Vol 33, Issue 4 Print Issue

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

In its final report, the federal Chemical Safety Board said that the Texas Legislature's efforts to beef up state oversight and avert deadly disasters, like the 2013 West fertilizer plant explosion, have been "not entirely adequate." The report describes in detail every misstep leading to the disaster that killed 15 people and injured more than 260 in the small town of West three years ago.

Despite a recent ad bashing Donald Trump for using eminent domain for a parking lot, Ted Cruz has backed the Keystone XL and other pipeline projects that would use the same controversial tool to displace landowners. This illustrates the tough terrain candidates walk when advocating for property rights, especially in Texas.

Republican John Lujan defeated Democrat Tomas Uresti in a special election runoff Tuesday in Texas House District 118 in San Antonio. Lujan becomes the 99th Republican in the House — one short of a supermajority — but will need to win again in the March primary and November general election to serve in the 2017 legislature.

A day after Lujan defeated Uresti in the long-held Democratic statehouse seat in San Antonio, state GOP leaders were crowing while Democrats swore the low-turnout special election was a non-repeatable fluke.

The Texas Transportation Commission is expected to approve a $1.3 billion plan Thursday aimed at funding 14 roadway projects designed to relieve gridlock in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Ted Cruz is using a familiar tactic from his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign: pressuring his opponent to a one on one debate. Only this time instead of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Cruz is targeting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

State senators expressed bipartisan disapproval Wednesday of an unpopular program that levies large surcharges on drivers for traffic offenses, with several calling for broad changes or scrapping it entirely.

A new book from Mary Beth Rogers, a veteran of the last days when Texas Democrats were winning statewide elections, takes a hard look at what hasn't been working for the last 20 years, and what might get the party's candidates out of their long, long slump.

In 2008, losing superdelegate votes helped cost Hillary Clinton the Democratic presidential nomination. This time around, Clinton is way out in front of her opponent, Bernie Sanders, in locking up superdelegates to the party convention.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt was unanimously selected by his fellow senate Republicans as the next chairman of their caucus.

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, has submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Greg Abbott, effective Jan. 31, the governor's office confirmed Tuesday.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and some of his allies are increasingly signaling that they see more urgency than usual in prevailing in Iowa, where a win by rival Donald Trump could possibly send the billionaire on a path to the nomination.

As more details come to light about the criminal charges against the videographers that infiltrated a Planned Parenthood facility in Houston, it appears anti-abortion activist David Daleiden was indicted for the very crime he accused Planned Parenthood of committing.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday asked a federal judge to halt the resettlement of people fleeing war-torn Syria.

While Comptroller Glenn Hegar tried to assure lawmakers that plummeting oil prices do not mean the Texas economy is headed for a nosedive, some worried Hegar was being overly optimistic.

On Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz gained some new company to join in his travels across Iowa: former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The former 2016 presidential candidate endorsed Cruz Monday in Iowa.

Conservative media personality Glenn Beck on Saturday endorsed Ted Cruz for president, while urging Iowans to stop billionaire Donald Trump dead in his tracks.

U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro spent a day of campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Iowa waving off questions about whether she will pick him as her running mate.

Despite state Sen. Rodney Ellis' plan to seek the Harris County Commissioner's seat left open when Commissioner El Franco Lee died on Jan. 3, he will remain for now on the primary ballot for re-election in Senate District 13.

Underscoring how competitive the race has become between Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, the Cruz campaign and super PACs supporting him are launching their first TV ads taking aim at Trump.

Taking aim at a new Texas law making it a state felony to harbor undocumented immigrants, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is suing the state. The civil rights group filed suit against Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and the Texas Public Safety Commission, which oversees the DPS.

