The State of Texas: January 14, 2015

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McConnaughey Wednesday

There’s been another McConaissance this week. First is McConaughey’s Dazed and Confused audition tape, which has been making the Internet rounds. In the video, the 24-year-old McConnaughey looks good enough to eat, “acting” super stoned in a read-through of his character’s most famous scene. In another bit of Internet joy, someone took McConnaughey’s latest Cadillac commercial and imagined what his internal monologue would be as he contemplates life, time, and flat tires. It gets kinda weird. Case in point: “Am I ready to stand in front of my maker and say ‘I’m proud of what I’ve done. Let me in.’ Or maybe I should find the nearest homeless shelter and treat everyone to my world-famous flapjacks.”

Texas By The Numbers

What Child Protection? — Number of child abuse and neglect-related deaths not reported by Texas in the past four years:  655. Number of deaths: 338. Number of deaths in which families had previously been investigated: 144. Percentage: 38 percent. Number of instances a child had previously been removed from home before death: 125.

Takin’ Care Of Business — Number of big Texas cities in a recent top-ten list of most productive: five. Texas’s most productive city: Austin. National rank: Second. Number of small Texas cities on top-twenty list: four. Texas’s most productive small city: Victoria.

Fat Checkbook — Estimated extra amount lawmakers have for spending this two-year, legislative session: $18 billion. Total amount they are expected to have for general-purpose revenue: $113 billion. Current amount being spent in this legislative cycle: $95 billion. Total budget that includes federal funds and other income: $200 billion.

Daily Roundup

They’re Ba-ack — One down, 139 left to go! The start of the Eighty-fourth legislative session began yesterday to much fanfare (or, at least Twitter went wild!). The Associated Press played party pooper with its rather on-the-nose headline declaring that “Texas Legislature opens with more ceremony than substance.” Some highlights include a real kick’-em-while-they’re-down gesture from Wendy Davis’s replacement, Konni Burton, who made a point of wearing and showing off her black cowboy boots with the phrase “Stand Up For Life” carved into the leather. But some actual work was done yesterday, as Texas Monthly’s own Erica Grieder notes. “The Texas Senate’s business included a resolution honoring Dewhurst, gaveling in for the last time,” but the real political excitement was on the House side, “which held its first contested race for Speaker in forty years” and “a number of representatives warned that the state itself may be at a critical moment.” As is always the case, the most fun and more real display of Democratic power was outside on the Capitol lawn where a number of organizations loudly made their point. As the Austin American-Statesman put it, “a few dozen members of the Texas State Employees Union … mingled peacefully with a few dozen rifle- and pistol-toting members of gun rights group Come and Take It Texas.”

Ebola Scare — Ebola is back in the news, but don’t panic. A soldier at Fort Hood was found dead outside his home after returning from battling Ebola in West Africa just last week. Thanks to our past experience with the deadly virus, officials and emergency teams went right to work. Part of that may have to do with yet another shortcut in proper monitoring. “The soldier, who has not been identified, was granted emergency leave from the 21-day quarantine (Defense Department officials call it ‘controlled monitoring’) for family reasons,” according to the Army Times. However, as the Austin American-Statesman noted in a constantly updated story, two Ebola tests performed yesterday turned up negative and “that there was no evidence of a public threat. His cause of death has not been reported.” The unfortunate death of the solider is just one of two reminders of the panic Ebola caused in Texas, something Vanity Fair covered in an exhaustive and compelling story on Dallas officials’s “heroic response” to the crisis.  

Leaky Standards — Kudos to the Houston Chronicle for taking a deeper look at La Porte’s DuPont chemical plant where four workers died in a gas leak in November. The result of their investigation is unsettling. “DuPont reported regular malfunctions with a multimillion-dollar exhaust and ventilation system inside its La Porte pesticide plant that exposed workers to potentially dangerous fumes for years,” writes the Chronicle. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality  “cited DuPont for dozens of emissions violation.” But despite that  “it appears that no one ever alerted officials with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration about smaller but still significant [unsafe according to OHSA standards] levels of the toxic gas that DuPont reported releasing during troubleshooting activities for the last six years.” Details from the Chronicle’s story just gets worse. “DuPont’s own maintenance emission reports, filed with the TCEQ, reveal chronic problems that should have prompted additional monitoring, protection and training for workers long before the accident occurred.”

Less Than HEROic — Houston’s anti-discrimination measure, HERO, has a serious arch-enemy. A judge ruled yesterday that a lawsuit by opponents can go forward with a jury trial, “a decision conservative plaintiffs celebrated as a major victory,” reports the Chronicle. “City attorneys had argued that the case is governed by the state’s election code, which states that all election contests must be heard by a judge, not a jury. Andy Taylor, attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that because the equal rights ordinance has not gone to the ballot, the issue does not qualify as an election contest.” Since the case itself is “highly technical,” a jury trial dependent on public perception might not go well for pro-HERO proponents. After all, the groundbreaking ordinance was passed without any voter say-so and later the city took things a little too far by issuing subpeonas for several church sermons, earning the ire and condemnation of numerous religious leaders. The trial has been set for January 20.

The Future of Texas — Depending on your political inclinations, either your greatest wishes or worst fears were somewhat confirmed yesterday. Yesterday on Fox & Friends, Senator Ted Cruz said he’s seriously considering a 2016 presidential run. “I can tell ya, I’ve been receiving a lot of encouragement, a lot of support, and I’m looking at it very seriously,” said Cruz, with that curious “ya” included in Bloomberg News’s write-up. Credit where credit’s due: at least Cruz is upfront about things people already know (the same could not be said for Romney & Co.). “Prior to Tuesday’s interview, Cruz’s stock response to his 2016 deadline has been that the field will solidify with June, hinting that his own announcement would come by then.” The same sort of forthrightness cannot be said be said of another rising Lone Star politician in the Democrat’s camp. Once again, Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and current secertary of HUD “was deflecting questions about his political plans,” according to the San Antonio Express-News. In his defense, Castro is like a college senior and can’t even go out in public without being bombarded with questions about his future. As for the deflection, Castro said, “We’ll see what happens. There’s no grand plan.” 

Clickity Bits

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