Vol 29, Issue 39 Print Issue

The Texas Weekly Hotlist for 10/15/12

Voter registration is over for this election — now it's up to the campaigns to convince people to get up and vote. The competitive races are relatively static. What was hot last week remains so this week, and so on. Here's the latest Hotlist.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

The deadline for registering to vote in the upcoming election was marked this week by a flood of applications. While the Bexar County elections administrator said this year’s registrations won’t reach the level seen in 2008, the office was still working overtime to process the applications. Other counties also reported dramatic increases in their workloads as the cutoff approached. 

Tom DeLay got yet another day in court this week, appealing his convictions on conspiracy and money-laundering charges to three judges on Austin's 3rd Court of Appeals. Both sides think that'll go up another step — to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — when this court rules. That case started with DeLay's efforts to finance what turned out to be a big Republican election year in 2002. If the conviction sticks, he's already been sentenced to three years in prison. 

Recent rains have eased drought conditions in Texas, but two years of trouble have planners in parts of West Texas pondering their future. Several towns in the Permian Basin area had come within months of running out of water completely before the latest rain replenished the reservoirs they count on. Counties were confronting the necessity of trucking in water. Now they face a reprieve and are planning new ways to get their water that aren’t so dependent on surface reservoirs that tend to experience extreme evaporation.

New Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams is speaking out about the cheating scandal in the El Paso Independent School District. Former Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia was recently sentenced to three-and-a-half years in federal prison for overseeing the manipulation of students and their test scores to inflate the district’s ratings. Williams called the actions of school administrators a civil rights violation, citing instances in which students were not admitted to struggling schools or were encouraged to leave so the schools’ test scores wouldn’t suffer. The FBI is still investigating, and has given the district the green light now to do its own investigation.

Some Texas schools are using radio frequency identification tags embedded in ID cards that students wear on lanyards around their necks. The cards can track record students' whereabouts on campus or off, giving schools more accurate attendance records to present to the state for reimbursement. Schools are also requiring that students use the nametags to check out library books, pay for their lunches and even to register. Some students and parents have raised privacy concerns. 

When David Michael Hartley was shot to death on Falcon Lake two years ago, authorities were unable to recover his body or charge anyone with the killing. But the Mexican government announced this week that it has arrested and charged a 31-year-old, high-ranking member of the Zeta drug cartel with the murder. Alfonso Martinez Escobedo is accused of numerous killings in northern Mexico and had a $1 million bounty on his head. 

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro’s pre-K initiative is racking up some major contributions in the San Antonio business and philanthropic community. The campaign’s latest finance report shows it has collected more than $363,000 since July 1. The proposal will be on November’s ballot, and the group promoting it plans to spend the money on a TV ad campaign blitz. If the initiative passes, it will be funded by a one-eighth-cent sales tax increase, and opposition to the measure has mainly come from conservative and Tea Party affiliated groups.

September revenues from sales taxes were up 11.5 percent from the same month last year, according to the comptroller's office, a promising signal that lawmakers may have more to work with as they try to craft a budget next year. It was the 30th straight month of sales tax collection growth.

Political People and their Moves

Kay Ghahremani, deputy director of Texas' Medicaid and CHIP programs, has been named director — succeeding Billy Millwee.

Gov. Rick Perry tapped Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter as the state's official representative to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. 

Perry also appointed Martin Broussard of Beaumont and Ray Callas of Beaumont to the Jefferson and Orange County Board of Pilot Commissioners.

The governor appointed Nathan "Jim" Bell IV of Paris, Monty Johnson III of Amarillo, and Billy "Mayfield" McCraw II of Telephone to the Red River Authority of Texas Board of Directors. Bell is owner or Nathan Bell Realtors. Johnson is a rancher. McCraw is owner of Hope Plantation Turf and McCraw Materials.

The governor tapped Glenn Martin of Edna, president of M.O.R., Inc., for a spot on the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority Board of Directors. 

House Speaker Joe Straus named a late interim committee to look at the $4.9 billion in dedicated general revenue accounts that are used to balance the budget rather than for the specific programs for which that money was set aside. Reps. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, and John Otto, R-Dayton, will co-chair the panel.

After nearly four years as a legislative liaison at the state's Department of Transportation, Wendy Reilly is joining TechAmerica as director of state government affairs for the southern region — a job Jeff Clark held until he joined the Wind Coalition. 

Democrat John Courage picked up an endorsement from the San Antonio Express-News in his SD-25 race against Republican Donna Campbell.

Nancy Dickey resigned as president of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and vice chancellor for health affairs at the A&M University System, where she's been for the last 11 years. E.J. "Jere" Pederson, the former COO of the UT Medical Branch in Galveston, will come in as acting head while a search takes place.