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The Brief: Dec. 21, 2010

Add another job for the Legislature come January: election arbitrator.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Add another job for the Legislature come January: election arbitrator.

That's the role it'll play in deciding the (yes, still) ongoing race for a Travis County House seat between Democratic incumbent Donna Howard and her Republican opponent, Dan Neil.

Neil requested a recount earlier this month after initial results showed Howard leading by just 16 votes. After the recount, Howard saw her lead fall by four votes, but she remained the victor. On Monday, Neil, who says ballots were mishandled on Election Day and that 1,900 felons might have been allowed to vote, filed an election contest, which is decided by the Texas House.

A House committee — whose leadership Speaker Joe Straus will soon announce — will hear Neil's case and then make a recommendation to the full House, which could then either declare a winner in the race or call for a redo, as the Austin American-Statesman reports.

"With all the mistakes made by Travis County election officials that we have seen and discovered, we believe that a contest must be filed for every legal vote to be counted. I believe that when all of the legally cast ballots are counted that I will be the new representative for House District 48," Neil said in a statement.

Howard said in a statement that "Travis County Clerk's office ran a clean election and a recount that included observers from both sides who confirmed the result." Howard's lawyer, Buck Wood, told the Statesman: "There is this innate belief that 'golly, there must have been enough mistakes to account for 12 votes.' ... The fact of the matter is: 12 votes is 12 votes."

If Neil prevails (which Wood says is unlikely), Republicans could claim their 102nd House seat, adding one more member to their already enviable two-thirds supermajority, with which they'll be able to take action without Democratic support.

CULLED:

  • The Texas NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the Texas public education system, including curriculum changes, which they say cover Black Panther violence but downplay Ku Klux Klan atrocities. "It is our contention that the [State Board of Education] curriculum changes were made with the intention to discriminate," the complaint says.
  • The fight over federal overreach between Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency has only intensified in recent months, but new data shows that federal enforcement of environmental regulations has, in fact, dropped during the Obama administration, according to some measures.
  • Texas has $86.3 million with which to begin reforming its health care system, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, announced Monday in a year-end attempt to tout the Obama administration's new health care law. That $86 million, though, amounts to little with a multibillion-dollar state budget shortfall looming, some officials say.

"These activists are never satisfied, and their whining to the federal government is silly and without merit." — State Board of Education Republican David Bradley on a complaint calling new Texas curriculum discriminatory toward minorities

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