Senate Republicans Back Patrick on Defying Transgender Directive

Empty Senate chamber on June 1, 2015
Empty Senate chamber on June 1, 2015

Senate Republicans officially closed ranks on Monday behind the chamber’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, on the topic of transgender students in school bathrooms.

The Texas Senate Republican Caucus sent an open letter to the leadership of the state’s school districts, calling on them to ignore the recent guidelines issued by the Obama administration on allowing students to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they identify with.

The senators close by writing, “We believe this issue should be addressed by using common sense and the best judgment on the part of the parties involved in a specific case, respecting the rights and privacy of ALL the children who might be affected.

“The Texas Senate Republican Caucus calls on you to stand up for common sense, basic decency, and the rule of law in your school facilities.”

The letter was signed by every member of the caucus with the exception of Tyler Republican Kevin Eltife, who is not running for re-election. The other member of the caucus who has chosen to retire, Troy Fraser, did sign the letter.


The Legislative Budget Board has released a list of 16 state agencies that will be up for Strategic Fiscal Review in the 2018-19 budget cycle.

House Speaker Joe Straus instituted these reviews in 2014 as a way of taking a deep dive into agencies’ finances and to investigate how well they are using their resources in serving the state.

Institutes of higher education and affiliated entities take up fully half the list of agencies under review. The heavy hitters among this group are the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University at College Station.

Other agencies of note undergoing review: the Department of Agriculture, the Lottery Commission, the Facilities Commission and a couple of departments in the Health and Human Services enterprise — State Health Services and Family and Protective Services.


Former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs launched her Texas Smart Schools Initiative on Wednesday, an online platform that compares spending data from schools with student performance.

“Public education is one of the largest items in the state budget, so Texans need to know where their dollars are getting the highest return in terms of student performance,” Combs said in a statement. “With this platform, parents can find out which schools are beating expectations and educators can find peers whose success makes them worth emulating. It’s truly an initiative that lends itself to the common good.”

Combs spearheaded an earlier effort to track this data as comptroller, after the Texas Legislature directed her to create such a program in 2009.  Then called the Financial Allocation Study for Texas, the program produced a "FAST Tracker" tool for Texans to use to look through the data for school districts and specific campuses. The state no longer funds "FAST."

The Smart Schools Initiative launched Wednesday is being funded by money remaining from Combs' previous political campaigns and she is making the information free for public consumption, according to a press release.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Hillary Clinton Visits Texas, Rouses GOP Ire

Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters at Texas Southern University in Houston, shortly after winning the Nevada caucus on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016.
Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters at Texas Southern University in Houston, shortly after winning the Nevada caucus on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential frontrunner visited the state last Friday to attend a trio of fundraisers in Austin, Dallas and Houston. She was not expected to hold any public events, but Texas Republicans were working to make her trip known.

The state party was first out of the gate, tying Clinton to the recent vote in Austin that drove ride-hailing companies out of the city.

“It’s not surprising that Hillary Clinton chose to campaign with Mayor [Steve] Adler: two peas in a very unpopular and anti-Uber and Lyft pod," Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler said in a statement.

Gov. Greg Abbott was also getting in on the anti-Clinton action. His political shop solicited donations in an email to supporters that warned Clinton is "fighting to turn Texas blue."

"Her team knows that if we don't turn out the vote, Texas could be in play, and that would guarantee her a national victory," wrote John Jackson, Abbott's campaign director.


President Barack Obama is on a swing through Asia — and he took two Texas Democrats with him on the Vietnam leg of his Asian tour this week.

U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and Beto O'Rourke of El Paso flew on Air Force One over the weekend to Hanoi, Vietnam. Both congressmen are expected back stateside later this week.

In a Facebook post, O'Rourke said the aim of the trip was to "to learn more about the conditions in Vietnam and how trade impacts Southeast Asia and the United States."

The two men also traveled with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. Froman was a key negotiator for the not-yet-passed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which encompassed many of the Pacific Rim countries.

"It is an honor to travel to Vietnam with President Obama," Castro said in a statement ahead of the trip. "It will be a valuable opportunity to meet with the nation’s political and business leaders. I anticipate conversations will cover our security, economic, and human rights interests."

That deal may come up for a vote before Congress later this year, but its prospects are one of the most uncertain issues facing this Congress.


