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It Never Hurts to Ask

Can you remember a particular State of the State speech? That's not meant as a slap at Gov. Rick Perry — we're just noting the historical significance of the form. What's useful about these spiels is that they tell you what direction a governor hopes a Legislature will take. It's where Perry said he wanted a reexamination of some death penalty issues four years ago, for instance. This year, his list was devoid of surprises, but gave listeners a sense of his direction. Some highlights:

Can you remember a particular State of the State speech? That's not meant as a slap at Gov. Rick Perry — we're just noting the historical significance of the form. What's useful about these spiels is that they tell you what direction a governor hopes a Legislature will take. It's where Perry said he wanted a reexamination of some death penalty issues four years ago, for instance. This year, his list was devoid of surprises, but gave listeners a sense of his direction. Some highlights:

• The Guv didn't commit to a particular fix on school finance, but said he wants one. Like everybody else in Austin, he said the four magic words — broad-based business tax — but he didn't endorse or rule out anything specific.

• Perry wants to cap property valuation increases at three percent per year, a limit that many cities, counties, hospital and other special districts deplore.

• Perry listed places where the state's schools come up short. He said 36,399 students attend failing schools, and that 889,468 students failed at least one section of the state's required achievement tests. He said 15,665 kids dropped out of school two years ago. To improve that, he'd lure the best teachers to the worst schools with annual salary incentives of up to $7,500. Perry called for a return to proficiency tests when students finish basic courses in algebra, biology, English, and history.

• Perry wants to create state education teams that would be dispatched to turn around failing schools. He's for rebooting schools that continue to fail, by firing the administrations and staffs and starting over, and he made a pitch for vouchers, saying "public education is not entitled to every child" and saying kids should be allowed to opt out of public schools. "They deserve better than to leave their fate in the hands of a local monopoly that is slow to change without the benefit of competition."

• Perry said lawmakers shouldn't wait for the courts to fix school finance (the state's appeal is pending before the Texas Supreme Court) because it prolongs uncertainty and what he called "a property tax system gone awry."

• He bragged about his and the Legislature's accomplishments. It's a list you'll hear many more times, particularly if the governor draws opposition to a reelection bid next year. He says the state has added 162,000 jobs, attracted a third of the biggest economic development projects in 2003, and squeezed into a tight budget without a tax increase in spite of starting $10 billion in the red two years ago. He boasted about public education advances, tort reform, and his trans-Texas road-building program.

• Perry said he will sign legislation requiring parents to consent before minors can have abortions if the Lege will send it to him. Current law calls for notification of the parents, but doesn't require their consent. The pro-life groups are split on the issue, but Perry wants the restriction. He also said he will sign a ban on human cloning if lawmakers will pass one.

• He said he supports extending the Children's Health Insurance Program to include dental, vision, and mental health coverage and to "reexamine" other CHIP coverage.

• Perry sprinkled the speech with lines aimed at other particular groups of supporters. He let the tort reformers know he wants to limit asbestos lawsuits in Texas. He said, for the benefit of suburbanites, that he doesn't want to add tolls on existing highways and roads. For those on the Border, he said he wants to fully fund the Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy in Kingsville and the Texas Tech Medical School in El Paso. He said lawmakers should use a pending review of utility regulation to "modernize telecommunications laws," but he wasn't specific.

• He reiterated support for a $329 million infusion into the state's child and adult protective services programs, a set of reforms prompted by gruesome reports of abuses and deaths in cases known to overwhelmed state regulators and caseworkers.

• The governor asked lawmakers to replenish the $300 million economic development fund he's used to try to attract business to the state, and to create a new fund of the same size that would be invested in technology ventures in the state.

Say What?

We collected some of the reactions, expected and not, to Perry's State of the State speech. Trust us — these are in no particular order:

• Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst liked it: "I think Governor Perry's State of the State address today was one of the best speeches I have ever heard him give." House Speaker Tom Craddick liked it: "Governor Perry set the bar for the 79th Legislative Session with his tremendous State of the State Address."

