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Willie Nelson Uniting the Red and the Blue in D.C.

A bipartisan crowd turns out for the Texas icon being awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson, it seems, is the only person who can bring Democrats and Republicans together in the nation's capital. 

A bipartisan crowd turned out to see the octogenarian Texas legend named the first country artist winner of the annual Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, an award recognizing "a living musical artist’s lifetime achievement in promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding," according to an LOC news release.

"Willie's a Texas legend and a great performer," said U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, before the festivities began.

The House Agriculture Committee chairman recalled seeing a Nelson Abilene performance in 1981.

"Probably, he and I are on different sides of the political aisle, but I like his music, and it's an honor to be here tonight to help honor him with a lifetime achievement award," he added.

Beyond Conaway, the Texas Tribune spotted a bipartisan Texas crowd at the celebration: U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, Gene Green, D-Houston, Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.

Performers ranging the spectrum of American music turned out to serenade Nelson with his own hit songs.

Leon Bridges, a Fort Worth-based singing phenom, sang Nelson's tune "Funny How Time Slips Away," while Roseanne Cash, Cyndi Lauper, Neil Young and Paul Simon also performed from the Nelson canon of penned songs and covers.

In a gentle nod to the Congressional debate over whether to let Syrian refugees into the country, Nelson and his two sons sang, "Living in the Promiseland" from his 1986 album, The Promiseland.

Nelson closed out the night with "On the Road Again," when the normally staid crowd of politicians clapped and danced in the D.A.R. Hall's aisles.

The event will air on PBS on Jan. 15. 

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On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that the Veterans Support Organization (VSO) must stop soliciting donations in Texas, and cease to exist as a charitable organization in the state.

The settlement stems from legal action filed in Travis County in March 2014 against Florida-based VSO and its directors. The state’s investigation found VSO had raised more than $2.5 million in Texas from 2010 to 2012 and that the organization diverted more than 70 percent of that money to Florida and Rhode Island (where it was incorporated). Investigators also found VSO's work and housing programs weren’t focused on serving veterans in need.

“It is particularly outrageous that VSO cheated veterans in need of help and those good citizens who wanted to help them,” Paxton wrote. “Bad actors like these not only take advantage of people’s good intentions, they damage the good reputations of other charities that are operating in good faith.”

"It's uncommon, but it's not unheard of for organizations to try and prey on veterans," said Aaron Smith, a spokesman for the Texas Veterans Commission, the state agency that serves the military population. “It's unfortunate and it's unacceptable."

Smith said TVC had no contact or involvement with VSO.

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In other Paxton news, he also announced on Wednesday that he's intervening in a lawsuit brought by seven families against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over a long-running conflict over property lines along the Texas-Oklahoma border.

For background, here's Tuesday's write up of the suit by the Tribune's Jim Malewitz.

The legal action has drawn the attention of conservatives in Austin. Lawyers from the Texas Public Policy Foundation are representing the families. And the challenge to the federal government drew approval yesterday from Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We will not allow the federal government to arbitrarily infringe upon Texas land and undermine the private property rights of our citizens," Paxton said in a statement on Wednesday. "The federal government must follow the law and recognize our correct borders, consistent with decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court defining the boundary formed by the Red River.”

*****

President Barack Obama’s efforts to build bipartisan support for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal have been about as simple as herding cats — but if he wants to help usher in a similar trade deal with the nations of the European Union, he might have an easier time.

On his first official visit to Texas, the EU’s ambassador to the United States, David O’Sullivan, told the Tribune a trade deal between the 28 EU member states and the United States would likely face less opposition than the TPP has.

“We both have high labor standards, we’re both high-wage economies,” Sullivan told the Tribune. “We’re both committed to high standards for consumers and health and safety protections.”

O’Sullivan said he was optimistic that an EU-U.S. trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, could be finalized within the next 14 months.

“We would really like to try and conclude this, if at all possible, in the lifetime of this administration,” O’Sullivan said.

*****

District Judge Julie Kocurek, who continues to improve after being shot at in the driveway of her West Austin home earlier this month, filed for re-election, according to a statement from Bill Rhea, a family representative.

He said that Kocurek plans to "return to her public service duties as soon as is practicable." She has served as the presiding judge for the 390th District Court since 1999.

*****

Keith Judd has submitted paperwork to put his name on the primary ballot — for president.

Judd has run for the highest office every election year since 1996. The Texan made headlines in 2012 when he picked up 41 percent of the vote in the West Virginia Democratic primary, trailing a mere 18 points behind the incumbent Obama. What made him headline material, though, was the fact he was a federal inmate at the time.

Judd was released from prison last year where he was serving time for making threats at the University of New Mexico.

*****

In closing, please join The Texas Tribune on Wednesday, Dec. 9, for a daylong symposium on cybersecurity and privacy in Texas. Among the issues to be addressed:

  • How prepared our cities are against cyberattacks
  • What the public sector can learn about cybersecurity from the private sector
  • Whether the rewards of electronic medical records outweigh the risks
  • Whether state agencies have improved at protecting our personal data
  • In the era of Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks, are there any secrets anymore?

More information about the event here.

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