Vol 29, Issue 22 Print Issue

Nine More Weeks

The primaries left 37 runoffs — 25 on the Republican side, 12 on the Democratic side. That includes five races at the statewide level, 11 for Congress, three for the State Board of Education, one for the state Senate and 17 for the state House.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, smiles at the end of a press briefing May 30, 2012 at his Capitol office.
House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, smiles at the end of a press briefing May 30, 2012 at his Capitol office.

After a Win, a Combative Speaker

House Speaker Joe Straus, coming out of a big and expensive win in a rare contested primary at home, began the runoff reboot by tweaking Michael Quinn Sullivan and his Empower Texans group, deriding them as ineffective, ugly and resentful of his success.

Hot Weather, Hot Seats, Hot Reptiles

As summer begins, the spotlight will be on the dunes sagebrush lizard (will it get an endangered listing or not?), former EPA regional head Al Armendariz (who's testifying in Washington) — and, of course, the perpetual question of whether the electric grid has enough juice.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Deep cuts to their budgets in the last legislative session led school districts to reduce teaching staff while their populations were growing, leading to a net loss of more than 15,000 teachers statewide. Jobs lost were almost 5 percent of the total number of working teachers last year — 324,000. But 65,000 new students weren’t taken into account as hiring decisions were being made. Districts don’t expect things to get any better in the coming year, as the funding cuts remain at record highs.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s proposal to allow immigrants to remain in the country upon completion of their master’s and doctoral degrees is drawing support from the technology community. The STAR Act, as it is known, would permit universities, high tech-companies and business organizations to hire recent graduates of science, technology, engineering or math programs to perform highly skilled research through the addition of 55,000 immigrant visas. But the additional visas would come at the cost of so-called diversity visas awarded by the lottery system to immigrants of countries that have low rates of immigration to the U.S. The bill is pending in the Senate.

A new report shows Houston Hispanics dropping out of school at a startling rate. An overall dropout rate of 26 percent in Houston pales in comparison to a 50 percent rate among Hispanics, and only 10 percent of Hispanics in the city attend college, compared with the overall rate of 28 percent. 

Law enforcement officials are happy with the results of the new can ban on two Central Texas rivers. The Comal and Guadalupe Rivers had substantially less trash left behind over the Memorial Day weekend, when the traditionally large crowds weren’t allowed to bring beer cans with them as they floated down the rivers. But river outfitters weren’t so thrilled — they claim the ban led to a downturn in business from last year.

A campaign volunteer in South Texas was shot in the leg Tuesday as he stood on a busy corner with other volunteers holding a sign for Hector Mendez, a candidate for Hidalgo County sheriff. The incident was called a drive-by shooting and wasn’t determined to be politically motivated. The man’s injury was not life-threatening, and he was scheduled to be released from the hospital later in the day. Police didn’t have enough information to pursue the shooter.

Planned Parenthood found itself embroiled in a new controversy when a group secretly filmed a video at a South Austin clinic and then publicly released the video. Live Action, the activist group behind the video, sent actresses posing as pregnant women into clinics asking for their pregnancies to be terminated based on the sex of the baby. The group claims that Planned Parenthood encourages sex selection and counsels women accordingly. Officials of Planned Parenthood responded that the employee caught on film did not follow protocol and was subsequently fired.

Houston City Council members are being asked to decide whether to expand the city's international air traffic to two airports. Southwest Airlines has volunteered to fund the expansion of Hobby Airport, with plans to build five additional gates and a customs facility bearing the brunt of the cost. But United Airlines, the other big gun in the battle, objects to international flights directed away from its hub at Bush Intercontinental Airport and predicts that the outcome won’t be what leaders expect. United claims that a study used to back up Southwest’s claim of adding 18,000 jobs to the economy is flawed and that if the deal is approved, it may cancel its plans to expand its own operations at Bush.

Political People and their Moves

Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, started Election Day off with a bang, announcing he had filed papers to challenge House Speaker Joe Straus in next year's election for speaker. In a letter to members after the elections, Hughes said Straus "has proved incapable of protecting key members of his leadership team." He accused the speaker of "abusing the redistricting process" and "fetting involved in races - all in an effort to defeat his conservative colleagues who opposed him."

David Dewhurst picked up the first endorsement from a competitor in the U.S. Senate race. Craig James, who finished fourth, endorsed Dewhurst, who finished first but short of the win.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, endorsed Marc Veasey of Fort Worth in his runoff against Domingo Garcia of Dallas in CD-33.

Jeff Leach, running for an open House seat in Collin County, picked up an endorsement from state Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, who is well on his way to being that area's next state senator. So did state Rep. Jerry Madden, whose spot in the House Leach is trying to win in a runoff with Jon Cole

Chris Connealy is the new State Fire Marshal, an office at the Texas Department of Insurance. He's been the fire chief in Cedar Park since 2004 and before that, served as fire chief for the Houston Fire Department.

Cherie Townsend, the executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, is leaving at the end of June after four years at the agency. She's overseen a restructuring of the agency and a dramatic drop in the population of the state's youth prisons, but the agency has recently come under fire for increases in violence and gang activity in the prisons.