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Newsclips - February 18, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 17, 2020

Rick Perry thought soothsayer’s ‘Oval Office’ prophecy meant he would be president

To understand President Donald Trump’s tight grip on the Republican Party, consider the conversion of Rick Perry. For the former Texas governor, embracing Trump is a religious experience. He has described the controversial president as the chosen one sent by God. And last Friday, at the Dallas County Republican Party’s Reagan Day Dinner, he gave a similar testimonial. “I thank God every day that Donald Trump is the president of the United States,” Perry said.

Perry hasn’t always been a fan of Trump. “Let no one be mistaken Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded,” Perry said when the two were rivals for the White House. But now Perry describes Trump as a great president, lauding his appointment of conservative judges and his stewardship of the economy. But it wasn’t until recently that Perry fully understood why Trump was president instead of him. It’s a story about a misunderstood prophecy and the miracle of a grandson. It involves accepting political realities and keeping faith. It starts in 2011, when Perry learned that a Christian prophet had visions of him and his grandson taking a picture in the Oval Office. Perry, who been mulling over a presidential bid, was thrilled. “Let’s go,” Perry said he thought at the time, even though at the time he didn’t have a grandson. “Let’s ride.”

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The Hill - February 17, 2020

Candidates in Obama's orbit fail to capitalize on personal ties

Former President Obama may be the most popular Democrat, but the presidential candidates in his orbit have all but fizzled in their quest for the White House. There's Joe Biden, Obama's vice president, and his friend, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Both Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro served in his administration.

At one point or another in the 2020 campaign, all have touted their relationship with the former president in speeches, campaign videos and town hall appearances. And it hasn't made much difference. "You can talk a lot about Obama, but you're still not Obama," said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. "He was a fantastic candidate, campaigner and orator. No matter how much you interacted with him or praise him now, that still doesn't give you his innate talents.” “If I put on a Bulls jersey, that doesn't make me Michael Jordan," Vale added. Behind closed doors, Obama has counseled a number of candidates about their campaigns, offering advice from his successful 2008 White House bid and 2012 reelection.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 17, 2020

More than $62M in campaign cash flowed to Texas congressional races in 2019 — a 37% increase over last cycle

Congressional campaign coffers in Texas continue to fill up at a torrid pace — tallying more than $62 million last year — and candidates are wasting no time spending that bounty as the critical March primary approaches. Those trends, apparent in a Dallas Morning News analysis of campaign finance data, reinforce the Lone Star State’s newfound status as a battleground. Texas, for years, featured a U.S. House map filled mostly with sleepy, low-cost races, some even involving no challengers at all. But high-dollar skirmishes have now cropped up all over, thanks to real competition in growing suburban areas and a half-dozen open seats across the state.

Amid broader signs that the GOP’s decadeslong grip on the state could be slipping, both parties are gearing up for an expensive 2020. “We broke the back of apathy in our party,” said Bunni Pounds, a longtime Dallas GOP consultant who last cycle made an unsuccessful run for Congress. “Members who thought they could just coast are no longer just coasting.” By any measure, Texas is flush with congressional cash. U.S. House races brought in 37% more money in 2019 compared with 2017, the same period in the last election cycle. In Texas’ eight tightest races, the tally nearly doubled. All across the state, nearly 20 candidates have raised at least $1 million — about triple from 2017. House candidates’ spending, meanwhile, increased almost 35%, while outside groups have so far made a threefold increase in their independent investments in Texas congressional races.

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Dallas Morning News - February 17, 2020

Fact check: Serial murder suspect Billy Chemirmir is not an unauthorized immigrant, ICE says

Billy Chemirmir is accused of killing 22 elderly people in North Texas. His case has been cited by Twitter pundits and media outlets as an example of why the United States needs tougher immigration laws.

The serial murder suspect is a Kenyan immigrant. Some have suggested he overstayed a visa and is in the U.S. illegally. But Chemirmir is not an unauthorized immigrant. According to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he has permanent resident status. Here’s some of what we know about Chemirmir’s past and his immigration status. According to the Daily Nation, one of Kenya’s largest newspapers, Chemirmir came to the U.S. in the late 1990s after a sister arranged a visa for him and other siblings. In 2004, he married in Denton County. The couple divorced in Dallas County in 2006. Chemirmir has been arrested twice on charges of driving while intoxicated: in 2010 in Addison and in 2011 in Dallas. He was arrested on a family violence charge in 2012 and sentenced to 70 days in the Dallas County Jail.

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Dallas Morning News - February 17, 2020

Will NE Tarrant voters stick with trail blazed by controversial Texas Rep. Stickland or go new way?