• The Texas AFL-CIO points out that Perry talked about workers' compensation insurance without talking about workers. Their beef: Texas has a lousy record of getting people back to work; the state's regulators have created a "nightmare bureaucracy" for workers who want to challenge insurance decisions; and premiums are rising while payouts to injured workers have dropped.

• The Texas Federation of Teachers complained that the governor was "short on specifics" about additional funding for schools, and griping that his ideas for public education are "not financial but motivational." They read Perry's proposal to give incentives to some educators as evidence that he thinks educators now do less than their best. The labor group wants the state to "fully fund the significant education reforms already on the books."

Donna New Haschke, president of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, wants Perry to increase pay for all teachers and not limit the boosts to bonuses. Her group wants the state to close what they say is a $6,000 gap between average teacher pay in Texas and the average nationwide.

• Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said the governor's pitch for more money for the pharmacy school in Kingsville and the medical school in El Paso are appreciated, but said the state has to spend more money on the Border than it's spending now. He wants more money for Border health projects, for skills development, and for general economic development.

• Texas Watch battled the governor and others over the constitutional limits on lawsuit awards and disagreed with his assessment of the impact of those limits, which were approved by voters more than a year ago. Alex Winslow, the group's chief: "Doctors are still waiting for lower malpractice insurance premiums, patients are still waiting for improvements in their healthcare, and families have been stripped of their ability to hold a wrongdoer accountable." State regulators say some rates have come down; the Texas Watch folks say two-thirds of the state's doctors haven't seen rates drop.

• The Texas Association of Counties called Perry's appraisal caps proposal an attempt to make counties and cities "the scapegoats for Texas' school property tax problem." And they said unfunded mandates from the state — forcing counties to pick up costs of indigent health care and criminal defenses — have kept the counties from lowering tax rates when appraised values have risen. Sam Seale, the group's director, said voters already have the ability to vote out county commissioners who spend too much.

• The Texas Freedom Network wants the governor to take public vouchers for private education out of his plans, saying the vouchers would undermine the public schools he's trying to improve.

• The National Federation of Independent Business was wary of new business taxes, promising to help but cautioning against increasing the tax load on small businesses. NFIB said the state should do a better job enforcing and collecting taxes already on the books, a proposal they say would bring in $500 million.

• Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who has become a habitual critic of the governor, complained that Perry's education proposals were too vague and that he didn't call for full restoration of the CHIP cuts made two years ago.

• The Texas Hospital Association had more optimistic ears, issuing a statement applauding Perry "for recognizing that funding for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program truly is an investment in our state's future."

• The Coalition to Invest in Public Schools, which includes the Texas Association of School Boards, Texas Association of School Administrators, the Equity Center and others, likes Perry's emphasis on education with the exception of his support for vouchers. They want something that "increases funding, prioritizes increased student achievement, strengthens equity and ensures local control."

One Helluva Day

We don't go around quoting reporters all the time (think where that might lead), but Gardner Selby's comment to House Speaker Tom Craddick was just right: Craddick had just finished outlining a package of school finance and education reform bills by saying he hoped the House would vote on all of them the same day.

Craddick told the Texas Association of Business that he wants a broad-based business tax to buy down school property taxes and that he wants to fashion that so it won't require a constitutional amendment. That's a practical difference of 25 supporters in the House: Simple legislation can be passed with 76 votes, while constitutional amendments require 100 votes in the lower chamber. Education reforms — yet to be unveiled but tied to the school finance package — would also be in a form that requires a simple majority.

Constitutional amendments would be required for three other issues: A state property tax for public education, caps on the speed of increases in property valuations, and legalization of slot machines (video lottery terminals, or VLTs, in industry jargon). Craddick said each of those three things would be in separate bills, and told a few reporters afterward that he'd like to schedule all of that stuff for one day in late February or early March. As the San Antonio Express-News reporter said when Craddick finished, "That'll be one helluva day."

