Texas a Player in the Presidential Race?

Texas is to presidential politics what parents are to college students — remote players whose money is critical but whose votes don’t really matter.

The state’s political donors gave 19.7 percent of the money raised by Super PACs during this election cycle so far (January 2011 to June 2012), according to a report from MapLight, a nonprofit that tracks money in politics. Those PACs, by their count, have raised $308.7 million so far, including $60.4 million from Texas. The candidates don’t come here for votes — Republicans, both parties assume, have Texas in the bag. But both sides still come for the money, and to a few other pockets of cash: Nationally, two-thirds of the Super PAC money has come from Texas, Nevada, California, New York and Washington, DC. 

On New Toll Road, Texans May Get to Drive 85

“Yee-haw! Texas studies 85-mph speed limit,” blared the headline from MSNBC.com in June.

“Everything’s bigger in Texas. Even the speed limits,” quipped Businessinsider.com.

The Texas Department of Transportation saw its press clippings soar earlier this year when it announced it was considering an 85 mile-per hour speed limit for a 40-mile stretch of Texas 130 from Austin to Seguin.

Currently, no road in the country has a posted speed limit faster than 80 mph. With an 85 mph designation, the new road, currently under construction, would sport the fastest speed limit in the western hemisphere, according to some reports.

The latest stretch of Texas 130 (known officially as Sectors 5 and 6) is set to open in November but the private consortium that’s building it hopes to start allowing cars and trucks on it sooner than that.

“We are contractually obligated to open by Nov. 11 and we are confident we will be open ahead of schedule,” Chris Lippincott, spokesman for the SH 130 Concession Company, said. “We hope that we’ll have an announcement on an opening date by the end of August.”

That means TxDOT needs to set the speed limit for the road soon. A TxDOT spokesman declined to say when it expected to complete speed limit tests or when an announcement would be made. Either way, the decision is sure to attract plenty of headlines.

There’s also a lot of money at stake, both for TxDOT and the private developer making a $1.3 billion bet that the road it is building will generate a profit for them over 50 years, the length of its contract.

If TxDOT grants the new section of Texas 130 an 80 mph speed limit, the agency gets an extra $67 million, according to its contract. If the road gets the coveted 85-mph speed limit, TxDOT’s payday jumps to $100 million. (TxDOT gets a bonus as long as it sets an 80 or 85-mph speed limit within six months of the road opening.)

A speed limit of 85 mph would give the consortium led by Spanish-based toll road firm Cintra another carrot to use to draw paying drivers to its new road, generating more revenue, of which TxDOT collects a share. It also would divert cars from perpetually clogged I-35, something both TxDOT and Austin-area drivers can cheer about.

The toll road was designed to allow cars to travel safely at very high speed limits, Lippincott said.

But claiming the national record is sure to ignite plenty of criticism.

David Snyder with the American Insurance Association has argued that an 85 mph speed limit will not only be dangerous but expensive too.

“As the accidents pile up on 85-mph roads, so too will insurance claims,” Snyder wrote in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial last year. “That will lead to increased insurance costs.”

Even Bobby LaBonte, a NASCAR driver and native Texan, told CNN last year that he wouldn’t drive 85 off the track.

“We're not trying to set speed records on the highway,” LaBonte said.

Which Pocket?

Some officeholders have raised the idea of replacing Texas' property tax with a larger sales tax. But that could create some new fiscal challenges.
Some officeholders have raised the idea of replacing Texas' property tax with a larger sales tax. But that could create some new fiscal challenges.

The property tax brings in more than the state sales tax, and it follows that killing property taxes and raising sales taxes to cover the difference would more than double those sales taxes. A one-for-one swap, according to a recent report, would raise the state part of the sales tax to 17.85 percent from 6.25 percent. Add on the other two cents now allowed for local governments, hospitals, transit systems and the rest, and the tab for a consumption tax would be 19.85 percent.

The numbers were cranked by former Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton on behalf of state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland. His full report is online.

Here’s a number of our own. The average price of a new car is floating around $30,000; the state sales tax on that — at the current rate — is $1,875. Doing the full property tax swap would raise that to $5,355. That assumes, of course, that lawmakers would replace the property tax dollar for dollar, and that they’d do it without changing exemptions or expanding the sales tax base.

