is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, where he writes regular columns on politics, government and public policy. Before joining the Tribune, Ross was editor and co-owner of Texas Weekly. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A new law requires candidates to file their campaign finance reports "by computer disk, modem, or other means of electronic transfer." A little twist in the law requires the Texas Ethics Commission to post the reports on the Internet for all of Texas to see, but to first strip out street addresses of contributors, ostensibly for reasons of privacy and piracy. The law also says people can get the reports by showing up at the ethics agency and requesting them.
The national press, in particular the political press corps from the city of Washington, D.C., thinks the Texas press has left a lot of food on the table when it comes to Gov. George W. Bush. There's been talk, as the saying goes, the gist of which is that the local folks have been very easy on the state's chief executive and that it will take the heat of a national race to cook out the truth.
We liked it better when stories about baby boomers were about hip-huggers and greasy hair and loud music, but the most self-centered generation in modern America is getting old. That ain't news in and of itself, but it presents a whole slew of things for people in government and business to think about and Texas actually has dispatched a team to start doing some of that thinking.
Only two months into the current budget, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA for short) has discovered it has $57 million less than it thought, partly because the agency has less money on hand than it forecast and partly because it's spending money faster than it knew.
The little ol' Texas budget is suddenly national news, and with the misinformation sure to float up in the backwash of political advertising, it's probably a good idea to pull the numbers together to see when various finger-pointers are telling the truth and when they're fibbing.
Handicapping the Senate race in San Antonio? Trying to figure out where everyone will be sitting when the music stops? You can tell what at least some of the political folks in that city are thinking, just by the fact that only one House seat -- the one now occupied by Rep. Leticia Van de Putte -- has drawn really active interest from candidates who want her job. So far, the seat that would be left open if Rep. Leo Alvarado Jr. wins the special election to replace Sen. Gregory Luna has drawn some tire-kickers but no sure-fire buyers, while the candidates looking at the Van de Putte seat are already working the district and the local lobby and the finance people and the Austin crowd.
If you don't live in San Antonio or Houston or a handful of other places that have sports arenas and Senate races and other interesting issues before the voters, the November ballot offers up a treat only a civics proctor could love: 17 constitutional amendments that, for the most part, don't even offer the thrill of controversy or everyday relevance.