Ross Ramsey — Click for higher resolution staff photos

Ross Ramsey is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. He writes regular columns on politics, government and public policy. Before joining the Tribune, he was editor and co-owner of Texas Weekly. He did a 28-month stint in government with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Before that, he reported for the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Times Herald, as a Dallas-based freelancer for regional and national magazines and newspapers, and for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.

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Acronyms of the Week: T.D.E.D., F.U.B.A.R.

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.

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Tweaking Facts in the Presidential Race

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.

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Four Dems in Ohio

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.

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t's Not a Pretty Process, But We Have a Ballot

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.

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Strolling Through the Home Stretch

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.

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Groundhog Day at Economic Development

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.

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Gov. Bush Won't Be There...

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.

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What the Hell Happened Over There?

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.

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This One's His Own Best Friend

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.

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Open to Everything But Vouchers

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.

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Gov. Bush, Sen. McCain and Mr. Jones

Will voters in California buy another George W. Bush transformation, or will John McCain be more persuasive with his drumbeat about things like the Texas governor's appearance at Bob Jones University in South Carolina? McCain got a win in Michigan while pounding Bush for intolerance, a charge that temporarily stuck in spite of Bush's reputation here as a Republican who can attract more than the GOP's traditional share of votes from Hispanics, African-Americans and women.

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The Law of Unintended Consequences

A reform aimed at John McCain's conversion of campaign money from his Senate account to his presidential account could affect the future plans of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and others who have entertained the notion of someday running for state offices. In the days leading up to the South Carolina primaries, Gov. George W. Bush proposed ending the conversion of funds from one federal political account to another. As the Bush forces like to say, the biggest contribution in McCain's presidential campaign is from McCain's Senate account. The argument is a long-winded way to tie his shoelaces together on campaign finance reform.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way...

The Republican presidential primary might turn out to be a race between incoming votes for the candidates on one hand, and public and press scrutiny of U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona on the other. He hid in the sun until late in the race, protecting himself from the kind of intense attention that can kill an insurgent campaign, and the Bush folks didn't have him on their radar until he was well into the fight. They were paying attention to Steve Forbes, the spoiler four years ago. McCain is benefiting at this stage from voters' willingness to look at something fresh. He might hold up just fine when people begin to look more closely. Or, he might turn into Ross Perot, who was initially attractive to the press and the public before close attention revealed his quirks and drained his support.

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Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map

The overriding issue of the next legislative session quietly starts its 10-month road show this week in Abilene with the first public hearings on redistricting. The House and Senate committees will collect opinions about what should and shouldn't be split geographically around the state, a record that will be used in the court battles that will almost certainly follow the next Legislature's final decisions on the state's political fence lines. Some members think that public testimony will be important in court. Some think it will be completely ignored once the pencils are put away in favor of ink pens.

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Meanwhile, Back in Texas...

Maybe a little sympathy is in order here. Gov. George W. Bush is running for president, and naturally enough, would like to have things running smoothly back on the home front, where the government is dominated by his own party and where the executive branch is populated mostly by his own appointees. But even with all the watchdogs, things have been bumpy on the finance front.

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A Man on the Hot Seat

Within about 24 hours, Rodney Watkins, an insurance agent from Mineola, pulled his name off the ballot and then agreed to let it stay on, and then called it off again. Watkins, who owns a growing insurance business with offices in Austin and Waco as well as in his home, decided at one point that business matters should dominate his time and energy, and that's apparently what he finally decided.

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You Can't Win If You Don't Play

The Democrats were spinning hard when they announced their overall ballots on the third day of the year. Chairman Molly Beth Malcolm answered just about every question with a variation on "We are rebuilding and we are focussed on the House, the Senate and Congress." Flip the question and ask Democrats if they were happy to have a ticket without a head on it, or with a head on it that consists mainly of five political nobodies who aim to challenge the best-funded U.S. senator in the country, and they concede that, well, yes, that does sound sort of goofy.

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Crayons, Politics, Idle Speculation

Scotch the notion, which was being knocked around in the mostly idle Pink Building last week, that a delay in redistricting would automatically keep the current maps in place for a few more years. Those maps are generally considered to be favorable to Democrats. A judge could leave those plans in place, but the changes in the state's population have been so extensive that it would be a tough decision to defend. The current plans are probably burnt toast after this next set of elections.

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