TEXPAC endorses Dewhurst for lieutenant governor

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is touting the support of the Texas Medical Association Political Action Committee. TEXPAC announced Thursday it would endorse Dewhurst in his reelection bid.

“Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst values and welcomes the input of Texas physicians in developing health care policy for the state,” said TEXPAC Board Chair Jerry Hunsaker. “We know we can trust Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst to do the right thing for Texas’ patients and their physicians.”

Dewhurst is facing Sen. Dan Patrick, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson in the GOP primary.

 

Wendy Davis proposal would guarantee teaching jobs

Sen. Wendy Davis is announcing a proposal that would guarantee teaching jobs to certain college graduates and expand the number of students who would be automatically admitted to state colleges.

The Democratic front-runner for governor unveiled the proposals in North Texas Thursday, as part of a larger education reform package. Davis said students ranking in the top 20 percent in their junior year would be guaranteed early acceptance to college. Those same students would also be guaranteed a job teaching in a public school after graduating and getting certified.

Davis also promised to increase teacher pay statewide and provide more funding for a loan assistance program currently in effect for qualified teachers.

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s campaign released a statement in response to the proposal.

“Sen. Wendy Davis’ proposals are more fuzzy math – a plan that will increase spending and impose more mandates on Texas universities without explaining how to pay for it. Greg Abbott believes in genuine local control of education: empowering parents, teachers, and principals to serve our students well.”

Abbott and Davis are both making education a central theme in their bid for the governorship. Abbott unveiled his own set of education proposals at a series of events in December. They include an increase in digital learning and more flexibility for teachers.

Capital Tonight: The state of poverty in Texas, 50 years later

It’s been exactly 50 years since President Lyndon Baines Johnson called on Congress to fight poverty in the nation. Since his “War on Poverty” speech, programs have been put in place to increase jobs, benefit programs were created to help millions of Americans and investments in education have been made.

One direct result of Johnson’s vision was Head Start, a federal program that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition and parent involvement to low-income children and their families.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at where the Head Start program stands today, plus we sat down with the Executive Director for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Ann Beeson, for a breakdown of what poverty in Texas looks like in 2014.

POLICY PLANNING

Some of the state’s top Republicans are in Austin this week to discuss policy issues, as part of an annual orientation conference put on by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. With a big political season ahead and the primaries inching closer, we looked at how Texas conservatives are debating the GOP’s future.

ON THE AGENDA

This week saw a fresh round of political endorsements, including some from unexpected places. The Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg joined us to weigh in on those endorsements and more.

Comptroller candidate Hegar picks up Norquist endorsement

Sen. Glenn Hegar picked up a major conservative endorsement in the state comptroller’s race Wednesday. Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist announced his support for Hegar’s bid to replace current comptroller Susan Combs. In addition, Hegar also signed Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, promising not to support any tax increases.

“Taxpayers have a great candidate to replace retiring Susan Combs as Texas Comptroller,” Norquist said. “By signing the pledge, Glenn Hegar demonstrates that he understands the problems of hard-working Texas taxpayers and that he will be a great fiscal steward for the state.”

Hegar is facing Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, former gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina and former Rep. Raul Torres in the March GOP primary.

 

First US Senate campaign ads set to hit air

We are about to begin seeing the first US Senate campaign ads hit airwaves across Texas. As Politico first reported today, the first major ad buy is sponsored by a super PAC that supports Sen. John Cornyn. The ad, paid for by Texans for a Conservative Majority, is an attack on Cornyn’s GOP challenger, Rep. Steve Stockman.

According to Politico, the 30-second spot will first be seen in southeast Texas and Houston, which is the part of the state Stockman represents. The ad accuses Stockman of “Lies, shady deals and ethical failings in Washington” and alleges that Stockman of failed to disclose off-shore business dealings.

You can watch it, below.

Jerry Patterson earns Ron Paul endorsement

Jerry Patterson, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, is boasting an endorsement from former Rep. Ron Paul today. Paul, who also ran for president in 2012, retired from the U.S. House of Representatives last year. Paul served several terms in Congress over the last few decades and has earned a reputation as a staunch conservative and self-proclaimed “defender of liberty.”

In a statement, Paul said:

“Jerry has served Texas well as Land Commissioner. I am now proud to endorse his campaign for Lieutenant Governor. I know Jerry will fight for limited government and more personal liberties. We have a federal government that is out of control, spends too much, borrows too much, taxes too much and continues to infringe on the constitution and states’ rights. This current administration has even gone so far as to sue states they disagree with. We need people in state governments that are willing to stand up to the federal government and say, ‘Enough is Enough.’”