In the race for House District 92, Republican voters will decide whether to stick with the path of the outgoing conservative firebrand, Rep. Jonathan Stickland, or chart a new path under a different kind of Republican. The three GOP candidates vying to replace Stickland — Jeff Cason, Taylor Gillig and Jim Griffin — give voters a variety of options to represent their party in the November general election, when the winner will face off against one of two candidates running in the Democratic primary — Steve Riddell and Jeff Whitfield.

The Tarrant County district — which covers Hurst, Euless and Bedford as well as parts of Arlington, Fort Worth and Grand Prairie — is one of the Democrats’ biggest targets this year as they look to flip the Texas House. In 2018, Stickland won the district by just 1,500 votes and failed to win 50% of the vote. Cason would likely continue the political path blazed by Stickland, who has endorsed his campaign. Cason, 66, a recently retired sales manager, advocates for ending the “Robin Hood” recapture system for funding Texas public schools and has expressed support for some of the most restrictive anti-abortion policies proposed in the Legislature last session. He has the support of groups tied to the GOP’s far right, including Texas Right to Life and Empower Texans, which recently created a web page called “Jim Griffin Exposed,” accusing Griffin of “breaking promises and raising taxes” while he was a council member and mayor in Bedford. Cason, who ran unsuccessfully for this seat in 2010, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

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Dallas Morning News - February 14, 2020

How much will the Texas bullet train cost? Curious Texas tackles this and other questions about the line

It’s been discussed in North Texas for years — a high-speed train that could get someone from Dallas to Houston in just 90 minutes. The talk could become reality soon, according to Texas Central, the company developing the line. Naturally, North Texans have questions about it. Curious Texas asked Dallas Morning News readers what they wanted to know about the train, and they delivered. Here are answers to some of the most popular questions.

How much will a train ride cost? Like buying a plane ticket, prices will depend on several factors, such as the class of service and how far in advance the purchase is made, Texas Central says. “On the high end, tickets will be competitive with the cost of flying, and on the low end, they will be competitive with the cost of driving,” the company says on its website. With those parameters in mind, it could be assumed that a ticket could cost as little as a tank of gas, or as much as a $200 flight. How many people will fit on the train? The rail line will use the latest model of the Shinkansen train. In Japan, that model — called the N700S — seats over 1,300 passengers. It will be adapted for Texas.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 17, 2020

Rick Perry criminal case an issue in GOP court primary

The unsuccessful criminal case against then-Gov. Rick Perry is serving as the backdrop in a primary challenge to a GOP judge on the state’s highest criminal court. Judge Bert Richardson, seeking reelection after one six-year term on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, was the appointed district judge who oversaw the Perry case from 2014-16.

He’s being challenged by Waco lawyer Gina Parker, who has been enthusiastically endorsed by Perry and who has made a campaign issue out of the way Richardson handled Perry’s abuse-of-power case. Of the seven Republican incumbents seeking reelection to the state’s two highest courts, only Richardson has a primary opponent. Parker, a lawyer since 1987 who also owns a dental products supply business, is a former national chairman for judicial reform for Eagle Forum and has made an appeal to conservative voters the cornerstone of her campaign. She’s also served as a city attorney, assistant county attorney and assistant district attorney. Richardson, a lawyer since 1988, is board certified in criminal law, has been a state district and appellate judge for 20 years and was a state and federal prosecutor. He’s also served as an adjunct law professor for 15 years, mostly for St. Mary’s University.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 17, 2020

Railroad commissioner Ryan Sitton faces primary opponent

One of the state’s chief regulators for oil, gas and mining faces a Republican primary opponent as he seeks reelection. Ryan Sitton, an entrepreneur and engineer who has fashioned himself as a government technocrat, is seeking a second six-year term to the three-member Texas Railroad Commission. Four Democrats — an environmental activist and educator from San Marcos and three attorneys from Dallas — are vying for their party’s nomination.

Critics call the Railroad Commission a “captured agency”: The three all-Republican, statewide elected members of the commission tend to exercise their power with a light touch and receive most of their campaign cash from the industries they regulate. Sitton’s campaign, for example, has raised more than $1 million since the start of 2019, the vast majority of it coming from oil and gas interests. This past January, according to campaign finance filings, the Sitton campaign got a $5,000 contribution from Chevron Employees Political Action Committee, and $50,000 from Kelcy Warren, the chief executive of Energy Transfer Partners, which has built pipelines in West Texas.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 17, 2020

With cruise ship evacuees, Lackland coronavirus quarantine grows to 235

The federal coronavirus quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland grew to 235 people Monday, after Americans evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan were brought to the base, federal officials said. The additional 145 people were among 328 Americans who were evacuated on two planes Sunday from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that had docked in Japan as the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, continued to spread onboard. The ship, which has been described as a hotbed for transmission, hosted the largest cluster of cases outside of China, where the virus originated.

