Speaker Race: Simpson Praying, Hughes Staying

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, delivers a personal privilege speech at the end of the House session on June 29, 2011.
State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, delivers a personal privilege speech at the end of the House session on June 29, 2011.

The Joe Straus faction claims the speaker has more than 100 supporters in the 150-member House — more than enough to win a third term as speaker — but they won’t release a list and prove it. It would be nice to shut up the opposition, they say privately, but it could make a target of everyone on that list, particularly those who are vulnerable to attacks from activists who don’t like the speaker.

Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, answers rumors that he is getting out of the race by doubling down — saying he’s in it to win it. And David Simpson, R-Longview, confirmed rumors of his interest, saying he is praying about whether to get into the race.

Straus doesn’t appear to be in trouble, for a couple of reasons. It’s not clear the antipathy against him is strong enough to prompt members to go shopping for a replacement, and it seems unlikely that the loudest of his foes could agree on the second thing: Who would be an acceptable speaker for their coalition.

The three things that have capsized past speakers — scandal (Gib Lewis), a partisan change in the House (Pete Laney), or a widely held bill of particulars or complaints about how the speaker operates (Tom Craddick) — don’t exist at the moment. The fundamental complaint against Straus is that he ousted a Republican speaker with a coalition built of a small number of moderate Republicans and a large number of Democrats. The people most likely to question that coup happen to be the loudest part of the Texas GOP right now.

But he ran a conservative House, once the voters raised the number of Republicans from 76 to 102 in the 2010 election, and high turnover there has left enough fruit on the trees to attract new friends — there are committee assignments to hand out that would otherwise go to top lieutenants from that original coalition. By the way, seven of the 15 Republicans who were on the first pledge list Straus produced in 2009 won’t be in the House when it convenes in January.

That’s the first part: To lose the job, a speaker has to be in deep doo-doo for some reason: crime, politics, management skills, whatever.

Even if Straus were to find himself in that kind of mess, his opponents would have to figure out how to build a coalition of complainers — a group that currently appears to be made up of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. Who would they agree on as a replacement? What issues would they agree to leave alone? Tax increases? Voter ID? Some kind of split in committee chairmanships?

It’s a version of the coalition that got Straus elected and then vilified, but with a difference: the Republicans in his group were more moderate than some of their colleagues. The group that produces candidates like Hughes and Simpson is from the conservative end of the party — the end that’s farthest away from the Democrats they’d be recruiting.

Or do it this way: Could the Republicans on the right gather enough strength to get 76 votes out of their own caucus? Not enough of those folks seem irked enough at Straus to join the movement.

The vote is a month from now.

Tax Incentives Could Prove Divisive For GOP

Republican Gov. Rick Perry is fond of saying the government should focus on its core principles and then “get the hell out of the way” so the private marketplace can work its unfettered magic.

But Perry and other top leaders make a big exception when it comes to tax incentives. Whether it’s property tax abatements for manufacturers or sales tax subsidies for sporting event promoters, they say taxpayer support for private industry is an essential tool for spurring economic development and creating jobs.

This notable break from their adherence to free-market principles may be popular in corporate boardrooms, but it has never sat particularly well with the conservative grassroots. And during the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature, pro-incentive Republicans and Tea Party-backed conservatives  — who tend to see such tax incentives as a form of pork-barrel spending — will have a chance to engage in some lively debate about the future of the ever-growing programs.

The issue of tax incentives was thrust into the national spotlight this week, when the New York Times published an impressive database of tax subsidies and declared that Texas led the nation with more than $19 billion granted annually. That series drew fire from the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which said the paper was including tax exclusions from Texas in its totals without including the same breaks from other states — all but Hawaii — that offer manufacturers the same exemptions.

The recently concluded Formula One auto race in Austin offered another flash point in the debate. The investors who built the track, including GOP mega-donor Red McCombs, are hoping to get a $25 million tax subsidy each year for the next ten years from the Major Events Trust Fund administered by Comptroller Susan Combs.

Over the years, requests for outlays from the trust fund programs have been rising exponentially, with officials signing off on more than $250 million in state and local sales tax subsidies since 2004. Already in fiscal 2013, the comptroller has approved up to $47 million in payments, which are tied to how much sales tax the events are said to generate.

