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The Brief: Sept. 30, 2013

Nine programming tracks, 150 speakers and 45 events — oh, and a looming government shutdown — made for a weekend of high political drama in Texas.

A capacity crowd at the Abortion and Women's Health: What Now? panel at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 28, 2013.

The Big Conversation

Nine programming tracks, 150 speakers and 45 events — oh, and a looming government shutdown — made for a weekend of high political drama in Texas.

As you may have heard, the Tribune over the weekend held its third annual festival, which this year featured the likes of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, state Sen. Wendy Davis, Texas first lady Anita Perry and virtually every 2014 candidate for major statewide office in attendance at the University of Texas at Austin.

In case you missed it, or just want a second look, we liveblogged all nine programming tracks, which included health care, immigration, public education, higher education, energy, the environment, criminal justice, transportation and a special keynote track. Every track featured its share of involving discussions and fiery debates, but a few events stood out:

  • Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith kicked off the festival Friday evening with an interview, via satellite, with Cruz, who got stuck in Washington. Smith and Cruz, coming off the biggest week of his political career so far, talked Obamacare, 2016, Iran and Cruz's Texas colleague John Cornyn, among other things. View the full conservation here.
  • Davis, whose one-on-one with Smith closed the festival on Sunday, broke no news about the announcement she's making Thursday, saying she would "neither confirm nor deny" that she's running for governor. But she spoke like a candidate, laying out plans for public ed, higher ed and transportation. She also said, in response to an audience question, that she would support granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Watch the full video here.
  • The first lady made some news Saturday when she said that while she opposes abortion, she doesn't judge women who seek the procedure. "That could be a woman’s right, just like it’s a man’s right if he wants to have some kind of procedure," she said, adding, "God made us our own individuals, and I can believe, you can believe, what you want to believe." Watch her full remarks on the issue here.

The spotlight, meanwhile, shifted briefly to Washington after Congress pushed the federal government even closer to the brink of a shutdown. On Sunday morning, the House, pressed by Cruz and other conservative Republicans, approved a bill that would keep the government funded in exchange for a one-year delay of major provisions of Obamacare and the repeal of a medical device tax.

The move set the House up for yet another clash with the Democratically controlled Senate, and the stalemate now appears unlikely to end before Monday's midnight shutdown deadline. Many congressional Republicans are crediting Cruz — who last week delivered a 21-hour speech on the Senate floor in support of defunding Obamacare — with escalating the fight.

"[He played] an excellent role," said U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., according to The Huffington Post. "I think what he's done is strengthened our hand. He's made the case that we need to act and act decisively, and so I think we have a lot to credit him for."


•    Cruz’s moves might benefit Davis (Austin American-Statesman): "For the past week, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his crusade to defund 'Obamacare' have dominated the national news. This week, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, will return to the headlines with her expected announcement Thursday that she will run for governor in 2014. … But, in an unlikely and unexpected twist, it appears that even as Cruz’s no-prisoners attack on the usual way of doing business in Washington might enhance his standing as the tea party’s truest champion, it could also redound to the political benefit of Davis in a likely gubernatorial matchup with Attorney General Greg Abbott by highlighting and heightening the tensions within the Republican Party.

•    Elisa Chan to challenge Donna Campbell in Texas Senate District 25 (San Antonio Express-News): "Two months after stirring national controversy by condemning homosexuality, Councilwoman Elisa Chan has decided to leave the council to run for the Texas Senate in 2014, challenging District 25 state Sen. Donna Campbell in the March GOP primary. Chan, 47, is taking on a first-term incumbent from New Braunfels who has strong backing among tea party members and some Republicans. Without attacking Campbell, Chan contends her council service prepares her well for the Legislature, and she hopes to survive the withering criticism generated by her opposition to the city's new nondiscrimination ordinance."

•    Exxon Mobil reverses its policy on same-sex benefits (The Dallas Morning News): "Exxon Mobil Corp. announced Friday that it would extend benefits to legally married same-sex couples after a lengthy campaign against the world’s largest publicly traded oil company. The Irving-based corporation said its decision to provide benefits to spouses of its gay and lesbian employees in the United States was based on a change in policy by the U.S. government."

Quote to Note: "He walks just like his mother." — Texas first lady Anita Perry describing her husband, in an interview at TribuneFest


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