Why Doesn't Anybody Believe Phil Gramm?

Maybe this will turn out to be a case where the outlanders were caught telling scary stories around the campfire, but there sure are a lot of Democrats talking about challenging U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm. The list of names is growing even as Gramm says he has no intention of stepping down.

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Weighing In, Finally

Nobody predicted Gov. Rick Perry would set a record by vetoing 82 bills at the end of the session, but neither should anyone be completely surprised. The tension between the governor and the Legislature has been unrelenting since the November elections. If nothing else, they leave the governor's mark on a session where he had previously had little impact.

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Out Like a Lamb

The dramatic peak of the 77th legislative session came several weeks ago, when the House was trying to redistrict itself and the Senate was trying not to self-immolate on the hate crimes bill and its own redistricting maps. The end of the session, by contrast, seems as gentle as a receding tide.

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Real Men Don't Need Maps

Remember the burning map that used to open the TV show Bonanza? That might as well have been the plans for new political districts in Texas. At our deadline, it was impossible to say with any hope of certitude whether legislative redistricting plans were alive or dead. They weren't moving, but they had time to move if lawmakers found a compromise, and if they hurried.

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A Biennial Power Surge

The powers of state officeholders ebb and flow with the calendar. The end of the legislative session is when the governor's powers peak, when the comptroller has one last moment of leverage, when budgeteers' prospects are in bloom and when the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House bring their full powers over the legislative agenda to bear. If you see legislative supplicants standing in line to plead for something, chances are the line will lead to one of those people.

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The Moment We've All Been Waiting For

Three weeks from the date at the top of this edition, the Legislature will gavel to a close and go home. That'll be a relief, to be sure, but the 21 days that lead up to Sine Die will be hectic and the issues that have dominated the conversations in the Pink Building since January are finally coming to a head.

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Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Where is the Map?

The state is cut into 150 pieces for purposes of electing members of the Texas House. It's chopped into 15 chunks for purposes of electing members to the State Board of Education. The head of the House Redistricting Committee, Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, thinks those numbers should sync up. He says he'll draw the SBOE maps to exactly include ten House districts each.

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Easter Bonnets or Hard Hats?

Lawmakers will get ready for the Easter break by kicking the budget out of the House and lining up for copies of the redistricting "working" maps they've been promised by the two chairmen in charge of political cartography. Even without redistricting, the remaining seven weeks of the session will be kinda hairy. Still on the list of things to do: The House-Senate conference on the budget, teacher health insurance, Medicaid funding, campaign finance reform, major water and air bills, a number of Sunset bills affecting major agencies, a handful of controversial criminal justice bills, transportation bills and any number of things we've left off. There's a stack of stuff to do and not much time to do it. But the focus isn't on that stuff: It's on the maps.

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Rain in the Forecast

They say they're not having a political fight, but if Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander were having a political fight, chances are it would look a lot like this.

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The Texas House, Divided

For purposes of redistricting, break the House into seven pieces. Six parts would each be comprised of members from the six largest counties in the state: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, and El Paso. The seventh group includes representatives from the other 248 counties in the state.

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Mass Preoccupation

When Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, went to the front microphone in the House to talk about redistricting numbers the other day, you could have heard a pin drop. The chairman of the Redistricting Committee had nothing dramatic to say; he was keeping members up to date on the U.S. Census Bureau's plan to deliver numbers any day. He said it'd take several days to load the data into the computers so that the political cartographers can get to work. He finished; everyone exhaled.

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Nothing Like a Grand Jury to Perk Things Up

The state had a scandal cooking the last time the Legislature worked on redistricting, in 1991, and there was something brewing in 1981, and ten years or so before that. Lawmakers knew they were going to have problems with Medicaid, but had no idea that would involve anything but money.

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Drop the Money and Back Away Slowly

Explain this to your daddy: The State of Texas has $5.2 billion more money to spend over the next two years than it had during the last two years. There is probably enough money available for the state to continue to do the things it already does, even when you factor in inflation and other increases.

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Medicaid: Big and Scary, But Not Surprising

Budget writers have known for months—since they first saw the numbers—that Medicaid and various other insurance and health care programs were going to stink up the next budget and stain the current one. And they even had a fair idea about the size of the odors and the spots. They've been hearing about drug prices and premiums and caseloads for the better part of the last year. The numbers are big and even alarming, but the problem has been on the radar for a while.

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Swapping Potholes for Skylights

Some of the same people who voted to constitutionally limit state borrowing four years ago have found a way to issue hundreds of millions of dollars in new state highway bonds without counting the new debt against that constitutional cap. Each of the three different types of bonds spelled out in current highway funding proposals would punch a skylight into the legal debt ceiling designed to brake the heavy borrowing that began during the prison-building boom of the 1990s.

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A GOP Primary for Governor?

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is seriously considering entering the race for governor of Texas, according to friends and supporters. That's contrary, mildly, to her 14-month-old pronouncement that she probably would not run against an incumbent governor. But that was during the presidential race. Hutchison herself was up for reelection to the U.S. Senate, and things were more fluid then. There had been no presidential primaries and it wasn't clear that anybody in Texas politics was going anywhere.

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On Your Mark, Get Set, Get Set, Get Set...

The presidential election lasted too long. Then there was a new governor to swear in and a race in the Senate to name a new lieutenant governor and a mini-diaspora to Washington, D.C. Senate committees were named, then House committees, and everyone paused for the inauguration. Gov. Rick Perry will come back and make a State of the State speech this week and then, at last, this contraption will finally be rolling. It's been a weird beginning to what could be a weird year.

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