For Higher Ed, Something Completely Different

Chancellor Dr. Fransisco Cigarroa at the University of Texas Board of Regents meeting in Austin on May 11, 2011.
Chancellor Dr. Fransisco Cigarroa at the University of Texas Board of Regents meeting in Austin on May 11, 2011.

The warring parties in the state’s ongoing debate over higher education reform experienced something new in the wake of this week's University of Texas System Board of Regents meeting: consensus.

Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa outlined a comprehensive action plan for the future of the system. In its nine main points, the plan nodded to both those who would like to see significant moves toward efficiency and accountability and those who would like to see academic research protected and universities spared from top-down micromanagement.
All nine UT regents voted yes on the plan without asking any questions of Cigarroa. Regent James Dannenbaum noted that the plan had brought about an atmosphere of “unanimity and collegiality." Regent Steve Hicks noted that the board's assent followed “an extremely challenging last six months” but acknowledged that the plan's implementation would require “diligence and hard work.” Regent Alex Cranberg, part of the last round of Gov. Rick Perry's appointees, also backed the "visionary" plan. "Some might even call it radical,” Cranberg said.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Austin-based think tank whose proposed “breakthrough solutions” for higher education caused much of this spring's upheaval, also offered its support. “Today’s action plan from Chancellor Cigarroa is an important and welcome recognition that Texas students and parents can no longer afford business as usual from our state’s higher education institutions,” spokesman David Guenthner said in a statement. “The measures put forward today should lead to a better academic experience for students, and improved performance of the University of Texas System.”
Perry, who had promoted the "solutions," issued a statement applauding Cigarroa's plan, saying it “reflects important steps toward both increasing productivity and improving academic quality.” Other conservatives who have been critical of higher education, such as Americans for Propserity state director Peggy Venable, who held a press conference criticizing higher ed administrators just this week, issued similar sentiments.
Meanwhile, academics appeared similarly enthused. Tim Allen, who chairs of the University of Texas System Faculty Advisory Council, said the faculty supported the plan as well and looked forward to its implementation. Dr. John Mendelsohn, the outgoing president of University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, called it “a blueprint for the nation, not just for Texas.” UT-Austin President Bill Powers, who has been critical of recent efforts by outside groups to evaluate the productivity of his institution’s faculty, said he believed Cigarroa’s vision “is in full harmony” with their approach to faculty evaluation.
Melinda Hill Perrin, a Houston philanthropist who is also a member of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education — a group that formed, in part, to counter the TPPF’s approach — spoke at the meeting. She said that while “preserving the status quo” does not sit well with her or her fellow UT supporters, they “will not and have not stood idly by” while outside groups attempt to influence the universities. “We have experienced unprecedented times and been deeply troubled,” she said. But today’s events, she said, had given her “hope that, just perhaps, we have an opportunity to turn a corner.”
Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who has been arguably the most outspoken critic of Perry and the TPPF, said she believed other university systems were taking notice. “I hope that today is a good example of how a system can come together under the right kind of leadership that requires collaboration at all levels,” she said.

Along with House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, Zaffirini will continue to monitor the actions of regents throughout the state. The Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence, and Transparency, which they co-chair, announced this week that it’s first hearing will be on Sept. 21.

The mood at that event should provide an initial indication as to whether the storm has passed, or if this is merely a lull.

Perry Agrees to Two September Debates

Gov. Rick Perry listens to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's speech at an event in Waterloo, Iowa, on Aug. 14, 2011.
Gov. Rick Perry listens to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's speech at an event in Waterloo, Iowa, on Aug. 14, 2011.

What a difference a year makes. At this point in 2010, we were learning that gubernatorial candidate Rick Perry had no intention of debating his Democratic opponent, former Houston Mayor Bill White.

The governor doesn't always skip out — he debated Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina in the 2010 Republican primary. But after the general election, when he would agree only to one long interview with The Texas Tribune's Evan Smith, there was a question of what he might do in a presidential race.

He's going to debate.

