Thursday, November 26, 2015

Since leaving the race, Perry has not publicly expressed any openness to resuming his campaign. He has made a handful of...

Posted by Texas Tribune on Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

In Texas, Turkey Hunting is On the Decline

Americans will consume roughly 46 million turkeys this Thanksgiving. And here in Texas, some will hunt their own. Last fall, Texas hunters brought home 19,600 wild turkeys, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 

On your Turkey Day, take a gander at Texas' biggest game bird — from population trends to record-setting hunts.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Rattlesnakes, Refugees, Planned Parenthood and Ted Cruz


On this week's TribCast, Emily talks to Evan, Patrick and Edgar about Ag Commissioner Sid Miller's infamous Facebook post, Ted Cruz's antics in first-test Iowa and Planned Parenthood's lawsuit against the state of Texas. 

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Pro-Cruz Super PACs Focus on Ground Game, Wait on TV

The four main super PACs backing the presidential bid of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were sitting on nearly $38 million at the end of June — second only in the GOP field to the super PAC backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

That money, mostly courtesy of four rich donors, could buy a lot of air time in Iowa, New Hampshire and the other early primary and caucus states.

But for the time being, officials with those pro-Cruz super PACs say they aren't in any rush to start a television blitz despite perceived signals from Cruz's campaign that such support would be welcome. The super PACs point out that blowing money early on TV time hasn't helped candidates like Bush, who's losing ground despite the fact that his campaign and super PAC have reportedly unloaded $20 million on the air.

Instead, Cruz's allies are putting their money into his ground game, convinced that hiring field staff and getting state operations up and running are — for now at least — wiser investments on the path to the GOP nominating convention next summer.

"We'll see everybody in Cleveland," said Toby Neugebauer, whose $10 million funded one of the pro-Cruz super PACs. 

None of this means the super PACs are ruling out TV advertising. Their assessment appears to be that Cruz is doing just fine: His stock is rising across the country, especially in Iowa, where his own campaign has so far spent $315,000 on TV and radio ads.

"It's more of a question of sequence then substitution," said Kellyanne Conway, president of Keep the Promise I, one of the pro-Cruz super PACs. “We’re prepared to deploy our TV ads long before the March primaries.” 

From the get-go, the pro-Cruz super PAC setup has been unconventional. While most candidates have one super PAC backing them, Cruz has four under the same umbrella — each named some iteration of "Keep the Promise" and each largely funded by wealthy individuals. In addition to Neugebauer, New York hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer has donated $11 million to one of the groups, and West Texas fracking billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks have contributed $15 million to another. 

Campaigns and super PACs are prohibited by law from coordinating their efforts. That means they are left to read each other's tea leaves if they want complementary strategies.

Among those tea leaves: In July, several hours of footage were uploaded to a YouTube account affiliated with Cruz, including interviews with members of his family that could have easily factored into biographical TV ads introducing Cruz to voters. 

Earlier this month, the overture seemed to got more explicit. A Politico story on his super PACs reported that the "total absence of ads has created confusion and growing consternation inside the Cruz campaign," and quoted a Cruz adviser joking that the super PACs appeared to be "waiting so their media buyers make the highest commission." 

"The impact that had on me was zero," Neugebauer said of the Politico story, adding that he does not believe any of the reporter's sources were senior campaign officials. 

He's not the only person involved in the super PACs who scoffs at the idea that the groups need to be scooping up TV time right away. Conway said TV advertising at this point in the election cycle "has benefited nobody but the consultants who took a big percentage on the buys." 

"You can try to move numbers with TV, but when you have 14 to 15 candidates in the race, and all of them have super PACs, it gets really, really noisy," added former South Carolina state Rep. Dan Tripp, who is working for another of the similarly named groups, Keep the Promise PAC, in his home state. "The advertising gets very inefficient.” 

The super PACs' focus on the ground game over TV became further apparent on Monday when Keep the Promise PAC announced it had hired 14 paid staffers to organize for Cruz in South Carolina, with Tripp serving as the state director. The hires represent the biggest expansion yet into a state by a pro-Cruz super PAC and give Cruz allies a serious foothold in a state that could be a springboard into the March 1 primaries, when several mostly southern states are set to vote in what is being dubbed the "SEC primary." 