Overall state and local tax loads remain lower in Texas than in most other states, according to the Tax Foundation. In 2009, the per capita taxes here were $3,197, ranking Texas 45th; the national average was $4,160.

Reeling in the Medical Schools

University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth.
University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth.

Public medical schools and health science centers in Texas have long been stand-alone entities, completely disconnected from the large research universities contained within the same university systems. For example, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston is not run by the administrators of the University of Texas at Austin, though elsewhere in the country such an arrangement would be commonplace.

And the tide may be turning in Texas, as well.

The Texas A&M University System regents recently gave Chancellor John Sharp the authority to begin looking into repositioning the Texas A&M University Health Science Center under the administration of Texas A&M University. In Austin, efforts are underway to establish a medical school that would be overseen by the administrators of UT rather than the University of Texas System.

This week, the University of North Texas System regents gave Chancellor Lee Jackson the go-ahead to study combining the University of North Texas System Health Science Center in Fort Worth and the University of North Texas in Denton. The hope with that plan, like the others, is that by combining institutions, a school would post bigger stats, boost its reputation, and foster more collaboration between its institutions.

But all of these plans might be for nothing unless there are some changes to the state’s funding formulas for higher education, Jackson says. Currently, health science centers and research universities are weighted differently, and if the proposed consolidation turns out to mean a loss of revenue, it likely will not proceed.

“If this is a national model, if this is how research universities organize, if Texas is going to be serious about research,” Jackson says, then the Legislature might need to consider “making the formula a little more sophisticated.”

Changes to higher ed funding formulas have proven difficult in recent sessions. The last two featured strong but unsuccessful pushes from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to tie a portion of universities’ funding to their outcomes rather than basing it entirely on enrollment. In 2013, that measure is expected to have more momentum in its favor.

Jackson said he hopes that backing from UT, A&M, and UNT might win the support for the changes necessary to make these combined institutions worthwhile.

Similar proposals have been presented in the past, but internal politics prevented them from moving forward. “We’ve always had, in our history, medical school presidents who were so successful, so senior, and so respected that they could fight off any of these proposals,” Jackson said. “They were real powers in their own right. None voluntarily would do this.”

Even if the formulas are changed, the new or newly consolidated institutions would have to be approved by the coordinating board, the Legislature, and various accrediting bodies.

And not everyone is going along with the trend. Rather than pulling together, the Texas Tech University System appears to be pulling apart. Earlier this year, the regents approved a measure to convert the already existing El Paso campus of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center into a separate, stand-alone health sciences university.

But as far as UNT is concerned, Jackson said they “would be remiss” if they didn’t at least consider the possibility of consolidating.

Texas Weekly Newsreel: Property Tax, Speed Limit, PACs

This week on the Newsreel, could the state of Texas replace property taxes with sales taxes? Some folks may soon be able to drive 85 on a particular stretch of Texas highway. Presidential candidates rarely campaign in Texas, but it is the most important place for the Super PACs that support them to get money.

Inside Intelligence: About the Legislative Session...

Act surprised: The insiders think the state budget will be the signature issue of the next legislative session, ranking that above public education, health care and Medicaid, infrastructure — you name it. Many said the other issues are important but hinge on finance anyway.

Almost half think the state will eventually decide to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, but two in five think the strings attached to that money — an amount estimated as high as $100 billion over ten years — will keep Texas budget-writers — and the governor, who has expressed doubts — from accepting it.

Public money for private-school vouchers could make a return and more than half of the insiders think that long-fought issue could win approval from the next Legislature. On another public school issue, a third of the insiders think lawmakers will repeal a rule that makes standardized tests 15 percent of public school students' final grade. A fourth say lawmakers will leave the STAAR test intact, and 18 percent say lawmakers will come up with a new system.

A full set of the insiders' verbatim comments are attached, as always; a sampling follows:

.

What will be the signature issue of next year’s legislative session?

• "It's always the budget."

• "There will be ongoing discussions on Healthcare in the wake of Obamacare."

• "Education should be the biggest issue, but I think lawmakers will punt and wait for a court ruling to force legislative action on education."

• "Do not underestimate the power of pissed off moms who have lost confidence in their local schools and are looking for somebody to blame."

• "Each of these options comes back to funding, which makes the Budget king of the issues."

• "Budget as always, instead of working on water and transportation which they should do. Because god knows the lege does not like to tackle anything too difficult."

