Vol 29, Issue 6 Print Issue

Uncharted, Still

Start here: The judges in charge of the redistricting case in Texas haven't rejected the maps proposed by the state and agreed to by some but not all of the plaintiffs. They simply observed that no deal has been made to satisfy everyone and told everyone to keep talking and get ready for a hearing next week.

In the Money: Campaign Balances at Year-End

Once upon a time, a campaign account with $100,000 or more was a peculiar thing; if not rare, then at least one of a small group. But that was back in the day: At the end of last year, there were 284 such committees, according to the campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Campaign Chatter

"Suspended" doesn't necessarily mean a campaign is in its final state of rest, a congressman becomes a poster boy for a bill he probably didn't want to get tangled in, and other news in state politics.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Although parts of the state have been reclassified as out of the drought and could potentially see an easing of water restrictions, some communities are still projected to run out of water in the next six months. One of those, Spicewood Beach, has already begun trucking in water. And while there has been some controversy about the Lower Colorado River Authority previously selling water from the community’s wells, the LCRA insists that the precipitous drop in the supply came after those sales were discontinued.

The latest economic news in Texas points to a positive trend in revenue. While budget writers anticipated a drop in statewide property values, the estimate from the comptroller’s office shows a 1.3 percent increase from 2010 to 2011. Sales tax revenue has also come in at higher-than-expected levels since September, almost doubling the projected growth. That’s especially good news as sales tax accounts for more than half of the state's total tax revenue. The state’s Rainy Day Fund will also be getting a boost, as oil and gas production tax collections have been on the rise with a corresponding oil and gas boom. 

There was a Rick campaigning for president in Texas this week, but his last name wasn't Perry. Rick Santorum made a stop in North Texas after winning contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Tuesday, generating new buzz about his campaign. Santorum spent the day in the Dallas area courting supporters and raising money and drew an overflow crowd at a rally in Plano.

The race for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s U.S. Senate seat is heating up with the formation of Super PACs in support of candidates. The Houston Chronicle reported on the formation of a group in support of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and a group calling itself Real World Conservatives was organized to help Craig James with his campaign. 

Super PACs may be the order of the day nationally, but a charter revision committee in Austin wants to change local election finance rules to be more restrictive. Much of the current fundraising for candidates in the city is handled by bundlers; proposed changes would limit them to raising only $1,750 per candidate, or just five donations at the maximum of $350 per donor. The new rules would also require disclosure of contributors' names and addresses and whether they are registered city lobbyists.

Formula One racing in Austin is back on for November, but state funding of the event remains in doubt. At issue is a letter Comptroller Susan Combs sent to event organizers stating that money from the Major Events Trust Fund could be used to help fund the race for the entire term of its contract, to the tune of $25 million per year. Combs has since backed off that position, which has left the funding in limbo. But the letter is also generating controversy: Should Combs have promised the money at all? Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to investigate the legality of Combs’ wording in her 2010 letter.

Texas’ abortion sonogram law went into effect Tuesday after being blocked by a U.S. District Court for months. The law was challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of abortion providers, and an injunction prevented enforcement, which was originally set for October. But after last week's ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, federal Judge Sam Sparks, despite his belief that the law is unconstitutional, was forced to allow the law to take effect. The center is now asking that the full circuit court review the three-judge panel’s assessment.

In response to pressure from homeowners groups, the Legislature last year passed a bill that requires homeowners associations to be more transparent, more formal in their foreclosure proceedings and less stringent in their restrictions on homeowners. Transparency requirements include holding open meetings, posting notices of meetings and establishing record-retention policies. HOAs will also be required to pursue foreclosures through the judicial process, after they’ve offered delinquent homeowners payment plans. And all those rules about what you can have on display? Homeowners can display flags and religious displays that had been banned, with some limits on size.

Political People and their Moves

Rob Johnson and Margaret Lauderback, most recently employed by Rick Perry's presidential campaign, are going to work for a super PAC supporting David Dewhurst's bid for U.S. Senate. The sign over the door says "Texas Conservative's Fund." 

Tracy Young will join the Texas Charter Schools Assocation as its vice president of public and government affairs. Young has served as director of communications for House Speaker Joe Straus since 2009. Straus hasn't named a replacement.

The Austin ISD's Christy Rome will head the Texas School Coalition, a group of school districts that send locally raised taxes to the state under the current school finance system. She is currently AISD's director of intergovernmental relations. 

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Bill Elliott of Ravenna to the North Texas Tollway Authority's board of directors. Elliott is an attorney.

Perry reappointed John Steen Jr. to the Public Safety Commission, which oversees the state police. Steen is a San Antonio attorney.

Liz Geise is the new administrator of the Governor's Mansion. She's worked in various place in and around state government, most recently as project manager for the Governor's Mansion Restoration Fund.

Anita Bradberry will retire in August from the Texas Association of Home Care and Hospice, where she's the executive director. She's been at the association since 1989.

Paul Sadler is now a consultant to The Wind Coalition instead of its executive director, a move that follows his decision to run for the Democratic nomination for an open Texas seat in the U.S. Senate.