Laura Barnett, a spokeswoman for Keep the Promise PAC, said the group believes building a ground game is currently the "wisest investment of our resources, given where we stand and given how large the field still is." She declined to comment on whether Keep the Promise PAC had any plans to invest in TV time.

In Iowa, the Keep the Promise family is also emphasizing its ground game. Keep the Promise I will have six staffers in the state by the end of the week, with plans to ultimately have 10, according to a spokeswoman for the group, Kristina Hernandez. Jeff King — the son of U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican — is leading the field program in the state for Keep the Promise I.

Conway, the head of that super PAC, said it is prepared to build field operations much deeper into the primary calendar, including in Nevada and the SEC primary states.

There is some peril to waiting too long to reserve TV time, a fact the pro-Cruz groups appeared to acknowledge in a presentation to donors that surfaced in July.

"Television rates start to skyrocket in December, making it impossible for candidates to define themselves and their views," the presentation read. "... by January, there is limited space at any price." 

The same presentation made reference to a possible TV ad blast "in key primary states around the first debate," which was held Aug. 6 in Cleveland. Nearly three months later, there are no signs the ads ever materialized. 

At at least one point, the Lubbock-based media-buying firm Landtroop Strategies appeared to be involved in the super PACs' advertising plans. The CEO and founder of the firm, Cathy Landtroop, said Tuesday that Landtroop Strategies did some consulting for the pro-Cruz groups "early on," specifically for TV and radio. She declined to comment further. 

A promotional booklet the firm put online a month ago says, “This cycle, we were retained to strategize and build an effective and efficient media buy for multiple states on behalf of Keep the Promise, Ted Cruz’s super PAC. The starting budget was $38 million."

Conway said super PAC officials are monitoring ad inventory daily and are not concerned about missing out. Her Keep the Promise I is the only super PAC in the network that has been on TV since its launch — it ran a single ad during the University of Iowa-Iowa State football game in September. Otherwise, the group's paid media efforts have so far centered on a $1 million radio ad campaign focused on Christian and conservative networks and shows. 

In recent weeks, those spots have been criticized by the head of a relatively tiny pro-Cruz super PAC that is separate from the Keep the Promise network. The group, Courageous Conservatives PAC, has drawn attention for its willingness to go after Marco Rubio, the presidential hopeful chasing Cruz in the polls. 

The Courageous Conservatives PAC has spent just under $50,000 on ads so far in Iowa, according to strategist Rick Shaftan, who has made no secret of his disdain for how Keep the Promise I is pitching Cruz on the radio. 

"They have these ads out nationally that are just dreadful. They're just horrible ads," Shaftan said. "That's why we created this PAC, why we've been aggressively out there." 

The Keep the Promise groups welcome any additional help, they say, but draw a distinction between their $38 million juggernaut and the relative newcomer super PAC, which launched Sept. 16.

"Keep the Promise has one goal: to elect Sen. Cruz president of the United States," Conway said in a statement Monday. "Others want their 15 minutes of fame; we want him in the White House for 8 years."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Vista Ridge Parent Company Enters Pre-Bankruptcy

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comment.

The financially troubled Spanish company whose subsidiary is under contract with the city of San Antonio to build a massive water pipeline entered into the initial phases of bankruptcy proceedings Wednesday, raising questions about the viability of the controversial project. 

Seville-based Abengoa Sociedad Anónima, which has been struggling for a year with high debts, began insolvency proceedings Wednesday after a possible investor said it would not infuse the engineering and renewable energy firm with additional cash, according to a Reuters report.

Meanwhile, the company’s subsidiary, Abengoa Vista Ridge LLC, still is expected to build a 142-mile water pipeline that would transport more than 16 billion gallons of water per year to San Antonio from Central Texas’ Burleson County. Last week, the City Council unanimously — albeit cautiously — approved a sizable water rate increase to help pay for the $3.4 billion project.

San Antonio Water System President and CEO Robert Puente said in a statement Wednesday that Abengoa SA's "debt restructuring is not expected to impact the Vista Ridge pipeline project." 

"The Abengoa Vista Ridge project is financially independent and legally separate from the holding company in Spain," the former state lawmaker said. "That means the San Antonio Vista Ridge project will continue to move forward.”

