Vol 32, Issue 44 Print Issue

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

We will be taking next week off for the Thanksgiving holiday. From Texas Weekly, thank you for reading and our best wishes for time well spent with family and friends. We'll see you again the following week.

The Texas Association of Business released on Thursday the results of a survey of the state's 100 largest districts. Of the 78 that responded, 86.4 percent of students were able to graduate without passing all their tests, the group announced. Senate Bill 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger, R- Amarillo, lets high school seniors graduate without passing all five state exams, if they meet certain requirements.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — no stranger to social media fireworks — appears to be comparing Syrian refugees to venomous rattlesnakes. In a post on his campaign Facebook page on Wednesday, the Republican juxtaposed two images: one showing a twisting mass of snakes, the other a crowd of refugees. A Miller spokesman said the post was "unapologetically" placed by Miller. He added, “I think the post speaks for itself but, what he said was he would rather invite a rattlesnake into his home than an ISIS jihadist terrorist.”

A former staffer's sexual harassment lawsuit against the office of U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold ended when both parties "agreed to dismiss the case after several months of court-facilitated mediation," according to a National Law Journal report. Both the former staffer, Lauren Greene, and Farenthold's office filed a joint court document Wednesday stating "the action shall be dismissed."

After months of talking up Texas' clout in the 2016 presidential race, White House hopefuls are taking their first formal step toward competing in the state's March 1 primary: getting on the ballot. As of the end of Wednesday, three Republican candidates had filed, according to the state GOP: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and billionaire Donald Trump. The campaign of Texas' junior senator, Ted Cruz, expects to have him on the ballot in the coming weeks.

State troopers can end inaccurate reporting of the race and ethnicity of drivers they pull over by simply asking them for that information, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told lawmakers Wednesday. A House committee held a hearing after a television news report found that troopers over the past five years have misidentified thousands of minorities stopped as white.

Weeks after a Houston-area mother sparked an uproar over a caption in her son’s textbook that inaccurately described African slaves as “workers,” the State Board of Education tentatively approved several changes to its textbook adoption process. However, the 15-member elected board on Wednesday narrowly rejected a proposal that would’ve given it the option of creating an expert panel for the sole purpose of identifying errors in textbooks.

Also on Wednesday, the SBOE rejected a rule change that would have allowed school boards to hire anyone they wanted as superintendent — even if the candidate had no public education experience — as long as they had some kind of post-baccalaureate degree and intended to pursue superintendent certification. But the board still appears poised to drop a current requirement that would-be school district chiefs have classroom teaching experience.

In an apparent effort to shut down talk of banning guns in college classrooms, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to clarify where universities can prohibit handguns with the state's campus carry law goes into effect Aug. 1. Many professors, especially on the University of Texas at Austin campus, have seized upon language allowing gun-free zones to pressure campus administrators to ban guns in classrooms. They argue that they'd feel unsafe knowing their students might have guns and that free and open debate would be quashed.

As Republicans push to temporarily freeze admissions of Syrian refugees into the U.S., Texas Congressmen Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, and Brian Babin, R-Woodville, on Wednesday called for a temporary suspension of all refugee resettlement efforts. Republicans’ calls for halting refugee admissions to the U.S. came days after terrorist attacks in Paris linked with the Islamic State killed more than 120 people.

Lawyers for former Gov. Rick Perry fought Wednesday before the state's highest criminal court to finish off a 2014 indictment against him, while prosecutors argued that it was too early to let Perry off the hook. The case stems from his threat to veto state funding for a unit of the Travis County district attorney's office unless its head stepped down following a drunken driving arrest. Perry, who abandoned his second bid for the White House in September, did not attend the hearing, which could determine whether he stands trial in the case.

Holding up San Antonio as an example, a report released Tuesday by the Vera Institute of Justice recommends law enforcement agencies change their practices regarding mental illness, sex workers and addiction

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a boisterous rally in Dallas Tuesday to offer a thinly veiled critique of Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders, suggesting his health-care proposals would undermine efforts to reform the system.

Tired of waiting on lawmakers and bureaucrats to clear up their limbo, a group of North Texans has turned to the courts in an effort to reclaim thousands of acres of ranch and farmland along the Texas side of the Red River. The lawsuit comes about 19 months after the dispute first grabbed national headlines and sparked fiery comments from Texas leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, who said Tuesday that he supported the landowners in their fight.

Before last week’s terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, Texas voters had illegal immigration and foreign terrorist groups at the top of their list of greatest threats to the U.S., according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. The survey would also suggest that the reaction by the state's leadership to the Paris attacks reflected partisan patterns in attitudes that existed beforehand.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has opened three investigations this year into Texas universities — Texas A&M University, the University of Houston and Trinity University — over how they handled allegations of sexual violence on their campuses, documents obtained by The Texas Tribune show. Such federal inquiries have generally been spurred by accusations that universities didn’t do enough to punish students accused of rape or harassment. But at least one of the Texas campuses currently under review — Texas A&M — is being investigated for the opposite: a claim that administrators went too far when they suspended a male student accused of assaulting a female classmate.

Ted Cruz's presidential campaign is using its first major ad buy in Iowa to highlight some of his most well-received moments in the Republican debates so far.

Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr said he has "little doubt" that the private institution will opt out of the state's new campus carry law during The Texas Tribune's daylong symposium on higher education issues Monday.