Perry accepted a couple of invitations. The first is at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California on September 7, co-hosted by Politico and NBC News. Second will be a CNN/Tampa Tea Party Express Debate at the Florida State Fairgrounds on September 12.

Rancor Follows Congressmen Home

For some Texas congressmen, the long-awaited recess from Washington might not be as pleasant as they anticipated.

Liberal groups looking to draw attention to key Republican votes during this month’s budget meltdown in Washington have descended on events attended by U.S. Reps. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, and Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio.

Protesters, spurred into action by what they see draconian cuts to essential services, will likely continue to mobilize until members return to Washington.

“They will certainly be loud about how they feel the members voted,” said Lauren Weiner, the deputy communications director of Americans United for Change. Weiner credited the grassroots efforts of groups like MoveOn, which protested at Hensarling’s event at the Lakewood Country Club in Dallas, for garnering the attention she says will likely increase. “I do know that these members are all in their district for the next month and some are a lot more accessible than others," she said.

Canseco and Hensarling told local media outlets they were open to debating the issues, and were actually trying to reform entitlement programs like Medicare, not eliminate them. But Canseco also drew fire for allegedly refusing to meet with constituents, something he denied doing.

Weiner said it is one thing to meet with constituents of all stripes and take some heat, and another to only wade in to friendly waters.

“They’re hiding behind a lot of these paid events,” she said. “Even though it’s technically open to the public, you’re asking to charge $25. A lot of these people protesting are unemployed. That’s really not an option just to talk to a member of Congress.”

A Perry-Friendly Super PAC Says Iowa Likes Him

Presidential candidate Rick Perry makes a speech at the Iowa 80 "World's Largest Truck Stop" at Walcott, Iowa on August 16, 2011.
Presidential candidate Rick Perry makes a speech at the Iowa 80 "World's Largest Truck Stop" at Walcott, Iowa on August 16, 2011.

It's a synergy thing. Super PACs can spend all they want to advance a candidate or cause, with certain limitations and — importantly — without talking to the candidate or the campaign. So here's Make Us Great Again, a new Perry-centric Super PAC where one of the principles is Mike Toomey, the lobbyist, former lawmaker and former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry. There's no connection, all sides say. And it's not illegal to know someone well enough to know how to help them without any communication taking place.

That PAC hired Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research to do an Iowa poll and the results were so good they made it into the hands of reporters. Perry, by their reckoning, is doing just fine.

Republican caucus-goers in Iowa give Perry 23 percent of their votes, followed by Michele Bachmann, at 20 percent; Mitt Romney, at 16 percent; Ron Paul, at 9 percent; Herman Cain, 8 percent; and Rick Santorum, 7 percent. No others broke the 4 percent mark, and 12 percent were undecided.

Thirty-eight percent think Perry would be best at "creating jobs and improving the economy," followed by Romney at 27 percent and Bachmann at 18 percent. Perry also led when the voters were asked who had the best chance to beat Obama. Perry got 41 percent to Romney's 24 percent and Bachmann's 13 percent.

According to the survey, self-described "very conservative" voters favor Perry, at 30 percent, over Bachmann, at 23 percent, and Cain, at 10 percent (Romney got 9 percent, as did Santorum). And those who described themselves as "a Tea Party conservative concerned about spending, the federal debt, and protecting the U.S. Constitution" also had Perry on top, with 30 percent, followed by Bachmann, at 22 percent and Paul at 13 percent.

The telephone survey of of 402 "likely caucus goers" was done August 21-22. The margin of error is +/- 4.9 percent.

Campaign Chatter

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, during debate on higher education bill SB5 on May 3, 2011.
Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, during debate on higher education bill SB5 on May 3, 2011.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, says he'll seek another term in 2012. Fun facts from his announcement: "Among his younger-life experience, he worked as a paper boy, TV station copy boy, waiter, dishwasher, library clerk, and taxicab driver."

