Vol 32, Issue 37 Print Issue

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety on Thursday called absurd some border residents' claim that state troopers are harassing residents during the ongoing border surge. Steve McCraw's comments came after some Texas Border Coalition members expressed concerns about the $800 million the Legislature allocated last session for an unprecedented buildup of state law enforcement along the border.

Determined to cut down on smog that chokes the nation’s skies, the Obama administration finalized new limits on ozone. But the limits are weaker than some had hoped, suggesting that fierce critics like Texas had some effect on the outcome.

Gun control supporters may have lost the fight to keep handguns off college campuses, but now some are pressuring administrators to create as many gun-free zones as possible. More than 160 UT-Austin professors signed a petition saying they “refuse guns in their classrooms” and professors at other campuses across the state are considering circulating similar petitions.

Starting Thursday, most U.S. health care providers must switch to a new system of computer codes for recording patient ailments. Opinions are mixed about the changes, but they are clearly fueling a greater demand for medical scribes, who focus on entering patient data.

Ten months after four DuPont workers died from a toxic gas release at the company's La Porte plant, federal investigators presented a scathing assessment of the company's performance, and said if the unit where the accident occurred were it to reopen today it would continue to present dangers.

Amid an ongoing lawsuit over deep cuts made by lawmakers this year to a therapy program for children with disabilities, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday offered a sternly worded defense of the Legislature’s move, calling those who claim the Legislature acted without considering potential consequences "flat wrong." 

A controversial agreement between the Travis County District Attorney's Office and Texas Mutual Insurance in which the company pays prosecutors to pursue its fraud cases will be suspended — at least for now, officials said Wednesday. The decision came after the publication of a joint Austin American-Statesman and Texas Tribune investigation into the arrangement.

Amid reports of a spike in illegal border crossings, Gov. Greg Abbott is again pushing the federal government to fortify the Texas-Mexico border, demanding "immediate and bold action" from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  

Texas has the second-highest number of families living in public housing with incomes as much as $250,000 above the income limits to get in, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The State Securities Board is questioning whether Gov. Greg Abbott really intended to veto $1.2 million for employee raises from its budget, part of more than $200 million in funds that remain in legal limbo.

In a show of home-state prowess, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has secured the endorsements of more than three dozen state lawmakers in his bid for the White House including 36 state representatives and five state senators. 

Urging Christians to “be bold” in standing up for religious freedom, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton touted his work as the state’s top lawyer on Tuesday, championing causes dear to social conservatives at a Baptist church. Paxton, who has kept a low profile since his indictment on securities fraud charges this summer, appeared at a gathering billed as an effort to raise awareness for clergy’s right to refuse to perform same-sex marriages under a new state law known as the Pastor Protection Act.

If U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions is to succeed in his bid to serve as the third-ranking Republican in Congress, the 10-term Dallas congressman will need the support of his fellow Texans. The 10-term Dallas Congressman is running for House majority whip in the wake of the leadership shakeup following outgoing House Speaker John Boehner’s retirement announcement last week.

Texas students who apply to UT-Austin for the fall 2017 semester will need to be in the top 7 percent of their high school class to gain automatic admission, which is tougher than the 2016 threshold of the top 8 percent. The cutoff for each year is calculated based on the prior year's applicant pool.   

The U.S. Department of Education has granted conditional approval of the state's No Child Left Behind waiver. But it remains unclear whether a standoff between the state and the federal government over educator evaluations has come to an end.

A group of investors led by a Dallas oilman and real estate mogul has launched a bid to take control of Oncor, the state’s largest electric transmission company, putting forth an unprecedented plan. The  deal, valued above $18 billion, is part of a larger effort to deliver Oncor’s parent company, Energy Future Holdings, from one of the largest corporate bankruptcies in U.S. history.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, Energy Future Holdings and Texas Mutual Insurance are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. Oncor was a corporate sponsor in 2012. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Greg Abbott made two appointments Tuesday to the Texas Facilities Commission. He named Robert Thomas as the commission's chairman and also appointed Patti Jones to the commission. Both appointees were named for terms to expire Jan. 31, 2021.

