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The Brief: Jan. 25, 2013

A new group may provide Texas Democrats with an answer to their long-ignored prayers for a political comeback.

Democratic supporters at the Driskill Hotel in Austin erupt in celebration as CNN projects President Obama's re-election victory on Nov. 6, 2012.

The Big Conversation

A new group may provide Texas Democrats with an answer to their long-ignored prayers for a political comeback.

Politico reported Thursday that the former national field director for the Obama campaign has laid out plans to launch a new national organization that could spend up to tens of millions of dollars to help turn Texas Democratic in the coming years. 

The group, dubbed Battleground Texas, reportedly hopes to capitalize on the state's growing Hispanic population, as well as its black and liberal voters and progressive groups, to help deliver the state's coveted 38 electoral votes to future Democratic presidential candidates and to aid Democrats running for statewide office. 

"With its diversity and size, Texas should always be a battleground state where local elections are vigorously contested and anyone who wants to be our commander in chief has to compete and show they reflect Texas values. Yet for far too long, the state’s political leaders, both in Austin and in Washington, D.C., have failed to stand for Texans," Jeremy Bird, the former Obama field director, said in a statement. "Over the next several years, Battleground Texas will focus on expanding the electorate by registering more voters — and as importantly, by mobilizing Texans who are already registered voters but who have not been engaged in the democratic process."

The report quoted an unnamed Democratic source who said the group would bring in "top campaign talent" to the state, which hasn't elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. 

State Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat often cited as a potential statewide candidate, expressed optimism about her party's future in the state, but she acknowledged that victory could take time.

"I’m excited that people are talking about the opportunity for me to do something statewide one day," Davis told Politico. "What I’m smart enough to know is that you can’t decide that’s a good idea for yourself. Instead, the support for that has to generate from under."

But Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who has also made lists of potential Democratic statewide contenders, said the party could rebound as soon as 2016.

"Do I think we’re going to turn Texas in two years? Probably not. Do I think we can turn Texas in four years? Absolutely," Parker said. "Because I think the Republican Party in Texas is going to drive itself off a cliff."

Capitol Notes
Compiled from Tribune reports

•    Bill Proposing Tax Break Targets Contraception Rule: "A bill filed Thursday in the Texas House would give religiously based businesses a state tax break if the businesses were forced to comply with the federal government’s mandate that employers provide contraception coverage."

•    Lawmakers Hope to Tap Rainy Day Fund, Duck Spending Cap: "The state's top budget authority, the Legislative Budget Board, says lawmakers will have trouble accessing billions of dollars in the Rainy Day Fund without busting the state's spending cap."

•    Campus Construction High on Some Legislative Priority Lists: "In 2011, to the chagrin of many university administrators, legislators declined to approve the financing of any campus construction projects. But comments from state leaders on Thursday may offer new hope for 2013."

Texas news from across the state and around the web

•    States that turn down Medicaid would leave citizens uninsured while immigrants get covered (The Associated Press): "Governors who reject health insurance for the poor under the federal health care overhaul could wind up in a politically awkward position on immigration: A quirk in the law means some U.S. citizens would be forced to go without coverage, while legal immigrants residing in the same state could still get it. … It could take some explaining for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, steadfastly opposed to what foes dismiss as 'Obamacare,' and for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is reassessing his position. Both states have large numbers of uninsured citizens and legal immigrants."

•    Texas deal on Medicaid expansion sought (The Associated Press): "The Affordable Care Act is the federal law that Texas Republicans love to hate, but one top lawmaker says expanding health care for the working poor could happen if federal authorities are willing to strike a deal. Republican Sen. Jane Nelson, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said she hopes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will allow Texas to receive $27 billion to expand Medicaid. But she said the key is to allow lawmakers to develop a Texas-specific program that will not blow the state's budget."

•    New group pushing multiple changes to Texas education (San Antonio Express-News): "Changing policy on multiple fronts could do wonders for public education in Texas, a newly formed group of philanthropists and activists said Thursday in Austin. 'We have a real chance here,' said Victoria Rico, chairwoman and trustee at San Antonio's George W. Brackenridge Foundation, one of several organizations involved in the effort, called Texans Deserve Great Schools."

Quote of the Day: "Only a liberal talks like that." — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, at a TribLive event Thursday, on taking money from the Rainy Day Fund to restore last session's cuts to public education


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