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, has been talking to potential supporters about getting into the U.S. Senate race, where he would face a gang of other Republicans who hope to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison, who's not seeking another term. McCaul is saying he could spend $4 to $6 million of his own, and has raised questions about whether Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has been running a muscular enough race. Dewhurst has been raising money, aides say, and his real rollout is coming after Labor Day. Dewhurst can self-finance the race — he's done it before — but McCaul can, too. Roll Call just named him the richest man in the U.S. Congress. Talking carries risks; if McCaul doesn't look like a guy seeking reelection, he could attract others into his own race.

Put Marshall Mayor Chris Paddie into the race for HD-9 against state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center. And put Christian into the race for sure, if you were doubtful. He's announced he'll run for reelection. Paddie is a radio talk show host and general manager of KMHT Radio, where it airs. He's also been on the city commission, and he's a Republican — this will be a primary fight. Much of that is new turf for the incumbent; 80 percent of the population in the new district isn't in his current district. Christian has an Austin fundraiser coming up in mid-September, with levels of giving based on "conservative Texas values." On the cheap end is Gun Rights, for $250. The most expensive, at $5,000? Small Government.

State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Mesquite, will seek a second term in the House. Redistricting paired her with Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, in a northeast Dallas County district.

T.C. Betancourt of Edinburg will run for the statehouse in HD-41, where the incumbent is state Rep. Aaron Peña, who switched to the Republican Party after winning reelection last year. He's in the healthcare and produce businesses.

Add Republican Daniel McCool, a Harris County deputy sheriff, to the race for the SD-11 seat now held by Mike Jackson, R-La Porte. Jackson is running for Congress. State Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, is also expected to get in. Fun facts from McCool's announcement: "He has been shot at multiple times by suspects as he attempted to apprehend them, and has suffered numerous broken bones, torn ligaments, scrapes and bruises while fighting crime over the years."

Inside Intelligence: The Other Texan

His supporters wouldn't necessarily agree, judging from our phone calls and emails, but our insiders think U.S. Rep. Ron Paul — the other Texan in the presidential race — is getting all the attention he deserves. More than a third, however, don't agree with that.

Does he have a shot at the Republican nomination? Nearly everybody — 94 percent — says no.

They also think that it wouldn't take much support for Paul (or anyone else) to tip the race. A five percent showing in the polls would be enough to make a losing candidate a spoiler who could change the outcome, according to 43 percent of the insiders. Others think it would take more, but if you combine those who put the mark at 5 percent with those who put it at 10 percent, then you've got seven of ten insiders saying you've got a spoiler.

Our last question comes up a lot in political races with large numbers of candidates: How do you tell the real prospects from the runts? It's all about the money, according to 60 percent of the insiders, followed by ideas/issues, 24 percent, charisma, 11 percent, and big crowds, 5 percent.

As always, we collected the verbatim comments on all of our questions and attached them, and we've got a sampling below.

Is Ron Paul getting the attention he deserves as a presidential candidate?

• "The media has its thumb on the scale. Ron Paul is old news to them and doesn't fit the preferred narrative this year, which is about Obama, the economy, and... wait for it... Perry."

• "If politics is about economics he certainly is not. If politics is about scapegoating and fear mongering then why bother with Dr Paul. He is the closest thing they have for radical economic revisionism but that is not what that voter base thinks it's doing."

• "Actually, far more than he deserves."

• "Ron Paul bundled millions and got now where. The reason Ron Paul is a perennial candidate is because voters have a way of seeing through to the real Ron Paul. It's not money. It's Ron Paul."

• "The attention Ron Paul gets far exceeds his vote share."

• "Ron Paul's rhetoric used to attract cameras and reporters like flies on a turd pie. Now he sounds like everyone else in the race. He's no longer the cool kid in the playground."

• "Seriously? He raises millions, wins polls, and nobody mentions him in the press except as a punch line."

Does Ron Paul have a chance of winning the Republican nomination?

• "I never thought a first term Senator with two years of congressional experience and no major legislation could be president. I won't be fooled again."