But councilman Ron Nirenberg said Wednesday that “the timing is very surprising and, frankly, concerning,” noting that he met with Abengoa officials three weeks ago to discuss the company’s shaky finances and was given “direct assurances of their rebound" and, thus, ability to proceed with the project. 

"This will clearly test the theory of whether or not the child can survive without the parent," he said.

Abengoa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While Nirenberg has voted with his colleagues to approve the Abengoa subsidiary contract and the water rate increase, he has remained skeptical amid lingering concerns about the project, including Abengoa’s deteriorating financial status. 

In August, credit rating agency Moody’s announced it was considering downgrading Abengoa’s credit rating, which already is low. The company also was hit this year with a class-action lawsuit alleging that it misrepresented the state of its balance sheet to investors. 

Its stocks plunged by more than half on Wednesday, according to the Reuters report. Companies that begin pre-insolvency proceedings have four months under Spanish law to reach an agreement with creditors to avoid full-blown insolvency and a potential bankruptcy, the report noted.

But Puente and other San Antonio officials, including Mayor Ivy Taylor, have dismissed the potential impact if Abengoa defaults or goes bankrupt, saying it — and its ratepayers — are protected under the contract, unanimously approved last year by City Council. For example, if Abengoa has to terminate the agreement early, it will owe the city up to $2 million.

“We made sure through last year’s negotiations that financial protections were built into the Vista Ridge project to insulate SAWS customers from risk," Puente said in his Wednesday statement.

Nirenberg said the utility was convening an emergency meeting to discuss the issue. 

While the news raises questions about whether the project will come to fruition, Nirenberg said his assumption — for now — is that it will. 

“We have other options, but our pursuit of long-term water security needs to be all-of-the-above, and that’s why we pursued Vista Ridge and we’ll pursue it ‘til it doesn’t happen,” he said.

Disclosure: The San Antonio Water System was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2010. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Most K-12 textbooks gloss over or ignore some of the more tragic aspects of Native American history.

Posted by HuffPost Politics on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Proof That American Teachers Are Underappreciated

Here's actual, factual proof that teachers in the U.S. are overworked and underpaid.

Posted by The Huffington Post on Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

State health officials last month informed all Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas that they will be dropped as...

Posted by Austin American-Statesman on Monday, November 23, 2015

Texas asked women for a fight.Women are giving them a righteous war.

Posted by Mother Jones on Monday, November 23, 2015

Adler said some Austin residents are concerned about accepting refugees after the terrorist attacks in Paris because...

Posted by Austin American-Statesman on Monday, November 23, 2015

The family of the Irving teen who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school has sent letters demanding apologies — and $15 million in damages.

Posted by Texas Tribune on Monday, November 23, 2015

"When asked to name the biggest issue American families face, respondents did not pick economic related issues, such as...

Posted by Intellectual Takeout on Monday, November 23, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

The executive director of the United Urban Alumni Association, Gerry Monroe claims Jeff Davis and Madison High Schools are charging Medicaid for services for Special Ed students, that aren`t being rendered.

Posted by NewsFix Houston on Friday, November 20, 2015

Volunteers with Serve San Marcos and the St. Bernard's Project joined Texas State students and the United Way of Hays County to help on Friday.

Posted by The KVUE Insider on Friday, November 20, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The ordinance goes into effect in February 2016, with a one-month grace period before officers start issuing tickets.

Posted by The KVUE Insider on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bigotry & Betrayal at Meyerland Democratic Club meeting?

Bigotry & Betrayal at Meyerland Democratic Club meeting?

7 examples for stronger classroom management.

Posted by Edutopia on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Brief: Perry Criminal Case Takes Important Turn

The Big Conversation

The criminal case against Rick Perry hits a potentially definitive turning point today as a challenge to the remaining felony charge against him is heard this morning by the state's highest criminal appeals court.

The Tribune's Patrick Svitek has the rundown, writing, "The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in the case at 9 a.m. in downtown Austin, a two-hour proceeding that could lead to the remaining charge against Perry being dismissed — or to the case moving closer to trial. The court is not expected to immediately rule Wednesday, but the hearing could be key in shaping the fate of a case that has dogged Perry for more than 15 months."

The case arises from Perry's 2013 veto of funding for the Public Integrity Unit, which at the time was housed in the Travis County District Attorney's Office. Perry used the threat of a veto in an attempt to convince DA Rosemary Lehmberg to resign following a drunk driving conviction.