• "Outside of what hinges from the budget - look for a return of the "great school voucher debate" especially with a big focus on public ed accountability and the make up of the members."

• "No matter what your ideological stripe, it's the spending, stupid."

• "How can you pick just one?"

• "Public Ed is the singular issue that is tied into everything else. That is the battleground, across the board."

• "Any of these issues could be #1 (as well as groping by the TSA), but public education has the most at stake with the numerous lawsuits and no clear direction, other than vouchers, about how to solve."

• "The lege and Governor will not do what it takes to address water and highway concerns...patchwork at best...will continue to kick the can down the road..."

.

Will Texas ultimately accept the Medicaid expansion associated with the federal Affordable Care Act?

• "No way given the general political leanings of the State."

• "Health plans, counties, hospitals want the money."

• "If Texas is going to pay for expanded coverage, why not go it alone instead of accepting federal funds with strings attached?"

• "The new Republican President and Congress will REPEAL Obamacare."

• "The feds will ultimately provide states flexibility for expansion in a grand deficit reduction trade-off. Think welfare reform in 1997"

• "If it costs a penny, Texas won't accept--at least, not this year."

• "It will be too expensive not to. And local hospital districts will go broke if the state continues to hold out for stupid political reasons."

• "It's just way too much money. Posturing aside, I think they will come to the table with the Feds."

• "Depends on the outcome of the presidential race."

• "The pragmatism of the budget writers will trump the grandstanding of the governor."

• "Of course it will. These anti-fed chicken hawks are like the kids in college that talk about being on their own while taking mommy's money."

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Do school vouchers stand a real chance with Texas lawmakers next session?

• "For the first time, there may not be enough moderates to stop it."

• "But they should. Too many voters do not understand what they are or how they work and hopefully over time that will change. Right now it is easy to pitch vouchers as being against teachers and public schools when the reality is that they provide freedom of school choice to many not able to afford that choice."

• "Seriously, dude? ISD’s won't allow this."

• "In the House, yes. In the Senate, no. Not as long as the 2/3rds Rule continues to operate."

• "Kinda depends upon the Senate."

• "More students failing than passing--that's unacceptable."

• "It's not a simple R vs D issue. Vouchers still do nothing for rural areas."

• "A legal voucher program would require several billion new dollars for public ed and that money is not available."

• "As someone else said, 'If we can't afford public schools, how can we pay for private ones?'"

• "They should! The bureaucrats have gone too far in their ceaseless campaign for more money and less accountability. Choice may be the only option."

• "The Hispanic constituency is a growing group that favors vouchers. Hispanic legislators - the majority being Ds - will have to make some concede some of their opposition."

• "Vouchers stand a chance, but I wouldn't bet that way."

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What will state lawmakers do about high-stakes testing in public schools?

• "With Eissler, Hochberg, Shapiro all gone, there's no leadership for a whole new system. The new group will nibble around the edges, make the testing regime temporarily worse than before, and try to learn enough to do something real in 2013."

• "I don't think these options are mutually exclusive. They'll likely enact a patchwork of fixes that touches on each of these options (and more)."

• "They will talk about testing and do nothing"

• "Both repeal the 15% rule and cut back on amount of testing. Whatever progress testing has brought to Texas, especially to those students who had historically been ignored, has burned itself out."

• "Corporations are making too much money on testing. They will gear up with big-gun lobbyists too make sure the status quo prevails."

• "There is test fatigue in Texas, and legislators will have to do something to boast they did something to help.

Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Jenny Aghamalian, Victor Alcorta, Clyde Alexander, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Tom Banning, Mike Barnett, Walt Baum, Dave Beckwith, Amy Beneski, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Hugh Brady, Chris Britton, Thure Cannon, Tris Castaneda, Corbin Casteel, William Chapman, Elna Christopher, Rick Cofer, John Colyandro, Harold Cook, Beth Cubriel, Randy Cubriel, Denise Davis, Hector De Leon, Eva De Luna-Castro, June Deadrick, Nora Del Bosque, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Jeff Eller, Jack Erskine, John Esparza, Jon Fisher, Rebecca Flores, Wil Galloway, Neftali Garcia, Norman Garza, Bruce Gibson, Stephanie Gibson, Scott Gilmore, Daniel Gonzalez, John Greytok, Clint Hackney, Anthony Haley, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Adam Haynes, Susan Hays, Jim Henson, Ken Hodges, Steve Holzheauser, Billy Howe, Laura Huffman, Shanna Igo, Deborah Ingersoll, Cal Jillson, Jason Johnson, Bill Jones, Mark Jones, Robert Jones, Lisa Kaufman, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Ramey Ko, Sandy Kress, Dale Laine, Pete Laney, Dick Lavine, James LeBas, Donald Lee, Luke Legate, Myra Leo, Elizabeth Lippincott, Ruben Longoria, Homero Lucero, Matt Mackowiak, Matt Matthews, Dan McClung, Parker McCollough, Scott McCown, Robert Miller, Bee Moorhead, Steve Murdock, Craig Murphy, Keir Murray, Keats Norfleet, Pat Nugent, Sylvia Nugent, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Bill Pewitt, Jerry Philips, Wayne Pierce, Royce Poinsett, Kraege Polan, Jay Pritchard, Jay Propes, Bill Ratliff, Karen Reagan, Tim Reeves, Kim Ross, Jeff Rotkoff, Mark Sanders, Andy Sansom, Jim Sartwelle, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Steve Scurlock, Bradford Shields, Ed Small, Larry Soward, Dennis Speight, Jason Stanford, Bill Stevens, Keith Strama, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Charles Stuart, Michael Quinn Sullivan, Sherry Sylvester, Jay Thompson, Russ Tidwell, Trent Townsend, Trey Trainor, Ware Wendell, Ken Whalen, Darren Whitehurst, Christopher Williston, Seth Winick, Alex Winslow, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

Guest Column: Cruz Proves Case for Hispanic Republicans

This week, a couple of prominent Republicans write about how they see things after Ted Cruz's upset win over David Dewhurst in the race for U.S. Senate. Last week, we featured a couple of Democrats on the same subject.

* * * * *

The tsunami, the Hispanic tsunami, has hit the Texas political beach. Earlier than expected. With titanic impact. A sea change for Texas and our politics. And (surprise!) it's a Republican Hispanic tsunami, not a Democratic Hispanic tsunami. And the star of the show is Ted Cruz.

Cruz and his dedicated team ran a spectacular campaign, with the right balance of positive vision for the future and constructive criticism of his opponent and the establishment. And wisely, Cruz and his allies refused to go hard-core negative when his opponent attacked him ruthlessly, outrageously and unfairly. We all know, unfortunately, that negativity works in politics — but the line between fair, constructive, factual negativity and over-the-top negativity is a fairly bright one. David Dewhurst, Cruz’s opponent, crossed the line. Republicans and Tea Party voters didn't like it.

So what are the takeaways from the 2012 Republican Senate primary?

1. Republicans have a significant opportunity to reach out to Texas Hispanics, and win them over on substance. An overwhelming majority of Hispanics agree we should cut taxes, eliminate red tape and curtail government spending. Hispanics also don't want to unionize restaurants or sue physicians into an early retirement. Republicans and Hispanics can form a dynamic coalition prospectively through a joint positive vision for the future — when Texans link arms and fight in common cause, it's “not because we hate what is in front of us but because we love what is behind."

Cruz is now the de facto general of Republican outreach to Hispanics, but he has a spectacular army behind him. Hector DeLeon (co-chairman of the Associated Republicans of Texas), George P. Bush, the many Hispanic state representatives elected last cycle or in position to win this cycle, and many more. The efforts to woo (Republican) or retain (Democrat) Hispanic voters is the primary political story in Texas for the next decade to come.

2. Democrats have been subtly (and not so subtly) implying Republican bigotry toward non-Anglo Texans for many years. You can kiss that false canard goodbye. With Cruz's nomination, the seating of six Hispanics and two African-Americans in the Texas House last election cycle, and the many Hispanic victories in contested primaries this year, it is crystal clear the Republican Party in Texas is open for business to all Texans, irrespective of race, class or gender.

3. The Texas Republican establishment lost big this cycle. Republicans, especially Tea Party Republicans, are tired of the old order and career politicians. They want new people, new ideas and are unwilling to settle. In Texas, an opportunity for term limits (voluntary or involuntary) has arrived — either through a tidal wave of enthusiastic voters (1.4 million voted in the Republican primary and 1.1 million in the runoff) pushing out politicians who overstay their welcome, or through formal legislative fiat.

