February 15, 2019

Lead Stories

New York Times - February 15, 2019

Trump plans national emergency to build border wall as Congress passes spending bill

President Trump will declare a national emergency as early as Friday to bypass Congress and build his long-promised wall along the nation’s southwestern border even as he agreed to sign a spending package that does not finance it, White House officials said Thursday.

The announcement came just minutes before voting began on the spending measure, which then cleared both houses, ending a two-month war of attrition that closed much of the federal government for 35 days and threatened a second shutdown on Friday. The Senate passed it 83 to 16, and the House followed later in the evening, 300 to 128.

Austin American-Statesman - February 15, 2019

What Sid Miller told Donald Trump in the presidential limousine

When President Donald Trump was en route to his Monday rally in El Paso, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, riding in the official limousine, told the president he was correct to say that crime was far higher in El Paso before new fencing went up a decade ago separating the city from Juárez, Chihuahua.

Miller told the president that law enforcement in El Paso and other border communities typically underreported crime to the FBI in those days, something he said knew from his tenure as chairman of the Texas House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee in 2011 and 2012. In short order, Trump incorporated his newfound insider wisdom — which official statistics contradict and local officials say is flat wrong — into his 80-minute exhortation in support of a border wall.

“You know where it made a big difference? Right here in El Paso and I’ve been watching where they’ve been trying to say. ‘Oh the wall didn’t make that much (of a difference).’” Trump said. “Well, you take a look at what they did with their past crimes and how they made them from very serious to much lesser. You take a look at what the real system is. I spoke to people that have been here a long time.”

Dallas Morning News - February 14, 2019

‘Point person’ for Texas secretary of state in controversial voter fraud inquiry quits

The state elections official who coordinated the matching of lists of driver's licensees with Texas voter rolls to see if they contain ineligible non-citizens, has resigned.

Betsy Schonhoff, whom newly disclosed emails depict as the secretary of state’s office’s honcho of a nearly yearlong effort to match voter lists with databases at the Department of Public Safety, quit recently with no explanation, a spokesman for interim Secretary of State David Whitley said late Thursday.

“Betsy Schonhoff resigned last week after working at the Secretary of State’s office since 2012, and she didn’t provide any reason for her resignation,” Whitley spokesman Sam Taylor said in an email. “She served as our Voter Registration Manager and we did not have any discussions with her about her resignation or her performance before she resigned.”

Houston Chronicle - February 15, 2019

Cornyn faces new threats in 2020 re-election bid

As President Donald Trump embarked for El Paso on Monday to rally support for a border wall, Texas Republican John Cornyn sent out a personal message through his 2020 U.S. Senate re-election campaign: “Texas stands with President Trump.”

For Cornyn, seeking a fourth term in the Senate, the message underscored some of the central challenges of his re-election bid: for better or worse, his fate is inextricably tied to that of a famously polarizing and unpredictable president, with whom he will share a ballot. Cornyn, a former state Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice, knows that 2020 could be the most severe test of his time in the Senate, which began in 2002. He is the first to admit that Texas is not the GOP bastion it once was.

Despite a generation of GOP dominance in the Lone Star State, demographic changes and urbanization have helped Democrats narrow that gap in statewide elections, culminating with Beto O’Rourke’s loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November by less than three percentage points. Only four years earlier, in the state’s last Senate election, Cornyn trampled relatively unknown dentist-turned investor David Alameel, while Republican Greg Abbott glided to victory by 20 points in the governor’s race against then-Democratic star Wendy Davis.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 14, 2019

D-FW is getting the biggest share of Texas' out-of-state moves

The flow of seniors headed to Florida edged out people moving to Texas to take new jobs, according to the latest nationwide relocation report.

Texas ranked second in the U.S. for moves with 524,511 new residents moving here in 2017, according to the latest relocation report by Texas Realtors, an Austin-based real estate trade association. Florida was the top state for moves for the second year in a row with 566,476 migrants. California ranked third for relocations.

Looking at Texas major metros, the largest number of out-of-staters were headed to Harris, Dallas and Tarrant counties. Collin and Denton counties also made it into the top 10. The combined Dallas-Fort Worth metro had the highest number of incoming residents from out-of-state at 230,118, followed by the Houston area at 203,279.

Dallas Morning News - February 14, 2019

Top employees at youth lockup fired in latest shakeup at Texas juvenile justice agency

Five of the top employees at the youth lockup north of Dallas have been terminated amid ongoing efforts to right the state's juvenile justice agency.

Superintendent Mike Studamire, Assistant Superintendent Deidra Reece, Manager of Security Operations and Support Programs Cathryn Hudspeth, Manager of Facility Programs and Services Ron Stewart and Dorm Supervisor Carl Motley have all been let go from their positions at the Gainesville State School since the fall. The Texas Juvenile Justice Department, the agency that runs Gainesville and the state's four other youth lockups, has also suspended its equine therapy program.

Dallas Morning News - February 15, 2019

DART officer shot in July 7 ambush in downtown Dallas sues Facebook, Twitter, Google

A DART officer who was wounded in the July 7, 2016, police ambush in downtown Dallas has sued Facebook, Twitter and Google, saying their platforms knowingly support terrorist groups.

Jesus Retana, 34, and his husband, Andrew Moss, filed the lawsuit in federal court Wednesday. Retana, who began working for Dallas Area Rapid Transit police in 2006, was shot in the arm during the ambush. The lawsuit says Micah Johnson, the gunman who killed five police officers in the attack, was radicalized in part by the terrorist group Hamas’ use of Facebook, Twitter and Google. The companies knowingly provided Hamas “with accounts to use its social networks as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds, and attracting new recruits,” Retana and Moss say.

Keith Altman, an attorney representing Retana and Moss, said the lawsuit is one of several he has filed against the tech giants in an attempt to hold them responsible for terrorists using their platforms. Altman has also sued on behalf of victims of the San Bernardino killings, the Pulse nightclub shooting and a 2015 Islamic State attack in Paris, among others. The cases have so far been unsuccessful, he said. In January 2017, Dallas police Sgt. Demetrick Pennie — also represented by Altman — sued the three tech companies in a case that was later dismissed. A federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs did not "plausibly allege a connection between Hamas and the Dallas shooting."

Houston Chronicle - February 14, 2019

Bond companies sue Harris County judges, sheriff over new bail rules

Three Houston bail bond companies sued Harris County’s misdemeanor judges and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez in state district court on Thursday, hoping to block the implementation of the judges’ proposed revisions to local bail rules, which the plaintiffs say violate state law.

The judges’ proposal — a key step in a lengthy legal fight over the pre-trial detention of poor, low-level offenders — automatically would qualify 85 percent of people arrested on misdemeanors for release on no-cash bonds, county officials have estimated. Those arrested for bail violations, repeat drunken driving and family violence would be the only exceptions. Defendants would need to appear before a magistrate or judge within 48 hours, at which time they also could qualify for no-cash bonds.

This proposal, the bail bond companies argue, violates state law because it would guarantee many defendants a specific type of bail without first providing them individual hearings before a magistrate, and because it would require the sheriff to reject some bonds that otherwise would be valid under state law, among other reasons. If a judge fails to block the implementation of the new rules, the suit states, it would “deprive plaintiffs of their liberty and property interest under the Texas Constitution in earning a living writing bail bonds.”

Houston Chronicle - February 14, 2019

Texas fines Chevron Phillips Chemical, others for environmental violations

Chevron Phillips Chemical Company was fined for violating Texas air quality regulations, state regulators said Wednesday.

The company, which is jointly owned by Chevron Corp. and Phillips 66, will pay a little under $250,000 to the state for air quality violations stemming from its failure to comply with allowable emissions limits, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state's environmental agency, decided at its bi-monthly agenda meeting.

Chevron Phillips did not immediately comment. The commission fined 30 organizations for environmental violations, totaling $878,327. On Feb. 12, the executive director of the TCEQ approved 43 penalties, totaling $93,253. The Houston-Galveston Area Council for Clean Vehicles Partnership Project will get $124,200 of that to replace older and high emitting buses with lower emitting buses or to retrofit buses with emissions-reducing equipment.

Houston Chronicle - February 14, 2019

Memorial High School students advocate for better mental health services

With school shootings and violence in recent years, students from Memorial High School are pushing for better mental health services to help keep their campus safe.

About 25 students from the school’s Mental Health Ambassadors group traveled to Austin on Wednesday, Feb. 6, to meet with state lawmakers and encourage more funding and programs to improve students’ mental health. The group formed earlier this school year as a response to last year’s deadly shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas.

Houston Chronicle - February 15, 2019

Leading Southern Baptist apologizes for supporting leader, church at center of sex abuse scandal

A leading Southern Baptist figure on Thursday apologized for supporting a religious leader who was accused of helping conceal sexual abuses at his former church, and for making a joke that he said downplayed the severity of the allegations.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Al Mohler said for the first time publicly that he regrets his embrace of C.J. Mahaney, the former leader of the non-Southern Baptist group Sovereign Grace Ministries, now known as Sovereign Grace Churches. Mahaney and his former organization were sued in 2013 by 11 people alleging that their abuses were concealed by leaders, at least one of whom was later convicted.

Mahaney has long denied the accusations, and the lawsuit was later dismissed because of the statute of limitations. Despite the high-profile and well-publicized scandal, Mohler and others continued to welcome Mahaney at religious conferences, and at one point released a statement in which they called him a “friend” with “personal integrity.” Mohler, the longtime president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., has long been silent about his support for Mahaney.

Austin American-Statesman - February 14, 2019

Texas man found with 3D-printed gun, list of lawmakers sentenced to prison

A man who was barred from possessing firearms was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday after Grand Prairie police found him carrying a weapon with some 3-D printed parts and a list of lawmakers’ addresses, U.S. attorneys said.

In July 2017, officers responding to another call found Eric Gerard McGinnis, then 39, after hearing someone firing shots in a wooded area outside Dallas, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Texas. McGinnis falsely told officers he was a CIA agent and was arrested, the statement says. Officers searched a backpack McGinnis was carrying and found a partially printed 3-D weapon that was loaded and a list with the office and home addresses of several federal lawmakers from both Democratic and Republican parties, the statement says.

Prosecutors said McGinnis had a protective order filed against him after a violent altercation with his live-in girlfriend and was prohibited him from possessing firearms or ammunition at the time. However, he tried to buy a semi-automatic rifle at a licensed gun shop almost a year before his 2017 arrest, the statement says. The purchase was rejected after the store ran a background check on McGinnis, it says.

Austin American-Statesman - February 14, 2019

HHS watchdog agency struggles with sexual harassment, racism complaints

The state agency charged with ferreting out misconduct at the Health and Human Services Commission has been dealing with misconduct within its own ranks.

There were 12 civil rights complaint investigations at the Office of Inspector General in 2018 compared to one in 2017 and two in 2016. A high-ranking manager resigned in October after sexually harassing a female employee. A male employee was fired the next month after being accused of being hostile to the same female employee.

In January and early February, the inspector general’s entire 600-employee staff underwent training on maintaining appropriate workplace behavior and preventing sexual harassment. The training came after the state Civil Rights Office conducted an investigation that concluded that the inspector general’s office environment was “too casual” and that managers may have known about incidents of sexual harassment that they didn’t take the proper steps to stop.

San Antonio Express-News - February 15, 2019

Bars turn to security cameras to fend off TABC officers

The explosion of video surveillance - from civilian phones, as well as from police dash and body cameras - has revolutionized law enforcement, exposing once-hidden misbehavior and providing conclusive evidence in disputed accounts. Most large police departments have adopted cameras to record many of their public interactions.

Not TABC, whose agents typically rely on their subjective recollections and descriptions to charge bars and restaurants with serving drinks to already drunk patrons. Yet a review of court filings showed a half-dozen recent instances in which patrons the agents had described as obviously drunk appeared decidedly sober in security camera footage. The disconnect has upended cases, raising questions about the agency’s investigative methods.

The disputes represent a small fraction of cases TABC brings against bars for serving to already intoxicated patrons. Victor Kuykendoll, TABC’s chief of enforcement, said the majority are settled or decided in favor of the agency, validating its work. Attorneys who represent bars in legal battles with TABC hesitated to accuse the state’s alcohol agents of deliberately misrepresenting what they see. “As a general rule, I think the agents did a good job,” said John Beeler, who as a judge for the State Office of Administrative Hearings heard hundreds of TABC cases before retiring last year to represent licensees.

Associated Press - February 15, 2019

Beto O'Rourke planning stops in 2020 battleground Midwest

Potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke is coming to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus Friday for a meet and greet with students and faculty, a closely guarded event that will be the former Texas congressman's first visit to a key state in the battleground, industrial Midwest.

O'Rourke is scheduled to be on campus for a two-hour meeting early Friday evening. UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas said Thursday the event is not open to the press, public or anyone not affiliated with the university. The campus Political Science Student Association organized the meeting in a room that fits about 150 people. The group's leader, Isaac Johnson, said O'Rourke wanted to keep the event limited to students and those affiliated with the university.

President Donald Trump carried Wisconsin in 2016 by less than a percentage point, making him the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Hillary Clinton was heavily criticized for not campaigning in Wisconsin during the general election and Democrats are anxious to take it back. Milwaukee is a finalist for the Democratic National Convention in 2020, with officials arguing that the state's importance in the presidential race makes the city the best location for the meeting. Organizers also say Democrats are surging in Wisconsin. In 2018, Democrats swept every statewide race in Wisconsin, including Tony Evers defeating incumbent Gov. Scott Walker.

Fort Worth Business Press - February 14, 2019

Marc Diamond: Time for a Manhattan Project on Alzheimer’s

Imagine if Alzheimer’s was treated like other common diseases. Instead of worrying about the prospect of slowly losing your memory, you might get a series of shots during middle age to prevent the onset of this neurological nightmare, just as we do to reduce the risk of flu. Or you could take a daily pill as many do to control their cholesterol or blood pressure.

That may sound improbable, given the long string of Alzheimer’s drugs that have failed to work in clinical trials, but I remain optimistic. As a physician-scientist leading research into the causes of neurodegenerative diseases, I believe that we are making significant progress on uncovering the roots of Alzheimer’s.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 15, 2019

Democrats bring engagement, marathon meetings to Harris County Commissioners Court

When Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack wondered aloud if anyone still in attendance knew of a good nearby happy hour, Tuesday’s Harris County Commissioners Court meeting already had lasted five hours and 44 minutes. The session concluded at 6:31 p.m., precisely eight and a half hours after it began, though few people in the room witnessed the beginning and end.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo and her Democratic colleagues have made good on their pledge to increase opportunities for public participation in meetings, though the results to date are mixed. The sessions have been well-attended but endure late into the afternoon, leaving residents waiting hours to speak and detaining county department heads for an entire day.

Extended discussions on topics broad and narrow afford the public a wider glimpse of county government, thought they have ensured each regular meeting this year has stretched past six and a half hours. For the first time in any commissioner’s memory, the court takes a recess for lunch. Hidalgo said she was pleased with the spike in attendance at meetings — which now include overflow rooms — but acknowledged a need to improve the process.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 14, 2019

Lovejoy ISD superintendent quits amid allegations of 'inappropriate conduct'

Lovejoy ISD replaced its superintendent Wednesday night after Ted Moore suddenly resigned amid allegations of "inappropriate conduct" with "adult victims," the school board said.

The small school district — which includes the cities of Lucas, Fairview and part of Allen — notified parents and staff members late Wednesday that Assistant Superintendent Dennis Womack would step into the top job after Moore submitted his resignation.

Austin American-Statesman - February 15, 2019

Austin to install ‘parking boxes’ for dockless scooters and bikes

The city of Austin is preparing to install “parking boxes” for dockless scooters and bicycles in and around the downtown area. City officials said crews will install the first one Friday at the 200 block of West Sixth Street.

“City staff hopes parking boxes will encourage people who use dockless bicycles and scooters to park in areas that do not impede accessibility by other road users,” officials said in a news release on Thursday. Other boxes will be installed in the following areas: Third Street between Nueces and San Antonio streets; Fourth Street at San Jacinto Boulevard; San Jacinto Boulevard between Fifth and Sixth streets; Third Street at Trinity Street; Fourth Street at Red River Street; Fifth Street at Pleasant Valley.

San Antonio Express-News - February 15, 2019

San Antonio’s venture-capital investments lag, but ‘climate here is changing’

Venture capitalists’ investment in San Antonio startups is still pretty measly compared to the state’s other major metros, according to two reports. But local investors and entrepreneurs say the city’s nascent tech scene is making progress, and point to resources like the Geekdom Fund and Active Capital that have sprung up.

Venture-capital funding in San Antonio-area companies fell to about $19.1 million last year, down from $43.7 million in 2017 and $33 million in 2016, according to the annual PricewaterhouseCoopers/CB Insights MoneyTree report. Venture capitalists are usually wealthy investors or firms that provide seed or early-stage funding for fledgling businesses. Funding also fell in Dallas, though it rose in Houston and statewide. The majority of venture-capital activity in Texas last year took place in Austin, with investments reaching $1.36 billion.

The amount is “unsurprising given the rapidly expanding startup economy” in Austin, said John Cummins, PwC partner and MoneyTree spokesperson for Texas. While the number of deals nationwide hit its lowest level since 2013, they’re bigger — investments reached $99.5 billion, the highest point since 2000. Some of the investments in local startups likely aren’t reflected in the report, said Michael Girdley, managing director of the Geekdom Fund. The venture-capital group, which invests in early-stage companies, closed on its second fund of $20 million in 2017.

San Antonio Express-News - February 15, 2019

San Antonio City Council tightens reins on e-scooters

A chastened City Council responded Thursday to complaints about the perceived chaos caused by e-scooters by voting 10 to 1 to modify - some would say abandon - its initial “light touch” on regulating the dockless vehicles.

Before they imposed the somewhat tighter restrictions on the roughly 6,500 scooters and bikes now on the streets — they’re not banned from sidewalks, yet — every council member weighed in on the innovation’s frustrations. Nationwide, the vehicles have spawned personal injury lawsuits and some small towns have banned them entirely. “My constituents hate them,” District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said. “I have the most conservative district in the city, where people are allergic to all regulation, and they call me and beg for more regulation (of scooters).”

The lone dissenter was District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, who called the new rules “a step backwards” and asked rhetorically why the evils of automobiles weren’t drawing similar scrutiny. She said the city’s plans for superbuses, trackless tramways or driverless vehicles all will require “first-mile and last-mile solutions,” so local governments must find a way to safely accommodate “micro-mobility,” including scooters.

Austin American-Statesman - February 14, 2019

Austin ethics commission dismisses complaint against city’s HR director

Austin’s ethics review commission on Wednesday dismissed an ethics complaint filed against the city’s human resources director last year after an internal investigation found she had several city employees look after her child.

The city auditor’s office had concluded in a report that Joya Hayes had employees transport her son to and from daycare and watch him. The report said Hayes had violated city employee conduct rules related to accepting gifts or favors from subordinates, abused a city office and misused city resources. Several commissioners said Wednesday that auditors did not prove that an ethics violation had occurred.

Auditors told the commission that, in some cases, employees had offered to drive the child or watch him during late-night City Council meeting. The employees also told the auditors that they either voluntarily helped out or, in one case, were asked but were still willing to help. Hayes added that auditors were misrepresenting statements of the employee who was asked to help her. She also said that she has watched some of her employees’ children in her office before.

National Stories

CNBC - February 15, 2019

China's Xi Jinping says trade talks with US to continue next week in Washington

Talks between China and the United States this week made important progress, President Xi Jinping told top U.S. trade negotiators on Friday, adding that efforts would continue in Washington next week to resolve their bruising trade war.

Xi met U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin after a full week of trade negotiations at senior and deputy levels in Beijing, and called for a deal both sides could accept, state media said. U.S. duties on $200 billion worth of imports from China are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no deal is reached by March 1 to address U.S. demands that China curb forced technology transfers and better enforce intellectual property rights.

After the conclusion of talks, which included a banquet on Thursday, Mnuchin said on Twitter that he and Lighthizer had held "productive meetings" with Xi's top economic adviser, Vice Premier Liu He.

CNBC - February 14, 2019

Senate confirms Trump's attorney general pick William Barr, who will now oversee Mueller probe

President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee William Barr was confirmed in the Senate on Thursday to take over the Justice Department as attorney general, where he will oversee special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Barr, 68, was confirmed in a 54-45 vote that largely fell along party lines. He will be sworn in Thursday afternoon in the Oval Office by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, the White House told NBC News. Barr was widely expected to be confirmed by the Republican-majority Senate on Thursday. He had served in the same role more than two decades earlier in President George H.W. Bush's administration, and had passed procedural hurdles in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate in recent votes.

A few senators broke with their party in the final vote, however. Among Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Doug Jones of Alabama — both of whom represent deep-red states — voted for Barr, as did first-term Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was the only Republican to vote against Barr's nomination. Barr, a Justice Department veteran, came under heavy scrutiny during his confirmation process. Democrats in particular grilled Barr during congressional testimony about how he would handle Mueller's ongoing probe of Russia's election interference and possible collusion with Trump campaign-related officials.

CNBC - February 14, 2019

Facebook uses its apps to track users it thinks could threaten employees and offices

In early 2018, a Facebook user made a public threat on the social network against one of the company's offices in Europe. Facebook picked up the threat, pulled the user's data and determined he was in the same country as the office he was targeting.

The company informed the authorities about the threat and directed its security officers to be on the lookout for the user. "He made a veiled threat that 'Tomorrow everyone is going to pay' or something to that effect," a former Facebook security employee told CNBC.

The incident is representative of the steps Facebook takes to keep its offices, executives and employees protected, according to more than a dozen former Facebook employees who spoke with CNBC. The company mines its social network for threatening comments, and in some cases uses its products to track the location of people it believes present a credible threat. Several of the former employees questioned the ethics of Facebook's security strategies, with one of them calling the tactics "very Big Brother-esque."

Washington Post - February 14, 2019

What’s in the 1,169-page border-security bill to avert a government shutdown

The 1,169-page, $333 billion spending bill that President Trump plans to sign into law removes the threat of any further government shutdowns — at least until October. But only a few pages of the legislation deals with the U.S.-Mexico border wall that Trump has demanded — or “primary pedestrian fencing,” as legislators wrote into the text.

The rest of the bill focuses on other border security measures, as well as funding for scores of federal departments and agencies whose budgets have been held hostage for months due to the border standoff. The $1.375 billion is enough for 55 miles for “pedestrian” fencing in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, but it is also subject to numerous restrictions.

The Trump administration could hire as many as 1,200 new Border Patrol officers under the agreement, and it won $100 million in technology funding aimed at the stretches of border between ports of entry, as well as another $112 million for aircraft and sensor systems. But a larger amount — $564 million — is aimed at beefing up scanning capability at the ports, where the majority of drug and human trafficking occurs.

Washington Post - February 14, 2019

Trump’s national emergency, and its massive unintended consequences

We can finally see the road map for how we’ll avert the second government shutdown of 2019: President Trump will sign the compromise legislation agreed to by Congress, but he’ll also declare a national emergency to try and get the billions more he needs to build a border wall.

This solution allows Trump to perhaps mollify the conservative critics who are still demanding that wall and criticizing the compromise. It also allows McConnell to turn the page on a showdown and shutdown he never wanted in the first place. But while this allows everyone an escape hatch in the near term, the long-term unintended consequences loom huge.

Politico - February 14, 2019

Trump shocks GOP with emergency declaration

The surprise announcement Thursday that President Donald Trump will use his emergency powers to try and build his border wall blindsided some Republicans, confused others and sent the Senate GOP into a general state of shock. The news, delivered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor, came after weeks of warnings from his own party not to declare a national emergency at the border.

Trump has decided to challenge Republicans’ resolve anyway — but he may not like the outcome. Aides privately predicted Trump will lose a vote on the Senate floor once the Democratic House passes a resolution of disapproval to block the move. Meanwhile, the GOP Senate majority was casting about for answers. Republicans that have previously panned the idea as setting a bad precedent for future presidents were careful in how they answered questions in the immediate aftermath of the president’s decision.

Politico - February 15, 2019

Schumer slams ‘stunt’ Green New Deal vote as moderates fret

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats would not be intimidated by the “cynical stunt” of voting on the Green New Deal resolution, even as moderate members of his caucus distanced themselves from the sweeping climate change goals.

Schumer said the "amazing irony" of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bringing up a resolution Republicans intend to vote against is a sign of why the American people hate Congress. He demanded the Kentucky Republican acknowledge the scientific consensus around climate change and commit the chamber to tackling the problem.

Schumer's clap back comes on the heels of McConnell saying his chamber would vote on the ambitious Green New Deal resolution floated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). That move is expected to show internal divisions within the Democratic caucus about how to tackle climate change with some lawmakers recoiling at the resolution's aim of decarbonizing the U.S. economy within a decade.

NBC News - February 15, 2019

US ally Turkey looks to Russia and Iran to protect its interests

As Trump administration officials presided over the second day of an international conference in Warsaw dominated by calls to ratchet up pressure on Iran, one longtime U.S. ally and NATO member was noticeably absent — Turkey.

Snubbing the gathering in Poland, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday attended a rival conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where he planned to meet his Russian and Iranian counterparts to work out a final settlement of the war in Syria. The dueling summits illustrate President Donald Trump's struggle to forge a united front against Iran, and reflect Turkey's drift away from Washington as it finds common ground with Moscow and Tehran, experts and former officials said.

For decades, the U.S. could count on Turkey as a reliable partner that would line up with other allies against Iran and support Washington's strategic goals. But the political landscape has changed, U.S. influence in the region is in doubt, and Ankara is staking out an independent course, said Colin Clarke, senior research fellow at the Soufan Center, a New York-based think tank. "I think we're seeing a realignment," Clarke told NBC News. "The U.S. has gone from the position where we called the shots, to where we are making mere suggestions to Turkey. That's a major sea change."

NBC News - February 15, 2019

Trump critics may be disappointed by the Mueller report

Millions of Americans are waiting for Robert Mueller to give them the final word on whether the Trump campaign conspired with the 2016 Russian election interference effort — and whether their president is under the influence of a foreign adversary. Millions of Americans may be sorely disappointed.

Unless Mueller files a detailed indictment charging members of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia, the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found — including potentially scandalous behavior that doesn't amount to a provable crime. The reason: The special counsel operates under rules that severely constrain how much information can be made public.

When Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr released the report of his investigation of President Bill Clinton in 1998, all of Washington paused to digest the 453-page document (plus 2,000 pages of appendixes), with its salacious details of the president's sexual dalliance with an intern. It was made public at the same time it was sent to Congress. The Mueller report won't be anything like that. Starr operated under the now-defunct independent counsel law, meaning he called many of his own shots, outside the purview of the Justice Department. Mueller is a special counsel under Justice Department supervision, subject to very specific regulations.

Reuters - February 15, 2019

Pompeo meets EU's top diplomat after Pence's Iran accusations

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the EU’s top diplomat in Brussels on Friday, a day after Vice President Mike Pence accused America’s traditional European allies of trying to undermine U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The meeting with Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, was scheduled before Pence’s rebuke of European powers during a Middle East peace conference in Warsaw on Thursday, which Mogherini missed, citing a scheduling conflict at NATO. Mogherini, who helped seal the 2005 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, greeted Pompeo in front of a bank of cameras at the EU’s headquarters in Brussels before they headed into a conference room for the breakfast meeting, which was scheduled to last about an hour.

Mogherini shook her head and waved off a question from the media about what she thought of Pence’s speech in Warsaw on Thursday, where he accused the European Union of trying to break the impact of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.

Reuters - February 14, 2019

As Amazon drops New York City project, progressives claim a major coup

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasted no time on Thursday in calling Amazon’s decision to scrap plans to build a major New York outpost with nearly $3 billion in city and state incentives a big victory for progressive politicians.