The evacuation continued as planned, even as test results for 14 of the passengers came back positive for the virus as they were en route to the airport in Tokyo. They were asymptomatic before they disembarked from the ship, officials said. Seven of those infected with the highly contagious virus ended up on the federally chartered flight that landed at 3:50 a.m. in San Antonio, said Dr. William Walters, executive director and managing director for operational medicine at the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services, during a call Monday with reporters. But those sick passengers, who were isolated from the other passengers and crew in a special area on the plane, were subsequently taken to Omaha, Neb., to be treated at University of Nebraska Medical Center. During the flight to Lackland, two other people were isolated with symptoms, Walters said, but they have not yet been diagnosed with the virus.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 17, 2020

Suddenly, Democrats flush with candidates for 2 top courts

After years of trouble scraping together enough candidates to run for seats on both statewide courts, Texas Democrats have the opposite situation in 2020 — contested primaries in almost every race. In all four races for the Texas Supreme Court, the state’s highest civil court, two Democrats are vying to challenge Republican incumbents. And for the state’s top criminal court, multiple Democrats are running in two of three available races for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

The renewed Democratic interest comes after the party’s court candidates lost by 6 to 8 points in 2018 — defeats that seem strong after the party’s judicial candidates were drubbed by an average of 24 points in 2010. As an added incentive, Democratic judicial candidates tend to do better in presidential election years like 2020. Contested primaries are a mixed blessing, offering an opportunity to improve name recognition but depleting campaign coffers, particularly in Supreme Court races in which GOP incumbents can raise more than $1 million in contributions, largely from civil lawyers and law firms. In contrast, races for the Court of Criminal Appeals tend to be low-cost affairs. But no matter the court, campaigns tend to focus on each candidate’s legal experience, acknowledging that both courts make rulings that set precedents for decades to come.

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Los Angeles Times - February 17, 2020

As leaders spar over homelessness in Austin, California becomes a punching bag

In Austin, a booming tech and music hub that revels in its weirdness and has long been a draw for transplants, residents often complain about being overrun with Californians. More than 7,000 Californians moved to this city and surrounding Travis County in 2017-18, about a quarter of those who moved here from out of state — twice the percentage from five years earlier. Now California has entered the debate as the governor and mayor grapple over Austin’s homeless population. Last summer, inspired after visiting Los Angeles, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and fellow Democrats on the City Council lifted a ban on public camping.

Homeless encampments started spreading from downtown. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, was infuriated. He threatened to “unleash the full power of state agencies to ensure the health and safety of all Texans” if the city did not get a handle on the problem. “San Francisco chose to tolerate homelessness & drug use,” Abbott fumed on Twitter. “It did so in the name of com­pas­sion for the home­less. It made the problems worse. The result: Street squalor & mis­ery in­creased, while gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­tures ballooned. No SF in TX.” Abbott, who lives downtown in the Greek Revival governor’s mansion, completed in 1856, sent state troopers to patrol the area and directed state workers to clear homeless camps from state property. He set up a five-acre state-secured homeless camp at the eastern edge of the city. It has been nicknamed Abbottville, or Adlerville, depending on who is doing the criticizing.

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Houston Chronicle - February 17, 2020

Dallas ISD's struggling schools made major gains. Then the money went away.

After three straight years of remarkable academic growth at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, the long-struggling Dallas ISD campus tumbled back to the bottom of the district in 2018-19. Dade’s fall came after its principal received a promotion, more than half of its teaching staff left and Dallas leaders pulled money spent on the campus through the district’s school turnaround program, Accelerating Campus Excellence, ACE for short.

“It was amazing, really storybook for me,” Edward Turner, a longtime south Dallas education advocate, said of the initial results. “But at the end of the day, it’s about how are we going to sustain these programs and provide equitable resources to these schools.” Dade and six other chronically low-rated Dallas schools mostly sparkled during their three years under ACE, with test scores rising and student discipline rates falling. In turn, state lawmakers and education leaders heralded Dallas’ model as evidence that all students from poverty can perform at high levels when taught by strong educators in well-funded schools. An analysis of academic and staffing data, however, shows the first schools weaned off ACE investments posted mixed results in 2018-19, their first year without the added support. The outcomes suggest districts attempting to mimic Dallas’ much-lauded success — including Aldine ISD and eight others already implementing similar initiatives — could struggle to maintain high performance without consistent funding or tweaks to the model.

