The Brief: Missing elections yet? 2018 is already getting started

Some of the state's most high-profile Democrats met earlier this year in Austin to begin planning the 2018 midterm races. Here's what you need to know.

HUD Secretary Julián (l.) and twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, campaign for Hillary Clinton at a Columbus, Ohio polling location on November 6, 2016.
HUD Secretary Julián (l.) and twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, campaign for Hillary Clinton at a Columbus, Ohio polling location on November 6, 2016.  Abby Livingston

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Tribune today

Religious leaders turn to debate over Texas "bathroom bill"
While Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick huddled with pastors at an Austin church Thursday to discuss the proposed "bathroom bill," other religious leaders organized at another church nearby to decry it as discriminatory. 

Like the Texas Legislature at large, committee chairs are mostly white men
We took a look, by chamber, at the demographics of the committee chairs.

Analysis: Greg Abbott and the $200 million bully pulpit
Talking — the bully pulpit, as Teddy Roosevelt called it — is one of the biggest powers available to a Texas governor. Greg Abbott is trying to trim the state budget with a speech.

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Nurse practitioners again push for independence
Multiple bills filed in the Texas Legislature are seeking to give certain Texas nurses independence from costly contracts with supervising physicians.

Texas A&M raises tuition — but only for out-of-state students
The A&M System Board of Regents voted Thursday to increase its out-of-state tuition at its College Station flagship by up to $200 per credit hour.

Lawmakers mull their strategies as another abortion battle looms
Texas Democrats and abortion rights advocates are strategizing amid mounting worries over what the GOP-led Legislature and federal lawmakers may do in the coming months to further restrict access to the procedure.

Rep. John Zerwas to head Texas House Appropriations Committee
State Rep. John Zerwas is the Texas House's new Appropriations Committee chairman, and Rep. Dan Huberty is the new chairman of the House Public Education Committee.

Paxton prosecutors want change of venue in fraud case
The prosecutors in Attorney General Ken Paxton's securities fraud case are asking for a change of venue, arguing they cannot get a fair trial in Collin County.

What you need to know

Some of the state's most high-profile Democrats met recently behind closed doors to begin planning for the 2018 midterm elections. Here's your peak behind the curtains:

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  • Attendees were optimistic because of one person: President Donald Trump. Democrats think that in this unpredictable and angry climate, a full 2018 slate of down ballot races could produce some upsets
  • So who is going to run for what? We don't know much yet. Many expect U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, or U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for his Senate seat. But sources say nothing has been decided. 
  • Party insiders have pegged at least two incumbents as vulnerable. Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller have faced several scandals that could complicate re-election campaigns.
  • But any upsets will be an uphill battle. Republicans still hold the clear advantage in popularity and fundraising in Texas. "I can see the Democrats' argument for optimism, based on national historical trends — but this is Texas," said one Republican pollster.

News from home

On Feb. 13, we launch Sold Out, a multi-part investigation into Texas' child sex-trafficking pipeline. Sign up to receive email alerts for this investigation and other special projects from The Texas Tribune.

What we're reading

(Links below lead to outside websites; paywall content noted with $) 

Cooper withdraws from solicitor general consideration, Politico

Parsley Energy buys Permian acreage for $2.8 billion, The Midland Reporter-Telegram

Trump wants to force pipeline companies to 'buy American,' but that might not be possible, The Dallas Morning News ($)

George P. Bush fights for more Alamo funding, San Antonio Express-News ($)

Indicted Rep. Dawnna Dukes retains powerful appropriations seat, The Austin American-Statesman ($)

Klein ISD gave parents inaccurate information about special education for a decadeThe Houston Chronicle ($)

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For your calendar

On Feb. 13, join us in person or online for a conversation with U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, at The Austin Club. 

Save the date: The Texas Tribune Festival is back for 2017! Join us for a weekend of Texas politics, policy and much more on Sept. 22-24 at UT-Austin. For a complete list of upcoming events, visit our site.

Photo of the day

Rev. S. David Wynn of Fort Worth, who identifies as a transgender male, speaks at a press conference in Austin Feb. 9 to oppose anti-LGBT discrimination bills filed during the 2017 legislative session. Photo by Bob Daemmrich. See more photos on our Instagram account

Quote to note

"In fact, there are people who spend more time in jail or state hospitals awaiting competency restoration than they have spent serving maximum sentences for their crimes."

David Lakey of UT System and Octavio Martinez Jr. of UT-Austin about mental health care in Texas via TribTalk

The Brief is written and compiled by your morning news baristas, Bobby Blanchard and Cassi Pollock. If you have feedback or questions, please email thebrief@texastribune.org. We're a nonprofit newsroom, and count on readers like you to help power newsletters like this. Did you like what you read today? Show your appreciation by becoming a member or making a donation today.