Vol 29, Issue 33 Print Issue

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Attorney General Greg Abbott got spanked — twice — by federal judges in Washington. Once on the Voting Rights case reported above, and earlier in the week on redistricting, when the judges ruled that the maps passed by the Legislature for congressional and legislative races failed to protect minority voters. That won’t delay the elections, probably, since those are being conducted under interim maps approved by a separate set of federal judges. Among other things, the ruling exposed a weakness in the state’s strategy; Abbott went to the courts for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act instead of what he viewed as a hostile Department of Justice. He got the ruling he feared, but he got it more than a year after he asked. One consequence: that famous delay in the primaries.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told the Texas delegates at the GOP convention that he’ll seek another term. And he said he’ll help others like Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, in the effort to pass a public school voucher bill. Those are the same Texas Republicans who rejected his bid for U.S. Senate in July. He’s got 19 months to change his mind but in the meantime, he’s not a lame duck. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says he’ll be in the race, regardless, and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples says he’ll keep his exploratory committee going.

A fight over the rules to assign delegates to presidential candidates spilled over to the floor of the Republican National Convention. Ron Paul supporters protested what they saw as an effort to disenfranchise them and effectively prevent grassroots campaigns from gaining a foothold in future campaigns. States that have their own rules for choosing delegates would be required by the national committee to select those delegates based solely on the statewide vote. The RNC also gave itself the power to change the rules between conventions, which Paul supporters objected to. Texas Republicans were instrumental in leading the fight against the new rules and protested loudly that the original Maine delegation, which was pledged to Paul, be seated.

The tone for Ted Cruz’s speech was markedly different, as the recent winner of the Republican nomination for senator from Texas saw delegates stand and members of the Texas delegation wave their cowboy hats during his 10-minute speech. Cruz’s talking points included an attack on President Obama, who he said was trying to divide America, and an exhortation to the crowd to support the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Democrat Paul Sadler started in on Ted Cruz, needling the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate to agree to more than one debate this fall — Cruz, you’ll remember, did that to Dewhurst all spring, saying the lite guv was running from the public. Sadler also jumped when Cruz was quoted in Politico saying he would support ending campaign finance dollar limits if it went along with immediate disclosure.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, is the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Fellow senators mark him among the conservatives, but he took some flak from activists after saying the state ought to think about raising fees to pay for services in agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles. Committee assignments — especially education — will show how Dewhurst is adapting to his latest round of political hard knocks. One question is whether he’ll keep all of the committees now in place, or consolidate some to shrink the overall number.

Fallout from former El Paso Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia’s scheme to inflate his district’s test scores has spread to current employees of the district. Bowie High School Assistant Principal Johnnie Vega has admitted that he manipulated students that he thought might bring down the school’s rating. The school was threatened with closure after six consecutive years of substandard results, and administrators were pressured to inflate test scores and improve attendance rates by kicking out or not allowing students to enroll who they thought would cause problems for Bowie. Garcia has been charged and admitted wrongdoing and the district has been placed on probation by the Texas Education Agency.

An outbreak of West Nile virus has spiked in the last two weeks. The Department of State Health Services reported 723 cases in Texas resulting in 30 deaths. Dallas and Tarrant counties have the highest concentrations of cases and continue to spray for mosquitoes. West Nile virus can either result in a neuroinvasive disease, leading to serious complications, or West Nile fever, a milder version. Over half of the reported cases were the neuroinvasive variety. Commissioner David Lakey held a conference call with reporters and offered his opinion that the epidemic hasn’t reached its peak yet, although he expects it to taper off sooner than cases in other parts of the country.

Political People and their Moves

Former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams was tapped by Gov. Rick Perry to head the Texas Education Agency. Williams replaces former commissioner Robert Scott, who resigned earlier this year. Williams will be the first commissioner without an education background, but Perry also designated a longtime veteran of the agency, Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds, as Williams’ second in command.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, replacing the retiring Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. He also said he'll keep Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, at State Affairs, and Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, at Health and Human Services. That leaves four open slots and more than two dozen anxious senators. The committees: Transportation & Homeland Security, Economic Development, Jurisprudence, and the one everyone is watching: Education. Dewhurst said he'll finish soon.

John Montford will lead a group trying to expand legal gambling in Texas, according to a spokesman for the group. The former SBC executive, Texas Tech University System chancellor, state senator, and local prosecutor will work with LetTexansDecide.com. Montford was the Senate author of the state's lottery law 20 years ago. Backers of the new group include the Sam Houston Race Park, the Valley Race Park, Penn National Gaming, and several small chambers of commerce in the Houston area.

Casey Haney is rejoining his old boss, Kyle Janek, at the state’s Health and Human Services Commission. Haney worked for Janek in the Senate and will be deputy chief of staff and senior advisor now that Janek is heading HHSC. Haney had been chief of staff to Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman; Christian Alvarado, who had been Smitherman’s general counsel, moves into the top job there. 

The Texas Medical Association’s PAC endorsed State Rep. and Dr. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, in the SD-10 race against Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Ryan Patrick of Houston as judge of the 177th Judicial District Court. Patrick is an assistant Harris County district attorney. 

The governor named Bech Bruun his director of appointments, replacing Teresa Spears, who’s been working with Perry for more than 20 years and is now retiring.  Bruun was most recently with the Brazos River Authority and worked for state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, before that. 

Tony Bennett, long-time public affairs exec at Temple-Inland and the founding chairman of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, will be TAM’s new president. 

The Texas Apartment Association announced that John Sepehri will serve as the group's general counsel. Sepehri has previously served as general counsel for Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade.

Deaths: Former state Rep. Don Lee, D-Harlingen. Lee worked for the Texas Department of Insurance for eight years after losing a re-election bid in 1986. He was 78.