Vol 29, Issue 4 Print Issue

Voter ID Mudslinging Continues

The U.S. Department of Justice is keeping Texans guessing as to whether they will have to furnish photo IDs before casting their ballots. But a fresh lawsuit has spurred a new round of mudslinging directed at the law's Republican backers.

Gov. Rick Perry delivering his stump speech during an early morning campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, on Oct. 8, 2011.
Gov. Rick Perry delivering his stump speech during an early morning campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, on Oct. 8, 2011.

Yeah, He Lost, But...

Rick Perry is still the Republican governor of a strongly Republican state. He controls the executive branch, maintains strong ties with business, has relatively weak opponents, and has run circles around the media.

Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, right, at a U.S. Senate candidate debate on Jan. 12, 2012.
Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, right, at a U.S. Senate candidate debate on Jan. 12, 2012.

Campaign Chatter

Nobody said running for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas was cheap. A (partial) release of Ted Cruz's finances, and other political news from around the state.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

STAAR, the new standardized student testing system Texas is scheduled to take up this spring, has parents, school administrators and even lawmakers still questioning the state's readiness. How to use the results of the exams is up to individual school districts, but parents are voicing concern about districts planning to use students' scores to count for up to 15 percent of their final grades. The tests could even become a factor in students' eligibility to graduate on time. The first STAAR tests will be administered in March.

Wielding a search warrant, state and federal investigators descended on a health care agency in Mission owned by former Rep. Sergio Muñoz Sr. Raids on home health care companies usually result from investigations into their dealings with Medicare and Medicaid, but investigators didn’t give any details of the charges that may be forthcoming against the agency. Muñoz served in the Texas House from 1993 to 1997; his son, Sergio Jr., is currently the representative for District 36.

Texas mayors were divided on the issue of same-sex marriage at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting this week. Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell joined 76 of their fellow mayors from across the nation in promoting equal rights for gay couples, calling marriage a civil rights issue and saying that cities could benefit economically. The mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth, Mike Rawlings and Betsy Price, didn’t sign the pledge, with Price saying the issue was one for the state, not cities, to address.

Reacting to a dramatic drop in prices, the second-largest U.S. producer of natural gas, Chesapeake Energy, said it will cut its drilling in the Barnett Shale by half. A boom in shale drilling has led to a glut of natural gas and caused prices to hit a 10-year low. Other drillers are expected to follow Chesapeake’s lead.

Two companies with operations in the Texas Panhandle face sanctions by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. ConocoPhillips has been charged with excessive emissions at its refinery in Borger and is facing a fine of $19,750. Magnum’s violation was topping the visible emissions standard when it failed to control dust around its plant. It could be liable for a fine of $12,100. The TCEQ will take up enforcement of the orders on Feb. 8.

The town of Robert Lee got a grant from the Texas Water Development Board for an emergency pipeline that will run 12 miles and give the town access to water from Bronte. The town's only source of water, the E.V. Spence Reservoir, is sitting at 0.44 percent capacity. Snyder, which gets its water from Lake J.B. Thomas, is also watching the supplies dwindle. The lake used to provide water not just to Snyder but also Odessa and Big Spring. Now that it’s down to about 2 percent capacity, the town has also had to construct a pipeline into other existing water supplies. Without a new source, the town was predicted to dry up by June.

Galveston placed its entire 12-person traffic division on leave this week pending the outcome of an internal investigation, then allowed seven of them to return to work. Mike Dricks, who headed up the division, resigned, although he characterized his departure as retirement and didn’t acknowledge any familiarity with the investigation. The city’s investigation is said to center on employees' work hours and whether any laws were broken as a result.

Strip club owners need a new angle on their challenge to a $5-per-patron state tax levied against their businesses. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected their argument that the so-called pole tax violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of expression. Passed in 2007, the tax has raised less than expected to fund rape crisis centers and provide funding for sexual assault survivors.

Texas’ law prohibiting 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying concealed weapons got a boost in federal court as a district court judge dismissed a National Rifle Association suit. The judge said that the state’s motive for banning the under-21 crowd from carrying concealed handguns — public safety — was enough to justify the law.

Houston’s public library foundation is creating a formal corporate donation program, and it’s paying off. After watching its budget shrink from $37 to $32 million over the last two years and losing about 20 percent of its workforce, the library this week received a $100,000 donation from Comerica Bank to help fund its after-school programs and technology needs. At the ceremony honoring the gift, Houston Mayor Annise Parker challenged other Houston businesses to contribute to civic institutions. The city’s oil companies pitched in last summer to keep eight public swimming pools open.

Political People and their Moves

Keith Ingram is the new elections chief at the Texas Secretary of State's office, replacing Ann McGeehan, who left in December after 16 years in that post. Ingram was most recently a manager in the governor's appointments office; before that he was a general business lawyer in private practice.

Gov. Rick Perry is back, making appointments:

John B. Walker of Houston to the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents. Walker is president and CEO of EnerVest Ltd.

Joe Edd Boaz of Anson as district attorney of the 259th Judicial District Court in Jones and Shackelford counties. Boaz is an attorney in private practice, a former Jones County attorney and the chief of trial teams for the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office.

Sheri Krause of Austin chairwoman of the Texas Historical Commission and Robert “Bob” Shepard of Weatherford to the commission. Krause is managing partner of JBS Holdings and the former development director for the Settlement Home for Children. Shepard is a rancher, retired American Airlines pilot and former air traffic controller.

• Three members to the Texas Medical Board, including Carlos Gallardo of Frisco, a senior manager of recruiting at DynCorp International in Fort Worth; William “Roy” Smythe of Belton, chairman of surgery and medical director for Scott and White Healthcare’s Office of Innovation and a professor and chair of surgery at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine; and Paulette Southard of Alice, a retired teacher and community volunteer.

• Three members to the State Committee of Examiners in the Fitting and Dispensing of Hearing Instruments, including William McCrae of San Antonio, president and owner of Beltone Audiology and Hearing Aids; Jesus “Jesse” Rangel Jr. of Longview, owner of Beltone Hearing Aid Center and a licensed hearing aid dealer; and Barbara Willy of Sugar Land, former senior manager of operational excellence for Siemens Hearing Instruments North America Headquarters in New Jersey.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appointed four members of the Texas Senate to the Medicaid Reform Waiver Legislative Oversight Committee: Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

Speaker Joe Straus announced additional House appointments to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking: Reps. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball.

Jason Gibson, president of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association, is staffing up for his bid for the Texas Democratic U.S. Senate nomination. Ed Espinoza, a former western states political director at the Democratic National Committee, has signed on as general consultant and campaign manager. Kirsten Gray, the press director at the Texas Democratic Party for the past two election cycles, will serve as communications director. Houston-based strategist Keir Murray, who’s worked on campaigns for former Rep. Nick Lampson and a couple of Houston mayors, is political director. Jason Stanford, who managed former Rep. Chris Bell’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, is the chief research consultant.

Deaths: Former Rep. Al Price, D-Beaumont, a civil rights activist and airline pilot whose addresses on the floor of the House used to regularly include the word "shan't" and often started with the phrase, "Members, I reluctantly rise…" He was 81.

Bill Hollowell, D-Grand Saline, a 14-term state representative and one-time speaker pro tempore of the House. He was 83.