'Unplanned,' a new film about Johnson's conversion from Planned Parenthood administrator to anti-abortion crusader, puts her back in the spotlight. But her story still doesn’t add up.
Articles by Nate Blakeslee
Apr 8, 2014 — By Nate Blakeslee
Heightened security measures along the border—including a dramatic increase in personnel and highly sophisticated military equipment—have made that part of our state resemble a war zone. As violent clashes with Mexican citizens increase, a crucial question emerges: Who will hold the U.S. Border Patrol accountable?
Jan 7, 2014 — By Nate Blakeslee
An El Paso police investigator bullied sixteen-year-old Daniel Villegas into falsely confessing to two murders. Where were his parents? Where was his lawyer? And why, after eighteen years in prison, does the district attorney want to keep him locked up?
Jul 10, 2013 — By Nate Blakeslee
Reflecting on his ten years as the executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a center-left think tank based in Austin, Scott McCown makes the case for why some Texans should be paying higher taxes and explains why Governor Perry’s Texas doesn’t work for everyone.
The Texas Tribune reported Monday that the president of the Fort Bend County Tea Party formerly served as the “director of propaganda” for the American Fascist Party. Listen to a speech Ives gave in September at Tea Party meeting where he hosted Michael Quinn Sullivan.
Jan 21, 2013 — By Nate Blakeslee
Texas Parks and Wildlife has embarked on an ambitious plan to restore the desert bighorn sheep population in Big Bend Ranch State Park. To accomplish this goal, the department has had to make hard choices about which animals live, which animals die, and what truly belongs in the Trans-Pecos.
For the Eighty-second Legislature (our twentieth at the Capitol), everything old was new again: the state faced a budget deficit; the governor harbored presidential ambitions; the members of the Best list were hard to find; and the names on the Worst list picked themselves.
Jan 20, 2013 — By Nate Blakeslee
The future of Texas depends on how well we are able to educate kids who can’t speak English. Has an elementary school in El Paso figured out the best way to do it?
Jan 20, 2013 — By Nate Blakeslee
Does the country’s most popular conspiracy talk radio host really believe that 9/11 was an inside job? That global warming is a plot cooked up by the World Bank? That an elite cabal wants to kill most of the people on the planet (including you)? Two million listeners think so—and they’re hanging on his every word.
May 30, 2011 — By Nate Blakeslee
After last night’s dramatic play by Senator Davis, the calculation this morning seems to be: Will the Dems fare better or worse in a special? There is still time to undo the maneuver, if six Democrats join the Rs in a 4/5 vote to suspend the rules today. Perry’s spokesperson…
May 26, 2011 — By Nate Blakeslee
Patrick was genuinely angry when he blamed Lt. Gov. Dewhurst for sinking his anti-groping bill Tuesday night. But his decision to stand by that accusation in the cold light of day Wednesday afternoon was much more interesting, as was his choice of words. "Someone who will not stand up to the federal government--" Patrick said of Dewhurst, "you have to ask yourself: 'Is that the kind of person you want in the U.S. Senate?'" Was this the first shot across the bow in a coming primary battle between Dewhurst and Patrick for U.S. Senate?