While the major events fund includes world-class (and highly coveted) events like F1 and the NFL Super Bowl, the plain old Events Trust Fund has been paying out millions to groups hosting relatively minor conferences, often leaving critics shaking their heads. Combs recently approved $344,449 for The GameStop, Inc. 2012 Annual Convention and another $135,657 for the Obesity Society 30th Annual Scientific Meeting 2012, both in San Antonio, for example.

(It’s clear from all the money flowing to San Antonio that convention planners there have figured out how the program works).

Some conservative legislators, including Rep. Charles Perry of Lubbock and Rep. David Simpson of Longview, have criticized some of the tax incentive programs as unneeded "corporate welfare," particularly at a time when schools and other programs are still feeling the brunt of billions in cuts enacted by the 2011 Texas Legislature.

It’s too soon to predict whether how far the anti-tax incentive sentiment will reach. To be sure, the governor will fight to keep his Texas Enterprise and Emerging Technology funds, which survived in 2011 despite deep cutbacks elsewhere and controversies about donors getting awards from the programs.

On the other hand, the conservative ranks will swell in the state Senate, and at a time when pundits nationally are questioning the strength of the Tea Party, activists in Texas — after getting anti-establishment insurgent Ted Cruz elected to the U.S. Senate — don't seem to have gotten the memo.

Grassroots activists are planning to make a big stink about the huge payouts to private industry. JoAnn Fleming, a top Tea Party activist in Tyler, said conservative voters are fed up with politicians who tout free market capitalism until big corporate interests say it isn’t working so good for them.

“We don’t believe that state government should be trying to pick winners or losers any more than Washington should,” Fleming said. “Anybody who wants to hold on to these (programs) better know they‘ll be hearing about it if they run for office again. And they all have plans.” 

Feds May Offer New Credit Line for Texas Toll Projects

Transportation-minded wonks in Texas often say the state has maxed out its credit card and needs a new source of revenue for road projects. The state has issued more than $17 billion in transportation debt since 2001. Yet Texas may soon get a new $6.8 billion line of credit for transportation, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

The transportation funding bill federal lawmakers passed in July gave a steroid-sized boost to the popular Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, better known as TIFIA. The program provides crucial low-interest financing for large transportation projects around the country, typically ones that involve a toll element to raise the revenue to pay back the loan. Critics have argued that the program doesn't do enough to encourage public transportation projects.

The bill boosted TIFIA’s funding from $122 million per year to $750 million per year in fiscal year 2013 and $1 billion in FY 2014. In the past, the US Department of Transportation has leveraged every $1 in its TIFIA budget for $10 in financing capacity. With $1.75 billion now at its disposal, the program is expected to make more than $17 billion worth of loans.

So far, states have made $29 billion of requests for the latest round of TIFIA funding.  Texas leads the pack with six requests totaling $6.8 billion. Most of those are related to projects that are likely to include toll lanes to help cover costs.

The Texas Department of Transportation requested:

  • $2.6 billion for SH 99 (Grand Parkway), a planned outer loop around Houston
  • $1.4 billion for expanding I-35E project in Dallas
  • $876 million to rebuild SH 183 near Dallas
  • $272 million to expand State Highway 288 near Houston.

Additionally, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority in Austin has requested $896 million for the Bergstrom Expressway project.

Texas has long been a big fan of TIFIA and the feeling appears to be mutual. The state has received $3.3 billion in TIFIA financing since the program’s inception in 1998, far more than any other state.

Spain-based toll operator Cintra is the lead investor on three Texas toll projects, each of which has received help from TIFIA. The SH 130 toll road from Austin to Seguin that opened in October received a $430 TIFIA loan. Two North Texas projects under construction, the North Tarrant Express and the LBJ Express, together have received $1.5 billion from TIFIA.

Nicolas Rubio, president of Austin-based Cintra US, said toll projects only make economic sense if those that finance them can have plenty of time to make their money back. That’s what makes TIFIA and its 35-year terms and flexible payment plans so crucial.

“If you look at the normal funding structure, normally TIFIA can cover one-third of the private funding of a project,” Rubio said.

