Archive for August, 2012

Photos from day one of RNC

Williams named Education Commissioner

Even though seemingly every Texas Republican has fled to Tampa for the Republican National Convention this week, Governor Perry made the surprise announcement Monday that Michael Williams has been named the state’s newest Education Commissioner. Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds will be the chief deputy commissioner.

"High standards and accountable public schools are essential to our state’s future success, and no two people understand that better than Michael and Lizzette. Together, they will build on the improvements achieved during the tenure of Robert Scott and Todd Webster, and will ensure our children are prepared for the challenges of college and the workplace,” Gov. Perry said in a press statement. "Michael’s pioneering leadership in both public and private sectors, combined with Lizzette’s nearly two decades of public education experience guiding and implementing statewide reforms create a powerful and dynamic team that will fortify our state’s public education system."

The governor’s office writes that Williams is the former Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. He will replace Robert Scott, who resigned from the post in July. A statement from the Texas Education Agency says staff members "stand ready" to help Williams as he begins his new job on September 1.

Texas delegates enjoying sweet digs

The Texas delegation may be staying a ways from the Republican National Convention site, but there’s no question that they’re enjoying some pretty fancy accommodations. The delegation was assigned the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, about 25 miles from downtown Tampa.

The grounds include an 18 hole golf course, a spa, an enormous pool (complete with poolside bar) and several restaurants. One delegate we spoke with today says he brought his wife and six kids along so they could enjoy the resort, while he’s busy with official business at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Here’s a slideshow of the resort 300 Texans will call home for the next four days:

Republican National Convention delayed

Threats of severe weather from Tropical Storm Isaac will delay the start of the Republican National Convention, in Tampa. The convention was slated to begin with a full day session, Monday. Instead, RNC officials say the convention will convene Monday, then immediately recess until Tuesday.

Due to the Tampa Bay Forum’s location, there still stands the possibility that the entire arena may be evacuated. Arena officials on the floor today were talking about emergency preparedness and the possibility of bringing in sandbags.

There’s no word yet on how that will alter the speaking schedule.

Here’s the official statement from RNC President and CEO Bill Harris:

“Our chief priority is the safety of the residents of Florida, of those visiting the Convention, and all those in Gulf Coast states who may be impacted by Tropical Storm Isaac. We have been working closely with the campaign, the party, and state and local officials for months to ensure a successful, enjoyable convention. Federal, state and local officials assure us that they are prepared to respond, if needed, and the scheduling changes we are announcing today will help ensure the continued safety of all participants – our foremost concern. We are also committed to keeping the delegates and guests of the convention well informed about the situation, and we will continue providing updates in the hours and days ahead.”

RNC Committee Chairman Reince Priebus released this statement:

“Due to the severe weather reports for the Tampa Bay area, the Republican National Convention will convene on Monday August 27th and immediately recess until Tuesday afternoon, August 28th. After consulting with Governor Scott, NOAA and local emergency management officials, we are optimistic that we will begin an exciting, robust convention that will nominate the Romney-Ryan ticket.”

Tampa day 2: The Texas delegation gets little love

Our second day in Tampa brought more security, closed roads, rainy weather, and a first hand look at the convention floor.

We left our hotel this morning, just before 11 a.m. The drive to downtown Tampa was again uneventful. What did change dramatically, however, was the amount of security we encountered when we got close. All the roads surrounding both the Tampa Bay Forum and the Tampa Convention center are now closed off for several blocks in all directions and there are various law enforcement officials and military personnel, everywhere.

Once we trekked about a mile to pick up our credentials, we had a chance to visit our workspace in the convention center. That’s where a lot of our writing and editing will take place. The room has rows upon rows of tables outfitted with internet, phone lines and Gatorade, to help us rehydrate from the scorching Florida sun.

The Forum itself is about 1/4 mile away. The RNCC has erected several tunnels, which are rumored to be air conditioned, for journalists to move between the two sites. Today, however, it seemed the power was out. In the words of our photographer, it was hot and smelled like a high school locker room.

On the other side of the sweaty tunnel stands the Tampa Bay Times Forum. That’s where our live shows and live reports will happen. Our skybox has a great view of the stage. Rehearsals were underway, and we got to see some of what the Republican Party has planned. While we were there, we also got a sneak peek at the Ron Paul tribute video that will be introduced by Dr. Paul’s son, Rand Paul. (We’ll have more of that, later tonight.)

Meanwhile, our live show location is blessedly right behind the Texas delegation seats. While it’s fantastic for us to snag live interviews, the delegation has possibly the worst seat in the house. Their chairs are in the far back right corner, just about as far away from the stage as physically possible on the floor.

Here are some of the photo’s from today:

Stay tuned, tomorrow, when we’ll have updates from Ron Paul’s rally, and more from the delegate welcome party at Tropicana Field.

The Capital Tonight political crew arrives in Tampa

Hi everyone! Five of us have traveled to Tampa, ahead of the Republican National Convention. We’ll be chronicling our journey here on the blog this week; and next, for the Democratic National Convention.

Here’s a look at our first day:

We left Austin at 7:00 this morning. After a quick layover in Houston, we landed in Tampa just before noon. We missed the major influx of delegates and media (with the exception of a couple members of Texas press on our flight), as Tampa International was relatively quiet. Save for a few signs welcoming the delegates and convention guests, there was little sign that thousands of people would soon be flooding the baggage claim. We picked up our luggage and rental cars and headed toward downtown.