• "Ron Paul will impact this race. His ideas already are. His following is more committed and loyal than any other candidate in the field. There just aren't enough of them for him to win."

• "There is absolutely no chance at all of Ron Paul winning a single Republican primary, let alone the nomination."

• "The Don Quixote of the GOP."

• "I do not buy conspiracies, but the media is really ignoring him and his supporters are all kind of...eccentric. Until that changes, he doesn't have a shot."

What distinguishes a "serious" candidate from everyone else?

• "I hate this question."

• "Cold, hard cash rules our politics... for the worse."

• "The media and pundits"

• "Jesse Jackson didn't have much money, and he couldn't win the nomination, but he was a serious candidate. If you have actual or potential support in the race, you are a serious candidate."

• "Any or all of the above, but only if it translates into standing in the polls. So Paul is a serious (though not top tier) candidate and Huntsman is not."

• "Ideas and issues went out with the hoola hoop."

• "Electability."

Suppose Paul doesn't win the nomination. How much support does it take to make a losing candidate a spoiler who can change the outcome of a race?

• "Just look at Perot's numbers."

• "If Paul runs as an independent the Republicans are doomed."

• "With a large field, one candidate can siphon enough support from another with as little as 5% of the vote."

• "Were Paul to run as the Libertarian Party candidate he would have a serious negative impact on the chances of the Republican nominee in several battleground states. In a close race this could very well represent the difference between a second term for Pres. Obama and a Perry or Romney presidency."




The Week in the Rearview Mirror

With Texas suffering through the worst one-year drought in state history, a new warning from the state climatologist hits especially hard. The forecast for the upcoming winter and new year includes a 50 percent chance for the continuing influence of La Niña conditions. If that happens, drier-than-normal weather could persist, leading to continuing trouble with reservoirs across the state. Their levels have dropped from 81 percent at the beginning of the year to 68 percent.

The state’s power grid is still struggling to keep up with record-breaking demand. As Texas’ heat wave persists and temperatures stay above 100 degrees, the grid operator, ERCOT, again this week declared a level-two emergency, when the power supply fell short of grid operators' expectations. One hundred large industrial customers were asked to shut down for more than two hours on Wednesday to avoid forcing rolling blackouts.

School funding lawsuits may be on the horizon as district officials and administrators across the state grapple with $4 billion in funding cuts. Groups that expected the state to devise a more equitable school finance plan were frustrated with the lack of a system overhaul in a school funding bill. Since the 1989 Edgewood v. Kirby case, the state has faced a continuing string of school funding lawsuits.

A judge will allow Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley to remain in place as investigator in a 25-year-old murder case. New DNA evidence tested in the 1986 Michael Morton case revealed that a former California inmate’s blood was found on a bandana containing blood and DNA from the victim, Christine Morton. Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield declined to remove Bradley, the former head of the Forensic Science Commission, from the case, but warned investigators not to drag their feet and called for another hearing on Sept. 27 to review updated findings.

Two years ago, the Texas Department of Transportation spun off a new agency, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, to handle vehicle registrations and administrative tasks centering on sales and purchases of vehicles. After an unflattering consultant review of the organization was published at the end of July, its executive director, Edward Serna, submitted his resignation, effective Aug. 31. Serna faced criticism for not facilitating customer service.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul celebrated his 76th birthday by raising $1.6 million in a 24-hour campaign. In a press release, Paul’s campaign stressed the grassroots nature of his fundraising and pointed to what it called an impressive finish in the recent Iowa Straw Poll. So far, though, Paul is not polling anywhere near the top in the crowded primary field. A RealClearPolitics average of polls ranks him sixth in the list of hopefuls.