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Houston Chronicle - February 14, 2020

Houston ISD pumps brakes on buying metal detectors, even after deadly Bellaire High shooting

Houston ISD trustees shelved a request from administrators late Thursday to authorize up to $3 million for metal detectors, arguing district officials need to provide more concrete recommendations and plans for school security before the board votes to allocate money for the machines. The board’s decision comes as Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan’s administration continues to solicit feedback and analyze security protocols following last month’s on-campus fatal shooting of Bellaire High School student Cesar Cortes, 19.

Lathan said she has not yet decided whether to install metal detectors in some middle and high schools, but her administration wanted quick access to funds for the machines if district leaders decide to buy them. Some trustees suggested they remain open to possibly deploying metal detectors at access points in schools, though they said administrators and the board first need to conduct more detailed conversations about districtwide security plans. Several trustees questioned why Lathan asked for authority to spend on metal detectors now, rather than waiting until she decided to purchase the machines. “It’s so easy to try to put a metal detector out there as a quick fix,” Trustee Anne Sung said. “I just want to make sure we’re being thoughtful and utilizing a strategy.”

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 17, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Was DISD’s chief auditor part of the problem or working to find financial wrongdoing?

The abrupt resignation last week of DISD’s chief internal auditor Steven Martin has created a cloud over the school district as it prepares to ask taxpayers for billions of dollars in what would be the largest school district bond in state history. Martin had raised concerns that the school district potentially overpaid more than $330,000 for roofing projects at Dunbar Learning Center and Gooch Elementary, and that other contracts in the auditor’s hands could show substantially more overpayments. And in an unusual public appearance before the board’s audit committee days before he resigned, Martin alleged that he was being railroaded for speaking truth to power.

“As a federal investigator for 24 years, I understand when a case against a defendant is airtight, defense attorneys investigate the investigator,” Martin said at the DISD’s audit committee meeting last week. ”I feel this is happening now.” Such allegations aren’t to be taken lightly, especially when they come from someone with access to detailed financial records and contracts and who has the ability — and responsibility — to connect the dots. But it is difficult to ascertain whether there was an effort to silence an auditor for doing his job or an ugly, politically motivated dustup in an election year. In either case, the school district must do all it can to reassure the public that it is worthy of support at the polls, and that means publicly addressing the concerns in great detail.

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Houston Chronicle - February 17, 2020

Millions of dollars are flowing into projects to transform Houston's Westchase District

Several projects valued at millions of dollars aimed at improving the Westchase District are underway as economic development and government groups seek to spur development and lift property values. Work will soon begin rebuilding the sidewalks along a three-mile stretch of Westheimer Road from Kirkwood to Westerland. The sidewalks, to be done in phases over about 20 months, will be at least six feet wide and up to eight feet in places, often bordered by extensive landscaping.

In addition to being more pedestrian friendly, the expectation is owners of some of the 30-plus-year-old retail centers along one of Houston’s busiest bus routes will eventually push their developments closer to the street as part of future redevelopments. The stores would be more inviting to pedestrians, and portions of their land could potentially be developed for other uses. “We think there’s an opportunity for a lot more there,” said Irma Sanchez, vice president of projects for Westchase District. “What we wanted to do is improve that public realm and to entice — whether it’s someone who is there today or someone who is looking to move there in the future — them to bring their development up closer to the curb, and maybe put that sea of parking behind the retail structure.”

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Dallas Observer - February 14, 2020

Atmos requests record rate hike

Dallas' natural gas provider, Atmos, is requesting an $18 million rate hike. It's the biggest yet and comes on the heels of a protracted pricing dispute with the city. Atmos claims the rate increase is necessary to fund the replacement of the city's aging pipeline network. It will raise consumer bills by around $5.50.

"We've accelerated the pace of pipe replacement. We have more crews in a lot of different neighborhoods throughout the city. We've replaced more miles of steel, more miles of cast iron," said Chris Felan, Atmos' vice president of rates and regulatory affairs for the Dallas region. Atmos has been investing heavily in pipeline replacement in recent years, driven by pressure from ratepayers and policymakers to improve its safety record.

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National Stories

Associated Press - February 17, 2020

One thing unites establishment Democrats: Fear of Sanders

A growing number of Democratic lawmakers, union officials, state leaders and party strategists agree that Bernie Sanders is a risky nominee to put up against President Donald Trump. There’s less agreement about whether — and how — to stop him. Critics of the Vermont senator, who has long identified as a democratic socialist, are further than they’ve ever been from unifying behind a moderate alternative. None of the viable centrists in the race is eager to exit the campaign to clear a path for a candidate to become a clear counter to Sanders.

