Mon March 2, 2015 9:15 pm By Erica Grieder

On Friday evening, Dan Patrick’s office sent an announcement: on March 2nd the lieutenant governor, along with Senator Charles Schwertner and “other senators”, would hold a press conference on the subject of Medicaid flexibility. The topic was an intriguing one. Texas, of course, is one of the states that has declined to expand Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Efforts to consider the subject, in 2013, were unceremoniously squashed, and nothing has happened in the interim that would make Texas more receptive to the federal government’s preferences. Schwertner, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services committee, dismissed the idea bluntly months ago: “expanding Medicaid in its current form is a nonstarter for Texas.” Plus the date, March 2nd, was a dead giveaway.

The press conference confirmed the Senate’s position: Texas will not expand Medicaid in its current form. The idea of doing so, Schwertner added, “is simply not worth discussing.” And if the president doesn’t like that, apparently, it’s incumbent on him to be flexible. Patrick and Schwertner produced a letter to Barack Obama, signed by all 20 Senate Republicans, laying out their list of demands. They want the federal government to give Texas the latitude to implement ten reforms (“at minimum”) in the current Medicaid program, then, and only then, Texas would come back to the table—maybe.

It was an aggressive approach, considering that the Texas Senate can’t force the federal government to accept its conditions; but a defensible one.

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Mon March 2, 2015 4:42 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

Photo by Bob DaemmerichFormer Texas Land Commissioner Robert Landis “Bob” Armstrong, whose efforts resulted in the creation of Big Bend State Park, died Sunday at the age of 82.

Armstrong was a leader of the progressive Democrats of Austin who came into their own in the 1970s amid a conservative one-party Democratic state and held sway through the end of Governor Ann Richard’s tenure in 1995. Theirs was the kind of liberalism dreamed about in Billy Brammer’s The Gay Place.

A seven-year member of the Texas House, Armstrong first won election as state land commissioner in 1970 and served until he made an unsuccessful run for governor in the 1982 Democratic primary, losing to then-Attorney General Mark White.

As land commissioner, Armstrong took charge of land management for Permanent School Fund lands and served as the chairman of the Board for Lease of the Permanent University Fund. When he took office, the school fund had produced less than $1 billion in income, but during his tenure, the fund grew by $2 billion. He also oversaw increases in royalty payments to the university fund and fended off federal attempts to collect $300 million in windfall profits tax on university lands.

Armstrong received an appointment to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in 1985, where he completed 17 years of work with the state’s purchase of 212,000 acres of West Texas land to create Big Bend State Park. That single acquisition doubled the amount of park land owned by the state.

For many of the old-school Democrats, one of the highlights of the year was the annual picnic at Armstrong’s ranch north of Liberty Hill. State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said this year’s event was set for this past weekend but was postponed because of the weather. Watson said Armstrong on Friday talked about resetting the event for this upcoming weekend.

The Texas Senate adjourned Monday in Armstrong’s honor.

(Bob Armstrong/Photo by Bob Daemmrich)

Mon March 2, 2015 8:57 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Robert Draper’s dissection of Battleground Texas in this magazine interested me on two cutting issues. One, the Battleground leadership never thought Wendy Davis could win the governor’s race last year, and, two, their goal remains to turn Texas blue by 2020. That’s a presidential election year, and while winning that election might be important for the Democratic National Committee, it probably is too late for Texas Democrats. If winning statewide is delayed until 2020, Texas Democrats likely are looking at another decade of Republican control of the state.

Why, you ask?

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Mon March 2, 2015 8:22 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Happy Texas Independence Day! On March 2, 1836, the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed at Washington-on-the-Brazos even as Santa Anna’s army laid siege to the Alamo. The convention elected David G. Burnet as interim president to oversee the young Republic until an election could be held. Seven months later, with the Mexican army defeated and a new president elected, Burnet gave his farewell address to the legislators of the First Congress of the Republic of Texas, on October 4, 1836. The state Legislature is in session today, so I thought I’d share some of Burnet’s words with them:

“In the course of your labors for the public weal, you may experience trials and vexations that will be calculated to discourage your hearts, and diffuse distrust into your minds. Your best exertions, and most elaborate productions may receive reproach instead of approval, and your motives may be impugned when they are pure as the snow on the mountain top; but let not these things dishearten you; ‘it is but the rough brake that virtue must go through.’ Banish from your councils all party spirit and political intrigue, and armed in the panoply of an honest patriotism, move forward in the path of duty, and onward to the goal of our country’s redemption.”

Sun March 1, 2015 10:46 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

Texas Republicans at their state convention last year refused to give the gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans even table space in the exhibitor’s hall. But California Republicans on Sunday gave the Log Cabin Republicans a charter as an official state volunteer organization. This according to the Sacramento Bee:

The California Republican Party granted charter status to a gay Republican group on Sunday, after spirited – but ultimately minimal – opposition from within the party’s conservative flank.

The recognition comes years after Log Cabin California first sought to become an officially recognized volunteer group. Supporters called the measure an overdue sign of inclusiveness.

Delegates approved the charter by a 861-293 vote, touching off an emotional celebration in which members of the club hugged their supporters at the back of the convention hall.

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