He was quick to defend the TIFIA money as something other than a government handout.

“It’s not a subsidy,” Rubio said. “It’s not public money. You really have to pay your interest and your principal but it’s patient.”

The US Department of Transportation is still reviewing the latest round of applications.

Close the Window

The campaign finance deadline lands this weekend. After Saturday, legislative and statewide officeholders can’t accept political contributions, and the blackout lasts through Father’s Day, which is also the last day of the post-session period in which the governor can veto bills.

Members have been packing the Austin Club near the state Capitol, among other venues, collecting deadline contributions this week; next week, Texas political donors can rest their checkbooks.

That’s mostly true, anyway. Statewide officials and legislators are out of the mix. Others, like the State Board of Education and federal officials and untitled aspirants like George P. Bush can raise money during the session. And the blackout won’t affect candidates in the special election for the state Senate, and if one is needed, a special election for the state House.

The next campaign finance reports are due January 15. The next show of strength and the lack of it will come in July. And a reminder: Rick Perry and Greg Abbott said recently — laughing and right next to each other — that they will reveal their political plans in June.

It never stops, does it?

Newsreel: Speaker's Race, Campaign Finance Deadline

This week in the Texas Weekly Newsreel: Who's in – or thinking of jumping in – the race for House speaker? And the legislative session blackout on campaign contributions starts this weekend — after a flurry of fundraising over the last two weeks.

Inside Intelligence: About the Leadership...

With a month to go before the session and many of Texas’ statewide officeholders revving their political engines for 2014, we asked the insiders about how the three leaders in the Capitol stack up, and about how they would assess the strength of the rest of the statewide elected officials.

In the state Capitol, the power lines run from West to East, the insiders said, with House Speaker Joe Straus in the strongest position, Gov. Rick Perry next, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the third spot.

They overwhelming think is it “very unlikely” that Straus will be ousted from the chair in the House, in spite of an open challenge from Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and a possible challenge from David Simpson, R-Longview.

The strongest statewide officeholder in the state? Greg Abbott, according to 71 percent of the insiders. The weakest? That would be Dewhurst, according to 50 percent, followed by Perry, at 19 percent, and Comptroller Susan Combs, at 16 percent.

As always, we’ve included all of the verbatim comments to our questions in an attachment, and have a sampling below.

.

Going into the 2013 legislative session, which of the top three leaders is in the strongest position?

• "Perry typically sets the agenda and he's the most conservative of the 3."

• "The Dew can't get no respect and has made all the wrong moves (i.e. you do not give those against you power). The Speaker has to deal with ideologues that do not understand how to find middle ground. So, by process of elimination, the Guv has been dealt a good hand."

• "Unquestionably, Speaker Straus.  Dewhurst is wounded from the election and there's too much uncertainty surrounding Perry's future."

• "Without question, Straus is the grown up in the room."

• "In a one-party controlled state, Perry has the advantage of being able to channel the GOP base, without having to actually do any heavy lifting during session. He declares his emergency priorities, stirs the pot, and takes off to plow the fields of Iowa. Meanwhile, Straus and Dewhurst are left to deal with the budget shortfall, cuts to education, etc."

• "Straus is the only office holder who hasn't been rebuked by the voters this year."

• "When [Dewhurst] moved to the right, especially with committee chairmanships, he strengthened his hand."

.

How likely are House members to replace Joe Straus as speaker in January?

• "Democrats will pick the next speaker, make no mistake. Hughes may be a closet TTLA guy, but his record is to wacky to pry Dems away from Straus."

• "Simpson could do it if he puts his name in the hat."

• "Straus has the Speaker's race sewn up.   Anyone saying something different is either on the outs with the Speaker or is seriously delusional."

• "There are now a half dozen or so more Democrats than there were in 2011. Where else can they go?"

• "Simpson provides some intriguing possibilities, especially with yet another huge turnover in the House."

• "Anyone voting against Straus is rowing back to the Titanic hollering ‘don't go down without me’."

• "The Speaker’s race is a farce; some perpetuate this notion for their own purposes.  The net political effective, which is a brilliant, is to co-op the proposed rule changes by “discussing” them."