4. Outside of the Hispanic demographic, the Tea Party is the driving force in Texas politics. Driven almost solely by a fiscal vision of small government and reduced spending, it will exercise its powerful influence for some time to come. The Tea Party challenge is to progress beyond a solitary agenda of rage at government waste and size. Warranted suspicion and anger at government needs to be joined with a constructive vision for what you do with the limited resources state government is allowed to bring to bear for the common good. Obviously, at the federal level it's a different story. The war against profligate, destructive federal spending goes on, but unfortunately fiscal conservatives are currently losing. And the clock is ticking.

5. We now know Cruz is a substantive, talented politician who ran a skillful and surprising campaign. What we don't yet know is if he will grow into a statesman as U.S. senator, advancing the common good of all Texans and defending the public trust. There are many things worth fighting against, especially runaway federal spending. And yet, being against things is not enough. Cruz, for the sake of the great state that elected him, has to become more — a can-do, positive, visionary public servant who is not solely a fierce opponent of bad public policy, but a shaper and architect of wise policy. A statesman, not a rabble rouser. A servant leader of Texas, not yet another ideological politician who serves himself and his political constituency alone.

I for one am optimistic that Cruz can grow into such a senator. Especially partnered with Sen. John Cornyn, one of the finest conservative servants of the common good Texas has ever produced.

George Seay is CEO of Annandale Capital LLC, an investment firm, and co-chairman of Associated Republicans of Texas

Guest Column: Cruz Marks a Return to Reagan's Coalition

This week, a couple of prominent Republicans write about how they see things after Ted Cruz's upset win over David Dewhurst in the race for U.S. Senate. Last week, we featured a couple of Democrats on the same subject.

* * * * *

The recent victory of Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate Republican primary and the electoral successes of a number of conservatives running for the Texas Legislature are strong indicators that the grassroots conservative movement, which proved so powerful in 2010, is alive and well in 2012.

While some liberal pundits are quick to dismiss the election results as a victory for the "far right,” they miss the real message from the voters: There is a growing disconnection between many of the career politicians who have been in power for an extended period of time and the voters they are supposed to represent. "They don't represent us anymore — it is all about them" is a common refrain one hears at the grassroots level.

Cruz and many of the successful conservatives running for the Legislature were able to put together a coalition of both economic and social conservatives, reminiscent of the Reagan coalition. In fact, many of the newcomers remind me of those conservative outsiders like myself and others who went to Washington with President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to challenge the political elites and, in the president's words, "to drain the swamps." Under Reagan's leadership, a team of conservatives put in place a set of policies to address the serious issues facing our country at that time — high unemployment, double-digit inflation and an America in decline on the world scene. The solutions were relatively simple and straightforward, garnering broad-based support from the American public. More importantly, by and large, these conservative policies proved successful in getting the economy moving again and accelerating the demise of the Soviet Empire.

That brings me to my bit of advice for Cruz and the other successful, conservative candidates, particularly those elected to serve in the Texas Legislature: Be prepared to govern.

While Democrats control the presidency and the senate nationally, here in Texas, Republicans are in charge of state government, and we need to act like it. It is up to us to fix a flawed Robin Hood school finance scheme which funds public education in part by transferring property taxes from so-called property-rich school districts to poorer districts with the state acting as the redistribution agent, forcing many Texans to be double taxed on their property. Gov. Ann Richards first tried to implement this Robin Hood scheme in 1993 through a constitutional amendment. Texas voters turned it down by a margin of 2 to 1 only to have Richards and the Legislature pass a statute imposing the same tax on property owners.

Nearly 20 years and two governors later, this flawed system of school financing is still in place. It is constantly the subject of school litigation (as is currently the case) and clearly is a violation of our constitutional prohibition against a statewide property tax. Our conservative legislators in Austin have an opportunity to show real leadership by replacing the Robin Hood finance scheme with a fairer and more equitable system of funding public education in Texas.

Our legislators also need to address our heavy reliance on a so-called 4 x 4 curriculum and a STAAR test designed to make all our high school students "college ready." This broken system of performance measurements places an excessive emphasis on high-stakes, standardized testing that isn't doing anything to improve teaching and real learning. This "one size fits all" standard for educating kids needs to be replaced by a common-sense approach to education which recognizes that students learn differently and have different talents.

There are multiple pathways to a quality education and educational success which can prepare our Texas students to be college ready and career ready. What we are doing now isn't working, and we should replace test learning with real learning.

