Aug 28th - 2:35 pm
State District Judge John Dietz has once again ruled that the state’s school finance system is unconstitutional. The decision comes six months after the second phase of the trial wrapped up in Austin.
The case stems from 2011, when the Texas legislature cut more than $5 billion in education funding. More than 600 school districts sued, arguing the budget cuts left them without the resources to meet academic standards. They also said the gap between property rich schools and poor property districts was too great.
In a verbal ruling last year, Judge Dietz agreed. He reopened the case, however, after lawmakers restored about $3.5 billion and cut testing requirements during the 2013 session. Today, Dietz reaffirmed that the “Robin Hood” system of property tax sharing doesn’t allocate money fairly among school districts.
The state is expected to appeal this ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. If it’s upheld, the Legislature will have to come up with a new funding formula.
Aug 26th - 8:13 pm
In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we learned more about former John McCain adviser Steve Schmidt’s role. Plus, we heard from two lieutenant governor candidates at a committee hearing on education.
While Politico reports Schmidt is officially named as part of the governor’s legal team, his role in McCain’s presidential run and his national profile indicate his hiring is more about the campaign trail than the courtroom. Political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi weighed in on what his hiring indicates.
And the Texas oil and gas boom continues, with both positive and negative consequences coming down the pipeline. Republican state Rep. Jim Keffer joined us with an update on both.
Aug 26th - 11:59 am
Gov. Rick Perry has now added a seventh person to the team tasked with handling his indictment. Politico is reporting that Perry hired former John McCain adviser Steve Schmidt. Schmidt is a big-dollar campaign strategist and was an instrumental member of McCain’s team during his presidential run. (You may recall he was played by Woody Harrelson in the HBO movie “Game Change.”)
Perry has already hired six high-powered attorneys to aid his defense. Houston trial lawyer Tony Buzbee is leading the team. He is joined by Austin attorney David Botsford, who represented Perry during the grand jury proceedings, and Ben Ginsburg, who is famous for his work with the Florida recount during the 2000 presidential elections.
Yesterday, Perry’s lawyers filed a motion to have the felony charges dismissed. The 60-page brief argues the charges are unconstitutional. Special prosecutor Michael McCrum, however, remains confident that Perry will go to trail.
Gov. Perry is charged with abuse of power and coercion of a public servant. The charges stem from the 2013 legislative session, when Perry warned he would cut funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit if Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg did not step down following a drunk driving conviction. Perry pointed to an embarrassing post-arrest video as grounds for his request. He followed through and slashed the $7.5 million when she refused to resign.
Perry’s attorneys claim his veto explanation falls under his first amendment right to free speech, as well as separation of powers in government. Attorneys also claim the statute being used to prosecute the governor for abuse of power is flawed.
Aug 25th - 8:46 pm
While Gov. Perry travels to New Hampshire, the race to succeed him continues. We heard why the Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott campaigns have been mostly silent on the Perry indictment and what they’re focusing on instead.
ON THE AGENDA
The Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg joined us to weigh in on the day’s political news. Plus, we heard new testimony from the seismologist hired by the state’s oil and gas regulators.
Aug 25th - 1:54 pm
As promised, Gov. Rick Perry’s attorneys are asking a judge to dismiss the criminal charges against him.
They filed the motion in district court Monday morning. At a pre-trial hearing Friday, Perry’s attorney, David Botsford said the motion would attack the constitutionality of the prosecution. He says the law being used to prosecute Perry is too vague and that it violates the state’s constitution.
Gov. Perry is charged with two felony counts: abuse of power and coercion of a public servant. The charges stem from his threat to cut funding for the Public Integrity Unit, headed by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. When Lehmberg refused to resign after her drunken driving conviction, the governor followed through on that threat and vetoed the funding.
Aug 22nd - 7:30 pm
In Friday’s Capital Tonight, we checked in on phase-two of the case against the governor and explained what both sides’ legal strategy means.
By now, most people have heard that the governor’s been indicted, but understanding why gets a little trickier. We looked at all the angles with Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News, Peggy Fikac of the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News and Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune.
