Vol 33, Issue 3 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

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz argued Wednesday that the "Washington establishment" has dumped Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in favor of real estate mogul Donald Trump as he continues to dominate the GOP presidential race.

Cruz decided to take a risk on his time this week by visiting New Hampshire in hopes of lifting his chances in the early primary state. During his four-day tour of New Hampshire, the senator said that John F. Kennedy would be a Republican today and that the New England Patriots are good at football. Cruz, like his fellow GOP presidential hopefuls, trails billionaire Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has hired its first paid Texas staff, and is launching a series of supporter meet-ups across the state to coalesce her support as the March 1 primary approaches.

Members of the Wilks family in Cisco, already heavily invested in Ted Cruz's presidential campaign, are also vying to play a larger role in several key Texas House races, according to the latest campaign finance data.

Braden Joplin, a Texas Tech student who was in Iowa volunteering for Ben Carson's presidential campaign, died Tuesday following a car accident.

As the battle between White House hopefuls Ted Cruz and Donald Trump grows increasingly bitter, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stepped into the fray on Tuesday by endorsing Trump over Cruz, a former ally.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said he hopes U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz loses the state's caucuses. This is a departure from neutrality for Branstad, who can be influential in the race for the White House.

In a nonbinding opinion released on Tuesday, Attorney General Ken Paxton said that fantasy sports may involve an element of chance, which in Texas would equate it with illegal gambling.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided that it will consider the Obama administration's controversial immigration program, which has been on hold for nearly a year after being blocked by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville.

A super PAC supporting Ted Cruz is reserving $2.5 million of airtime in Iowa and South Carolina with less than two weeks until the first nominating contests begin. 

Former state Sen. Wendy Davis is trying to assure New Hampshire voters that early losses in the state or Iowa won't doom Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House

Gov. Greg Abbott flew to Israel Sunday on a plane belonging to Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner and megadonor active in Republican national politics.

On Monday, Abbott met with Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem to discuss the Texas-Israel relationship and reiterate Abbott's opposition to Iran.

The tension between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump was more palpable than ever in South Carolina Saturday as their once-symbiotic relationship takes center stage in the GOP presidential race.

With pretty much every major public Texas university looking to expand, some heavyweight turf battles are about to begin. This week, university officials explained their ambitious — and expensive — proposals before two key higher education policy boards.

UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven told the state's higher education oversight board Thursday that he should have consulted with them before buying 100 acres for a new southwest Houston campus.

At two separate public appearances this week, University of Texas Chancellor Bill McRaven said that Texas should consider scrapping its top 10 percent automatic admissions rule for universities, which he says hurts the prestige of UT-Austin.

A federal appeals court on Thursday denied a request from Texas and other states to block President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, leaving the climate change rules in place as a legal challenge winds through the courts.

Ten federal agencies are being sued by a coalition of attorneys and immigration rights groups over withholding documents related to how the Obama administration is dealing with deporting criminal immigrants.

Comptroller Glenn Hegar told state lawmakers on Wednesday that because of crashing oil prices Texas will send far less of its money in the coming years on transportation than it originally expected. The Republican had an overarching message: don't panic.

Despite a major victory in federal court last month, advocates for reforms to Texas' long-term foster care system are preparing themselves for a lengthy battle to force Texas officials to follow through on changes ordered by a federal judge.

Richard Masterson, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a 2001 strangulation and murder in Harris County, was executed Wednesday, becoming Texas' first execution of 2016.

Shelia Latting, who is black, filed a lawsuit in state district court in Travis County Tuesday, claiming she lost her job a year ago as deputy chief financial officer at the Agriculture Commission due to racial discrimination at the agency. 

In an interview with the Tribune, new Education Commissioner Mike Morath said he wants to better support teachers, develop a fair school accountability system and help struggling schools.

Long reluctant to directly criticize Donald Trump, Ted Cruz threw caution to the wind as he ripped his Republican presidential opponent as a fake conservative.

Texas Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw said Tuesday that Trooper Brian Encinia acted unprofessional and violated protocol when he stopped Sandra Bland.

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

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Friday four appointments to the board of the Department of Information Resources. Stuart Bernstein of Austin, John Scott of Fort Worth and Rigo Villarreal of Mission were named to terms to expire Feb. 1, 2021. The fourth appointee, Linda Shaunessy of Austin, was named to a term to expire Feb. 1, 2019. In addition, Scott was named the board’s presiding officer.

Abbott tapped Debra Dockery as the presiding officer of the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners for a term to expire at the pleasure of the governor. He additionally appointed Jennifer WalkerBob Wetmore and reappointed Chase Bearden to the board. Their terms expire Jan. 31, 2021.