The case centers on whether Perry's action constitutes an impermissible overstepping of his authority, as the prosecution asserts, or whether the actions were in keeping with his duties as the state's chief executive, as the defense asserts.

Svitek notes that the state has also challenged the ruling "because it struck down a part of the Texas penal code that defines coercion." In addition, the defense received permission to give some of its time to a University of California, Los Angeles professor who has written that the leftover allegation "unconstitutionally intrudes on the governor's veto power."

Trib Must Reads

Sexual Assault Inquiry Presents Conundrum for Texas A&M, by Matthew Watkins – For years, universities were pressured by the federal government to do more about sexual assault on campus. Now, Texas A&M University is being investigated for allegations that it went too far. 

Analysis: Chasing the News, for Better and for Worse, by Ross Ramsey – Greg Abbott and two dozen other governors have latched onto the headlines — and a fair amount of public support — with their words against resettling Syrian refugees in Texas. It's a popular position — for now.

UT-Austin Officials to Review Dustup at Israeli Studies Event, by Matthew Watkins – University of Texas at Austin administrators are reviewing an on-campus confrontation between a Palestinian rights student group and attendees of an on-campus event hosted by the university's Institute for Israeli Studies last Friday.

Report Recommends Police Reform Mental Health Policies, by Johnathan Silver – Holding up San Antonio as an example, a report released Tuesday by the Vera Institute of Justice recommends law enforcement agencies change their practices regarding mental illness, sex workers and addiction.

In Dallas, Clinton Hits Sanders on Health Care, Taxes, by Patrick Svitek – Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a boisterous rally in Dallas Tuesday to offer a thinly veiled critique of Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders, suggesting his health-care proposals would undermine efforts to reform the system.  

Refugee Nonprofits: Texas Response is What ISIS Would Want, by Alexa Ura – A day after about half of the country’s governors promised to block Syrian refugees from resettling in their states, religious and nonprofit leaders warned that those actions could have a dramatic impact on refugee resettlement.

Red River Landowners Take Battle with Feds to Court, by Jim Malewitz – Tired of waiting on lawmakers and bureaucrats to clear up their limbo, a group of North Texans has turned to the courts in an effort to reclaim thousands of acres of ranch and farmland along the Texas side of the Red River.

The Day Ahead

•   The House Committee on County Affairs will meet at 11:15 a.m. to address how the Texas Department of Public Safety records race during traffic stops along with recommendations on changes to current procedures. Also, the committee will talk about jail suicides as well as changes to screening forms for inmates when they enter jail.

•   Vice President Joe Biden will discuss national infrastructure investment with Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Dallas Mayor Michael Rawlings at two separate events — at noon in Houston and at 2:45 p.m. in Dallas.


Study: Dallas, Collin Shoppers face biggest Obamacare price hikes if they don't switch, The Dallas Morning News

Ted Cruz explains his challenging path to the GOP nominationThe Washington Post

Central Texas health plans severs ties with Seton in rate disputeAustin American-Statesman

Lawmaker asks Texas AG Ken Paxton: Can Texas refuse Syrian refugees?The Dallas Morning News

Texas Republicans target refugee funding after Paris attacksHouston Chronicle

AP Exclusive: Big Texas welcome for Google self-driving cars, The Associated Press

Roger Williams Faces Questions on Auto Dealer Provision, Center for Public Integrity

Dallas County officials approve hiring policy that delays criminal history questionsThe Dallas Morning News

Bell surprises with endorsement of King in mayor runoffHouston Chronicle

Wolff: Post-9/11 adjustments have made Bexar saferSan Antonio Express-News

Which Texas colleges have banned campus carry?Houston Chronicle

Greg Abbott applauds Red River landowners for suing federal governmentThe Dallas Morning News

Legal stakes are complicated for Exxon Mobil in climate change controversyHouston Chronicle

Feds link synthetic drugs to fatal Texas college bus crashFort Worth-Star Telegram

Quote to Note

"Everybody advised me not to do it, but who would best represent me other than me?"

– State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, on his decision to represent himself in court in Montgomery County, where he faces misdemeanor barratry charges. 

