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TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

Hu on freshman House Democrats trying to win re-election in a Republican year, Grissom on Republicans bolstered by those same political trends, Aguilar on slow reforms in immigrant detention programs, Chang on the trouble with synthetic marijuana, Ramshaw on how proposed cuts in state Medicaid services could affect 13,000 Texans, yours truly on how political polls have as much to do with who's counted as with what they say, Galbraith on why Texas is building coal plants in spite of tightening federal air pollution standards, Hamilton on community colleges accusing the University of Texas of siphoning money from their financial wells, M. Smith on the court of inquiry proposed for a death penalty case and how it would work, and E. Smith interviews U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess about federal health care: The best of our best from Oct. 11 to 15, 2010.

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Half a dozen Democratic House members first elected in 2008 face an important test this fall: Can they win re-election on their own merits, without the help of high turnout generated by a popular presidential candidate? Republicans believe the combination of the current anti-incumbent mood, the Obama backlash and the built-in advantage that the GOP enjoys in Texas spells doom for Dems up and down the ballot. But the freshmen playing defense point to a few factors working in their favor.

For some incumbent Republican House members who might otherwise be struggling to stay above water — Harper-Brown, Bohac, Driver, Kleinschmidt, Anderson, Hartnett, Legler — President Barack Obama may be just the flotation device they need.

You can ask all the right questions in a political poll and still get a wrong answer. The results are based not only on how people answer the questions but on a pollster's educated guess about who'll vote and who won't.

A year after Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it would reform immigration detention, advocacy groups say the agency has fallen short on a few key counts: addressing alleged human rights violations and expanding alternatives to incarceration.

Callers have flooded the Texas Poison Center this year with reports of chest pains and increased heart rates because of a synthetic drug that mimics marijuana. Some cities are already taking steps to outlaw the substance, and lawmakers will propose a statewide ban in the next legislative session.

Advocates say the Department of Aging and Disability Services’ baseline budget request eliminates financing for more than 13,000 people — the majority waiting to receive Medicaid waiver services. Agency officials will only say that an “unknown number” of people already receiving the services could lose them. It's unclear if lawmakers can make these cuts without risking losing federal funding; federal health care reform requires states to maintain coverage at the same level it was when the Affordable Care Act became law in March.

So what if coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, faces tightening air-pollution standards from federal regulators? Texas is aggressively building new coal plants. An air-pollution permit recently approved for a plant in Matagorda County is one of six granted to projects that are not yet up and running, and four more projects — near Abilene, Odessa, Sweeny and Corpus Christi — have sought permits. Texas, which consumes far more coal power than any other state, already has 19 operating coal-fired power plants, the majority of which are in East Texas.

The Texas Association of Community Colleges is accusing the University of Texas of siphoning money from programs that support community colleges into UT’s College of Education.

Judge Charlie Baird decided not to recuse himself from an investigation into the innocence of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Corsicana man executed in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three young daughters. But with or without Baird, a bigger question is in play: Is a court of inquiry the appropriate venue to consider Willingham’s guilt or innocence?

Michael Burgess, the Republican congressman from Lewisville, on the problems with federal health care reform, what's wrong with the way Barack Obama and the Democrats got it passed and how he'll lead the charge to repeal it — if his party takes back control of the U.S. House.

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