A ruling from the Texas Attorney General's office has just made it more difficult to access information about the kinds of crimes undocumented immigrants have committed in Dallas County — and whether local officials turned those offenders over to federal authorities.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. The University of Houston was a corporate sponsor in 2013. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed six people to the Texas Economic Development Corporation last Friday. They are: Steve Head of The Woodlands, Mark Griffin of Lubbock, Alejandro “Alex” Meade of Mission, Mike Rollins of Austin, Nancy Windham of Nacogdoches, Sanjiv Yajnik of Dallas to the corporation. Tracye McDaniel of Austin and Bryan Daniel of Georgetown were named ex-officio members of the board.

Abbott appointed Col. Dawn Ferrell of Wichita Falls to serve as the Deputy Adjutant General for Air for a term to expire at the pleasure of the governor.

Abbott on Tuesday appointed Cecile Young as the State Refugee Coordinator. According to an announcement from the governor’s office, the refugee coordinator works to “ensure coordination of public and private resources in refugee resettlement” in Texas. Young is currently the chief of staff for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Abbott announced on Wednesday four appointments to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. They are:

•    Anna Benavides Galo of Laredo for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2019

•    Jeanne Latimer of San Antonio and Kelcy Warren of Dallas for terms to expire Feb. 1, 2021

•    Reed Morian of Houston (reappointment) for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2021

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced multiple appointments for Senate committees and state commissions last Friday.

•    Brian Birdwell, Kevin Eltife, Jose Menendez, Larry Taylor and Kirk Watson to the Senate Select Committee on State Real Property Data Collection, Reporting and Assessment

•    Joan Huffman, Jane Nelson and Craig Estes to the Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans

•    Eduardo “Eddie” Lucio Jr. to the Advisory Council on Cultural Affairs

•    Brandon Creighton and John Whitmire to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission

•    Brazos County District Attorney Jarvis Parsons and Fort Worth Attorney Leticia “Letty” Martinez to the Commission to Study and Review Certain Penal Laws

The Houston mayoral runoff between state Rep. Sylvester Turner and former Kemah Mayor Bill King is set for Dec. 12. The Houston city attorney's office last Friday formally scheduled the runoff date.

Houston mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner cornered the market on congressional Greens this past week. U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, announced last Friday he is endorsing Turner in the Dec. 12 runoff election. On Monday, U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, followed suit.

On Thursday, Turner announced an endorsement from House City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, who is also a former colleague in the Legislature. Cohen represented HD-134 for two terms from 2007-11.

The Texas State University System Board of Regents re-elected its chairman, Jamie Garza, and its vice chairman, Rossanna Salazar, at a meeting last Friday, allowing them to hold their respective positions for another year. Garza is a professor and assistant dean for South Texas Affairs at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and Salazar is the managing partner of ROSS Communications Inc., a strategic communication firm in Austin.

Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, an arm of conservative organization Empower Texans, endorsed Justice Michael Massengale in his bid for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court. Massengale is currently a judge for the First Court of Appeals in Houston. He is challenging incumbent Debra Lehrmann in the GOP primary early next year.

SD-25 State Republican Executive Committeewoman Linda Kinney said Monday that she is backing Austin ophthalmologist Dawn Buckingham in the SD-24 race, explaining in a statement that she “will help in the fight for border security and cut state spending.”

A trio of leading Texas conservatives — Cathie Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum, Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values and Kelly Shackelford of the Liberty Institute — announced support for Jonathan Stickland in his campaign for re-election to his HD-92 seat. Stickland, one of the most prominent voices of the movement conservatives in the House, is facing a primary challenge from Bedford pastor Scott Fisher.

Stickland followed that by announcing Wednesday that he has rounded up the support of four of Texas’ “most conservative” senators — Konni Burton of Colleyville, Bob Hall of Edgewood, Don Huffines of Dallas and Van Taylor of Plano.

State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, headlined a list of endorsements rolled out Monday by state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, who is in a primary fight with former state Rep. Bennett Ratliff to represent Dallas County’s HD-115. Huffines has HD-115 in his Senate district. The list of Rinaldi supporters include a couple of former mayors of Farmers Branch — Tim O’Hare and Bill Glancy — the former mayor of Carrollton, Ron Branson, and the former mayor of Irving, Marvin Randle.

HD-115 candidate Bennett Ratliff announced last Friday endorsements from 20 current and former city council members in the district. The list includes, among others, current Coppell city council members Cliff Long, Marvin Franklin, Wes Mays, Nancy Yingling, Brianna Hinojosa-Flores, and Mayor Pro Tem Gary Roden; Carrollton city councilman Bob Garza; and Farmers Branch Mayor Pro-Tem Kirk Connally.

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, endorsed Kevin Roberts in his bid to succeed her in the House. In June, Harless announced she would not be seeking re-election to the seat she has held since 2007.

Republican HD-33 candidate Lorne Liechty announced on Thursday that he has earned the endorsement of the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee.

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition announced Monday that Shakira Pumphrey will serve as its new policy director. Pumphrey previously served as a senior policy advisor to House Speaker Joe Straus.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced Tuesday she has filed for re-election. Anderson has held the job of DA in the state’s most populous county since September 2013.

Genetics researcher Eric Boerwinkle is the new dean of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health. He starts his new position Jan. 1.

Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Thursday was named chairman of Texans for LNG, a new campaign to educate the public on the benefits of building up Texas' liquified natural gas export industry.

Texas Department of Insurance Actuarial Director Mike Boerner has won the Robert Dineen Award, the highest honor for a state regulator bestowed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Disclosure: The Texas State University System is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.