Vol 30, Issue 34 Print Issue

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes at the Texas Capitol as Governor Rick Perry signs several education-related bills in ceremonies on June 10, 2013.
Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes at the Texas Capitol as Governor Rick Perry signs several education-related bills in ceremonies on June 10, 2013.

Remade Higher Ed Board Focuses on Relationships With University Systems

After surviving a difficult sunset review process, a somewhat remade Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is reaching out to improve its relationships with the state's university systems.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

The state’s 2014 primaries will be held in March — using the congressional and legislative maps approved by lawmakers this summer, a federal panel of judges ruled, at the same time rejecting the state’s request to drop legal challenges to the House and congressional maps approved by lawmakers earlier this year. The San Antonio-based judges said they didn't have time to finally settle the legal disputes over the state’s redistricting maps before those elections, which are scheduled for March, but told the state to proceed with those maps until the lawsuits have played out.

Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales wants the state to reopen the tobacco litigation that ended his public career and landed him in federal prison, saying the state might be entitled to some of the billions of dollars that were awarded to outside attorneys in that case. In a letter to current Attorney General Greg Abbott, Morales said that documents sealed after his conviction and the settlement of the state’s tobacco litigation might contain information that “may well entitle the state to seek the forfeiture of the attorney fees awarded in the Texas tobacco lawsuit.”

Sixteen Democratic state lawmakers have called on the Texas Military Forces (TXMF) to process veteran benefits claims for same-sex spouses. The state representatives sent a letter to Maj. Gen. John Nichols asking him to allow the Texas National Guard to enroll same-sex spouses in its veteran benefits program at state-operated installations. Currently, Texas National Guard members who wish to enroll same-sex spouses must travel to federally operated campuses within the state, which now offer such benefits following a recent directive from the U.S. Department of Defense. Earlier, TXMF requested an opinion from the state attorney general; statutorily, the AG has 120 days to issue an opinion.

Amid fears that systematic cheating on state standardized exams could extend beyond an embattled West Texas district — and doubts about its own ability to investigate allegations of improper practices — the state agency charged with overseeing Texas public schools is stepping up its scrutiny of accountability violations. The Texas Education Agency’s new Office of Complaints, Investigations and School Accountability is slated to open Sept. 30. It was created after the State Auditor’s Office released a highly critical report that concluded the agency had failed to fully review past claims of cheating and lacked a process to adequately address them in the future.

The University of Texas System has hired Hilder & Associates, a Houston-based law firm, as outside counsel to assist in its dealings with the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations. The legislative committee is conducting an investigation and considering filing articles of impeachment against one of the System's regents, Wallace Hall, though its charge is broad enough to allow for the filing of such articles against any of the regents or, for that matter, any gubernatorial appointees.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry named Nathan Hecht, who’s been on the Texas Supreme Court since January 1, 1989, to be the next chief justice there. Hecht says he’ll run for a full term in the post next year. He replaces Wallace Jefferson, who is resigning at the end of the month. Perry has yet to name a ninth judge to that court.

The governor appointed Robert De Hoyos of Austin to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission. De Hoyos is an exec with Tenaris North America.

Katrina Pierson, best known for her involvement in the Dallas Tea Party, will challenge U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in CD-32. She starts that adventure with an endorsement from FreedomWorks, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports Libertarian-leaning Republican candidates.

Ryan Sitton, who lost a House race last year to state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, will run for Railroad Commission in 2014. He joins a crowded pack that became even more crowded this week with the entry of former state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center. The first trick in that race will be bringing enough (or finding enough) money to the fight to get in front of voters — and ahead of the other Republicans. 

State Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, fired off a list of 100 Tea Party activists from around the state he said have endorsed his campaign for attorney general. One of his opponents, state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, countered with endorsements from “ten top legal advisors to Ted Cruz.”

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, who is running for comptroller, picked up the endorsement of Tim Lambert, a former national committeeman for the RNC and the head of the Texas Home School Coalition. 

Democrat Celia Israel won the endorsement of the Texas Association of Realtors’ political arm in the HD-50 special election in Austin. Israel is one of four candidates in the race to replace state Rep. Mark Strama, who quit earlier this year. There’s a bidness tie here: Israel is a Realtor. The other candidates: Democrats Rico Reyes and Jade Chang Sheppard, and Republican Mike VanDeWalle. That election is on November 5, and the seat will be on the ballot again in a year.

State Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, won’t seek a sixth term in HD-58 next year. 

Clayton Stewart is taking over the Texas Medical Association’s political action committee this month, replacing David Reynolds, who left to hand out a consulting shingle. Stewart was most recently with the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists.

Guy Deidrich, who had been the Texas A&M System’s lead on state and federal relations, will be acting vice chancellor of strategic initiatives, replacing Brett Giroir in that job. Giroir is taking over the Texas A&M Health Science Center. Jenny Jones, who is already in the legislative operation, will take over as acting director of it.