Do the D's Have a Shot at Cornyn?

On January 30, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, released a poll on the U.S. Senate race in Texas. Did someone just say, What U.S. Senate race in Texas? Well, PPP surveyed John Cornyn's prospects of keeping his seat against four Democratic opponents. As PPP put it, most Texans have never even heard of his prospective opponents.

Cornyn led San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, 48%-41%; he led Houston mayor Annise Parker 47-36%: he led Fort Worth State Senator Wendy Davis, 48%-37%; and he led former Houston mayor and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Bill White, 45%-42%.

So why am I bringing this up now? Because there's been a lot of talk around the Capitol about the Democrats's fortunes in 2014, but they have to be careful not to get suckered into races that appear to be winnable but are not.

Vouchers May be on Life Support

This is a story that has gotten some play, but ICYMI, Speaker Straus went out of his way during a conversation with the Texas Tribune to warn vouchers supporters in the Senate that a "divisive" bill would not be welcome in the House and might not reach a vote. He warned the Senate "not to go full bore" on a doomed issue. The House has been a graveyard for school voucher bills in the past, and don't forget that Parent PAC's biggest supporter is Straus's fellow San Antonian, Charles Butt.

Opening Moves

I was leaving the Capitol yesterday evening when I saw Chairman Pitts standing outside his office. I asked him some questions about the timeline for the supplemental appropriations bill. He told me that the bill had to lay out for six days, so any action on it is likely to be thrown into next week. I asked him if he expected any opposition to the bill. He smiled, and it was clear that he does. I asked him if he thought the opposition might come from a Democratic amendment to restore the education spending cuts. Another smile.

Some comments about the supplemental: First, it requires a simple majority to pass. Second, it has to pass. The Legislature must pay for items that were not funded during the 2011 session. Democrats have 55 votes, so they have some leverage.

Then, after I returned home, I saw this press release in my e-mail inbox:

HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS' STATEMENT ON SCHOOL FINANCE:WE MUST ACT NOW AND RESTORE FUNDING TO PUBLIC EDUCATION

Representative Yvonne Davis, Leader of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, released the following statement on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus today regarding Judge John Dietz's ruling on Texas's school finance system:

Judge John Dietz's recent ruled [sic] that Texas's school finance system is unconstitutional. This ruling reaffirms what the House Democratic Caucus has been saying for years. Our school finance system is broken! The Legislature most act now to fix it.

Members of the House Democratic Caucus strongly urge Attorney General Greg Abbott to accept the ruling. Texas school children should not be forced to wait for relief while the state pursues a lengthy and costly appeals process.

The House Democratic Caucus will continue to provide innovative solutions. In fact. Representative Donna Howard's 2011 amendment funded enrollment growth, but it was rejected by the Republican majority. We know what is at stake and stand ready to work with our colleagues to find a permanent solution.

Rather than continuing with the Republican agenda of massive cuts to public education, the House Democratic Caucus stands poised to meet our constitutional obligations by providing quality education to all children. 

Today, the House Democratic Leader and Democratic members announce their intent to offer an amendment to the supplemental budget. This amendment will utilize the budget surplus and restore $5.4 billion in funding to public education that was cut last session as well as pursue ways to fund education this biennium.

The House Democratic Caucus remains committed and ready!

Democrats have signaled their intention to offer an amendment to restore the spending cuts. The debate on the supplemental will be a baptism by fire for the large contingent of freshmen and sophomore Republicans. That's a $5.4 billion spending bill. Even pro-school Republicans are going to be caught between a rock and a hard place. If they vote to restore the cuts, they can be attacked as big spenders. If they vote against the Democrats' amendment, they can be attacked as anti-education.

Charters v. PEG

As most readers know, one of the battles of the 83rd Legislature is likely to occur over the use of public funds for private schools. Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst and Senator Dan Patrick are backing the proposal. (At a recent Texas Tribune event, Speaker Straus urged caution on the issue.) The rationale for the use of vouchers is that students should not be stuck in failing schools, a proposition that is hard to argue with.

