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The Brief: March 23, 2015

As you read these words over your morning coffee, Ted Cruz is already a candidate for president. He announced about 11 p.m. Texas time via Twitter.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on the Republican stage election night Nov. 4, 2014.

The Big Conversation

As you read these words over your morning coffee, Ted Cruz is already a candidate for president. He announced about 11 p.m. Texas time via Twitter.

 

He'll follow with an official announcement in a speech set for later this morning at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. The Tribune will livestream the speech. Click here to get the feed.

The Tribune's Abby Livingston notes that Cruz's choice of venue flies in the face of tradition, which calls for announcing in the candidate's home state or in a strategically important primary state. Instead, Cruz is sending a clear message to the evangelical base of his party by choosing the university founded by Jerry Falwell, who made his mark on the political landscape by creating the Moral Majority.

Also worth noting is Cruz's decision to bypass an "exploratory" phase and become a full-fledged candidate right away. Some are already questioning if this demonstrates a weakness in fundraising:

The Houston Chronicle's Theodore Schleifer reported that Cruz advisers are setting a fundraising goal of $40 million to $50 million for the primary season. That's well short of the $75 million identified by other GOP strategists as what will be needed to get through the first three primary contests.

Cruz advisers, naturally, disagree with that assessment.

"If you have a really good grass-roots operation, which Cruz does, that can compensate for money," said Hal Lambert, a Cruz fundraiser and former Republican Party of Texas chief fundraiser. "A lot of it is running a well-organized and smart campaign strategy where you don't spend a lot of wasted money on consultants and others."

Trib Must-Reads

Blood Lessons: Could Texas City Tragedy Happen Again?, by Jim Malewitz, Jolie McCullough, Mark Collette and Lise Olsen — The Texas Tribune and the Houston Chronicle spent months examining whether the nation’s oil refineries learned the lessons of the deadly explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery in 2005. Ten years later, their investigation shows, the death toll has barely slowed.

Blood Lessons: Unsafe Conditions Persist at Refineries, by Jim Malewitz, Jolie McCullough, Mark Collette and Lise Olsen — Ten years after the 2005 Texas City explosion, there is little evidence that the 15 lives lost on that March day brought needed changes to the nation's refining industry, a joint Texas Tribune/Houston Chronicle investigation shows.

A Look at the Priority Bills for Straus and Patrick, by Aman Batheja, Morgan Smith and Becca Aaronson — Here's a breakdown of House Bills 1-20 and Senate Bills 1-20, providing a window into where House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are placing their priorities for the 84th legislative session.

Analysis: A Sales Tax Cut, If Anybody Wants It, by Ross Ramsey — A little-noticed bill filed on deadline by the chairman of the House's tax-writing committee could hold the session's biggest tax cut, but only if the House and Senate decide to cut taxes on sales instead of property.

Perry's Likely 2016 Bid Draws Veterans, Newcomers, by Patrick Svitek — Former Gov. Rick Perry's 2016 presidential campaign-in-waiting features both operatives who have worked with him in the past and those who are new to his political orbit.

In Legislature, Toll Roads Facing Strong Opposition, by Aman Batheja — Anti-toll sentiment at the Capitol is at its highest level in at least a decade as both Republicans and Democrats have proposed measures that would either tap the brakes on new toll road projects, or undo the state’s current tolling system entirely.

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Confederate Plates Case, by Ryan McCrimmon — A battle over Texas license plates bearing an image of the Confederate flag will reach the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The court will hear arguments about the extent to which First Amendment freedoms protect offensive speech.

More Texans Earning Degrees, but Progress is Slow, by Bobby Blanchard — More Texans are earning higher education degrees within six years of graduating from high school than ever before. But the year-over-year growth is painfully slow. And attainment is abysmal among poor black and Hispanic men.

Gay Rights Activists Find Unlikely Ally in Republican, by Alexa Ura — Corsicana Republican state Rep. Byron Cook, who has an adopted child, says both same-sex adoptive parents should be listed on a Texas birth certificate. He believes it's best for the children, though it puts him at odds with his party's stance on gay rights issues.

Our Updated Higher Education Outcomes Explorer, by Ryan Murphy — We've updated our Higher Education Outcomes app with two new years of data, showing the percentage of Texas eighth-graders — by county, ethnicity and other factors — who earned degrees or certificates within six years of graduating from high school.

The Day Ahead

•    The House and Senate convene at 2 p.m.

•    House Energy Resources meets on final adjournment to discuss a pair of bills — HB 40 and HB 539 — aimed at curtailing municipalities' ability to regulate oil and gas production (E2.010). House Pensions will discuss Chairman Dan Flynn's HB 9, which would put the state employees' retirement system on sounder funding footing (E2.028).

•    Senate Health and Human Services meets at 8 a.m. to take up sunset bills for various HHS agencies (E1.016).

•    A coalition of conservative groups hold a rally on the south steps of the Capitol at 1 p.m. in defense of Texas' constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The featured speaker is Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore, who will talk about his efforts to preserve his state's right to determine the definition of marriage.

•    Early voting begins in the special election to fill the Bexar County-based House District 124. Four Democrats have filed to run for the seat.

Elsewhere

‘The Kumbaya is over’ in the Texas Legislature, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Texas’ rainy day fund overflows — and divides legislators, The Dallas Morning News

Fikac: Tax relief a recipe for political heartburn, San Antonio Express-News

Trinity toll road may be a hot topic, but how will it play at the polls?, The Dallas Morning News

Abbott employs charm offensive at halfway point of session, San Antonio Express-News

Jane Nelson at the top of her game in Texas Senate, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

End of an era? Barnett Shale rigs now few and far between, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Despite Central Texas growth, less water drawn from Colorado by cities, Austin American-Statesman

Confederate license plate: free speech or a rebel yell?, The Dallas Morning News

Quote to Note

“It’s a clear signal, not even a dog whistle, that that is a voting bloc that he thinks he can do well with. He has an evangelical vibe about him … that will probably appeal to a lot of people.”

— Oran Smith of the South Carolina-based Palmetto Family Council on the decision by Ted Cruz to announce his candidacy for the White House at the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University

Today in TribTalk

Changing Texas' car sale laws would hurt consumers, by Edward E. Whitacre Jr. — A special legislative carve-out for a single luxury vehicle maker would violate free-market principles and hurt Texas consumers.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation With UT-Austin Dell Medical School Dean Clay Johnston on March 26 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation With Sen. Robert Nichols and Rep. Joe Pickett on April 7 at The Austin Club

•    Transportation: The Next Five Years on April 10 at Austin College in Sherman

•    A Conversation With Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. John Zerwas on April 16 at The Austin Club

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