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.

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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.

Appeals court hears last round of arguments on abortion law

A federal appeals court in New Orleans heard arguments over a controversial set of abortion restrictions Monday, in the last round of questioning before the panel issues its final ruling on the law’s constitutionality.

Attorneys for both sides had 20 minutes each to present their cases to the three-judge panel. The state argued that the law simply regulates the practice of medicine in the state, and that it’s within constitutional boundaries. Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights argued against the law, saying it places a substantial burden on women seeking an abortion.

Abortion providers sued to block two parts of the law after it passed in the summer of 2013. One provision requires doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Another part of the law requires doctors to follow 13-year-old federal standards when administering an abortion-inducing drug, as opposed to an off-label regimen used commonly today. A federal district judge ruled in favor of a temporary injunction for part of the law in October, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has since overturned the ruling, allowing the law to go into effect.

The appeals court hasn’t indicated when it would issue its final ruling.

 

Davis keeping payday lending issue front and center in governor’s race

Sen. Wendy Davis is intensifying criticisms against Attorney General Greg Abbott over what she calls his support for predatory lenders in Texas.

In the latest attack since the new year, The Lone Star Project issued a press release Monday, accusing Abbott’s office of issuing the “key document that has allowed payday lenders to operate outside of Texas usury laws and exploit Texans across our state.”

The Lone Star Project references a letter sent from the AG’s office to the Office of the Consumer Credit Commissioner in 2006. The letter was in response to requests that the attorney general investigate claims that payday lenders “violate state consumer lending laws.”

In response, Abbott’s office indicated that the lenders, acting as credit service organizations, were in fact, in compliance with state finance laws. The letter also stated that there is “no limit in the CSO statutes on the amount of fees that may be charged by a CSO.” The attorney general stopped short, however, of issuing a formal opinion.

This controversy began following comments Texas Finance Commission Chair William White made to the El Paso Times about payday loan customers. White also serves as vice president for Cash America International, a company with more than 900 stores providing cash advances and pawn loans. In a statement, Davis called his dual obligations a “blatant conflict of interest.”

“William White can’t protect Texas consumers while he represents a predatory lending company on the side,” Davis said. “Mr. White should resign from his post – and if he won’t, Governor Perry should remove him.”

Davis also pointed out that Abbott has accepted huge sums of money from payday lenders.

Attorney General Abbott’s campaign has not responded to these latest attacks. However last week, his office issued this statement dismissing Davis’ claims as “election-year hypocrisy.”

“Sen. Wendy Davis’ statement is blatant election-year hypocrisy. Perhaps unknown to Sen. Davis, state law mandates that industry executives serve on the Finance Commission, and Sen. Davis voted to confirm William White to his position. Sen. Davis also had two opportunities to amend bills pertaining to the requirements to serve on the Commission, and both times Sen. Davis chose not to do so. Before calling for the resignations of those she voted to confirm, Sen. Davis might take a hard look at a her own record.”

“Greg Abbott has been a determined advocate of transparency and ethics in government and has laid out substantial reforms to improve public confidence in state government. He’ll use the same guidelines when making appointments if elected Governor.” 

You can read the full letter, below.

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