Reporting from the Texas Legislature, with investigation and analysis of the state's economy, public policy, education, and more. 

Governor for Life

Well, Perry has convinced me: He really could be governor for life. He appears unbeatable in Texas. That he is at 49% today in the University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll versus a serious Republican challenger after “oops!” is phenomenal. This has to mean that he has repaired his standing with the tea party as well as Republicans in general. Jeremy Bird of Battleground Texas might as well go home.

Senator Sylvia Garcia

Sylvia Garcia will succeed the late Mario Gallegos as the state senator for Senate district 6. Garcia is a longtime county commissioner from the east side of Harris County who lost her seat to Jack Morman, a little-known Republican trial lawyer, in a huge upset in November 2011.

In the runoff to determine Gallegos’s successor,Garcia won both the early vote and the election-day vote.

Should the Gas Tax Be Increased?

It has been widely commented on that Senator Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) has proposed increasing the gasoline tax by ten cents per gallon. Naturally this proposal, which amounts to a user tax, has drawn the fire of Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan. No surprise there.

But Mr. Sullivan should explain why it is better to build highways with bonds than with taxes. The debt incurred from bonding highways results in huge interest payments. Is that more conservative than a pay-as-you-drive gasoline tax? Lawmakers should also consider how many miles of free roads we could have built if the gasoline tax had been increased during Rick Perry’s governorship.

Citizens Not So United?

A potential crack has opened in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. The Associated Press has reported that the Court will hear a challenge to campaign finance laws limiting how much an individual can give to political campaigns. 

The justices agreed to hear an appeal from an Alabama resident and the RNC who are arguing that it is unconstitutional to stop a donor from giving more than $46,200 to political candidates and $70,800 to political committees and PACs.

This case is a double-threat: It could lead to a reopening of the issues raised in Citizens United, or it could lead the Court to double down on its ruling in Citizens United.

Dewhurst and Senators Praise Powers, Criticize UT Regents; Conspiracy Theories Abound

Kevin Eltife was the author of the resolution praising UT president Bill Powers. A love fest followed, in which most senators lavished praise on Powers, who stood on the Senate floor at the front of the chamber. Dewhurst’s effusive admiration for Powers was striking, particularly since the lite gov has generally been on the same page as Perry about most issues that arise.

Dewhurst got teary-eyed about Powers, saying, “We’re lucky to have you,” adding, “I believe in reform and I know that Bill Powers believes in reform. That’s why I’m particularly troubled when I see UT regents go around this man. I see them trying to micromanage the system.” Dewhurst was exactly right; that is precisely what the regents have been doing.

Dewhurst ventured into the realm of speculation: “I’ve been told of character assassination, which is unacceptable to the members of this body. There’s one thing I think all of us in politics appreciate, and that is, you can come up anytime, anyplace, anywhere and say whatever you want to about me—as long as it’s true. But if it’s not true, or if you so dare to mention my wife or my daughter, you will hear from me.” His voice broke when he spoke, but it was clear that Dewhurst was angry. “This man deserves better treatment,” he said. “There were some anonymous letters that may not be so anonymous, that were trumpeted, I’m told, by one of the regents.” He continued, “I just think that’s a very underhanded approach… . You leave family and staff out of it. I am really mad.”

The significance of today’s events is not difficult to discern. A bipartisan majority of the Senate is squarely behind Powers and against the regents. The Senate appears to be headed toward a showdown with Rick Perry, who is likely to promote several new regents to the board in the coming weeks and months. This would touch off a major confirmation battle. This situation is entirely of Perry’s own making. He is guilty of micromanaging UT.

Perry's California Dreaming

If nothing else, Rick Perry’s trip to California has gotten plenty of attention. Last week the Sacramento Bee wrote about his efforts to recruit businesses to relocate from California to Texas:

Poor Texas. With its high dropout rate, lack of health insurance coverage, and economic disparities, the Lone Star State appears to be desperate, or least its governor is. How else to explain Gov. Rick Perry’s unseemly radio ads attempting to lure businesses away from California?

Aside from the fact that PolitiFact Texas found some problems with parts of the editorial, I’d like to take a crack at answering the Bee’s question of “How else to explain Perry’s reason for traveling to California?”

The Public Ed Debate Hits the Floor

House Democrats picked up a surprising ally Monday afternoon in their bid to persuade Republicans to join their quest for immediate action on restoring the cuts to public education: second-term Republican David Simpson. As Trey Martinez Fischer argued for allowing the House to devise a school finance plan, Simpson was making the rounds with Democratic members. Simpson had previously announced his support for early action on school reform in his local paper.

While the debate on the floor was unfolding, the Republican caucus decided it this was an auspicious time to put out the following statement:

The House Republican Caucus announced its support of an appeal of the school finance decision directly to the Texas Supreme Court. The announcement today came after key Republican leaders laid out a responsible course of action during the floor proceedings in the Texas House ot Representatives.

Rep. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Chairman of the GOP Caucus, said the Democrats’ approach to acting now, prior to a final court ruling, amounted to putting a Band-aid on a “45-year broken leg.” Rep. Creighton said “We are strongly in favor of helping Texas schoolchildren while maintaining our respect for the judicial process. Our school finance system is too important to be left to a single liberal state district judge. Republicans believe in the full judicial process, not a short-circuited one that stops a lawsuit of historical importance and enormous magnitude only after a single interpretation.”

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I don’t disagree with the Republicans’ position that the case should be allowed to proceed through the courts. The Legislature is not equipped to craft a school finance plan. The last attempt—a plan known as “target revenue”—was a disaster. But Creighton’s characterization of the court’s ruling was ill-considered.

The New Look of BurkaBlog

Since we launched the redesigned, I’ve received lots of feedback from my readers. Now that the editors have had a little bit of time to work through some of the kinks, I wanted to address some of your concerns.

During the redesign we switched to a new commenting system called Disqus, in part, I’m told, because this “new system facilitates discussion between commenters and it enables our readers to integrate commenting with their Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ accounts.” It also allows you comment anonymously—you may choose any screen name you want—but we require you to at least submit an email address to leave a comment. (Your email address will not be made public.)

I’ve started using it myself, and overall Disqus is pretty simple. Part of what has made this blog so much fun has been the comments, so I encourage you to jump in. And even though it shouldn’t need to be said, please remember I will delete comments that contain offensive language or libelous remarks. That’s my least favorite part of this job, so let’s just avoid it.


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