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The Brief: March 17, 2014

The rightward tilt of the Texas Senate has one of its more hallowed traditions — the two-thirds rule — in danger of going the way of the dodo.

Tourists enter the empty Senate chamber Wednesday morning as the Texas Senate adjourned sine die the day before, leaving the House with unfinished business on June 29, 2011.

The Big Conversation

The rightward tilt of the Texas Senate has one of its more hallowed traditions — the two-thirds rule — in danger of going the way of the dodo.

Houston Chronicle political columnist Patricia Kilday Hart writes that in addition to the more conservative members who will be coming to the Senate in January, a couple of "centrist" Republicans — Bob Deuell and Kel Seliger — got "wake up calls" from challenges from the right. Deuell, of course, is not out of the woods yet. He was the top vote-getter earlier this month in his primary contest, but he still faces a runoff contest against a Tea Party foe.

In such an environment, Hart quotes Rice University political scientist Mark Jones as saying, "It will be extremely difficult for a Republican to vote against" conservative priorities. Jones noted that removal of the two-thirds rule, which requires two-thirds of the senators to agree to bring up legislation, would have a big effect on the way the chamber conducts its business.

It "could make the Senate more susceptible to legislation favored by small but vocal groups, Jones said. For example, a bill to permit guns on campus would be easier to pass in a more conservative Senate not tethered to a 21-vote rule, he said." Tyler Republican Kevin Eltife, meanwhile, argued for preservation of the rule, saying it is an important tool for rural lawmakers trying to protect their interests.

The Day Ahead

•    House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence holds an interim hearing at 10 a.m. in the Capitol extension to address interim charges (agenda)

•    The Texas Transportation Commission holds a special meeting at 8 a.m. to discuss and possibly take action on a new executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation

Today in the Trib

Unknown to Most, Cecilia Abbott Could Make History: "Cecilia Abbott has been a regular at her husband's side as he travels across the state for his campaign for governor. She could become the first Latina to be the first lady of Texas."

Texas Tea Party Leader, Version 3.0: "Gov. Rick Perry was the first prominent Texas politician to grab the Tea Party wave. Ted Cruz was next, winning a U.S. Senate seat in 2013. Is state Sen. Dan Patrick next in line?"

Charter Serving High School Dropouts Fights Closure: "As six charter schools face automatic closure under a new Texas law, the state is facing questions over the guidelines used to decide which schools to close."

Adult Day Care Centers Thriving in South Texas: "Senior citizens in the Rio Grande Valley’s Hidalgo County have more than 150 day care centers to choose from. The situation is far different in Austin, which has just one licensed day care center for senior citizens."


Fikac: No voter ID setbacks yet, but there's a big test left, Houston Chronicle

Q&A: Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans, The Dallas Morning News

PolitiFact: Dan Patrick called for vouchers instead of bailouts, Austin American-Statesman

As viewing habits change, political campaigns must change their habits, as well, The Washington Post

West’s Drought and Growth Intensify Conflict Over Water Rights, The New York Times

Same-sex divorce filed in Bexar, San Antonio Express-News

1 El Paso abortion clinic to close in August, other may stay open, El Paso Times

Loving County wants to store spent nuclear fuel, The Associated Press

Quote to Note

"I love the number six. Sam Houston was 6 foot 6 inches tall. And Mitch McConnell is going to be in his sixth term as United States senator."

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, throwing his support behind the U.S. Senate minority leader's bid for re-election at a Saturday speech to the Lincoln Reagan Dinner of West Kentucky. McConnell is facing a party primary challenger who has the backing of some Tea Party groups.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation With Kinky Friedman, Candidate for Ag Commissioner at the Austin Club, 3/20

•    A Conversation With Sen. Charles Schwertner and Reps. John Raney and Kyle Kacal at Texas A&M University in College Station, 3/27

•    A Conversation With Mike Collier, Candidate for State Comptroller at the Austin Club, 4/17

•    A Conversation with U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway at Midland College in Midland, 5/13

•    Save the date for the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival: 9/19-9/21

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Health care Politics Dan Patrick David Dewhurst Eddie Lucio Jr. Kel Seliger Rick Perry Ted Cruz