And Sanders is looking to Saturday’s Nevada caucuses to post another win that would further his status as an early front-runner. With fear and frustration rising in the party’s establishment wing, a high-stakes math problem is emerging. It could be impossible to blunt Sanders as long as a trio of moderate candidates — former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — stay in the race. And with former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the swath of states that vote on Super Tuesday, March 3, the effort to stop Sanders will become even more challenging when the campaign goes national next month. “You see this tremendous angst in the party — ‘What are we going to do?’” said Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor who was also chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “We need to unify as fast as we can.”

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New York Times - February 17, 2020

How Millennials could make the Fed’s job harder

“They say millennials are lazy,” billboards plastered across 15 major cities declared last summer. “Retire early and prove them right.” That sentiment, reflected in ads for the investment manager Prudential, is the stuff of a 30-year-old’s fantasy — and the Federal Reserve’s nightmare. A young generation of aggressive savers could leave central bankers with less room to cut interest rates, which they have long done to boost growth in times of economic trouble. To leave the work force early, millennials would need to build up massive retirement funds and consume less in the process. That hit to demand could slow growth and force rates to drop ever lower to entice spending.

And if today’s workers actually managed to retire young, it would exacerbate the situation by shrinking the labor force, further weighing on the economy’s potential. Millennials, who are roughly between the ages of 24 and 39 and have not lived through pronounced price spikes, already have the lowest inflation expectations of any adult generation. Their belief that costs will not increase could eventually slow actual price gains by making it hard for businesses to charge more. The Fed’s main interest rate includes inflation, so that would leave it with even less room to cut. It may not come to this. Millennials could become more worried about inflation as they age, giving companies more room to lift prices. Their difficult post-recession entry into the labor market means many are laden with student debt, so it’s unclear if they will be able to retire young. But many indicate that they want to leave the work force early — an ambition that economists say could spell macroeconomic trouble if realized.

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CNBC - February 17, 2020

Apple warns on revenue guidance due to production delays, weak demand in China because of coronavirus

Apple said Monday that it does not expect to meet its quarterly revenue forecast because of lower iPhone supply globally and lower Chinese demand as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The company initially said that it expected to report net sales between $63 billion to $67 billion in its fiscal second quarter. Apple did not provide a new forecast for its fiscal second-quarter revenue on Monday.

The company said it provided a wider range than usual in late January, citing the uncertainty around the coronavirus outbreak. “As you can see from the range, anticipates some level of issue there. Otherwise, we would not have a $4 billion range,” CEO Tim Cook said at the time. Apple makes most iPhones and other products in China. The Coronavirus has caused it to temporarily halt production and close retail stores in China. Some Apple retail stores reopened in China with reduced schedules last week.

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Axios - February 17, 2020

Top NSC official Virginia Coates, former Perry aide, may be moved after "Anonymous" rumor fallout

Top Trump administration officials are in discussions to reassign deputy national security adviser Victoria Coates to the Department of Energy from the National Security Council, per two sources familiar with the planning. Why it matters: Coates' working relationship with National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, who elevated her to the deputy role only months ago, has strained amid an effort by some people inside the administration to tag her as "Anonymous" — a charge she has vehemently denied to colleagues.

Coates could take on a senior role under Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, the former deputy secretary who was elevated to lead the department in December after Rick Perry's departure. A decision on such a personnel move has not been finalized and discussions could still fall apart, one source tells Axios. "We do not comment on personnel matters," National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot told Axios. Coates declined comment. Driving the news: As Politico first reported, Coates has been the target of a whisper campaign in recent weeks making a circumstantial case that she was the identity behind an op-ed in the New York Times and later a bestselling book describing a resistance movement against President Trump in his own White House.

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Newsclips - February 17, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 16, 2020

Erica Grieder: Mike Bloomberg’s investment in Texas is paying off

Houston received a visit this week from one of the frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. That may seem like an unlikely way to describe former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who entered the race in November and isn’t even on a ballot until March 3, Super Tuesday. He is in third place, according to national polling averages, behind U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former vice-president Joe Biden, and just ahead of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. He isn’t poised to win any of the Super Tuesday states.