Our crew, which consists of myself, our political anchor, Paul Brown, reporter, Alana Rocha, photographer, Robbie Vaughn, and our News Director, Michael Pearson, stopped in Ybor City for some Cuban sandwiches and deviled crabs, before parting ways for our separate hotels.

Now there’s a trek that’s likely to plague us all week. Half of us are staying in Clearwater, about 25 miles west of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The other half is staying with the Texas Delegation, which is about 25 miles North east of the arena. In all, our two crews are about an hour’s drive apart, assuming traffic cooperates; which we do not expect.

During our drive downtown, we passed by the Tampa Bay Times Forum. That’s where most of the official proceedings, major speeches and roll call will take place. During the convention, all of the streets surrounding the Forum will be off limits to traffic. Today, however, we were able to drive right past. There’s a large RNC 2012 banner, some American flags hanging from the front of the building, and a few tents set up outside. Some local federal buildings have had fences erected around them and there are some boarded up windows, in anticipation of protesters. The real security won’t be in place until later, this weekend. Those extra law enforcement officers are already starting to roll in to town. We saw a few Miami-Dade police cars driving past our hotel, this afternoon.

On everyone’s mind, of course, is Tropical Storm Isaac. Florida is no stranger to storms, and it’s pretty much all the locals are talking about. Florida Governor Rick Scott held a news conference today, assuring everyone that the convention will go on as planned. We do know, however, that the RNC isn’t taking any chances and will get the official business of nominating Mitt Romney on Monday; the first night of the convention.

Texas Right to Life defends Akin’s comments on abortion

Texas Right to Life, the self-proclaimed oldest and largest pro-life group in the state, is defending Rep. Todd Akin’s comments on abortion in instances of rape. Elizabeth Graham, Director of Texas Right to Life, writes in an email that Akin is being "thrown under the bus" and that the words he "unintentionally said" are now being twisted.

"This past Sunday, Congressman Todd Akin — who is now a candidate for U.S. Senate, running against an extremist, pro-abortion liberal — reaffirmed in a televised interview that he didn’t believe that abortion should be legal in cases of rape. Akin explained that the rapist should be the one punished for the crime, not the unborn child. We need more senators like him," Graham writes.

Graham asks supporters to tell their friends, and the media, that Akin is right in his comments. Other pro-life advocates have defended Akin, including actor Kirk Cameron.

Planned Parenthood calls appeals court ruling ‘shocking’

Planned Parenthood is responding to yesterday’s 5th Circuit of Appeals Court ruling that lifted an injunction that prevented Texas from implementing a law that would eliminate funding for the organization. Officials released this statement, today:

“It is shocking that once again it appears that politics is getting in the way of women receiving access to basic health care. Today’s ruling allows the state to deny low-income, uninsured Texas women health care from their trusted provider-Planned Parenthood.

“Governor Perry has already thrown 160,000 women off of health care for partisan political reasons — now there will be more to come. The state’s ongoing efforts jeopardize the health of tens of thousands of Texas women.

"This case has never been about Planned Parenthood — it’s about the women who rely on us for basic health care including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, and annual exams. We are here for Texas women.

“For more than 75 years, women and families in Texas have trusted Planned Parenthood for high-quality, affordable health care and information. We won’t let politics interfere with the health care that 52,000 women and families across Texas rely on Planned Parenthood to stay healthy."

Perry applauds Women’s Health Program court ruling

Gov. Rick Perry is praising the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to overturn an injunction preventing a Texas law from taking effect. As we reported earlier this evening, the three judge panel issued a ruling tonight that clears the way for the state to cut off Planned Parenthood funding.

Perry released this statement:

“Today’s ruling affirms that Texas’ Women’s Health Program has no obligation to fund organizations that promote abortion – including Planned Parenthood. The 5th Circuit’s decision is a win for Texas women, our rule of law and our state’s priority to protect life. We will continue to work with Attorney General Abbott in the fight to defend our state laws.

“Texas will continue providing important health services for women through this program in spite of the Obama Administration’s disregard for our state law and unilateral decision to defund this program.”

Appeals court clears way for Planned Parenthood funding cuts

Texas received the go-ahead Tuesday to cut off Planned Parenthood funding, pending an October trial. It’s the latest legal twist in the ongoing Women’s Health Program funding court drama.

Since the Women’s Health Program was formed in 2005, taxpayer money never funded abortion providers. Last year, the Texas legislature took the measure a step further when it reauthorized the law and banned organizations affiliated with abortion providers from receiving state subsidies.

Nine Planned Parenthood clinics–which do not provide abortions–filed suit, claiming the law violates their First Amendment rights. Attorney General Greg Abbott argued the state gets to determine how state money is spent.

The plaintiffs won that round. Planned Parenthood received a temporary injunction, blocking the enforcement of the law. The federal judge in Austin even went one step further, saying there was sufficient evidence the state’s law is unconstitutional.

Tuesday, however, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dealt another reversal. In a 2-1 vote, the three-judge panel overturned the injunction, freeing Texas to cut off funding.

Gov. Rick Perry has insisted that if the state is forced to include Planned Parenthood in the WHP, it will shut down the program altogether. Perry has said the state would find another way to pay for low-income women’s health programs.

The trial is set for October. Federal Judge Lee Yaekel warned both sides a decision likely won’t be reached before Nov. 1, which is when the state had said it would eliminate the program.

You can read the full brief, below: