Allison Sandza

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Health and Human Services Commissioner to retire

Courtesy: Texas Health and Human Services

Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs announced Thursday he’ll retire at the end of August. He headed the HHSC for three years.

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve our great state in a position that touches the lives of every Texan,” Suehs wrote in a letter to the Governor, according to a news release. “It has truly been an honor and a privilege.”

Suehs was appointed by Perry in 2009. He’s worked in state government for 26 years.

“In his more than 25 years of dedicated service to the people of Texas, Tom Suehs has worked tirelessly to improve the health and wellbeing of families across the state," Gov. Perry said in a statement. "During his tenure as Texas Health and Human Services executive commissioner, Tom helped steer the health and human services enterprise through significant and much-needed reforms, ensuring our taxpayer dollars are used effectively and efficiently to help our most vulnerable Texans."

Suehs’ announcement comes just weeks after state Medicaid director Billy Milwee announced he would step down.

Texas officials to EPA: Leave us alone

It’s no secret Texas Republicans aren’t huge fans of the Environmental Protection Agency. Texas is suing the agency and multiple Republican candidates have campaigned on shutting it down all together.

Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Wednesday on EPA enforcement priorities and practices.

"We understand that EPA is continuing to expand its power despite restrictions imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court by moving forward with its controversial ‘waters of the U.S.’ guidance under the Clean Water Act, which would significantly expand EPA’s regulatory reach," Smitherman testified.

Former EPA administrator Alfredo Armendariz, who once used the word "crucify" when referring to EPA enforcement, was a no-show at the hearing. He was chair of the south central region EPA until he resigned last spring.

"The fact that Al Armendariz chose to shield himself behind his lawyers rather than answer simple questions about his time at the EPA demonstrates he has something to hide and is fearful of the consequences that may result from his time as EPA Region 6 Administrator,” Smitherman said in a press release.

Shaw’s testimony mostly centered around the state’s Flexible Permits Program, saying it gave "owners and operators greater flexibility and control" and "reduced emissions and complied with all state health standards and all applicable federal Clean Air Act requirements" when it was established in 1994. He testified that it took the EPA more than a decade to tell Texas the program didn’t comply with federal regulations.

‘Big 3’ call for 10 percent more cuts to 2014-2015 budget

YNN’s Political Reporter Alana Rocha filed the video report above following the announcement. The topic dominated the Texas Sunset Commission as they discussed needed improvements to several programs.

Deeper budget cuts are on the horizon. Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus are asking state agencies to plan to reduce spending by 10 percent, in 5 percent increments, for the 2014-2015 budget.

"Unlike Washington where spending increases are automatic, Texas has maintained a balanced budget by forcing government to look for savings first – ensuring taxpayers’ hard-earned money is put to its highest and best use," Dewhurst said in a statement.

A letter, sent Monday by the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor’s Office of Budget, Planning and Policy, gives clear instructions to agency chairs, appellate court judges and higher education chancellors and presidents.

"As a starting point for budget deliberations, an agency’s baseline request for General Revenue Funds and General Revenue-Dedicated Funds may not exceed the sum of amounts expended in fiscal year 2012 and budgeted in fiscal year 2013…Agencies must also submit a supplemental schedule detailing how they would reduce the baseline request by an additional 10 percent (in 5 percent increments) in General Revenue Funds and General Revenue Dedicated Funds," the letter states.

And they could be asked to cut more, should "state fiscal conditions warrant it."

Some programs and agencies are exempt. Agency chairs are asked not to cut funding for the Foundation School Program, or benefits and eligibility in Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program or the foster care program. Employer contribution requirements for state pensions are also exempt from cuts.

"While our revenue growth has been healthy this year, we must plan conservatively, which is why we have asked agencies to hold the line on spending. By identifying possible spending reductions in the next biennium, agencies can prioritize their most critical functions and programs. These instructions will also leave us prepared for a slowdown in revenues as the national economy struggles to recover," Speaker Straus said in a statement.

You can read the letter for yourself below.

Paul campaign responds to supporter arrests at Louisiana GOP convention

Mitt Romney may have clinched the Republican presidential nomination last week, but that is not silencing some Ron Paul supporters. Things got heated at the Louisiana GOP convention over the weekend, where a supporter was arrested.

According to Reuters, Paul supporter Henry Herford Jr. was asked to leave the Republican convention. He refused, and was eventually "taken away and charged with the misdemeanor crime of entering and remaining after being forbidden."

The Paul campaign described the incident in a press release on Saturday.

"Henry Herford Jr. of Franklin Parrish was attacked by some security officials who didn’t realize that the body had voted out the previous chairman. Mr. Herford has a prosthetic hip and according to a doctor at the scene it appears as though the prosthetic was dislocated and may require replacement," National Campaign Manager John Tate said.

The statement says the campaign "condemns the unfortunate activities that took place" and calls it an "unnecessary conflict." After the incident, Romney’s Louisiana chair told the Paul delegates he would make sure they were seated in Tampa, leading the Paul campaign to thank them for "stepping in and taking the high road."

Cruz swipes another red meat endorsement: Rick Santorum

First it was Jim DeMint, then Ron Paul and Sarah Palin. Now, Ted Cruz is getting the strong backing of another Tea Party rock star: Rick Santorum. Santorum appeared on Glenn Beck’s radio show Thursday morning.