The state parole board is making preparations to comply with a law going into effect Sept. 1 that directs state officials to deport some of the foreign citizens incarcerated in Texas prisons. More than 11,000 Texas prisoners identify themselves as citizens of foreign origin, and legislators have viewed them as a drain on an already overburdened prison system. Releasing them to their home countries could save the state millions in tax dollars, though parole board members have expressed concern that convicts released might not be deported, leaving them on the streets of Texas.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry named Dan Friedkin of Houston chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, and appointed Bill Jones of Austin to the commission. Friedkin is chairman and CEO of The Friedkin Group, with responsibility for companies and investments principally in the automotive industry, including Gulf States Toyota. Jones is an attorney and owner of the Jones Law Firm.

Perry appointed five members to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board: Robert “Bobby” Jenkins Jr. of Austin is president of ABC Home and Commercial Services. Munir Lalani of Wichita Falls is president and CEO of Lalani Lodging. James H. Lee of Houston is president of JHL Capital Holdings. Janelle Shepard of Weatherford is a registered nurse, board certified case manager and director of medical management at the Texas Health Resources Fort Worth Hospital. David Teuscher of Beaumont is an orthopedic surgeon and partner at the Beaumont Bone and Joint Institute, and a team orthopedist for Lamar University’s men and women’s NCAA teams.

The governor also appointed three members to the University of Houston System Board of Regents. Spencer Armour III of Midland is managing partner of Armada Gas and Oil. Roger Welder of Victoria is retired CEO of J.F. Welder Heirs, and current vice chair of the First Victoria National Bank Board of Directors. Welcome Wilson Jr. of Houston is president and CEO of GSL Welcome Group.

Luke Marchant, son of the congressman from Dallas County, is back in Austin, where he's working as a political consultant with Chris Britton. They hope to work on races in Texas and other states.

Indicted: Austin lawyer Marc Rosenthal, on charges of conspiring to bribe a state district judge and witnesses in state and federal cases. Rosenthal, an active financier of Democratic legislative candidates in the state, denied the allegations. This is part of the same investigation that netted former state Rep. Jim Solis, one of Rosenthal's law partners. Solis pleaded guilty in April and awaits sentencing.

Quotes of the Week

I’ve never heard anyone in my family say anything but good things about Rick Perry.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to the Fox Business Network

I will support the Republican nominee, whoever it is.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, talking on the Fox Business Network about whether she'll endorse her former gubernatorial primary opponent, Gov. Rick Perry, for president, after she noted that she thought she was "unfairly criticized" during that campaign

Mitt is finally recognizing that the Massachusetts health care plan that he passed is a huge problem for him.

Gov. Rick Perry on his presidential rival Mitt Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts

The media coverage on Sunday morning was less than perfect for us. But you know what? In this day and age, they just aren’t as relevant as they think they are.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, on the lack of media attention his presidential candidacy is receiving from the press, to Time

[Dewhurst] made it clear early that he wanted to be the United States senator from Texas rather than lieutenant governor. If you're elected to a job you don't really want, and you're trying to use that job for something else, you're pretty miserable while you're in that job and everybody else around you is pretty miserable.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, on why Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was ineffective as the leader of the senate during the 82nd legislative session, to the Bryan-College Station Eagle

One was my own health situation. The possibility that I might have a heart attack or a stroke that would be incapacitating. And, there is no mechanism for getting rid of a vice president who can't function.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on his reasons for keeping a letter of resignation stowed away in a safe during his tenure as vice president, to NBC

Oh, the poor dears.

Mary Matalin, a marquee Republican strategist married to marquee Democratic strategist James Carville, on Ray and Leslie Sullivan (husband Ray is the communications director for Rick Perry, while wife Leslie is a fundraiser for rival Mitt Romney)

These donkeys don't live in the United States of France, they live in the United States of America, and they’re going to have to get with it.

Congressional candidate Roger Williams in a new ad depicting him trying to communicate to a field full of stubborn farm animals

Upon reading it, my first thought was of George Bernard Shaw, who responded to one of his critics thusly: 'I am sitting in the smallest room of my house.  Your critique is in front of me.  Shortly it will be behind me.'

From a letter sent by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, to Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of the conservative group Empower Texans, after they awarded Ellis an “F” rating