The democratic socialist congresswoman has become the face of the Democratic Party’s ascendant left wing, thanks in part to her upset victory last year in a district near the proposed Amazon.com Inc development. “Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

Amazon blamed local opposition for its abrupt reversal, which some saw as the latest evidence of the progressive movement’s surging influence ahead of the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination next year. “They have shown sufficient power to back off the largest corporation in the world,” Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College in New York and an expert on city politics and public opinion. “They killed Amazon, the biggest beast around.” Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has made anti-corporate criticism a key tenet of her 2020 presidential campaign, called the subsidies “billions in taxpayer bribes” and asked on Twitter, “How long will we allow giant corporations to hold our democracy hostage?”

New York Times - February 14, 2019

Amazon pulls out of planned New York City headquarters

Amazon on Thursday canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from some lawmakers and union leaders, who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives.

The company, as part of its extensive search for a new headquarters, had chosen Long Island City, Queens, as one of two winning sites, saying that it would create more than 25,000 jobs in the city. But the agreement to lure Amazon stirred an intense debate about the use of public subsidies to entice wealthy companies, the rising cost of living in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods and the city’s very identity.

The company’s decision is a major blow for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had set aside their differences to bring the company to New York. But it was at least a short-term win for insurgent progressive politicians led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose upset victory last year occurred in the area where Amazon had planned its site. Her win galvanized the party’s left flank, which mobilized against the deal, and on Thursday she seemed to revel in the company’s retreat.

New York Times - February 14, 2019

McCabe says Justice Dept. officials had discussions about pushing Trump out

Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy F.B.I. director, said in an interview aired on Thursday that top Justice Department officials became so alarmed by President Trump’s decision in May 2017 to fire James B. Comey, the bureau’s director, that they discussed whether to recruit cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office.

The dire concerns about the president’s actions also prompted Mr. McCabe to order the bureau’s team investigating Russia’s election interference to look into whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice by firing Mr. Comey. The F.B.I. also began examining whether Mr. Trump had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests. Mr. McCabe’s explosive remarks were made in an interview with “60 Minutes” scheduled to air in full on Sunday. He was promoting his memoir, “The Threat: How the F.B.I. Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump,” which will be released next week.

Mr. McCabe said he spoke to Mr. Trump just after Mr. Comey was fired, and the next day he met with the team investigating Russia’s election interference. On the eve of his retirement in March 2018, Mr. McCabe was fired by Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the time, after being accused of a lack of candor. Since his firing, Mr. McCabe had kept a low profile while working on the book, but he is now making his story known to the public and is an irritant to the president.

ABC News - February 15, 2019

Trump's physical results show he's gained weight but 'in good health overall'

The White House on Thursday released results of President Donald Trump's physical that he underwent last Friday and in one notable measure, it showed he had gained some weight since his checkup last year, weighing in at 243 pounds versus 239 pounds previously.

Someone with a weight of 240 pounds and at Trump's 6-foot-3 height –– a BMI or Body Mass Index of 30.4 –– is considered obese and last year Trump had been advised to change his diet and get more exercise in order to lose a few pounds. The results, summed up by White House physician Sean Conley, who conducted the physical along with 11 different board-certified specialists, concludes "it is my determination that the President remains in very good health overall."

He said Trump, who is 72, had given him permission to release the information, including that his blood pressure is 118/80 with a heart rate of 70 beats per minute and that the only change in his medication is "an increased dose of rosuvastatin to 40 milligrams daily" –– the maximum dose and up from a 10mg dose previously. The commonly-prescribed drug, sometimes known as Crestor, is used to lower a patient's cholesterol. The president's total cholesterol was measured at 196, with "an HDL of 58 and an LDL of 122" –– all lower than last year.

CNN - February 15, 2019

This is what Denver teachers got after 3 days on strike

Denver educators have been promised pay raises as part of a tentative deal they reached with their school district after three days on strike. Under the tentative agreement between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, educators would see between seven percent and 11 percent increases to their base salaries and a 20-step salary schedule, the union said in a statement Thursday.

Teachers went on strike to demand higher, stable salaries, because the district uses unpredictable bonuses to compensate for low base pay. They also hoped higher salaries would keep more educators from leaving the city, where the cost of living has skyrocketed in recent years, one teacher told CNN. The agreement would also put an end to "exorbitant five-figure bonuses" for senior administrators, the union's statement said. "This agreement is a win, plain and simple: for our students, for our educators, and for our communities," union President Henry Roman said.

Union representatives said a breakthrough came Tuesday night when the two sides were able to find some "common ground," and eventually reached a tentative agreement that the union's membership will need to ratify. It was unclear how long the ratification process would take. Rob Gould, the union's lead negotiator, said the new salary schedule is "a lot better" and would help to retain and recruit talented educators for the benefit of Denver's students. "Teachers will be able to stay in Denver, and we'll be able to keep our experienced educators here for our students," he told CNN.

February 14, 2019

Lead Stories

CNN - February 13, 2019

Trump intends to sign border deal to avoid another shutdown

President Donald Trump intends to sign the border security deal to avoid another partial government shutdown, according to two sources who have spoken directly with the President. Trump said Tuesday that he was "not happy" with the tentative deal reached by congressional negotiators late Monday night that falls far short of his original demands.

On Wednesday, he told reporters he would "take a very serious look" at the legislation, adding that he does not want the government to shut down again. Congress faces a deadline to get a deal passed and signed by Trump before Friday. The agreement, which includes $1.375 billion for a border barrier, falls well short of the $5.7 billion Trump originally demanded for a wall. It even falls short of the $1.6 billion included in a Senate package last year.

Still, the measure would avert another government shutdown. Polls showed Trump was largely blamed for the previous 35-day impasse. Even as lawmakers haggled over details of their agreement, the White House had been planning behind the scenes to secure the funds for the wall unilaterally. The White House says Trump is continuing to weigh his options to fund a border wall, which still include taking executive action to secure funding for a wall. It's not clear which combination of actions the President might use, and the topic has been under debate for weeks.

San Antonio Express-News - February 14, 2019

For San Antonio Democrats, Tuesday was the latest in a troubling track record in special elections

Republican Fred Rangel’s strong performance in Tuesday’s special election was the latest in a trend of disappointing outcomes for San Antonio Democrats in off-cycle contests.

Rangel rode consolidated GOP support to a runaway first-place finish Tuesday night, with about 38 percent of the vote in the race to represent District 125 in the Texas House of Representatives, which Democrats have controlled for decades. Democrat Ray Lopez, a former city councilman, received 19.41 percent of the vote to earn a spot in a runoff election, edging third-place finisher and fellow Democrat Coda Rayo-Garza by just 22 votes. Runoffs are called when no candidate garners 50 percent of the vote.

Democratic Party officials and Lopez’s campaign remain adamant that they are in position to win the runoff and keep the seat. The four Democrats, combined, received more than 60 percent of the vote, they point out. And District 125 hasn’t elected a Republican since it was redrawn in 1992 to include more West Side voters. But to others, the result immediately recalled San Antonio Democrats’ not-so-sterling track record in recent special elections. Electoral history and district demographics have not protected Democrats in those runoffs over the last few years: They have lost the last three off-cycle races in San Antonio, each of which occurred in traditional party strongholds.

Bloomberg - February 14, 2019

This major oil CEO says Permian break-even costs are forcing more efficiency

For Mike Wirth, the future of Big Oil lies at home, under the dusty fields of West Texas. As he celebrates his first year as chief executive of Chevron Corp., Wirth sees the Permian Basin as a plentiful source of high-quality crude for years to come, but that's not all.

The low break-even costs to pump in the Permian are forcing Chevron to be more efficient everywhere, Wirth said, from the deepwater platforms in the Gulf of Mexico to its liquefied natural gas plants. In a time of transition, where everyone from politicians to shareholder activists is bashing Big Oil, shale's success is forging a new reality, Wirth said: Lower your costs, or die.

Shale "has forced us to get smarter about how we do everything else," Wirth said in an interview in Houston. The cost of Gulf of Mexico projects is at "levels we would never have imagined a decade ago," he added. Chevron isn't becoming more efficient "because we were dumb then and we're smart now. We're doing it because we have to." If not, he said, the alternative is to put money into the Permian.

Washington Post - February 14, 2019

When it comes to calling out the news media, Ocasio-Cortez has some things in common with Trump

A novice politician hailing from the New York borough of Queens gains enormous media attention and a huge and wildly passionate following in part by lobbing irregular critiques at the news media. Donald Trump in 2015? Yes. But also Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, circa 2019.

Their backgrounds, gender and — especially — their politics are different, but the Republican president and the outspoken freshman Democratic congresswoman from New York share at least one similarity: Neither has been shy about using social media to pummel the press. And like Trump, Ocasio-Cortez has been cheered on by millions of followers when she does so.

But there is big difference: Ocasio-Cortez seems to respect the role of the news media, even as she criticizes it. Her jeremiads tend to be surgical rather that the blunt attacks that Trump has aimed at the mainstream media. To date, she hasn’t described journalists as “the enemy of the American people.” On the other hand, she has banned reporters from covering her, just as Trump has. But the congresswoman has on occasion doled out praise to the MSM, something nearly unthinkable with Trump. “Public radio is great!” she tweeted late last month. “As is @ProPublica, @frontlinepbs & a great deal of other incredible outlets worth our support.”

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2019

Health experts want Texas to eliminate opting out of vaccinations for non-medical reasons

As the Houston area learns of its sixth possible case of measles in less than two weeks, doctors and scientists are pushing for the Texas Legislature to eliminate the ability for most parents to opt out of vaccines for their children.

In Texas, children are required to have certain sets of vaccinations before they can be enrolled in public school – including the vaccine for measles. But parents who have "reasons of conscience" for not wanting their children to be vaccinated are allowed to opt out of vaccinations, a practice that experts say is forming a dangerous trend that helped fuel the most recent measles outbreak. Statewide, there was only one confirmed case of measles in each of 2016 and 2017. In 2018, there were nine confirmed cases of measles, authorities say.

There are seven confirmed cases so far in 2019. The legislature does not define what constitutes a "reason of conscience," meaning that any parent, for any reason, can decide not to immunize their children against dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases. Close to 57,000 children in Texas went to public schools unvaccinated in 2018 for non-medical reasons, according to Allison Winnike, president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership. She said those numbers are growing year-over-year since the non-medical, "reasons of conscience" exemption went into effect almost two decades ago.

Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2019

Texas districts push to extend the school year

Texas lawmakers are thinking about giving school districts money to lengthen the school year, and superintendents are for it. The Texas Commission on Public School Finance in December recommended that the Legislature help to pay for up to 30 additional instructional days to the 180-day school calendar.

The panel recommended the state pitch in half the cost of each school day, to a maximum of $50 million per day in the first year, according to the commission’s report. Several superintendents testified before the House Public Education Committee that the investment would be worth it because the additional time gives struggling students, including those from low-income backgrounds, more time to study and would help them to learn to read at grade level. In Texas, just four in 10 students read at grade level by third grade.

Texas now requires at least 75,600 minutes of instruction, about 180 seven-hour days. Texas lawmakers are now crafting an education bill to change how the state funds schools, which could include a provision allowing school districts to add days to the school year. That omnibus legislation has yet to be filed, but will also likely include several elements, including an incentive for schools to offer full-day prekindergarten and increasing state spending on low-income children and students who speak little or no English.

Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2019

Legislator seeks to honor Aggies legend John David Crow, wife with highway naming

State representative John Raney remembers his backyard games back home in Huntsville for one famous name in particular. “I tell people when I was growing up and we played football out in the yard, everybody wanted to be John David Crow,” said Raney, 71. “I was 10 years old when he won the Heisman Trophy (in 1957).”

That’s why Raney, who moved to Bryan with his family when he was 13, jumped at the chance when the late Crow’s daughters approached the Republican legislator who represents the Bryan-College Station area about naming a portion of Highway 6 for their parents.

That’s how House Bill 884 came about, and how the part of the state highway between Briarcrest Drive in Bryan and Krenek Tap in College Station will be dubbed the Carolyn and John David Crow Memorial Parkway as of Sept. 1 if the bill passes (which shouldn't be an issue), according to Raney. Markers on the highway will honor the Crows.

Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2019

Report takes aim at Texas auto loans, which top the nation

Texans borrow a nation-leading $6,520 per capita for automobile purchases, according to a report released Wednesday by the United States Public Interest Research Group, which partnered with its state affiliates and Frontier Group.

The average is $1,000 more than the next highest state, neighboring Louisiana, and $3,000 more than per-person car debt in New York. Georgia, Arkansas and Wyoming rounded out the top five. Debt for automobiles is at an all-time high, researchers said, sounding an alarm that more debt could lead some to economic hardship.

Borrowers in Texas rank second among the states in filing complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, researchers said. Slightly fewer than 1,000 claims have been filed in Texas. The report also takes aim at development and infrastructure spending that commits many residents to cars.

Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2019

Drayton McLane Jr: Bullet train takes aim at traffic and dangerous roads

Texas’ high-speed train ended 2018 with remarkable progress, putting Houston and the rest of the state another step closer to a dynamic and much-needed transportation choice. It is estimated that more than 1,100 people are moving to this great state every day, drawn by our economic dynamism and ability to elevate problem-solvers willing to take on the thorniest issues in bold and creative ways.

Houston and North Texas are the dual engines driving this growth, thanks to our encouraging, entrepreneur-friendly cultures. While this unprecedented growth has been a blessing, Texas must tackle emerging transportation and infrastructure issues if we hope to remain an attractive destination in the years to come. Interstate 45 — the massive highway that links our economic and commercial hubs — is a prime example. In addition to being perpetually traffic-clogged, this vital artery is routinely ranked as one of America’s deadliest highways.

Texans deserve an alternative that’s fast, safe and reliable — a high-speed train running between Houston and North Texas, with a midway stop in the Brazos Valley. This 200-mph train will link the top metro areas in 90 minutes while generating widespread benefits for communities along the route.

Dallas Morning News - February 13, 2019

Ted Cruz among handful of 'no' votes on landmark land conservation bill

The most sweeping conservation legislation in a decade sailed through the Senate 92-8. Sen. Ted Cruz voted no.

The Texas Republican has remained quiet on the matter, before and after Tuesday’s vote. His office provided an explanation on Wednesday. "The federal government already owns more land than it has the capacity to maintain, and authorizing it to acquire more without making common-sense reforms hurts Texans and Americans across the country," spokeswoman Maria Jeffrey wrote in an email.

One major component of the bill provides indefinite authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a key funding mechanism for national and local parks. Republicans were hesitant about indefinite funding. The fund funnels offshore drilling revenue to pay for conservation of areas such as national parks and wildlife preserves. Opponents, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a close Cruz ally, argued that it furthers an unsustainable pattern of the federal government owning too much land.

Dallas Morning News - February 13, 2019

Texas breweries and distributors find common ground in battle over beer to-go

The contention over Texas breweries being allowed to sell beer to-go has reached a middle ground.

On Wednesday, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, a trade association representing the interests of small brewers, and the Beer Alliance of Texas, which represents the state's distributors, announced a set of bills that would allow breweries to sell beer to patrons for offsite consumption up to a certain limit (576 ounces or 2 cases per day, per person).

Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) had previously introduced companion bills SB 312 and HB 672, respectively, advocating in the breweries' favor. They plan to introduce substitute bills that include the agreed upon limit soon, according to a statement. The two groups had previously been at odds over the subject and tension continued to mount as the 86th legislative session commenced. Texans can walk into a distillery or a winery and leave with a bottle to take home. They can do so at brewpubs, too, but not manufacturing breweries because of a stipulation in Texas' laws.

Dallas Morning News - February 13, 2019

North Texas cops help FBI crack violent robbery ring targeting ATM service technicians

North Texas federal officials on Wednesday announced the indictments of 27 Houston residents in connection with an armed robbery ring that targeted ATM service technicians across Texas and in other states.

The defendants committed at least 47 "strong-arm robberies" of ATM technicians as they serviced the machines from August 2017 through January 2019, said Joseph D. Brown, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. More than $2.7 million was stolen during the robberies, he said. Many of the defendants are associated with a Houston gang called the Market Street Money Gang, or MSMG, Brown said. Among the North Texas cities hit were Plano, Allen and McKinney.

Of those charged, 23 have been arrested, authorities said. Four others are being sought. They each face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted. Members of the conspiracy conducted surveillance of the ATMs over several days to learn servicing patterns and to follow the technicians, Brown said. Two to four members of the conspiracy rushed the technicians during robberies, using punches and other "physical violence," Brown said. Although they acted as if they had firearms, the defendants were careful not to use any during the robberies, he said. Committing such crimes with guns significantly increases the range of punishment, Brown said.

Dallas Morning News - February 14, 2019

Texas schools hone message: Charter deals are about more money, choices

Call it what you want, but a charter school is a charter school, and critics of private partnerships with traditional districts are not happy with plans to enter into such partnerships.

They fear any move by a district to hand over school operations to an outside entity amounts to the "privatization" of children's education and opens the door to risky experimentation. But school officials in Dallas and Fort Worth insist they want to use a new Texas law that encourages in-district charters to funnel more state money to their schools by partnering with universities or nonprofits. This week, the two districts' school boards are discussing whether to undertake different approaches in how to implement the contentious law that provides them with financial incentives to create charter campuses.

Tuesday, Fort Worth trustees gave approval to move forward on a five-year deal to convert a handful of its once-struggling schools into leadership academies that will be operated by Texas Wesleyan University. And Thursday, Dallas trustees will discuss how to leverage such a deal for prekindergarten centers after there was widespread pushback from the community. Charters –– public schools run by independent operators –– have been draining urban school districts of students for years.

Dallas Morning News - February 14, 2019

Migrants enter U.S. in large groups near El Paso as tighter asylum controls lead them to new tactics

Migrant families have found the latest area to cross the border en masse and turn themselves in to U.S. authorities, right at the edge of Texas. As President Trump doubled down on his promise to build a wall to keep out drugs, gangs and caravans on Monday, a group of 311 migrants, most of them families, voluntarily turned themselves into Border Patrol agents.

A Border Patrol spokesman on Wednesday said it was the first time this year that a large group crossed into the El Paso area, at the foot of the iconic Mount Cristo Rey, a 29-foot tall limestone statue of Christ that straddles two countries and three states - Chihuahua, Texas and New Mexico. It has long been a welcoming symbol of peace. The incident plays out as another government shutdown looms Friday over border security.

San Antonio Express-News - February 14, 2019

San Antonio judge weighs legality of Electoral College process in choosing a president

Lawyers for the state on Wednesday asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit challenging Texas’ Electoral College process as plaintiffs dug in to their claims that the winner-take-all method is unconstitutional, discriminatory and leads to the dilution of the minority vote.

A coalition of law firms and the League of United Latin American Citizens filed four federal lawsuits last February in two politically red states, Texas and South Carolina, and two traditionally blue states, California and Massachusetts. All four lawsuits challenge the constitutionality of the winner-take-all method that states use to allocate their Electoral College votes.

The suits against Texas and South Carolina also allege those state’s methods violate the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or color or against minority groups. Texas is one of 48 states with the winner-take-all system, in which a candidate who receives a majority of the popular vote, or a plurality of it, takes all of the state’s electoral votes. The other two states, Maine and Nebraska, allocate electors based on votes in congressional districts.

San Antonio Express-News - February 14, 2019

How Texas lawmakers plan to make schools safer without gun control

State Rep. James Talarico remembers teaching in San Antonio and feeling that some of his sixth-grade students needed more adults watching out for their well-being, but there weren’t enough services.

Talarico — a Democrat from suburban Austin who wants school districts to hire four counselors for every security guard — is one of several lawmakers proposing bills to make schools safer in light of the prevalence of school shootings. After a student opened fire inside Santa Fe High School last May, killing eight students and two teachers and wounding 13 others, lawmakers say they are committed to improving school safety this year.

While some students clamor at the state and national levels for gun control measures and universal background checks, Texas Republican lawmakers — who control both chambers and the governor’s office — have signaled they have little appetite for new restrictions. One measure considered by lawmakers is a “red flag” law that would allow families and law enforcement to seek a court order to temporarily take firearms away from those found by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others.

Star-Telegram - February 14, 2019

Don’t like red light cameras? These Texas lawmakers don’t either — and want to ban them

Some lawmakers say it’s time to turn off red light cameras in Texas. And so far, a handful of proposals have been filed to do just that. “The people of Texas have ... had enough,” said state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who filed one of the bills. “It’s time that we protect the rights of Texans and finally ban red light cameras.”

Critics have long said the cameras violate the U.S. Constitution and lead to rear-end accidents. Supporters say they make streets safer and generate needed money for cities. The difference this time is that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has weighed in on the issue. “Red light cameras ... are expensive, studies indicate that they may increase accidents where deployed, and they pose constitutional issues,” he wrote in his Safeguarding, Security, Serving report released last year. “Texas should ban the use of these devices by preempting local authority to utilize them.”

Stickland has filed House Bill 1631 to ban red light cameras. Similar proposals have been filed through the years, including one by him in 2015, but none have made it through both the House and the Senate. He believes 2019 could be the year the proposal to turn off red light cameras actually becomes law. State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, filed a companion measure, Senate Bill 653. And state Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, has filed HB 537 to require any city that operates red light cameras to conduct a study every five years to determine traffic volume, the number of violations at each intersection, safety concerns and more.

Star-Telegram - February 14, 2019

Texans get $59.8 billion in tax breaks. Should we give up some for property tax relief?

Texans shoulder one of the largest property tax burdens in the country, paying around $60 billion a year. At the same time, the state provides a nearly equal amount in tax breaks each year — on products ranging from food to medicine, help for charitable and school groups, even through homestead and business property exemptions.

Now, as state lawmakers are deep into debate about property tax reform, hoping to provide some relief while also paying more into public schools, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley has a suggestion. Why not consider eliminating some of the state’s nearly $60 billion in annual tax exemptions? “If they want to bring down property taxes and generate more sales tax, either broaden the base or do away with some of the exemptions,” Whitley said. “If we all agree more money needs to be spent, the Lord ain’t sending it down from Heaven.

“They’ve got to stand up and make tough decisions.” State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, said he believes lawmakers are on the right path without delving into exemptions. “Judge Whitley is trying to divert off what the real problem is,” said Hancock, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee. “Appraisal rates are going up and local revenues are going up. “We are looking at addressing this in a broad based way.”

Fort Worth Weekly - February 13, 2019

Class dismissed: UTA political science professor Allan Saxe is retiring

Allan Saxe returned home from a night class several weeks ago and received no fewer than three phone calls from the campus police department.

The police department checked, double-checked, and triple-checked to make sure the professor was OK. He was, and he wasn’t, and that’s why Saxe is closing the book on his 54-year teaching career. He will teach two summer classes if they make –– American Contemporary Civil Liberties and Texas State and Local Government –– but after that, he’s “out of here,” he said.

Saxe is something of a local legend, and not just because he has been a fixture in UTA’s classrooms for more than half a century and a go-to expert for journalists covering politics. He is known for giving away his money. Like, half his annual salary. And his retirement savings, which he drained in bits and pieces. And hundreds of thousands he inherited from his mother. Saxe isn’t sure how much he gave away over the decades but said the total is “in the millions,” especially considering that he gifted pricey artworks to both UTA and TCU. He has no more to give and will rely mostly on Social Security in retirement.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 14, 2019

UT Dallas moved to fire instructors because Dallas Morning News prepared story, lawsuit says

Three criminology instructors at the center of an academic integrity scandal are suing the University of Texas at Dallas, saying its leaders stepped up efforts to fire them in recent weeks after The Dallas Morning News prepared to publish an investigation into the problems.

The News’ Feb. 3 story essentially disrupted school officials’ plan to keep the scandal and their own misconduct secret, according to the suit, filed Tuesday in Dallas federal court. It was UTD leaders’ plan to drop termination proceedings against instructors “and hope the controversy never saw the light of day — until their hand was forced when the DMN published its story,’’ the suit said. In an emailed statement late Tuesday, UTD spokesman John Walls declined to comment on the suit, saying disciplinary actions against the faculty members are ongoing.

Based on a University of Texas System investigative report and other records, the story detailed how instructors allegedly told police officers enrolled in a special master’s program that they could skip classes yet nevertheless gave them top grades and credit. The story also highlighted failures by university leaders to heed red flags in recent years pointing to improper practices.

San Antonio Express-News - February 13, 2019

San Antonio businessman’s claims of Russian contact were ‘mere puffery’ his attorney says, but judge decides he’s a flight risk and denies bail

The owner of a San Antonio auto lot where the feds hauled off dozens of high-end cars in a money laundering case was denied bail Wednesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Farrer was presented two differing views of Karen Mgerian: a money launderer willing to kill who could disappear with the help of Russian contacts and a naturalized U.S. citizen who got caught embellishing stories in an undercover federal investigation.

After an hour-long hearing, the judge found Mgerian, 40, posed a flight risk and denied him release on bond, but rejected prosecutors’ claim that he is a danger to the community. The businessman, who allegedly told undercover federal agents he had Russian connections to clean large amounts of cash, is charged with money laundering conspiracy, accused of laundering $575,000 provided by undercover agents of the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Longview News-Journal - February 13, 2019

Appeals court rules in favor of Kilgore ISD taxpayers in homestead exemption suit

Kilgore ISD trustees and district lawyers plan to discuss their options after the 6th Court of Appeals ruled Monday that taxpayers wrongly were denied homestead exemptions in 2015.

Kilgore Superintendent Andy Baker, who joined the district in January, said his familiarity with the 2016 lawsuit by homeowners Sheila Anderson and Darlene and John Axberg is limited. The issues in the case revolved around what used to be an optional homestead exemption allowing taxpayers to take 20 percent off the value of their primary residence before their tax bill is calculated. Kilgore offered the optional exemption for decades before entering budget discussions and voting to rescind the option June 29, 2015, in a 5-2 vote.

That was weeks after lawmakers in Austin passed a law that took the option away from school districts and made it mandatory. The law was to take effect in September 2015, and the district has argued since the lawsuit was filed that it acted before the law took effect when it removed the 20 percent exemption. The case filed by the homeowners was joined by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton the day after it was filed in Gregg County Court at Law No. 2.

National Stories

New York Times - February 14, 2019

Trump puts best face on border deal, as aides try to assuage an angry right

In pursuit of a wall, President Trump ran into one. A single-minded drive to force Congress to finance his signature campaign promise has left Mr. Trump right back where he started, this time seeking a way to climb over the political barrier in his way after trying to charge through it did not work.

As he inched closer to reluctantly accepting a bipartisan spending compromise without the money he demanded for his border wall, Mr. Trump offered no acknowledgment on Wednesday that his pressure tactics had failed even as aides sought to minimize the damage by tamping down criticism on the right.

One call was made to Lou Dobbs, a favorite of Mr. Trump’s whose Fox Business Network show he often tries to catch live. Another was placed to Sean Hannity, the Fox host who regularly talks with the president. The message: Mr. Trump deserved support because he still forced concessions that he would never have gotten without a five-week partial government shutdown.

New York Times - February 14, 2019

House votes to halt aid for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen

The House voted on Wednesday to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, a defiant and rare move to curtail presidential war powers that underscored anger with President Trump’s unflagging support for Saudi Arabia even after the killing of a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.

The 248-to-177 vote, condemning a nearly four-year conflict in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians and inflicted a devastating famine, will pressure the Republican-controlled Senate to respond. Eighteen Republicans — almost all of them hard-line conservatives with the Freedom Caucus — voted with the Democratic majority. Congress’s upper chamber in December passed a parallel resolution, 56 to 41, in a striking rebuke to the president and his administration’s defense of the kingdom. But that measure died with the last Congress after the House Republican leadership blocked a vote.