Nine directors have been named to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the Texas Department of Insurance announced on Thursday. They are: Blair Crossan of Addison, Joshua Fields of Harlingen, Michael Gerik of McGregor, R. Scott Kesner of El Paso, Ronald Lawson of Allen, Georgia Neblett of Port Aransas, Tony Schrader of Round Rock, Bryan Shofner of Lubbock and Chandra Womack of Dickinson.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, this week named Max Schanfarber his U.S. Virgin Islands campaign chairman, furthering his efforts to shore up support in states other than Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. Schanfarber serves on the GOP Executive Committee for the Virgin Islands.

Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper announced this week he is entering the race for the HD-54 seat left open after incumbent Jimmie Don Aycock's decision not to run for re-election. Austin Ruiz, a Klein optometrist, has also announced plans to run for the seat. Former state Rep. Fred Brown is also likely enter the race.

A third Republican candidate has entered the race for the open HD-126 seat in the Texas House — Klein ISD School Board President Steve Smith. Smith will face off against Kevin Roberts and Glenn Rex, who have already announced bids for the seat.

State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, announced that she will seek a fourth term representing House District 134. Davis, in her announcement, cited her work on healthcare initiatives and limited government as reasons for re-election.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, announced Wednesday he plans to seek re-election to the HD-147 seat he has held since 1991.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul has tapped five Texas lawmakers to serve as his re-election campaign co-chairs. The co-chairs are: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick; state Sens. Lois Kolkhorst and Paul Bettencourt; as well as state Reps. Patricia Harless and Allen Fletcher.

Bennett Ratliff, the former state representative from HD-115 running to regain his House seat, has received endorsements from two current and four former mayors in the district – Coppell Mayor Karen Hunt, Farmers Branch Mayor Bob Phelps, former mayor of Farmers Branch Bill Binford, former mayor of Carrollton Becky Miller and former mayors of Coppell, Candy Sheehan and Doug Stover.

Michael Massengale has received an endorsement from TEXPAC, the political arm of the Texas Medical Association, in his run for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court. He is challenging the incumbent, Debra Lehrmann, who was appointed and then elected to the court in 2010.

Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC is supporting John Lujan in the special election to select the new representative for the Bexar County-based HD-118. Lujan, a Republican, is hoping to take the seat most recently held by Democrat Joe Farias, who resigned in August. Lujan is one of six candidates in the race.

Five Tarrant County officials — County Commissioners Gary Fickes and Andy Nguyen, District Attorney Sharen Wilson, District Clerk Tom Wilder and Tax Assessor Ron Wright — endorsed on Thursday state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford in his bid for re-election to his HD-92 seat. Earlier this week, Stickland drew a challenger in the GOP primary, Bedford pastor and former Texas Youth Commission Chairman Scott Fisher.

Houston mayoral candidate Bill King announced late last week an endorsement from the Texas Conservative View PAC, which describes its members as “Houston women whose dedication to limited government and freedom issues brought us together.” The PAC's directors are: Sheryl Berg, Windi Grimes, Rosi Hernandez, Kelly Horsley, Robin Lennon and Mary Jane Smith.

Wes Riddle, a former congressional candidate and founder of the Central Texas Tea Party, is endorsing Dawn Buckingham in the open SD-24 race.

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition on Thursday named Leah Pinney the group’s new executive director. She had previously served as the organization's finance and operations director. Molly Totman, previously the organization’s grants manager and senior editor, was named deputy director.

D.C.-based communications firm LEVICK announced this week the acquisition of MACH 1 Group as it opens its Texas office in Austin. MACH 1 Group founder and CEO Katherine McLane will transition to LEVICK with the title of senior vice president. Frank Ward, who was MACH 1’s director of client services, will now serve as vice president at LEVICK. Alyssa Wright has also been brought on as account executive.

Former state Comptroller senior adviser Liz White announced that she’s joining her husband, David, on a new venture, Public Blueprint.

Disclosure: The Texas Medical Association is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Windi Grimes was a major donor to The Texas Tribune in 2012-13. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.