, there are unintended consequences."

Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston, who has served as the leader of the House Democrats, said her party recognized the risks of supporting such changes.

"The measures can cut both ways, and Democrats recognize that," Farrar said. "We’ll want a strong speaker later on."

Capitol Notes
Compiled from Tribune reports

•    Today marks the debut of the Tribune's Lawmaker Explorer, a first-of-its-kind interactive tool that gives Texans a window into the personal interests of their state legislators. The explorer, a nine-month research endeavor, serves as the linchpin of the Tribune's Bidness as Usual project, a session-long look at ethics and transparency in the Texas Legislature. Check out Emily Ramshaw's overview of the data and Evan Smith's look at why we undertook the project. And don't miss New York Times media writer David Carr's latest column, where the project gets a shout-out. (Thanks, David!)

•    Dewhurst: Texas Should Fund Teacher Firearms Training: "In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Friday called for the state to consider funding specialized firearms training for school employees. The announcement echoed remarks Dewhurst made Friday morning while speaking at a conservative policy summit."

•    Lawmakers Want Big, Bold Measures This Session: "Following Monday’s rosy budget estimate from Comptroller Susan Combs, there is widespread interest among state leaders to make large investments in Texas' future this session, specifically billion-dollar commitments to water and transportation projects that prepare Texas for a population boom demographers warn is on the way."

•    New Bill Would Repeal Texas Voter ID Law: "State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, started the 83rd legislative session with one issue in mind: voter identification laws. Johnson filed five bills Thursday, his first legislation of the new session, aiming to both increase voter participation and strike down a bill requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls."

Culled
Texas news from across the state and around the web

•    AP Interview: George P. Bush weighing run in Texas (The Associated Press): "George Prescott Bush is gearing up to run for a little-known but powerful office in a state where his family already is a political dynasty and where his Hispanic roots could help extend a stranglehold on power Republicans have enjoyed for two decades. … 'We for sure are running, the question is the office,' Bush told The Associated Press during the first interview about his political future since filing paperwork in November to seek elected office in Texas."

•    Obama Will Seek Citizenship Path in One Fast Push (The New York Times): "President Obama plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system that would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, senior administration officials and lawmakers said last week."

•    PolitiFact turns 3: "It's sunrise — and we’re three! No candles in sight, but we tumbled across a neat birthday reminder the other day when a state senator tweeted that Texas ranks "dead last" in mental health spending. That’s Mostly True — and it happens that a similar claim fed our first Truth-O-Meter article, which soft-shoed online at mid-afternoon Jan. 12, 2010. We'll let you decide what to make of the coincidence."

Quote of the Day: "I’m perfectly situated. It’s not a reflection on David Dewhurst. When you’ve been in a high-profile office for 12 years, there’s a certain amount of voter fatigue that occurs." — Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on the 2014 lieutenant governor's race

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