Archive for February, 2013

Capital Tonight: Will the sequester mess with Texas?

Thursday’s Capital Tonight looks at what — if any — effects the so-called sequester will have on Texas residents.

Click the image below to see the full episode, including a breakdown of how the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts could hit everything from airports to social programs. Plus, hear from Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Republican Rep. John Carter in Washington, as well as Texas Rep. Donna Howard on how the 83rd Legislature is responding.

McCaul questions ICE release of detainees

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul is accusing the Obama administration of using the looming budget cuts as an “excuse” to release detainees.

In a Fox News appearance Thursday, McCaul, the recently-appointed chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said federal officials had been looking into releasing detainees “as far as a year ago.” He did not provide evidence for the claim.

“It’s a dangerous and reckless policy to release potentially violent criminal offenders into the general population,” McCaul said.

Earlier this week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced that several hundred immigrants who were being held in jails were released in order to save money.

A spokesman for the president said Wednesday that all those released were “non-criminals” with “low-risk” status.

For his part, McCaul is asking for more information about the detainees. He wrote a letter to ICE director John Morton, asking for an exact total of those released, and their reasons for being detained.

McCaul says he wants a reply by March 6.

Capital Tonight: Texans pay close attention to Voting Rights Act challenge

A key part of the Voting Rights Act went before the Supreme Court Wednesday. The provision known as Section 5 could be in jeopardy after the court’s conservative justices suggested that times have changed.

Section 5 requires nine states, including Texas, to get federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws. The law also applies to parts of seven other states, all of which have a history of infringing on minority voting rights.


Wednesday, some justices suggested the law is outdated. Justice Antonin Scalia called it a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a key swing vote, questioned whether Alabama was “under the trusteeship of the United States government.”

Click the image at the bottom to hear more from the court, along with reaction from the Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg about the long-term implications for Texas.

Inching toward compromise

As more and more red-state leaders agree to accept Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, the question of Texas’ possible role persists. Gov. Rick Perry has said there’s no possibility that he’d accept expanded Medicaid rolls in exchange for federal dollars, but some in his own party could be inching toward a compromise.

State Sen. Tommy Williams has written an editorial article (PDF) outlining a path toward Medicaid reform that could be acceptable to Texas lawmakers. He spoke to Capital Tonight’s Paul Brown about what those changes would look like.

Taking notes from Florida

Former Governor Jeb Bush is in Texas this week, talking about public education.
Bush was invited to testify in front of the Senate Education Committee Wednesday, where he touted his state’s reforms as a model for Texas.



Capital Tonight: Distracted driving bill returns to House

A bill to ban texting while driving is back before lawmakers this session. Texting behind the wheel is illegal in 39 states, and many local ordinances already ban the practice, but it’s a statewide measure that couldn’t get past the Governor’s pen in 2011. Click the image at the bottom to hear more about why it might stand a chance this time around.

Battleground Texas

Joshua Treviño of the Texas Public Policy Foundation discussed efforts to turn Texas into a swing state. Treviño also shared the strategy he would take if he were a Democrat.


Capital Commentators

Harold Cook and Ted Delisi sat down with Paul Brown to discuss Gov. Chris Christie’s recent announcement that he would accept Medicaid funding under the Affordable Care Act. They also discussed Gov. Perry’s recent call to re-evaluate testing for Texas students.



Updated: Hagel confirmation moves forward without Texas senators’ support

Updated to add statement from Sen. Ted Cruz

Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary is moving forward. Several Republicans reversed their positions in a test vote today, clearing the way for confirmation.

The former Republican Senator has faced a rocky road so far, with the GOP forcing a filibuster and extending the debate earlier this month. Republicans have been highly critical of President Obama’s choice, accusing Hagel of being unfit to lead the U.S. military.

Despite today’s vote, dozens of Republicans still stand opposed. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz were among 15 republicans who signed a letter requesting that President Obama withdraw Hagel’s name from consideration.

Sen. John Cornyn released this statement, following today’s test vote:

“There is simply no way to sugarcoat it: Senator Hagel’s performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee was remarkably inept, and we should not be installing a Defense Secretary who is obviously not qualified for the job, and who holds dangerously misguided views on some of the most important issues facing national security policy for our country.” ~Sen. John Cornyn

Here is Sen. Ted Cruz’s statement:

“Chuck Hagel will be confirmed because Senate Democrats stood united behind President Obama’s nomination of the most controversial Secretary of Defense in modern times. No one has ever been confirmed to the position with more than 11 “no” votes, until today when a record number of senators voted against his nomination. A great many of us have been concerned about Hagel’s longstanding record of antagonism towards Israel and unwillingness to stand vigorously against Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons. I hope those concerns are proven wrong. I fervently hope that this confirmation does not embolden Iran to accelerate their nuclear weapons development; I fervently hope that this confirmation does not undermine our vital alliance with Israel. Chuck Hagel can prove his critics wrong by standing by his confirmation commitments. He has an enormous task ahead of him, and running the Defense Department will require principled leadership on the world’s stage. I wish Secretary Hagel success in his new role and am committed to working with him to keep America safe and strong.” ~Sen. Ted Cruz


With a Democratic majority in the Senate, Hagel is expected to easily pass a final confirmation vote. That is expected later today.

‘Battleground Texas’ kicks off efforts to turn Texas blue

“The fight to turn Texas blue starts now.” That is the headline that greets visitors to the newly launched Battleground Texas website. Today, the independent group formally launched its efforts to make Democrats competitive in what’s been a traditionally Republican stronghold.

The organization is headed up by some of President Obama’s top 2012 campaign staffers, two of whom have been dispatched to Texas to lead efforts on the ground. Former Ohio field director Jenn Brown will serve as executive director while former DNC digital strategist Christina Gomez will be the digital director.