• "There is no real Speaker's race."

• "What is so bad with Straus? Is it really all about TSA Groping?"

• "Straus has the votes."

.

Of the current crop of statewide officeholders, who is the most formidable politically?

• "Abbott=Clean image, great story of overcoming adversity, gets press when it counts on substantive issues, huge fundraiser, prosecutorial power. Wow."

• "The General is the one to watch. He has played the game correctly and is in a great position both politically and financially to take on Perry."

• "Smitherman has the definitive catalog of pitch perfect talking points; however Patterson is a man of the people AND he's picked the correct opponent."

• "Perry's still the king in Texas. He was damaged here by his presidential run, but none of these other folks are battle-tested enough to beat him. Dewhurst was badly weakened by his primary showing vs. Cruz."

• "It probably should be the A.G. but Patterson knows how to exercise political power better than Abbott."

• "Perry may be damaged goods in some peoples eyes but to think he is weak would be a mistake. He can survive on residual strength alone."

• "Abbott, but with this caveat:  He has never been tested.  He's got the war chest and the press clippings, but can he take a punch?  That remains to be seen."

• "George P could beat any of them however."

.

Of the current crop of statewide officeholders, who is the most vulnerable politically?

• "If Strayhorn was 'Grandma', Combs is 'Can't Get Right'. She blew the 2012-2013 revenue estimate by a country mile, which cost local schools a mint. Don't forget the data security failures. No discernable victories."

• "Perry but Combs and Dewhurst are clawing for the top spot."

• "This was a close call because Lt Gov. has not developed deep grass roots in either personal contacts or an organization that showed itself in the run-off election.  Rick Perry was chosen based on his performance as a presidential candidate.    Other than Greg Abbott, the others are not well known enough that causes some inherent vulnerability in the political arena."

• "Dewhurst is making the mistake of assuming he will be acceptable to the far right if he adopts that ideology.  He won't be, and he is hurting himself among moderate conservatives who realize they have to govern."

• "Perry is the most vulnerable to a defeat at the polls because his political operation is like a college football team that won the championship last year and then graduated 20 seniors, i.e., he had a winning team in 2010 but they have scattered.  Will they get back together?  Will he recruit a new team? Whether the plan is reunite or rebuild, will they be as good?  It's harder to put a team together than it looks, and at this moment he appears to be a sitting duck."

• "Probably should be a tie with Dewhurst and Combs.  The operative question is: who might well fall--in a re-election campaign-- to a candidate to their right in the R. primary?"

• "Seems like most of these are safe because they were recently elected or are passionate in their conservatism about moving up the ladder.  Combs might still be vulnerable because of the data breach SNAFU that occurred on her watch and because of her history on the Right's sacred cow--abortion.  Dewhurst, on the other hand, was just embarrassed in a primary.  Folks were already second-guessing his commitment to solving issues in the Texas Senate, this electoral set-back won't do anything to quiet those rumblings."

• "Hard to choose between Dewhurst and Combs…each has significant vulnerabilities; both share a self-created impediment, suspicious primary voters."