Craig Estes, the newly installed chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee, announced on Friday who he’s brought on board as staff.
•    John Bennett, committee director — served as Estes’ general counsel for the past three sessions.
•    Stacie Bennett, committee counsel — worked on the staff of state Sen. Paul Bettencourt as general counsel.

CD-7 challenger James Lloyd released on Thursday a list of endorsements from local elected officials as well as grassroots activists. Headlining the list are two Harris County commissioners — Jack Morman of Precinct 2 and Steve Radack of Precinct 3 — as well as former state Sen. Jon Lindsay. Lloyd and Maria Espinoza are both seeking to unseat John Culberson, R-Houston, in the GOP primary.

Former state Rep. Lon Burnam on Tuesday unveiled a list of endorsements for his bid for Texas railroad commissioner, including some high-profile names in his Democratic Party. Those supporters include: Wendy Davis, the former 2014 candidate for governor; former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte; Jim Hightower, former Agriculture Commissioner; U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin; U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth; former state Rep. Paul Sadler.

Weston Martinez — one of seven candidates on the Republican ballot for Texas Railroad Commissioner — announced support Tuesday from James Welder. The head of Welder Exploration and Production recently served as chairman of the Texas Producers and Royalty Owners Association.

Dawn Buckingham has earned the endorsement of J.C. Mathiews, Area V director of the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts, for her bid to win the GOP nomination in SD-24.

The trade associations’ political arms have had a busy week unveiling endorsements. Here are some:

Texas Association of Realtors: Incumbents — Gary VanDeaver (HD-1), Jodie Laubenberg (HD-89), Jonathan Stickland (HD-92) and Tony Tinderholt (HD-94). Challengers — Lance Gooden (HD-4), Hugh Shine (HD-55), Bennett Ratliff (HD-115). Open seats — Kevin Downing (HD-60), Kevin Roberts (HD-126)

Texas Association of Business: Incumbents — Doug Miller (HD-73). Challengers — Bennett Ratliff (HD-115). Open seats — Tom Oliverson (HD-130).

Texas Medical Association: Challengers — Andrew Piel (HD-94)

Texas American Federation of Teachers: Open seats — Martin Golando (HD-116)

CLEAT: Incumbents — Jason Villalba (HD-114), Dan Huberty (HD-127)

Other advocacy groups have had a similarly busy week with endorsements. Here are some:

Texans for Lawsuit Reform: Incumbents — David J. Schenck (Fifth Court of Appeals)

NRA/Texas State Rifle Association: Incumbents — Cindy Burkett (HD-113)

Texans for Life: Incumbents — Cindy Burkett (HD-113). Open seats — Kevin Roberts (HD-126)

Texas Alliance for Life: Incumbents — Cindy Burkett (HD-113).

Texas Right to Life: Challengers — Terry Wilson (HD-20).

Burkett additionally announced endorsements this week from Garland Mayor Douglas Athas and seven of the city’s council members: Billy Mack Williams, Jim Cahill, Anita Gobel, Tim Campbell, Stephen Stanley, Lori Barnett Dodson and Scott LeMay.

Tarrant County state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, has endorsed Jess Fields, who is challenging three-term incumbent John Raney in the Brazos County-based HD-14. A former College Station city councilman, Fields more recently worked for the free market-oriented Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Angelique Bartholomew, one of two candidates challenging state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, in the HD-27 Democratic primary, has picked up the endorsement of Annie’s List, an organization dedicated to electing Democratic women to the Legislature. Annie’s List also said it is making a $15,000 direct expenditure to help Bartholomew’s campaign.

Odessa businessman Dick Saulsbury announced Monday that he’s endorsing Joshua Crawford, who is challenging HD-81 state Rep. Brooks Landgraf in the Republican Party primary. Saulsbury until relatively recently supported Landgraf, having given the freshman lawmaker a total of $5,000 in 2014. He also was listed as Landgraf’s campaign treasurer as recently as the July 2015 semiannual campaign report.

HD-114 state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, announced that he has the backing of several public safety groups, including the Dallas Police Association, Dallas Firefighters Association, Texas Department of Public Safety Officers Association and Texas Municipal Police Association.

Rudy Giuliani is leaving Bracewell & Giuliani's New York office, which he helped establish, for Greenberg Traurig where he will serve as global chair for the firm’s cybersecurity and crisis management practice. The former New York City mayor joined the Houston-based Bracewell & Patterson in 2005 as a named partner.

Deaths: Mark Kincaid, 56, president-elect of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. He also served as head of the Office of Public Insurance Counsel from 1994-95, an appointee of Gov. Ann Richards. Services will be held at 2:30 p.m. today at St. David's Episcopal Church in downtown Austin. A reception will follow on the TTLA's rooftop patio.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Realtors, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Medical Association, Greenberg Traurig, Bracewell & Giuliani and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. Mark Kincaid is a donor to The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.