Vol 33, Issue 2 Print Issue

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

The seven top contenders for the GOP presidential nomination met Thursday night for their sixth debate of the election cycle near Charleston, S.C. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz clashed often with his rival at the top of the polls, Donald Trump, in the most confrontational debate yet that included an extended exchange on Cruz's Canadian birth.

Cruz on Wednesday found himself in the position of having to explain a loan from Goldman Sachs during his 2012 Senate campaign. The New York Times reported that Cruz had not disclosed to the Federal Election Commission the loan that was worth as much as $500,000 and went toward the race. Speaking with reporters in South Carolina, Cruz called the issue a “technical and inadvertent filing error” that he would resolve if necessary.

It was revealed this week that former Gov. Rick Perry has a new gig working for MCNA Dental, the largest privately held dental insurance company in the country, that was also the top donor to his 2016 presidential campaign. Confirmation of Perry's new job came as news broke the longest-serving governor in Texas history was meeting in Florida with Gov. Rick Scott.

The head of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Corbin Casteel, this week left his post with less than two months until the Texas primary on March 1. Casteel declined to comment about the reasoning behind his departure. 

President Barack Obama's words in his final State of the Union address on Tuesday largely fell on deaf ears among Texas Republicans. Their reactions illustrated the deep partisan divide that remains as Obama's final term nears its end.

The number of private colleges in Texas that have chosen to opt out of the state's new campus carry law is now at 20 following the decision this week by Trinity University in San Antonio to refuse guns on campus. So far, no private universities have chosen opt in to the law.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday announced a new unit in his office dedicated to combating human trafficking. The unit was created by language included in a border security bill passed last year by the Legislature. The head of the unit is a prosecutor who has been working on human trafficking cases since 2009, first with the Bexar County district attorney's office and, for the past year, with the attorney general's office.

Three days after Gov. Greg Abbott called for a convention of states to dramatically amend the U.S. Constitution, few high-ranking Republicans in Texas have backed his proposal. Several GOP state leaders, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, had yet to weigh in on the proposal.

U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Richardson, is throwing his support behind Ted Cruz for president, giving the senator the seventh congressional endorsement from his home state. In a statement, Johnson said that the country needs a "real conservative in the White House" that can help get the country back on track. Roughly a quarter of Congressional Republicans from Texas have backed Cruz.

Top officials at Oncor, Texas' largest electric utility, aired concerns on Monday with Dallas billionaire Ray L. Hunt's $18 billion proposal to take over and reshape their company. Oncor CEO Bob Shapard suggested that Hunt's plan to transform the company into a "real estate investment trust" could leave the utility without the flexibility to handle unplanned events. 

An investigation commissioned by the University of Texas at Austin has found "no evidence" of academic cheating by its basketball players. The NCAA has also decided not to pursue any punishment. The review was prompted by a June article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that alleged academic cheating by men's basketball players under former UT coach Rick Barnes.

With Mexico seemingly more willing to consider extraditing Sinaloa drug cartel head Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán after his recent recapture, questions are surging on whether he would face charges in Texas and the impact of his recapture on the region's drug trade.

A Tribune analysis of Cruz's travel schedule during his campaigning for president confirm that he has spent a perhaps historically unprecedented amount of time in southern states in a bid to make the round of primaries on March 1 bend the course of the nominating contest to his favor.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Oncor was a corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune in 2012. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Political People and their Moves

The Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments has a new presiding officer with Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointment of Andrew Kim, superintendent of Comal ISD. Stacy Hock was also named to the commission. The panel is developing recommendations on new systems of student assessment and public school accountability, which are due Sept. 1.

Texas Tech University has named John Opperman as its interim president while it searches for a permanent replacement for Duane Nellis, who announced his resignation last week.

Republican Texas Railroad Commission hopeful Weston Martinez announced several Tea Party endorsements, including Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum; Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values; Joann Fleming, head of the Grassroots America – We the People PAC; and Ray Myers, a local Tea Party activist.

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is backing Republican Rick Green in the race for the Texas Supreme Court Place 5. Green, a former two-term state representative, also announced an endorsement from Walker, Texas Ranger himself — Chuck Norris.

SD-1 GOP candidate Bryan Hughes won on Monday the endorsement of the Texas Association of Realtors’ political action committee.

Joe McBride, owner of McBride’s Guns, endorsed Republican candidate Dawn Buckingham in the race to replace state Sen. Troy Fraser in SD-24.

The political arm of the Texas Farm Bureau announced on Friday its endorsement of Jay Dean in the open GOP primary to represent the East Texas-based HD-7.

The Independent Texans PAC endorsed Republican incumbent state Rep. John Cyrier of HD-17, highlighting Cyrier’s passing of legislation that protects groundwater district board members from lawsuits while performing their duties.

Lorne Liechty won the backing of the political arm of Texans for Life, the pro-life group led by Kyleen Wright, in his bid to win the open GOP primary in HD-33.  On Monday, Liechty won an endorsement from former state Sen. Bob Deuell.

State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, has endorsed Mike Lang in the GOP primary race for the open HD-60 seat.

HD-73 incumbent Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, announced Friday that he has earned the endorsement of the political arm of the Texas State Rifle Association.

The Texans for Life PAC endorsed former state Rep. Bennett Ratliff to win back the HD-115 seat he lost to Matt Rinaldi by 92 votes two years ago, as well as the re-election bid of Jason Villalba in HD-114.

House Speaker Joe Straus has been awarded the Guardian of Small Business award by the National Federation of Independent Business/Texas, the state’s leading advocacy group for small business owners.

Republican candidates for HD-126, Kevin Roberts, and HD-130, Tom Oliverson, received endorsements this week from the Houston Police Officers’ Union.

Valoree Swanson, a Republican challenging eight-term incumbent Debbie Riddle in the Harris County-based HD-150, picked up endorsements this past week from Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Texas Right to Life and SREC District 7 committeeman Mark Ramsey.

The University of Texas at Austin announced Monday that Maurie McInnis has been appointed to the post of provost. She comes to UT-Austin from the University of Virginia, where she was vice provost for academic affairs.

Deaths: Royal Masset, former political director for the Republican Party of Texas. During his 15 years at the party, he is one of those most credited for helping direct the party's explosive growth in the 1980s and 1990s. He is also credited with helping develop the Optimal Republican Voter Strength index, which gauges the partisan leaning of legislative districts and is a valuable tool in assessing a candidate's chances to win in a district.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Realtors, the Texas Farm Bureau, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tech University are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.