Patterson said he’s honored to receive Dr. Paul’s endorsement. “We are both well-known for never compromising core values and for sticking to our principles in the pursuit of liberty,” he said. “For over 30 years, I have known and talked with Dr. Paul about our shared belief that our country needs a dramatic reduction in the size of government and a return to constitutional principles and I am very grateful for his support.”

Patterson will face Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Sen. Dan Patrick and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in the March GOP primary. The winner will likely face Democrat Leticia Van de Putte in November’s general election.

 

Democratic senators join call for finance commissioner’s resignation

Sen. Wendy Davis is getting some backing from fellow Democrats in her call for Finance Commission Chairman William White to step down. Senators John Whitmire, Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia wrote a letter to White, Tuesday, calling for his resignation.

White, who is also vice president of Cash America, came under fire following controversial remarks he made regarding payday loans to the El Paso Times. In response to questions regarding possible predatory practices that take advantage of poor Texans, White said, “That’s really is not worth responding to. People make decisions. There’s nobody out there that forces anybody to take any kind of loan. People are responsible for their decisions, just like in my life and in your life. When I make a wrong decision, I pay the consequences.”

Sen. Davis and her colleagues say White’s position creates a conflict of interest and his comments “raise serious questions about his ability to protect the interests of Texas consumers.”

You can read the full letter, below the jump.

More >

Davis formally requests finance chairman’s removal

Sen. Wendy Davis if formally asking that Finance Commission Chairman William White be removed from his post based on comments he made to the El Paso Times regarding payday loans. White, who is also vice president of Cash America, told the paper that payday loan customers, not the lenders, are responsible for over-borrowing loans they could not repay.

Davis has been calling for White’s resignation since last week. In a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, she made a formal request Tuesday. “Speaking in his official capacity in a recent interview with the El Paso Times, Mr. White chose to prioritize his business interests with Cash America International over Texas consumers,” Davis said. “It is abundantly clear that not only is Mr. White faced with a conflict of interest, tasked to protect the very people his company exploits through predatory lending, but that he chooses to side with his employer, blatantly disregarding his appointed duties as chairman.”

Davis has used the payday loan controversy as the first major attack in the 2014 gubernatorial race. She accused Attorney General Greg Abbott of opening the door to payday loan abuses across the state and criticized him for accepting campaign contributions from such companies.

Abbott has stayed mostly quiet in the controversy. He issued a statement last week calling Davis a hypocrite for voting to confirm White to his position and failing to amend legislation that might have prevented White from serving on the commission.

You can read Davis’ full letter, below:

Wendy Davis Letter

Railroad Commission hiring seismologist to study earthquakes in fracking areas

The Texas Railroad Commission announced Tuesday it will hire a seismologist to study a sudden uptick in earthquakes in parts of the state with oil and gas drilling activities. The announcement comes less than a week after a heated town hall meeting in Azle, which is located about 50 miles northwest of Dallas. The area has experienced more than 30 small earthquakes in the last two months.

Residents voiced concerns over cracked walls, foundation damage and water leaks. Many attribute the seismic activity to wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. Residents were frustrated that the Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, was doing little to address their concerns. 

The Railroad Commission has not acknowledged the link,  however recent studies by Cliff Frohlich of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas suggest the quakes are caused by the wastewater deposited deep in the ground after it’s used to extract oil and gas.

Monday, Commissioner David Porter said in a statement he decided a seismologist needed to be added to the staff to help the agency gather evidence to learn whether there is “any possible causation between oil and gas activities and seismic events.”


Capital Tonight: Democrats push back against navigator rules

Texas officials are still fighting over the details of the Affordable Care Act. The focus this time around is on newly proposed state rules for insurance navigators — the counselors who help people shop for health insurance under the law. Monday, the Texas Department of Insurance heard round two of public comment on the proposed changes.

Meanwhile, a three-judge panel in New Orleans heard one last round of arguments over the merits of a controversial abortion law. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will decide on the law’s constitutionality after Planned Parenthood and other groups filed a lawsuit late last year.

In Monday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at where both laws stand in Texas.

LETTER OF THE LAW

Ahead of Monday’s hearing, Rep. Donna Howard wrote a letter to the Texas Department of Insurance detailing her concerns with the proposed restrictions. We spoke one-on-one with Rep. Howard about that issue and more.

DC UPDATE

In Washington, lawmakers got back to work after a long break. We checked in on their efforts to revisit a vote on unemployment insurance and more.