Vol 33, Issue 18 Print Issue

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday finalized a new set of rules aimed at battling climate change. This time, the agency is targeting the oil patch — with big implications for Texas, the nation’s petroleum king.

Citing problems with the administration of this spring's STAAR exams, the head of the Texas Association of School Administrators says that 2016 STAAR scores shouldn't be used to rate schools or determine whether a student should graduate or advance to the next grade

Lawyers representing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday tried to cast doubt on the makeup of the grand jury that indicted him. They're hoping to overturn a lower court’s decision not to dismiss the securities fraud charges against him.

Members of the University of Texas System Board of Regents expressed concern about their schools’ proposed rules for handguns on campus and signaled plans to attempt to change some of those policies before they go into effect on Aug. 1. The regents were scheduled to approve the rules during their meeting Thursday.

Gov. Greg Abbott released his book titled “Broken But Unbowed,” where he details the accident that paralyzed him for life, his various battles with Washington and his recent push for a convention of states to amend the Constitution.

The three-day Texas GOP Convention starts Thursday, with more than 10,000 delegates gathering in Dallas. While the party’s nominee has been decided, the convention will feature speeches from Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in addition to the state GOP chairman’s election.

Paxton released a video late Wednesday one day before he’s set to appear in court in Dallas, where he is facing criminal charges. In the video, Paxton defends himself against “crimes I didn’t commit” and said he’s “not going anywhere.”

Three years after a West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion killed 15 people, including 12 firefighters and first responders, state and federal officials said Wednesday the fire that caused the explosion was intentionally set, making it a criminal act.

Transgender advocates derided Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday for what they described as his “fake outrage” over the Fort Worth school district’s new transgender bathroom guidelines, calling the Republican a shameless bully. Patrick had called earlier for the district’s superintendent to resign over the guidelines, hosting a press conference in the district before a school board meeting.

Members of the Texas House Higher Education Committee said they were worried about the rising cost of college in Texas, but stayed away from the criticism and dramatic calls for action heard from the Senate in recent weeks during an interim hearing Tuesday. 

Drawing a parallel between the long-term efforts of her husband’s supporters and the fight to end slavery, Heidi Cruz said Tuesday that it took “a lot longer than four years” for the latter fight to be successful.

On his first day back in the Senate, Cruz repeatedly avoided endorsing the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, ruled out a third-party run against Donald Trump and said he would continue to serve as an “outside” in the Senate.

At any given time, 28,000 children are in the state’s care after being removed from abusive or neglectful homes. These children often suffer from a combination of emotional and physical trauma. How to take care of them is a perennially vexing question for the state’s troubled foster care system, but Texas struggles to provide adequate mental health services to children who need them, according to welfare experts. 

The state’s deadline for independent presidential candidates to get on the ballot in Texas was Monday, but no one applied. There’s still a chance for a third-party candidate to sneak on. If their so inclined, a politician can apply as an official write-in candidate for president – as opposed to unofficial write-in candidates like Spongebob Squarepants.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner said Sunday he would file legislation next year “designed to establish consistent and predictable statewide regulation of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.” The legislature heard pitches for statewide regulations during last session, but none of the proposals were adopted.

Austin’s Proposition 1, a ride-hailing ordinance supported by Uber and Lyft, was defeated Saturday during a special election. The election was the result of a more than 6-month battle over who should write regulations for these companies – cities or Uber and Lyft.

Two special masters appointed by a federal judge to oversee reforms to the state’s embattled foster care system have begun visiting with state officials, and their recent two-and-a-half-day orientation is projected to cost the state roughly $43,000.

It's likely that no candidate will clear 50 percent in the special election for the unexpired seat in Texas House District 120, voters will be asked to come to the polls again this summer for — yes — an extra special election. The outcome of this summer runoff election will determine who will fill the remainder of state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon’s term, which ends in January.

The official portrait of former Gov. Rick Perry was unveiled Friday morning, giving Texas' longest-serving governor a permanent home in the Capitol and answering a burning question throughout Austin – whether or not he would be sporting his now signature black framed glasses in the painting (he was not).

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signed off on a stretch of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline that would cross below the Rio Grande, handing a setback to a coalition of ranchers, environmentalists and landowners that sought to thwart the project.

