Vol 32, Issue 3 Print Issue

State Reps. José Menéndez (l.) and Trey Martinez-Fischer, both from San Antonio Districts, are seeking the state Senate seat vacated by Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for mayor of that city.
State Reps. José Menéndez (l.) and Trey Martinez-Fischer, both from San Antonio Districts, are seeking the state Senate seat vacated by Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for mayor of that city.

No Word Yet From Abbott on Special Election Runoffs

The work of setting up committees has begun in both chambers, and an interesting poll surfaces on support for ending diversions from the sporting goods tax.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick were sworn in as governor and lieutenant governor on Tuesday. It marked the first time since 1991 that Texas has welcomed a new occupant in both offices. The men's speeches reflected their different temperaments. Patrick was more improvised and emotional in claiming a mandate to take conservatism to the next level, while Abbott was more aspirational in tone, using the his biography to argue Texas is "where the improbable becomes the possible."

Senate Republicans this week took out a decades-old requirement that two-thirds of the chamber must agree to bring up legislation for debate. A supermajority of three-fifths will still be required, but the Republican caucus has enough members to meet the new threshold without needing to entice any Democrats to join them. Several Democrats spoke against the measure, with one — Rodney Ellis — predicting the day would be "one that we will look back on with regret."

In one of his first moves as governor, Abbott has tapped Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general who oversaw the reconstruction of Iraq, to be the chief watchdog at the state's embattled Health and Human Services Commission. He succeeds Doug Wilson, who was fired in December after a controversy arose over the selection of 21st Century Technologies Inc. to receive a $110 million Medicaid fraud software contract.  

A Tribune analysis found that nearly half of the the $23.8 million spent from 2002 to part of January 2015 on tuition, conferences and other educational programs for state employees went to TxDOT staffers. Furthermore, a significant chunk of the TxDOT spending — $2.7 million — paid for employee education at a private university.

Texas' new solicitor general, Scott Keller, represented the state this week in oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court in a big case aimed at interpreting the scope of the 1968 law aimed at preventing racial discrimination in housing. The case is a key early test for new Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Legal costs are starting to add up for both sides in the case over Gov. Rick Perry's threat to veto funding for a state unit that investigates public corruption. Taxpayers have paid special prosecutors almost $110,000 for their work on the case so far. Meanwhile, Perry has dipped into his campaign chest to spend more than $1 million on his legal defense since August.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Greg Abbott submitted three appointments to the Texas Senate for confirmation. They are:

  • Carlos Cascos, Secretary of State
  • Jerry Strickland, Executive Director of the Office of State and Federal Relations
  • David Mattax, Insurance Commissioner

Abbott also made several batches of appointments to university system boards of regents:

  • University of Texas System: R. Steven “Steve” Hicks (reappointed), Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck
  • Texas A&M University: Phil Adams (reappointed), William “Bill” Mahomes Jr. and Robert L. “Bob” Albritton
  • Texas Tech University: Mickey Long (reappointed), Christopher M. Huckabee and Ronnie “Ron” Hammonds

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, was named to GOPAC's 2015 Legislative Leaders Advisory Board. The panel selects state legislators for the GOP training organization's Emerging Leaders Program, which prepares them for statewide and federal contests.

Former state Rep. and former GOP comptroller candidate Harvey Hilderbran is the new executive director of the Texas Facilities Commission. He takes over for Terry Keel, who stepped down to take a position at the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Former Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf has been named the Jerry and Susan Wilson Chair in Religious Freedom at Baylor University. A congressman from 1981 until this month, Wolf will also head up Baylor's efforts on Capitol Hill, according to a report in Roll Call.

The Texas County & District Retirement System has named Amy Bishop to be its new director. The organization went in house to hire Bishop, who has been deputy director, chief customer officer and benefits administrator, among others. She succeeds Gene Glass, who retired after 18 years with TCDRS.

Deaths: Hank Brown, 94, who was president of the Texas AFL-CIO from 1961-71. He also created the United Labor Legislative Committee, the lobbying arm of the state labor federation and its allies.

Disclosure: The University of Texas and Texas A&M University are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. Steven Hicks and Donna Stockton Hicks are major donors to the Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.