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The Brief: May 12, 2014

The Tribune's Aman Batheja has taken an in-depth look at Midland oilman Tim Dunn, who is best known in the Capitol for his funding of the conservative activist group Empower Texans.

Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and Empower Texans president Michael Quinn Sullivan.

The Big Conversation

The Tribune's Aman Batheja has taken an in-depth look at Midland oilman Tim Dunn, who is best known in the Capitol for his funding of the conservative activist group Empower Texans.

"Through a growing network of political groups that are often billed as grassroots, and frequently aligned with the Tea Party, Dunn has invested millions of dollars into moving the Texas Legislature further to the right," Batheja writes. "While critics have decried his hardball approach to politics — the groups that he finances have made a mission out of knocking many long-serving Republican lawmakers out of office — Dunn has not backed down."

In addition to addressing Dunn's role with Empower Texans, which was involved this year in several GOP primary challenges to incumbents, Batheja reports:

•    Dunn got unusually personally involved in this year's state Senate primary where a former Midland mayor was challenging incumbent Kel Seliger. That activity included sending out a personal letter to voters in Amarillo, Odessa and Midland that listed Dunn's home address as the return address.

•    While he accounts for 98 percent of the money given to Empower Texans' political action committee, that largesse does not necessarily extend to other organizations with which he is involved. For instance, the president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation confirmed that he's given in the neighborhood of $43,000 each year to the group — a not insignificant figure, to be sure, but a relatively small fraction of what the free-market think tank raises year to year.

•    He has expanded his focus to nonpartisan local races, including involvement last year in the mayoral race in his hometown of Midland.

The Tribune will publish a follow up installment on Wednesday focusing on Dunn's efforts to influence education policy.

The Day Ahead

•    The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations meets at 10:30 a.m. in the John H. Reagan building. Members could take action on a recommendation to impeach UT System Regent Wallace Hall. (agenda)

•    The House Energy Resources subcommittee on seismic activity meets at 1 p.m. in the Capitol Extension to hear invited testimony on increased frequency of earthquakes in the Barnett Shale and other areas of Texas. (agenda)

•    The Texas Lottery Commission will meet via conference call at 1:30 p.m. where it expects to take immediate action addressing the resignation of the director of the commission's charitable bingo operations division.

•    The Tribune will livestream a conversation with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner from San Antonio at noon.

Today in the Trib

Gender Gap in Higher Ed Outcomes is Scrutinized: "As degree attainment among men has continued to lag that of women, more state policy-makers are looking at the issue in a bid to prevent the gap from significantly affecting the state."

Analysis: In Attorney General Race, a Familiar Story: "A candidate's record as a lawyer has become an issue in the Republican runoff for attorney general. Something very much like this happened in the GOP runoff for the office in 1998."

Bipartisan "Sriracha Delegation" Heads to California: "A bipartisan 'sriracha delegation' of Texas lawmakers will head to California on Monday to tour the plant where Huy Fong Foods makes its famous spicy red sauce. They're hoping to tempt the owners to move to Texas."

Divided Committee Poised to Vote on Hall Investigation: "The legislative committee investigating University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall could take a vote as soon as Monday on how to proceed. But the committee's members have not shown any consensus on the matter."


Football’s Risks Sink In, Even in Heart of Texas, The New York Times

Largely invisible tank cleaning industry awash in risk, Houston Chronicle

Will Tesla ‘gigafactory’ fight come down to Texas vs. California?, Austin American-Statesman

Fikac: Lieutenant gov candidates spar over 'Chickengate', San Antonio Express-News

Paxton, Branch gear up for ad onslaught in Texas attorney general race, The Dallas Morning News

Texas teachers face uncertainty as questions swirl around evaluations, Houston Chronicle

Emails hint at uneasy ties between Texas Tech and UMC, El Paso Times

Trouble on the border, Brownsville Herald

Quote to Note

“Absolutely. I think I miscalculated. Maybe I was attributing to myself a greater influence than I had … that members would change their attitudes toward one another because of what I did.”

— Former U.S. Speaker of the House Jim Wright of Fort Worth, saying he now regrets the 1989 decision to resign as speaker in the face of ethics complaints filed against him

News From Home

•    TribTalk, the Tribune's new home for opinion and commentary, launches Tuesday! TribTalk will feature columns on the news and debates of the day from a diverse array of political players, policy experts and community leaders in Texas. Get ready to join the conversation.

Trib Events for the Calendar

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

•    A Conversation With Steve Patterson, UT Men's Athletic Director, at the Austin Club, 5/15

•    A Conversation With Sen. Glenn Hegar, Candidate for State Comptroller, at the Austin Club, 5/29

•    The Texas Tribune Festival runs from Sept. 19-21 at the University of Texas at Austin, tickets on sale now

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Energy Environment Politics Dan Patrick David Dewhurst Kel Seliger Ken Paxton