Vol 29, Issue 7 Print Issue

The Never-Ending Story

There is a date for primary elections, but it's uncertain. And there is one redistricting map done, with two to go. And for what it's worth, the judges seem to be in a hurry.

Students on the University of Texas at Austin campus.
Students on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

High Marks for UT Plan

A report issuing recommendations on how to raise the University of Texas at Austin's four-year graduation rate to 70 percent has received positive reviews from key players on various sides of the higher education reform issue.

Gov. Rick Perry with supporters at Williamson County Republican dinner in Round Rock, his first public speech since leaving the presidential race.
Gov. Rick Perry with supporters at Williamson County Republican dinner in Round Rock, his first public speech since leaving the presidential race.

Campaign Chatter

Gov. Rick Perry wants his campaign to go on — perhaps as a Super PAC.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Seventeen undergraduate students at TCU were arrested and charged with dealing drugs after a six-month investigation jointly conducted by the Fort Worth Police Department and Texas Christian University campus police. The students, including four of the school's football players, were charged with dealing marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, acid and prescription drugs. Officials said the investigation is ongoing and more arrests could be forthcoming.

A deal reached to help homeowners across the nation includes about $287 million for Texas homeowners. Lenders agreed to the $25 billion settlement to avoid legal action related to practices that led to the collapse of the real estate market. The money will be used to restructure mortgage loans, including principal write-downs, and will also be refunded to homeowners who were wrongfully foreclosed on.

Lawmakers worried over the state's new STAAR testing system wrote to the Texas Education Agency, confirming that agency has the authority to waive a requirement that the tests make up 15 percent of high school students' final course grades. Four senators signed the letter but stressed that this would be a temporary reprieve while students and districts adjust to the new system. Districts have also been given a one-year break from having scores factored into their ratings.

A voter registration watchdog group, Voting for America, filed a lawsuit against Texas and Secretary of State Hope Andrade. The group alleges Texas is restricting access to the polls by making it harder to conduct registration drives, asking voters for ID when it’s not required and purging valid voters from the rolls.

An Austin American-Statesman analysis of state agencies over the past 10 years shows that late payments have cost the state about $9.4 million dollars in interest. Texas’ accounting system automatically adds interest to any payment made more than 30 days late at a rate 1 percent above prime. But the numbers, provided by the comptroller’s office, show a marked decline from a high of $1.25 million in 2009 to $467,000 last year.

A controversial school prayer lawsuit that drew national attention has been settled. Medina Valley ISD was sued by a student who wanted to stop prayer from being included in his graduation ceremony last spring. After a judge initially banned the prayer, an appeals court allowed the district to proceed with its planned student-led prayer. But the controversy over prayer at school events continued and became a national conversation when it was referenced in the presidential campaign. Now the district has agreed to settle by not allowing its employees to pray with or prompt students to pray, advocate for prayer or display religious artifacts.

After learning a campaign donation to Rick Perry came from El Pasoan Bob Jones, a convicted felon, his campaign staff said Jones’ contribution of $80,000 will be returned in the form of eight $10,000 donations to various El Paso charities recommended by local leaders. Jones also gave to the campaigns of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who have all said they also will return the money.

A routine traffic stop led to a Rio Grande Valley candidate's arrest on money laundering charges. After he was stopped for speeding, authorities found $1 million in cash in Robert Maldonado’s 2011 Chrysler, wrapped and bundled in a way that’s is typical of drug traffickers. Maldonado’s bail was set at $250,000.

Political People and their Moves

State District Judge Louis Sturns of Fort Worth will conduct a court of inquiry into charges that former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson hid evidence in the murder trial of Michael Morton. Morton spent almost 25 years in prison before a reexamination of the case showed that someone else murdered his wife. Anderson is now a state district judge; he has denied accusations of misconduct in the Morton case. 

Mark Lane will be the new U.S. magistrate judge in Austin, replacing Robert Pittman, who became the U.S. Attorney for this region. Lane is currently a federal prosecutor. 

Jay Kimbrough won the approval of the Public Safety Commission to be the new assistant director for homeland security at the Department of Public Safety. 

Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, announced the appointment of Mayor Robert Pinkerton, Jr. of South Padre Island, to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Seacoast Territory Insurance.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst reappointed Jimmy Mansour to the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas Oversight Committee. Mansour is the founding chairman of CEO America, a nonprofit organization that provides education scholarships for low-income children.

Dominic Chavez, senior director for external relations at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, announced a bid for the Austin City Council, specifically the the Place 5 seat currently held by Bill Spelman.

Two political consultants, one from each side of the aisle, launched a new statewide political news website. Matt Mackowiak, a Republican, and Jason Stanford, a Democrat, operate MustReadTexas.com, which will aggregate political stories, editorials, columns and blog posts.

Deaths: Mike McKinney, the well-known and well-liked longtime lobbyist for the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas. McKinney and the late Robert "Butch" Sparks were known around the Capitol as the Booze Brothers. Simply put, he was one of the best in the business. He was 65.