A Federal Grand Jury Rocks the Senate

Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, is under investigation by a federal grand jury that has peppered Texas government with subpoenas over the last several weeks. The panel is apparently trying to find out whether Madla or a member of his family benefited from some action he took while in office, but none of the information that has so far become public appears to support any such claim.

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Making Bad News Out of a Budget Surplus

Sheesh, before you get all bothered about the grand mal disaster in the state budget, take a breath. There is no grand mal disaster in the state budget. What you've got -- as we've noted in detail over the last couple of months -- is a situation where the state has several agencies with budget messes of varying degrees of difficulty, and plenty of money to clean it all up. What you've also got is a presidential campaign and lots of people who'd like to put this in the worst light.

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Property Taxes Too Cheap to Meter

Lawmakers knew that letting new companies sell electricity in Texas would bring some financial drama to a staid industry, but they predicted it would take two years to get that far down the road. As you might have heard by now, they were wrong, and the price tag on the mistake is hovering in the $50 million range.

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Official Spin: Sick, But in Recovery

If you stick with the riff that the bad ol' Democratic Party is dead, then be ready for this to turn into a slasher movie; the corpse will certainly rise for a sequel, if not soon, then certainly in a year's time when the Republicans are picking their way through a post-George W. Bush landscape.

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Governing on Eggshells

It's quiet in Texas politics and government at the moment, but only part of that can be attributed to the annual lull that comes with summer. Much of it is a result of presidential politics.

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A Break for Prison Guards

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.

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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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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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Where Republicans Will Hunt Next Year

Republicans in Texas have relied for years on a rating system called ORVS, or Optimum Republican Voting Strength, that combines results of recent elections to show which parts of the state are friendly to the GOP. The latest numbers are out, and while there are few surprises, the charts do provide something of a road map to the GOP's targets in the next election cycle.

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Why Rally If the Votes Are Truly Locked Up?

Ordinarily, anyone who could collect more than 80 House votes for an issue before it's even been heard in committee would be happy indeed. But the folks pushing to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, to the maximum are worried about the depth of their support.

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