The Big Conversation
Now down to two, the Democratic candidates for president — Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — staged their fiercest debate encounter yet on Thursday, just days before a key showdown in New Hampshire.
In his post-debate analysis, The Washington Post's Dan Balz wrote, "The flash point this week has been who is the true progressive. Sanders on Tuesday questioned Clinton’s bona fides as a progressive, in large part because she has a super PAC and takes campaign contributions from people in the financial industry. Clinton objected to Sanders playing the role of gatekeeper in defining who is a real progressive...
"Again on Thursday night, Clinton tried to claim that she is as progressive as Sanders in her goals but by far the more realistic in what can actually be accomplished. 'I will not make a promise I can’t keep,' she said."
In a nod to the growing expectations that the March 1 Texas primary could prove key to Clinton's chances of locking down the nomination relatively soon, her Texas campaign opened its first office in Houston.
"The Texas primary will matter this time around," state Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston declared, pausing for emphasis between the words, as reported by the Tribune's Patrick Svitek. "We are here because we are opening up a campaign headquarters. You know why? Because we have a campaign in Texas this go around."
Svitek added, "The flurry of official activity comes after months of informal efforts to boost Clinton in the state, a point of contention among some of her Texas backers. The campaign of Clinton's chief Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, has had paid staff in Texas and a headquarters in Austin since November."
Another of Clinton's backers, state Sen. John Whitmire of Houston downplayed the timing, telling reporters, "You don't want to peak too soon."
Trib Must Reads
Court of Criminal Appeals Candidates Emphasize Experience, by Jordan Rudner — Although the Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest criminal court in the state — and it deals with a number of hot-button issues including the death penalty — its nine judges don’t attract much attention. That can make campaigning for a seat on the court difficult.
As Jeb Bush Appears Vulnerable, Courting of Texas Donors Begins, by Abby Livingston — With recent polls suggesting Jeb Bush could follow a weak showing in Iowa with another one in in New Hampshire, his formidable network of donors in Texas is being watched closely by competitors.
Bongs, Fruitcakes Energize Central Texas House Race, by Julián Aguilar — Fourteen years after first being elected to the Texas House, state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana faces what some consider his toughest re-election battle to date.
Analysis: Primaries Could Hush Reps. Stickland, Martinez Fischer, by Ross Ramsey — Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer and Republican Jonathan Stickland, the noisiest pot-stirrers in the Texas House, are in tough March 1 primary contests. Each man is his own best argument, and his worst one.
Travis County Confirms First Case of Zika Virus, by Jamie Lovegrove — Travis County health officials on Thursday confirmed the first case of the Zika virus in the county.
County Prosecutors Offer Probation Deals to Abortion Foes, by Alexa Ura — Anti-abortion activists indicted after infiltrating a Houston Planned Parenthood facility were offered probation deals by Harris County prosecutors. David Daleiden, one of the videographers, rejected the offer and plans to fight the charges.
Trooper in Sandra Bland Case Set for Arraignment, by Johnathan Silver — Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia's arraignment on a perjury charge related to his arrest of Sandra Bland will be held in March, the Waller County District Clerk's office confirmed.
For the third time, Barbara Bush campaigns for a presidential candidate named Bush, The Washington Post
At NH addiction forum, Ted Cruz shares story of sister’s overdose death, The Dallas Morning News
Garcia: Madla slings mud at Uresti with new ad, San Antonio Express-News
Texas ties pre-K grants to more teacher training or experience, Austin American-Statesman
HHSC to Press Forward with Licensing Child Detention Centers, Texas Observer
Big Houston oil companies showing more financial strain, Houston Chronicle
Bishop Vásquez hopes Pope Francis’ visit will ‘bring peace’ to Mexico, Austin American-Statesman
State now offers hormone therapy to transgender inmates, Houston Chronicle
Ben Carson’s entire NH super PAC staff quit and joined Ted Cruz’s campaign, Boston Globe
Texas Isn't Scared of $30 Oil, Bloomberg
Quote to Note
“I sort of resent the idea of Cruz claiming he can get the liberty vote. I think he’s a real libertarian fake.”
— Former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, on whether he believes if Ted Cruz is a libertarian, like his son Sen. Rand Paul.
Today in TribTalk
Innovation is the way forward for Austin and Uber/Lyft, by Steve Adler — Incentivizing, rather than mandating, drivers to get fingerprint background checks is the best way to ensure that Austin rideshare passengers have a meaningful choice for a ride home that they feel is safer.
News From Home
• The Tribune's Ross Ramsey launched this week a new email dispatch, which will serve as a regular vehicle for his take on the political scene. If you haven't checked it out yet, click here to read the inaugural issue of Unconventional Wisdom.
Trib Events for the Calendar
• The 2016 Elections: The Republican Race for Railroad Commissioner forum on Feb. 8 at KLRU Studio 6A in Austin
• A Conversation with Sen. José Menéndez on Feb. 11 at the Austin Club
• The Ticket: A Live Recording and Democratic Primary Debate Watch Party on Feb. 11 at KUT Public Media Studios in Austin
• A Conversation with Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and Rep. Jose Manuel Lozano on Feb. 25 at Texas A&M University-Kingsville
• Live Post-Primary TribCast on March 2 at the Austin Club
• Protecting Houston Before the Next Big Storm on March 3 at San Jacinto College Maritime Technology and Training Center in La Porte.
• A Conversation with Sen. Carlos Uresti and Rep. Poncho Nevárez on March 23 at Sul Ross State University in Alpine
• A Symposium on Transportation on March 29 at Texas A&M University in College Station