• "Perry's primary losses were in lands far away.  The Dewhurst defeat was in his backyard."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Jenny Aghamalian, Victor Alcorta, Clyde Alexander, George Allen, David Anthony, Jay Arnold, Louis Bacarisse, Charles Bailey, Tom Banning, Dave Beckwith, Amy Beneski, Rebecca Bernhardt, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, David Cabrales, Lydia Camarillo, Kerry Cammack, Marc Campos, Snapper Carr, Janis Carter, Corbin Casteel, William Chapman, Elizabeth Christian, Elna Christopher, Harold Cook, Beth Cubriel, Randy Cubriel, Denise Davis, Hector De Leon, Nora Del Bosque, Tom Duffy, Richard Dyer, Jeff Eller, Jack Erskine, John Esparza, Jon Fisher, Tom Forbes, Neftali Garcia, Norman Garza, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Stephanie Gibson, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, John Greytok, Jack Gullahorn, Clint Hackney, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Ken Hodges, Billy Howe, Shanna Igo, Deborah Ingersoll, Richie Jackson, Cal Jillson, Jason Johnson, Bill Jones, Mark Jones, Robert Jones, Lisa Kaufman, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Pete Laney, James LeBas, Luke Legate, Leslie Lemon, Myra Leo, Ruben Longoria, Homero Lucero, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, Luke Marchant, Matt Matthews, Dan McClung, Parker McCollough, Scott McCown, Robert Miller, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Steve Murdock, Craig Murphy, Keir Murray, Pat Nugent, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Bill Pewitt, Jerry Philips, Tom Phillips, Wayne Pierce, Richard Pineda, Allen Place, Gary Polland, Jay Pritchard, Ted Melina Raab, Bill Ratliff, Karen Reagan, Patrick Reinhart, Kim Ross, Jason Sabo, Mark Sanders, Andy Sansom, Jim Sartwelle, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Robert Scott, Steve Scurlock, Dan Shelley, Bradford Shields, Christopher Shields, Jason Skaggs, Brian Sledge, Ed Small, Martha Smiley, Todd Smith, Larry Soward, Dennis Speight, Jason Stanford, Bill Stevens, Bill Stotesbery, Keith Strama, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Charles Stuart, Michael Quinn Sullivan, Sherry Sylvester, Jay Thompson, Russ Tidwell, Trent Townsend, Trey Trainor, Lisa Turner, Joe Valenzuela, Ware Wendell, Darren Whitehurst, Woody Widrow, Seth Winick, Alex Winslow, Lee Woods, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

The Calendar

Monday, Dec. 10:

  • Senate State Affairs Committee hearing (9 a.m.)

Tuesday, Dec. 11:

  • House Interim Committee on Response to Federal Sequestration hearing (9 a.m.)
  • Senate Economic Development Committee hearing (9 a.m.)

Wednesday, Dec. 12:

  • Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency hearing (9 a.m.)
  • Joint Econonmic Development Committee hearing (10 a.m.)

Guest Column: Tackle the Water Crisis

Laura Huffman
Laura Huffman

During the last legislative session here in Texas, about 6,000 bills were filed. Fewer than 1,400 of them were passed. That's a lot of legislative traffic with very low odds of success. So as we head into the next session this January, what issues should Texans ask legislators to prioritize? What are the most important issues facing our state?

Guaranteeing safe, clean and available water supplies should be a top priority. The state's population could swell to nearly 50 million in the next 50 to 60 years. Most statewide growth will be concentrated in our urban areas, where roughly 86 percent of our population currently lives. More people equals more demand for water, energy and food, not to mention the necessary infrastructure and economic development to support such demands.

There is no question that a Texas water shortage will mean a Texas energy shortage and a Texas food production shortage at the very time when demands are increasing. The cost of doing nothing has already been calculated by the state. Failure to address Texas’ water supply needs ultimately means $116 billion in economic losses over the course of the next 50 years. Our success will depend on our ability to optimize the use of water for cities, energy and food. We cannot pit one interest against another here; it won't work. Water is about securing our collective good fortune.

Last year's drought, which cost Texas upwards of $10 billion, provided evidence of what could happen. With so much of our success hinging on water, it simply has to be a legislative priority. While we have a state water plan that attempts to address these issues, it is unfunded and un-prioritized. To fix this, Texas will have to execute an array of strategies and execute them well. Here is where the legislature should start:

Prioritize conservation. By far, our least expensive option is to stretch our water resources further. Overall, water is a fixed asset. The State Water Plan even predicts that existing water supplies are projected to decrease about 10 percent, while 24 percent of our future supply will need to come from conservation. The Legislature should create and pass programs to make sure this important conservation goal is achieved.

Acknowledge the nexus between water and energy. We have a 50-year state water plan but Texas has no energy plan. The Legislature should close this glaring gap in resource planning by creating a component to the water plan that recognizes the practical link between water and energy. One of the most important aspects of energy production is the availability of fresh water, and energy is often the most expensive aspect of water treatment and conveyance.

Recognize private landowners as a solution. More than 95 percent of the land in Texas is privately owned. We should honor this heritage and acknowledge that part of protecting our water quality is working with private landowners to make sure water is protected on the first place rain falls — private land.