Meanwhile, the events in Ferguson, Missouri have held the nation’s attention. We explored one of the questions it’s raised about the militarization of police.
Aug 21st - 8:21 pm
First, we got an update on where money for the governor’s defense team is coming from and how the state attorney general’s office is involved. We also heard from Gov. Perry’s attorneys, who are getting out ahead of talk that an investigation into the state’s top cancer fighting agency may be linked to the governor’s indictment. Progress Texas PAC Director Glenn Smith joined us to comment on what the new developments mean for Texas Democrats.
At the center of all this is the agency charged with investigating state corruption. We checked in on how the Public Integrity Unit is faring now, one year after having its funding zeroed out by the governor.Plus, Rep. David Simpson discussed past Republican efforts to take the PIU out of the county’s hands entirely, and whether lawmakers will attempt to move it under the control of the attorney general’s office next session.
BACK ON THE ROAD
Meanwhile, the governor isn’t letting a little legal trouble slow him down. We checked in on the latest stop in his nationwide re-branding tour and heard from political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi.
Aug 21st - 1:30 pm
The group overseeing the University of Texas System has officially approved Admiral William McRaven as the next chancellor.
The UT Board of Regents approved his appointment at a scheduled meeting today. McRaven will be paid $1.2 million per year to oversee nine universities and six health institutions spread across the state. In a prepared statement, McRaven thanked the regents for their support and praised the current chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa, for his leadership. He added:
“Great universities not only teach—they educate, they build leaders, they create thinkers, and doers—across every aspect of life. This university system should be known for producing tomorrow’s leaders in every field of endeavor.”
Admiral McRaven is a Navy SEAL who has headed the U.S. Special Operations Command since 2011. He led the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden and is a UT graduate who delivered the 2014 UT commencement address. McRaven beat out finalist Richard Fisher, the CEO of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. The board voted to make him a non-salaried UT system employee starting in December, when he’ll begin his term as Chancellor-Designate. He’s then set to replace Cigarroa, who announced in February he would step down from the position, at the start of 2015.
McRaven’s appointment is the first of several major changes coming to the University. After pressure — and threats of firing — from Cigarroa, UT Austin President Bill Powers announced he would resign in 2015. The board is in the early stages of searching for Powers’ replacement.
Aug 21st - 10:06 am
Gov. Rick Perry’s defense team is refuting claims the governor targeted the Travis County Public Integrity unit because its CPRIT investigation.
In a conference call Thursday, attorney Tony Buzbee read from an affidavit signed by a former PIU investigator in charge of the CPRIT investigation. He states that “at no time in the CPRIT investigation was Governor Rick Perry or anyone from the Governor’s office a target.” The investigator, identified as Chris Walling, said he was interviewed by special prosecutor Michael McCrum. Walling said, “I made it clear to him that there was absolutely no evidence even suggesting wrongdoing on the part of Governor Perry.”
Perry was indicted last week on felony charges that he coerced a public official and abused his office. The charges stem from Perry’s 2013 threat to veto $7.5 million for the PIU if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to resign following a drunk driving conviction.
Democrats have pointed to the CPRIT investigation as a possible motive for Gov. Perry to force Lehmberg, who is a Democrat, out of office. However the Travis County Democratic Party has not said the unit was investigating Perry, specifically.
“Probably the worst political issue about this whole thing is that he actually vetoed those funds while the Public Integrity Unit was investigating the cancer research funds that mysteriously went to some of their donors without the proper vetting process,” said chairman Joe Deshotel.
Perry defense attorney Ben Ginsburg called the accusations “a red herring Democrats are trying to make float upstream.”
Aug 20th - 7:51 pm
The significance of the indictment is still being debated, even among the reporters who know the story well. We sat down with two journalists who’ve come to different conclusions about it: Erica Grieder of Texas Monthly and Texas Observer writer Christopher Hooks.
FOOTING THE BILL
When it comes to legal representation, there’s no question that the governor has hired some of the best. But who’s going to pay for it and for how long? The Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg gave us an update on the efforts to find out.