Dozens of Democrats, however, softened the blow when they defected to a Republican amendment to allow intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia to continue when “appropriate in the national security interest of the United States.” Senate passage of the Yemen resolution could prompt Mr. Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency, and it would come after Republicans have registered their unhappiness over other foreign policy issues, such as the president’s plan to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan and his threats to pull the United States from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Wall Street Journal - February 14, 2019

Trump nominee to face questions on future of 30-year mortgages

The Trump administration’s pick to help overhaul the way many Americans finance their home purchases is expected to face questions about the future of the popular 30-year mortgage at his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, people familiar with the matter said.

The Senate Banking Committee is considering the nomination of Mark Calabria to head the government’s oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The mortgage-finance companies guarantee roughly half of U.S. home loans and have been under government control since the financial crisis. If confirmed, Mr. Calabria would play a pivotal role as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency in making changes to the companies.

Mr. Calabria, a libertarian economist and senior aide to Vice President Mike Pence, is expected to face questions from lawmakers over his past calls for modifying the foundations of the U.S. mortgage market. While working at the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute from 2009 to 2017, Mr. Calabria advocated for curtailing government support for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. These account for approximately 90% of new home loans, according to Mortgage Bankers Association data. He also called for banks to hold more of the loans they originate rather than selling them to Fannie, Freddie and other financing entities.

Wall Street Journal - February 14, 2019

HHS to review Indian Health Service after revelations on pedophile doctor

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called for a review of the Indian Health Service following an investigation that revealed the agency’s mishandling of a pedophile doctor.

The investigation, by The Wall Street Journal and the PBS series Frontline, detailed the career of Stanley Patrick Weber, a pediatrician who in 2018 was convicted of sexually assaulting Native American boys. The IHS transferred him from one agency-run hospital to another after officials concluded he was molesting children in 1995, and he continued working for the federal agency for 21 years.

Washington Post - February 14, 2019

Federal judge finds Paul Manafort lied to Mueller probe about contacts with Russian aide

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III about matters close to the heart of their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The judge’s finding that Manafort, 69, breached his cooperation deal with prosecutors by lying after his guilty plea could add years to his prison sentence and came after a set of sealed court hearings. Manafort’s lies, the judge found, included “his interactions and communications with [Konstantin] Kilimnik,” a longtime aide whom the FBI assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District said Manafort also lied to the special counsel, the FBI and the grand jury about a payment from a company to a law firm — which he previously characterized as a loan repayment — and made false statements that were material to another Justice Department investigation whose focus has not been described in public filings in Manafort’s case.

The Hill - February 14, 2019

Rule change sharpens Dem investigations into Trump

A change to House rules is putting sharper teeth into Democratic investigations of President Trump and his administration. The change allows staff of House committees to conduct depositions without any lawmakers present, freeing up the panels to move through witnesses in their investigations quickly without the constraints of the previous Congress.

The change will offer Democrats on powerful House committees including Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Judiciary substantial momentum as they open wide-ranging probes into Trump, producing new headaches for the White House as the president readies his reelection bid. “It’s more teeth, faster legs, longer breath, greater strength and just bigger,” said Steven Cash, a former staffer and counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Hill - February 14, 2019

O'Rourke, Schumer huddle on possible 2020 bid: report

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke reportedly met with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) as the Texas Democrat considers the possibility of a 2020 White House bid or another run for Senate.

According to Politico, the two men sat down last week and discussed O'Rourke's political ambitions. Both O'Rourke and fellow Texan Joaquin Castro, former Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Obama, are being eyed as potential challengers against Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), whose seat is up for grabs in 2020, the news outlet noted.

“Joaquin believes Beto could beat John in 2020, and if Beto decides to see this thing through and do that, then Joaquin will give him his full support, just like he did against Ted Cruz,” a source close to the former HUD secretary told Politico. “Otherwise, Joaquin will absolutely consider jumping in and finishing the job.” Schumer's office declined to comment to Politico on the meeting, and O'Rourke's office didn't respond to the news outlet's request for more information.

CNN - February 14, 2019

FEMA Administrator Brock Long resigns

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long announced Wednesday that he is resigning. His resignation comes months after a controversy over his use of government vehicles.

Last fall, Long was the subject of a Department of Homeland Security probe into whether he was misusing government resources when he used government vehicles and personnel for six-hour drives between his home in North Carolina and FEMA headquarters in Washington. An inspector general's investigation, released by House Democrats in September, found that even after Long had been told not to, he continued to use government SUVs and drivers to shuttle between home and work.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at the time that Long would reimburse the federal government for his nonofficial use of government vehicles. Reports surfaced last fall that both the White House and Nielsen had considered asking Long to leave the agency amid the controversy. However, at the time Long denied that Nielsen had asked for his resignation. After his resignation was announced Wednesday, Nielsen said in a statement that Long had "admirably led the men and women of FEMA during very difficult, historic and complex times."

Reuters - February 14, 2019

Talks to end four-day Denver teachers' strike stretch overnight

Negotiations lasted all night and into the pre-dawn hours of Thursday between striking teachers in Denver and the city school district, who are trying to come up with a deal to end a walkout affecting 92,000 students that’s now entering its fourth day.

Both sides must believe that they are close to a settlement or they would have stopped for the night, a union spokesman said about 3 a.m. local time. He asked not to be named. The two sides sounded an optimistic note on Tuesday after resuming talks that had broken off on Saturday. They went late into the night in an effort to resolve differences over a variable pay system, known as ProComp, which has been at the center of the dispute.

The strike by the 5,650-member Denver Classroom Teachers Association is the first in Colorado’s largest city since 1994. It follows a wave of teacher walkouts in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia last year and a six-day strike in Los Angeles that was settled last month. The Denver Public Schools district said all of its 207 schools would hold classes on Thursday, except pre-kindergarten. They will be staffed by substitute teachers and administrators, as they have been since the strike began.

The Guardian - February 14, 2019

Mike Pence chides US allies at Warsaw summit on Iran

The US vice-president Mike Pence has sharply rebuked Washington’s European allies over their efforts to shield their businesses from US sanctions on Iran, as transatlantic tensions over US foreign policy were laid bare at a conference in Warsaw.

A scheme set up by the EU to facilitate trade with Iran was “an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime”, Pence said during a conference on the Middle East organised by the United States in the Polish capital. “It is an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU and create still more distance between Europe and the United States,” he said.

The Warsaw meeting was attended by more than 60 nations but major European powers such as Germany and France, party to the landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, refused to send their top diplomats over fears that the summit was designed largely to build an alliance against Iran. By contrast, the US is represented in Warsaw by Pence, Mike Pompeo, the US’s top diplomat, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and special aide on the Middle East. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is also attending. US sanctions on Iran were eased by the Obama administration under the terms of the, deal but were re-imposed after Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement last year.

The Week - February 14, 2019

Amazon will pay $0 in federal income taxes for the second year in a row

Amazon, which doubled its profits and made more than $11 billion in 2018, won't pay any federal income taxes for the second year in a row, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported on Wednesday.

The company will not be required to pay the standard 21 percent income tax rate on its 2018 profits, and is claiming a tax rebate of $129 million, which ITEP describes as a "a tax rate of negative 1 percent."

Amazon drew ire in 2018 for not paying federal taxes on its $5.6 billion in profits the year before, which was made possible due to tax credits and stock-based compensation, reports Politifact. Last year was the first time Amazon paid no federal income tax whatsoever.

Washington Post - February 14, 2019

What’s in the 1,169-page border-security bill to avert a government shutdown

The 1,169-page, $333 billion spending bill that President Trump plans to sign into law removes the threat of any further government shutdowns — at least until October. But only a few pages of the legislation deals with the U.S.-Mexico border wall that Trump has demanded — or “primary pedestrian fencing,” as legislators wrote into the text.

The rest of the bill focuses on other border security measures, as well as funding for scores of federal departments and agencies whose budgets have been held hostage for months due to the border standoff. The $1.375 billion is enough for 55 miles for “pedestrian” fencing in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, but it is also subject to numerous restrictions.

The Trump administration could hire as many as 1,200 new Border Patrol officers under the agreement, and it won $100 million in technology funding aimed at the stretches of border between ports of entry, as well as another $112 million for aircraft and sensor systems. But a larger amount — $564 million — is aimed at beefing up scanning capability at the ports, where the majority of drug and human trafficking occurs.

CNN - February 14, 2019

Parkland survivors will mark the 1-year anniversary of the shooting with 'a day of service and love'

All of Parkland –– parents, students, staff and surrounding residents touched by the tragedy –– is coming together this week to make sure their fallen Eagles aren't forgotten and that something positive comes from the worst high school shooting in American history.

n an e-mail to parents this week, Principal Ty Thompson, who has presided over the yearlong effort to bring what peace he can to the children in his charge, called for "a day of service and love." "We are encouraging parents to be involved with their child on Feb 14," he wrote. "Whether that is attending an organized service project together off campus, planning your own project that is special to your family, or simply spending some time together that day."

The school is already getting a long weekend for Presidents Day, but any student who misses school Thursday or Friday will have their absences excused, Thompson wrote. It's similar to the tack taken by Colorado's Columbine High School, which has closed for a day of service every April 20 since two gunmen killed 13 people on its campus in 1999.

Associated Press - February 14, 2019

Democrats question pledges in $26.5B T-Mobile-Sprint deal

Democratic lawmakers challenged top executives of T-Mobile and Sprint on Wednesday over their pledge not to raise prices for wireless services or hurt competition if their $26.5 billion merger goes through.

At a hearing by a House committee, the two executives defended the deal, which would combine the nation's third- and fourth-largest wireless companies and create a behemoth about the size of industry giants Verizon and AT&T.

Committee members from both parties fretted about the potential impact of a T-Mobile-Sprint merger on rural customers and carriers in rural areas that strike deals with major wireless companies. Many of the lawmakers on the Energy and Commerce subcommittee represent rural areas and small towns, and they voiced concern over jobs that could be lost in the merger in the companies' call centers and other facilities.

February 13, 2019

Lead Stories

New York Times - February 12, 2019

Trump says he’s still ‘not happy’ with border deal to prevent another government shutdown

President Trump appeared poised on Tuesday to end two months of scorched-earth confrontation without the money he demanded for a border wall as Republicans pressured him to accept a bipartisan spending deal rather than close the government again on Friday.

Mr. Trump pronounced himself unsatisfied with the agreement brokered by House and Senate negotiators, and he refused to commit to signing it. But he all but ruled out another government shutdown and emphasized that he would find “other methods” to finance a border barrier, leading aides and allies to predict he would grudgingly go along with the deal. “Am I happy at first glance?” the president said, speaking with reporters at the beginning of a cabinet meeting. “I just got to see it. The answer is no, I’m not. I’m not happy.”

But he said he was “moving things around” in the budget from “far less important areas” to finance a wall even without explicit congressional approval, and he expressed no desire to repeat the standoff that shuttered many federal agencies for 35 days. “I don’t think you’re going to see a shutdown,” he said. While some conservatives denounced the deal as a sellout, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, spoke with Mr. Trump by telephone on Tuesday and urged him to accept it.

San Antonio Express-News - February 13, 2019

Republican makes run-off for safe Democratic San Antonio statehouse seat

Republican Fred Rangel and Democrat Ray Lopez emerged Tuesday night from a crowded field of five candidates vying to become San Antonio’s new state representative, with Rangel leveraging consolidated GOP support for a strong first-place finish in a traditionally blue district.

No candidate received a majority of the vote in the special election, meaning business owner Rangel and former city councilman Lopez are headed to a runoff election to determine who gets to represent District 125, which covers a swath of the West and Northwest Sides from Zarzamora Street to the Loop 1604. Lopez narrowly beat out third-place finisher Coda Rayo-Garza, a school coordinator for San Antonio Independent School District, for the second spot in the runoff by 22 votes, 1,186 to 1,164. That election will be called by Gov. Greg Abbott and will take place in late February or March.

Rangel was the lone GOP candidate running in a district that hasn’t elected a Republican since it was redrawn in 1992 to include more West Side voters. That helped propel him past the four Democrats competing for the same pool of votes. “I’m excited about that fact that people have gotten behind me,” Rangel said at his headquarters Tuesday night. “They believe in my message. The supporters that I have, volunteers and so forth, I believe I have the best of the best.” The Democrats knew that posed a threat, Lopez said, but he is still confident he will win. ”We’re not going to take our foot off the pedal,” Lopez said.

Axios - February 13, 2019

Inside "The Beast" before Trump's El Paso rally, Agriculture Commissioner Miller said El Paso underreports crime stats

In El Paso on Monday night, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller rode with President Trump in "The Beast," the president's heavily armored Cadillac. Miller says Trump was "upset" that the city’s Republican mayor, Dee Margo, publicly contradicted him on the success of El Paso’s border wall. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick were also on the ride from Air Force One to the rally.

According to Miller, he told Trump to shake it off, because "they [the city of El Paso] pad the books," suggesting that the city underreports crime rates. (Axios has found no evidence of that.) Trump replied: "You mean like fake news?" Miller said: "Yeah! It was the first fake news." Trump: "Can I say that [at the rally]?" Miller: "Yeah!" The lieutenant governor then chimed in: "No, no. You probably shouldn't." Trump didn't.

Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2019

Will Senate Democrats end up backing — or send packing — Texas' embattled elections chief?

David Whitley is in damage control mode. Gov. Greg Abbott’s choice for secretary of state, battered from the fallout over his office’s controversial voter fraud inquiry, needs the support of Senate Democrats to be confirmed. But it’s unclear whether they will wield their power to deny him.

The Dallas Morning News reached out to the 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate. Just three publicly opposed Whitley. Most refused to comment. And several others said they need more time, as Whitley sits down this week with key members in an effort to smooth things over. "I would prefer not to make any statement until he is finished with his meetings," Sen. José Rodríguez, head of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, said Tuesday.

Gubernatorial appointees such as the secretary of the state need the backing of two-thirds of senators present, or 21 members if all 31 decide to vote. There are 19 Republicans in the Senate. If they all support Whitley, he would still need at least two Democrats to be confirmed. Just three of the Senate’s 12 Democrats confirmed to The News that they oppose Whitley’s nomination: José Menéndez of San Antonio, Kirk Watson of Austin and Royce West of Dallas. “I’m a hard nay,” Menéndez said. “I can’t support his nomination.”

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2019

Lawmakers push back on higher education funding requests

State lawmakers on Tuesday challenged several proposals offered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and expressed concerns about the rising costs of higher education, during a Senate Finance Committee hearing. The committee also heard budget requests from universities throughout the state.

The higher education board requested roughly $118 million for education initiatives, including improving the transferability of college courses throughout the state, the development of an open educational resource repository that could combat rising costs of textbooks and $112.6 million toward the Texas Grant program, the largest grant program in the state. The board’s requests are a part of its goal to equip 60 percent of adults between the ages 25 and 34 with a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2030 and to make college education easier to obtain and affordable for all students.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund A. Paredes stressed the importance of financial aid and serving students who are experiencing financial hardship, poverty and homelessness on campuses throughout the state. Lawmakers pushed back, many stating that the board and Legislature have been discussing the same issues for years. “You talk a lot about affordability, but I just don’t see it happening, especially at the larger schools,” State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said to Paredes. “… It keeps getting more expensive for our kids.”

Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2019

Houston federal judge bars female prosecutor from trial, sparking stand-off with U.S. attorney’s office

A federal judge banished a female prosecutor from his Houston courtroom last month, sparking a rare standoff between the new U.S. Attorney and a jurist with a history of sniping at lawyers, government officials and litigants.

U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, a 77-year-old appointed by President Ronald Reagan, has been criticized in the past for making comments perceived as racist or sexist in court. U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick argued that in twice ejecting the prosecutor before a trial, the judge exceeded his authority by attempting to rule on who can prosecute a case in his court. Hughes told Patrick that the prosecutor — who was involved in a previous case where the judge made controversial remarks — lacked ability and integrity, records show.

Federal judges have the discretion to excuse lawyers and issues ruling within the bounds of the constitution, and they do not have to provide their reasoning. Hughes is known for delivering history lectures, issuing blunt critiques about improper courtroom attire and accusing the Justice Department of abusing government resources. Visitors to his court either perceive him as obnoxious and vindictive or witty and astute.

Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2019

Texas Republicans wary of border deal to avert government shutdown

A tentative deal to avert a government shutdown without most of the money President Donald Trump sought to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border left many Texas Republicans in Congress stone-faced on Tuesday.

The agreement drew fierce opposition from conservative groups and right-wing pundits, as well as a decidedly negative reaction from Trump. "I'm not happy about it," he said flatly. "It's not doing the trick." But Trump appeared to back off talk of another government shutdown, which remains a possibility at midnight Friday unless the White House and Congress bridge their differences over immigration and wall funding in a 2019 funding deal.

Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2019

Investigation of CPS worker fired for falsification raises questions about agency records integrity

A Child Protective Services supervisor was terminated last month for allegedly falsifying government documents. It's not clear if the ex-employee could face criminal charges, but experts say the incident raises broader concerns about the reliability of an electronic records system that courts rely on to make decisions about whether to remove children from their families.

The fired supervisor was accused of altering case records and signing off on the changes as if they'd been made by a CPS investigator who reported to her. "It seems to me like it's an admission of a huge flaw in their system, that that is even possible," said former Juvenile Judge Mike Schneider. "Can we ever tell how often this has happened in the past?" The agency, which is a part of the Department of Family and Protective Services, did not offer comment.

Even though the 10-year employee was disciplined for the alterations, other former workers told the Chronicle that amending records in the name of other employees is common at CPS and that in some instances the agency had encouraged the practice. The disciplinary action stems from a November incident, when the Houston-area supervisor changed records of a visit with the family to instead show a wrap-up staff meeting on the case according to paperwork obtained through a public records request.

Dallas Morning News - February 13, 2019

Ted Cruz revives call to build border wall with El Chapo's drug money

With Tuesday's conviction of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in New York City, Sen. Ted Cruz is once again seeking support for a bill that would make the drug kingpin pay for a border wall.

"America's justice system prevailed today in convicting Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo, on all 10 counts," the Texas Republican wrote in a Twitter post. "It's time to pass my EL CHAPO Act. I urge my Senate colleagues to take swift action on this crucial legislation." Guzman was found guilty on charges including narcotics trafficking and taking part in a money laundering conspiracy, The Hill reported.

The Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order (El CHAPO) Act would repurpose $14 billion in assets that the government is seeking from the drug lord to fund construction of the wall. Cruz reintroduced the bill last month.. "Fourteen billion dollars will go a long way toward building a wall that will keep Americans safe and hinder the illegal flow of drugs, weapons, and individuals across our southern border," Cruz wrote when he first made the proposal in April 2017.

Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2019

Is another voting-rights lawsuit against Texas school district a sign of more to come?

Another Dallas-area school district has been sued in federal court over allegations that it is making it hard for residents of color to get elected, adversely affecting the education of minority and low-income children.

The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday, alleges that all seven Lewisville board members come from affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods because trustees are elected at-large rather than from single-member districts. As a result, the board fails students of color and those struggling financially because those children are receive a "second-rate" education compared to their peers, particularly in elementary schools, the suit says. The lowest performing schools are those mostly serving poor, Hispanic children, while high performing schools are in the white, more affluent neighborhoods where trustees live.

It's the second federal lawsuit in the past year that the Brewer Storefront has brought against a school district challenging how trustees are elected. The storefront is a pro-bono affiliate of the firm Brewer, Attorneys and Counselors, which has sued several other districts and cities over voting rights violations, including the Grand Prairie, Irving and Carrollton-Farmers Branch districts. All now use remodeled voting systems. "We believe our community is not only ripe for change but we need change," said William Brewer, a partner at the storefront. "There are these very significant gaps in the educational opportunities that are being made available at Lewisville ISD to some but not others."

Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2019

Dallas to Amazon: We still have an impressive site for you, or another company

Maybe Dallas didn't score one of Amazon's new headquarters, but developers, architects and economic development officials say the city gained a road map for how downtown Dallas can develop. And, with arms wide open, they're closely watching New York City's sometimes unwelcoming reception in case Amazon changes its mind.

"We never hung up the phone with Amazon," said Mike Rosa, senior vice president of the Dallas Regional Chamber, referring to the most recent announcement of an Amazon air hub at Fort Worth Alliance Airport and a fulfillment center in West Dallas, its eighth in Dallas-Fort Worth. Recent reports suggest the technology and retailing giant, which employs more than 11,000 people in D-FW, may be having doubts about New York City following heated political battles over incentives, union requests and displacement of residents.

"If they're readjusting their decision to place a headquarters in New York, they certainly know who to call," Rosa said, who watched all six hours of intense and sometimes hostile questioning of Amazon officials during recent New York City Council meetings. "Wow, my goodness," he said. "Amazon was invited to choose New York. I wouldn't be surprised if they [Amazon officials] got back to their office and had a discussion" about whether to reconsider.

Austin American-Statesman - February 12, 2019

AAS Editorial: Whitley is not the right fit for Texas secretary of state

In just two short months on the job, Secretary of State David Whitley has raised serious doubts about his fitness for office with a bungled attempt to identify noncitizens on Texas voter rolls. The effort, which erroneously pulled in the names of at least 20,000 legitimate voters, sparked three legal challenges and recklessly stoked fears about an illegal voting phenomenon that experts say is very rare. All of that was bad enough.

But it was Whitley’s testimony last week before the Senate Nominations Committee — where he failed to recognize his errors in the voter roll debacle or properly acknowledge the state’s troubled history with minority voters — that made it clear Whitley is not equipped to serve as Texas’ chief elections officer. The Senate should not confirm Whitley to the post. The delay in a committee vote this week is a good start.

Austin American-Statesman - February 12, 2019

Abbott backs bill to prevent local governments from regulating sick leave, other benefits

It should be up to Texas employers — and not local politicians — to decide what benefits they offer their workers, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday in a speech to an association of small business owners.

Having a city or county government create local regulations for employee benefits creates “a patchwork quilt of regulations” that drive up the cost of doing business, Abbott told members of the National Federation of Independent Business. The governor said he will back the Consistent Employment Regulations Act — a measure filed Tuesday by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth — that would ban local governments from regulating employee benefits.

“Paid sick leave, for a lot of businesses, is a great strategy,” Abbott said in his speech for NFIB-Texas’ Small Business Day. “It can be a recruiting tool that some businesses use to attract employees to go work for them, but it should be exactly that. It should be an option chosen by the business based upon their strategy of what they want to do, as opposed to a government mandate.”

Austin American-Statesman - February 12, 2019

Did Trump jump-start a Beto O’Rourke campaign for president?

Ostensibly, President Donald Trump came to the El Paso County Coliseum on Monday night to rally support for building a wall, or fence, like that what separates El Paso from Ciudad Juárez along a longer stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border. But it was readily apparent throughout Trump’s stemwinder that he also came in hopes of burying former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s potential presidential campaign before it has a chance to get off the ground.

If so, that strategy appears to have backfired. O’Rourke, who has been out of the national political spotlight since his close-call loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, suddenly was sharing a split screen in national coverage with the president. O’Rourke, speaking at an outdoor counterrally a few hundred yards away, was retesting his hopeful message that resonated with Texas voters three months ago, while Trump was belittling O’Rourke.

“My view is that I’m not sure that Beto O’Rourke needed any kind of jump-start, but it seems to have given him one,” said Matt Angle, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist who heads the Lone Star Project. “I’ve gotten calls all morning from people who again want to know how you get in touch with Beto O’Rourke.” Trump’s attacks on O’Rourke were based on the notion that Trump drew a far larger crowd than O’Rourke.

Texas Observer - February 13, 2019

Texas butterfly sanctuary files emergency restraining order to stop Trump's border wall construction

Attorneys for the National Butterfly Center have asked a federal judge to block the Trump administration from building a border wall at the refuge or using the center’s property as a pass-through to build elsewhere.

The motion alleges that federal agents and contractors have been driving without permission through the Rio Grande Valley refuge’s property to access nearby federal land for the last week, and that they even replaced one of the butterfly center’s gate locks. The Trump administration plans to break ground on a 6-mile stretch of border wall as soon as this week, starting with a federal wildlife refuge tract just upriver from the privately-owned butterfly center.

Star-Telegram - February 13, 2019

Kay Granger says border deal fulfills Trump’s wall promise

While President Donald Trump was rallying support for his border wall in El Paso on Monday night, Texas Republican Kay Granger was busy delivering it. Granger told the Star-Telegram that Republicans and Democrats have reached an agreement she said will give the president his wall, and keep the government from once again entering a partial shutdown at the end of the week.

“We have agreements on the most important issues,” Granger said after emerging from a meeting with top House and Senate appropriators late Monday evening. “This has been a difficult one because the issue is so important.” Granger and other lawmakers working on the deal to fund the Department of Homeland Security provided no details about how many miles of fencing or how much money for physical barriers would be included in their plan. They’re optimistic, however, that it can garner enough support from lawmakers in both parties to pass a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democrat-controlled House.

As for Trump, who has said he would reject any deal that didn’t include sufficient money for his border wall, Granger said the deal would deliver his chief campaign promise, “if you want to call it a wall.” Granger serves as the top Republican on the House spending committee, responsible for delivering a deal her conservative colleagues can accept. “I think all of us have talked to our different constituencies and our colleagues as we’ve gone along,” Granger said of the deal, which is expected to fund DHS and six other government agencies set to run out of money Feb. 15.

FOX 26 - February 12, 2019

Newly-elected judge dies from cancer weeks after sworn in

One of the 19 judges known for the "Black Girl Magic" campaign has died of pancreatic cancer. Judge Cassandra Hollemon passed away just weeks after being sworn in.

Judge Hollemon took her last breath surrounded by family at around 1 a.m. Monday at Ben Taub Hospital. Her loved ones say one minute, she was absolutely enjoying a dream come true and the next, she is gone. “Once she found it (the cancer), it took her and it just progressed," adds Brandon. "There was no time. It was very aggressive. Cancer sucks.”

The Harris County Criminal Court at Law #12 Judge was in a history-making photo of a group of women who made the world take notice and the woman who was behind the camera? Photographer Christin McQueen, who remembers the once-in-a-lifetime photo shoot and Judge Hollemon very well.

News 4 SA - February 12, 2019

Former State Senator Carlos Uresti speaks about sentencing

Former State Senator Carlos Uresti has been sentenced to five years after pleading guilty to bribery. The sentence will run concurrent with a 12-year sentence for a separate case involving money laundering and fraud. Uresti told Judge David Ezra during his sentencing hearing Tuesday that his heart is of full of regret and he is looking forward to the next chapter on his life.

As part of a plea deal, Uresti got five years for allegedly bribing a judge in Reeves County. He’ll also have to pay back $876,000 in restitution to Reeves County. Uresti has already been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for his role in the Four Winds Ponzi scheme. For the past year, he’s been out on bond. “I understand that this is been a very difficult chapter in my chapter in my life but I have learned from it and I vowed never to make those same mistakes again,” Uresti said after the hearing.

Uresti said during his time behind bars, he’s going to try to educate and rehabilitate himself and others who have gone down the wrong path. “People will learn from my mistakes and hopefully I can teach them from the good things and the bad things that I’ve learned as well,” Uresti told reporters on the steps of the courthouse. Uresti will be spending the next seven days with friends and family before surrendering to US Marshals.

County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 11, 2019

Judge calls bond releases right-minded, her critics deem them too risky

In a span of about two days in October, Austin police say a man wounded two people in separate downtown shootings, unloaded nine rounds from a .40-caliber handgun at an occupied pickup, and threatened to fatally shoot his ex-girlfriend after he slapped her in the head while he was holding their child.

Shortly after, Dominic Salinas, then 21, walked away from jail on a personal bond granted by a Travis County judge who for years has irked her judicial peers for approving pretrial jail release to defendants charged with serious crimes. Justice of the Peace Yvonne Williams, who signed off on $100,000 bonds for Salinas on each of his two counts of deadly conduct, has long been the go-to jurist for a small number of defense lawyers trying to get their clients out of jail against the recommendation of the county’s risk assessment calculation.

According to statistics obtained through an open records request, Williams signed 32 personal bonds for 26 defendants from 2016 to 2018 in which the defendant otherwise would have stayed in jail on a bond of $100,000 or more. None of the county’s four other current justices of the peace signed any bonds of that amount. Likewise, the county’s district judges who handle felony cases rarely approve high-dollar personal bonds.

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 12, 2019

All four suspects in gay couple’s beating now in custody, police say

Three weeks after the beating of a gay couple in downtown Austin that’s being investigated as a hate crime, authorities have arrested four men they believe were behind the attack.

The first suspect in the Jan. 19 attack, 22-year-old Frank Macias, was booked on two counts of aggravated assault with bodily injury, a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison. He was in jail Tuesday with bail set at a combined $300,000, online records show. Macias also was being held for an out-of-county felony and three misdemeanors. Authorities also arrested Quinn O’Connor on Tuesday, and took Miguel Macias and Kolby Monell into custody later in the day. All three are facing the same charges as Macias.

The assault not only stirred renewed support for the city’s LGBTQ community — inspiring a nighttime rally at the Texas Capitol and the creation of a citizen foot patrol — but also drew new attention to the prosecution of hate crimes in Austin. If prosecutors can prove that the beating was a hate crime, the suspects’ charges would be upgraded to first-degree felonies, which carry a sentence of five to 99 years.

Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2019

Ex-Richardson mayor goes on trial in steamy bribery case

Laura Maczka’s position on new apartments near Richardson neighborhoods was clear during her successful run for mayor - we don’t need them, “period.” Then she met an apartment developer.

Mark Jordan was younger, handsome and rich, federal prosecutors say. They had an affair. He lavished her with gifts and trips, according to prosecutors. In exchange, she voted for zoning changes for his controversial Palisades mixed-use project along Central Expressway, which neighbors fiercely opposed due to its numerous apartments, her indictment says.

Mark Jordan received more than $45 million in economic development incentives from the city. And he gave her a high-paying job for which she wasn’t qualified and married her, according to federal prosecutors. Those are allegations the government hopes to prove to a jury as the Plano couple’s bribery trial gets under way this week in Sherman, about an hour north of downtown Dallas. The trial began Monday morning with jury selection.

Austin American-Statesman - February 11, 2019

Petition challenging city’s deal for MLS stadium validated

A petition that challenges the city of Austin’s finalized deal for a Major League Soccer stadium has been validated. The certification of the petition means that Austinites could head to the polls later this year to decide whether stadium deals that involve city-owned land should face a vote.

The petition ordinance was written in the wake of the city’s deal with Austin FC owner Anthony Precourt, who plans to privately finance the construction of a $225 million, 20,000-seat MLS stadium on the city-owned McKalla Place tract in North Austin. Precourt is set to break ground on the stadium, which would be near the Domain shopping district, later this year.

The petition ordinance calls for the city to hold an election on any deal that would include the lease or sale of city-owned land for the construction of a sports or entertainment venue, and its certification likely sets up a showdown between the Austin City Council and opponents of the stadium deal. The city’s legal team has said that a new petition election cannot be held in May because two petition ordinances were included on the November general election ballot, and Austin’s charter stipulates that petition elections must be separated by at least six months.

National Stories

New York Times - February 12, 2019

The government shutdown made the I.R.S. even more frustrating

The longest government shutdown in United States history resulted in a “shocking” number of taxpayers’ calls to the Internal Revenue Service going unreturned or being left to languish on hold for unusually long periods, according to a government audit released on Tuesday.

The audit, by the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate, found that over five million pieces of mail went unanswered and 87,000 amended tax returns were not processed during the shutdown, when thousands of I.R.S. workers were furloughed or working without pay. The issues were especially acute since they followed significant changes to the tax code — ushered in by President Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax overhaul — that left many people with questions about filing their returns.

The problems continued even after the shutdown, the audit found. In the week that ended Feb. 2, shortly after agency employees returned to their jobs, fewer than half of the calls to the I.R.S.’s accounts-management lines were answered, compared with nearly 90 percent during the same week last year. The typical hold time for such callers increased to 17 minutes from four minutes in 2018.

New York Times - February 12, 2019

The biggest economic divides aren’t regional. They’re local. (Just ask parents.)

Regional inequality is often cited to explain just about every challenge the United States faces: political conflict, joblessness, drug overdoses, even the decline of marriage.

Conventional wisdom holds that regions are diverging economically in drastic fashion, and many are raising alarms that fewer people are moving from small towns to prosperous cities. Research confirms that workers are in fact more productive in densely populated metropolitan areas. But it’s a mistake to think that regional divides are the source of the nation’s core economic problems.

In important ways, states are more alike now than they have been historically. In places other than big metropolitan areas, research shows it’s easier for parents to give children opportunities to become higher-earning adults because the cost of living in a high-quality neighborhood is usually lower. Moreover, people living in smaller towns or cities tend to rate the quality of their communities higher than residents of large metropolitan areas do.

Wall Street Journal - February 13, 2019

Bank mergers get faster under Trump

Bank mergers are getting speedier under President Trump, with federal regulators changing policies that had deterred deals after the financial crisis. That stance could potentially help fuel more consolidation, though it has also raised concerns that regulators aren’t scrutinizing mergers closely enough.

Last week, BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc. announced plans for a $28.2 billion all-stock deal that, if completed, would be the biggest bank merger since the crisis. The number of bank mergers approved hasn’t changed significantly in the past two years. But the process for getting a deal across the finish line has gotten quicker and community groups appear to have less input. Banks say lengthy reviews by agencies including the Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency can create hurdles for mergers that involve stock transactions. If a review takes too long, market movements risk making the deal less beneficial for one of the parties.

The median time the Fed takes to approve or reject a bank merger receiving opposition from community groups—common in large deals—dropped to 3.8 months in the first half of 2018, from 5.6 months in the first half of 2017 and 7.0 months for all of 2015, according to a Fed report. At the OCC, the average time for handling all mergers dropped to 1.9 months in 2018, from 2.6 months in 2016, the agency said.

Wall Street Journal - February 13, 2019

Iran rift hurts US effort to build consensus on Mideast policy

Divisions over Iran are hindering the Trump administration’s efforts to build consensus with NATO allies on Middle East policy, with European powers balking at joining top U.S. officials in Poland’s capital for an event on regional security.

Washington has made isolating Tehran a focus of its foreign policy. Its major North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, including Britain, Germany and France, seek to preserve ties with Tehran and salvage the 2015 multilateral nuclear accord from which the U.S. withdrew last year, before reimposing sanctions. Now, this divide over Iran is on public display as officials from some 60 countries gather in for Warsaw for the two-day Middle East conference.

The two-day event, co-sponsored by the U.S. and Poland, was initially meant by the U.S. to build a global coalition against Iran. It is timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. But major European powers balked, partly to not jeopardize relations with Iran, and over the decision to hold the conference in Poland, a country that is clashing with the European Union over its shift toward authoritarian rule. Tehran wasn’t invited to the meeting.

Politico - February 13, 2019

Michael Bloomberg’s $500 million anti-Trump moonshot

Billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg is preparing to spend at least $500 million from his own pocket to deny President Trump a second term, according to Democratic operatives briefed on his plans.

Bloomberg has not yet announced whether he will run in the Democratic primary. If he runs, he will use that half-billion-dollar stake — roughly $175 million more than the Trump campaign spent over the course of the entire 2016 election cycle — to fuel his campaign through the 2020 primary season, with the expectation that the sum represents a floor, not a ceiling, on his potential spending.

If Bloomberg declines to seek the presidency, his intention is to run an unprecedented data-heavy campaign designed to operate as a shadow political party for the eventual Democratic nominee. “That’ll get us through the first few months,” Kevin Sheekey, a top advisor to the former New York City mayor, told POLITICO when asked about the $500 million plan, which is just 1 percent of Bloomberg’s estimated net worth.

Politico - February 13, 2019

Schumer recruits famed fighter pilot to challenge McConnell in 2020

Chuck Schumer is actively recruiting a high-profile fighter pilot to take on Mitch McConnell in 2020 — a calculated act of aggression against a leading Republican foe.

Schumer met with Amy McGrath, a Marine veteran-turned 2018 congressional candidate, at Democratic Party headquarters last month to pitch her on running against McConnell. McGrath listened and didn’t rule it out. The Democratic leader first contacted McGrath in December. McConnell, the longest-serving Senate GOP leader, is gearing up for a reelection fight and leaving little to chance. His political team has begun compiling opposition research on McGrath and delving into tracking footage of her. On Wednesday, senior Republican Party officials involved with a pro-McConnell super PAC will meet in Washington to begin mapping out a potential campaign against McGrath.

The Republican leader has also tapped a 2020 campaign manager: Kevin Golden, a veteran party operative who worked on McConnell’s 2014 reelection bid and oversaw Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn’s successful 2018 Senate campaign. Schumer’s offensive underscores the frayed relations between the two Senate leaders. In recent months, they have sparred bitterly on issues ranging from judicial nominees to the federal shutdown.

Politico - February 12, 2019

El Paso Fire Department denies Trump's crowd claim at rally

The El Paso Fire Department late Monday denied President Donald Trump's claim that officials gave him special permission to pack more people in to his rally than the facility allowed. During his rally at the El Paso County Coliseum, Trump touted his base supporters, saying "there has never been anything like this in the history of our country."

"If you would say, as an example, that tonight 69,000 people signed up to be here," he said. "Now the arena holds 8,000. And thank you, Fire Department. They got in about 10,000. Thank you, Fire Department. Appreciate it." The El Paso Fire Department said Trump's statement was untrue.

Fire Department spokesman Enrique Aguilar told the El Paso Times on Monday that Trump did not receive permission to exceed the limit and that there were 6,500 people inside the building during the president's rally. The coliseum holds about 6,500 people. There were thousands more watching Trump's speech on big screens outside the facility.

Associated Press - February 12, 2019

Notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman convicted

Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was convicted Tuesday of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation after a three-month trial packed with Hollywood-style tales of grisly killings, political payoffs, cocaine hidden in jalapeno cans, jewel-encrusted guns and a naked escape with his mistress through a tunnel.

Guzman listened to a drumbeat of guilty verdicts on drug and conspiracy charges that could put the 61-year-old escape artist behind bars for decades in a maximum-security U.S. prison selected to thwart another one of the breakouts that made him a folk hero in his native country.

A jury whose members’ identities were kept secret as a security measure reached a verdict after deliberating six days in the expansive case. They sorted through what authorities called an “avalanche” of evidence gathered since the late 1980s that Guzman and his murderous Sinaloa drug cartel made billions in profits by smuggling tons of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the U.S.

Associated Press - February 12, 2019

Ex-astronaut Mark Kelly makes Democratic bid for Senate seat

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who became a prominent gun-control advocate after his wife and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in a failed assassination attempt, announced Tuesday he will run to finish John McCain’s last term in the U.S. Senate.

If he wins the Democratic nomination, Kelly would take on Republican Martha McSally in what is expected to be one of the most closely contested Senate races of the 2020 election. Kelly described himself as an independent-minded centrist who will take a scientist’s data-driven approach to solving problems such as climate change, wage stagnation and health care affordability.

“You see a lot of partisanship in Washington and a lot of polarization, and to some extent we’ve created that,” Kelly told The Associated Press. “It’s going to take people who are more independent to fix it. Arizonans value independence.” If Kelly is nominated the race would pit the Navy veteran and astronaut against McSally, a trailblazing Air Force pilot, in the contest to replace McCain, a legendary Navy flyer who was famously shot down and held captive in North Vietnam.

Washington Post - February 12, 2019

Ilhan Omar and Steve King reacted to criticism very differently. Why that matters.

Recently, two high-profile lawmakers faced harsh rebuke for discriminatory comments. Their responses to the public, and to party leadership, were radically different — and very revealing.

As Politico Playbook put it: Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn rebuked Omar, and she apologized. When Republicans rebuked Rep. Steve King (R-IA), he railed against them. On Sunday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) responded to criticism of her position on Israel by tweeting, “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” In subsequent comments, Omar said she believes the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is paying lawmakers to be pro-Israel.

CNN - February 12, 2019

US commander warns of 'little to no verifiable change' in North Korea's military capabilities

The top US commander on the Korean Peninsula told Senate lawmakers Tuesday that "despite a reduction" in tensions with North Korea, there has been "little to no verifiable change" in the country's military capabilities since President Donald Trump's first summit with Kim Jong Un last summer.

"I remain clear-eyed about the fact that, despite a reduction in tensions along the DMZ and a cessation of strategic provocations coupled with public statements of intent to denuclearize, little to no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea's military capabilities," Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of US Forces Korea, said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Abrams said North Korea's "conventional and asymmetric capabilities" continue to put the US, South Korea and allies at risk, making it is necessary for the US military to "maintain a postured and ready force to deter any possible aggressive actions." That assessment comes as Trump is under pressure to demonstrate progress in his diplomatic opening with Pyongyang ahead of his second summit with Kim scheduled for February 27 and 28 in Vietnam.

Axios - February 13, 2019

Fake news fight pivots to retail

The National Enquirer is sparking a media crossover, with activists pushing to persuade stores to stop carrying tabloids in light of recent scandals around the publication.

So much of the attention on fake and malignant news has been on the platforms — Google, Facebook and Twitter. But a major chunk of the questionable media consumed in America is still seen in print, often in the checkout aisle. "Unlike most magazines, the National Enquirer is heavily dependent on sales of individual copies, not subscriptions. Seventy-five percent of sales come through single-copy sales at chain stores," Popular Information's Judd Legum notes.

"The dominant retailers for the National Enquirer are Walmart, which accounts for 23% of all sales, and Kroger, which accounts for 10%. Other major retailers of the National Enquirer include Giant/Food Lion, Albertsons/Safeway, CVS, Publix, Hudson Retail, and Walgreens," Legum writes.

The Hill - February 13, 2019

Hannity not 'as concerned as some other conservatives' if Trump signs border deal

Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday night blasted a bipartisan border security agreement as "pathetic," but said he's not that concerned about the prospect of President Trump signing it.

Hannity explained on his eponymous show that he does not share the same level of concern as some other conservatives about the deal because he believes Trump could secure money for a wall along the southern border through other means, including by declaring a national emergency. "It would be perfectly reasonable for President Trump to reject this bill," Hannity said. "Now there's another solution, maybe even a better solution. I’m not as concerned as some other conservatives if the president signs the bill. But there's a couple of ifs."

Hannity argued that Trump could sign the deal, which includes $1.375 billion in funding for roughly 55 miles of new barriers along the southern border, and combine it with federal money that could be reallocated from other areas. The president could then declare a national emergency to direct additional construction of the wall, Hannity said, acknowledging that it would be likely to draw immediate legal challenges.

February 12, 2019

Lead Stories

Washington Post - February 12, 2019

Lawmakers say they have reached an ‘agreement in principle’ to avoid government shutdown

Key lawmakers announced a tentative deal late Monday that would avert another government shutdown at the end of the week while denying President Trump much of the money he’s sought to build new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The agreement came together during intense hours of closed-door negotiations at the Capitol, as lawmakers resurrected talks that had fallen apart over the weekend in a dispute over new Democratic demands to limit immigrant detention. Democrats ultimately dropped some of those demands, which had come under fire from Republicans, clearing the way for a deal. Hurdles remained, and Trump’s ultimate backing was in doubt after quick opposition emerged from conservatives.

The deal includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fences along the border, compared with $5.7 billion Trump had sought for more than 200 miles of walls. The deal omits a strict new cap Democrats had sought on immigrants detained within the United States — as opposed to at the border. At the same time, it limits overall levels of detention beds maintained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, although GOP aides said ICE would have enough money and flexibility to maintain its current detention levels and add more when needed.

Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2019

Local government would lose, taxpayers keep $900 million as Texas property tax cap bill advances

A bill that would cap property taxes and shrink local government budgets by an estimated $900 million passed its first hurdle Monday and heads to the Senate for a full vote of its members.

That $900 million reduction for local operating budgets in 2021-- which was estimated by the Legislative Budget Board -- is money that property owners would keep in taxes they otherwise would pay if the bill does not pass. The savings won't make property tax bills smaller for individuals, but it would likely slow how rapidly they increase.

Senate Bill 2, authored by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, would cap property tax revenue increases for local governments and special taxing districts — which include utilities, hospitals and community colleges — at 2.5 percent a year. To let the entities exceed the cap, voters would have to approve any increase in revenue over that mark. The property tax cap also applies to school districts, but state leaders have promised to supply schools with additional state dollars to offset any local losses. The current cap for revenue increases from property taxes is 8 percent.

Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2019

Trump defiantly takes his wall message to predominantly Democrat El Paso

President Donald Trump came out swinging Monday evening as he launched his 2020 re-election campaign in the unlikeliest of places — on the border — using his ephemeral wall to hone his message that America cannot be safe until it seals itself off from Mexico.

As lawmakers in Washington reportedly agreed on a deal to avoid another government shutdown by offering up about $1.3 billion in new border security funding, Trump claimed he didn't know enough about the agreement to say much beyond, "We're building the wall anyway." "The wall is being built," Trump insisted to a crowd of thousands who attended his rally. "It's growing at a rapid pace." He added, "We proudly welcome those who come legally," saying that "illegal immigration hurts everybody."

Across the street, thousands of anti-Trump protesters, led by former El Paso Rep. Beto O'Rourke, fought back, decrying the wall and saying hate doesn't keep anybody safe. "We stand for America and we stand against walls," the Democrat said, wearing his trademark white shirt and bluejeans, still keeping his admirers at bay with no mention of whether he will run for president. El Paso is "safe not because of walls but in spite of walls," he said. "Secure, because we treat one another with dignity and respect. That is the way we make our communities and our country safe."

Austin American-Statesman - February 11, 2019

No vote this week on David Whitley nomination

In a change of plans, the state Senate Nominations Committee will not vote on the confirmation of Texas Secretary of State David Whitley during Thursday’s meeting, the panel’s chairwoman said Monday. No reason for the delay was given by the committee’s leader, Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway.

“It is at the chair’s discretion, but at this time we do not anticipate calling Mr. Whitley for a vote at our next meeting,” Buckingham said in a written statement. At Whitley’s confirmation hearing last week, Democrats on the committee repeatedly challenged his handling of an ongoing investigation into the citizenship status of tens of thousands of registered voters — many of whom have been found to be U.S. citizens. Buckingham had closed the hearing by announcing that she will “be asking for a vote” at the committee’s next hearing Thursday.

One of four Republicans on the seven-member committee, Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, will vote in favor of Whitley’s confirmation, his office said. Keith Ingram, director of the Elections Division for the secretary of state’s office, said officials at the agency were aware that U.S. citizens were likely included in the initial list of 95,000 registered voters who were flagged as potential noncitizens in a Jan. 25 advisory to county elections officials.

Texas Tribune - February 11, 2019

James Henson and Joshua Blank: Mandate or machinations? Unpacking efforts to set the legislative agenda

The prevailing narrative among legislators and the political class in Austin since November holds that the 2018 elections sent a clear signal to abandon red meat politics and start steaming those vegetables that the people really want, which has been taken to mean doing something to fix the school finance system and reduce Texans’ property taxes.

While that narrative has a surface plausibility, it doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny as an explanation for the projected consensus. This consensus seems much more established among the top political leadership than it does either in public opinion or the legislative bodies who will have to vote on the property tax bills. Set aside the hand-waving and vague muttering that “elections have consequences,” and the evidence for a public mandate is pretty thin.

The current consensus around property taxes and school finance likely has more to do with the new governing dynamic among Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Dennis Bonnen, and is likely much more tentative than the Olympian assurance the Big Three are working so hard to project.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2019

Texas crude oil production breaks 1970s record

Crude oil production in Texas has beaten a previous record set in the 1970s, a new report from the Texas Independent Producers Royalty Owners Association stated.

Texas oil wells produced more than 1.54 billion barrels of crude in 2018, beating the previous record of 1.28 billion barrels set in 1973, TIPRO reported in its annual "State of Energy Report" early Monday morning. Natural gas production also grew, reaching 8.8 trillion cubic feet in 2018, the report stated.

Crude oil production reached 1.26 billion barrels in 2017 – just shy of breaking the 1973 record, Railroad Commission of Texas figures show. Oil companies reached their record production figures in 2018 despite a 40 percent commodity price drop during the fourth quarter. "I'm grateful for the leadership and tenacity of the men and women in this industry to fuel our economy, provide jobs and pay significant tax revenue for our roads, water and education infrastructure," Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick said in a statement in response to TIPRO's report.

Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2019

Bills would require photos of food stamp recipients on Texas EBT cards

Texas lawmakers are targeting fraud involving the state’s food stamp program with two bills that would require photographs of the recipients on their government-issued cards.

Both House Bill 1250, filed by Beaumont Republican Rep. Dade Phelan, and Senate Bill 671, filed by Conroe Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton, would add the photo and name of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to their Lone Star Cards and place a greater emphasis on reporting instances of food stamp fraud. Also referred to as EBT cards –– short for electronic benefit transfer — operate much like debit cards at the checkout stand, and are refilled by the state on a monthly basis.

Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2019

At Rice, a tweet-storm sets off discussion of the university's racist past

Given the blackface scandal in Virginia, Rice student Charlie Paul wondered what he might find if he looked at his own university's yearbooks. On Wednesday, he began tweeting his finds: Racist cartoons; photos of students performing in blackface; an otherwise flattering photo of an actual African-American captioned with the n-word.

And, maybe most shocking to modern eyes, a photo from the 1922 yearbook: "The Klu Klux Klan of Rice Institute" showed about 20 people, faces hidden, in white robes and hoods. Paul's tweet-stream took off, sparking conversations across the internet — and, most particularly, at Rice. On Sunday, Rice President David Leebron emailed a letter to the "Rice community."

Kelley Lash, director of Rice's student media, echoes that assessment. She's active in the College Media Association, an organization for professionals who work with yearbooks and student newspapers. On the yearbook pros listserv and Twitter, she says, discussion of the recent blackface scandals roiling Virginia takes a bemused tone: "Our conversations are more like, 'Oh, you're noticing this now?'" she says.

Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2019

Houston researchers discover immunotherapy can help fight aggressive brain cancer

Patients with the aggressive glioblastoma brain cancer lived longer if they were treated with immunotherapy before surgery, according to researchers.

In a small study posted online Monday, patients lived nearly twice as long as the average expectancy for those with glioblastoma if they were given the drug that unleash a brake on the immune system. Previous research involved giving the drugs after surgery “This is an important first step toward using immunotherapy to benefit patients,” said Robert Prins, the study’s senior author and a tumor immunologist at UCLA, which led the multi-institutional, randomized study.

Some of the patients were enrolled at MD Anderson Cancer Center, home of Allison, who won a Nobel Prize last fall for his identification of the first immune system brake and dogged efforts to turn the finding into treatment for cancer. The drugs, known as checkpoint inhibitors, have produced cures in a subset of patients with particularly deadly forms of the disease, such as lung cancer and melanoma. But the treatment, including drugs used in combination, had shown no benefit in patients with glioblastoma, the cancer that killed Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, U.S. Senator John McCain and, most recently, former MD Anderson President Dr. John Mendelsohn.

Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2019

Newly elected Harris County misdemeanor judge –– one of the Black Girl Magic –– dead at 57

Cassandra Hollemon took the bench in a sweep of Black Girl Magic, becoming part of the historic moment when 17 African-American women in Harris County won spots overseeing some of the busiest courtrooms in Texas.

In the weeks since taking over Harris County Criminal Court of Law 12, Hollemon helped make a mark on local justice reform when she joined her colleagues in efforts to settle the landmark lawsuit over the county's cash bail system. She served on the Community Supervision and Pretrial Services Committee, and offered a keen sense of humor with friends and colleagues. On Monday, she died after weeks of struggling with "health issues," according to fellow misdemeanor Judge Darrell Jordan. She was 57.

"She was competitive; she was a fighter," said Judge Shannon Baldwin, the misdemeanor administrative jurist who sits on the bench in Court 4. "It's really sad and humbling that she's not here with us now." Also part of the Black Girl Magic, Baldwin met Hollemon in late 2017 as campaign season began ramping up. Hollemon offered humor and strength as the two got to know each other during the lead-up to the elections, Baldwin said.

Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2019

Former Houston businessman sentenced for illegally funded congressional trip

Kemal Oksuz, a former Houston-based businessman convicted of lying to Congress about Azerbaijan's role in a funding a trip for 10 lawmakers – including four from Texas – walked out of a federal courthouse Monday a free man.

Oksuz, 49, was credited with three months he spent in an Armenian jail last year, plus another week that he was detained upon his return to the U.S. last November. He also will serve two years of probation and pay a $20,000 fine. The Justice Department, arguing that Oksuz's deception undermined bedrock American political institutions, had sought a one-year prison sentence, the maximum possible under federal sentencing guidelines.

Oksuz's case ended a four-year corruption investigation that included the Office of Congressional Ethics, the House Ethics Committee and, finally, the FBI, which pursued him from Houston to Armenia, where he was living until last year. The Justice Department alleged that he used a pair of Houston non-profits as part of an international scheme to funnel money from the Azeri national oil company "in order to gain access" to members of Congress at a 2013 energy conference in the capital city of Baku.

Austin American-Statesman - February 12, 2019

Bill aims to take ‘marihuana’ out of Texas statutes

If one thing is beyond debate about the strict “marihuana” prohibitions in Texas, it’s that the word is misspelled dozens of times in decades-old state statutes. Leave it to a former Spanish teacher to do some retroactive copy-editing.

“I wanted to get a pen and write over it,” freshman state Rep. Terry Meza, D-Irving, said of her reaction when she first noticed the h-instead-of-j spelling of marijuana repeated throughout state law books. Instead, she has introduced House Bill 1196, which would replace all the phonetic “marihuana” references with the plant’s scientific name: “cannabis.”

Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2019

Beto O'Rourke leads counter-rally to Trump's El Paso visit, attendees urge him to run for president

Beto O'Rourke on Monday led a march and rally attended by thousands that pushed back against President Donald Trump's contention that El Paso was a dangerous city and a border wall was needed to protect it –– and the nation.

"We know that walls do not save lives, walls end lives," O'Rourke said, alluding to the suffering and death that asylum seekers from other countries have faced. "We stand for the best traditions and the values of this country ... for who we are when we're at our best, and that's El Paso, Texas." O'Rourke, the city's favorite son, was warmly received by a crowd of thousands chanting "Beto, Beto, Beto," urging him to run for president. "I'm so proud of this community at this defining moment of truth," he said.

He later added: "With the eyes of the country upon us, all of us are going to make our stand." Law enforcement said the "March for Truth" crowd had as many as 7,500 marching, with several thousand more gathered at the park where the rally was held. Speaker after speaker said Trump was trying to use the border security issue to divide people, chanting "El Paso united can never be divided."

Washington Post - February 12, 2019

'No crisis exists': El Paso officials tell Trump to stop falsehoods about their border city

Officials in El Paso, Texas, rebuked President Donald Trump before his visit to the border city on Monday night, assailing the president for falsely crediting the city's safety to the border fence that was built there 10 years ago.

In a news conference Monday afternoon, Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents the city in Congress; El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego; District Attorney Jaime Esparza; and Commissioner Carlos Leon said Trump's statements threatened to damage the town's reputation.

The city's violent crime peaked in 1993 before declining sharply throughout the 1990s, in line with national trends, and long before the city's fence was approved by Congress in 2006. From 2006 to 2011 - the period through the two years after it was built, violent crime actually increased 17 percent, according to the El Paso Times. It was a point that officials underscored Monday. "Even if you give president the benefit of the doubt, the fence that was built in 2008 has made really no difference one way or the other," said Esparza, who has served as district attorney since 1993.

Breitbart - February 10, 2019

Texas lawmakers propose state funding for wall on border

Two Texas statehouse members will soon introduce legislation funding President Donald Trump’s planned border wall along the U.S. border with Mexico — specifically the Texas border — Breitbart News has learned.

State Reps. Kyle Biedermann and Briscoe Cain intend to introduce legislation soon that would fund $2.5 billion of wall construction along the Texas border with Mexico, appropriating it from the economic stabilization fund for the state fiscal year ending August 31, 2019. The funds would be used, Biedermann tells Breitbart News, “to design, test, construct, and install physical barriers, roads, and technology along the international land border between the State of Texas and Mexico to prevent illegal crossings in all areas.”

Preference for the contracts and awarding of bids, Biedermann added, “for all phases of construction” would be given to Texans and Texas-owned entities. While this idea is still novel and untested, given the fact that Republicans control the Texas statehouse and Texas state Senate and Texas’ governor Greg Abbott is a strong ally of President Trump’s, this type of plan could actually work in legally acquiring appropriations for a significant portion of what Trump intends to do along the border.

Texas Standard - February 11, 2019

Report details statewide proposal to help children who survive trauma get services they need

A new report outlines a statewide plan to ensure kids and families who have experienced trauma get the services they need when they interact with the child welfare system. The Texas Supreme Court’s Children’s Commission released its findings last Friday.

Travis County District Judge Darlene Byrne is part of the 100-member group that worked on this report, titled “Building a Trauma-Informed Child Welfare System: A Blueprint,” for the last year-and-a-half. She explains that one of the first steps that needs to be taken is a shift in how we understand and talk about trauma.

“We want Texas to start looking at the children and families that we serve from a lens of not ‘what’s wrong with you?’ but otherwise ‘what happened to you?’ and start from that place of healing,” Byrne says. “But what this blueprint challenges every community to do is to come together collaboratively and identify what resources do we have, what can we leverage with those resources, and then identify the unique gaps in that jurisdiction.” she says. Byrne describes this blueprint as the first step in a five-to-ten-year process to transform how the state’s child welfare system understands and addresses trauma.

San Antonio Express-News - February 12, 2019

Former Sen. Carlos Uresti’s sentencing in West Texas bribery case set for today

The nearly two-year saga in the criminal proceedings of state-senator-turned-felon Carlos Uresti reaches its final act today. Uresti, 55, is set to be sentenced for his guilty plea to conspiring with others to pay and accept bribes to secure a West Texas correctional medical-services contract for a company run by a Lubbock businessman.

The longtime Democratic politician is facing a maximum of five years in prison. Uresti’s political and legal career unraveled after a federal jury nearly a year ago convicted him on 11 felony charges, including wire fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering for his roles at FourWinds Logistics, an oil field services firm. He served as the company’s outside legal counsel, was a 1 percent owner and recruited investors.

The FourWinds case is unrelated to his guilty plea for bribery. Uresti subsequently gave up his law license and resigned from the Senate. As part of his sentence, Uresti also was ordered to pay $6.3 million to victims of the FourWinds fraud. He sold his former law office building at 924 McCullough in December and is selling his Helotes estate. Henry Cisneros, former mayor and U.S. housing secretary, said he is praying for Uresti to be “strong physically and spiritually through this ordeal.” Cisneros said he and Uresti were “political friends” but did not socialize.

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - February 11, 2019

Light rail for San Antonio? Even longtime backers have given up

Just before Christmas last year, the non-profit transportation study group, ConnectSA, unwrapped a glossy 25-page, 4,000-word report that proposed several new transportation options for the nation’s 7th largest city over the next three decades.

It promoted bus rapid transit, or BRT — essentially more frequent buses running in dedicated curbed lanes, often at intervals under 10 minutes. It recommended rubber-wheeled, trackless trams. It mentioned e-scooters, of course. It called for better sidewalks, more bike paths and HOV lanes, and nodded toward the not-quite-defined but sure-to-come world of driverless vehicles.

Star-Telegram - February 12, 2019

Why Fort Worth (probably) can’t have a TEXRail system as large as Dallas’ DART trains

The popularity of Fort Worth’s new TEXRail commuter train system has prompted many residents to call for a comprehensive commuter rail system that takes people to more corners of Tarrant County.

Some North Texans point to Dallas’s extensive DART light-rail system, and wonder why Fort Worth can’t have something like that. The answer isn’t just about money. True, Fort Worth’s Trinity Metro transit system operates on a much smaller budget because only a half-cent sales taxes is collected for transit in the Fort Worth area, compared to a full 1 penny sales tax in the Dallas area.

But a more important reason has to do with right-of-way. Fort Worth doesn’t have the space to build new rail lines — not, at least, without tearing down lots of existing private property (which local transit officials say they don’t want to do). There are some expansion plans in the Fort Worth area that seem realistic. For example, Trinity Metro is already working on a plan to extend TEXRail a few miles south to a planned station at the medical district, as well as West Berry Street near Texas Christian University — although that plan requires permission from the Fort Worth & Western Railway, which controls the tracks.

National Stories

Wall Street Journal - February 11, 2019

GOP launches attacks on Democrats over ‘Green New Deal’

Republicans have seized on the “Green New Deal” in an effort to paint Democrats as extreme and out of touch on energy policy, attacking the proposal and launching advertisements tying swing-district Democrats to the idea.

Unveiled last week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), the Green New Deal aims to slow climate change by ending the reliance of the U.S. economy on fossil fuels within 10 years. It is a statement of goals and doesn’t make specific policy proposals, nor does it specify how it would finance the enormous public investment it would require.

President Trump has mocked the proposal, joining a number of other Republicans who focused fire on the Green New Deal over the weekend. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with House GOP leadership, launched two digital ads on Monday attacking the Green New Deal and two freshmen Democrats from competitive districts. Neither Reps. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) nor Colin Allred (D-TX), the targets of the two ads, has formally signed on to the legislation.

Wall Street Journal - February 12, 2019

A year after Parkland: Making sure to day, ‘I love you’ at morning drop-off

The horror of the shooting here nearly a year ago that left 17 people dead crosses Ina Berlingeri-Vincenty’s mind every morning when she drops her son Nico off at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Before he gets out of the car, she says, “I make sure I say, ‘I love you.’” Nico was in freshman English class when the rampage began. The gunman spared his classroom, but not the one next door, where his older sister, Amanda, then a senior, was studying Holocaust history. She survived, but saw two of her friends die beside her.

As the one-year mark of the shooting approaches on Thursday, Parkland is struggling to heal. The community has grieved and erected memorials. Some families who lost loved ones, and students who survived, have channeled their anguish into activism. Many have undergone counseling and recaptured a semblance of normalcy. But pain and anger still pour forth regularly—especially as the political fallout from the shooting continues. A January report by a state panel detailed a litany of errors in law enforcement’s handling of the shooting. About a week later, Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who was in charge of the police response. Mr. Israel is challenging the move.

Reuters - February 12, 2019

Virginia political crisis in stalemate after impeachment threat

The chaos that has swirled around the Virginia statehouse for more than a week showed no signs of waning on Tuesday, one day after a lawmaker backed down from his threat to seek the impeachment of one of three top-ranked Democrats engulfed in scandal.

The decision by Patrick Hope, Democratic member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, not to initiate impeachment proceedings against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, 39, over accusations of sexual assault has left the next move unclear. Fairfax, once a rising star in the U.S. state’s Democratic party, has resisted all calls to resign following accusations he raped a fellow student at Duke University and forced himself sexually on another at a Boston hotel 14 years ago.

Fairfax has said sexual encounters with both women were consensual and called the allegations a “smear campaign” against him. Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have separately refused to step down over revelations that both wore blackface in the 1980s. The three scandal-marred officials clinging to their jobs have rattled Democratic party leadership in a swing state that could play a pivotal role in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Democrats have gained power in the Southern state during the last few election cycles.

Reuters - February 12, 2019

We must 'hold our nerve' on Brexit, May to tell MPs

Prime Minister Theresa May will tell British lawmakers on Tuesday they must hold their nerve over Brexit to force the European Union to accept changes to the divorce deal that would pave the way for an orderly exit.

The United Kingdom is on course to leave the European Union on March 29 without a deal unless May can convince the bloc to amend the divorce deal she agreed in November and then sell it to skeptical British lawmakers.

“The talks are at a crucial stage,” May will tell parliament’s House of Commons on Tuesday, according to remarks supplied by her Downing Street office. “We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this House has required and deliver Brexit on time.”

Washington Post - February 12, 2019

A hedge fund’s ‘mercenary’ strategy: Buy newspapers, slash jobs, sell the buildings

When the building housing the downtown Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper sold last April, the name of the buyer — Twenty Lake Holdings LLC — seemed of little consequence. The paper would be moving from its longtime home amid declining circulation and a shrinking staff under its owner, Gannett. The old newsroom was little more than an afterthought.

But Twenty Lake Holdings is not just another commercial real estate investor. It is a subsidiary of Alden Global Capital, the New York City hedge fund that backed the purchase of and dramatic cost-cutting at more than 100 newspapers — causing more than 1,000 lost jobs. For Alden and its subsidiary, the Gannett empire’s newspapers are clearly an attractive feature. But by purchasing the Memphis building and others like it, Alden has already begun coming for what it may consider a bigger prize: Gannett’s real estate.

The hedge fund’s newspaper business, Digital First Media, is bidding to buy Gannett, operator of the nation’s largest chain of daily newspapers by circulation, including USA Today — as well as its $900 million in remaining property and equipment — for more than $1.3 billion. The tactics employed by Alden and Digital First Media are well-chronicled: They buy newspapers already in financial distress, including big-city dailies such as the San Jose Mercury News and the Denver Post, reap the cash flow and lay off editors, reporters and photographers to boost profits.

CNN - February 11, 2019

Democrats forced to confront growing divide over Israel heading into 2020

Democrats are entering the 2020 election cycle with many of their leading presidential contenders increasingly willing to break with a pro-Israel foreign policy orthodoxy that guided the party for a generation.

The new crop of progressive political stars in the House and a base more sympathetic to the Palestinians than ever before helped push a half-dozen White House aspirants to break with the pro-Israel lobby last week on a major bill, even as it passed with support from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other high-ranking Democratic officials.

But the simmering divisions and debates inside the party blew up on social media Sunday night, when Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar suggested in a series of flippant tweets that the top House Republican's support for Israel was "all about the Benjamins" –– or tied to financial backing offered by the right-leaning American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The blow-up threatens to further complicate an already knotty question facing progressives who have spent years now carefully questioning what they view as a political establishment that is too deferential and unwilling, over domestic political concerns, to criticize the Israeli government.

BuzzFeed - February 11, 2019

A Trump supporter attacked journalists after the president blasted the media at his Texas rally

A man wearing a Make America Great Again hat barreled into the press pit at Trump's rally in El Paso, Texas, Monday night and started shoving reporters, knocking over their equipment, and yelled "f*** the media," minutes after the president had lashed out at journalists.

About half way through his lengthy, campaign-style speech, Trump ridiculed the media for "refusing to acknowledge" his administration's successes, invoking loud boos and jeers from the crowd. "I was trying to tweet and watch the president and all of the sudden the riser started shaking and two tripods in front of me fell on top of one another and then a guy almost fell on me," Yasmine El-Sabawi, a producer with TRT World, a Turkish news channel, told BuzzFeed News.

A photographer dropped his camera as she and other reporters quickly tried to figure out what was happening. "Then it set in that someone was here who wasn't supposed to be here and then you saw the red hat and it sinks in and you get it," El-Sabawi said. The attacker "went straight for the BBC camera man," El-Sabawi added. Several members of the BBC who were at the rally shared their footage and accounts on Twitter.

USA Today - February 12, 2019

Robert Mueller has spent two years investigating Trump, and he hasn't said a word. It's possible he never will.

Occasionally, his signature appears on court documents. But on the most consequential days of the nearly two-year investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the man leading it – Robert Mueller – has been conspicuously absent.

When President Donald Trump's senior aides and confidants paraded through federal courtrooms to face criminal charges his office had filed, the former FBI director was nowhere to be seen. When some of them came back to court to be convicted, he said nothing. It's possible he never will.

Mueller's investigation has cast a shadow over nearly all of the first two years of Trump's presidency. Prosecutors working to determine whether Trump's campaign coordinated with Russian efforts to sway the election that put him in office have brought charges against some of his top aides and revealed extensive Moscow ties. As the inquiry grinds closer to its conclusion, there are signs that the public might never learn the full extent of what Mueller has – or hasn't – found.

Axios - February 11, 2019

Grading the impact of Trump's China tariffs

New analysis shows that U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods are chipping away at the trade deficit with China. But there are other questions to answer when it comes to whether the tariffs are having their desired effect.

Are they reducing the U.S.-China trade imbalance? Yes. After accounting for frontloading to get out in front of the tariffs early in the year, the rate of tariffed goods exported from China slowed, a new report from the Institute of International Finance shows, and will likely continue to slow without a resolution. China's reciprocal tariffs on U.S. goods are slowing American exporters' sales, too. But because the U.S. imports more from China than it exports there, tariffs should continue to lessen the trade deficit.

Are they helping American businesses? No.Remember, U.S. companies that import Chinese goods pay the tariffs. When the full slate of tariffs went into effect in October, tariff collections topped $5 billion, the highest amount ever recorded. The amount of tariffs paid by these American companies has doubled since May, including an increase of more than 30 percent from August to October. Companies as varied as truck manufacturer Cummins, equipment maker Caterpillar, chipmaker Nvidia and washing machine manufacturer Whirlpool have all separately issued lower 2019 guidance citing the tariffs as a direct cause.

Axios - February 11, 2019

Amid Democratic pressure, Ilhan Omar apologizes for tweets on Israel

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) "unequivocally" apologized Monday for her tweets on Israel, which used stereotypes often perceived as anti-Semitic, saying that she is "grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating [her] on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic leadership condemned Omar's comments earlier in the day and requested an apology, saying her "use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive." In a Sunday night tweet, Omar insinuated political support for Israel is based on campaign donations from pro-Israel lobbying groups — specifically AIPAC.

In her apology, Omar said that she reaffirmed "the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics," adding that the U.S. "must be willing to address it. But in October, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) accused rich Jewish donors, including George Soros, of "buying" the midterm election in a since-deleted tweet. McCarthy is now on the forefront of urging Democratic leaders to condemn Omar and Tlaib and suggested the situation was worse than the racially charged comments of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the Washington Post reports.

McClatchy - February 12, 2019

‘Weaker candidate than Hillary’: Democrats cast deep doubt on Biden’s 2020 value

Joe Biden is everything a Democratic political consultant should love: He’s experienced, well-liked, and his poll numbers look great against Donald Trump. And yet many party strategists have a bleak assessment of his potential 2020 campaign: It’s a bad, bad idea.

“This last election cycle, we’ve seen a whole new level of energy that has emerged through a lot of fresh faces, and the party has moved in that direction and wants to hear new ideas and different messages,” said Norm Sterzenbach, a former executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party who now works as a consultant in the state. Added Jim Manley, longtime Democratic operative: “I’m not convinced Biden is the right way to go at this point in time.”

Gallup Polls - February 11, 2019

Americans' confidence in their finances keeps growing but partisanship plays a role

Americans' optimism about their personal finances has climbed to levels not seen in more than 16 years, with 69 percent now saying they expect to be financially better off "at this time next year."

The 69 percent saying they expect to be better off is only two percentage points below the all-time high of 71%, recorded in March 1998 at a time when the nation's economic boom was producing strong economic growth combined with the lowest inflation and unemployment rates in decades.

Members of most major demographic groups are more likely in 2019 to say their financial situation has improved in the past year than to say they are worse off –– with Democrats the one major exception. By 37 percent to 32 percent, more Democrats say that compared with a year ago, they are worse off financially rather than better off. However, among some of the key groups that generally vote Democratic, a plurality or majority say they are better off.

Associated Press - February 12, 2019

California governor rebukes Trump in border troop withdrawal

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday he’s withdrawing most of the state’s National Guard troops on the Mexico border because he won’t participate in the Trump administration’s “absurd theatrics” on border security.

Still, he acknowledged some troops were doing good work fighting drug crime and said he plans to allow 100 of the roughly 360 state troops now deployed to keep working with the federal government. “I’m trying to acknowledge there are some legitimate concerns but I’m not going to play into the hype and the politics,” he told reporters before signing an executive order changing the troops’ mission.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown agreed in April to deploy up to 400 troops to the border in response to a request from the Trump administration made to four border states. Brown made it clear then that California troops couldn’t aid in immigration enforcement, but Newsom said there’s been a “gray area” in their duties. Maj. Gen. David Baldwin of the California National Guard said the troops have not participated in immigration detention but some are conducting camera surveillance that could inadvertently aid in immigration enforcement.

NPR - February 11, 2019

Denver teachers strike over base pay

Denver schoolteachers are going on strike over how their base pay is calculated. The teachers union and the school district failed to reach an agreement after more than a year of negotiations.

It is the first teachers strike for the city in a quarter-century, and it affects about 71,000 students across 147 schools, Colorado Public Radio reports. Most public schools will remain open, staffed by hundreds of substitute teachers. Early reports indicated that at least 2,100 of the district's more than 5,000 educators honored the walkout.

Gov. Jared Polis says it will cost about $400,000 a day to keep the schools running during the strike. That's about 1 percent to 2 percent of the budget for the school year if the strike lasts a week, the The Colorado Sun reports. The fundamental disagreement concerns how base pay is calculated. Twenty years ago, the district first piloted the Professional Compensation System for Teachers, known by most as ProComp. Both sides have offered proposals to simplify the system, but there is still disagreement over the use of bonuses.

February 11, 2019

Lead Stories

KXAN - February 11, 2019

Gov. Greg Abbott, Ted Cruz to join President Trump at El Paso rally

Gov. Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz will attend President Trump's Make America Great Again rally in El Paso set for Monday.

Plans have not been finalized on whether Gov. Abbott will speak or join him on stage. Cruz will also attend. This marks the seventh rally the president has held in Texas and the first in El Paso.

Beto O'Rourke is expected to lead a march happening at the same time as the rally. He is teaming up with dozens of civic and human rights organizations for the event that is being called "March for Truth."

Associated Press - February 10, 2019

El Paso bristles at Trump’s claim that wall made city safe

People walking over the Paso del Norte Bridge linking this West Texas border city to Mexico can watch President Donald Trump’s border wall getting bigger in real time.

Workers in fluorescent smocks can be seen digging trenches, pouring concrete and erecting rust-colored slabs of 18-foot-high metal to replace layers of barbed wire-topped fencing along the mud-colored Rio Grande, which is usually little more than a trickle. Most of the more than 70,000 people who legally cross four city bridges daily — to shop, go to school and work — pay the construction in the heart of downtown no mind. But on a recent weekday, one man stopped and pointed, saying simply “Trump.”

Trump said barriers turned El Paso from one of the nation’s most dangerous cities to one of its safest, but that’s not true. El Paso, population around 800,000, had a murder rate less than half the national average in 2005, a year before the most recent expansion of its border fence. That’s despite being just across the border from drug violence-plagued Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Many residents say El Paso embodies a cross-border spirit that transcends walls rather than proving more are needed. “The richest of the rich, the poorest of the poor, we all have different reasons for wanting to cross, and people cross every day,” said El Paso City Council member Peter Svarzbein.

Bloomberg - February 8, 2019

Anti-OPEC bill allowing U.S. to sue oil cartel moves forward

Legislation that would allow the U.S. government to sue OPEC for inflating oil prices cleared a key hurdle in the new session of Congress.

The House Judiciary Committee, now led by Democrats, advanced the “No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act" Thursday. That sets the bipartisan "NOPEC" bill, which would subject the cartel to possible antitrust action by the Department of Justice, up for a possible House vote. A similar bill targeting OPEC was introduced in the Senate on Thursday.

OPEC’s members “deliberately collude to limit crude oil production as a means of fixing prices, unfairly driving up the price of crude oil," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said before voting in favor of the legislation. The law would amend the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, the law used more than a century ago to break up the oil empire of John Rockefeller.

The Hill - February 9, 2019

Trump divides Democrats with warning of creeping socialism

President Trump hadn’t had much success dividing Democrats until he found a word that would provoke very different responses from different members of the party during his State of the Union address: socialism.

Trump’s warning of creeping socialism in the United States, deftly mentioned after a section of the speech on the unfolding political crisis in Venezuela, created an immediate public split among Democrats that was caught on live television. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (NY) and Sens. Debbie Stabenow (MI), Joe Manchin (WV), Jon Tester (MT) and Sherrod Brown (OH) were among the lawmakers who stood with Republicans to applaud Trump when he pledged that the United States would never slide into socialism.

But other Democrats weren’t so happy about Trump’s choice of words — which was clearly meant to put them on the spot. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who labels himself as a democratic socialist, stayed rooted in his seat, as did Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), another leading democratic socialist, smiled in response to Trump's remark but stayed seated. She later argued that Trump's attack is a sign of her growing success.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2019

DMN Editorial: From ducky pajamas to port authority, Blake Farenthold is the poster child for toughening state and federal ethics laws

We’re sick and tired of politicians who break the public trust, exploit ethical loopholes and still land on their feet on the taxpayer’s dime. Case in point: former Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold, a poster child for tougher state and federal ethics rules. Out-of-office politicians can too easily profit from their time in office without much accountability.

As you might recall, Farenthold, a Corpus Christi Republican also known for being photographed wearing ducky pajamas next to a lingerie model at a fundraiser several years ago, resigned his House seat last year after using $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment suit. Farenthold promised to repay the money but has yet to do so. Then, he became a $160,000 legislative aide for the Calhoun Port Authority, a major public port for chemical manufacturing industries in South Texas.

And that’s where this story becomes infuriating. The port authority hired Farenthold as a state employee, not a lobbyist, which kept him clear of repercussions from proposed federal legislation to block former members of Congress from lobbying their colleagues if they haven’t reimbursed taxpayers. We can’t believe that this is just coincidental, and neither does Farenthold’s local newspaper, The Victoria Advocate. The newspaper doggedly asked tough questions about how he got the port job and Farenthold’s prior relationship with port authority officials while he served in Congress.

Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2019

Mitchell Schnurman: Can’t we all just agree on the data? Tom Luce offers a fresh debate to lift Texas

In the 1980s, Dallas lawyer Tom Luce went to Austin with Ross Perot to help lead the way on groundbreaking education reforms. They included more public school funding and a no-pass, no-play rule that required students to perform in the classroom before performing on the field. Now, as he approaches his 79th birthday, Luce is taking a different tack with an even more ambitious agenda.

He’s formed a public policy group, Texas 2036, to push lawmakers and the public to confront some of the state’s most vexing issues: education, health care, infrastructure, the environment, public safety and government performance. If people understand what the data show –– that Texas’ economic advantages are at risk, that it must create roughly 6 million new jobs by 2036 –– he believes they’ll rally behind a long-term plan to keep the state moving ahead.

Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2019

Nervous Republicans looking toward 2020 hope Donald Trump's El Paso visit helps, not hurts

President Donald Trump is visiting El Paso on Monday to discuss border security, a trip that could energize or traumatize Texas Republicans. For GOP incumbents and other 2020 candidates, Trump's visit is all about timing. At least it's not happening during general election season.

The 2018 midterm elections were a referendum on Trump and his policies, including his controversial call to build a wall along the nation's southern border. In Texas, two powerful congressional incumbents backed by the president — Pete Sessions of Dallas and John Culberson of Houston — lost re-election contests. And despite his October rally in Houston, Republican incumbent Ted Cruz came within 2.6 percentage points of losing to Democrat Beto O'Rourke, a race that polls showed was firmly in hand before Trump's rally.

Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2019

Guatemala town's residents weigh playing cat-and-mouse game on U.S. border

President Donald Trump plans to make his case for a barrier again in El Paso on Monday at his first campaign rally of the year.

What's needed, say his critics, including U.S. legislators who visited El Paso Saturday, are more judges, lawyers, resources to move the asylum process along, and more economic investments in Central America to generate jobs for locals and help stop the exodus.

Trump's policy of dramatically slowing the flow of asylum-seekers into the U.S. — a practice known as "metering" and in coordination with Mexican authorities — means migrants who travel north from here to reach the U.S.-Mexican border must wait in Mexico days, weeks and even months before any chance of processing by U.S. border agents. U.S. officials have said the process is aimed at preventing ports of entry from overflowing.

Houston Chronicle - February 8, 2019

The fastest growing job in Texas is wind turbine technician, data projects

Renewable energy will provide the most job growth for Texans in the next few years, employment projections show. Wind turbine service technicians will be in high demand from now until at least 2026, according to the government-funded Projections Managing Partnership that uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Between 2017 and 2019, the number of jobs to service wind turbines will increase 20.1 percent, the data shows. And by 2026, wind turbine service jobs will more than double. Wind and solar energy projects are also expected to be the fastest growing source of new generation over the next two years, according to a previous report by the Energy Department. Wind is projected to grow 12 percent in 2019 and 14 percent in 2020.

Houston Chronicle - February 8, 2019

Navy veteran challenges fellow Navy veteran Rep. Dan Crenshaw in Houston Congressional District

A naval battle just might be on the horizon in one of Houston’s most competitive Congressional districts. On Thursday Navy veteran and science teacher Elisa Cardnell, a Democrat, filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to challenge newly-elected U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Houston Republican who is a former Navy SEAL.

The 32-year-old Cardnell, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rice University, spent 5 years on active duty in the Navy and nearly 6 years in the Navy reserves. While on active duty, she rose to the rank of lieutenant, serving as an anti-submarine warfare officer and an officer in charge of port operations in Yorktown.

Crenshaw, a retired lieutenant commander spent 10 years in the Navy SEALS that included tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Crenshaw nearly lost his vision when an IED blast in Afghanistanput him into a coma for five days. He survived but lost his right eye. He defeated Democrat Todd Litton, 53 percent to 46 percent, in November.

San Antonio Express-News - February 10, 2019

SAEN Editorial: State needs to view corrections jobs differently

Money alone will not slow the high turnover among correctional officers in the Texas prison system. While a higher starting wage for these high-stress and dangerous jobs is certainly in order, changes to the work culture within the prison walls, incentives for longevity on the job and extension of the career ladder might bear better results.

Texas, like many other states across the country, has for decades been plagued with a shortage of prison staff. The current attrition rate among the state’s 26,000 guards is 29 percent. Increasing the starting salary of $36,000 would help, but keeping corrections officers in their jobs for any length of time will take different kinds of investment in personnel. Recruitment of prison guards is hard, but retention is even more difficult. It’s the nature of the job. After a short stint on the job, many choose not to stick around, especially when the economy is doing well and the unemployment rate is low.

Who can blame them? The manpower shortages are forcing many corrections officers to work overtime. The added income from overtime work can be seen as a perk, but it quickly loses its appeal when employees are not allowed to decline it. State policies allow wardens to keep correction officers on the job for up to 10 straight days and work 16-hour shifts. In the long term, those expectations are unsustainable. They create a vicious cycle that no amount of aggressive recruitment can keep up with as new hires quickly burn out.

San Antonio Express-News - February 10, 2019

Low turnout marks early voting in special election for San Antonio’s Texas House District 125

Voters on the West and Northwest sides of San Antonio will head to the polls Tuesday to pick their next state representative in a special election that will likely see dismally low turnout.

