Thu June 26, 2014 4:40 pm By Happy Carlock

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis drew a large crowd, decked in orange, to the Palmer Events Center in Austin yesterday evening, on the anniversary of her eleven-hour filibuster against a bill that sought to tighten restrictions on abortions in Texas. From a policy perspective, the filibuster had mixed results: Davis and the Senate Democrats succeeded in delaying a vote until after the midnight deadline, so the bill died--but it was quickly revived, and passed, after Governor Rick Perry called a second special session. In political terms, though, the filibuster was a coup for Davis. It hugely boosted her name identification among Texans and her fundraising capacity around the country. In October, when Davis announced that she would run for governor, Democrats had high hopes.

A year later, polls show Republican nominee Greg Abbott leading the race by a wide margin. And so Davis used the anniversary to rally the Democratic base—but also, perhaps, to reassure her supporters that whatever the outcome in November, their efforts have not been for nothing. For much of her campaign, Davis has avoided focusing on abortion while struggling to gain ground among moderate voters. Last night, although she left her pink sneakers at home, she spoke just as fervently on the subject as she did one year ago.

“We speak up and we fight back to take our state away from politicians like Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick who think that they know better than a woman, her family, her doctor, and her God,” she said.

Davis criticized Abbott for opposing abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, and she blamed Republicans in general for denying Texas women access to birth control and cancer screenings in their quest to limit abortions. Since the bill passed during the second special session, she noted, more than a dozen clinics that provided abortions have been shut down.

But those facilities, she argued, aren’t the only thing at stake. She referred to Texas Republican leaders as an “old insider network” and accused them of  for exploiting veterans, laying off teachers, and overcrowding Texas classrooms. “As much as we filibustered to fight for reproductive rights and healthcare for women, we filibustered to fight against an abusive power by political insiders who look out for themselves and their allies instead of hard working Texans,” she said.

Davis’ colleague Leticia Van de Putte, now the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, also spoke at the event, as did state senator Kirk Watson, state representative Senfronia Thompson, and Cecile Richards, the president ofthe Planned Parenthood Federation of America (and daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards). The crowd greeted each speaker with name-chanting and cheering, and the speakers offered nostalgic accounts from the day of the filibuster, as well as fighting words for the future.“We’re all in,” Richards said, and vowed to do “any damn thing it takes” to restore reproductive rights in Texas.

None of them talked about the polls, or mentioned any of the turbulence in Davis’s campaign, which saw some staff turnover earlier this month. But the candidate herself, encouraging her supporters, seemed to acknowledge the long odds. “You inspired me to believe in something that I had almost forgotten,” Davis said. “That even in tough times, that even if you eventually lose the battle, there is freedom in the fight.”

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Thu June 26, 2014 2:10 pm By Erica Grieder

[Editor's note: The July issue of Texas Monthly features a long interview with outgoing governor Rick Perry, as well as a "Report Card" in which we graded the governor's record in eight areas of public policy. One of those was public education. The governor earned a D. Earlier today we received the following letter from Michael Williams, the Texas Commissioner of Education, arguing that Perry deserves more credit. We thought it would be good to give you his take, too, and we encourage commenters to weigh in too. As for me, I'll just say that from my perspective, the appropriate question isn't whether Texas's schools are better than California's, etc. The appropriate question is this: are our public schools good enough for the great state of Texas? --EG]

Over the past decade, Texas has raised academic standards to unprecedented levels, had more minority students taking the steps they need to prepare for college, and seen our graduation rate bloom to one of the highest in the nation.

As Commissioner of Education, I’ve seen firsthand the hard work of students and educators across our state – efforts that are now bearing considerable fruit and boding well for the future of Texas. Far from the dire landscape portrayed by Texas Monthly in its July 2014 issue, public education is flourishing under Governor Perry’s leadership, and the steps we’ve taken will enable a generation of young Texans to acquire the skills they will need in our evolving economy.

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Tue June 24, 2014 1:23 pm By Paul Burka

Yesterday brought a small setback for Greg Abbott, who is, as attorney general, tasked with defending Texas’s current system for funding public schools: a visiting judge has decided that John Dietz, the district judge who has been presiding over the school finance lawsuits that have been inching their way through the courts for two and a half years, can remain on the case.

 Abbott had sought to have Dietz removed from the case on grounds of favoritism toward the plaintiffs, but I don’t think he ever had a prayer of succeeding. The attorney general had pointed to emails Dietz exchanged with lawyers working on the case in recent months. Those emails did make it clear that the judge agreed with the school districts on many matters. But that was also clear from his verbal ruling, in February, that the system is unconstitutional, from the fact that he has explained his reasoning to lawyers on both sides since then, and from the fact that the state’s case, after the $5 billion budget cut enacted in 2011, is clearly tenuous. In any event, this clears the way for the case to proceed, inch by inch. 

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Tue June 24, 2014 7:03 am By Paul Burka

The list of recipients of Emerging Technology Fund grants in particular is replete with Perry's longtime friends and campaign contributors. The Dallas Morning News has reported on who received some of these grants, and have contributed large sums to his campaigns. The list includes:

•$2.75 million to Terrabon Inc., a Houston company. Its backers have included Phil Adams, a college friend of Perry's who has given his campaign at least $314,000.

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Mon June 23, 2014 6:01 pm By Erica Grieder

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Brownsville, Texas. 

On June 2nd Barack Obama issued a memorandum announcing the creation of an interagency task force in response to what he called “an urgent humanitarian situation” on America’s southern border--a sudden influx in unaccompanied alien children. Law enforcement officials have apprehended almost 52,000 such children since October of last year. Some 38,000 of them, or about two-thirds, have entered the country in the Rio Grande Valley.

A few days later, the story got a boost when Breitbart Texas published a batch of leaked photos showing hundreds of people, most of them children, who are being held in federal facilities while awaiting legal proceedings—or as Breitbart’s Brandon Darby put it, reasonably enough, a batch of leaked photos showing hundreds of children “warehoused in crowded U.S. cells.” The images hit a nerve, and over the past two weeks the unaccompanied alien children have gained more attention as state and federal officials have been arguing over the causes of the crisis and the appropriate response.

The influx is, by any standard, a complex and rapidly evolving situation. It’s also an emotionally charged and politically contentious one. Thousands of extremely vulnerable children are involved. But so too are many more controversial people: a president whose policies may have spurred this crisis; the saber-rattling Republicans who have been fulminating about our porous border for years; the transnational drug-trafficking organizations that are helping these immigrants cross the border, and are surely aware of the disruption that the influx has caused; the constellation of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies working in the Valley; and, of course, the parents of the children arriving recently, who are surely vulnerable in their own ways but who have either endangered the children in question—or accompanied them as regular, adult aliens.

All of that adds up to a pretty bewildering picture. But after spending the weekend reporting in the Valley, I came away with several conclusions. First of all, the influx of unaccompanied alien children makes a lot more sense if you think about it as part of a surge in illegal immigration from Central America. That surge began a couple of years ago and is due (at least in part) to widespread reports in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador that the United States is not going to enforce immigration law against minors—that’s why so many of the immigrants in question are children. The more lurid and ominous reports about the migrants themselves are exaggerated. The influx is real, though, and markedly different from the illegal immigration that the United States has experienced in recent decades.

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