Today in TribTalk 

Texas' Rejection of Syrian Refugees Backed by Law, by Matt Krause – If our governor and others thought the Obama administration had an efficient method of screening out potential terrorists from the refugees coming in, there would not be an outcry to deny them entry — after all, Texas has already admitted some Syrian refugees.

Why the Federal Red River Land Grab Matters, by Robert Henneke – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has embedded survey markers on private property along the Red River signifying its claim of federal property. This federal land grab threatens the liberty of all Texans and if the federal government can claim land belonging to people as public property without due process or lawful basis, then private property can no longer be considered a right for any Texan.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A series of conversations about Bridging the Digital Divide on Dec. 4 at Houston Community College

•    A daylong symposium on Cybersecurity and Privacy on Dec. 9 at the University of Texas at San Antonio

•    A conversation about Houston & the Legislature: What's Next? on Dec. 15 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

•    A conversation with former White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove on Dec. 17 at the Austin Club

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

How voter registration could give us debt-free college

How voter registration could give us debt-free college

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Feds to Ask High Court to Consider Immigration Program

The Obama administration said Tuesday that it would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a controversial immigration program the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down on Monday.

The program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, would shield more than 4 million undocumented immigrants in the country from deportation proceedings and allow them to apply for a three-year work permit.

On Monday, the 5th Circuit upheld a February decision by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville. Hanen halted the program after ruling the Obama administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act governing how federal regulations are made.

“The Department of Justice remains committed to taking steps that will resolve the immigration litigation as quickly as possible in order to allow [the Department of Homeland Security] to bring greater accountability to our immigration system by prioritizing the removal of the worst offenders, not people who have long ties to the United States and who are raising American children,” Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in a statement. “The Department disagrees with the 5th Circuit’s adverse ruling and intends to seek further review from the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who has taken over the case originally filed by former Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is now the governor — said his office was ready for the next battle.

“Three times federal courts have ruled in our favor, and we stand ready to continue defending the rule of law against the president's unlawful abuse of executive power,” Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said in an email.

Meyer said Texas and the 25 other states that have joined the lawsuit will have 30 days to respond to the administration's petition to the Supreme Court once it is filed.

Abbott’s office said it had nothing to add on Tuesday but on Monday said the appellate court's ruling "is a vindication for the rule of law and the Constitution."

Proponents of the DAPA program say timing is critical. If the high court decides to hear the case and rules in the administration’s favor, that decision could come as late as June. That would leave about six months before Obama leaves office and could affect how many applicants take advantage of the program.

“Further delaying the implementation of these programs only harms the country by forgoing a cumulative $230 billion added to our gross domestic product over a decade, the creation of tens of thousands of jobs each year, and a significant increase in the wages of all workers,” Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, said in a statement. “Enough slowing down sound legal action; the Supreme Court should take up this case as soon as possible so that the country can reap all of the benefits that would come from these crucial initiatives.”

Texas Tribune reporter Abby Livingston contributed to this report. 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Report: Veteran Mental Health Ignored in Capital Cases

Veterans sentenced to death in Texas murder cases — and nationwide — might have escaped the punishment if juries had been told about their military service and any ensuing mental health problems, according to a Death Penalty Information Center report released Tuesday.

About 300 veterans are on death rows across the country, Richard C. Dieter, the center's senior program director, found in his report “Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty," released on the eve of Veterans Day. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says it knows of 15 Texas death row inmates who are veterans. 

“PTSD is not an excuse for all criminal acts, but it is a serious mental and emotional disorder that should be a strong mitigating factor against imposing the death penalty,” Dieter says. But often juries, judges and even a defendant's own lawyer might not know about a veteran's mental condition, he said.

The report cites several examples of veterans who have been executed or sentenced to death in Texas with little or no consideration of their mental state.

  • Vietnam War veteran Robert Black was executed in 1992 for killing his wife. His trial attorneys knew about his PTSD diagnosis but did not present the evidence out of fear it would hurt his case.
  • In 1995, Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr. kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed a woman from Goodfellow Air Force Base. He did not have a criminal record. He was executed in 2003. Jones was exposed to nerve gas in Iraq and suffered post-traumatic stress, according to attorneys.
  • Timothy Adams was executed in 2011 for shooting and killing his son after his wife threatened to leave him. He was a veteran with no previous criminal record. His mental state related to service is not available.
  • Cleve Foster was executed for rape and murder in 2012. His attorneys did not investigate his military service background, but he was diagnosed with PTSD.
  • Death row inmate John Thuesen, who killed his ex-girlfriend and her brother, was sentenced to death in 2010. He is awaiting a ruling on whether he will receive a new trial after a Brazos County District Court judge ruled evidence of his service-related mental illness was not thoroughly presented in his double-murder trial.