And many Democratic voters have serious reservations about the billionaire businessman — as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner may have learned, after endorsing Bloomberg on Thursday. “Sir.....respectfully.....have you lost your damn mind?,” replied one such Houston voter on Twitter, after Turner announced his pick. Others chimed in with concerns. Bloomberg is a former Republican, who rejoined the Democratic Party only in 2018. He is a longtime social acquaintance of President Donald Trump, who he seeks to unseat. His record as mayor of New York is marred by, especially, his advocacy for a notorious “stop-and-frisk” policy that led to millions of stops, mostly of young African-American and Latino men. And some feel that Bloomberg is trying to buy the nomination, if not the presidency: His vast personal fortune — estimated at $62 billion — has allowed him to make enormous investments in advertising, staffing, and events, which are simply out of reach for the other candidates.

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Associated Press - February 16, 2020

Democratic hopefuls now test strength among minority voters

For I.S. Leevy Johnson, the Democrats’ search for a challenger to take on President Donald Trump is personal. “There is what I call an ‘ABT mood’ in the black community: Anybody but Trump,” said the 77-year-old who was the first black graduate of the University of South Carolina’s law school. “It has people of color very motivated and excited about voting this time because they know how his administration has adversely affected them.”

Now, as the election calendar turns to Nevada and South Carolina, states with substantial minority populations, that “anybody” moves closer to being identified. But the next stage in the nominating fight will test candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Their success thus far has come in front of overwhelmingly white electorates in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s also a potential last comeback opportunity for former Vice President Joe Biden. He finished poorly in those first two contests but argues he has durable support among the minority voters who will soon make their choices.

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Texas Public Radio - February 16, 2020

Lackland will house more evacuees from Coronavirus outbreak on cruise ship in Japan

The U.S. State Department announced this weekend that it would send a charter plane to evacuate Americans from a cruise ship anchored at Tokyo, Japan, and quarantined in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. When the Americans return to the U.S., they will be housed in isolation for two weeks at one of two military bases: Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland or Travis Air Force Base in California.

The 400 Americans aboard the Diamond Princess received a letter from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Saturday explaining that they would soon be screened for illness, extracted from the ship and then flown back to the U.S. The letter said that "to fulfill our government’s responsibilities to U.S. citizens under our rules and practices, as well as to reduce the burden on the Japanese healthcare system, the U.S. government recommends, out of an abundance of caution, that U.S. citizens disembark and return to the United States for further monitoring. " A joint statement from the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explained that these "measures are consistent with the careful policies we have instituted to limit the potential spread of the disease." The letter outlined the plan. Aircraft would land on Sunday night. Buses would then move the Americans from the ship to the aircraft. Medical personnel will screen the people, and any "symptomatic passengers" will remain in Japan for treatment.

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Politico - February 16, 2020

‘A complete disaster’: Fears grow over potential Nevada caucus malfunction

Anxiety is rising over the possibility of another tech-induced meltdown at the Nevada Democratic caucuses on Saturday. In interviews, three caucus volunteers described serious concerns about rushed preparations for the Feb. 22 election, including insufficient training for a newly-adopted electronic vote-tally system and confusing instructions on how to administer the caucuses. There are also unanswered questions about the security of Internet connections at some 2,000 precinct sites that will transmit results to a central “war room” set up by the Nevada Democratic Party.

Some volunteers who will help run caucuses at precinct locations said they have not been trained on iPads that the party purchased to enter and transmit vote counts. Party officials scrambled to streamline their vote reporting system — settling on Google forms accessible through a saved link on the iPads — after scrapping a pair of apps they’d been planning to use until a similar app caused the fiasco in Iowa two weeks ago. The volunteers also said the party has not provided sufficient training on how to use the Google form that will compile vote totals, a complicated process in a caucus. The concerns, which were described on condition of anonymity because the volunteers are not authorized to speak to reporters, come at a perilous moment for the Democratic Party. As the third state on the primary calendar and the first with a significant minority population, Nevada holds huge importance in the nomination contest. The debacle in Iowa cost one state party chairman his job and threatened the standing of the national party chairman, while casting doubts about whether the results from party-run caucuses can be trusted.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 14, 2020

Judge dismisses ex-staffer’s suit against Houston Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

A U.S. district judge in Washington, D.C., on Friday dismissed a lawsuit against Houston Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation filed by the congresswoman’s former staffer alleging they retaliated against her. The staffer, a woman who worked in Jackson Lee's office from November 2017 to March 2018, claimed that she was dismissed after notifying the congresswoman's chief of staff that she planned to take legal action against the foundation over an alleged sexual assault involving one of the group's supervisors.

