Archive for August, 2013

Walt named Perry’s chief of staff

Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday that Kathy Walt is his new chief of staff. Walt is actually returning to the governor’s office after a stint at the Lower Colorado River Authority, where she served as manager of governmental affairs.

“Kathy is a long-time trusted adviser and her continued service will be invaluable as she returns home to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Governor’s Office,” Perry said in a press release.

Walt, a former newspaper reporter, previously served as Perry’s deputy chief of staff and press secretary.

Perry also announced today that Jonathan Taylor will serve as his director of the Economic Development and Tourism Division. Taylor most recently served as director of the Enterprise Project Management Office at the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.



Capital Tonight: National health care debate plays out in Texas

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius visited Texas to try to get more people on board with the Affordable Care Act, while Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott made his opposition to the new health care law clear.

In Thursday’s show, we heard from both sides of the health care debate about how it affects the Lone Star State.


The last gavel of the session has been struck, and now the campaign money is flowing. Political strategists Harold Cook and Rob Johnson joined us for an inside look at how the scramble for statewide office is shaping up.


Plus, government transparency was a buzzword all session, and now one lawmaker is getting credit for making it happen. We spoke with Representative Todd Hunter, who’s being honored Friday by a group that’s serious about the issue.

Capital Tonight: Dewhurst campaign kicks off as candidates vie for attention

With lawmakers barely out of town, chatter in the Capital City has shifted almost completely to the 2014 election. Republican candidates have been positioning themselves for political seats for weeks, and now the sitting lieutenant governor is doing the same.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we look at Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s official entry in to the race. Plus, the Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg joins us to talk another political flare-up in the race for governor.


Texas nursing homes got an extra dose of funding this session, but health officials say it’s less than half of what’s needed. According to the Health and Human Services Commission, nursing homes needed about a 17 percent increase in the Medicaid rate. That’s far more than the six percent they received.

As part of our ongoing look at how this session’s laws impact people outside the Capitol halls, we talked to nursing home professionals and residents to get their perspective.


And they may have headed home for the summer, but the work of the state’s part-time lawmakers isn’t necessarily finished. We spoke to former lawmakers Sherri Greenberg and Aaron Peña about life in the interim.

Updated: Patrick invites Ratliff to CSCOPE debate in Tyler

Updated to add response from State Board of Education Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff

The stage could be set for a much-talked-about, hypothetical CSCOPE debate. Sen. Dan Patrick and State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff have been sparring over the merits of the online curriculum program through press releases and Facebook posts since July.

CSCOPE was created as an online tool to help teachers meet state education requirements. The program drew criticism from conservative groups who claimed students were being subjected to “anti-American” teachings through some of the lesson plans. Sen. Patrick led a successful effort to do away with the program last session.

SBOE Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff has been among CSCOPE’s supporters, and has encouraged teachers to download the lessons before they are taken offline. “The districts can, and should, continue to use that as one resource,” he said in a Capital Tonight interview. “It’s not the only resource, but when 80 percent of the districts are using it, they don’t have the ability to recreate a curriculum with less than six weeks until the start of school.”

Last month, Sen. Patrick issued a Facebook challenge to anyone who wanted to debate the merits of the program. Ratliff accepted his offer, saying he’d take Patrick on “anytime, anyplace.” Now, Patrick is setting a time, and a place. In a press release sent Wednesday, Patrick invited Ratliff to publicly debate the issue on August 24 in Tyler.

“I’ll give him the home field advantage, but I will not concede the high ground,” Patrick said. “The CSCOPE curriculum was an ill-conceived program, shrouded in secrecy. When I shined a light on it during the Legislative Session; it could not withstand close scrutiny.” 

Update: Ratliff told Capital Tonight this afternoon that he is willing to take Patrick up on his offer, as long as certain conditions are met. “I look forward to a substantive debate with Senator Patrick, not a political discussion with candidate Patrick,” Ratliff said. “I want to make sure it is a thoughtful, meaningful debate. Not just a bunch of soundbites.” 

There are still details that need to be worked out, including the format. Ratliff says he is proposing a three person panel that would include an educator, a conservative and a neutral moderator, such as a journalist.

Ratliff also expressed disappointment that the debate would be held at a Tea Party event and said he wished it could take place closer to Austin. We do want to note that we at Capital Tonight offered to host this debate. Sen. Patrick declined that invitation.

Dewhurst announces reelection campaign via web ad

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst formally announced his reelection bid Wednesday. The Lieutenant Governor took to Twitter to make official what most already assumed. He is running for a fourth term as the state’s number-two office holder.





In an email statement, Dewhurst touted what he called “the most conservative and productive legislative session in recent memory.” He also formally introduced his campaign staff. Dewhurst tapped former FreedomWorks COO Ryan Hecker as campaign manager. He has also brought on Travis Considine as the Communications Director, and Eliza Vielma will be Director of Digital and Social Strategy. 

Dewhurst’s campaign released this web ad to accompany his announcement.

Dewhurst is part of a crowded field of well-known Republicans vying for the Lieutenant Governor’s seat. He will face Sen. Dan Patrick, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson in the GOP primary.


Capital Tonight: Hasan trial spurs renewed efforts in Washington

As the trial begins for the man accused of killing 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in 2009, lawmakers in Washington are getting involved.