State senators on Tuesday urged Texas' six university system chancellors not to single out students who carry guns on campus when the state's new campus carry goes into effect this August.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed 10 members to the Aerospace and Aviation Advisory Committee. Sharon Denny of McKinney, Amy Gowder of San Antonio, Cathy Kilmain of North Richland Hills, J. Ross Lacy of Midland, Robert Mitchell of Pearland and Terry Stevens of Waco were named to terms to expire Sept. 1, 2017. John Elbon of Seabrook, Robert Harless of Dallas, Janine Iannarelli of Houston and Gilberto Salinas of Brownsville were named to terms to expire Sept. 1, 2019. Abbott also announced that he has named Iannarelli as the board’s presiding officer.

Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson endorsed Republican John Greytok for Railroad Commissioner.

TEXPAC, the political arm of the Texas Medical Association, released its complete list of party primary endorsements, which includes five examples of the group backing Republican challengers. Four of those are in House contests — Hugh Shine for HD-55; Scott Fisher for HD-92; Andrew Piel for HD-94; and Bennett Ratliff for HD-115. The fifth challenger they endorsed is Judge Michael Massengale in his race to unseat Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann.

Houston-area Republican organization United Republicans of Harris County has endorsed Lehrmann for re-election to the Texas Supreme Court.

The Texas Health Care Association is endorsing 10 incumbent state legislators in their primaries. The association is backing state Sens. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio; Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. On the House side, the THCA is supporting:

•    Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio
•    Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches
•    Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville
•    Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale
•    Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas
•    Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place
•    Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston

Dawn Buckingham is adding another name to her list of endorsements for her race to be the next state senator for SD-24: state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

The Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC is endorsing state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, in his race for re-election in HD-2.

Former Longview Mayor Jay Dean has received the backing of the Texas Alliance for Life in his race to be the next state representative for HD-7.

A majority of the Brazos County Republican Party leadership has endorsed Jess Fields in his bid to oust incumbent state Rep. John Raney in the HD-14 GOP primary. A total of 21 of 26 precinct chairs and five of six committee chairs pledged their support for Fields.

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, has endorsed Mike Lang in the open GOP primary contest to find a successor to Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, in HD-60.

Republican candidate Stan Lambert announced Friday that he’s earned the endorsement of the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC in his bid to win the open West Texas-based HD-71 seat. Lambert is one of five Republicans seeking the nomination. King opted not to run for re-election in order to make a bid for the Texas Senate.

HD-113 incumbent state Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, said last Friday that she has the backing of several Rowlett city leaders, including Mayor Todd Gottel and Mayor Pro Tem Michael Gallops along with city council members Tammy Dana-BashianDebby BobbittRick Sheffield, and Robbert Van Bloemendaal.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, announced an endorsement from the TMA’s political arm in his bid for re-election for HD-114.

Democrat Phillip Cortez is being endorsed by the Texas American Federation of Teachers for state representative in HD-117.

State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, touted earlier this week an endorsement of his re-election bid from state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, who is resigning her seat representing HD-120 at the end of the month.

The Texas Restaurant Association and the Texas Apartment Association are backing Republican Kevin Roberts in his race to succeed state Rep. Patricia Harless in HD-126. 

State Rep. Dan Huberty is being endorsed by HOSPAC, the political arm of the Texas Hospital Association, in his re-election bid for HD-127.

Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel endorsed Republican Tom Oliverson in his race to replace retiring state Rep. Allen Fletcher in HD-130.

The political arm of tort reform group Texans for Lawsuit Reform said on Monday that it is endorsing Kevin D. Jewell of Houston for a spot on the Fourteenth Court of Appeals.

The University of Texas at Austin has recruited Darrell Bazzell away from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to fill the post of chief financial officer. Bazzell starts work in Austin on April 18.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation announced on Monday that Arlene Wohlgemuth plans to leave her position of executive director in May. The former state representative first came to TPPF as a visiting research fellow in 2005 and later took on the title of senior fellow.

After nearly 14 years as a partner at The Graydon Group, Jay Brown is leaving to start his own governmental affairs practice.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, the Texas American Federation of Teachers, the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Health Care Association are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. The Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Jerry Patterson is a donor to The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.