Craddick told TAB members that there's no way to end the Robin Hood system of school finance without a state property tax. "If you want to get us out of court — if you want to get rid of Robin Hood — the only way is a statewide property tax," he said. But he wants that unlinked from a business tax that would finance a cut in local school property taxes. The House hasn't put numbers or preferences in public view. The Senate wants to cut property taxes by 35 cents — from a maximum of $1.50 per $100 in property value now to $1.15. In the Senate's plan, a state property tax would be installed at a rate of $1, and local districts would be allowed to raise up to $15 cents solely for local use.

The Senate would replace the current corporate franchise tax with a business activity tax that would combine a business' pre-tax net income with its compensation for employees. That total — less a deduction of $30,000 for each employee and an unspecified amount for health insurance — would be taxed at a rate of 1.95 percent. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and the senators who signed on like to say the actual rate would be lower because of federal taxes, but you get the idea. The House is looking at "four or five different ideas" on broad-based business taxes, Craddick said, and he didn't want to get into specifics yet.

Craddick told the business group — to loud applause — that he wants to kill the current franchise tax. He got another big hand when he said he would oppose appraisal caps if business and residential property were not treated equally. One proposal made two years ago would have put property valuation limits on residential property but not on business property.

He also said:

• He wants to repeal the rule that forces state universities to give preference to students in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes, or at least to cap it so that the university could fill at least half of each incoming class with students outside the top 10 percent.

• That the Legislature's emergency appropriations bill — a detailed version will be around in a few days — will be in the $2 billion range. Say sayonara to that $1.2 billion budget surplus we were talking about last week.

• That higher education — specifically, junior colleges — should get more state money.

Musical Chairs on the West End

With little turnover in the House, but some plum committee chairmanships opened by election upsets, House Speaker Tom Craddick's new assignments fall more in the category of redecoration than of overhaul. He put new people at the tops of ten committees, but much of the change was triggered by election losses of four chairmen.

The biggest committee on the block — Appropriations — already went to Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, when Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, lost his reelection bid (Heflin could still come back if he wins his election contest, or wins an election resulting from that contest, but it's unlikely he'd get his chairmanship back). That's a big promotion; Pitts wasn't a chairman last session.

Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, will chair the House Ways & Means Committee, where the tax bill(s) will start. He replaces Ron Wilson, D-Houston, who lost his reelection bid in last year's Democratic primary. Keffer had been chairman of Economic Development; Allan Ritter, D-Nederland, got that spot. And Ritter's spot at Pensions & Investments allowed a promotion for Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, who wasn't a chairman last session.

Rep. Jaime Capelo Jr., R-Corpus Christi, had chaired the House's Committee on Public Health, but he lost his reelection race. That goes to Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple.

The primary loss by Rep. Glenn Lewis, D-Fort Worth, opened the chair at County Affairs, and that went to Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie. In turn, his spot at Corrections now belongs to Jerry Madden, R-Richardson. Madden wasn't a chairman last session.

State Affairs was opened when Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Carrollton, skipped reelection to run — successfully, as it turned out — for Congress. That now belongs to David Swinford, R-Dumas. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, moves to Government Reform, where Swinford had been, but loses his middle seat at the more important Human Services committee. That created a promotion for Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas, who didn't get a chairmanship two years ago.

• Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, didn't get a chairmanship, but she is officially loaded for bear: She'll be on the Legislative Budget Board and on the appropriations, ways & means, and calendars committee. If it raises money, spends money, moves money, or is trying to get on the House's agenda, she'll have a finger in it.

• Craddick killed two special committees he created two years ago; the House won't have separate committees on ethics or on state health care expenditures this time. The House has 40 standing committees.

• Ten committees are chaired by Democrats, and 30 by Republicans. Ten are chaired by women, 30 by men. Eight committees are chaired by minorities (five Hispanics, three Blacks), 32 by Anglos.

