Vol 29, Issue 2 Print Issue

Campaign signs in a conference room at the Sheraton West Des Moines following Gov. Rick Perry's fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, 2012.
Campaign signs in a conference room at the Sheraton West Des Moines following Gov. Rick Perry's fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, 2012.

The Stopped Clock

Texas politics are on hold.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, right, at a U.S. Senate candidate debate on Jan. 12, 2012.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, right, at a U.S. Senate candidate debate on Jan. 12, 2012.

An Entertaining Tangle

The major Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate knocked heads Thursday night in a debate that was a good deal livelier than the presidential forums that have become a TV mainstay.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

The controversial abortion sonogram law passed in last year’s session is back in effect after an appeals court nullified an injunction by a lower court. The bill requires doctors to provide a sonogram for a woman 24 hours before being performing an abortion. When the Center for Reproductive Rights sued to stop enforcement of the law, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks issued a restraining order, ruling that the legislation was vague and presented First Amendment issues. That ruling has now been set aside by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Texas can now compel doctors to follow its provisions.

A Federal Reserve economist told an audience that Texas can expect another year of above-average job growth. While job growth in U.S. is sluggish and predicted to improve only mildly, Texas has been able to add jobs at a rate just north of 2 percent, outperforming other states for the last two years. And while jobs in the public sector are tenuous, growth in parts of the private sector are offsetting losses in government and education.

Texas government jobs haven't vanished quite as dramatically as some feared. A report released this week by the state auditor’s office shows a net gain of 551 full-time positions in August, just before the state’s fiscal year ended. The gain is in listed full-time positions. Some of the positions may be empty, but state officials stressed that there were simply some employees who were required to run programs mandated by the Legislature. And Texas colleges and universities reported adding 1,900 new positions in a year that saw them laying off other employees.

Houston got through its last budget shortfall relatively unscathed with the help of some clever accounting and advance billing on convention facilities. But this year is shaping up to be a challenge for newly re-elected Mayor Annise Parker as the city faces substantial pension costs for both its municipal employees and police officers. The budgetary year begins July 1, and the amount Houston will have to make up is estimated to be about $47 million and would require the city to make reductions if it wants to continue to avoid tax increases.

After agreeing to cooperate in a wide review of old arson cases, state Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado resigned his post in December. Questions raised about forensic procedures in the Cameron Todd Willingham investigation prompted the Texas Forensic Science Commission and the Innocence Project to undertake a broad inquiry into old arson cases to ensure that faulty science had not led to wrongful convictions. Maldonado’s resignation came in the form of a one-sentence hand-written letter. Officials with the forensic commission insist that it will not affect the inquiry and that they’ll continue with the review, which has already begun.

After appealing to the public for help in filling its budget shortfall, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced it has received not only $460,000 from that campaign but has been granted a $500,000 donation from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. The department is facing a $4.6 million gap in revenue and has seen its volume of visitors drop during the record drought and recent wildfires.

Natural gas companies are seeing a big increase in volume, and it’s leading to a corresponding drop in prices. Domestic companies have ramped up production but saw the price of natural gas drop 32 percent last year. This week, prices fell to their lowest levels in two years.

Political People and their Moves

U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson Jr. will be the founding dean of the University of North Texas law school, starting in April 2013. Fergeson, appointed by President Bill Clinton, will remain on the bench until he takes that school job next year. UNT's Dallas law campus is supposed to open for students in Fall 2014.

Department of Corrections: Bob Poage and Royal Furgeson's names were misspelled in an earlier version of the newsletter. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards was named W.R. Pogue distinguished chair for public service at Baylor University, a part-time appointment that will have him teaching some classes and processing his official papers, which he donated to the school. Bob Poage was a congressman for the area, too; the library named for him includes the papers of a couple of dozen former public officials, including Bob Bullock.

McGuireWoods Consulting, the public affairs arm of the law firm with the same name, is opening an Austin office headed by Luis Saenz. He's a former campaign manager and aide to Gov. Rick Perry, and also worked for a number of Republicans in Washington and Austin including Phil Gramm, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

Cherie Townsend is the new executive director at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department; she's the former executive director at the Texas Youth Commission, one of TJJD's predecessor agencies.

Bryan Hebert, deputy general counsel to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, is leaving the Pink Building to hang out his own shingle, lobbying and consulting.

Dewhurst appointed Hugh Akin to the Texas Ethics Commission. Akin is the executive director of the Hatton W. Sumners Foundation, a private charitable foundation.

Dewhurst also appointed three members of the Texas Senate to the Sunset Advisory Commission. Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, was appointed vice chairman of the commission. Also appointed were Sens. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston.

Dewhurst appointed four members to the Select Committee on Economic Development, including Sens. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, and Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. He also appointed Drayton McLane, founder and former Chairman of McLane Grocery Co., and Brint Ryan, the founder and CEO of Ryan, a tax services firm.

Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, appointed Reps. Dee Margo, R-El Paso; Armando "Mando" Martinez, D-Weslaco; and Jim Murphy, R-Houston, to the Partnership Advisory Commission.

Straus also announced House appointments to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, will co-chair the committee. The committee members will also include Reps. Cindy Burkett, R-Mesquite; Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball; John Frullo, R-Lubbock; Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso; Patricia Harless, R-Spring; and Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi.