Piece number one fell into place Monday, when Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced the state's financial fortunes have improved over two years ago and the ugly budget fight that ensued then might be avoided this time around. Budgeteers, nervous about Strayhorn's steady political attacks on Gov. Rick Perry, were braced for worse news. Instead, her numbers were within a hair's breadth of their own predictions about state income.Full Story
The head of the Texas Republican Party, convinced lawmakers in her own party are trying to bury an appeal of the election that unseated a 22-year veteran legislator, is pushing voters to phone Austin to help overturn that result.Republican Chairman Tina Benkiser is sending daily emails to citizens of the GOP persuasion, asking them to contact their state representatives and offering a countdown to next week's committee hearing on Talmadge Heflin's challenge of his election defeat. The emails are written to stir the furies: Benkiser began with a message on MLK day -- government was mostly closed -- that referred to "double and triple voting, vote buying, ballot box stuffing and fraudulent election practices." Republican Talmadge Heflin of Houston was knocked out of the House -- and the chairmanship of appropriations -- by Democrat Hubert Vo. Heflin lost by less than three dozen votes out of more than 41,000 cast. He's challenging the result. (Quick recap: To challenge a legislative election, the losing candidate appeals not to a court but to the Legislature. One member -- that's Rep. Will Harnett, R-Dallas? is appointed to manage the contest and act as a judicial figure. A committee is appointed to govern the process, and that committee makes a recommendation to the full House. If the House can determine a winner, that guy gets the seat; otherwise, the House would order a new election to let voters sort it out.) The hearing in the Heflin case is set for Thursday, January 27. In December, Hartnett sent a letter to House members cautioning them against talking to the lawyers involved in challenges to elections that would be heard by the full House. Heflin's is the only such challenge left, now that Eric Opiela has joined Jack Stick in tossing his towel into the ring, and the lawyers and House members are apparently being good kids and staying out of touch with each other. Texans sent 87 Republicans to the House in November; Heflin would be the 88th if he prevails. Hartnett doesn't have the control on anyone else he's got on lawyers and House members, so he's not jumping into this fight. "I'm being guided solely by the law and the facts -- not by political parties -- as has been the precedent in previous election contests," he says. "I'm going by the book." Benkiser isn't one of the lawyers in the case and isn't directly lobbying the decision-makers. She's just asking Republicans around the state to express their desires to their public servants. Benkiser's first message after the government holiday called on Republicans to come to the meeting next week and gave the time and the place for it. Her email countdown started ten days out, with an assertion that "we have definite proof from this election of votes being cast against Republican candidates by voters long dead, votes being cast from out of district, individuals voting up to 80 times, cash payments being giving in exchange for votes, etc." Her email said the practices are a hangover from Democratic dominance in Texas, but added that "some Republican lawmakers are already urging that these incidents be swept under the rug. They are afraid of what the press will say if the elections are reversed." A spokeswoman for the GOP declined to name any of those chickens. The email urged readers to contact their state rep to push for the evidence in the Vo-Heflin race to be presented to the full House, and gave a link to help people contact their legislators. Day 9's email named Hartnett and the members of the committee that will hear the case. Day 8 included allegations that "ten people cast 800 illegal ballots in this election!" and that "they were paid to do it." That allegation was part of the challenge Opiela dropped last week. It's still under criminal investigation by local officials in Jim Wells County and by the state attorney general's office, but it's not an issue the House will be considering in the Houston race.