"This is a tough race because there’s some very good people in this race but to me Ted is, what we’re missing in the United States Senate," Santorum said. "There’s no one out there that can get up there and deliver the kind of impassioned, spellbinding speeches and really engage the debate on the floor of the United States Senate…Ted Cruz, I’ve seen him speak, and he is spellbinding. He really is. He’s just a tremendous orator and very strongly principled, in-depth. I mean, he understands these issues at his core and can really deliver the message. And we do need, not just people who are good votes, but people who can really motivate and lead."

Santorum said he waited to endorse anyone in the GOP Senate primary, but said he related to how Cruz has been out spent by Dewhurst, and he gravitates to the underdog.

"There’s a kindred spirit when you’re the underdog and you’re being out spent and someone whose got the grassroots support and is working their tail off every day and you know, that’s the kind of candidate that I was and I sort of gravitate to, so I’m excited to be involved in his campaign and I will be doing all I can between now and Tuesday to help him out and make sure he’s at least in [the] runoff and who knows, maybe he can surge ahead and pull a big surprise."

Dewhurst campaign blitz paid for by own money

Team Dewhurst is going all out in the final week before the Texas primary. First, they released a bunch of new campaign ads, plus, an entire website about "liberal" Tom Leppert. The campaign blitz probably isn’t cheap, and it looks like Dewhurst is fronting the bill himself.

The Associated Press is reporting Dewhurst lent his campaign close to $1.2 million on May 14, the first day of early voting. That amount brings Dewhurst’s personal campaign tab to $13.2 million. The AP says $4 million has already been paid back by the campaign.

The "Liberal Leppert" website is the first full-frontal attack on the former Dallas Mayor by Dewhurst. He’s focused most of his negative ads on Ted Cruz, until now. Leppert saw a boost in the recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

One of Dewhurst’s new ads also seems aimed at Leppert, although in a more subtle way. The 30 second spot, "Lifelong Businessman," says Dewhurst "built his own energy company from the ground up, met a payroll, created jobs." Leppert has called Dewhurst a "career politician backed by lobbyists" and an "empty suit."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Perry hits statewide TV airwaves for Dewhurst

Team Dewhurst rolled out a new ad Monday featuring Gov. Perry. The ad, called "Proud,"
says Dewhurst is "the one candidate best prepared to make conservative change happen in Washington." He goes on to say "don’t let anyone tell you different."

In a press release Dewhurst says "working in stride, Governor Perry and I have helped make Texas the best business climate in the nation by keeping our spending and taxes low.”

It’s not the governor’s first ad in support of Dewhurst. Perry stars in a radio ad released last week defending Dewhurst after the Club for Growth called him a "moderate."

You can watch the new ad for yourself below.

U.S. Senate race far from over

We might have to wait until July 31 to figure out who will be our nominees for U.S. Senate, despite recent polls indicating Lt. Gov. Dewhurst could win the Republican Senate nomination on primary night. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll shows both the Republican and Democratic races heading to a runoff.

Dewhurst is at 40 percent among likely Republican primary voters, Ted Cruz is behind him with 31 percent. Tom Leppert has seen a boost, he’s at 17 percent. Former ESPN analyst Craig James is polling at 4 percent.

Democrats are even more split on who their nominee should be. Former State Rep. Paul Sadler, 29 percent, is the frontrunner, but by only 4 points. Sean Hubbard is at 25 percent.

Be sure to tune in to YNN on primary night for continuing live coverage. Our Capital Commentators Ted Delisi and Harold Cook will join us, as well as the Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg and broadcaster Scott Braddock. We will also speak to UT Pollster and politics professor Jim Henson. Coverage begins at 4 p.m.

Wentworth, Ames Jones take mudslinging to court

It has been an ugly campaign for state Senate District 25 almost from the get-go. Now, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth says opponent Elizabeth Ames Jones made "false criminal accusations" in her campaign ads, and is hitting her with a libel and slander lawsuit. Thursday evening Ames Jones fired back, announcing she’ll file a counter claim Friday, saying her ads are true.

“I will be filing a counterclaim in Bexar County District Court tomorrow because truth is an absolute defense, and my television ads are true. It is undeniable that Senator Wentworth has billed his campaign for travel-related expenses, then been personally “reimbursed” by the State of Texas for those same travel-related expenses. That is called “double-dipping," Ames Jones said in a press release.

Wentworth says Elizabeth Ames Jones ads are "a disgrace to democracy" and criticized her for not making the claims during more than 30 debates.

"I have never heard or seen such malicious defamation. To be falsely accused of committing a crime is over the line of political discourse and has forced me into filing this defamation lawsuit against Jones. I filed this lawsuit to defend my honor and the integrity of our democracy," Wentworth said during a press conference, according to a campaign press release.

According to the Houston Chronicle, this isn’t Wentworth’s first defamation of character lawsuit. He sued an opponent in 2002 for running an ad that claimed he was involved in a special interest group.

Report: No media allowed at Santorum state convention speech

Rick Santorum is scheduled to speak during the Texas Republican Party’s convention. But if you want to hear from the former presidential candidate, you better buy a ticket soon. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports Santorum’s speech at the annual convention Gala Banquet will not be open to the media.

"Santorum is the main attraction at the June 8 Gala Banquet, a private party fundraiser at the convention, that at least for now will be reserved for delegates, alternates and those who buy tickets to the event at the Fort Worth Convention Center. "There has never been media availability at the state party’s premier banquet," said Chris Elam, the state party’s communications director," Star-Telegram reporter Anna M. Tinsley writes.

The Star-Telegram article says RPT officials are talking to Santorum’s people to see if he wants to make himself available to the media. According to the party’s website tickets cost $200 each and are selling fast.