A couple of deep-pocketed Texans are stepping up to help raise money for Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Hushang Ansary of Houston and Ray Washburne of Dallas were named Tuesday to the 2016 Trump Victory Leadership Team, an effort by the Republican National Committee to provide Trump's campaign with a fundraising network. Ansary was given the title of "presidential trustee," while Washburne was tapped as a vice chair.

Both Ansary and Washburne have previously been involved in the presidential race. Ansary, a businessman, was a top donor to a super PAC supporting former GOP candidate Jeb Bush. Washburne, an investor, was the top finance adviser to ex-Republican hopeful Chris Christie.

While the team includes people who supported many former GOP candidates, few appear to be allied with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Liz Uihlein, one of the presidential trustees, is the wife of Dick Uihlein, a multimillion-dollar donor to the pro-Cruz super PAC network.


In other Cruz news, the senator called this week for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald for remarks earlier this week comparing VA lines to waits at Disneyland.

“At this point, there can be no doubt there is a deep corruption within the VA, and we should not rest until it is rooted out, and our heroes receive the care that they earned," Cruz said on Wednesday. "Secretary McDonald’s recent comments make clear that he is not the man to ensure that happens, and as a result, he should resign.”

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

Inside Intelligence: About That Bathroom Showdown...

For this week’s nonscientific survey of insiders in government and politics, we asked about the showdown between Texas and the federal government on transgender student guidelines.

The Obama administration and Texas' Republican state leaders have dug in their heels over the past couple of weeks on how to accommodate transgender students when it comes to which bathroom they use.

With the federal government tying bathroom access to Title IX funding, we decided to begin this week's survey by asking whether Texas' stance opposing the Obama administration might endanger an important source of funding for public schools.

Sixty percent of the insiders didn't think the federal government would cut off funding to Texas schools over the impasse with 26 percent saying the federal government would take that step.

The next question, which asked what step state leaders would take in response, was overtaken by developments this week when Attorney General Ken Paxton announced on Wednesday that he was leading a group of 11 states in filing suit against the Obama administration directive.

For the record, 76 percent of the insiders had anticipated that step. Another 11 percent said state leaders would do nothing in response while 6 percent said the state would fill a funding gap on its own. Another 6 percent anticipated that the state and federal government would compromise to keep federal aid flowing.

The final two questions dealt with the political ramifications of the current showdown over transgender students. Half the insiders thought the Republicans benefit more from the conflict with about 20 percent saying the Democrats benefit more. And another 20 percent said neither party benefits more.

On the final question, 44 percent of the insiders thought that among the GOP leadership, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has communicated most effectively with GOP voters on the transgender controversy. Another 39 percent said no leader was particularly effective. Four percent named Gov. Greg Abbott and another 4 percent named Paxton.

We collected comments along the way, and a full set of those is attached. Here’s a sampling:


Will public schools really lose federal education funding if they refuse to comply with a new Obama administration directive regarding transgender students?

• "Failure to fund public schools would become a PR nightmare for the Democrats. Doing so will give the R's another silver bullet campaign topic for the general."

• "The feds won't pull that trigger. It's too hot of an issue."

• "No, because 'transgender' is not protected by the Title IX statute. Congress has declined multiple opportunities to include it. If 'transgender' is not a protected class in the black letter law, how can the Administration penalize states for not complying with a provision that does not exist?"

• "No public school will be denied federal funds because they refuse to comply with a rule that allows boys to shower with girls — this is an empty threat from Obama put forward only to pander politically."

• "The IMPORTANT thing is to protect children, even if it means losing a pittance of school funding, federal funding."


If the Obama administration moves to cut funding to Texas schools over transgender students, what do state leaders do in response?

• "Then they can blame the big bad evil people in Washington for depriving our children of an education and education funding."

• "Suing the federal government goes without saying. There is nowhere close to enough state revenue to replace the billions in federal aid that would be lost, so that's out. Doing nothing is even worse that not even trying to fill the gap. Compromise? Dan Patrick?"

• "So-called transgenders have no legal standing — they are not a protected class nor are they likely to be since there is still a great deal of debate among mental health professionals about the nature of who they are versus who they say they are. If the Feds go to court, it will only be to rev up their political base — they are not likely to win."

• "General Paxton would see a high-profile lawsuit as a last chance to save himself in the court of public opinion. This also could be interesting vis-à-vis the new SCOTUS justice."

• "It's be a boon to the quality of education to remove federal strings."