Not every veteran has seen combat, said Kathryn Kase, executive director of Texas Defender Service, which represents death row inmates. But those who served and saw combat often face difficulties bringing that information into a trial, she added.

“Part of this is jurors can’t know about military service,” Kase said. “They can’t know if somebody has served his country unless his lawyers actually go and look for that information and obtain the records. And the further back it is, the more difficult it is to obtain complete records.”

But military experience should factor into consideration of a defendant's mental state in capital cases, Kase said. “That ought to be taken into account before we decide whether they should live or die.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Monday, November 9, 2015

“We need to reduce property taxes. The way you do that is by keeping the growth of local governments — city, county and schools — below population and inflation (rates),” Patrick told the American-Statesman

Posted by Austin American-Statesman on Monday, November 9, 2015

Saturday, November 7, 2015

KVUE's Andy Pierrotti - Reporter along with photographers Matt Olsen and Derek Rasor won an Emmy Saturday for their...

Posted by The KVUE Insider on Saturday, November 7, 2015

How to Take Care of Feral Cat Colonies During Winter

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Closer Look at Turnout for Tuesday's Election

About 430,000 more Texans voted Tuesday than in the 2013 constitutional election. Hear more about turnout and see how many Texans voted — by county — on Proposition 7, which directed more money to the state highway fund. Video: Alana Rocha / Interactive: Miles Hutson

Posted by Texas Tribune on Wednesday, November 4, 2015

TCU student Lydia Longoria for TribTalk: "Feminists should be the biggest proponents of campus carry because denying...

Posted by Texas Tribune on Wednesday, November 4, 2015

2015 Tribune Festival: Videos of the Keynote Sessions

During the keynote sessions of the 2015 Texas Tribune Festival, we featured one-on-one conversations with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. There were also panel discussions on the 2016 race, homeland security and much more. Scroll down to watch video of each of our 13 keynote sessions.


One on One With Dan Patrick


Big Cities, Big Challenges


Can the Center Hold?


One on One With Joe Straus


Homeland Security Begins at Home


One on One With Nancy Pelosi


Their Last Sine Die


America's Place in the World


You're Welcome America: Texas in 2050


One on One With Lawrence Lessig


Really, How Conservative Was the 84th Session?


Make 2016 Great Again


One on One With Julián Castro



This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Commission Begins Study of Wrongful Convictions

Richard Miles was 19 years old when Dallas police officers picked him up, placed him in the back of a squad car and drove him to the scene of a shooting, where an eyewitness identified him as the man who had killed a driver and severely injured his passenger.

Miles denied it. He detailed his whereabouts the night of May 16, 1994. But Miles matched the description of a man who fled the scene, according to the same witness. He'd end up spending more than a decade in prison.

Miles told that story Thursday, during the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission’s first meeting.

“I was merely walking home,” he said, “and my life completely changed.”

Timothy Cole, the commission’s namesake, shares a similar story, wrongfully convicted in a rape case that led to a 25-year prison sentence. He died in prison but was posthumously exonerated, thanks to DNA evidence.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill in June creating the commission, which is charged for one year with studying exonerations since Jan. 1, 2010, to identify what went wrong and recommend how to prevent future wrongful convictions. Cole’s family was present Thursday to see an audio slideshow and video paying him tribute, and commissioners began a conversation about what they’d like to accomplish.

The 11-member commission includes state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, Chairman and state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller in her capacity as chair of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

Legislators who long pushed for the commission's creation, state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-Houston, and state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, told commissioners they are moving a step closer to ensuring justice in Texas.

“This is a breakthrough moment in the history of Texas criminal justice,” McClendon said, adding that victims of crime deserve closure based on truth, and that taxpayer money should not be wasted on getting it wrong in the criminal justice system. “I urge you to make the utmost of the time and the talent available to carry out this mission. And we have talent that’s just magnificent.”