Disclosure: The University of Texas System, Uber and Lyft have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Greg Abbott made 10 student regent appointments as well as naming the student representative to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, all of whom will serve a one-year term beginning June 1. They are: Lindsey Shelley of ­­­­­­Fort Worth (Midwestern State University); Chad Huckaby of Nacogdoches (Stephen F. Austin State University);Stephanie Martinez of Laredo (Texas A&M University System); Tramauni Brock of Mansfield (Texas Southern University); Dylan McFarland of Frisco (Texas State University System); Jeremy Stewart of Arlington (Texas Tech University System); Monica Mathis of Sherman (Texas Woman's University); Joshua Freed of Cypress (University of Houston System); Christopher Lee of Houston (University of North Texas System); Varun Pokkamthanam Joseph of McKinney (University of Texas System); and Haley Rader DeLaGarza of Victoria (Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board).

Abbott appointed Daniel “Dan” Brudnak of Gorman and Peggy Lewene “Lew” Vassberg of Lyford and reappointed Suehing “Sue” Chiang of Sugar Land to the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners for terms to expire on Jan. 31, 2021.

Abbott made three appointments on Friday to the board of trustees for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas — John Elliott of Austin, Greg Gibson of Schertz and Christopher Moss of Lufkin, which is a reappointment. All three appointments are for terms to expire Aug. 31, 2021.

Abbott on Monday appointed Tommy Hansen of Hitchcock and Armin Mizani of Keller to the Automobile Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority for terms to expire Feb. 1, 2021.

Ahead of this weekend’s state GOP chairman election, incumbent Tom Mechler announced endorsements from former Gov. Rick Perry and state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. The challenger for the post, Jared Woodfill, rounded up endorsements from state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, as well as State Republican Executive Committee members Tanya Robertson and Bonnie Lugo.

GOP SD-24 runoff candidate Dawn Buckingham has racked up the endorsement of another prominent Texas conservative. This time, it’s Americans for Prosperity-Texas policy director Peggy Venable. Also this week, she won the backing of former Travis County Republican Party Chairman James Dickey and a trio of Coryell County officeholders — County Commissioner Jack Wall, Sheriff Johnny Burks and District Attorney Dusty Boyd.

HD-5 GOP runoff candidate Jay Misenheimer has earned the endorsement of the Texas Alliance for Life PAC. He finished behind Cole Hefner in the first round of voting. Hefner, meanwhile, announced an endorsement from current HD-5 representative Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola.

The Independent Texans PAC is endorsing Ernest Bailes in the GOP runoff to succeed state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, in representing HD-18.

HD-73 incumbent Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, received an endorsement for re-election on Friday by the Texas Travel Industry Association.

The political arm of the Texas Health Care Association endorsed this week Barbara Gervin-Hawkins in the HD-120 Democratic primary runoff and Scott Cosper in the GOP runoff election in HD-54.

The Texas AFL-CIO’s political arm has released its list of endorsements in the May 24 party primary runoff elections. They are: CD-15: Vicente Gonzalez; HD-27: Ron Reynolds; HD-120: Mario Salas; and HD-139: Jarvis Johnson.

The Dallas Police Association on Monday endorsed Mary Lou Keel in the GOP runoff election to fill Place 2 on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She is competing against Ray Wheless for their party’s nomination to take on incumbent Larry Meyers in the fall general election.

Gary Gates, a candidate in the GOP runoff election for railroad commissioner, has won the endorsement of state Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin.

Public education advocacy group Texas Parent PAC on Monday endorsed Lufkin school board president Keven Ellis in the runoff election for SBOE District 9. Ellis finished second to Mary Lou Bruner, whose over-the-top Facebook posts have drawn national attention.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies announced on Thursday that it has hired Travis Considine for the post of vice president for its public affairs shop in its Austin office. He is a veteran of the press shops of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Rick Perry.

The lobby shop at Texas Star Alliance announced on Monday that it has hired Jordan Williford, a staffer for state Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano. She will work on health and human services and insurance issues — which she handled as a staffer for Taylor — as well as other topics.

The Texas Organizing Project announced on Wednesday a change in leadership, with Michelle Tremillo, currently managing director, being named to take over the job of executive director for the progressive advocacy group on July 1. She will take over for Ginny Goldman who has been executive director since the group’s founding in 2009. 

The Texas Trial Lawyers Association announced on Tuesday that it has chosen McKinney attorney John Lin McCraw as its 2016 president-elect. The position of president-elect had been vacant since the death in January of Mark Kincaid.

Deaths: Chet Brooks, 80, died on Wednesday. A state lawmaker for 30 years, he represented Pasadena, first in the House for two terms and then the Senate. He was Dean of the Senate for the final 12 years of his tenure in the chamber.

Carl Whitmarsh, an outsized presence in Harris County Democratic politics for decades, passed away over the weekend. He was 64 and had been in ill health for years.

Disclosure: Stephen F. Austin State University, the Texas A&M University System, Texas Southern University, the Texas State University System, Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas System, the Texas Travel Industry Association, the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and Mark Kincaid have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.