Four Democrats — activist Steve Huerta, former City Councilman Ray Lopez, school coordinator Coda Rayo-Garza, former legislator Art Reyna — and Republican business owner Fred Rangel are vying for Texas House District 125, which spans from Zarzamora Street to Loop 1604. Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez vacated the seat when he accepted his new post. He has not endorsed a candidate.

In Bexar County’s most recent special election in September, 4.22 percent of registered voters cast ballots. The turnout level rose to 7.22 percent in that election’s runoff. The rate will likely be similarly low in this race. When the last day of early voting closed Friday, Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen reported that 3,354 voters had cast their ballots.

McAllen Monitor - February 8, 2019

As sales tax revenues boom, RGV leaders see years of growth ahead

Several South Texas cities saw significant sales tax increases in December, furthering a trend that has been ongoing in the region for months, and leaving leaders in the Rio Grande Valley optimistic for the next decade and beyond.

Sales tax revenues dipped in only a few cities across the three-county region, while most saw substantial gains, which officials attributed to more employment, a healthy state and national economy and marketing efforts in Texas and Mexico. McAllen’s December 2018 sales tax intake increased by more than 12 percent from December 2017, the third largest gain of the 20 largest cities in Texas.

Edinburg and Harlingen also saw jumps of more than 12 percent, comparing December 2017 to December 2018. Of the larger cities in the Valley, Pharr had one of the more unexpected hikes — a 44 percent gain in December 2018 compared to December 2017. The largest gain in the region was La Villa, which saw a 240-percent boom when comparing December 2017 to December 2018. Alton and Donna both saw roughly 20-percent gains comparing the same months, while South Padre Island saw a 37-percent jump and Palm Valley saw a 143-percent increase.

SPIN - February 10, 2019

HBO announces upcoming Beto O’Rourke campaign documentary

Beto O’Rourke's landmark Senate campaign was apparently followed by a team of documentarians, who are set to premiere their upcoming film Running With Beto at South By Southwest later this year. Now, HBO has announced that the network will also pick up the documentary, which is set to premiere on the channel sometime this spring.

Directed by David Modigliani, the documentary follows O’Rourke over the course of his year-long campaign, with the crew gaining “intimate access to Beto, his family and a team of political newcomers who champion a new way of getting to know a candidate—one Texas county at a time,” HBO shared in a statement.

“Running With Beto presents O’Rourke in a way that has never been seen before,” the statement continues. “The film gives viewers unprecedented access into the personal and political toll that running for office can take on a candidate and a family, capturing revealing moments with his wife and three young kids throughout the grueling journey.”

Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2019

Beto O’Rourke to join rally in El Paso at same time Donald Trump holds his own rally just miles away

Former U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke confirmed that he will be part of a community rally in El Paso on Monday that is aimed at countering President Donald Trump’s visit to the city.

Trump is scheduled to lead a rally at 7 p.m. at the El Paso Coliseum to promote his call for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. At the same time, O’Rourke, a Democrat who is considered a potential 2020 presidential contender, is expected to take the stage just three miles away at what is being called a “celebration of El Paso” or the “March for Truth.” Trump’s visit to the state’s most western major city comes just days after his State of the Union address when he specifically pointed to El Paso as evidence that walls work.

In a statement to the media put out by O’Rourke’s former campaign spokesman announcing his participation, it says the event O’Rourke will be part of will show the reality of the border city: “a vibrant, safe, binational community that proudly celebrates its culture, history, diversity and status as a city of immigrants.” O’Rourke did not organize the event. Dozens of community groups and election officials in and around El Paso are part of the event that will start with a march about a mile away at 5 p.m. El Paso time. El Paso is in the Mountain Time Zone.

Austin American-Statesman - February 11, 2019

Austin, San Antonio team up to tackle traffic woes

Regional planners aren’t letting a lack of funding stop an ambitious vision for improving travel along the notoriously clogged Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio.

The Austin area’s Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and San Antonio-based Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, in partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation, studied for more than a year the best ways to improve commuting within the regions. Ideas include intercity and interregional transit services increasing traffic capacity on U.S. 281 and I-35 and building long distance bikeways. I-35 through Central Austin ranks the third-highest congested roadway in the state, according to data from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

The planners developed strategies by focusing on infrastructure, policy and technology solutions, said Roger Beall, deputy director of the Transportation, Planning and Programming Division at the Texas Department of Transportation. To better understand those needs, planning organizations are taking steps to align goals, according to a draft of the study, which identifies opportunities through 2045 to improve the commuter experience. “Coordination” and “cooperation” between the two regions are watchwords of the study. Historically, though, both regions have focused on local needs.

Houston Chronicle - February 9, 2019

In Texas, offenders get no jail time for groping people. These bills would change that.

In July 2016, Denali Wilson was on her way home from work in El Paso when a stranger followed her home and grabbed her crotch.

When she reported the incident to police, Wilson was surprised to learn that under Texas law, the officers could not arrest the man who assaulted her — much less launch an investigation to find him. Groping is the lowest-level criminal offense in the state penal code, punishable by a $500 fine at most.

Experts on sexual assault laws say Texas — which puts groping an adult under the category of “assault by offensive contact” — is one of six states with such a light penalty. Two Texas lawmakers, Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso and state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, filed identical legislation that would make groping a Class A misdemeanor instead of a Class C misdemeanor. one a Republican and one a Democrat, want to put more teeth into the law and have filed bills to raise the maximum penalty for groping to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Austin Business Journal - February 8, 2019

Austin's a millennial magnet. New York and Los Angeles not so much

New data from the Brookings Institution shows how Austin has become a magnet for millennial migration in the years since the Great Recession. Growing companies — especially tech firms — put a premium on the number of millennials an area has or is able to attract when considering whether to relocate or expand in a certain market.

Brookings used recently released migration data from the U.S. Census Bureau to identify major metros that attracted the most 25- to 34-year-olds for the period of 2012 through 2017. The Houston area topped the list, with an average annual net migration of 14,767 young adults, followed by the Denver and Dallas areas, with an average of 12,667 and 12,665 millennials per year respectively.

City Stories

Texas Public Radio - February 8, 2019

Google Fiber says goodbye in Kentucky, but soldiers on in San Antonio

Google Fiber is closing its Louisville, Kentucky network after 18 months of offering its high-speed internet service. The company says it won’t impact other cities like San Antonio.

Google Fiber rolled out its Louisville network in record time in part because it used a process called “micro-trenching” to speed up fiber cable deployment. But the process, which includes shallow trenches cut into asphalt and then covered with a sealant, left some Louisville cables exposed — according to reports— and was disruptive to residents. It will turn off the service in April.

Google Fiber micro-trenched 600 miles of fiber in San Antonio neighborhoods. City staff say the majority is on the far Northwest and Northeast sides, including the pilot area in the Westover Hills neighborhood. In San Antonio, the approach was billed as a way to prevent the costly traditional trenching method that spurred complaints from many homeowners that it affected buried infrastructure, such as water pipes.

Austin American-Statesman - February 10, 2019

Moody Foundation gives $20 million to Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art

Extending a string of extraordinary gifts, the Moody Family Foundation has given $20 million to the Blanton Museum of Art to transform the grounds of its three-building complex on the south end of the University of Texas campus.

In just the past few years, the foundation has bestowed tens of millions to the Contemporary Austin, Waller Creek Conservancy, Pease Park Conservancy, AIDS Services of Austin, YMCA, UT’s Moody School of Communications and other groups. The Blanton gift is one of the largest grants to any Austin cultural entity and to any project for the city’s outdoor spaces.

The most recent gift, announced before a stunned crowd at the annual Blanton Gala, will help reevaluate and transform the museum’s exterior spaces. It will be designed by the New York office of the architecture firm, Snøhetta, which is run by UT graduates Craig Dykers and Elaine Molinar, who will receive the Texas Medal of Arts at ceremonies Feb. 26-27. The design is meant to connect the museum to the surrounding university campus and to the emerging Capitol Corridor to the south.

National Stories

New York Times - February 8, 2019

With abortion in spotlight, states seek to pass new laws

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a Louisiana law that its opponents say would leave the state with a single doctor authorized to perform abortions, the latest development in the national legal fight over the fate of abortion law under a conservative-leaning court.

Louisiana’s law, which requires that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, was enacted in 2014. But in recent days and weeks, there has been a flurry of new state legislation that could prove important if the nation’s highest court rules on more abortion-related cases.Since the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in July, abortion rights groups have warned of a threat to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide, prompting some states to try to shore up access to the procedure. Anti-abortion groups have been pushing for more restrictions.

In some states, lawmakers have sought to pass laws that would ban or severely restrict abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned or effectively gutted. This week, lawmakers in Tennessee introduced a bill that would ban abortion in the state if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe. Similarly, in South Carolina, state lawmakers have introduced so-called personhood legislation, which would establish that the “right to life” and the rights of due process and equal protection “vest at fertilization for each born and preborn human being.”

New York Times - February 10, 2019

Amy Klobuchar enters 2020 presidential race

Amy Klobuchar, the third-term Minnesota senator, entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination on Sunday, hopeful that her moderate politics, Midwestern roots and carefully cultivated history of bipartisanship can appeal to a broad swath of voters in contentious times.

On a snow-covered stage in Minneapolis along the banks of the Mississippi River, with the temperature barely above single digits, Ms. Klobuchar said that as president, she would “focus on getting things done” and reverse some of President Trump’s signature policies. On her first day in office, she said, the United States would rejoin the Paris climate agreement.

Ms. Klobuchar, 58, is the fifth woman currently serving in Congress to announce her candidacy, joining a crowded and diverse field of Democratic presidential hopefuls. With most of the top-tier candidates hailing from coastal states, Ms. Klobuchar believes her low-key brand of “Minnesota nice” politics could make her a compelling candidate, particularly to the Iowa voters who cast the first primary votes and in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that swung the 2016 election to President Trump.

New York Times - February 10, 2019

‘Dangerous territory’ for Democrats as Republicans seize Venezuela moment in Miami

For 60 years, the lifeblood of Miami’s idiosyncratic politics has been Cuba, the communist government’s countless sins denounced in street protests, dissected on the spirited Spanish-language airwaves and condemned at campaign rallies under the unifying cry of “Viva Cuba Libre!”

But the focus of this city’s freedom-loving fervor has recently moved further south. Venezuela, not Cuba, now dominates Miami’s political conversation. A television anchor not long ago ended a somber segment with a promise to keep praying for the troubled South American country. Venezuelans in the city have gathered for demonstrations to coincide with protests back home.

Even the Miami-Dade County Commission, a local body with no control over foreign policy, voted unanimously to recognize the opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president. The shift has been coming on gradually for years, but it has accelerated in recent weeks as Venezuela has sunk further into crisis and its leftist president, Nicolás Maduro, has clung defiantly to power. The showdown in Caracas is reshaping Latino politics in South Florida, home to the highest concentration of Venezuelans in the United States.

Washington Post - February 10, 2019

Walter Jones, ‘freedom fries’ congressman who became Iraq War critic, dies at 76

Walter B. Jones Jr., a North Carolina congressman who so enthusiastically supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq that he argued for the french fries and French toast served in House cafeterias to be called “freedom fries” and “freedom toast” — a jab at France for its opposition to the war — but who later underwent a dramatic change of heart and emerged as a prominent Republican critic of the war, died Feb. 10, on his 76th birthday.

His office confirmed the death in a statement. It had announced on Jan. 26 that the 13-term lawmaker had entered hospice care, his health having declined after a fall in which he broke his hip. Mr. Jones had been granted a leave of absence in late 2018 for an unspecified illness. Mr. Jones first ran for Congress in 1992, campaigning unsuccessfully as a conservative Democrat for the northeastern North Carolina district that his father had represented for 26 years.

A Southern Baptist from childhood, Rep. Jones had converted to Catholicism in his early 30s and cited his opposition to abortion among the factors that led to his disenchantment with his family’s longtime political party. Two years later, amid the “Republican revolution” that swept the House, he joined the GOP and won a seat in a neighboring district that presently includes the Marine Corps’s Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point air station.

Washington Post - February 11, 2019

What’s actually in the ‘Green New Deal’ from Democrats?

The Green New Deal is a manifesto calling for sweeping changes to American society. Key goals include cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero over 10 years and guaranteeing jobs for all.

Climate change is a critical issue, but some experts say the Green New Deal is overambitious and unworkable. “I’m afraid I just cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in the 10-year time frame,” Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist and secretary of energy under President Barack Obama, told NPR. “It’s just impractical. And if we start putting out impractical targets, we may lose a lot of key constituencies who we need to bring along to have a real low-carbon solution on the most rapid time frame that we can achieve,” such as labor unions, Moniz said.

There’s a real question of how much of this could be accomplished in 10 years or longer. “In my own subjective assessment, getting to near-zero emissions over the next decade would be physically possible but sociopolitically infeasible,” said Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science. “During World War II, up to 60 percent of national GDP was directed towards the war effort. If we were to mobilize around the climate problem the way we mobilized around the fight against Germany and Japan, then we could possibly do this.”

Washington Post - February 11, 2019

Shutdown looms as border talks break down over immigration enforcement

The nation faces the real possibility of another government shutdown at the end of this week after bipartisan talks aimed at averting that outcome broke down in a dispute over immigration enforcement, lawmakers and aides said Sunday.

President Trump’s border wall demands, which precipitated the record-long 35-day shutdown that ended late last month, were a secondary issue in the impasse that developed over the weekend, according to officials in both parties. Instead, after looking promising for days, the delicate negotiations collapsed over Democrats’ insistence on limiting the number of unauthorized immigrants who can be detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The breakdown in talks made it unlikely that lawmakers will be able to finalize an agreement on Monday, as they’d hope to do so it could pass the House and Senate before Friday night’s deadline. The stalemate left the path to keeping the government open unclear. There were behind-the-scenes efforts late Sunday to salvage the talks, but it was un­certain whether they would be successful.

Wall Street Journal - February 11, 2019

Impeachment push for Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax slows down

The Virginia lawmaker who had vowed to launch impeachment proceedings Monday against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax over two allegations of sexual assault said he isn’t ready to start that process in the House of Delegates.

“There has been an enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback which has led to additional conversations that need to take place before anything is filed,” Delegate Patrick Hope, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter early Monday morning. Democratic legislators in Virginia circulated Sunday afternoon a draft resolution to start impeachment proceedings against Mr. Fairfax.

Mr. Fairfax, the 39-year-old Democrat and former federal prosecutor, has denied the two allegations of sexual assault against him, one from 2000 and the other from 2004. He called over the weekend for a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe. He said encounters with both of his accusers were consensual. The accusations against Mr. Fairfax mark a turn in the crisis engulfing Virginia’s Democratic political leadership.

Wall Street Journal - February 11, 2019

After synagogue attack, Pittsburgh’s push for stricter gun laws sparks backlash

A little more than three months after 11 people were shot to death while worshiping at a synagogue here, city leaders and residents are battling over proposed gun restrictions.

The legislation put forward by the city’s mayor and city council members would ban within city limits semiautomatic rifles, bump stocks and certain types of ammunition, as well as expand the ability of courts to seize guns from people determined to be a threat to family members or law enforcement. The measures have drawn a swift backlash in a liberal-leaning city ringed by more conservative suburbs where there is a long tradition of gun ownership. Opponents have called for the mayor’s impeachment or arrest, and the local district attorney has said that instituting the gun restrictions would violate state law.

The massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on the morning of Oct. 27 is considered the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history. Last month, federal prosecutors charged suspected gunman Robert Bowers with 63 counts in a superseding indictment, including federal hate crimes. Prosecutors said that Mr. Bowers was motivated by his hatred of Jews and that he had posted critical statements about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and affiliated congregations, which included Dor Hadash, one of three congregations sharing space at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Associated Press - February 11, 2019

Trump tries to turn border debate his way with El Paso rally

President Donald Trump is trying to turn the debate over a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border back to his political advantage as his signature pledge to American voters threatens to become a model of unfulfilled promises.

Weakened by the disastrous government shutdown and facing a fresh deadline Friday, Trump is trying to convince people that that he'll continue to push to build his long-promised wall, even though there's no way it would be anywhere near complete by the time voters have to decide whether to give him another term.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers were negotiating ahead of Friday's deadline, but on Sunday people familiar with the talks said the mood among the bargainers had grown sour. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said during news show appearances Sunday that another shutdown remained on the table, although he also said Trump probably would be willing to compromise over how much of the $5.7 billion for wall construction he's demanded would be allocated. "Someplace in the middle," Mulvaney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Associated Press - February 10, 2019

Embattled Virginia governor: ‘I’m not going anywhere’

Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam considered resigning amid a scandal that he once wore blackface, but the pediatric neurologist said Sunday that he’s “not going anywhere” because the state “needs someone that can heal” it.

Northam said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it’s been a difficult week since a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced, showing a person wearing blackface next to a second person wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Northam initially said he had appeared in the photo — although he didn’t say which costume he was wearing — and apologized. The next day, however, he denied being in the photo, while acknowledging that he had worn blackface to a dance party that same year.

“Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor,” Northam said. “Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.”

Associated Press - February 11, 2019

Some workers still unpaid after shutdown, dread what's next

Nearly two weeks after the end of the longest government shutdown in U.S history, many federal workers still have not received their back pay or have only gotten a fraction of what they are owed as government agencies struggle with payroll glitches and other delays.

And even as they scramble to catch up on unpaid bills and to repay unemployment benefits, the prospect of another shutdown looms next week. "President Trump stood in the Rose Garden at the end of the shutdown and said, 'We will make sure that you guys are paid immediately.' ... And here it is, it's almost two weeks later," said Michael Walter, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety inspection service in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and only got his paycheck Wednesday. He said two co-workers told him they still had received nothing.

The government has been short on details about how many people are still waiting to be paid. Bradley Bishop, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said the Trump administration had taken "unprecedented steps to ensure federal employees impacted by the shutdown received back pay within a week." "Much opposite of 'slow and chaotic,' an overwhelming majority of employees received their pay by Jan. 31," he said, though he didn't respond to questions about how many people still hadn't been paid.

Reuters - February 10, 2019

Climate change seen as top threat, but US power a growing worry

Climate change is the top security concern in a poll conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center, followed by Islamist terrorism and cyber attacks while respondents in a growing number of countries worried about the power and influence of the United States.

In 13 of 26 countries, people listed climate change as the top global threat, with the Islamic State militant group topping the list in eight and cyber attacks in four, the non-profit, non-partisan Pew Research Center said in its report. Worries about climate change have increased sharply since 2013, with double-digit percentage point increases seen in countries including the United States, Mexico, France, Britain, South Africa and Kenya, according to the poll of 27,612 people conducted between May and August, 2018.

North Korea's nuclear program and the global economy were also significant concerns, while respondents in Poland named Russian power and influence as the top threat. The largest shift in sentiment centred on the United States, it said, with a median of 45 percent of people naming U.S. power and influence as a threat in 2018, up from 25 percent in 2013, when Barack Obama was U.S. president. In 10 countries, including Germany, Japan and South Korea, roughly half of respondents or more saw U.S. power and influence as a major threat to their nation, up from eight in 2017 and three in 2013, the poll showed.

Inside Higher Ed - February 8, 2019

A win for student Christian group at University of Iowa

A Christian student group at the University of Iowa can’t be stripped of its affiliation with the institution, even if its members follow a “statement of faith” that bans those in LGBTQ relationships from leadership roles, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The decision by Judge Stephanie M. Rose has alarmed advocates for queer men and women. They are worried it would open the door for a challenge of a U.S. Supreme Court case from 2010 that allows colleges and universities to enforce antidiscrimination policies, even when student religious organizations claim those policies infringe on their beliefs.

That ruling requires colleges that want to enforce such antibias rules to apply them to all groups equally. Judge Rose's decision, however, suggests that her ruling may be relevant only to circumstances at Iowa. The clash between Iowa officials and Business Leaders in Christ began in 2016. A gay student had approached the then president, Hannah Thompson, about becoming vice president and, during a discussion, disclosed to her his sexuality. The student, whose name has never been publicly released, was denied the leadership post.

STAT - February 11, 2019

An ambassador to the Vatican. A GOP megadonor. And now, a rare Republican joining Democrats to take on pharma

Rep. Francis Rooney doesn’t sit on any of the congressional committees that deal with health care policy. His last government job was a stint as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. In politics, he is best known as a Republican Party megadonor, the product of a lucrative career as a finance and construction executive.

But suddenly, he’s an unlikely leading man in an increasingly noisy health policy fight over drug prices. The second-term congressman from Florida is the only Republican co-sponsor on a bill to allow Medicare for negotiate prices, traditionally a nonstarter for the GOP. Last Congress, he was one of two Republicans on another aggressive bill to police drug price increases. Rooney even introduced a bill mirroring a Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposal that would cap U.S. drug payments based on prices paid overseas.

Rooney’s eyebrow-raising enthusiasm for part of Nancy Pelosi’s legislative agenda is rare for a Republican. And so is his willingness to take on the drug industry and, in some cases, buck Republican orthodoxy on the issue — all stances that come as the Trump administration and newly empowered congressional Democrats are increasingly eyeing drug pricing policy as one of only a handful of opportunities for consensus.

HuffPost - February 11, 2019

David Pecker’s attorney claims AMI threat to publish Jeff Bezos pics wasn’t blackmail

An attorney representing David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media Inc., claimed the media company’s threat to publish nude photos of Amazon head Jeff Bezos if he didn’t cooperate with its terms was not blackmail.

“It absolutely is not extortion and not blackmail,” Elkan Abramowitz, Pecker’s attorney, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. Last month, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, announced their divorce shortly before the National Enquirer, owned by AMI, published a story revealing that the billionaire was having an affair with Lauren Sanchez, a TV personality. The Enquirer story prompted Bezos to launch an investigation into AMI’s practices, including how it obtained his private text messages with Sanchez and its motive for publishing the story about his affair.

Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, has suggested AMI may have been politically motivated to out his affair. President Donald Trump, a friend of Pecker’s, regularly lashes out at The Washington Post’s coverage of his presidency. Among other things, the Post has called out Trump for maintaining a relationship with Saudi Arabia despite the CIA’s belief that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

February 10, 2019

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 9, 2019

Property tax crusader Dan Patrick can’t complain about his own bill

While property taxes continue to climb for most homeowners in Texas, one influential Texan who has made cutting them the hallmark of his career has seen his own bill drop.

Since they purchased it in April 2017, the 4,300 square-foot house Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his wife own on Lake Conroe in Montgomery County has dropped in market value from nearly $968,000 to $921,000 in 2018. The result is that the tax bill on the Benthaven Isle home has decreased from $19,429 to $16,736 — a 14-percent drop.

Patrick, who paid $1 million for the house, says the property appraisal was much too high the year before he purchased it, and the declining values reflect the reality of the market. He did not appeal his appraisal, as more than a million single family homeowners do every year in Texas to keep the market value down and stop their tax bills from climbing. From 2017 to 2018, market values went up for 88 percent of homeowners in the county.

Washington Post - February 10, 2019

Virginians are split on governor’s fate amid blackface scandal, poll shows

Virginians are deadlocked over whether Gov. Ralph Northam (D) should step down after the emergence of a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting people in blackface and Ku Klux Klan garb, with African Americans saying by a wide margin that he should remain in office despite the offensive image, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

The poll, conducted Wednesday through Friday, finds residents split over Northam’s fate, with 47 percent wanting him to step down and 47 percent saying he should stay on. Northam counts higher support among black residents — who say he should remain in office by a margin of 58 percent to 37 percent — than among whites, who are more evenly divided.

Dallas Morning News - February 10, 2019

Buzz faded, did Beto O'Rourke wait too long to launch a 2020 presidential bid?

Three months ago, in the afterglow of the Texas Senate contest and with few marquee candidates officially running for president as Democrats, Beto-mania was in full swing.

Polls showed Beto O’Rourke in the top three, lagging only a former vice president and the runner-up for the party’s nomination in 2016. The big question then was whether he would run. The big question now: Has he missed his window of opportunity?

“It feels a little saturated at the moment,” said Brigham Hoegh, the Democratic chairwoman in Audubon County, in western Iowa. “Kamala [Harris] made a big show and looks really strong in the last couple of weeks. I feel like he could still jump in, but there’s a ton of people in the race that are getting attention. He hasn’t been top of the mind lately.”

Politico - February 9, 2019

Republicans can’t wait to debate Medicare for All

The only people more eager than progressive Democrats for hearings on Medicare for All are conservative Republicans.

GOP lawmakers, fresh off an electoral shellacking fueled in large part by health care concerns, are now trolling Democrats with demands for hearings on the sweeping single-payer bill set to be introduced this month. They're confident that revelations about its potential cost andelimination of most private insurance will give them potent lines of attack heading into 2020 — an election that President Donald Trump is already framing as a debate about "socialism."

The progressives backing the bill say, "Bring it on." They are convinced the Republicans are miscalculating, much as they did with their doomed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare. “They think it’s going to be a ‘gotcha’ moment,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the lead author of the forthcoming bill. “But they have been wrong on this and continue to be wrong on it.”

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 9, 2019

Doggett optimistic about background check bill for gun purchases

As a bill that would require universal background checks on firearm purchases is set to go before a U.S. House committee this week, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said at town hall meeting Saturday he was optimistic about its chances for passage.

“This is a time of hope because for the first time we will have an opportunity to vote very soon for universal background check,” said Doggett, D-Austin. “With more effective and broader background checks that eliminate all the loopholes that are out there now, we can hopefully screen out those who, because of their personal condition or their background, should not have a gun in their hands.”

Doggett said the bill would help address loopholes for gun shows and internet purchases. Background checks would provide a narrow search that would mainly reveal criminal history, domestic violence history, court orders preventing someone from using a gun or health issues, he said. “Regardless of party, everyone needs to be a gun-safety voter,” he said. The House bill, which has five Republican sponsors, would require background checks for almost all firearm sales and transfers. It is likely to face opposition from the GOP-controlled Senate and the White House.

Austin American-Statesman - February 10, 2019

Trump’s wall campaign, voter fraud draw Texas GOP focus

President Donald Trump will hold his first campaign rally of 2019 at the El Paso County Coliseum along the Mexican border Monday, and one can predict with confidence that before the evening is over the walls of the 77-year-old arena will resound with chants of “Build that wall.”

Last Thursday, in a hearing room in the Capitol extension in Austin, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, whose slight frame and muted demeanor are more akin to Jared Kushner than Kushner’s fulminating father-in-law, sought to explain to a Senate committee an election advisory and press release he had issued two weeks earlier suggesting that tens of thousands of non-citizen immigrants may have illegally voted in Texas elections.

Whitley’s misleading pronouncement blew up, not least because Trump tweeted it as fact — “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote” — and as “just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!” They may not chant “Purge those rolls” along with “Build that wall” at the Make America Great Again rally in El Paso, but border security and ballot security are flip sides of the same Republican insecurity that America’s changing demography, especially a fast-growing Hispanic population after decades of immigration across America’s southern border, threaten the party’s future.

Austin American-Statesman - February 8, 2019

Texas Enterprise Fund report focuses on money recouped from deals gone bad

Incentive deals that had roles in luring big-name companies like Apple Inc. to Austin and Toyota Motor Corp. to Plano have generated the bulk of publicity in recent years for a top state economic development tool — the Texas Enterprise Fund.

But the outcomes of deals that ultimately flopped are being touted as equally strong selling points for the fund, at a time when proponents, including Gov. Greg Abbott, are advocating for more taxpayer money for it.

A new report to the state Legislature from Abbott’s economic development office, which oversees the fund, points out that about $36 million has been returned to the state over the past two years because of so-called “clawback” provisions after companies failed to deliver on commitments, or because of amendments to and terminations of old deals. During roughly the same period, the fund awarded about $61 million in incentives for new economic development projects, which are projected to create a combined 16,600 jobs.

