Capital Tonight: Lawmakers tout ‘Merry Christmas’ law

It’s OK for Santa to show up at public schools, but what about the phrase “Merry Christmas?”

In Monday’s Capital Tonight, we checked in on a new state law that makes sure teachers don’t have to check twice, plus we got an update on the first day of testimony over whether Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg can keep her job after being arrested for drunk driving earlier this year.

AFTER THE DEADLINE

The campaign filing deadline has come and gone. We spoke to theQuorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg about who’s safe from a challenger and who could have a fight on their hands.

CANDIDATE CONVERSATION

Plus, we sat down with Republican candidate for comptroller, Rep. Harvey Hilderbran.

Capital Tonight: More fallout from cancer research funding scandal

A Travis County grand jury has indicted a former executive of the state’s embattled cancer-fighting agency, known as CPRIT. Jerald Cobbs is charged with withholding information and securing execution of a document by deception, a first degree felony.

The fallout from Cobbs’ involvement in improperly awarding an $11 million grant to a company now known as Peloton Therapeutics could go beyond criminal charges, though. In Friday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at whether the state’s top officeholders could face political repercussions as they vie for higher office.

REPORTER ROUNDTABLE

The online exchange tied to the Affordable Care Act got a shot in the arm this week, but state leaders are already eyeing new complications stemming from the law. Our reporter roundtable weighed in on that and other developments.

CANDIDATE CONVERSATION

Plus, we continued our series of conversations with the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson joined us to talk about gun rights, border security and more.

Former cancer agency executive indicted over $11M grant

A Travis County grand jury has indicted former CPRIT executive Jerald Cobbs regarding an improperly vetted grant to a Dallas-based pharmaceutical company

The indictment charges Cobbs with presenting a grant proposal for Peloton Therapeutics to the agency’s oversight committee in August 2010, without revealing that it hadn’t gone through the agency’s review process. Cobbs is charged with “securing the execution of a document by deception,” a first-degree felony.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas first came under fire in 2012, when an audit revealed the agency doled out more than $50 million outside of the proper channels.

Cobb has since retired from the agency.

 

 

Capital Tonight: Food stamp fight has effect on Central Texas

Lawmakers are working to pass a key piece of legislation before they head on holiday break. The debate is over the farm bill, and the biggest sticking point involves cuts to the $80-billion-a-year food stamp program. As the Congressional fight continues, those who receive the help are already feeling pinched, including many here in Central Texas.

CANDIDATE CONVERSATION

In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we began a series of interviews with the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples joined us to talk about border security and immigration, and to explain his stance on in-state tuition for undocumented students.

CAMPAIGN UPDATE

With Republican Tom Pauken’s announcement that he will withdraw from the race for governor, campaign tactics could soon shift for the remaining candidates. Our Capital Commentators, Harold Cook and Ted Delisi, talked about what presumed frontrunner Greg Abbott could do heading into the March primary election.

Pauken withdraws from governor’s race

Former Republican Party of Texas chairman Tom Pauken has announced he won’t be running in his party’s primary race for governor.

In a letter to supporters, Pauken said the fundraising gap between him and Attorney General Greg Abbott was too great, and that there didn’t appear to be a realistic path to victory.

“Filing deadline is only days away, and I have to be realistic about our prospects. When I first filed our exploratory committee in March, I said at the time that there were certain, minimum objectives we needed to achieve to win the Republican nomination: (1) We had to raise a minimum of $2 million; (2) We had to build a strong, statewide organization; (3) We had to develop a major social media presence in a short period of time.

Even though I have worked hard to get our message out across the state the past six months, unfortunately we are nowhere near where we need to be financially and organizationally to win this race.” 

As of their last fundraising reports, Abbot’s campaign claimed more than $22 million in cash on hand, compared to just over $200,000 for Pauken. Abbott released a statement shortly after Pauken’s announcement, praising him for his public service.

“As a Vietnam veteran, a member of the Reagan Administration, former Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and head of the Texas Workforce Commission, Tom has dedicated his career to public service and advancing conservatism. Tom has been an insightful and effective voice for common-sense solutions in Texas. In the race for Governor, Tom offered thoughtful ideas in areas such as vocational education and workforce development. I thank him for his valuable contributions to the race, and I look forward to working together with him to build an even better Texas.”

