is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune. Before joining the Tribune, Ross was editor and co-owner of Texas Weekly for 15 years. He did a 28-month stint in government as associate deputy comptroller for policy and director of communications with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Before that, he reported for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as its Austin bureau chief, and worked as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, writing for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ross got his start in journalism in broadcasting, covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.
About a year ago, the people in the highway business in Texas were fresh off of a legislative victory. They had killed a bond program that some thought would endanger future funding of roads. They feared, among other things, that the interest on those bonds would eat into money that would otherwise be spent on roads, and by extension, on road builders.
Unless there's a sudden change of heart, George W. Bush won't be speaking to the state GOP convention in Houston. That's not news. But in the rush of coverage, nobody stopped to try to figure out why the candidate decided to ignore his own tribe.
Texas prison guards who've been on the job for more than three years will get a pay hike of $138 a month on top of the $100 a month given all state employees during the last legislative session. That means their pay will rise a total of $2,856 annually, almost as much as the $3,000 pay hike the Legislature gave to Texas teachers last year.
The honchos at the Texas Department of Economic Development tried to get rid of former legislator Randall Riley quietly, and in fact, the executive director and the chairman of the agency apparently went out of their way to get folks in the Pink Building to talk Riley into quitting. But it finally came to a force-out when Riley got a call from friendlies in the lieutenant governor's office who said TDED Chairman Mark Langdale and Executive Director Jeff Moseley wanted to wring his neck.
You've heard that aphorism: "When elephants fight, the grass suffers." Well, the presidential race shows all signs of doing for the reputation of this fair state what previous contests did for the luster of Massachusetts, Arkansas, California and Georgia. The home states of governors who run for the presidency often come away looking like prospects for visits from the Peace Corps.
The spin engines went into overtime when four Texas Democrats went campaigning in Ohio for Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. The official message was a two-parter. Bush's folks touted the bipartisan nature of the deal, strumming a chord they're playing to try to contrast Bush as a non-partisan and his opponent, Democrat Al Gore, as a partisan. Secondly, since Gore's attacks on Bush's record have begun to gather some steam, the four were there to fly the flag and say they were ready to punch anyone attacking the Lone Star State.
Even by runoff standards, this was pitiful. One in 25 registered voters actually cast a runoff ballot in Texas this year, with several counties turning in record low turnouts and local races -- as often happens in a runoff -- driving attendance. Republicans turned out 219,974 voters, or 1.9 percent of the 11.6 million Texans who carry political hunting licenses in their wallets. Democrats turned out 246,285 Texas voters -- about 2.1 percent of the total. The 4 percent turnout this year compares with a turnout percentage of 7.37 in the last presidential round in 1996.
To imagine an intrigued and engaged voter, you first have to imagine an intriguing and engaging runoff race, and those are scarce this year. There are but a handful, and fewer still involve incumbents still fighting for their jobs.
The Texas Department of Economic Development could get a new board of directors and be stripped of two of its highest-profile programs if a recommendation from the state's Sunset Commission gets into print as a final report and through the Legislature next session.
Expect a photogenic skirmish for the benefit of the TV cameras when the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA, gathers at the end of the month at the Barton Creek Resort in Austin. Texas AG John Cornyn is one of the founders of the GOP group and is a member of its executive committee. With the group holding its spring conference in a presidential candidate's back yard, a couple of non-profit outfits -- Texans for Public Justice and the Center for Public Integrity -- are taking shots at him and the group, calling it everything from a bad idea to a protection racket.
You know it's an upset when the winner, the loser and the allegedly dispassionate observers are all surprised on Election Day. Nobody even came close to predicting the result of the GOP primary in the 3rd Senate district. In fact, operatives in both campaigns were expecting a runoff and hoping, respectively, for a narrow win that would avoid an April contest.
If you haven't heard of David McQuade Leibowitz, you haven't been in front of a television set in Bexar County, Texas. The San Antonio trial lawyer is mounting a Democratic primary challenge against Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who won office in a special election in November. And if money is the mother's milk of politics, Leibowitz is one big, big baby: He's loaned himself $429,000 and a boatload of that money is going into television advertising.
Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, has politically remade himself a couple of times. He was an elected member of the State Board of Education in the mid-1980s when reformers led by Ross Perot successfully pushed the idea of an appointed board. Having lost that job, he ran for the state Legislature, where he was in the middle of the education reform and school finance wars waged from the late 1980s into the 90s. Then he became something of a partisan, a move that cost him some of his clout and that he's apparently ready to abandon. He says it was fun, but he wants to go back to the education concerns that attracted him to government in the first place.