The Brief: Texas Political News for Aug. 23, 2013

The Big Conversation

A new round of aggressive legal action has inflamed the simmering fight over voting rights between Texas and the Obama administration.

On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would file a federal lawsuit against the state over its voter ID law, which went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act in June.

The department also said it would join a suit challenging the state's 2011 Republican-drawn redistricting maps.

Both lawsuits will attempt to prove that the state discriminated against minorities and to restore in Texas the defunct Voting Rights Act provision, which required some states, including Texas, to seek permission from the federal government before changing their election laws.

"Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights."

Top Texas Republicans accused the White House of using partisan tactics to obstruct states' rights.

"Facts mean little to a politicized Justice Department bent on inserting itself into the sovereign affairs of Texas and a lame-duck Administration trying to turn our state blue," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement. "As Texans we reject the notion that the federal government knows what’s best for us."

Legal challenges to the 2011 maps pushed the 2012 primary elections back nearly three months, but Attorney General Greg Abbott said on Thursday that the state's 2014 primaries would take place as scheduled, on March 4 — "assuming that the courts don’t get caught up in legal wrangling," he added, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

As for what the legal action means, besides stirring up the fight between the state and the feds, the Washington Post says one Texas politician stands to benefit the most: U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. As the Post explains: "Close observers of Texas politics said they don’t expect broad changes to be made to the state’s current congressional map as a result of the lawsuit joined by DOJ and, at most, Democrats might gain one or two of the state’s 36 House seats. But even marginal adjustments to Gallego’s district could shore him up."

Culled

•    Intervention to speed relative’s jail release could hurt Dewhurst politically (The Dallas Morning News): "Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — once a dominant political figure with money, power and position — is now seen after a phone call to Allen police as the one who’s hanging on the line. A Dewhurst spokesman insists that the lieutenant governor did only what anyone else would do when he called police on Aug. 3 to get a relative out of jail. But the just-released audio recording has animated his opponents and created another pothole on what has been a bumpy political path."

•    Missouri Secretary of State Asks Perry to Stay Away (The Texas Tribune): "Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander has asked Gov. Rick Perry to reconsider his visit to the state next week, calling the governor’s efforts to lure businesses to Texas a 'wholesale public relations effort.' In a letter sent to Perry’s office, Kander said the governor, who is set to travel to Missouri on Aug. 29, should focus on growing businesses and helping local companies in Texas instead of stealing jobs from other states."

•    UT System Regents Select Foster as New Chairman (TT): "The University of Texas System regents concluded their annual August meeting by reshuffling the board's leadership, selecting Paul Foster, a businessman from El Paso, as their new chairman. Foster replaces Gene Powell, whose tenure as chairman lasted about two and a half years and featured a number of accomplishments — among them, the creation of a new university in South Texas — that were largely overshadowed by tension with lawmakers and the University of Texas at Austin, the system's flagship institution."

•    UT, Texas State say ratings would likely favor them (Austin American-Statesman): "Public universities in Central Texas say they could benefit from a ratings system that is the cornerstone of the new financial aid plan proposed by President Barack Obama. The plan aims to increase the affordability and performance of colleges across the nation by tying financial aid to criteria such as average tuition, percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, scholarships awarded, average loan debt and graduation rates."

Quote to Note: "I think it is way premature to be worrying about 2016. What I can tell you? I'm a big fan of Gov. Perry's." — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on whether he would support Perry if he ran for president

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