May 17, 2011 — By Nate Blakeslee
As the Morning News's Bob Garrett reported this morning, the question of funny money came up at last night's first public hearing of the budget conference committee. The budget only balances if billions of dollars worth of hoped-for Medicaid savings materialize, and Sylvester Turner questioned LBB officials on how likely that was to occur. He never got a good answer. Among the shakiest of these assumed savings are found in Rider 60 (page II-94 of CSHB1), which calls on HHSC commissioner Tom Suehs to request from the Obama administration a variety of Medicaid waivers--that is, permission to operate outside of the federally designated rules of the program--to allow us to deliver services more efficiently and hopefully save money. Here is the list: a. that the state of Texas have greater flexibility in standards and levels of eligibility in Medicaid and CHIP programs; b. that the state of Texas design and implement benefit packages that target the specific health needs and reflect the geographic and demographic needs of Texas; c. that the state of Texas Medicaid and CHIP programs foster a culture of individual responsibility through the appropriate use of co-payments; d. that the state of Texas consolidate funding streams to increase accountability, transparency, and efficiency (consolidated funding streams should be considered for both hospital and long term care); e. that the federal government assume financial responsibility for 100 percent of the health care services provided to unauthorized immigrants; and f. that existing state and local expenditures be utilized to maximize federal matching funds. Sounds good--except for item "a" which basically translates to: "serve fewer people," and item "e" which is supposed to be funny, I guess--but how can we budget based on a wish list? Suehs has yet to even request these waivers, much less get them approved, and yet this rider chalks up $700 million in savings in general revenue, which is then allocated elsewhere in the budget. This is Jeff Skilling-Andy Fastow type accounting.
May 6, 2011 — By Nate Blakeslee
Dewhurst wanted to bring up SB 22, the school finance bill, this afternoon, but couldn't get the two Democratic votes he needed to suspend the two-thirds rule, even after a thirty minute huddle in the middle of the floor before the end of today's session. Finance chair Ogden has identified SB 22 as one a handful of bills that must pass for the Senate's version of the budget to work. Another was SB 1811, the non-tax revenue bill, which the Democrats supported unanimously last week. But that was before the railroading of the Democratic caucus on House Bill Wednesday. The budget the Senate passed out Wednesday spends about $6 billion more on public education than the House, but the district by district funding levels apportioned in SB 22 must pass to realize that benefit. The problem, as a Democratic senator put it to me, is a) the budget still cuts public ed by $4 billion, and b) the new funding model in SB 22 might "institutionalize" the structural deficit created by the 2006 tax swap. In other words, the fear is that SB 22, which cuts school districts' state funding by an average of 5 to 6 percent, will become a "new normal," and any incentive to return to previous funding levels will be lost.
May 4, 2011 — By Nate Blakeslee
Senator Deuell stopped by the press table yesterday in the ominous quiet before the budget debate storm began, and told us a story about Archie Bunker. Sally Struthers (or maybe it was Meathead) walks into the kitchen and asks Edith what she is cooking. “Yankee pot roast,” she says. Whereupon Sally/Meathead looks in the pot and says, “Ma, that’s Beef Stroganoff.” No, Edith, says, it’s Yankee Pot Roast. It seems that Archie doesn’t like Beef Stroganoff, so Edith has to call it something else to get him to eat it. “Archie doesn’t have a food problem,” Edith says, “he has a name problem.” The name some of Deuell’s Republican colleagues have a problem with, of course, is “Economic Stabilization Fund.” They don’t want to see that phrase, more commonly called the Rainy Day Fund, in the budget, so Ogden stripped it out to get them on board. It was clear from last night’s painful debate that this was far from his first choice. He firmly believes that it never would have been used anyway, since it was made contingent on tax revenues not rebounding sufficiently—a “backstop” he has been calling it. But in agreeing to the conservatives' demands, he lost any chance of bringing two Democrats on board, which leads us to today’s expected assault on Senate tradition—circumventing the two-thirds rule to pass a budget bill on “House Bill Day,” without any bipartisan support. It has never been done, despite Dewhurst’s feeble admonition after last night's debate that the journal was “replete” with examples of house bills being passed on House bill days with out a two-thirds vote to suspend. As everyone knows, there are bills, and there are bills. But here’s the thing—Ogden’s solution is a change in name only, because the Rainy Day Fund is still in the stew.
May 3, 2011 — By Nate Blakeslee
A rumor is floating around the Senate that Republicans might try an end around on the two-thirds rule to pass the budget. Under the Senate rules, Wednesdays are “House bill days” in which House bills already on the calendar may be brought up for consideration without suspending the regular order…
With public education facing an estimated $7 billion in cuts, the question on everyone’s mind is, Are Texas schools doomed? So we assembled a group of dinner guests (a superintendent, advocates on both sides, an education union rep, and the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency) to find out. Check, please?
