Vol 29, Issue 35 Print Issue

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

A new state law requiring periodic voter purges has rankled some residents and county officials. The law requires the secretary of state’s office to compare its lists of qualified voters against Social Security master death lists and remove from the rolls anyone who shows up as deceased. More than 72,000 Texans have been targeted as potentially dead, and the majority of them will have to respond to letters within 30 days or face having their names removed from the rolls. Harris County received a list of more than 9,000 such voters but has decided not to purge the names until after the November election, drawing criticism from state officials. But Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners responded that his department wanted more time to verify voters status. 

A new executive director, Mike Griffiths, is making big changes at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Griffiths has a plan for the agency that’s a combination of the former juvenile corrections and probation programs. The agencies had been in hot water for years following abuse and cover-up scandals. Lawmakers were happy with the progress being made, which included a cancellation of raises announced in April by the agency’s former executive director, Cherie Townsend. Griffiths also announced that the new department will be reorganized, and he met with staff to let them know about the jobs that would be available to them. As part of the reorganization, executives were asked to justify their value to the agency.

A whistle-blower who helped expose misdeeds at the Texas Youth Commission has won an appeal upholding the $1 million awarded to him resulting from his firing. Dallas attorney Chris Koustoubardis sued the state after he was fired from his administrative law judicial position at the agency. He claimed that he was owed damages under the whistle-blower protection law because he reported on illegal activities he witnessed. A jury awarded him almost $700,000 in 2010, and a judge added to the total an amount that Koustoubardis would have been paid if he hadn’t been fired. That amount has been accruing interest, bringing the award up to about $1 million.

The party just kept on going for Julián Castro (and his brother, Joaquin) upon returning home after their appearance at the Democratic National Convention. Per their custom, the brothers hosted a birthday party for themselves and were surprised to find a record crowd in attendance. Their new popularity helped Joaquin Castro’s final fundraiser of the season surpass expectations, drawing more than 250 attendees and an estimated $50,000 in donations. Julián did his part for his brother: In his speech at the party, he asked the crowd to vote for his brother on Election Day and to also to endorse his plan for expanded pre-K in the San Antonio area.

Following a vote by the Texas Transportation Commission to set the speed limit at 85 on two sections of toll road 130, TxDOT and the builder of the road, the SH 130 Concession Company, found themselves on the defensive. They claimed charges that the speed limit was unsafe don’t apply to this stretch of road because it is flat and straight and has been engineered for the higher speed limit. 

In advance of the November Formula One race, Gov. Rick Perry and his wife traveled to Italy to tout the event and Texas business. Perry scheduled meetings with business and government leaders to promote investment and trade between Italy and the Lone Star State and took in the Italian Grand Prix. The race prompted him to wax poetic about the upcoming debut of Formula One in Austin, saying the race is more viewer-friendly and that drivers are showing interest in the layout of the track.

The University of Texas at Austin scored big when it was awarded a federal grant to spend on nanotechnology research. The school expects to expand its engineering faculty and graduate student program with the $18.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, which will be paid out over the next five years to UT and two academic partners, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of New Mexico. Researchers will focus on how nanoscience can be applied to innovations in the marketplace, and the grant is expected to stimulate local economies and help Austin maintain its high-tech reputation.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry has said he won't rule out a future run for president. Not everyone buys it, but a couple of recent press releases from his state office — both following national headlines instead of state or local ones — seem to bear out his interest in speaking out on national and international affairs. Perry followed formal GOP rival Mitt Romney in his political critique of the attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, blaming the current administration for the troubles there.

“Muammar Qadaffi was an evil oppressor who murdered innocent Americans. But in the naïve belief that America could 'lead from behind' in the operation to remove him, this President allowed Libyan rockets and artillery to be scattered to the terrorist winds and had no plan to secure the country. Now we have these brazen attacks on our mission in Benghazi, and the violent death of our ambassador.  

“Combined with President Obama’s shameful lack of leadership in Egypt that culminated in the burning of our flag in our own embassy in Cairo yesterday, it is no wonder our enemies in the region are emboldened and our allies are afraid."

In the second release, Perry renewed his year-old criticism of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke after the Fed announced it will try to stimulate the economy by buying mortgage bonds and other assets until there is some improvement in the job markets. Perry said it's the wrong policy, noted its proximity to the November elections, called it "the mother of all bailouts," and said. Bernanke should resign. 

Reps. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, and Four Price, R-Amarillo, were appointed to the Texas Republican Representatives Campaign Committee, a PAC focused on Republican campaigns for the state House. They're joining a group that already includes Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville, Larry Phillips of Sherman, Bill Callegari of Katy, Myra Crownover of Denton, Jim Keffer of Eastland, Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, and Wayne Smith of Baytown.

That group recently scooped up a $150,000 contribution from House Speaker Joe Straus, who has said he'll support Republican candidates — so long as they're not running against Democratic incumbents. That's not always popular with partisans, but Straus is following the precedent set by previous speakers. 

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association's PAC endorsed state Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, in the CD-14 race to replace U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside. That's a Republican district, but Democrat Nick Lampson, a former congressman, is in the hunt, saying internal polling and relatively high name ID show he can compete. His campaign points to a couple of judges who did well in that district in their statewide races; Bill Moody, running for Texas Supreme Court in 2006, got 50.6 percent there.

Milton Rister, long of tooth in Republican government and political circles in Texas, is the new executive director of the Railroad Commission. Rister was most recently with Gov. Rick Perry's office. On the way there, he also worked for former House Speaker Tom Craddick, for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and served as head of the Texas Legislative Council. 

The CD-23 race between U.S. Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco, R-San Antonio, and state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, will feature at least one Spanish-language debate. Sponsored by AARP and San Antonio's Univision, that will be taped on Sept. 25 and will air on Sept. 29. 

State Rep. Stefani Carter, R-Dallas, joins the Black Leadership Council for the Romney campaign. She did some surrogate speaking for the campaign at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. 

Oscar Rodriguez was named president of the Texas Association of Broadcasters, replacing the late Ann Arnold as head of that trade group. He's been with TAB for 18 years.

Deaths: Bob Gammage, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, state representative (one of the Dirty 30 who battled with then-Speaker Gus Mutscher in the early 1970s), state senator, congressman, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate (in 2006). He was 74.