• Republicans have majorities on 30 committees, Democrats on eight. Two committees have an even number of Republicans and Democrats and the balance will be decided when voters in HD-121 pick a new representative on February 5.

• For the second time, Craddick selected Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, as Speaker Pro Tempore.

• He named four House members to the Legislative Budget Board, which has control over the state budget during the 84 weeks between regular legislative sessions: Reps. Pitts, Keffer, Fred Hill, R-Dallas, and Luna. Pitts and Keffer, respectively the chairs of appropriations and ways & means, are automatic picks. The other two are speaker picks.

The House List

AGRICULTURE & LIVESTOCK: Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, chair; Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, vice chair; Betty Brown, R-Terrell, cbo*; Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth; Jessica Farrar, D-Houston; Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi; and Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg. Republican/Democrat split: 3-4.

APPROPRIATIONS: Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chair; Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, vice-chair; Leo Berman, R-Tyler; Dan Branch, R-Dallas; Fred Brown, R-College Station; B. Brown; Warren Chisum, R-Pampa; Myra Crownover, R-Denton; John Davis, R-Houston; Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin; Al Edwards, D-Houston; Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown; Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso; Peggy Hamric, R-Houston; Glenn Hegar, R-Katy; Ruben Hope, R-Conroe; Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville; Carl Isett, R-Lubbock; Tracy King, D-Eagle Pass; Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Armando "Mando" Martinez, D-Weslaco; Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio; Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio; Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Joe Pickett, D-El Paso; Todd Smith, R-Euless; Vicki Truitt, R-Keller; and Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. Partisan split: 17-12.

BORDER & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, chair; Bob Griggs, R-North Richland Hills, vice chair; Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas; Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio; Tommy Merritt, R-Longview; Joe Moreno and Hubert Vo, both D-Houston. Partisan split: 2-5.

BUSINESS & INDUSTRY: Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, chair; Gary Elkins, R-Houston, vice chair; Martinez, cbo; Kevin Bailey, D-Houston; Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston; Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton; Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Vo; and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. Partisan split: 5-4.

CALENDARS: Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, chair; Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, vice chair; Bill Callegari, R-Katy; Elkins; Kolkhorst; Luna; Brian McCall, R-Plano; Sid Miller, R-Stephenville; Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs; Turner; and Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Tomball. Partisan split: 8-3.

CIVIL PRACTICES: Joe Nixon, R-Houston, chair; Rose, vice chair; Phil King, R-Weatherford; Jerry Madden, R-Richardson; Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio; Richard Raymond, D-Laredo; Mark Strama, D-Austin; Robert Talton, R-Pasadena; and Woolley. Partisan split: 5-4.

CORRECTIONS: Madden, chair; Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, vice chair; Haggerty, cbo; Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie; Scott Hochberg, D-Houston; Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin; and Melissa Noriega, D-Houston. Partisan split: 4-3.

COUNTY AFFAIRS: R. Allen, chair; Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, vice chair; Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels; Garnet Coleman, D-Houston; David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls; Pete Laney, D-Hale Center; Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin; Olivo; and John Otto, R-Dayton. Partisan split: 4-5.

CRIMINAL JURISPRUDENCE: Terry Keel, R-Austin, chair; Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, vice chair; Peña, cbo; Mary Denny, R-Aubrey; Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville; Terri Hodge, D-Dallas; Paul Moreno, D-El Paso; Raymond; and Elvira Reyna, R-Mesquite. Partisan split: 4-5.

CULTURE, RECREATION, AND TOURISM: Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, chair; Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, vice chair; Dukes, cbo; Todd Baxter, R-Austin; Jim Dunnam, D-Waco; Pete Gallego, D-Alpine; and Larry Phillips, R-Sherman. Partisan split: 4-3.

DEFENSE AFFAIRS & STATE-FEDERAL RELATIONS: Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, chair; Scott Campbell, R-San Angelo, vice chair; Berman, cbo; Herrero; Hodge; David McQuade Leibowitz, D-San Antonio; Merritt; Moreno; and Noriega. Partisan split: 4-5.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Allan Ritter, D-Nederland, chair; Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, vice chair; Kolkhorst, cbo; Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont; McCall; Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; and Seaman. Partisan split: 4-3.

ELECTIONS: Denny, chair; Bohac, vice chair; T. Smith, cbo; Anchia; Anderson; Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola; and Jesse Jones, D-Dallas. Partisan split: 5-2.

ENERGY RESOURCES: G.E. "Buddy" West, R-Odessa, chair; Farabee, vice chair; Crownover, cbo; Corte; Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita; Yvonne Gonzalez-Toureilles, D-Alice; and Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land. Partisan split: 5-2.

ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION: Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, chair; Howard, vice chair; T. King, cbo; Joe Driver, R-Garland; Mark Homer, D-Paris; Kuempel; and W. Smith. Split: 5-2.

FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS: Solomons, chair; McCall, vice chair; Guillen, cbo; Chavez; Dan Flynn, R-Van; Rob Orr, R-Burleson; and Riddle. Partisan split: 5-2.

GENERAL INVESTIGATING & ETHICS: Bailey, chair; Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, vice chair; Dutton; Flynn; and Keel. Partisan split: 3-2.

GOVERNMENT REFORM: Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, chair; Otto, vice chair; Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas; Stephen Frost, D-Atlanta; Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen; Bob Hunter, R-Abilene; and Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth. Partisan split: 2-5.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, chair; Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, vice chair; F. Brown, cbo; Glenda Dawson, R-Pearland; Gallego; Giddings; Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving; J. Jones; and Rose. Partisan split: 5-4.

HOUSE ADMINISTRATION: Hamric, chair; Berman, vice chair; J. Davis; Dawson; Denny; Giddings; Hughes; Keel; Menendez; Peña; and Taylor. Partisan split: 8-3.

HUMAN SERVICES: Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas, chair; Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, vice chair; J. Davis, cbo; Alma Allen, D-Houston; Gonzalez-Toureilles; Toby Goodman, R-Arlington; Paxton; Naishtat; and Reyna. Partisan split: 6-3.

INSURANCE: John Smithee, R-Amarillo, chair; Seaman, vice chair; Isett, cbo; Craig Eiland, D-Galveston; Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston; Bill Keffer, R-Dallas; Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville; Taylor; and Van Arsdale. Partisan split: 6-3.

JUDICIARY: Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, chair; Hughes, vice chair; Hopson, cbo; Alonzo; District 121; Gonzales; Keel; Jim Solis, D-Harlingen; and Van Arsdale. Partisan split: 4-4, with the swing in the hands of San Antonio voters.

JUVENILE JUSTICE & FAMILY ISSUES: Dutton, chair; Goodman, vice chair; Castro; Y. Davis; Dunnam; Joe Moreno, D-Houston; Nixon; Strama; and Thompson. Partisan split: 2-7.

LAND & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT: Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth, chair; Harper-Brown, vice chair; Pickett, cbo; Roy Blake Jr., R-Nacogdoches; Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake; Escobar; Leibowitz; Miller; and Orr. Partisan split: 5-4.

LAW ENFORCEMENT: Driver, chair; Jim Jackson, R-Dallas, vice chair; Hegar, cbo; Burnam; Frost; Hupp; and Veasey. Partisan split: 4-3.

LICENSING & ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES: Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, chair; Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, vice chair; Chisum, cbo; Goolsby; Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Mauriceville; Homer; D. Jones; Morrison; and Inocente "Chente" Quintanilla, D-Tornillo. Partisan split: 6-3.

LOCAL & CONSENT CALENDARS: Reyna, chair; Dukes, vice chair; Baxter; Casteel; Farabee; Harper-Brown; Homer; Hope; Howard; Oliveira; and W. Smith. Partisan split: 7-4.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT WAYS & MEANS: Fred Hill, R-Richardson, chair; Elkins; Hamilton; Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker; Robert Puente, D-San Antonio; Quintanilla; and Uresti. Partisan split: 4-3.