Apr 26, 2011 — By Nate Blakeslee
Traditionally, swing votes are found in the middle of the political spectrum, but this session’s Anthony Kennedy in the state Senate may come from the far right. While all eyes have been on Royce West and Chuy Hinojosa, the two Democrats considered most likely to vote with the Republican caucus to bring the budget to the Senate floor this week, Dan Patrick has quietly positioned himself as a third key figure. Patrick told me this afternoon that his “intent” was to vote to suspend the rules so that the budget could be debated. And he said he “supported” the budget in general, despite his “no” vote in Senate finance. What he would not say was whether or not he would vote “aye” when it came to the floor Patrick said his opposition in committee was meant to signal his displeasure with the decision to use $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget. Now he says he can live with that concept—noting that, the way the bill is crafted, the money might not get appropriated if the Texas economy rebounds sufficiently to boost tax revenues. What he wants now is 1) an interim committee dedicated to finding long term solutions to school finance, and 2) an amendment to the sales tax speed up in Senator Duncan’s non-tax revenue bill. The tax speedup was one of the biggest sources of new funds—$880 million—found by Duncan and his Fiscal Matters Subcommittee colleagues, but Patrick thinks it is too burdensome for small businesses, and he wants them protected. (Let me pause here and make sure you understand that I understand that we all understand that neither this $880 million, nor virtually any of the other revenue sources found by Duncan’s subcommittee are actually “new funds” in any reality-based sense of the word.) If Patrick gets his way, however, that means the $880 million figure will come down, and some other source of funds will have to be found in the next day or two.
Apr 7, 2011 — By Nate Blakeslee
It has been three weeks since the creation of Senator Duncan’s Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters, the panel charged with finding around $5 billion in non-tax revenue to cover the funding the Senate Finance Committee intends to restore to public education and health and human services, among other items. Today we finally got a glimpse of what is on the table, courtesy of conservative gadfly Michael Quinn Sullivan, who was leaked a draft of a list of possible revenue sources compiled by the subcommittee. Duncan had scheduled a meeting for this afternoon, apparently for an unveiling, but abruptly canceled it. He had been pretty tight lipped up to now about what the committee had been studying, not wanting to give the chattering classes a chance to torpedo ideas before they had a chance to surface on their own. But somebody on the committee apparently thought a few torpedoes were in order, and who better than Sullivan to man the periscope? He wasted no time this afternoon pointing out that, in addition to recommending the sale of various state properties and a variety of creative accounting tricks, the list contains over $1 billion in new (or higher) taxes or fees.
Apr 4, 2011 — By Nate Blakeslee
We spoke with Houston Senator Dan Patrick, the chair of the legislature’s Tea Party Caucus, about whether the state has a structural deficit, his opposition to using the Rainy Day Fund for the next biennium, and his vote to restore funding to public education.
Mar 31, 2011 — By Nate Blakeslee
Buried in the four-inch stack of amendments to the house budget bill is a subtly crafted ambush on the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. This is the outfit that investigates corruption cases involving public officials, the most famous of which in recent memory was Ronnie Earle’s dogged pursuit of Tom Delay in the TRMPAC case. Earle has moved on, but Republicans haven’t forgiven or forgotten. This session, Arlington Republican Bill Zedler filed a bill (HB 1928) seeking to move the unit out of the Travis County D.A.’s office and into the Attorney General’s office, which is to say, out of Democratic control and into Republican-held territory. Similar efforts in previous sessions went nowhere, and Zedler’s bill has yet to get a hearing. But he may not need one to get the revenge Republicans have been seeking. That’s because one of Zedler's proposed HB 1 amendments, a seemingly simple half-page item (on page 251 of the stack) moving funding for the Public Integrity Unit over to the AG’s office, contains what appears to be a cleverly couched sneak attack.
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