Gov. Rick Perry has dismissed efforts to move Texas into the swing state category. Last week, he told the Wall Street Journal that

”The University of Texas will change its colors to maroon and white before Texas goes purple, much less blue.”

The Dems’ response? Game on. Battleground Texas will use the organizing strategy used in President Obama’s 2012 campaign to register more voters and mobilize existing voters to get the polls and cast a blue ballot.

The real measure of success, however, may come in the form of funding. In an interview on Capital Tonight in January, TDP communications director Tanene Allison stressed that point. “That’s the most exciting thing about Battleground Texas, is that they have a lot of money, and so it’s a lot of money that’s coming into Texas,” Allison said. “And part of what this shows is the nation is now paying attention to Texas.”

Capital Tonight: Voting law changes and the charter school debate

SCOTUS and Voting Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court this week hearing arguments in a landmark case that might forever change Texas election laws. The court is considering Shelby County v. Holder, which challenges the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That is the part of the law that requires states with a history of discrimination, like Texas, to have changes to election law approved by the federal government.

Speaking at the State Capitol, today, lawmakers representing minority groups in the state called Texas a textbook example of why the Voting Rights Act should be upheld. Two key pieces of legislation passed by Texas lawmakers last session are in limbo because of the Voting Rights Act. Last summer, courts declined to pre-clear redistricting and voter identification legislation, citing that both laws intentionally discriminated against minorities. The state is appealing both cases, but neither is likely to be considered until the U.S. Supreme Court settles Shelby County v. Holder.

At Monday’s press conference, representatives from the Mexican American and Black Legislative Caucuses said those two pieces of legislation are perfect examples of why federal authorities need to pre-clear changes to election code before they take effect. Click the video link at the bottom of the post to hear their thoughts on the case.


On the Agenda

Is Texas turning blue? There has been plenty of chatter and some supporting poll data that Texas might be trending toward becoming the newest battleground state. Even Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri acknowledged to Real Clear Politics that he takes the possibility seriously.

Gov. Rick Perry, however, isn’t swayed.  “The University of Texas will change its colors to maroon and white before Texas goes purple, much less blue,” Gov. Perry said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, in Washington D.C.

Click the video link below to hear Quroum Report’s Harvey Kronberg’s thoughts on the Governor’s tough stance.

Lobbying Texas

A bill being considered by the Senate would lift the cap on charter schools and establish a new authorization board to oversee their operations. The bill also requires that unused public school space be leased to charter schools at extremely low rates.

The bill, which was proposed by Sen. Dan Patrick, has drawn support from state Republicans. Some education advocacy groups, however, have come out in strong opposition. The Texas State Teachers Association argues legislation would result in an exploding number of charter schools and create huge regulation issues for the state.

“We don’t have the people in place to give oversight,” said TSTA Public Affairs Director Ed Martin. “What this is is basically an attempt to open the doors to anybody who wants to come slap down a charter school and do it ultimately to make some money.”

Click the video link below, to see Martin’s full remarks from Monday’s show.

Capital Tonight: Watson calls for tougher hit-and-run penalties

A high-profile hit-and-run trial is coming to a close in Austin, but its impact on the community will likely be talked about much more this legislative session.

Democratic State Sen. Kirk Watson has just filed a bill that would attach stricter penalties to drivers who fail to stop and render aid after hitting a pedestrian. We spoke to Sen. Watson Thursday about what he hopes the bill will achieve.

Although House lawmakers voted to pay off nearly $4.5 billion in Medicaid debts Thursday, the question of future spending is still up in the air. Capital Tonight’s Karina Kling spoke to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who’s making headlines by urging state lawmakers to say yes to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

The man who could ultimately determine the fate of Eastside Memorial High School took the time to visit the at-risk campus Thursday, after the school’s class president sent him a personal invitation.

Click the image below to see more from Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams’ visit.

Cornyn, Cruz call on Obama to withdraw Hagel nomination

Senate Republicans are pressuring the White House to change its pick for Defense Secretary. In a letter to President Obama, Sen. Miniorty Whip John Cornyn points to the lack of bipartisan support for Hagel’s nomination and calls Hagel’s record “erratic.” 

Hagel, a former Republican Senator, has faced an uphill climb toward confirmation in the Senate, even among his former party-mates, who blocked an up-or-down confirmation vote last week.

Sen. Ted Cruz added his signature to Sen. Cornyn’s letter. In a statement, Cruz said, “Given Senator Hagel’s disturbing record on foreign policy and poor confirmation hearing performance, he lacks the trust and confidence needed to serve as Defense Secretary at such a critical time.”


Perry names new regents to UT board

Gov. Rick Perry named two new members and one re-appointment to the University of Texas System Board of Regents Thursday.

Once confirmed by the Senate, Ernest Aliseda of McAllen and Jeff Hildebrand of Houston will replace James Dannenbaum and Printice Gary, whose terms were scheduled to expire this month.

Aliseda is the managing attorney for Loya Incurance Group and a municipal judge. He graduated from Texas A&M University. Hildebrand is chairman and CEO of Hilcorp Energy Company and is a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. He received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of Texas.

The third appointment, Paul Foster, is currently a sitting member of the board. All three will serve six-year terms, set to expire in 2019.

The appointments come as the board faces new scrutiny from Texas lawmakers. Wednesday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called for a joint committee of higher education lawmakers to investigate the board of regents.

The Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Education Governance, Excellence & Transparency will be co-chaired by Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Dan Branch. No date has been set for hearings to begin, but the committee would have subpoena power and could bring in sitting regents for testimony. Dewhurst has alluded to personal attacks on Powers and his family by the regents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.