NATURAL RESOURCES: Puente, chair; Callegari, vice chair; Hope, cbo; Bonnen; Campbell; Geren; Hilderbran; Hardcastle; and Laney. Partisan split: 7-2.

PENSIONS & INVESTMENTS: Eiland, chair; Flynn, vice chair; McClendon, cbo; District 121; Griggs; Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock; and Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin. Partisan split: 3-3, with the partisan edge depending on San Antonio voters.

PUBLIC EDUCATION: Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, chair; Oliveira, vice chair; Branch, cbo; Dutton; Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple; Eissler; Hochberg; B. Keffer; and Mowery. Partisan split: 6-3.

PUBLIC HEALTH: Delisi, chair; Laubenberg, vice chair; Truitt, cbo; Garnet Coleman, D-Houston; Dawson; Jackson; McReynolds; Solis; and Zedler. Partisan split: 6-3.

REDISTRICTING: Crabb, chair; R. Cook, vice chair; Corte; Deshotel; Flores; Hopson; Jackson; P. King; Krusee; McClendon; Morrison; Orr; Rodriguez; Talton; and West. Partisan split: 9-6.

REGULATED INDUSTRIES: P. King, chair; Hunter, vice chair; Turner, cbo; Baxter; R. Cook; Crabb; and Hartnett. Partisan split: 5-2.

RULES & RESOLUTIONS: Edwards, chair; Martha Wong, R-Houston, vice chair; A. Allen; Anderson; Blake; Eissler; Gonzales; Hughes; Otto; Veasey; and Zedler. Partisan split: 7-4.

STATE AFFAIRS: David Swinford, R-Dumas, chair; Miller, vice chair; Gattis, cbo; B. Cook; Farrar; J. Keffer; Martinez-Fischer; Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio; and Wong. Partisan split: 6-3.

TRANSPORTATION: Krusee, chair; Phillips, vice chair; Hamric, cbo; Callegari; Casteel; Deshotel; Flores; Hill; and West. Partisan split: 7-2.

URBAN AFFAIRS: Talton, chair; Wong, vice-chair; Menendez, cbo; A. Allen; Bailey; Blake; and Rodriguez. Partisan split: 3-4.

WAYS & MEANS: J. Keffer, chair; Villarreal, vice-chair; Edwards; Grusendorf; Luna; Paxton; Ritter; Smithee; and Woolley. Partisan split: 5-4.

*A cbo is a committee budget officer, and merits an automatic spot on appropriations.

Musical Chairs on the East End

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, with 31 senators returning, didn't make major changes to the committees he set up two years ago.

He added a subcommittee on "emerging technologies and economic development" to Business & Commerce and put Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, in charge of it. Carona, who backed Democrat John Sharp for Lite Guv in 2002 over Dewhurst, started last session in the doghouse. He's getting a longer leash this time.

The two newest members of the Senate, Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, both got co-pilot seats. Eltife is now vice chairman of government organization; Seliger is number two on criminal justice. Both won special elections after the last regular session, but before the special session on school finance last spring. Every Texas senator on the ballot last year won reelection.

The Senate List

ADMINISTRATION: Chris Harris, R-Arlington, Chair; Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Vice-Chair; Kyle Janek, R-Houston; Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio; Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio; and John Whitmire, D-Houston. Republican/Democrat split: 4-3.

BUSINESS & COMMERCE: Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, Chair; Kip Averitt, R-Waco, Vice-Chair; Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria; Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth; John Carona, R-Dallas; Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler; Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls; Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville; and Van de Putte. Subcommittee On Emerging Technologies & Economic Development: Carona, Chair; Brimer; and Lucio. Partisan split: 6-3, 2-1.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Whitmire, Chair; Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, Vice-Chair; Carona; Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Hinojosa; Steve Ogden, R-Bryan; and Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. Partisan split: 4-3.