Issues relating to water and transportation infrastructure needs aren't going away. We can't keep passing the buck one legislative session to the next with short-term patches while long-term problems persist.

True conservative leadership requires reaching out beyond one's base of support and coming up with common sense solutions to the problems that need addressing. To quote state Rep.-elect Cecil Bell Jr., "To solve complex problems, it is essential to find the simplest solution possible. Otherwise, your 'solution' becomes part of the problem, trapped in the quagmire of its own bureaucracy."

With new conservative leaders like Bell coming to Austin, and a number of returning legislators equally determined to apply a common sense approach to the issues confronting Texas on multiple fronts, I am optimistic that the nucleus of a conservative team, similar to the one that worked so well during the Reagan era of American politics, is beginning to come together again. It is the difference between loyalty to individual politicians in power vs. loyalty to principle. With Reagan, we who were part of that team felt it was about loyalty to principle.

In his farewell address on January 11, 1989, Reagan had this to say: "They called it the Reagan Revolution. ... For me it always seemed more like a rediscovery of our values and our common sense."

It is time for the next Reagan Revolution to begin, and the reinforcements have landed.

Tom Pauken, a Texas workforce commissioner, is former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and a Dallas businessman.

The Calendar

Friday, Aug. 17:

  • Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson at Hill's Cafe in Austin (6-10 p.m.)
  • Texas Fresh Start tax amnesty period ends

Sunday, Aug. 19:

  • Gary Johnson in Houston, Tracy Gee Community Center (5:30 p.m.)

Monday, Aug. 20:

  • Texas Republican Party's Victory 2012 Kickoff event; Harris County GOP headquarters, Houston (11 a.m.)
  • Town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions; Granville Arts Center, Garland (6:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, Aug. 21:

  • Texas Public Policy Foundation party for site relaunching; Austin (2:30-3:30 p.m.)
  • Fundraiser for House candidate Bennett Ratliff; Austin (4:30-6:30 p.m.)

Wednesday, Aug. 22:

  • House Defense and Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing (10 a.m.)
  • Fundraiser for House candidate Travis Clardy; Austin (4:30-6:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Aug. 23:

  • Fundraiser for House candidates Kyle KacalKen King and Jason Villalba; Austin (4-5:30 p.m.)
 

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Thousands of illegal immigrants in Texas became eligible this week to apply for “deferred action” under a policy change the Obama administration announced in June. Being accepted would grant them relief from deportation proceedings and allow them to work for two years if they meet certain guidelines. 

State workers scooped up $122 million in overtime last year, according to an analysis by the Houston Chronicle. A member of the governor’s protective detail led the pack, earning slightly more in overtime than he got in regular salary; he was one of 40 state employees with more overtime than regular time. And 1,988 earned more than $10,000 in overtime.

Impersonation voting — the kind of fraud that voter ID bills aim to stop — is relatively rare, according to an analysis of more than 2,000 fraud cases over the past 12 years.  News 21, an investigative reporting project, found more fraud in absentee ballots and in voter registration than in any of the other categories, accounting for almost half the cases. And almost half of the cases — 46 percent — ended in acquittals, dropped charges or with no charges filed. 

This one’s back: Small tobacco companies could face a tax hike after the 2013 legislative session if three large tobacco companies get their way. Lawmakers met this week to talk about an extra tax on small tobacco companies to equalize what the big companies call a competitive advantage because of pricing. A similar bill that failed to pass in the last session would have raised $25 million for the state.

Former state lawmaker and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is fronting a group that wants to build high-speed rail projects in Texas without public funding. Their target, at least for talking purposes, is to open a Houston to Dallas-Fort Worth train in 2020.

In several months, if the plaintiffs in one of the six current school finance lawsuits against the state get their way, a court will order a study to determine what that word — “efficiency” — means in the context of public education. How districts manage the largest strain on their budgets — personnel costs — will be increasingly monitored as the efficiency debate progresses — as will the ways they have coped with the loss of roughly 25,000 employees they shed before the 2011-12 school year, after more than $5 billion in state financing cuts.

In McAllen, reproductive health providers tell stories of women going to pharmacies across the border in Mexico in search of a drug they hope will terminate unwanted pregnancies. But the providers say that the pharmacies, which are largely unregulated, often fail to give proper instructions for the drug, misoprostol, and that it does not always give the women the result they seek.

Austin Sen. Kirk Watson’s Republican opponent, Guy Fielder, dropped out of the race, leaving Libertarian Ryan Dixon to face the Democrat. 

Tom DeLay is now a lobbyist on sex-trafficking issues, according to paperwork he filed in Washington. The former Texas congressman told Roll Call that will probably be his only lobbying client and that he registered out of an abundance of caution.

Political People and their Moves

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Public Safety Commission announced the appointment of Kirby Dendy as assistant director/chief in charge of the Texas Rangers. Dendy has been second in command since 2011.

Those agencies also named Chris Sarandos the assistant director for the Information Technology Division, starting next month.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Dee Peavy of Graham as district attorney for Stephens and Young counties. She is a former assistant DA in Dallas County and currently a private practice lawyer.

The governor named Ken Florence Jr. as DA in Shelby County; he’s a former assistant DA there.

And Perry tapped Hockley County Attorney Christopher Dennis of Levelland to be the DA there.

All three will be on the November ballot. 

Fred Aus has been selected to lead the Texas Rural Water Association as its executive director, replacing Tom Duck, who is retiring in January. Aus has served as manager of government affairs for the Lower Colorado River Authority for the past 12 years.

Kathy Walt is leaving Gov. Rick Perry's office, where she's been everything from a spokesperson to a deputy chief of staff. The former newspaper reporter will take that governmental relations job at LCRA. 

Kim Kiplin, general counsel to the Texas Lottery for the past 19 years, is retiring from state government and opening an Austin office for a Michigan-based law firm, Dykema Gossett.

Long-time Austin legislative consultants Kyle Frazier, Patricia Hayes, James LeBas and Bill Stevens announced the formation of Capitol Dome Partners, LLC. Their combined resumes include education, taxation, regulation, energy and healthcare.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp agreed to consolidate the responsibilities of Dr. Jeffrey R. Seemann. Seemann will become executive director of OSRS in addition to his current position as vice president of research for Texas A&M.

Gov. Rick Perry has appointed Kevin Cloud of Austin to the Texas Council on Purchasing from People with Disabilities. Cloud is vice president of contract administration and information technology at Professional Contract Services Inc.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation restructured its communications team: Chuck DeVore, currently a senior fellow in the foundation’s Center for Fiscal Policy, will succeed Joshua Treviño as the vice president of communications. Treviño left the foundation earlier this month to become writer-at-large for Texas Monthly and to write a daily column on U.S. politics for The Guardian. David Guenthner will now serve as senior director for public affairs. Kristen Indriago, who has served as the foundation’s deputy communications director since February 2011, is now director of communications.

Quotes of the Week

The Latino vote has become the chupacabra. Everyone's talking about it, but no one has seen it.

Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

I'm pitching a tent in Tarrant County. As for 2014, I'm leaving all my options open.

Domingo Garcia of Dallas, after losing a Dallas-Tarrant county primary for Congress, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

He doesn't believe in the American free enterprise system, because he doesn't understand the principles that truly make us great.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on President Obama's business polices, to a group of Houston Republicans, in the Houston Chronicle


This is a market-share grab. The state does not get the money. The states lose the businesses and the jobs that companies that do business in these states provide.

Yolanda Nader, chief executive at Dosal Tobacco Corp., on why the state should charge small tobacco companies an additional tax to match what big companies pay

I think it’s a very bold choice. And an exciting and interesting pick. It’s going to elevate the campaign into a debate over big ideas. It means Romney-Ryan can run on principles and provide some real direction and vision for the Republican Party. And probably lose. Maybe big.

Political strategist Mark McKinnon on Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, quoted in Politico 

Nothing makes me madder than someone making fun of a Republican that isn't exactly the way they are. We are here to represent our states and if someone is a Republican and wants to be a Republican, they should be welcome in the Republican Party.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to MSNBC

The actions of the EPISD reflect not only an utter disregard for the needs of students served by the district but also a willingness to cast aside basic principles that form the foundation of our systems of instruction and accountability.

Richard Todd Webster, chief deputy commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, in a letter concerning a cheating scandal in El Paso public schools, as reported by the El Paso Times


No, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t the choice for the presidential slot.

Rick Perry to The Dallas Morning News on whether he was disappointed that he wasn't picked as Mitt Romney's running mate