Restructure existing state programs. Guaranteeing safe, reliable water resources should involve prioritizing smart strategies and projects. The Legislature should insist on a wholesale realignment of existing water infrastructure programs. Funding should target projects that promote water conservation, regionalization and a minimal environmental footprint.

Dedicate funding for the state water plan. The time has come to guarantee that we will solve our water problems. This will require investment and must involve prioritization. The issue of water is bipartisan and should stay that way. We’re all in this together.

Get serious about how to effectively use brackish water. Texas has about 2.7 billion acre-feet of naturally-occurring brackish groundwater (salty water existing in aquifers and surface waters throughout Texas). This resource could easily become a key to solving some water supply challenges. In fact, it could become the primary source of water for producing natural gas — saving limited freshwater for other critical uses.

There's too much at stake to wait.

Laura Huffman is the State Director for The Nature Conservancy. 

Guest Column: Dropout Rates Too Good to Be True?

If the new graduation numbers released by the U.S. Department of Education are correct — that 86 percent of Texas students graduated high school in four years in the 2010-2011 school year — we all certainly have something to celebrate. I’m not so sure the numbers are correct, however.

The problem with graduation rates is that they are very hard to calculate. While this figure shows a great deal of improvement, there are other studies that show limited improvement and a serious graduation problem. There is also anecdotal information from educators that the problem at individual schools and districts is far greater, approaching 50 percent or more of high school students dropping out before completing their education.

If you look at basic numbers, comparing the number of ninth graders to the number of graduating seniors, the completion rate is closer to 65 percent. I realize this method is far from perfect, but I think it gives you an idea of how bad the problem might be. While some students might legitimately move from one high school to another, or leave the state altogether, there are plenty of new students moving into these schools every year as well, adding validity to this number.

That number is not far off from the one used by Dr. Michael Belfield from Columbia University during his testimony on November 14 in the Texas school finance trial on behalf of MALDEF. Belfield testified that his research places the graduation rate in Texas at 67 percent, below the national average.

In the annual Diploma Counts report from Education Week, the graduation rate was measured at 71.5 percent. Those numbers come from 2009, meaning they are older than the ones used by the U.S. Department of Education, but it is doubtful that we went from just under 72 percent to 86 percent in that short amount of time.

Don’t get me wrong — there is good news in the Diploma Counts report too, but also some disturbing numbers. For example, the graduation rate for Hispanics is only 64.4 percent.

The good news in the Diploma Counts report is that Texas has shown steady improvement over the years, and shows no signs of backing away from that improvement. It shows that the state continues to move in the right direction, but it isn’t there yet. While I seriously doubt that our graduation rate is truly at 86 percent, we are at least not slipping in any graduation measure.

I find it curious how Texas could rank 43 out of 50 states in graduation rates in 2010, a number that was even confirmed as true by Politifact Texas, and now, all of a sudden, rank third. That is astonishing movement in the last two years, and it sounds too good to be true. The fact is, it probably is too good to be true.

We should be careful about doing a disservice to policy makers in Texas when the reality of the dropout crisis is shielded by what appear to be outlying numbers. In order to focus appropriate attention on this issue, a more honest reporting of the numbers would be helpful. Educators must not be allowed to take their eye off of the problem. A falsely optimistic report shouldn’t stop educators from working towards programs that graduate kids with diplomas that mean something.

There is another major problem as well. Whether the graduation rate is 65, 67, 71, or even 86 percent, very few of our students are graduating ready for careers or college. It doesn’t do the state’s employers much good if 100 percent of students graduate if those diplomas don’t mean anything.

I applaud the state for moving in the right direction, but strongly encourage our leaders in education policy to not let up on the effort to improve our public schools and to ensure that these students have a diploma that truly means they are ready for the next step in their education or career.

Bill Hammond is president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

 

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Former President George W. Bush urged the nation’s leaders to debate immigration reform with compassion and kindness. In a brief appearance at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Bush did not advocate for a specific solution. But his statements indicated he supports policies similar to those he championed during his presidency, when immigration reform was last debated in Congress.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced that he will strip the trustees of the El Paso Independent School District of their authority and that he is appointing a five-member board of managers to oversee the district for up to two years, including state Rep. Dee Margo, R-El Paso, who will leave office in January; TEA Monitor Judy Castleberry; El Paso's chief financial officer, Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria; and Public Service Board CEO Ed Archuleta. A fifth appointment will come from a list of suggestions provided by state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso.