EDUCATION: Shapiro, Chair; Royce West, D-Dallas, Vice-Chair; Averitt; Janek; Ogden; Todd Staples, R-Palestine; Van de Putte; Williams; and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. Subcommittee On Higher Education: West, Chair; Averitt; Janek; Staples; Williams, and Zaffirini. Partisan split: 6-3, 4-2.

FINANCE: Ogden, Chair; Zaffirini, Vice-Chair; Averitt; Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin; Brimer; Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; Janek; Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville; Shapiro; Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso; Staples; West; Whitmire; and Williams. Partisan split: 10-5.

GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION: Ellis, Chair; Eltife, Vice-Chair; Mario Gallegos Jr., D-Houston; Harris; Mike Jackson, R-La Porte; Nelson; and Whitmire. Partisan split: 4-3.

HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES: Nelson, Chair; Janek, Vice-Chair; Armbrister; Carona; Deuell; Gallegos; Jon Lindsay, R-Houston; West; and Zaffirini. Partisan split: 5-4.

TRANSPORTATION & HOMELAND SECURITY: Staples, Chair; Barrientos, Vice-Chair; Brimer; Ellis; Lindsay; Frank Madla, D-San Antonio; Shapiro; Shapleigh; and Wentworth. Partisan split: 5-4.

INTERGOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS; Madla, Chair; Brimer, Vice-Chair; Deuell; Gallegos; and Wentworth. Partisan split: 3-2.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS & TRADE: Lucio, Chair; Shapleigh, Vice-Chair; Carona; Eltife; Estes; Seliger; and Zaffirini. Partisan split: 4-3.

JURISPRUDENCE: Wentworth, Chair; Gallegos, Vice-Chair; Averitt; Duncan; Harris; Hinojosa; and West. Partisan split: 4-3.

NATURAL RESOURCES: Armbrister, Chair; Jackson, Vice-Chair; Barrientos; Duncan; Estes; Fraser; Hinojosa; Lindsay; Madla; Seliger; and Staples. Subcommittee On Agriculture & Coastal Resources: Jackson, Chair; Estes; and Madla. Partisan split: 7-4, 2-1.

NOMINATIONS: Lindsay, Chair; Deuell, Vice-Chair; Barrientos; Eltife; Jackson; Lucio; and Nelson. Partisan split: 5-2.

STATE AFFAIRS: Duncan, Chair; Willliams, Vice-Chair; Armbrister; Ellis; Fraser; Harris; Jackson; Lucio; and Madla. Partisan split: 5-4.

VETERANS AFFAIRS & MILITARY INSTALLATIONS: Van de Putte, Chair; Estes, Vice-Chair; Fraser; Seliger; and Shapleigh. Subcommittee On Base Realignment & Closure: Shapleigh, Chair; Estes; and Fraser. Partisan split: 3-2, 2-1.

Flotsam & Jetsam

Put Bob Reeves, a Republican businessman from Center, on the list of people "more than interested" in running for state Senate if Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, decides to run for another office. Staples has been coy about rumors he wants to head the Texas Department of Agriculture. Ag Commissioner Susan Combs isn't seeking reelction; she wants to run for comptroller if the current occupant of that office — Carole Keeton Strayhorn — doesn't run for reelection. Staples isn't in a hurry to announce a decision, and said recently he wants to concentrate on his current job during the legislative session. Reeves hasn't run for state office before, but is president of the local school board and has been active in civics and politics in East Texas.

The ag commish and the comptroller built a little flapdoodle over a news report on the 2006 elections. Combs says through a spokesman she was misquoted by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, which had her quoting Strayhorn as saying the comptroller's job would be open next time around. But instead of calling Combs and asking her to patch it up with the paper, Strayhorn issued a press release calling a foul, sort of. The comptroller's version, with its All Capital Letters Headline: "COMPTROLLER DID NOT TELL COMBS SHE WOULD NOT SEEK REELECTION." That's essentially what both officeholders said when Combs first expressed an interest in the finance job. Strayhorn, widely expected to run for governor against Rick Perry in 2006, earned this clinker headline from the Houston Chronicle out of her press release: "Strayhorn hints against running for governor." So, to summarize: Combs denies repeating something Strayhorn never told her. As the bumper sticker says: Keep Austin Weird.