Austin American-Statesman - February 7, 2019

Statesman investigation spurs lawmakers to file 11 bills on child care safety

Months after an American-Statesman investigation into dangerous conditions in some Texas child care centers, state lawmakers are proposing sweeping reforms aimed at improving safety.

At least 11 bills targeting a wide range of problems are in the works. One increases penalties for abuse and neglect of children. Another mandates inspections of currently unregulated day care operations. Another requires cameras in child care classrooms. Other proposals call for better reporting of child sexual abuse, providing parents with more information about day care facilities through an online database and creating a fund that would be used to produce safety training materials that would be free for child care operations.

The actions come two months after the Statesman published “Unwatched,” a three-day, 12-part investigative series that found that nearly 90 children had died of abuse and neglect suffered in child care facilities since 2007, while an additional 450 were sexually abused. Though thousands of children have been injured, lax oversight has allowed hundreds of day care operations with scores of violations to continue operating without serious consequences.

Houston Chronicle - February 9, 2019

Mumps outbreak confirmed at ICE detention facility in Houston

In the latest Texas resurgence of a familiar infectious disease, seven cases of the mumps have been confirmed at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Houston.

City health officials said Saturday that there has been no spread of the disease in recent days and that they're hopeful the outbreak has been contained. The individuals infected, all adults, were detained at the facility during the infectious period. "Since these individuals were isolated inside the facility, we don't anticipate these cases posing a threat to the public," said Dr. David Persse, Houston's local health authority and medical director of the city's EMS program. "This is nothing to be afraid of."

Persse said the some people likely became infected while at the facility, which is located near George Bush Intercontinental Airport. He said the original source or sources who entered the country at the border likely were already infected when apprehended. Some have already recovered from their bouts with the disease, including one who had to be hospitalized. People who came into contact with them were quarantined. No employees were infected.

Houston Chronicle - February 10, 2019

Abuse of Faith: Southern Baptist sexual abuse spreads as leaders resist reforms

since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions. About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers. Nearly 100 are still held in prisons stretching from Sacramento County, Calif., to Hillsborough County, Fla., state and federal records show. Scores of others cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders. Some still work in Southern Baptist churches today.

Dallas Morning News - February 8, 2019

As Amazon wavers on New York, could Dallas have another shot at HQ2?

Three months ago, Dallas saw its shot for Amazon’s second headquarters slip away. Now the e-commerce giant’s political battles in New York have some people wondering whether Dallas and other cities are back in the game.

Amazon announced in November that it would split its second headquarters between two locations: Long Island City, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens, and the Crystal City area of Arlington, Va., near Washington, D.C. It said each campus would get 25,000 jobs. A third city, Nashville, won an Amazon operations hub with 5,000 workers. But Dallas was considered a top contender. It was one of a handful of cities to receive a second visit by Amazon officials in August. But it ultimately lost out to the East Coast hubs.

Since then, however, the Seattle-based company has received pushback from politicians and the public, in part over planned economic incentives. Amazon is now rethinking its plan for the large campus in New York and looking into other options, according to a report on Friday by The Washington Post. The report attributes the information to two unnamed people "familiar with the company's thinking." Amazon has not leased or purchased land in New York for the project. It said in a prepared statement Friday that it was "focused on engaging with our new neighbors.”

Star-Telegram - February 9, 2019

Tarrant Muslim who survived party ouster urges Republicans to unite, ‘move forward’

Shahid Shafi shared a message of hope and unity Saturday. One month after a high-profile proposal failed to oust him as a vice chair of the Tarrant County Republican Party — because he is Muslim — he said he wants to inspire others and help reunite the local party.

“I hold no animosity toward anybody in this group,” he said during a Saturday morning Executive Committee meeting at the Faith Creek Church in Richland Hills. “We need to ... move forward.” Shafi, a surgeon and Southlake councilman, said he believes one of the most important things he can do is try to inspire others. So that, he said, is what he will work to do.

After his brief comments, local Republicans also approved a slate of resolutions, including one urging Texas lawmakers to pass a law protecting “the sincerely held religious beliefs” of people, businesses and groups.

Star-Telegram - February 10, 2019

Dan Patrick: Raise Texas teacher pay across the board now, then do this later

Making our public schools better has long been a top priority for me. Working first as a senator on the Senate Education Committee and then as lieutenant governor, we have reduced standardized testing, reformed graduation requirements and created new career tech partnerships between public schools and businesses to help ensure we provide training that will lead to jobs in the 21st century economy.

Teacher turnover is at an all-time high, and the percentage of teachers with more than three years’ experience has dropped to under 80 percent. Currently, only about a third of the $60 billion we spend each year on our schools goes to teacher pay. I first proposed a $10,000 raise for all teachers during the special session in 2017. The bill did not pass. In my inauguration speech two weeks ago, I announced that Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, had filed Senate Bill 3 to give all teachers a $5,000 raise. This a big down payment on my goal of a $10,000 across-the-board raise.

It will cost $3.7 billion, but it is critical and must be done now so teachers feel the impact immediately. This past week, Gov. Greg Abbott made increasing teacher pay an emergency item in his State of the State address. At a time when we need them most, we are losing good teachers because pay is low. Often, the only way for a teacher to get a raise is to move to an administrative position. We are also failing to attract many of the best and the brightest to teaching because the salaries are not competitive with other professions.

Star-Telegram - February 8, 2019

‘We don’t care what the district attorney says,’ CBD oil buyers in Tarrant County say

Despite a stop sign from the chief Tarrant County prosecutor, cannabidiol (CBD oil) sellers say they will go to jail and then to court if necessary to keep selling their products.

The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office released a statement this week saying that possession of CBD oil is legal only for those who suffer from intractable epilepsy and follow the rules of the Texas Compassionate Use Act. Others buying or selling CBD oil are breaking the law, according to District Attorney Sharen Wilson.

Trey Phillips, a former Fort Worth police officer who is now a CBD oil retailer at the Thrive Apothecary store in Fort Worth, said he has several police officers who purchase CBD oil at his store. His law enforcement customers are worried because they have been prohibited by the Fort Worth Police Department from having CBD oil, a substance they use as an alternative medicine for pain and the mental stresses that accompany their work, Phillips said.

San Antonio Express-News - February 9, 2019

New CBP chief for Rio Grande Valley reiterates importance of a wall

The new Customs and Border Protection chief in the Rio Grande Valley supports a border wall in the region, saying the flow of immigrants crossing the river “can overwhelm a community.”

“The Rio Grande Valley possesses many challenges that are amplified by a lack of technology and infrastructure in one of the busiest corridors in the country,” Rodolfo Karisch told Border Patrol agents, land owners, local officials and nonprofit leaders Friday in his first “State of the Border” address. He described the border as a place that provides opportunity for “trade and travel” and for “a malicious element,” such as drugs, crime and human smuggling.

Heavy machinery arrived this week along a levee in Mission, where construction soon will start on six of 33 miles of new bollard fencing that Congress funded last year. A judge Thursday granted the government access to survey land near the 170-year-old chapel. Another 8-mile segment of the wall is under contract near a historic cemetery, where protesters from Carrizo-Comecrudo tribe have camped out for more than three weeks.

San Antonio Express-News - February 6, 2019

Bail reform meets resistance in San Antonio county courts, despite Wolff’s wishes

Judges in Bexar County say they are open to making changes to help ensure people aren’t jailed here exclusively because they can’t afford bail, but they resoundingly rejected — and questioned the legality of — a celebrated reform plan recently enacted in Houston.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff convened area misdemeanor judges Tuesday, hoping they would agree to revisions similar to the ones adopted in Harris County. Under that plan, the vast majority of people charged with misdemeanors would qualify for release on no-cash bonds. Harris County’s previous system was declared unconstitutional for creating “wealth-based detention.”

But misdemeanor judges here balked, arguing they don’t have the authority to make that call and that the Harris County plan may run afoul of state law. “There’s got to be a distinction between what we want as a matter of what’s right and fair, which is nobody should be held in jail because of lack of money — we’re all on board with that,” said County Court-at-Law Judge John Longoria, the administrative head of the misdemeanor courts here. “Now, can we as judges decide that we’re not going to have cash bond in Bexar County? In our opinion, as judges, no, because that’s a legislative issue.”

Texas Monthly - February 5, 2019

If Beto runs for President, who runs against John Cornyn?

The day after Beto O’Rourke lost his closely contested Senate race against Ted Cruz by 2.6 percent, I heard an argument that convinced me that O’Rourke’s next political step was obvious: He needed to run for Senate again in 2020.

Political scientists Jim Henson and Josh Blank of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin had laid out the case. O’Rourke had nearly pulled off one of the most stunning electoral upsets in the history of the union. He’d done it all in a midterm election—and Democratic candidates up and down the ballot almost always perform worse in midterms than in a presidential year, when turnout is higher. Those conditions started with Donald Trump, who would be on the ballot, and could help spur massive turnout to defeat him. But it also included O’Rourke’s presumptive 2020 opponent.

While some pundits claimed that O’Rourke got lucky in trying to unseat a politician as widely loathed as Ted Cruz, Henson and Blank said the numbers didn’t bear this out. Sure, Democrats and a lot of Washington Republicans loved to hate Ted Cruz, but Texas’s junior senator had proved time and again that he was a tenacious campaigner and polls had consistently shown that Texas Republicans were fiercely loyal to him.

Texas Monthly - February 6, 2019

Christoper Hooks: Texas has been just a prop for Trump from the beginning

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech contained a number of unusual claims, but one in particular stood out. “The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime,” the president said, “one of the highest in the country, and [was] considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”

Unfortunately, every part of what the president said is delusional. El Paso has been one of the safest cities in the country for decades and fencing along the border, erected in 2009, didn’t affect the rate of violent crime at all. But it’s not surprising that Trump got it wrong. For Trump, Texas is a backdrop and nothing more. It’s the president’s Westworld. That’s a very peculiar thing for Texas to experience, because the state is accustomed to deference from Republican administrations—deference it has earned. And the strangest thing of all is who is going along with it.

On July 23, 2015, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign landed on Texas for the first time, with a deafening thwack. A Laredo chapter of the Border Patrol Union had invited Trump—who had recently launched his presidential campaign by seeming to call many Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals in a garbled and semi-coherent speech—to tour the border. They uninvited him after pressure from national HQ but he came anyway.

The Hill - February 10, 2019

El Paso mayor: I will 'absolutely' call out Trump if he repeats false crime info again

El Paso, Texas, Mayor Dee Margo said Saturday that he would "absolutely" correct President Trump if he repeats a false line about crime in the border city during a campaign rally.

Margo said on CNN's "SE Cupp Unfiltered" that he's been unafraid to call out Trump over the comments he made about El Paso last week during the State of the Union address. "I’ve been stating it publicly since last Tuesday night," Margo said, adding that the "the fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso "serves a useful purpose, but that "it’s not the total panacea."

His comments came just days after Trump in his State of the Union address used the border city as an example for why walls reduced crime. "[El Paso] used to have extremely high rates of violent crime, one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities," Trump said. "Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities," he said. Margo condemned Trump's comments shortly after the speech, tweeting that “El Paso was never one of the most dangerous cities in the US.”

KERA - February 6, 2019

Struggling while employed: Why a job isn't enough for 42 percent of Texas households

A new statewide study shows 42 percent of Texas households struggle to make ends meet — households where at least one adult is working. In Dallas County, it's 43 percent.

That's according to a new alternative measure to the Federal Poverty Level, the ALICE report, which gives a more-updated look at the number of families living on the edge of financial crisis. “ALICE stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed, and for us that is the number of households that are working and yet struggling," said Rojas, who heads the United Ways of Texas.

The ALICE metric differs from the poverty level. “Poverty level was initially determined in the 1960s, and at that time one of the most significant things in the budget for a household was food. Today food is not likely going to be one of the main drivers of your own budget. It is likely going to be transportation or your rent or mortgage or child care," she said. "This is an updated and more, what we feel, more accurate representation of the number of people that are working and yet still struggling.”

Rivard Report - February 10, 2019

In Rio Grande Valley, anxiety surrounds imminent border wall construction

At the 100-acre National Butterfly Center just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, local schoolchildren and tourists stopped to watch and snap photos of the exotic birds and colorful butterflies that flock to the native flowers and trees on the property.

But this sanctuary is no longer just a hotspot for wildlife. It’s also become an epicenter in the national debate over President Donald Trump’s border wall. Not long from now, a wall meant to deter drug smugglers and border crossers could cut off the southern 70 acres of mostly pristine forest along the Rio Grande. The center’s staff and supporters say the wall is not only harmful to wildlife but completely unnecessary.

The conflict over the border wall heated up last week, with contractors staging heavy equipment west of the butterfly center and marking out a line approximately halfway up the levee meant to hold back flooding on the Rio Grande. Besides the butterfly center, other properties targeted for construction include a more than 150-year-old chapel and a family cemetery maintained by descendants of a mixed-race couple fleeing slavery in Alabama in the 1800s.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 10, 2019

County Judge Hidlago starts talks on improving Harris County community health

Harris County’s new judge got an earful from constituents about the health, employment and public transit issues facing the region during her first Civic Saturday session.

Lina Hidalgo launched the listening sessions to get input from residents to shape policy and educate them about what county government does. The first of seven planned events focused on public health and was held at BakerRipley’s Cleveland Campus in Pasadena. “We decided to create an avenue for folks to come together,” said Hidalgo, who upset Republican Ed Emmet in the November election. “Because many of us don’t understand what the role of county government is — through no fault of our own.”

In addition to public health discussions, participants talked about flood control, parks, air quality, mental health and county civics. Hidalgo began Talking Transitions in January with an online survey that asked residents to weigh in on issues. She also surveyed whether they knew the name of their precinct commissioner and county judge. The initiative is supported by the Houston Endowment, the Ford Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation. The input residents provided will be used to shape short- and long-term policy, she said.

City Stories

Rivard Report - February 10, 2019

Greg Brockhouse officially launches San Antonio mayoral campaign

Councilman Greg Brockhouse has officially thrown his hat into the mayoral ring. The first-term District 6 representative ended a year of speculation at a campaign event Saturday at a Westside record shop when he publicly announced he will give up his Council seat to challenge Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

At Saturday’s announcement, Brockhouse outlined three things he would improve if elected mayor: economic opportunity, transparency, and public safety. He’ll focus on job creation, wage inequality, lightening costly regulations for businesses, he said, and he pledged to lower property taxes and keep utility rates down. Brockhouse, a 46-year-old former political consultant and Air Force veteran, likely will be Nirenberg’s biggest competition on the May 4 ballot. As of Saturday afternoon, five other lesser-known candidates had registered.

Brockhouse has asserted himself as the contrarian’s voice on a largely progressive City Council. While local municipal elections are technically nonpartisan, Nirenberg and Brockhouse generally follow liberal and conservative lines, respectively. They’ve often taken opposite sides on votes and issues since Brockhouse was elected in 2017, but their most notable clashes have surrounded the November ballot propositions aimed at challenging City Council authority, the city manager’s position, and the City’s handling of firefighter union negotiations. All were supported by Brockhouse, who used to work for the police and fire unions as a political consultant.

Austin American-Statesman - February 8, 2019

Austin's HR director had employees care for child, investigators find

The city of Austin’s director of human resources faces an ethics complaint after an internal investigation found that she had several city employees look after her child, sometimes at City Hall.

The complaint, released Friday evening, shows the city’s auditor office found that on numerous occasions, Joya Hayes, the city’s HR director, asked employees to care for her child. According to the investigative report, Hayes violated city employee conduct rules related to accepting gifts or favors from subordinates, abused a city office and misused city resources.

The city auditor’s office filed the complaint Dec. 11. Brian Molloy, chief of investigations for the auditor’s office, said it was released publicly Friday because the Ethics Review Commission placed a preliminary hearing on the matter on the agenda for its meeting Wednesday. The Ethics Review Commission will determine if any disciplinary action should be taken against Hayes, who has worked for the city since 2013. She receives an annual salary of $168,958, according to the Texas Tribune.

Star-Telegram - February 8, 2019

In Southlake, videos with n-word prompts push for ‘zero tolerance’ against racism

In the fall of 1996, a Carroll High School student received a two-week suspension from extracurricular activities and three days detention after holding up a sign at a football game with the letters T.A.N.H.O. — the acronym for “Tear A [N-word] Head Off.

The superintendent at the time told the Star-Telegram the incidents were isolated and didn’t reflect attitudes at the high school. A 17-year-old African-American Carroll student who saw the sign at the football game was hurt. “My own school was doing this! And they know that I go to this school, and they know that I’m sitting behind them,” Michael Smallwood told the Star-Telegram in 1996.

Racism in Southlake blew up on the public stage on Wednesday when the district responded to complaints about a video circulating that showed three young people in a car while the n-word is uttered repeatedly. One of the young people seen in the video was a Southlake Carroll student, according to a district official. Another Carroll student isdriving the vehicle, off-camera. It was the second time this school that a video circulated showing Southlake students saying the racial slur.

National Stories

Associated Press - February 10, 2019

Black Virginia voters feel betrayed, left in no-win scenario

Black voters who factored prominently in the 2017 election that helped Northam become Virginia governor are feeling betrayed over the scandals that have engulfed the state over the past week, leaving them with a less-than-ideal set of choices at the top of the Democratic Party: a governor and attorney general who wore blackface and a lieutenant governor who stands accused by two women of sexual assault. The next person in line for governor is a conservative Republican.

Many are struggling to come to grips with a list of nagging questions: Do they forgive the Democrats, keep Republicans out of power and demand the governor get serious about racism? Should Northam step down and hand the office to African-American Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who faces sexual assault allegations? Or should all three of them walk away and let principle prevail, even if the other party takes charge? The dilemma was being weighed in black barber shops, salons, restaurants and living rooms and in activist and political circles across the state in the midst of a still-unfolding reckoning around race and scandal in the Old Dominion.

The governor has been facing calls to resign ever since a photo emerged from his medical school yearbook page in 1984 that showed someone in blackface next to a person wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe. He initially said he was in the photo, then denied that but said he did wear blackface when he impersonated Michael Jackson around the same time. Days later, Fairfax was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004, and Attorney General Mark Herring came forward to admit that he, too, wore blackface in the 1980s.

Associated Press - February 10, 2019

GOP leader wants border deal; Granger part of fact-finding trip to border

The Senate's top Republican on Feb.5 pushed congressional bargainers to reach a border security deal without first getting President Donald Trump's approval, a month after the impulsive president scuttled an apparent bipartisan deal and triggered a historically long federal shutdown.

Capitol Hill talks to resolve an impasse over Trump's demands for billions of dollars for his long-sought border wall were making progress, participants said. But with lawmakers facing a deadline to complete their work by Feb. 15 or confront a renewed shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said he's not seeking Trump's blessing in advance.

McConnell's tactic could remove a significant hurdle confronting the talks. Trump's demands have shifted abruptly on several issues during his two years in the White House, and top Republicans seem to feel that the best course will be for them to focus on reaching a compromise with Democrats. McConnell told reporters that negotiators "ought to reach an agreement, and then we'll hope that the president finds it worth signing."

Wall Street Journal - February 10, 2019

South Korea to pay more under new military deal with US

The U.S. and South Korea signed a one-year deal outlining the shared costs of their military alliance on Sunday, removing a potential distraction ahead of the second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for late this month.

Seoul will pay roughly $920 million this year for the 28,500 U.S. military personnel stationed in the country, according to officials from both countries. That represents an increase of about 8% from what Seoul paid in 2018. South Korea foots about half of the overall cost. A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Seoul didn’t specify how much Washington will pay.

The unresolved military cost-sharing pact had loomed over Mr. Trump’s late February meeting with Mr. Kim, threatening to complicate negotiations with Pyongyang over its nuclear program. Security experts worried Mr. Trump could offer a reduction in U.S. troops in exchange for progress on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. Mr. Trump has frequently called on Washington’s allies to increase their military spending and earlier this month repeated his complaint that U.S. forces in South Korea were “very expensive.”

Wall Street Journal - February 10, 2019

From Tennessee to Chicago, free college programs take off

There are now more than 300 free community college programs in 44 states, more than 120 of which were launched in 2015-2017, according to data from the College Promise Campaign, which tracks and advocates for the programs. Data from 2018 wasn’t available

In the past few years, free college “promise” programs have been championed by lawmakers across the political spectrum. In West Sacramento, Calif., a Democratic mayor was behind the effort. In Kentucky, it was the Republican state legislature, and in Baltimore—Democratic leaders. The “promise” refers to the commitment to fund the first two years of community college, although the terms and reach of these programs vary.

In Tennessee, all students can attend community and technical colleges tuition-free if they maintain a certain grade-point average. Bill Haslam, the former governor, was one of the first Republicans to champion free college. A crisis in college affordability and a tightening labor market have propelled the proliferation of the programs. Most support two-year degrees and are closely aligned with the local labor market, aiming to help fill the estimated 7 million open jobs in the U.S.

The Guardian - February 9, 2019

Trump says Kim summit will be in Hanoi as envoy hails talks progress

Donald Trump has said that US diplomats have had a “very productive meeting” with North Korean officials as he announced his summit later this month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be held in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.

Earlier this week, Trump announced the dates for the second summit with Kim and said it would be held in Vietnam, but the city had not been disclosed. Stephen Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea, held three days of talks in Pyongyang to prepare for the summit, the state department said on Friday. It said Biegun had agreed with his counterpart Kim Hyok Chol to meet again ahead of the summit.

In their talks in Pyongyang, from Wednesday to Friday, Biegun and Kim Hyok Chol “discussed advancing president Trump and chairman Kim’s Singapore summit commitments of complete denuclearization, transforming US-DPRK relations, and building a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the state department said. Its statement, which referred to North Korea by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, gave no indication of any progress in the talks.

The Guardian - February 8, 2019

Rosenstein did not want to write memo justifying Comey firing – new book

The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, privately complained that he was ordered by president Donald Trump to write the notorious memo justifying the firing of the FBI director James Comey, according to Comey’s former deputy.

Andrew McCabe writes in a new book that Rosenstein, who has publicly defended the memo, lamented that the president had directed him to rationalise Comey’s dismissal, which is now the subject of inquiries into whether Trump obstructed justice. Rosenstein made his remarks in a private meeting at the justice department on 12 May 2017, according to McCabe’s memoir, which also accuses Trump of operating like a criminal mob boss and of unleashing a “strain of insanity” in American public life.

McCabe recalls Rosenstein being “glassy-eyed”, visibly upset and sounding emotional after coming to believe the White House was using him as a scapegoat for Comey’s dismissal. “He said it wasn’t his idea. The president had ordered him to write the memo justifying the firing,” McCabe writes. Rosenstein said he was having trouble sleeping, McCabe writes. “There’s no one here that I can trust,” he is quoted as saying. McCabe’s book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, is due on sale later this month. A copy was obtained by the Guardian prior to its release.

The Intercept - February 9, 2019

New York Democrats could eliminate Ocasio-Cortez's district after 2020

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is prepared for the possibility that Democrats in New York could redraw her district after the 2020 election, she told The Intercept in an interview.

Following the 2020 census, every state will draw new district boundaries to reflect changes in the population, the political implications of which will stretch for at least the next decade. But Ocasio-Cortez’s most determined adversaries are not partisan Republicans, but Democrats who say that she has been a disruptive influence.

The Hill recently reported that at least one member of Congress has been urging New York party leaders to recruit a Democratic primary challenger to Ocasio-Cortez. But the news led to a surge of donations to Ocasio-Cortez, suggesting that a more efficient means of ousting her might be simply to eliminate her district. The 29-year-old congressperson noted (accurately) that it’s generally expected that New York will likely lose a seat, despite the city itself growing at a consistent pace.

Washington Post - February 10, 2019

Rhae Lynn Barnes: Yes, politicians wore blackface. It used to be all-American ‘fun.’

Both Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) of Virginia have admitted that they wore blackface as students in the 1980s in imitations of famous African Americans. News broke Thursday that the Virginia Senate majority leader, Tommy Norment (R), was an editor of a 1968 college yearbook filled with blackface photos.

Will yet more photos emerge of rowdy blackface frat parties and politicians’ youthful participation in amateur minstrel shows? The answer is almost certainly yes. More politicians probably took part than we will ever know.

Blackface is as American as the ruling class. Throughout the 20th century, all-male fraternal orders, schools, federal agencies and the U.S. military collectively institutionalized the practice. Watching blackface performances was a common pastime for U.S. presidents from both parties. “Blacking up” was seen as an expression of cultural heritage and patriotism throughout Jim Crow America — an era named after a famous blackface stock character — and up until the civil rights movement. Even now, one recent poll by YouGov found, only 58 percent of Americans oppose the practice.

CNN - February 9, 2019

Elizabeth Warren kicks off presidential bid with challenge to super wealthy — and other Democrats

Sen. Elizabeth Warren officially launched her 2020 presidential campaign Saturday at a rally in Lawrence, Massachusetts, using the backdrop of Everett Mills –– the site of a historic 1912 labor strike led by women and immigrants –– to issue a call to action against wealthy power brokers who "have been waging class warfare against hardworking people for decades."

The formal start of Warren's White House campaign comes as the Democratic primary intensifies by the day, with numerous candidates including Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker already in the race, and others, like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, expected to jump in soon. Trump's 2020 campaign manager welcomed Warren to the race with a statement predicting voters "will reject her dishonest campaign and socialist ideas like the Green New Deal."

In a warning to some of those rivals, Warren touted her refusal to accept donations from lobbyists, corporate PACs or the support of super PACs, and challenged "every other candidate who asks for your vote in this primary to say exactly the same thing." Warren also unveiled a new, high-profile backer in Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, who introduced, endorsed and painted his former professor a prescient political voice.

Politico - February 7, 2019

Virginia Democrats decline to call on Fairfax, Herring to resign

Democrats from Virginia declined to call on Lt Gov. Justin Fairfax or Attorney General Mark Herring to resign on Thursday in their first comments about the scandals facing two top lawmakers in the commonwealth.

“We will continue in dialogue with one another and our constituents in the coming days, and evaluate additional information as it comes to light," said Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and the rest of the Democratic congressional delegation from Virginia. Warner and Kaine — along with other lawmakers from the state — reiterated their call for Gov. Ralph Northam to resign.

Earlier Thursday, in a lengthy statement, the Legislative Black Caucus reiterated its call for Northam to step down but emphasized it is treating the scandals facing all three of the state’s top lawmakers individually. Other Democrats — including the House Democrats — quickly followed their lead, issuing statements of their own hours later.

February 8, 2019

Lead Stories

CNN - February 7, 2019

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says National Enquirer publisher tried to extort him

In an explosive tell-all blog post published Thursday, Jeff Bezos accused the publisher of the National Enquirer of trying to extort him.

The post by Bezos on the blogging platform Medium revealed what he said were the full text of emails his representatives got from executives at AMI, the publisher of the National Enquirer. Bezos, the billionaire founder and CEO of Amazon, alleged that AMI threatened to release compromising photos of him. His post included what he said were emails from AMI detailing what he described as "extortion and blackmail." Bezos, the world's richest person, is the single largest shareholder in Amazon, with 16 percent of the company's stock.

Law and Crime - February 8, 2019

Sen. Charles Schwertner says he’s 'reconciling’ with wife even though she filed for divorce

A Republican state senator’s wife filed for divorce after he was accused of sending sexually explicit text messages–including nude pics–to a University of Texas at Austin (UT) graduate student who had connected with him over an interest in healthcare policy. Nonetheless, the senator wants his constituents to know he and his wife are “reconciling.”

It seemed Charles Schwertner‘s wife Belinda might contest the idea that things are getting better, considering she just filed for divorce amidst an ongoing scandal involving her husband’s genitals. According to The Dallas Morning News, Belinda filed for divorce on January 30. Documents obtained by the outlet confirmed the divorce filing in Williamson County–where part of the City of Austin is located.