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced a major plan to consolidate its existing institutions in the Rio Grande Valley to create a new university that he referred to as the “University for the Americas in the Rio Grande Valley.” UT’s board of regents unanimously supported the idea. 

FreedomWorks and Dick Armey have split the sheets. The former U.S. House Majority Leader from Texas is leaving the Washington-based group that fashioned itself as an institutional arm of the Tea Party. Armey split with management — he didn’t detail the reasons — and several other top employees left in his wake. 

In spite of some warning signs, Comptroller Susan Combs issued a report this week saying the state’s employee and teacher pension funds are in “pretty doggone good shape.” She stopped short of joining calls for converting one or both plans from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans that are more dependent on investment outcomes. 

A new federal courthouse opened in downtown Austin this week, closer to the partying part of town than to the Capitol and most other government buildings. It was a federal stimulus project, built for $123 million. 

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry has appointed J. Bruce Bugg Jr. of San Antonio as president and chairman of the Texas Economic Development Corp. Bugg is chairman and CEO of several companies, including Southwest Bancshares Inc. He also chairs the Bank of San Antonio.

Perry also appointed Michael K. “Mike” Griffiths of Austin and June Scogin of Cedar Park to the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board. Griffiths is executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, and Scogin is a former consultant for G4S Youth Services LLC and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Perry appointed Michael Willson of Midland to the 11 Court of Appeals. Willson is a shareholder and vice president of a law firm, Cotton, Bledsoe, Tighe and Dawson.

With his successor, Christi Craddick, elected last month, Railroad Commissioner Buddy Garcia resigned this week. Garcia was appointed in April after Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones resigned to concentrate on a Texas Senate bid. 

Assembled under the new shingle “Texas Legislative Associates”: Former Reps. Kent Grusendorf and Bill Keffer, and lobbyists Brad Shields, Brad Shields II and Stephanie Gibson. Noble Strategic Partners, a public relations firm, is also in the fold.

Brandon Harris is the new chief information officer at the Texas Railroad Commission. He was most recently with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Deaths: Former U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Beaumont, a labor and LBJ ally swept out of office by the Republican surge in 1994. He was elected to the Texas House in 1946 and to Congress four years later. Brooks was 89.

Hilmar Moore, the mayor of Richmond from 1949, when he was appointed to fill an unexpired term, until this death this week at age 92.

Quotes of the Week

It’s just a fact, it’s not an excuse. We passed tort reform in Texas, so we can’t actually sue the doctors for what they told him.

Dave Carney, saying Gov. Rick Perry expected a two-week recovery from back surgery but required four months that disrupted his bid for president, quoted in the Washington Post 

I left there because I had serious concerns about the ethical and moral behavior of the senior leadership. I don’t particularly want to discuss that at length. I think it will be resolved. I am consoled by my certain knowledge that time wounds all heels.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, on Fox News after resigning from FreedomWorks

In retrospect, I believe we probably could have just beaten Perry with the Social Security hit.

Matt RhoadesMitt Romney's campaign manager, on Romney's attempt to move to the right of Gov. Rick Perry on immigration during the GOP primary

We should have waited actually longer. We should have waited till November maybe. … It would have given us more time to be prepared, more time to do some of the groundwork that's necessary.

Dave Carney on the governor's decision to enter the presidential race in August 2011

I think the human nature is to be free. The human instinct is to be free, free from overtaxation, free from overregulation, free from overlitigation. And until we free up the entrepreneurs in this country, we are going to struggle economically as a nation. 

Gov. Rick Perry while guest-hosting CNBC's Squawk Box on Tuesday

America can become a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. As our nation debates the proper course of action on immigration reform, I hope we do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contributions of immigrants.

Former President George W. Bush at an immigration conference organized by the George W. Bush Institute

That's why we shouldn't eliminate the word lunatic. It really has application around this town.

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, telling CNN why he voted against removing the word from federal statutes