Commissioners should ask “probative questions” to advance the mission, Ellis said.

“‘What lessons can we learn?’” he said, adding that criminal justice reform is an effort politicians from both parties are getting behind. “You do not have to have a 'D' or an 'R' in front of your name.”

Commissioners discussed their discretion to probe weaknesses in the criminal justice system, suggesting that videotaped confessions and line-up irregularities are among among topics for review. They are also keeping abreast of updates regarding the interpretation of mixed DNA and the implementation of recommendations from the 2010 Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions.

Miles asked the commission to study protecting evidence at the time of an arrest, witness validity, resources available for public defenders and relief opportunities post-conviction.

Dallas County prosecutors built a case against Miles around one witness’ testimony and evidence of gunpowder residue on Miles’ right hand, though other witnesses said he didn’t commit the crime. Miles testified that he had never held a gun and the matches he used to smoke likely produced chemicals that resembled the residue.

Miles was convicted in 1995 of murder and attempted murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison. A 1997 appeal attempt in 1997 failed, but a nonprofit organization that investigates wrongful convictions dug up police reports that weren’t disclosed to Miles’ legal team. Because of backlog, it took 10 years for the group to begin work on Miles’ case.

“I had 60 years,” he said, “so I had nowhere to go.”

Anthony Graves — who himself was exonerated of a 1992 murder because of false testimony — said the commission is just the first step. The legislature and governor have to act, too, he said.

“The Legislature has to act on those recommendations," he said. "Otherwise, it’s goodwill going to waste.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Monday, November 2, 2015

Drilling Not Root of San Antonio Smog, State Says

SAN ANTONIO — As San Antonio grapples with curbing a steady rise in ozone levels, state environmental officials are telling the Alamo City not to worry about how drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale is contributing to the problem.

Downplaying the impact of oil and gas drilling, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Chairman Bryan Shaw emphasized repeatedly on Monday that the state wants to “strike a balance” between protecting the environment and business as it helps the city figure out what to do about its ozone levels.

The nation’s seventh largest city is poised to become the last major city in Texas to be slapped with “nonattainment” status by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — and, with it, additional federal regulation and enforcement — because its ozone levels exceed the federal standard.

It was already on track to exceed the old limit of 75 parts-per-billion, which it had hovered below prior to 2012, according to the agency. When the Obama administration last month finalized a more-stringent 70 parts-per-billion maximum that San Antonio has not met in decades, it effectively guaranteed that the city would be found out of compliance.

Any nonattainment designation for the city would come in late 2017, according to state officials. As local officials devise policies to curb ozone levels between now and then, the question of what is causing them to rise has become the subject of more research. 

A few years ago, a report by the Alamo Area Council of Governments suggested shale drilling played a sizable role in the city’s ozone creep — a connection local officials started looking into amid the now-dampened oil and gas boom.

But the council is expected to soon release another report suggesting that shale drilling now plays a smaller role in the city’s ozone levels, said Steven Smeltzer, the council's environmental manager. That's not because there is no causal connection between drilling and ozone-causing emissions like nitrogen oxides, he said, but because the number of drilling rigs has dropped by more than half in recent years.

The real culprit in ozone pollution, though, has been traffic and tailpipe emissions, state environmental officials told local residents and organizations at an open house on the north side of town, making no mention of the drilling slowdown. 

“Emissions from oil and gas operations are sporadic; They’re localized in nature rather than widespread,” said Shaw, citing research he described as "preliminary." The agency is continuing to collect data on the issue, he said.

Asked whether the drilling slowdown played a role in lower ozone levels registered at a monitoring station closest to the 400-mile swath known as the Eagle Ford Shale, which brushes the southern tip of the San Antonio metropolitan area, Air Quality Division Director David Brymer said in an interview that numbers show it was on the decline even before that.

San Antonio City Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who spoke Monday before Shaw and two other TCEQ commissioners, said in an interview that local research "increasingly points toward" activities like shale drilling, energy production for the municipal electric utility and industrial activity like cement production — rather than cars and trucks — as the cause of rising ozone levels.

All contributing factors — including shale drilling — should be accounted for in what will have to be a multi-faceted approach to improving air quality, he said. "Emissions reductions across the board are in our best interest," he said.