In an opinion released Friday, Judge Dabney L. Friedrich wrote that the woman, who is not named in court records, failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove Jackson Lee’s office violated federal laws that prohibit retaliation and sex-based discrimination. Friedrich also found the plaintiff fell short of proving that she is owed economic or emotional damages. “We are pleased with the district court’s resolution of the case, and we are very much in agreement with the court’s resolution and dismissal of the case,” Jackson Lee said in a statement, adding that she wishes the woman well.

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Houston Chronicle - February 14, 2020

Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee face rare primary challenges from young progressives

Nobody has even bothered to challenge U.S. Rep. Al Green in a primary election in 14 years. And the last candidate to challenge U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, one of the most senior Democrats in Congress, lost by 70 percentage points. But this year, even they are not inoculated from a wave of younger progressive candidates around the nation determined to challenge — not only every Republican seeking re-election — but also every Democrat, no matter how long the odds.

Six Democrats are running against Jackson Lee in Houston’s 18th Congressional District. And for the first time in his career, Green faces a Democratic challenger in Houston’s 9th Congressional District. “We’re putting these folks on notice and making them defend their careers,” said Stevens Orozco, a 33-year-old activist who is opposing Jackson Lee. It’s not just for Congress, either. Texas State Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, and longtime Houston state Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton Jr., and Garnet Coleman all find themselves with primary challenges, too.

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Dallas Morning News - February 16, 2020

An antidote for rising health care prices? How D-FW docs are staying independent

Major hospital systems are often blamed for rising health care prices, and not just because they treat the sickest patients. As systems grow ever larger, they gain more leverage with employers and insurers, allowing them to raise prices and hold on to more health spending. Their growing market power — and deep pockets — also put more pressure on doctors and independent practices.

Little wonder that more physicians are working for hospitals and their affiliates, and for insurers and private equity owners. In 2018, just under 40% of Texas physicians were in independent practice, down from 60% in 2012. That’s a troubling trend because independent docs are generally a better bargain. They charge less for similar services, have fewer avoidable hospitalizations and lower rates of hospital readmissions. Independent physicians are pushing back, forming their own groups to negotiate insurance contracts and improve coordination of care.

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Dallas Morning News - February 16, 2020

Democrats debate which one can finally turn Texas’ 24th Congressional District blue

Moments before a Democratic congressional primary debate began, Tye Edwards, a voter in the audience, rattled off a list of policy issues important to him: Medicare for All, canceling student debt, the Green New Deal. And yet, the 34-year-old sporting a Bernie Sanders shirt said: “I understand we’re in Texas. I’m not delusional. I’m thinking about who can win. It’s going to be a strategic vote.”

For the first time in more than a decade, Texas’ 24th Congressional District — which stretches from Hurst to Hebron and includes parts of Dallas, Tarrant and Denton counties — is within striking distance for Democrats. The seat is open after eight-term GOP Congressman Kenny Marchant announced his retirement last year. Similar to how Democrats nationally are looking for the candidate who has the best chance to beat President Donald Trump, voters in this suburban district are wrestling with which aspirant is most likely to build the largest coalition to tip the district in their favor. Among the front-runners is Jan McDowell, a retired accountant who describes herself as the “most progressive” candidate. She has run unsuccessfully for the seat twice.

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Dallas Morning News - February 16, 2020

Republicans make the pitch they’re the most like Trump in Texas’ 24th Congressional District primary

As the Republican congressional candidate forum came to a close, David Fegan stood and proudly asserted that he was the only candidate to profess his admiration for President Donald Trump on his campaign signs. Desi Maes, one of his opponents, shot up to correct the record. His campaign material also yells out unwavering support for the commander in chief.

As in so many other Republican primaries, one of the central issues in Texas’ 24th Congressional District is who is the most Trumpian. The forum, held in early February on the third floor of a furniture store in this Dallas suburb, was only one of the venues where the candidates touted their Trump credentials.On the trail, Beth Van Duyne, the former mayor of Irving and presumptive front-runner, points out she was a Trump appointee, serving as a regional administrator in the federal housing department. She earned Trump’s endorsement Wednesday. Jeron Liverman, evokes Trump’s pro-business platform and promises to cut federal taxes.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - February 16, 2020

Stewart Doreen: Clayton Williams leaves his mark on Midland, the state

A legend. A giant among Texans. A true wildcatter. Pick your superlative, because they were in abundance for those remembering Clayton Williams, who passed away Friday evening at the age of 88. It was stated he was surrounded by family and friends when he took his final breath. Truth be told, one could fill Chaparral Center with those in the community impacted by “Claytie” and touched by the charitable nature of him and his wife, Modesta.

