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TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

Grissom on her two hours in Juárez, Grissom, Ramshaw and Ramsey on four of the runoffs on Tuesday's ballot, Ramshaw on the religious experience that is voting for Dallas County's DA and an energy regulator's play for a job at the entity he regulates, Mulvaney on the Texas Senate's biggest spenders, Aguilar on whether — as U.S. officials claim — 90 percent of guns used in Mexican crimes really flow south from Texas, M. Smith on the continuing Texas Forensic Science Commission follies, Stiles on how inmates spend their money behind bars and how counties are responding at Census time, Hamilton on the creative accounting and semantic trickery that allows lawmakers to raise revenue without hiking taxes when there's a budget shortfall, and Hu on Austin's first-in-the-nation car-sharing program. The best of our best from April 5 to 9, 2010.

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What I saw during two hours in Juárez was not entirely what I expected. I expected charred buildings. I expected soldiers with automatic weapons everywhere. I expected empty streets and residents skulking around in fear. To be sure, there were signs of danger — but in many parts of the city, there were also people determined to remain, to do their best to live as normally as possible.

Just one week to go before the April 13 runoffs, and we check in on the last four on our list: three of them with incumbents in Bryan, El Paso, and Lubbock defending their seats, and a fourth for an open seat, also in Lubbock.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins won’t go so far as to compare his support to the near-divine fervor of President Obama’s. But Watkins, who gained national prominence for using DNA evidence to exonerate nearly two dozen wrongfully convicted people in one of Texas’ notoriously tough-on-crime jurisdictions, will come close. “It’s a religious experience to vote for Craig Watkins,” Texas’ first African-American D.A. says without irony. Like Obama, he says, other Democratic candidates are “hanging their hats” on his re-election — and on the minority voters he draws to the polls. Like Obama, he’s got “a big target” on his back. “I’ve got to fight the political attacks coming at me from all directions," he insists. “I’ll say it publicly: If you throw punches at us, we’ll drop a bomb on you.”

Can an energy regulator who’s on the board of an entity he oversees make a play for the top job there? Industry and government sources say that’s what Barry Smitherman, the chairman of Texas’ influential Public Utility Commission, is doing, though Smitherman won't say whether he's in the running.

The 31-member body spent nearly $16 million last fiscal year on travel, staff and office expenses, according to records from the office of the Secretary of the Senate. Overall spending by individual senators ranged from $206,000, by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, to $637,000, by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.

U.S. officials claim that most firearms used in crimes in Mexico are flowing south from Texas — with Houston, Dallas and the Rio Grande Valley as the top sources.

Ninety minutes of back-and-forth on Wednesday between a House committee and representatives of the Texas Forensic Science Commission — but not its chairman — covered the besieged agency’s nonexistent enforcement power, lack of written procedural guidelines, and public records policy. Oh, and the late Cameron Todd Willingham.

Inmates serving time in Texas prisons and state jails can buy certain “free world” goods provided that people outside unit walls send them money. During the last fiscal year, they spent about $95 million at prison commissaries. The most popular items? Instant soup, stamps and soft drinks, according to data obtained under the Texas Public Information Act.

Only three states — Louisiana, New Mexico and Alaska — are returning the census form at lower rates than Texas. But two dozen Texas counties are outperforming the national average, according to our interactive map.

Every candidate vying for a legislative seat knows what lies ahead in 2011: a budget shortfall of at least $11 billion, probably higher, and state agency cuts to save as much of that amount as possible. But new revenue is a possibility as well, even if lawmakers are expert at the old sleight of hand, employing creative accounting and semantic trickery to avoid stepping on that political third rail, the tax hike.

Austin is hoping the next big thing comes in a tiny car: It's the first North American city to pilot a car-sharing program promising the possibility of less congestion and lower emissions.

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