As an electoral issue, which party benefits more from state Republican leaders pushing the transgender controversy?

• "'Real' Republicans will just stay home as they are DISGUSTED by what has happened to their party - it is no longer the 'grand' old party."

• "This is the type of issue that makes Democrat consultants grab the tequila during general elections. If you're explaining, you're losing."

• "Short-term, this is obviously a good year for Republicans to run against a despised minority. Longer-term, it's yet another way for the party to alienate young voters."

• "Based on the overwhelming result of both 1) the Pastor Protection Act in the House last session, and 2) the Democrat vote against HERO in Houston, it is very difficult to argue that the bathrooms issue will help Democrats in Texas. But note the error in your question: This issue is being pushed by Democrats, not Republicans. Transgenders have used their personal discretion to choose a bathroom for decades. There was no problem until the Democrats manufactured one. The press is constantly accusing voter ID as being a solution in search of a problem; why don't we ever hear the press characterize the HERO ordinance or the Fort Worth ISD decision in that way?"

• "I'm not sure 'benefit' is the word I would chose... but the politics mobilize the Republicans more effectively than Democrats. Or at least those R's who dominate the party at this moment."


Who has communicated most effectively with GOP voters on the transgender guideline controversy?

• "From opposing Cruz, to owning Cruz, Patrick is an old school political ninja. The Texas GOP is his; enjoy the ride."

• "Fear mongering, end of days scenarios, it's transmageddon!"

• "If 'effective communication' means whip up the masses, that's what our statewide electeds are good at."

• "Love him or hate him, Lt. Dan is the face and voice of the social conservative Republicans because he's articulate, media savvy and it's from his heart."

• "Patrick has done a masterful job of turning this into a school choice issue."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Brandon Alderete, Clyde Alexander, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Dave Beckwith, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Raif Calvert, Lydia Camarillo, Kerry Cammack, Snapper Carr, Elna Christopher, Harold Cook, Kevin Cooper, Randy Cubriel, Beth Cubriel, Denise Davis, June Deadrick, Nora Del Bosque, Holly DeShields, Glenn Deshields, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, Jack Erskine, Tom Forbes, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Eric Glenn, Kinnan Golemon, John Greytok, Clint Hackney, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Steve Holzheauser, Kathy Hutto, Deborah Ingersoll, Jason Johnson, Mark Jones, Walt Jordan, Lisa Kaufman, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Sandy Kress, Dale Laine, Pete Laney, Dick Lavine, Luke Legate, Ruben Longoria, Matt Mackowiak, Jason McElvaney, Steve Minick, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Nelson Nease, Todd Olsen, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Robert Peeler, Jerry Philips, Tom Phillips, Wayne Pierce, Allen Place, Gary Polland, Jay Pritchard, Ted Melina Raab, Patrick Reinhart, David Reynolds, Carl Richie, A.J. Rodriguez, Grant Ruckel, Andy Sansom, Stan Schlueter, Robert Scott, Bruce Scott, Ed Small, Larry Soward, Leonard Spearman, Dennis Speight, Colin Strother, Sherry Sylvester, Trey Trainor, Corbin Van Arsdale, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Seth Winick, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

The Calendar

Monday, May 30

  • Memorial Day

Thursday, June 2

  • “The People, the Presidency, and the Press,” hosted by the George W. Bush Presidential Center, in collaboration with the Pulitzer Board, The Dallas Morning News, the George Bush Presidential Center, and the LBJ Presidential Library; George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, 2943 SMU Blvd., Dallas (June 2-3)

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Baylor University has fired head football Art Briles and removed Ken Starr from his post as president in the wake of an investigation into sexual assault allegations on campus. Starr will continue to serve as the university's chancellor and professor. 

Texas, joined by 10 other states, filed a lawsuit Wednesday to stop a federal directive instructing school districts to let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, state officials announced.

In Tuesday’s runoff elections, Keven Ellis won the Republican runoff for State Board of Education over a candidate who once called Obama a gay prostitute; former state Rep. Wayne Christian won the Republican nomination for Texas railroad commissioner; Scott Walker and Mary Lou Keel won Republican nominations for two seats on the state Court of Criminal Appeals; Republican Jodey Arrington and Democrat Vincent Gonzalez won their party runoffs for seats in the U.S. Congress; state Rep. Bryan Hughes and Dawn Buckingham won Republican runoffs for seats in the Texas Senate; state Reps. Doug Miller and Wayne Smith were both defeated in Republican runoffs by Kyle Biedermann and Briscoe Cain respectively. 

