Vol 30, Issue 13 Print Issue

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, at the back mike during SB 1 debate in the House on April 4, 2013.
State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, at the back mike during SB 1 debate in the House on April 4, 2013.

The Three-Party System

The House debate on the budget flushed out a new coalition in a Legislature split between traditional and populist Republicans, and Democrats. The losers? The populist Republicans, many of them freshmen.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, l, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry at a Capitol press conference on Medicaid on April 1, 2013.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, l, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry at a Capitol press conference on Medicaid on April 1, 2013.

The Medicaid Expansion Merry-Go-Round

Republican legislators who want to use federal Medicaid expansion dollars are struggling to find common ground between the Perry administration in Texas and the Obama administration in Washington. But they're trying.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia were shot to death in their home in Forney, two months after his assistant, Mark Hasse, was shot and killed in broad daylight. No arrests have been made in either case.

University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall Jr., who has pressured UT-Austin to be more transparent and accountable, is coming under fire for failing to disclose a long history of courtroom battles before he was appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate to the board. The Texas Tribune found at least six lawsuits that were not listed on Hall’s regent application as required. One of the lawsuits — a nasty business dispute with multiple appeals — featured Dallas trial lawyer Lisa Blue, who was on Hall’s team, plus a cameo appearance by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who was on the other side.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams told senators that the state intends to move forward with developing an A through F public school accountability rating system that would take effect in 2014. Williams said that although he had the authority to make the transition without enacting legislation, he did not want to formally approve the change without an opportunity to answer legislators’ questions. He did do it, however, without following the recommendations of two Texas Education Agency advisory panels, which opposed the plan he’s putting in place. 

As the gun control debate swirls around issues like background checks and mental health, a new study reveals that gun running into Mexico remains a large-scale problem. In their report, “The Way of the Gun,” researchers at the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute estimated that as many as 253,000 firearms were purchased in the United States from 2010 to 2012 for the sole purpose of being trafficked across the border into Mexico. The figure is nearly three times the amount (about 88,000 firearms) trafficked between 1997 and 1999, when the federal assault weapons ban was in place.

The Texas Senate unanimously approved a couple of bills to reform the beleaguered Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas amid continuing controversy over grant awards. Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said the legislation would put “an ironclad system of checks and balances” in place that would force transparency and accountability on the agency. Both measures will now go to the House. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said legislators would consider adding money to the budget to finance CPRIT when the two chambers hold a conference committee on the budget bill.

Cable television providers, who pay more than $200 million in annual sales taxes on top of local franchise fees their satellite TV competitors don't have to pay, are attempting to end a disparity they characterize as an unfair advantage for their business rivals. The break, if granted, wouldn't go directly to the companies, but to the customers to whom they pass along those costs. 

Despite the addition of 80,600 jobs, the Texas unemployment rate rose slightly to 6.8 percent in February, up one-tenth of a percent since January, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Even with the increase, the state’s unemployment rate is better than this time last year, when it was at 7.1 percent, and it continues to be well below the national unemployment rate of 7.7 percent. Since February 2012, Texas has added 347,200 private and 359,800 non-agriculture jobs. Of the non-agriculture jobs, 3.5 percent are considered part of the government sector.

Political People and their Moves

Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor and U.S. trade representative, will join the Gibson Dunn law firm, floating between its Dallas and Washington, DC, offices and “advising global clients.” 

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, told Austin’s KXAN-TV that she will run for reelection in 2014 and not — as some Democrats have hoped and rumored — for statewide office. 

F. Scott McCown, the former state district judge who has headed the Center for Public Policy Priorities since 2002, will leave that post this summer and start teaching at the University of Texas law school next fall. He’ll be director of the Children’s Rights Clinic there, teaching law students how to represent kids in child protective service cases. 

Will Hailer, who has worked for Democrats in Minnesota and Virginia and on campaigns in those and other states, is the new executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. Bill Brannon, who has the job now, will become a senior advisor to the party, spending less time there and more time on campaigns.

Kenneth Evans was appointed president of Lamar University. He had been dean of the business school at the University of Oklahoma. He will succeed James Simmons, who is retiring in July.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed:

Oscar Garcia of Port Isabel as judge of the 357th judicial district court in Cameron County. Garcia is an attorney in private practice.

James Scott of Beaumont to the Jefferson and Orange County Board of Pilot Commissioners. Scott is vice president of Trans-Global Solutions.