In Tuesday’s show, we look at two bills being put forward in Washington that would cut off the pay Maj. Nidal Hasan still receives and could qualify the victims of the shooting for more federal aid.


With the Legislature adjourned, campaign season has officially begun, and one candidate for higher office is already making headlines. Rep. Dan Branch was co-author of the 2005 Texas constitutional amendment that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Tuesday, he filed a court brief to help keep that ban in place. We spoke to the lawmaker and Dallas attorney about his campaign for attorney general and his position on same-sex marriage.


Travis County officials moved one step closer to picking up the tab for the Public Integrity Unit, but it will come at a cost to some of the office’s employees. Gov. Rick Perry slashed state funding for the unit from the budget after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to step down following a drunk driving conviction.

Tuesday, the commissioners court instructed staffers to find $1.7 million from the general revenue fund to make up some of the $3.7 million approved by the legislature before Perry’s veto.

Click the image below to hear District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s response, along with political analysis from Democratic strategist Harold Cook and Republican strategist Rob Johnson.

Capital Tonight: Lawmakers hit the road after passing transportation funding

The final piece of a plan to increase funding for the state’s roads and bridges passed shortly after 9:30 Monday night, by a vote of 124-2. Minutes later, House lawmakers adjourned Sine Die, pending administrative duties.

The complete package will divert half of the money earmarked for the state’s Rainy Day Fund toward the State Highway Fund instead. Estimated at nearly a billion dollars per year, the money would go toward construction and maintenance for non-tolled roads, and would fill almost a quarter of the $4 billion in funding Texas Department of Transportation officials say they need.

The two-part plan includes a funding mechanism, known as Senate Joint Resolution 1, which will go before voters as a ballot measure in 2014. The second part of the funding plan, known as House Bill 1, details the way lawmakers decide how much money gets left in the Rainy Day Fund. It also directs TxDOT to find cost-cutting measures without reducing funding for transportation projects.

Lawmakers failed to get a similar plan passed during the previous special session after falling short of the 100 votes needed.

In our special, 11 p.m. broadcast, we checked in with Rep. Joe Pickett shortly before the final vote, and talked to the Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg about the latest on funding for the Public Integrity Unit.


Questions about voting law in Texas aren’t going away anytime soon, despite a recent Supreme Court ruling and a vote on redistricting maps by Texas lawmakers. To find out where the issue is headed from here, we spoke to Michael Li of the Texas Redistricting & Election Law blog.


Plus, State Sen. Wendy Davis was back in Washington Monday, this time headlining a luncheon at the National Press Club. Speaking in front of journalists and Democratic supporters, the woman who made headlines with a nearly 11-hour filibuster didn’t shy away from her rising profile. Click the YNN logo below to see the full episode.

Business leaders make public push for transportation funding

Business leaders are urging Texas lawmakers to pass measures to pump some money into roads.

As legislators meet today to try to approve a funding plan, those in favor of the added money came together Monday morning to plead passage. Groups calling for increased transportation funding include the Texas Association of Business, Texas Association of Manufacturers, Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Transportation Advocates of Texas and San Antonio Mobility Coalition. They say a dedicated revenue source for transportation will keep Texas the economic envy of the nation.

“This is an issue that affects every citizen who lives in this great state and those thousands new citizens that we get here every single day,” Richard Perez, president and CEO of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said. “It’s about mobility and it’s about investing in who we are and what we need to continue to be at the top of the economic development ladder.”

Lawmakers are looking to add about one billion dollars a year for transportation projects without new taxes or fees.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the proposed added money would only be about a quarter of what’s needed just to maintain roads. But TxDOT officials say it’s a good start.

One funding plan has passed the Senate. The House is taking up a slightly different version Monday afternoon.

If passed, voters would then have to ultimately approve the proposal in November 2014.

Sen. Wendy Davis narrows down options for political future

Speaking at a National Press Club event in Washington, State Sen. Wendy Davis responded to questions about her political future with her most specific answer to date.

“I can say for absolute certainty that I will run for one of two offices, either my state Senate seat, or the governor,” Sen. Davis said.

The response came during a question-and-answer session after an extended speech, in which Davis traced her political beliefs back through her own biography as a teenager from a struggling family, then a single mother.

Davis quickly shot into the national political scene in late June when her nearly 12-hour filibuster helped temporarily defeat a Republican-backed bill to severely restrict the state’s abortion providers.

The bill was eventually passed, but her fight catapulted her into the gubernatorial conversation for 2014. So far, no Democrat has officially entered the race for governor.


Capital Tonight: Getting transportation funding into the fast lane

Transportation funding seems to be on the fast track, but are the minor changes approved in a House committee enough to get different results? We talked to Robert Garrett of The Dallas Morning News, Mike Ward of the Austin American-Statesman and Aman Batheja of the Texas Tribune about that question and more. Click the video above to hear their debate, along with the latest on federal funding for the town of West, Texas.

As part of our continuing coverage of the bills passed during the regular session and how they affect you, we spoke to Kelley Shannon of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. She joined us on Capital Tonight to talk about the victories and missed opportunities when it comes to more transparency in state government.

Full disclosure: Kelley Shannon is a longtime journalist who spent 22 years covering Texas with the Associated Press, and is the wife of YNN’s news director.