Pauken hasn’t said what he plans to do next, but promised to continue work to end “insider cronyism” and to “fight for our founding principles.”

Capital Tonight: Dewhurst pushes for increased border security funding

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is praising tighter border security measures and pushing to make them permanent. Texas Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw joined Dewhurst at the Capitol Wednesday, to announce that the most recent three-week increase in land, air and water surveillance was effective in curbing crimes by drug cartels and stopping smuggling across the border.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at whether the so-called surge can get long-term support in spite of $60 million in funding needs and a history of local criticism.

ON THE AGENDA

The Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg joined us to talk about the strategy House Speaker John Boehner may be taking on immigration reform.

FUNDING THE FUTURE

Plus, a new study suggests child poverty in Texas has increased over the last decade, even as the economy improved. The director for Kids Count, Frances Deviney, joined us to break down the data and talk about how to reverse it.

Capital Tonight: Abbott campaign pivots toward education issues

The race for the state’s top spot is now focusing in on education. Attorney General Greg Abbott kicked off a series of classroom roundtables this week, marking the first time the Republican frontrunner in the race for governor has zeroed in on the topic. It’s an issue Senator Wendy Davis — the lead Democrat in the race — has been campaigning on since the beginning.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at where the candidates stand on the issue, and what they’ve said in the past.

ENROLLING TEXAS

The White House is reporting over a million people visited the healthcare.gov website Monday, on the first full business day after a series of repairs. Government officials now say the federal online health insurance exchange is now functioning 90 percent of the time.

We spoke with Mimi Garcia of Enroll America about their efforts to get the word out about health insurance options through the Affordable Care Act in states like Texas, where the federally created website is the only one available.

CAPITAL COMMENTATORS

Plus, our Capital Commentators, Harold Cook and Ted Delisi, joined us to look at what’s next for the Affordable Care Act and how Republicans and Democrats will position themselves around the law.

Capital Tonight: Checking up on the federal enrollment website

White House officials are touting fixes to the online health insurance exchange nearly two months after a botched rollout on October 1. The Obama administration says 175,000 people logged onto healthcare.gov before noon Monday, the first full business day since a self-imposed deadline to fix a host of problems.

In Monday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at whether the changes are noticeable in Texas, where a number of groups are working to get people enrolled and get the word out.

ON THE AGENDA

The campaign filing deadline is one week away, and it could mean some last-minute scrambling for a few candidates. The Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg joined us to explain why.

CANDIDATE CONVERSATION

Plus, we sat down with Republican gubernatorial candidate Miriam Martinez. Click the image below to hear about Martinez’s unique background and her thoughts on immigration reform, the Republican party and more.

Capital Tonight: Challenges continue for health care law

The U.S. Supreme Court is stepping in to referee another dispute over the Affordable Care Act. This time, they’ll be hearing arguments over the part of the law that requires most employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans for employees.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we spoke to advocates for both sides of the issue, who say the outcome will go far beyond any one company.

CANDIDATE CONVERSATION

Libertarian candidate for governor, Kathie Glass, joined us to share her political vision beyond the two-party system, including why property taxes should be one of the first things on the chopping block.

NEW DEADLINE LOOMS

When Congress returns to Washington after the Thanksgiving break, budget negotiators will have to scramble to strike a deal to avoid yet another round of steep, automatic spending cuts.

Capital Tonight: One-on-one with Sen. Van de Putte

For the first time in its history, Texas could see two women running the state. Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte have both announced that they’re making a bid for statewide office. It’s a move Democrats hope will help them make their case to more women voters, but Republicans say the values of their party are still very much aligned with those of Texas women.

In Monday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at how the two major parties are working to make their case to women, plus we sat down with Sen. Van de Putte to talk more about her bid for lieutenant governor.

ON THE AGENDA

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has chosen David Reisman as its new chief compliance officer. Reisman currently heads up the Texas Ethics Commission, which enforces campaign finance laws.

The Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg joined us to talk about that development and more.

ELECTRIC TENSION

The Public Utility Commission is drawing fire from members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee after setting up a move toward a different form of payment for electricity providers, known as capacity payments. They say the new system would encourage private generators to build up more resources to guard against blackouts, but the Senate committee’s chairman, Sen. Troy Fraser, says the current system is already designed to meet demand, and that the commission is simply overstepping its authority.