A law firm working for the Republic of Turkey is accusing Houston-based Harmony Public Schools of funneling money to an organization the Turkish president has accused of trying to overthrow the government. Harmony says that's preposterous. 

Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller warned the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday that “all voting laws could be in jeopardy" if Texas' voter ID law is struck down.

A former staffer for state Rep. Dawnna Dukes has claimed the Austin Democrat sought reimbursement from the state for travel payments she was not entitled to, according to the Austin American-Statesman. 

A backlash against this year’s STAAR exams escalated Monday when a group of parents sued the state in an attempt to keep schools from using 2016 test scores to rate students. 

Less than a year and a half into his term, Gov. Greg Abbott appears to be following a path traveled by his two predecessors — write a book, raise your profile and then? Abbott has denied the book is a ploy at higher office, but that has done little to curb speculation that another Texas governor is laying the groundwork for a broader political profile. 

Disclosure: Harmony Public Schools has been a financial supporter 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 seven appointments to his Advisory Council on Cultural Affairs. Lisa Hembry of Dallas and Ali Zakaria of Sugar Land were named to terms to expire on Feb. 1, 2017. Veronica Vargas Stidvent of Austin, Juan Ayala of New Braunfels and Bryan Daniel of Georgetown were named to terms to expire Feb. 1, 2019. Abbott also announced the appointment of Ruth Ruggero Hughs of Austin and Steven Nguyen of Irving as the council’s chair and vice chair, respectively.

Abbott made nine appointments to the Texas Board of Respiratory Care. Latana T. Jackson-Woods of Cedar Hill, Shad J. Pellizzari of Cedar Park and Sonia K. Sanderson of Beaumont were named to terms to expire Feb. 1, 2017. Debra E. Patrick of Tomball, James M. “Jim” Stocks of Tyler and Joe Ann Clack of Missouri City were named to terms to expire Feb. 1, 2019. Timothy R. “Tim” Chappell of Plano, Sam Gregory “Gregg” Marshall of New Braunfels and Kandace D. “Kandi” Pool of San Angelo were named to terms to expire Feb. 1, 2021. Abbott also named Clack as the board’s presiding officer.

Abbott appointed Nancy Blackwell of Spring to the Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority for a term to expire Aug. 31, 2017.

The Institute for Policy Innovation, the Dallas-based think tank that advocates for limited government and free markets, announced on Monday that it has added former Dallas County Republican Chairman Wade Emmert as a research fellow.

The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation announced on Wednesday that it has named David B. Jones as its new chief executive officer. He succeeds Frederick D. McClure who left after four years for a position in the provost’s office at Texas A&M University.

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation announced on Monday that William H. Kuntz Jr., who’s served as the agency’s executive director for the past 16 years, plans to step down Aug. 31.

Larry McGinnis is stepping down June 30 from K&L Gates LLP where he is a member of the public policy and law group in the firm’s Austin office.

Deaths: John Lindsey, 93, one of Texas A&M University’s most prominent donors. He and his late wife Sara donated money to fund three faculty chairs and nine scholarships, and gave $3 million to the university's first comprehensive fundraising campaign. He also helped create the Texas A&M University Press, and helped convince President George H.W. Bush to build his library in College Station.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University, K&L Gates, Veronica Vargas Stidvent have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Quotes of the Week

They just said, ‘Would you be willing to pass this policy?’

Harrold ISD Superintendent David Thweatt on receiving a call last week from the attorney general's office asking the district to challenge a recent federal directive on transgender students' bathroom access

I entered the SBOE race to shine a light on some things that need to change in our public schools. Cock-roaches and politicians do not like their evil and deceptive actions exposed to the light.

Controversial SBOE candidate Mary Lou Bruner in a Facebook post that she published on Wednesday after losing the GOP party primary runoff

The book to me is all about the next rung on the ladder — what is the next rung on the ladder? ... Greg Abbott will be a candidate for president in four years.

Lobbyist Bill Miller predicting that Gov. Greg Abbott will run for president should Trump lose in November

Mr. Perfect left the building a long time ago.

Former Gov. Rick Perry to CNN late last week on why conservatives reluctant to support Donald Trump should now rally behind him