Vol 29, Issue 34 Print Issue

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, listens to a response from Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, at TribLive on June 1, 2012.
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, listens to a response from Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, at TribLive on June 1, 2012.

A Democrat Challenges Straus on Redistricting

If a federal court decides that the state intentionally discriminated when drawing its new political maps, is it more difficult for Texas lawyers to argue against Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act? And is it fuel for the constant struggle over the leadership of the Texas House?

Adviser Jason Johnson (right) helped former Solicitor General Ted Cruz rise from underdog to champion in the 2012 Republican U.S. Senate primary.
Adviser Jason Johnson (right) helped former Solicitor General Ted Cruz rise from underdog to champion in the 2012 Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Electoral Shakeup Opens Door for Consultants

After the 2012 elections shook things up for Texas Republicans, new opportunities loom for top dog Texas consultants. Many people are talking about Jason Johnson, who helped Ted Cruz win the GOP U.S. Senate primary.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Two state prisons are slated to have access management installed on their telephone systems before the end of the year. Smuggled cell phones have been a particular problem at two units, the Stiles Unit in Beaumont and the McConnell Unit in Beeville. The new system, funded by the company that operates the prisons’ pay phone networks, monitors all outgoing calls to ensure that only pre-authorized numbers can receive calls from the prison.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is reporting a dramatic increase in the number of homicides in its facilities this year. Officials have already logged 10 of them in 2012, with the year only about two-thirds complete. That makes it the deadliest year in more than a decade. A spokesman for the agency said there hasn’t necessarily been an increase in violence or weapons but that the homicides tended to be between cellmates.

El Paso’s Fort Bliss played host to President Barack Obama, who spoke to the 5,000 soldiers about his plans for their future. He also took the opportunity to outline an executive order expanding services for veterans and detailing the assistance that members of the military could expect when they leave the service.

Paul Decker, director of the Harris County Probation Department, was forced to resign after a Houston defense attorney exposed mistakes his department made in its handling of drug tests. The attorney, Lisa Andrews, reviewed more than 40,000 emails after her client claimed that his drug test showed a false positive. Andrews presented evidence in a Houston courtroom showing mislabeling of samples, data-entry errors and sloppy oversight of testing. It’s unclear whether others will be asked to leave the agency as well.

West Nile virus cases continue to mount both in the illnesses reported and the number of deaths. In two weeks, the state saw a 58 percent increase in the number of cases, and health officials are predicting an end to the infections only when Texas gets a hard freeze. The volume of cases is the worst the state has seen since West Nile was first discovered, in 2002.

As Texas A&M faced its first game as a member of the SEC, some Aggie fans got a little too enthusiastic. Residents of Gainesville, Fla., were surprised to spot a billboard in their town proclaiming that they had been annexed by Aggie Nation and promoting the school as having the cleanest program in the SEC. School spokesman Jason Cook immediately declared that the school had no role in placing the advertisement, and the owner of the sign, Clear Channel Outdoor, quickly took down the sign.

A dispute between a national and local church group over property in Tarrant County is headed to the Texas Supreme Court. In 2008, bishop Jack Iker and a group of 56 congregations in the Fort Worth area left the national Episcopal church over its refusal to ordain a gay bishop. At issue are the assets of the diocese. Iker claims that anything not specifically designated by the remaining congregations became the property of his group, known as the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and now part of the Anglican Church of North America. The national Episcopal church has disputed this, and a Tarrant County civil court agreed with it, prompting Iker’s direct appeal to the high court.

Stakeholders gathered for the first meeting of a task force designed to address the issue of windstorm insurance. The Coastal Windstorm Task Force was created this summer by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and includes members from 14 coastal counties who will tackle the problem of reforming windstorm insurance coverage in the wake of financial problems created after Hurricane Ike. Proposals will not be limited to rate increases, and could include replacing the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which struggled to pay claims after the 2008 storm.

Political People and their Moves

Put the “Rep.” title in front of McAllen Democrat Bobby Guerra, at least for now. He’s the only candidate who filed for the remainder of Veronica Gonzales’ term in HD-41 and will serve until a new state representative is sworn in next year. He’ll face Republican Miriam Martinez in the November election for a full term; she didn’t file for the special election, which led to his being declared the winner.

Spanked, by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct: Jim Sharp Jr., justice on the First Court of Appeals in Houston, for trying to use his position to help a friend’s daughter get out of jail after she was arrested for shoplifting. Among other things, Sharp told one of the jail officials that “you guys are a bunch of backwoods hillbillies...” The commission issued a “public reprimand” against Sharp.

Luis Moreno is the new chief of staff to Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. He’s been working for the senator since 2007. 

Gov. Rick Perry has appointed six members to the Texas Emerging Technology Advisory Committee for terms to expire Sept. 1, 2014:

  • Christopher DeCluitt of Waco is president of the Sovereign Corp, a member of the State Bar of Texas and former chairman of the Brazos River Authority Board of Directors.
  • Sha-Chelle Manning of Fairview is a co-founder and ideation board member of Malibu IQ, and former managing director of Nanoholdings.
  • J. Mark McWatters is director of graduate programs and an adjunct professor at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law and Cox School of Business.
  • David L. Miller of Lubbock is chief operating officer of Flat Wireless, owner of Synergy HomeCare and former vice chancellor of research and commercialization for the Texas Tech University System.
  • Ofer Molad of Bellaire is president and CEO of Persys Medical.
  • Jaye Thompson of The Woodlands is senior vice president of clinical development and regulatory affairs for Opexa Therapeutics.

Deaths: Ann Arnold, exectutive director of the Texas Association of Broadcasters and former press secretary to then-Gov. Mark White. She worked in the Capitol press corps before that. Arnold, who succombed to leukemia, was 67.