The State of Texas: December 21, 2014
George W. Bush could spend the entirety of the holiday season painting all his gifts or wrapping up copies of his biography about his dad. But Dubya is a multitasker with a heart of gold. Like Santa himself, blurry photos appeared Saturday of Bush dressed for the part, handing out presents at the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas.
Video of the Day
Nothing signifies the final minutes of football season like blowing up a stadium. As part of its redevelopment, the west wide of A&M’s Kyle Stadium was toppled. Sure, it’s a relatively small demolition, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless:
I.A. In S.T. — The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly, particularly when dealing with bureaucracy itself. Thankfully, it looks likes something’s being done about all those corrupt public servants and coke-for-vote deals near the border. “The FBI and Texas Rangers are leading a new task force created in the wake of public corruption cases in South Texas that brought down a sheriff, a judge, a district attorney and other elected officials. The unit was formed earlier this month to specifically combat public corruption in the Rio Grande Valley and serve as a long-term tool to restore the public’s trust, said Rock Stone, an FBI supervisory special agent,” reports the Associated Press. The boutique investigative unit couldn’t have come soon enough. “Each of the FBI’s 56 field offices investigates public corruption, but an ‘inordinate amount’ of such cases in the Valley the last couple years necessitated the extra resources.” Transparency will, unfortunately, not be part of the unit’s protocol. The FBI declined to say just how many people will be in the unit and mum’s the word on the exact role of the Texas Rangers.
League of Extraordinary Municipalities — After getting bullied around by the oil and gas industry followed by a kick’em-while-they’re-down approach from the state and its agents, it’s nice to see local cities getting some support. Speaking with the Dallas Business Journal, the executive director of the Texas Municipal League called recent legislation that would force cities to pay damages to energy companies because of drilling regulation exactly what it is: overkill. “No city has money to pay the state tax dollars,” [Bennett] Sandlin said. “It’s effectively a way to end all regulation of oil and gas. That’s overkill.” Granted, the DBJ gives most of the article’s space over to Representative Rep. Phil King and why his bill is “about striking the balance between city and state regulations,” which is like saying one “volunteers for tribute.” Still, when talking about the supremacy of local, individual rights over the government, it’s a relief the occasional public statement is coming from someone other than a New York Democrat.
Prognosis Negative — Things just keep unspooling in the 21CT Medicare scandal. Governor Perry “fired Doug Wilson, inspector general of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission [on Friday], following the removal of Wilson’s former deputy after questions arose over the [no-bid] selection of a relatively unknown company for a $110 million Medicaid fraud software contract,” reports the Texas Tribune. An investigation into the backroom dealings now has the Travis County DA asking questions. Meanwhile, the Austin American-Statesman is reporting doggedly. The paper reported Saturday that former deputy inspector general of the HHSC, Jack Stick, had been working on the 21CT deal “for a year.” They also reported that while Stick “was brokering a multimillion-dollar state contract for Austin technology company 21CT, he was promoting 21CT’s software to other states, assisting the company’s growth plans and seemed poised to take an executive position with the firm.” The Statesman spoke to lobbyist James Frinzi, Stick’s one-time business partner, who told the paper, “[21CT] thought that he was going to come over and run it, make it big, take it public.” Stick and Irene Williams, the CEO of 21CT, both denied Frinzi’s account. “I have never had a conversation with Irene Williams, or anyone else at 21CT, about becoming any kind of an employee there, let alone an executive,” Stick said. “I have therefore never had a conversation with Irene or anyone else about a salary. There was no quid pro quo between 21CT and me related to their contract.”
A Bushel of Bad Apples — While we prepare to celebrate the end of the year, there’s concern that our children can’t even count to 365. “The number of campuses on the annual list of the worst public schools in Texas is up more than a third from last year,” according to the Associated Press. “The Texas Education Agency reported Friday that 1,199 schools have been identified as low performers because of poor test scores or unacceptable ratings under the state’s Public Education Grant Program. Last year there were 892 schools on the list. Under different criteria in 2012, 456 campuses were singled out.” The TEA says a lot of the failure has to do with new standardized tests. “We didn’t see a lot of change in student performance [on the statewide STAAR exam] this year, and that compounded the number of schools on the list,” said a TEA spokeswoman, according to the Dallas Morning News. “It is taking schools longer to adjust to the revised curriculum standards and the new test than we originally projected.”
Funny Precedent — Being the funniest elected official is like being liveliest person at a graveyard. It don’t take a lot. That said, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don R. Willett’s comedic chops are rather impressive. His relentless Twittering has earned him attention from the New York Times, and his appreciation for sitcoms, particularly Seinfeld, was featured in this month’s Texas Bar Journal (always a hilarious publication). Turns out, pop culture references are as important to Justice Willett as the theories of Judge Learned Hand. He made the news yesterday, via the Houston Chronicle, in a libel case “involving a janitorial union and a Houston janitorial company,” when his dissenting opinion was full of references from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Per Willett: “Of all the empowering, life-altering lessons Ferris Bueller taught us — for example, you can’t erase telltale mileage off a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder by jacking up the car and running it in reverse — his ‘life moves pretty fast’ insight rings truest.” So long as he’s not quoting from Judge Dredd or Goodfellas, a little fun on the bench might do us all some good.