In keynote speeches Monday, Brymer and the head of TCEQ’s toxicology division also presented research they said debunks the public health risks associated with higher levels of ozone — a pollutant known to worsen asthma, lung disease and heart conditions — while also contending that levels would improve even if the city did nothing.

“Your air quality is good and getting better,” said Michael Honeycutt, director of the agency’s toxicology division, whose presentation also touched on a decline in benzene levels and apparent inaccuracies of ozone monitoring.

A person would have to exercise vigorously for more than six hours in 95-degree weather with 72 parts-per-billion ozone levels before his or her ability to breath would be impacted, Honeycutt explained in his presentation. Even then, he said, the effect on the ability to exhale would be minimal — 10 percent — and quickly would wear off after a period of rest.

TCEQ officials have not been shy in their opposition to the new federal ozone standards that San Antonio — with ozone levels of about 80 parts-per-billion — and every other major Texas city do not meet.

In 2013, the TCEQ hired an industry-friendly consulting firm, Massachusetts-based Gradient, to help it build a case questioning the public health benefits of reducing smog levels in the state’s big cities — benefits that the vast majority of experts say would be significant. (The agency recently renewed its contract with that firm. It now is also looking into the public health impacts of arsenic.)

Groups like the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics support even stricter ozone standards than the 70 parts per billion-maximum that an EPA scientific panel unanimously approved last year. Standards were last lowered in 2008, the final year of George W. Bush’s presidency.

Still, Shaw said in an interview he is determined to prove the EPA wrong on the new standard.

"There's a lot of data and analysis that would suggest that the (70 parts per billion) standard is more than protective," he said. "There's a lot of things that tell me that ozone is not causing the respiratory issues we have right now. And as long as we continue to think it's ozone, we're missing out on the opportunity to figure out what's really causing those respiratory issues."

That could be "some other emissions that we have that's in the ambient environment or, more likely, what I think is something that's either in our indoor environments — our workplace, our home. People spend 95 percent of their time indoors." 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Texas Delegation Spends Campaign Cash on Presidential Candidates

WASHINGTON — Members of Texas' congressional delegation are making their support for presidential candidates known — in thousand-dollar increments from their own campaign accounts

On the Democratic side, U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Al Green and Gene Green of Houston, and Ruben Hinojosa of Edinburg each contributed $2,000 to Hillary Clinton from their campaign accounts, according to a Texas Tribune review. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, whose twin brother is widely believed to be a vice presidential contender, gave $4,500 in April. 

Among Republicans in the delegation, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio made a $5,000 donation in May to Ted Cruz's campaign. He also donated $2,000 to Scott Walker's campaign in late August, mere weeks before the GOP Wisconsin governor withdrew from the race. 

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis, gave $1,000 to then-candidate Rick Perry in June; Barton, an Aggie friend of Perry's, was the lone member to formally endorse the former Texas governor. 

And U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess of Lewisville donated $2,500 to Cruz's campaign in late September. Burgess endorsed Cruz earlier this year; Smith has not. 

Nothing prevents members of Congress from spending personal cash on candidates. But they can also dip into their campaign and congressional accounts — money they raised to help get re-elected or stay in power — to finance other candidates, including those running for president. 

Members may donate up to $2,000 from their campaign accounts to any given candidate in the primary election and again in the general election. They can donate up to $10,000 from their so-called "leadership PACs" — political action committees created to raise and share money between campaigns. Not all members have leadership PACs. 

In aggregate, these presidential donations from lawmaker campaign accounts currently amount to less than $30,000. But they carry political heft. 

"Getting a contribution from a member of Congress is a show of competitive strength in a competitive primary," Texas Democratic consultant Jason Stanford said.  

This is especially true on the Democratic side, where all members also serve as "super delegates," meaning they have an outsized vote in the presidential nominating process. Having financial skin in the game is a sign of loyalty beyond merely an endorsement; it makes it even more awkward to switch allegiances down the road. 

That said, campaign funds aren't the only way members of Congress have expressed their support for presidential contenders — and endorsements still matter. Democratic Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Filemon Vela of Brownsville have endorsed Clinton. Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Babin of Woodville, John Culberson of Houston Louie Gohmert of Tyler, John Ratcliffe of Heath and Randy Weber of Friendswood have all endorsed Cruz. 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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