All Coverage

Wobbly, but Still in Motion

The specifics keep moving around, but House management still wants to see the tax and school finance bills on the floor for debate by March 7 or 8. That means the committees in control must move the bills next week.

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The Ides of March

Mention March 2006 to political people in Texas, and you'll trigger a conversation about the top of the ballot. But March 2006 — the month of the primaries and, in particular, the Republican primaries — is on the minds of a fair number of legislators who want to remain in office after this term.

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The Longest Day

Picture this day in the Texas House: A major education overhaul, a new business tax (and several other taxes) to pay for it, a vote on property appraisal caps, another on a statewide property tax, and a vote on expanding gaming in Texas to allow high-tech slot machines and dog and horse tracks.

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It Never Hurts to Ask

Can you remember a particular State of the State speech? That's not meant as a slap at Gov. Rick Perry — we're just noting the historical significance of the form. What's useful about these spiels is that they tell you what direction a governor hopes a Legislature will take. It's where Perry said he wanted a reexamination of some death penalty issues four years ago, for instance. This year, his list was devoid of surprises, but gave listeners a sense of his direction. Some highlights:

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It's Only Money

Two weeks ago, the smart guys were betting there'd be $1 billion to $2 billion in red ink in the state's starting budget. Instead, it's in the black, though it will probably swing from one inkwell to the other in the next few weeks.

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Easy as Pie

Piece number one fell into place Monday, when Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced the state's financial fortunes have improved over two years ago and the ugly budget fight that ensued then might be avoided this time around. Budgeteers, nervous about Strayhorn's steady political attacks on Gov. Rick Perry, were braced for worse news. Instead, her numbers were within a hair's breadth of their own predictions about state income.

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The Title is Set, but Not the Tune

Everybody in School Finance Land seems to agree the state needs a new "broad-based business tax" to help buy down local property taxes. You can hear those four words from Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and from House Speaker Tom Craddick. You'll hear them a lot more over the next six months.

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Season's Greetings!

This is the last issue of Texas Weekly for 2004. We're taking two weeks off and will return in the first week of January, in time for the government and political fun to begin all over again. Thanks for your support this year: We appreciate your business and wish you a wonderful holiday season.

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Visions of Sugar Plums

A kind of inertia surfaces in the parlor speculation of political people that follows every big election. Top-of-the-ballot stuff is so well trodden that you can talk about whether She will challenge Him and everybody in Texas knows what you're babbling about. But while most eyes are focused on two of the state's top officeholders, other ambitions are being stoked. No one has declared for anything yet — except for Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Gov. Rick Perry, the only two statewides who say they'll definitely seek reelection — but trial balloons fill the sky.

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The Undead

Three Republicans who apparently lost on Election Day are officially questioning the results, contending the numbers at the bottom of the ledgers in those contests don't reflect the legal votes. A fourth who was considering a challenge decided to let it rest.

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Gifts That Keep on Giving

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and other federal officeholders might be able to use their federal accounts for state races after all. That big fat federal appropriations bill kicked out of Congress in the last few hours before Thanksgiving includes a change in campaign finance law that would allow candidates to transfer money from their federal campaign accounts to state accounts.

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Another Fine Mess

To recall the business half of an old curse, these are interesting times in Texas politics and government. The Texas Legislature is coming back for a regular session in January, faced with the usual stuff. There's a state budget to write, difficult even when everything's humming and it's not. They have business fights to referee: workers' compensation insurance, tort reforms (particularly asbestos), and health insurance for people on the job. The state's health and human services safety net for children and adults is so fouled up that the state agency in charge has been indicted. The agency that oversees that and all other HHS programs is in the middle of a complex and controversial reorganization. Pour on local issues, pet legislative issues, social issues and so on that make up the rest of a regular session and you have a busy time. But that's normal. Look at what else is in the in-box:

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Parsing Votes

When they say it's all over but the shoutin', that's another way of saying it's not over. Voters have done their part, and a handful of Texas House contests are now in the hands of lawyers and election officials. Several close elections involving incumbents still fall short of final outcomes.

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Paint It Red

Texas Republicans won four of the five expensively contested congressional seats on Election Day, grabbing hold of the last cul-de-sac they didn't fully control in the neighborhoods of federal and state government. With the results now in hand, the Texas elephant herd's dominion now includes the White House, both of the state's U.S. Senate seats, the Texas congressional delegation, every statewide elected position in the executive and judicial branches, the state Senate and the state House. Twenty years ago, that landscape was populated mostly by donkeys.

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Eye of the Hurricane

It's a strange thing to be surrounded by an election that has the whole country in a lather while at home, there's no doubt about the outcome at the top of the ticket and — with exceptions for a handful of congressional races — a ballot dominated by personality clashes, professional feuds and local races.

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Red Light

An Austin judge ordered the Associated Republicans of Texas PAC to stop taking, spending, or soliciting any corporate money until after the November 2 election. If the ruling holds — ART is appealing it — it'll mean money from corporations and unions can't be used for any purpose by political action committees that aren't affiliated with them, either directly or through a trade group. And the ruling could have implications in ongoing grand jury investigations of campaign finance in the 2002 elections that put the first Republican majority in the Texas House since Reconstruction.

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Defying Political Gravity

After the 2002 elections, it was obvious to every political wonk with a spreadsheet and a lick of sense that Reps. John Mabry, D-Waco, and Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, were in trouble. They appeared to be downright pre-cooked: Mabry won in Republican territory when his opponent imploded; Mercer won in Democratic territory when his opponent was indicted. The conventional wisdom was (and this is not over yet) that the two politicos would soon be giving up their spots to the rightful owners from the opposing parties. But they're both alive and each has a chance at winning a sophomore legislative term. Their opponents have run sloppy campaigns, they've run good ones, and in Mabry's case, the environment is under the influence of a hotly disputed congressional race.

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The Spoils of War

An old saying: One's an accident, two is a coincidence, and three is a trend. The biggest of the missiles aimed at U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, missed when a congressional panel decided to admonish him in a letter instead of doing something more severe. But they didn't dismiss serious campaign finance charges, choosing instead to put those on hold while prosecutors and grand jurors in Travis County, Texas are still working.

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Unfettered Speculation

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison told a gaggle of reporters this summer that she'd be announcing her political plans early next summer, and aides say nothing has changed since then. The question, of course, is whether she'll run for reelection, run for governor, or give up show biz. None of that is new, and it's no longer news that political people without much to watch in state elections this year are obsessing on that question. But that obsessing, along with worries over the financing of schools and the financing of political campaigns, is producing some weird and interesting ideas about politics in Texas over the next 18 months, through a legislative session and into the 2006 primaries. To wit:

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