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The Brief: Aug. 20, 2010

Think fast, Texas Democrats.

Screengrab of state Sen. Brian Birdwell on KWTX-TV in Waco.

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Think fast, Texas Democrats.

They'll need to, because a court of appeals ruling on Thursday that denied a Democratic effort to remove state Sen. Brian Birdwell from the November ballot now leaves the party until the end of the day today to have the Texas Supreme Court replace the Granbury Republican on appeal, the Tribune's Ross Ramsey reports.

After records showed Birdwell having voted in Virginia as recently as 2006, Democrats filed suit earlier this month challenging Birdwell's eligibility to serve in the Senate, which the Texas Constitution says can't seat members unless they've been residents of the state for five years. Today is the last day a candidate who's been removed from the ballot can be replaced.

The court didn't rule on the issue of Birdwell's residency, saying it had "no authority" to make that call, but rather denied the petition on technicalities. The plaintiffs should have first gone to the Republicans with their call for Birdwell's removal, said the court, which also ruled that copies of the senator's Virginia voting record were improperly submitted.

The Democratic Party issued a statement calling the ruling "an overtly political decision using technicalities and loopholes to avoid ruling that a Republican officeholder is ineligible." Spokeswoman Kirsten Gray said Thursday that the party was exploring its options.

Birdwell was more upbeat. "I’m thrilled with today’s win, and pleased that the court clearly saw through this desperate attempt by the Democrats to thwart the will of the voters and win a senate seat through judicial activism," he said in a statement.

A candidate removed from the ballot today would have to be replaced by Aug. 24. But Democrats can still seek to have Birdwell declared ineligible, the Waco Tribune-Herald notes, possibly forcing a special election in the event that Birdwell wins in November — which is more than likely, given the district's heavily conservative makeup.

CULLED:

  • The Trib's Morgan Smith has a report on that other BP calamity, April's Texas City refinery explosion, which two civil lawsuits are targeting for the release of more than 500,000 pounds of cancer-causing compounds.
  • Despite renewed attacks on Bill White from Gov. Rick Perry over taxes, things cooled enough in the governor's race this week for talk to turn to the issue of human trafficking, for which Perry on Thursday proposed increasing penalties.
  • Presidents from Texas' so-called emerging universities descended on the Capitol on Thursday to urge lawmakers to preserve funding for the schools' efforts to achieve top-tier status. Overall, the mood was cheery, with competing universities uniting to praise a 2009 bill that, the schools said, has helped draw donations and prestigious faculty. 

"I was flabbergasted." — Democratic election law specialist Buck Wood on the Birdwell ruling

MUST-READ:

Deepwater Horizon test recollections differ, Houston Chronicle

Slater: Case of Perry aide and wife show how things work in Austin, The Dallas Morning News

Houston's 'hidden homeless' include 5,404 kids, Houston Chronicle

Georgetown city attorney sues AG, Austin American-Statesman


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