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The Brief: Aug. 18, 2010

Candidates, with ethics attacks in hand, are looking to screw more than just their opponents' weeks.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Candidates, with ethics attacks in hand, are looking to screw more than just their opponents' weeks.

After The Associated Press reported Monday that state Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, had for years collected reimbursements from the Texas House for expenses already paid for by his campaign (news that "pretty well screws my week," Driver told the AP), attention turned to Jamie Dorris, the Democrat whom Driver was expected to sail past in his re-election effort this November. After Monday, Dorris suddenly had an issue on which to run a campaign — and a realistic shot at the seat.

The surprise turnaround disquieted Dallas-area Republicans, already biting their nails over attacks launched earlier this summer against Republican state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, who admitted in June to driving two cars owned by a company that does business with the Texas Department of Transportation.

The two controversies have handed Democrats an opening in a year in which Republicans — who saw opportunity in a largely anti-Democratic electoral environment to hold onto and capture as many seats as possible — thought they'd be wielding the ethics cleavers, with national Democrats, including U.S. Reps. Charlie Rangel, of New York, and Maxine Waters, of California, caught up in scandals.

And as the Tribune reports today, Driver and Harper-Brown are just two in a long line of statewide political hopefuls from both sides of the aisle whose opponents have attempted to tie them to a host of ongoing scandals and controversial figures: Waters; Rangel; the Wylys, billionaire Dallas brothers accused of securities fraud; the New York City mosque; anchor babies — you name it. It's all on the table.

"It's not at all clear that such tactics are successful," the Tribune's Ross Ramsey and Sarah Adler say. "But campaigns, looking for any small advantage, employ them all the time. 'There's no way to know if anything sticks until you throw it out there,' says Harold Cook, a Democratic consultant. He and others say the trick only works if voters feel strongly about the bad actors."

CULLED:

  • This morning, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources will hold its first post-shuffle hearing, at which Republican state Sen. Troy Fraser, regarded by some as a friend of big business, will make his first appearance as the committee's new chairman. 
  • After abuse scandals rocked Texas institutions for the disabled, lawmakers agreed last year to a $112 million settlement for the state's living centers. But that money hasn't appeased the state's disability community, which, the Tribune's Emily Ramshaw reports, would now rather see the facilities shut down. In the meantime, the Senate Finance Committee will meet today to ensure that facilities are following terms of the 2009 settlement.
  • The recently exposed $1.3 billion budget deficit the state faces this year — on which the Trib's Ross Ramsey has a report today — popped up in the governor's race on Tuesday. Bill White: "I believe that the governor fully intends to try to obscure this issue until after the election." Gov. Rick Perry's camp: Bill White is running a campaign based on criticisms with no solutions."
  • The House State Affairs Committee will be meeting this morning to "review state compliance with federal law regarding undocumented immigrants" — likely a harbinger, as the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Enrique Rangel notes, of the heat expected in the Legislature next year over immigration-related issues.

MUST-READ:

Women reportedly recruited for cartel killings, El Paso Times

Fort Worth Democrat sues to get on ballot, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Optimism gap seen in Hispanics, The Associated Press

Texas' proposal to sell OU license plates stirs up passions on both sides, The Dallas Morning News

Democrats Balk at Cuts to Food Stamp Program, The Texas Tribune and KUT News

And today's must-watch, from the Trib: Texas Lawmakers on Terror Babies: The Mash-Up

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