Vol 29, Issue 24 Print Issue

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Conservation agreements with the states of Texas and New Mexico have led the federal government to put off listing the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species. The agreements were hammered out by state officials in an attempt to avoid disruption of drilling in West Texas oilfields after they commissioned scientific studies that did not support listing the species as endangered. The voluntary program will affect about 250,000 acres of the Permian Basin. Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor the lizard’s progress on a yearly basis and could propose an endangered status again if they feel the need.

The Texas Republican Party addressed immigration issues at its statewide convention in hopes of attracting Hispanic voters, but the party's platform is drawing mixed reviews. The plan sets conditions for immigrants to gain citizenship through a guest-worker program, but also includes a stance against birthright citizenship. The compromise has provoked criticism from both the right and the left, and the jury is still out on whether it will garner support from Texas Hispanics.

At their state convention, Democrats added support for gay marriage to their platform. The language of the party’s position included references to President Barack Obama’s and Vice President Joe Biden’s recently voiced support for gay marriage. The party also added a plank on adoption saying that parents should be able to adopt regardless of their marital status. In another historic move for the party, delegates to the convention elected Gilberto Hinojosa as their first Hispanic chairman.

El Paso Mayor John Cook has avoided another recall election. Attempts to schedule an election have been thwarted by challenges to the petitions furnished by opposition groups. El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, which initially led the charge against Cook for his support of benefits for same-sex couples employed by the city, saw its signatures challenged in court, and the case has gone all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, where it is still pending. Even if the case is settled, city charter requires that the election be held a year before Cook leaves office, requiring the city to hold the election before the end of June, widely perceived as impossible. A new drive to recall the mayor failed to garner the required 6,100 signatures by the June 4 deadline.

Fears about the privatization of food services at Texas A&M were eased when members of the committee examining the proposal were convinced of the plan's merits. Concerns about employee job losses were addressed with employee protections, and committee officials were shown revenue projections that would add considerable amounts of money to the university’s coffers over the next 10 years. Three companies were vying for the chance to get the private dining business; the committee chose two and approved the outlines of the deal.

Following a study showing that up to 25 percent of red-light tickets are going unpaid, the city of Austin is joining other Texas municipalities in asking the state to withhold vehicle registration forms from drivers until fines are paid. Cameras in place at 10 intersections have reduced the rate of crashes at those sites by more than 40 percent. But violators who’ve been ticketed and not paid haven’t faced any consequences — until now. The city’s plan is to report offenders to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, which will flag registration renewals, giving drivers an additional incentive to pay the ticket. The cities of Arlington and Garland have begun following a similar protocol, but it’s too early to gauge the results.

After arguing the issue for more than 10 years, attorneys on both sides of the Hank Skinner case are asking for the court to authorize DNA testing on evidence that went untested at the time of the death row inmate’s trial. Skinner’s attorneys joined the state’s attorneys in filing a motion with the Court of Criminal Appeals asking that the case be sent to district court so that DNA testing can be authorized.

In an effort to avoid violating clean air standards across the state, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has announced a $5.7 million grant program designed to get older vehicles off the road. Companies can apply for the grants when they replace at least 20 diesel vehicles in their fleet of 75 or more with alternative energy-sourced trucks. Those sources include electricity, natural gas, hydrogen, propane or methanol. Cleaner fuel sources could keep Texas out of hot water with the federal government if it prevents clean air standards violations.

The Battleship Texas was found to be taking on water over the weekend, and crews began pumping to locate the leak and patch it before the ship hits the bottom of the Houston Ship Channel. The 98-year-old ship is prone to problems due to its age. Sinking, though, isn't a concern: The ship is only sitting in about 30 feet of water and is just a foot from the bottom.

Political People and their Moves

At the Republican Party of Texas convention in Fort Worth, Steve Munisteri of Houston was re-elected the party chairman, and Melinda Fredricks of Conroe was kept on as vice chairwoman.

At the Texas Democratic Party convention in Houston, former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa became the party’s first-ever Hispanic chairman.

Pat Dixon was reelected chairman of the Texas Libertarian Party by nine votes, and the party elected his opponent, Tom Glass, to be his vice chairman. 

Chris Lippincott has set up his own strategic communications, public relations and public affairs shop. The former Texas Department of Transportation spokesman is now operating as Hound’s Creek Consulting.

Mark Miner, who worked for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst before he became spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry (and then for presidential candidate RP), is back in the fold; he's joined Dewhurst's campaign as a communications consultant now that his old boss is in a runoff. 

Gov. Rick Perry has appointed Jake Ellzey of Midlothian and reappointed Richard McLeon IV of Victoria to the Texas Veterans Commission. Ellzey is a retired fighter pilot of the U.S. Navy. McLeon is general manager of Rusk County Electric Cooperative and is an ordained priest serving the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg announced that Dr. Charles Fischer, 59, was indicted by a Travis County Grand Jury on five felony cases. Fischer was employed as a psychiatrist at the Austin State Hospital until his dismissal on Nov. 14, 2011.

Deaths: Political writer Lori Rodriguez, most recently a reporter and columnist with the Houston Chronicle and the first Hispanic editor of the Daily Texan — the paper at the University of Texas-Austin. She was 62.

Former Rep. Alexander Mack "Bobby" Aikin III, D-Commerce. He was 65. Aikin served only one term, but stayed involved in politics and had a long family history to draw from: His father, who served in the Legislature from 1933 to 1979, authored a famous overhaul of the state's school finance system.