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The Brief: Oct. 5, 2012

Three months out from the 2013 session, a shuffling of committee chairmanships has jolted the Legislature's upper chamber.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst reaches to shake the hand of a member following his visit to the House chamber Thursday afternoon ...

The Big Conversation:

Three months out from the 2013 session, a shuffling of committee chairmanships has jolted the Legislature's upper chamber.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's office announced Thursday morning that he had selected state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to chair the education committee, and had replaced Sen. Judith Zaffirini, the Laredo Democrat who chaired the higher education committee, with Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

"All the moves were about realigning specific members' talents to where they would be best aligned," said Dewhurst spokesman Matt Hirsch. "There are a lot of problems coming up in the upcoming session. The lieutenant governor made decisions based off where he thought senators could find conservative solutions to these problems."

The shuffling answered some questions about how Dewhurst would seek to influence the Senate, over which he presides, after losing a U.S. Senate primary earlier this year in which conservatives, and rival Ted Cruz, painted him as a moderate who works too closely with Democrats.

Dewhurst's pick of Patrick, for instance, nearly assures that the chamber will take up school choice legislation, which Patrick at one point called the "photo ID bill of this session."

Zaffirini's fate may also signal Dewhurst's willingness to brandish his conservative credentials next year. As the Tribune's Reeve Hamilton writes, Zaffirini had built a reputation as a hard-working advocate for the state's public universities but had also opposed conservative reforms pushed by Gov. Rick Perry.

Zaffirini said on Thursday she was not upset with Dewhurst's decision. "I'm disappointed in not being higher education chair, because that is my passion and it is one of the reasons that I ran," she said. "However, that is an immediate reaction. I am not disheartened." She added, "It has to do with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst using his authority to reorganize the leaders in the Texas Senate. That's certainly his right. It's his role as lieutenant governor. So basically he's changing directions."

Dewhurst also announced that he had eliminated the international relations and trade committee, which was chaired by Democrat Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, and the redistricting committee.

Culled:

  • The San Antonio Express-News reports that the bill for the security detail Gov. Rick Perry has taken on out-of-state trips since his re-election now totals $2.3 million. Though Perry's campaign foots the bill for travel costs, the security detail total — which includes trips Perry has taken to campaign for candidates like Mitt Romney — draws from the taxpayer-supported state highway fund.
  • The National Election Pool, a group of national media outlets that includes The Associated Press, announced Thursday that it would no longer be conducting exit polls in Texas and 18 other states due to rising costs. The proliferation of early voting and cell phones has forced pollsters to dramatically increase their sample sizes, forcing prices up. "The effects are a real loss for everyone that has come to rely on the data to better understand who votes and why," said a polling editor for The Huffington Post.
  • The Associated Press reports that Texas is one of five states that have abandoned efforts to comply with a federal law requiring participation in a national a sex offender tracking program. Thirty-four states haven't met the federal requirements of the law, which was signed by President George W. Bush, and some, like Texas, have resisted because of concerns over costs. A state Senate committee determined that the state would save more than $30 million by ignoring the law. 

"He's been so good to work with for so many years. There is nothing that I have accomplished since 2003 that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has not been a part of." — Judith Zaffirini on David Dewhurst, who on Thursday announced that he had replaced her as chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee

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