"The parties were married on or about June 7, 1997 and have ceased to live together as a married couple,” the filing notes. “The marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities between [both spouses] that destroys the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.” Schwertner, for his part, appears to be taking it all in stride. “[W]e’re reconciling,” Schwertner said on Wednesday. “We love each other very much.”

Houston Chronicle - February 8, 2019

Top Texans in Congress spar over Trump's hidden tax returns

As the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House takes its first tentative steps to obtain President Donald Trump's tax returns, Texas Republican Kevin Brady has emerged as one of the administration's top congressional defenders, arguing that the move would jeopardize all Americans' right to privacy.

"This is about protecting the private tax returns of every American," the Republican from The Woodlands wrote Thursday in a letter to the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which was holding its first hearing on presidential tax returns. "When we start making exceptions for one taxpayer, it begins the process of eroding and threatening the privacy rights of all taxpayers."

Brady, the former chairman of the tax-writing committee and now its ranking Republican, registered himself "deeply concerned" and accused Democrats of "weaponizing our nation's tax code by targeting political foes." In part, the battle over the president's tax returns has become a tale of two powerful Texans on the Ways and Means Committee, one a Republican, the other a Democrat. Texas U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, one of the panel's top Democrats, has filed six motions in the past two years calling for Trump's tax returns.

CNBC - February 7, 2019

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just released her massive Green New Deal — here's what's in it

Freshman Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and veteran lawmaker Sen. Edward Markey are introducing a resolution spelling out congressional support for a Green New Deal — an ambitious plan to remake the U.S. economy and drastically reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

The resolution largely sticks to a blueprint Ocasio-Cortez laid out when she proposed creating a House select committee to establish a Green New Deal. That framework called for generating 100 percent of the nation's power from renewable sources, making all buildings energy efficient and eliminating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector and industry — all within about 10 years.

The plan also proposes massive investments in research and development to make the U.S. a leader in clean energy technology. In addition, the Green New Deal envisioned by Ocasio-Cortez aims to implement progressive policies such as a federal jobs guarantee, basic income and universal health care. The resolution being introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey clarifies the scope and scale of the Green New Deal and paves the way for legislation that would lay out explicit projects and policies. Ocasio-Cortez plans to begin crafting that legislation immediately.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 7, 2019

Why is Dallas Rep. Colin Allred taking a break from Congress to return home?

Rep. Colin Allred is taking a break from Congress to return to Dallas. He and his wife, Alexandra Eber, are expecting the birth of their first child "very soon," the freshman congressman said in a statement Thursday.

Allred said his experience makes it “clearer than ever” that Washington needs to fund basic paid sick leave and parental leave. President Donald Trump called for federal paid family leave during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, saying his plan would allow every new parent a "chance to bond with their newborn child.” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) tweeted that he is working with Trump on the issue.

Dallas Morning News - February 7, 2019

Texas Republican warns of 'dangerous precedent' as Dems take first step to get Trump's tax returns

House Democrats on Thursday made their first tentative step toward demanding President Donald Trump's tax returns, holding a high-profile hearing on the law that allows Congress to inspect those documents. A key Texas Republican warned them to not go any further.

Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands cautioned Democrats against using the tax code to pry free Trump's returns, with the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee saying that "weaponizing the tax code for political purposes sets a dangerous precedent."

That view is unlikely to dissuade Democrats, who've clamored to peek at Trump's financial information ever since he broke modern presidential tradition by not releasing his tax returns. Many Democrats are actually prodding their party's leadership in the House to move more quickly in chasing down Trump's documents –– one of several areas in which there are nascent investigations into the president's personal and political dealings.

Dallas Morning News - February 7, 2019

DMN Editorial: Texas might be ready to toughen sexual assault laws at last

Austin lawmakers will fight over hundreds of issues this session, but we’re glad to see that addressing the scourge of sexual assaults across this state isn’t one of them. At least five good bills have been filed by Democrats and Republicans to help victims in reporting crimes and putting their attackers behind bars.

A measure in Senate Bill 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would provide $7.5 million to eliminate wait lists at rape crisis centers and $1 million to expand access to sexual assault nurse examiners. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, have filed bills — SB 586 and HB 282 — for better training of peace officers in handling such cases.

And if Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, is successful, the state would establish the Office of Sexual Assault Survivors in the criminal justice division of the governor’s office. At last count Texas has whittled 20,000 untested kids down to a couple of thousand thanks to Neave’s crowdfunding law that allows Texans to donate while renewing or applying for a driver’s license.

Dallas Morning News - February 8, 2019

Conservative groups attack gay rights bills as effort to 'ban the Bible' in Texas

Conservative groups are attacking a slate of bills that would expand rights for LGBTQ Texans, claiming they are anti-Christian and would “effectively ban the Bible.”

Texas Values, a religious advocacy organization, is leading the effort, flooding social media and the conservative press with allegations that passing the bills would force Christians to violate their faith. The groups have launched a website and promoted the hashtag #BantheBible. But lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Texans and their allies call these claims totally false. The bills do not mention the Scriptures or other religious texts, they said, and some bills even exempt religious organizations.

The "No Bible Ban" effort has the support of Empower Texans, whose political action committee seeks to oust moderate Republicans, and the far-right Texas Pastors Council, which also backed the bathroom bill. It’s unclear why Texas Values has not used the argument before now. Conservative groups in California opposed a pro-LGBTQ bill last year, saying it would “ban the Bible,” but the phrase has not been widely used otherwise.

Dallas Morning News - February 8, 2019

Where things stand for DACA: new north Texas scholarship, SCOTUS delays decision

It’s been more than a year since former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was being shut down. But DACA’s death has been a slow one.

The program created during President Barack Obama’s presidency that shields some 700,000 Dreamers from deportation and grants them renewable two-year work permits has been saved by several federal court decisions in 2018, including one decision coming in the south Texas courtroom of a judge known for being tough on immigration cases.

Still, the debate about whether to permanently extend protections for DACA beneficiaries –– as well as President Donald Trump’s demand for border wall funding –– contributed to the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history. So where do things stand now for DACA and its beneficiaries?

Houston Chronicle - February 8, 2019

HC Editorial: Reject David Whitley as Texas secretary of state

Normally, we wouldn’t weigh in on a confirmation hearing for a gubernatorial pick to a low-profile office in Austin. This year, we’ll not only weigh in on David Whitley’s appointment to the office of Texas secretary of state. We’ll recommend a loud and resounding: NO.

Whitley was named in December and his short tenure in the obscure and nominally nonpartisan office has been tarnished by a civil rights scandal that garnered national attention and condemnation. Texans deserve an official they can trust to oversee elections across the state. Gov. Greg Abbott, too, deserves an appointee whose every move won’t be justifiably second-guessed. Our state isn’t lacking for Republican politicos who could serve in this role. The governor should simply replace Whitley with a qualified candidate so we can all move on.

Whitley calculated the 95,000 number by counting registered voters who, at some point, had told the Texas Department of Public Safety they were not citizens when obtaining a driver’s license or ID. But here’s a funny fact about life in Texas: People can become citizens after legally obtaining a driver license. Thousands upon thousands of Texans do that every year — and plenty of those new citizens registered to vote and cast ballots in the 2018 election.

Houston Chronicle - February 7, 2019

Texas power makers say higher revenues will prompt them to dust off old plants for summer

A group of Texas power producers that generate about 60 percent of the state's electricity said its members are planning to invest more than $100 million in existing power plants to prepare for the upcoming summer demand for electricity.

The Texas Competitive Power Advocates, a group that includes Calpine Corp. of Houston and NRG Energy of Houston and Princeton, N.J., are making the investments after Texas regulators last month agreed to changes in the wholesale electricity market, a move expected to increase revenues for power generators during times of peak demand and raise prices for consumers and businesses. Other power generators in the group include Vistra Energy of Irving, Tenaska of Nebraska and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania.

Power companies had told the Public Utility Commission that unless upward price adjustments were made, generators would have little incentive to build new power plants or fix up old ones to accommodate the growing population and demand for energy and avoid power shortages.

Houston Chronicle - February 8, 2019

Rep. Jared Patterson wants to kill Power to Choose website

A state-sponsored website millions of Texans use to shop for electricity could be on the chopping block.

Texas Rep. Jared Patterson, a freshman Republican who represents Denton County, wants the Public Utility Commission to drop Power to Choose, the website introduced two decades ago when Texas deregulated the electricity industry. Patterson has introduced a bill in the state legislature that would eliminate the website that compares dozens of electricity plans, arguing that the government shouldn't be competing with private businesses.

"Government doesn't offer pricing comparison sites for groceries or car tires, and shouldn't for electricity rates either," said Patterson. Patterson is director of energy services at Rapid Power Management, a retail electric brokerage firm based in Carrollton that buys electricity on behalf of manufacturers and commercial clients. One consumer watchdog said it would be a disservice to Texans shopping for electricity to eliminate Power to Choose. "It provides an important service," said R.A. Dyer, policy analyst for the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power in Austin, which buys electricity on behalf of municipal governments.

San Antonio Express-News - February 7, 2019

Trump owes El Paso an apology, Texas congresswoman says

Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday asking him to apologize to El Pasoans for misrepresenting their hometown during his State of the Union address Tuesday.

In his address to Congress, Trump said El Paso was once one of the country’s “most dangerous cities,” but now is an example of how communities benefit from border barriers. “Simply put, walls work and walls save lives," Trump said. "So let's work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe." Escobar, of El Paso, said Trump’s claims were false, and that El Paso was safe long before the wall was built.

“El Paso has never been one of the most ‘dangerous cities’ in the country, and our safety and security has long been a point of pride,” she wrote. “These distortions about our vibrant community are harmful to our reputation and degrade our spirit.” Escobar pointed to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program that shows El Paso, with a population of about 700,000, has fewer violent crimes than similar-sized cities such as Tucson and Tula, Okla. Its crime rate is below the national average, the FBI reports.

San Antonio Express-News - February 8, 2019

Gun debate overshadows San Antonio area school district’s quiet progress on security

At the start of a panel discussion last month, the East Central Independent School District superintendent raised the question that had filled the auditorium with parents: “Why on earth, then, would you be talking about possibly arming staff?”

Why, when most districts that do so are small and rural and depend on sheriff’s deputies to respond in a crisis, would East Central, with 10,200 students and a 13-person police department, consider arming educators? Because, said Superintendent Roland Toscano, it’s a final layer, hopefully never needed, that can join every other precaution and advantage the school district has — police assignments, campus hardware, entry practices, its focus on teaching social and emotional skills and its nationally recognized attention to children’s trauma.

The gun debate in East Central ISD has been loud and bitter since the Guardian Plan, a legal option allowing Texas school districts to set rules and training requirements for teachers and staff who want to carry guns, appeared on a school board agenda in November. Even parents who are firearms enthusiasts and licensed to carry concealed handguns have stood before board members demanding more information and complaining that they hadn’t sought more public input.

Dallas Observer - February 8, 2019

The Dallas County Republican Party has some thoughts about the voter purge fiasco

Someone get Texas Secretary of State David Whitley one sequined glove, please. Last week Whitley dethroned the late Michael Jackson as king of the moonwalk, appearing to move forward while walking backward.

On Jan. 25, Whitley and Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that as many as 58,000 noncitizens may have cast ballots in Texas elections between 1996 and 2018, and as many as 95,000 noncitizens were registered to vote. This was a scam intended to help push through tougher voter registration laws. Everyone except Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who called the attempted purge a "work in progress" Thursday, and the Dallas County Republican Party.

Friday afternoon, for the second day in a row, the Dallas County GOP pushed out a breathless media advisory, admonishing all who read it not to look behind the curtain. "Don’t let the debate over initial data deter you, this is an important research effort," Dallas County GOP Chairwoman Missy Shorey says. To reiterate: Paxton's tweet was labeled "voter fraud alert," not "important research effort alert." The Dallas County elections department, Shorey says, must "[w]ork in full cooperation and transparency with the Texas Secretary of State and Texas Attorney General’s offices in order to defend democracy in Dallas County and the Lone Star State."

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 8, 2019

Harris County DA Ogg at odds with progressives over push for more prosecutors

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg asked the Commissioners Court for a budget that would fund 102 additional assistant district attorneys and more than 40 support staff. Ogg said the surge is needed to clear a backlog in cases exacerbated by Harvey, a driver of overcrowding at the Harris County Jail.

Her proposal to expand the prosecutor corps by a third, however, has evolved into a proxy battle over the future of criminal justice reform in Harris County. Ogg finds herself so far unable to persuade Democrats on Commissioners Court as well as reform groups, who have questioned her self-identification as a progressive and said her proposal would lead to more residents in jail. “Simply adding prosecutors is the strategy that got us here in the first place, with this mentality that the only thing we can spend money on is police and prosecutors,” said Jay Jenkins, project attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

Ogg, a first-term district attorney who unseated a Republican in 2016 with the support of many progressive groups, said these critics fail to grasp the on-the-ground realities of her prosecutors, whose heavy workloads mean they sometimes are the reason cases are delayed and defendants languish in jail. Ogg pledged to send the first 25 new hires to the felony trial bureau, where she said they can help achieve the reforms progressives seek, such as identifying low-risk defendants who can be sent out of the criminal justice system without a conviction.

SBG San Antonio - February 8, 2019

Bexar health officials see abnormal cases of measles in 2019

Bexar County health officials want to make sure parents know how to protect their kids now that measles cases are popping up in Texas. A local doctor said there is an abnormal number of cases this year, and he believes it's so important for children to get vaccinated.

There are six confirmed cases of measles in Texas, including four children under the age of two. Three are in the Houston area, one in Galveston, and one more in Montgomery County. More than 50 cases have been confirmed in the Pacific Northwest.

Measles are extremely contagious. Doctors said if someone has measles and walked into a room and coughed, then 10 people walk into the room, then 9 out of 10 of those people could get the measles. The doctor says important steps to take include washing your hands and not coughing around. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat.

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - February 8, 2019

Will San Antonio become the fifth major city granted this distinction?

Twelve years ago, shortly after City Manager Sheryl Sculley hired Charles Hood as fire chief, the pair sat down to discuss what they wanted to accomplish.

At the time, the Fire Department was plagued by problems, including criticism over slow response times in some of the city’s outlying areas and low morale among firefighters. Early on, Sculley and Hood decided on two goals. They wanted to improve the department’s Insurance Services Office, or ISO, rating. This basically quantifies the level of fire protection and can affect property owners’ insurance rates. Sculley and Hood also wanted the department to become accredited by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.

“That reassures the citizens that we have the best equipment, the best stations and the best staff,” Sculley said, explaining the importance of the distinction. Just days after Sculley is set to retire, the accreditation commission will vote on accredited status for the Fire Department.

Dallas Morning News - February 7, 2019

Young kids of a wealthy former Texas senator gave money to a Dallas City Council campaign, too

School-aged children of a powerful former state senator were among the minors who gave thousands of dollars to city campaigns, according to a review of campaign-finance records by The Dallas Morning News.

John Carona, who spent about 25 years in the Texas Legislature, and his family bundled the donations to Paul Reyes’ unsuccessful 2015 Dallas City Council run. The Carona kids’ contributions mimic others in Dallas City Council races over the past five years in which wealthy donors’ children and grandchildren are listed as donors in a bundle of maximum contributions — appearing to sidestep the city's limits on personal contributions.

Dallas — unlike in most state, school district and county races — puts limits on how much individuals can donate, establishing a $1,000 limit per election in City Council races and a $5,000 limit in mayoral races. Additionally, the city’s finance rules state that individuals can’t make contributions under any other name than their own, contributions shouldn’t be made on behalf of someone else, and that the money must come from the donor’s own resources.

National Stories

CNBC - February 7, 2019

Top Senate tax writer says GOP will not tweak state and local deduction limits

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley will not tweak the new state and local tax deduction cap while he leads the panel, a spokesman for the Iowa Republican said Thursday. U.S. residents are filing taxes for the first time this year under the new GOP-written tax code, which limited the deduction for those taxes to $10,000.

The statement comes a day after President Donald Trump said he would be "open to talking about" revising the deduction limit. Democrats slammed the policy change passed in December 2017 — and 11 Republicans from the high-tax states of New York, California and New Jersey voted against it. Multiple freshman House Democrats who unseated GOP lawmakers in those states in November ran in part on repealing the deduction limits.

Democrats have slammed the GOP tax plan — which slashed the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and trimmed taxes for most individuals — as a boon to companies and the wealthy. The party mulled various attacks on the tax law when it took the House majority last month, including criticism related to the state and local deduction limits.

CNBC - February 7, 2019

Dow drops more than 200 points as Trump won't meet Xi before US-China trade deadline

Stocks fell sharply on Thursday as it became clear that a trade meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping would not happen before a key March deadline.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 220.77 points to 25,169.53 as Apple and DowDuPont led the decline. The S&P 500 pulled back 0.94 percent to close at 2,706.05, led lower by the energy and tech sectors. The Nasdaq Composite lagged, sliding about 1.2 percent to 7,288.35.

New York Times - February 7, 2019

Virginia Republican was top editor of yearbook that included blackface photos and racist slurs

Thomas K. Norment Jr., the powerful Republican majority leader in the Virginia Senate, was a top editor of a 1968 college yearbook that included several photographs of students in blackface as well as racist slurs.

Mr. Norment, 72, a longtime fixture and political broker in the State Legislature, is the first Republican to be swept up in Virginia’s ongoing political crisis over racist behavior in the past. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper first reported on the photos and material on Thursday.

As a senior at Virginia Military Institute, then an all-male college that was sometimes called “the West Point of the South,’’ Mr. Norment was managing editor of the 1968 edition of the Bomb yearbook. That edition included students in blackface and slurs aimed at African-Americans, Asians and Jews, according to a copy viewed by The New York Times. Mr. Norment, in a statement released by his office Thursday, said, “The use of blackface is abhorrent in our society and I emphatically condemn it.”

New York Times - February 7, 2019

A divided Senate committee advances William Barr nomination

A polarized Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination of William P. Barr to be President Trump’s second confirmed attorney general on Thursday, as Republicans and Democrats split over his views on executive authority and the special counsel’s ongoing Russia investigation.

Mr. Barr will now go before the full Republican-controlled Senate, where he is expected to be confirmed and sworn into office as soon as next week. If confirmed, he would promptly assume responsibility for the special counsel investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III into possible ties between Mr. Trump, his associates and Russia, and whether the president obstructed justice.

Mr. Barr will get at least one Democratic vote in the full Senate. Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, announced his support on Thursday. But the committee’s debate and subsequent 12-10 party-line vote to effectively endorse Mr. Barr to the full Senate revealed how fraught the politics around the Justice Department have become after two years of unrelenting attacks by Mr. Trump.

Wall Street Journal - February 7, 2019

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will testify to House panel after subpoena standoff

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is expected to testify before Congress on Friday, after a dispute between Democrats and the Justice Department over his conversations with the White House on the special counsel’s Russia investigation threatened to forestall the appearance.

Mr. Whitaker’s late Thursday agreement to testify Friday morning narrowly averted a showdown with Democrats who are eager to use their newfound power to probe the Trump administration. Thursday began with threats from the House Judiciary Committee to subpoena Mr. Whitaker if he declined to answer questions about his communications with Mr. Trump about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and any collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Mr. Trump has denied wrongdoing.

Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) wrote back to Mr. Whitaker, saying there would be no need to issue a subpoena if Mr. Whitaker showed up and answered Democrats’ questions. Mr. Whitaker ultimately agreed to testify after subsequent conversations in which Mr. Nadler said he wouldn’t issue a subpoena if Mr. Whitaker appeared voluntarily, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said. Mr. Trump praised the acting attorney general Thursday afternoon when reporters asked if Mr. Whitaker would testify. “I would say if he did testify he’d do very well,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s an outstanding person. He’s a very, very fine man.”

Wall Street Journal - February 7, 2019

Digital First to attempt an overhaul of Gannett media giant's board

Digital First Media, the hedge-fund-backed newspaper chain whose takeover bid for Gannett Co. was rejected, has launched a proxy fight in an attempt to remake Gannett’s board of directors.

Digital First is one of Gannett’s largest shareholders with about 7.5 percent of its stock. It nominated a slate of six candidates Thursday and will solicit shareholder votes for them to replace a majority of the board members at the company’s annual meeting this spring. Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and other daily newspapers, earlier this week rejected the $1.4 billion takeover bid from Digital First, which is officially known as MNG Enterprises Inc., and questioned the bid’s credibility.

Wall Street Journal - February 7, 2019

BB&T to buy SunTrust in largest bank deal since the financial crisis

BB&T Corp. struck a deal to buy SunTrust Banks Inc. for $28.2 billion, combining two regional lending powerhouses to create the sixth-largest U.S. retail bank and end a decadelong drought in big bank mergers.

The all-stock deal is the largest U.S. bank merger since the financial crisis ushered in a stricter regulatory regime that kept banks on the sidelines of recent deal-making booms. Bank rules have loosened considerably following President Trump’s 2016 election, leading some to predict a flood of consolidations among smaller banks.

The merger of BB&T and SunTrust could be the deal that opens the spigot. Regional lenders are struggling to compete with big national banks such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp., which are attracting a greater share of new checking accounts from customers that are drawn to their digital offerings. Deposit growth at many small and midsize banks has faltered, threatening a key source of funding. BB&T’s deposits were up two percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, while SunTrust’s were up one percent.

Associated Press - February 8, 2019

Supreme Court blocks Louisiana abortion clinic law

A divided Supreme Court stopped Louisiana from enforcing new regulations on abortion clinics in a test of the conservative court’s views on abortion rights. The justices said by a 5-4 vote late Thursday that they will not allow the state to put into effect a law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals in putting a hold on the law, pending a full review of the case. President Donald Trump’s two Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were among the four conservative members of the court who would have allowed the law to take effect. Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion in which he said the court’s action was premature because the state had made clear it would allow abortion providers an additional 45 days to obtain admitting privileges before it started enforcing the law.

If the doctors succeed, they can continue performing abortions, he said. If they fail, they could return to court, Kavanaugh said. The law is very similar to a Texas measure the justices struck down three years ago. Roberts dissented in that case. But the composition of the court has changed since then, with Kavanaugh replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted to strike down the Texas law. Trump had pledged during the campaign to appoint “pro-life” justices, and abortion opponents are hoping the more conservative bench will be more open to upholding abortion restrictions.

Associated Press - February 8, 2019

Virginia Dems brace for 2020 political fallout from scandal

The political crisis in Virginia threatens to turn a state that has trended Democratic back into a battleground, a development that could complicate the party’s effort to defeat President Donald Trump next year.

Three of the state’s top Democrats are engulfed in a scandal that has shaken the state government. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have admitted wearing blackface as young men in the 1980s. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, meanwhile, has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004, an allegation he denies. The men are resisting calls for their resignation.

Virginia’s increasingly diverse and urban population has fueled Democratic victories at the state and presidential level for a decade. But Democrats are anxious that the dizzying developments could suddenly halt their progress. The prospect of losing Virginia’s 13 electoral votes would spread Democrats thin as they try to win back upper Midwest states that voted for Trump while making a push in GOP-leaning states like Georgia and Arizona.

Politico - February 7, 2019

John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress, dies at 92

Former Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell Jr., the longest-serving member of Congress whose tenure stretched from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama, died on Thursday. He was 92. The cause of death was prostate cancer. Rep. Debbie Dingell, his wife of nearly four decades and successor in Congress, was at Dingell's side when he died.

Dingell‘s legendary tenure in Congress — he served in the House for 59 years and 21 days — is matched only by the scale of his contributions to American society. He was involved in crafting and passing legislation that aimed to ensure clean air and water, safer food and health care for Americans. He worked vociferously to protect the American automobile companies — the dominant industry in his southeastern Michigan district, which stretched from Detroit's edge to the college town of Ann Arbor.

Dingell's power came from his chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, the panel he controlled from 1981 until 1995, and then again from 2007 to 2009, when he was knocked off by California Rep. Henry Waxman, whose candidacy was tacitly backed by Nancy Pelosi, a longtime Dingell foe. So vast was Dingell's jurisdiction atop “E & C“ that the entire planet came under his purview. "If it moves, it's energy, if it doesn't, it's commerce," Dingell declared. The son of a House member, Dingell served in Congress from 1955 to 2014. He was sworn in by the late Speaker Sam Rayburn, Democrat of Texas, and exited Congress as "Dean of the House," with John Boehner, the Ohio Republican, as speaker.

The Hill - February 8, 2019

John Solomon: Adam Schiff, Glenn Simpson and their Forrest Gump-like encounter in Aspen

The new House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff (D-CA), has proven to be his party’s most effective antagonist toward President Trump. And now, with the new powers of being chairman, he is drawing both new weapons and new scrutiny. Sometimes such scrutiny inevitably turns to questions of hypocrisy.

Which bring us to the issue of some photographs taken at the prestigious Aspen security conference last July. They show Schiff meeting at the event with Fusion GPS Founder Glenn Simpson, one of the key and most controversial figures in the Russia collusion scandal. Both men insisted to me through spokesmen that they met only briefly last July. At the time of the encounter, Simpson was an important witness in the House Intelligence Committee probe who had given sworn testimony about alleged, but still unproven, collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Simpson ran the firm hired by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party to find dirt on Trump in Moscow. He employed retired British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, whose infamous and unverified dossier became the main evidence for the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign, particularly the surveillance warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. And by the time of the meeting, the House Intelligence Committee had already received evidence from a senior Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr, that called into question Simpson’s testimony to lawmakers.

NPR - February 8, 2019

Utah voters approved Medicaid expansion, but state lawmakers are balking

Utah residents may have thought they were done fighting about Medicaid expansion last November. During the election, voters approved a ballot measure to expand the health program for low-income residents to cover 150,000 uninsured people in the state.

But when Utah lawmakers opened a new legislative session in late January, they began pushing through a bill to roll back the scope and impact of that expansion. After six years of talking about Medicaid expansion, voters approved the ballot measure on Nov. 6, by 53 percent. But the issue erupted again when the legislative session started Jan. 28.

Similar legislative efforts to curtail expansion are also happening in Idaho, where voters passed a Medicaid expansion initiative in November by a 60 percent majority. Idaho lawmakers are considering ways to scale that program back.

The Intercept - February 7, 2019

Ohio's Governor stopped an execution over fears it would feel like waterboarding

At the Coroner's office in Dayton, Ohio, Dr. Mark Edgar stood over the body of Robert Van Hook. Van Hook had died one day earlier, on July 18, 2018, inside the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. After a tearful apology to his victim’s family, he was injected with 500 milligrams of midazolam — the first of a three-drug formula adopted in 2017.

Media witnesses described labored breathing from Van Hook shortly afterward, including “gasping and wheezing” loud enough to be heard from the witness room. Nevertheless, compared to recent executions in Ohio, things seemed to go smoothly. Still, Edgar had cause for concern.

For the past few years he had been examining the autopsy reports of men executed using midazolam across the country. Of the 27 previously available autopsy reports for people executed using midazolam, Edgar had found evidence of pulmonary edema in 23. Van Hook was the 24th.

Washington Post - February 7, 2019

Lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill that would reverse Trump’s ban on transgender troops

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday that would allow transgender people to serve openly in the military, after the Supreme Court last month moved to allow President Trump’s transgender troop ban to go into effect.

The legislation was introduced by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI in the Senate and Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), John Katko (R-NY), Susan Davis (D-CA) and Anthony Brown (D-MD) in the House.

It would prohibit the Defense Department from denying the enlistment or continued service of transgender people solely on the basis of their gender identity. Transgender rights advocates hailed the legislation as a step toward ensuring the equal treatment of transgender service members.