• Two seats in the Texas House are in question, one because of an election challenge and the other because Elizabeth Ames Jones, R-San Antonio, gave up her spot to remain eligible for appointment to the Texas Railroad Commission. Early voting is already underway in the election to replace Jones and the election will be held a week from Saturday. Meanwhile, Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, got his first look at hard evidence on his way to writing a report on Rep. Hubert Vo's victory over House Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, in November. Heflin lost by 33 votes and contends illegally cast ballot more than cover that margin. Hartnett will send his report to a special committee overseeing the contest — probably within a week or two — and that committee will send its recommendations on to the full House. The House, based on what it sees, can seat either candidate or order a new election.

• Now that they got the federal government to give Texas taxpayers an income tax deduction for sales taxes, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, and others are pushing to make the deduction permanent. They frame it as a fairness issue, since taxpayers in states where there is an income tax get to deduct that. The federal law — which will expire in two years unless Congress acts — allows state taxpayers to take a deduction for sales taxes or income taxes, but not both. In Texas and other states without income taxes, it creates a new deduction.

• Rep. Ruben Hope, R-Conroe, is the current chairman of the House Republican Caucus, but he won't go unchallenged. Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, plans to run against him when the caucus votes on new officers.

Political People and Their Moves

Tom Schieffer, a former state representative, president of the Texas Rangers Baseball Club, and U.S. Ambassador to Australia, is moving north: He's the president's pick to be ambassador to Japan. Schieffer was a part owner of the Rangers when George W. Bush was the team's managing partner. He'll replace former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker in Japan if he's confirmed by the Senate.

Bob Richter is joining the public information gang at the Health and Human Services Commission. He was press secretary to House Speaker Tom Craddick until the Christmas holidays, and a reporter at the San Antonio Express-News before that.

Sabine Romero is back in Texas, opening an Austin office for Sandler, Reiff & Young, a Washington, D.C., law firm that specializes in election law. She worked with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus here before going east in 2003 to work as an attorney for the Democratic National Committee.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. Rick Perry, talking about schools in his state of the state address: "The financing component is critical, but it is only the means to an end destination. We will not arrive at that destination until every child in every corner of this state can walk through the schoolhouse doors and have waiting for them the best teachers, the best curriculum, and the best opportunity to succeed."

Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, quoted in the El Paso Times on the Heflin-Vo election contest in particular and on partisanship in the Legislature in general: "This has turned into a completely partisan thing. There's nothing on the horizon that looks good. Everything looks bleak."

Former Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, quoted in a Houston Chronicle report describing her contracts to lobby for groups affected by her signature legislation: "If I had put anything into HB 2292 that gave preferential treatment to a company in the legislation and then had gone to work for that company, there might have been some reason to raise eyebrows."

House Speaker Tom Craddick, telling a business group that all he hears from news reporters is one question about school finance: "'Where's your plan?' 'Where's your plan?' They'd be the last people I'd tell."

President George W. Bush, publicly telling his Cabinet to stop paying pundits to promote policy, as the Department of Education was doing under Secretary Rod Paige of Houston: "Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."

Federal appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham, quoted from the bench by The Dallas Morning News on the current legislative map, drawn by Republicans, and the one it replaced, which was drawn by Democrats: "They both were drawn with a heavy political hand."

Former Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, recalling for the Texas Lawyer what happened when telecom lobbyists got the Senate to kill a deal they'd previously approved in long negotiations with Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington: "He (Goodman) threw all of his papers in the air. And it was cute, because he was still so optimistic."

Texas Weekly: Volume 21, Issue 31, 31 January 2005. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2005 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email biz@ For news, email ramsey@, or call (512) 288-6598.

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