Vol 33, Issue 1 Print Issue

The Election Hotlist for the 2016 Texas Primaries

For our recurring list of the most competitive races in Texas statewide, congressional and legislative elections, we lifted the color scheme from the inventors of the federal terror watch, ranking races by the threat to each incumbent, to the incumbent party, or just by the level of interest and heat generated.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Ted Cruz's presidential campaign launched its first major TV ad in New Hampshire, a dramatic spot that seeks to shore up his border security credentials in a Republican primary race that has been dominated by the issue for months.

Taking advantage of a U.S. House recess this month, House Speaker Paul Ryan will make several stops in some of the richest pockets of the state: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Midland and San Antonio. Donors are being asked to contribute to a joint fundraising committee supporting Ryan's Republican colleagues in vulnerable districts across the country.

Intervening in what could be a landmark decision, the Obama administration, state and federal lawmakers and medical experts are among those who filed amicus briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Texas’ 2013 abortion law. Wendy Davis signed onto a separate amicus brief with other current and former women legislators who have publicly disclosed their own abortions.

Texas A&M Athletic Director Eric Hyman will leave his post, university officials announced Tuesday, wrapping up a stint during which A&M grew its college sports profile but at times failed to meet expectations on the field.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump told The Washington Post this week that Ted Cruz's Canadian birth could pose "a big problem" should his eligibility to serve as president become subject to a court challenge. Cruz responded first with a humorous tweet referencing the "jumping the shark" episode of "Happy Days" and then later by saying the legal rationale underpinning his eligibility to serve is "quite straightforward."

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, who is facing a potentially tough primary challenge from former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, earned this week an endorsement from the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Green's district is 80 percent Hispanic and the endorsement was made to convey the message that the incumbent can be trusted to represent Hispanic interests.

A Waller County grand jury took action Wednesday against the Department of Public Safety trooper involved in the July arrest of Sandra Bland, charging him with a single count of perjury. The charge stemmed from the apparent discrepancy between dashboard camera footage of the arrest and the trooper's written description of the incident. Bland died three days later in the Waller County Jail, pushing the incident into the ongoing national conversation about race and policing, jail safety and mental health awareness.

GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio spoke at a North Dallas rally on Wednesday evening, his first public campaign event in Texas. The wide-ranging speech touched on a multitude of topics but Rubio avoided mentioning his rivals for the party nomination.

Gov. Greg Abbott's economic development and tourism division director defended the use of taxpayer-funded incentives to lure out-of-state businesses to Texas in an appearance Thursday before a House committee. Lawmakers seemed to agree, with some calling Texas’ recent fall from its longtime perch as the nation’s job creator a wakeup call.

America’s biggest retiree group wants state regulators to reject oilman Ray L. Hunt's proposal to buy Oncor, the state’s biggest electric transmission company, suggesting it will shift wealth from everyday Texans to rich folks in suits.

In an appearance at an event hosted by the free market-oriented Texas Public Policy Foundation, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday vowed to pass a bigger and better tax credit scholarship program — and possibly other school choice legislation — out of the Senate.

A district attorney in West Texas this week asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on whether sheriff's deputies in Brewster County are allowed to place stickers in the shape of crosses on the back of their patrol vehicles.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University and the Texas Public Policy Foundation are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. Oncor was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2012. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Political People and their Moves

Michael Truncale of Beaumont was named by Gov. Greg Abbott to the Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2021. A senior partner at Orgain, Bell & Tucker LLP, Truncale ran for the open seat in CD-14 back in 2012. He finished third in the Republican primary.

Mike Morath was officially sworn in as the state’s new education commissioner on Monday, according to a statement from the Texas Education Agency. A former Dallas Independent School District trustee, Morath’s appointment was announced by Abbott on Dec. 14.

The Donald Trump campaign announced this week four staff hires for its efforts in Texas — Joshua Jones, deputy director overseeing grassroots operations; Eric Mahroum, field director for Dallas/Fort Worth and North Texas; Kayla Hensley, field director for Houston and East Texas; and Paul Janiczek, field director for central, south and west Texas.

The Montgomery County Tea Party announced Wednesday that it is endorsing Weston Martinez in the GOP primary for the open seat on the Railroad Commission.

Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced on Thursday his endorsement of Dawn Buckingham in the GOP SD-24 primary race.

The political arm of the tort reform group Texans for Lawsuit Reform announced on Wednesday that it is backing state Rep. Kyle Kacal’s re-election bid in HD-12. Kacal, R-College Station, is facing two challengers in the March 1 party primary race.

In the HD-14 GOP primary race, Texas Values Action, the advocacy arm of Texas Values, announced Wednesday that it is backing the challenger in the contest, Jess Fields. Fields, a former College Station city council member and former staffer at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is challenging the incumbent John Raney.

The advocacy arm of the Texas Farm Bureau is endorsing Ernest Bailes in the race for the HD-18 seat being vacated by Appropriations Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton.

The Texas Association of Realtors announced that it is backing Justin Holland, himself a Realtor, for the HD-33 open seat. The seat is up for grabs following the decision by Scott Turner, R-Frisco, not to seek re-election.

Education Austin announced Monday that it is backing Gina Hinojosa in the Democratic primary to fill the open seat in House District 49. Hinojosa stepped off the Austin ISD school board where she was serving as president in order to run for the seat being vacated by Elliott Naishtat.

HD-115 incumbent Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, said Monday that he has rounded up endorsements from 26 state legislators, including five state senators. The group includes House GOP Caucus Chairman Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound.

Outgoing state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, said Wednesday that he is backing Tom Oliverson in the contest to succeed him in HD-130.

The political arm of the Texas Hospital Association on Tuesday announced that it is endorsing HD-134 incumbent state Rep. Sarah Davis for the Republican primary.

Chris Newton officially began duties this week as executive vice president at the Texas Apartment Association. He most recently was president of the Texas Food and Fuel Association. He resigned from that post at year’s end.

Deaths: El Franco Lee, 66, died Sunday of an apparent heart attack. A Harris County Commissioner for 30 years, Lee also represented Houston in the Texas House for three terms from 1979-85.

Disclosure: The Texas Farm Bureau, the Texas Association of Realtors and the Texas Hospital Association are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. Jerry Patterson and Elliott Naishtat are donors to The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.