What many lawmakers may not know is that the Texas Education Agency has a school choice program intended to ensure that no student is stuck in a failing school. The program is called PEG, short for Public Education Grants. PEG permits parents to request that their children in failing schools be allowed to transfer to schools in other school districts after meeting a set of requirements. A "failing school" is defined as one in which 50% or more of students did not pass any of the TAKS and STAAR subjects in two of the three preceding years, or any school that was rated "academically unacceptable" in 2010 or 2011.

UT (nervously) awaits next batch of Perry regents

From a statement by the Texas Exes, the university's alumni association:

The terms of three distinguished members of The University of Texas System Board of Regents expired this past Friday. These appointments will be made by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

* * * *
If the new regents are anything like the last group, the appointments could set off another firestorm of criticism of Perry's governance of the university. Perry's most recent appointees opposed many of the goals of the university, including its commitment to research. The university has been in turmoil ever since Perry named Gene Powell as regents' chair, and Powell promptly made statements to the effect that UT doesn't need to produce a "Cadillac education," an old-fashioned Chevy Bel Air would be just fine.

Perry and Abbott: deal or no deal?

If so, what is it?

Brad Watson of WFAA-TV in Dallas made big news with his report of a potential deal between Perry and Abbott. From the station's website:

In an exclusive WFAA interview Wednesday, [Jan. 31] Gov. Rick Perry said Attorney General Greg Abbott has told him he won't run against him in next year's GOP primary should the incumbent seek reelection.

 Of course, just a few hours later, the story was updated to include a statement from Abbott’s spokesman, Eric Bearse:

A spokesman for Abbott's campaign issued a statement saying he wasn't familiar with any such deal, and called any speculation about the attorney general's political future "unproductive." 

"Gov. Perry and Gen. Abbott are close friends, and talk frequently," wrote Abbott's spokesman Eric Bearse in the statement. "I am not going to comment on private conversations I am not privy to. General Abbott is focused on taking care of the business of Texas, and political speculation right now is unproductive. The time for politics is after the legislative session.

There is only one scenario that makes sense. Perry has told Abbott that he is not running for a fourth term. There is no deal. Abbott would not defer to Perry when the AG has enough money to win a primary in his campaign account, while Perry's fundraising has been anemic by comparison. The rest is theater: Perry can save face by saying Abbott promised not to run against him, and Perry can still pretend that he can win another term (which he can't).

State of the Website

Today marks another big step forward at Texas Monthly, thanks to the hard work of countless people on our staff (and countless late nights that turned into early mornings). We're launching a new and vastly improved website, which I hope you'll spend some time browsing. One of the channels will be politics, which I'll be working on alongside my colleagues Erica Grieder, Sonia Smith, and Brian Sweany.

Burkablog isn't going anywhere, but our politics page will feature daily original reporting and analysis from our political team, interviews, stories from the magazine, and special features. My posts will also appear on that page, and, from time to time, on the magazine's home page as well.

BREAKING: House committee assignments

Well, today is the day that the Speaker’s honeymoon ends and the members’s complaints begin. Last session the Republicans held 25 chairs and the Democrats 10. This time around it’s Republicans 24 and Democrats 14. Of course, the Democrats picked up seats in the last election cycle, but I suspect that Straus will take heat for that decision. I’ve listed the chairs below, noting the previous chair if there was a change. Past chairs who are no longer in the House are in bold.

Cornyn, Cruz oppose Kerry confirmation

The emergence of Ted Cruz has made life miserable for Minority Whip John Cornyn. Cruz constantly has the senior senator for Texas looking over his right shoulder. Cornyn voted against Kerry as secretary of state, as did Cruz, but it’s likely that he did so only to inoculate himself against further doubts being cast on his conservative bona fides.

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