His signature smile and trademark kindness were there for longtime friends or those meeting the icon for the first time. If one was graced with ties to Texas A&M, there was a “howdy” and “Gig ‘em” in their future. Williams reportedly died from complications from pneumonia. His obituary in the Reporter-Telegram states he is survived by Modesta, their five children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Visitation is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at the Branch at Nalley-Pickle & Welch, 3800 N. Big Spring St. Funeral services are set for 11 a.m. Wednesday at First Presbyterian Church. There will be a private family burial.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - February 15, 2020

Permian support grows for plan to eliminate routine flaring

Global efforts to clear the air and improve the environment have been embraced by Permian Basin oil and gas producers in recent years. Most recently, the World Bank has launched its Zero Routine Flaring by 2030, an initiative, designed to bring together a broad consortium of governments, oil companies and development institutions to cooperate in eliminating routine flaring by 2030. Occidental Petroleum last week became the first U.S. oil and gas company to endorse the initiative.

“It’s an honor to be the first U.S. oil and gas company to endorse the World Bank’s initiative to reduce routine flaring globally, as we amplify our commitment to eliminate routine flaring in our operations by 2030,” Vicki Hollub, Occidental president and chief executive officer, said in a statement provided to the Reporter-Telegram. “Support for this important World Bank program is part of our company’s broader commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our global operations and positions Occidental for success in a low-carbon economy.” Texans for Natural Gas also endorsed the initiative.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 17, 2020

Texans: Sales tax you pay online can go to a city across the state. That could change

When a Fort Worth resident buys a Dell computer online, the local sales tax collected doesn’t come back to the city to fix streets or pay police. Rather, it travels roughly 175 miles south and gets divided between Dell and the city of Round Rock, where the company’s headquarters are based. That’s because of a 60-year economic incentive agreement between the two. And they’re not alone. In Texas, companies funnel their online sales to one location, allowing the local sales tax to be levied in the city where that location is based — rather than where the purchase was made.

But that could soon change under a rule proposed by the Texas Comptroller’s Office that would shift sales taxes collected from online purchases to the city where the order is delivered. Cities across Texas testified last week before lawmakers, warning of potential losses of tens of millions of dollars if the changes go into effect. “Round Rock will lose at least $30 million annually in sales tax revenues, and we’ll be forced to increase property taxes to make up the difference,” Steve Sheets, the city attorney for Round Rock, told lawmakers at hearing at the Texas Capitol last week. And some cities that have entered into these economic incentive agreements, often referred to as “380 agreements” for their place in the local government code, warned that more than just revenue could be lost if businesses decide to move as a result.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 17, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Our recommendation in Kay Granger’s GOP primary for Fort Worth congressional seat

A strong primary challenge after years of cruising to re-election can reveal an incumbent’s weaknesses. But it can remind voters of the strengths that they’ve valued in the incumbent, too. Rep. Kay Granger faces just such a challenge from staunch conservative Chris Putnam, her first serious re-election battle since she went to Congress in 1996.

Granger has a decades-long record of delivering for Fort Worth. She’s at the peak of her clout, and if Republicans win control of the House, she could take one of the most powerful positions in Washington: chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. It would be short-sighted to throw her out of office now, especially based on narrow ideological complaints. The 77-year-old lawmaker, seeking her 13th term, has been a stalwart on defense issues, and not just protecting jobs at Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter. She’s deeply engaged in military needs and works to keep American forces well-equipped and cared for. In recent years, she’s taken a high-profile role on border security, too, helping to craft policy to respond to the periodic surges of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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KUT - February 17, 2020

A report finds Texas led the nation in white supremacy propaganda incidents in 2019

Displays and demonstrations in support of white supremacy doubled in the United States last year, according to a study out last week, and Texas led the country in incidents. In 2019, there were just over 2,700 instances nationally in which white supremacists demonstrated or distributed material that was racist, anti-Semitic or anti-LGBTQ, according to the Anti-Defamation League's report. That's more than a six-fold increase since 2017.

The ADL, a nongovernmental organization that monitors hate speech, says two-thirds of those incidents involved the Texas-based group known as Patriot Front, which formed out of a group that helped organize the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Renee Lafair with ADL in Austin says that because of the group, Texas is atop the list of states when it comes to incidents of racist propaganda, with 228 incidents in 2019. "Patriot Front is the reason that Texas has the highest activity for any state in 2019," she said.

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KUT - February 17, 2020

After a rise in mothers dying in childbirth, Texas came up with a plan. Here's how it's going.

An effort to make hospitals safer for women giving birth in Texas has been underway for more than a year now. Doctors and hospital administrators say Texas AIM, which was launched in the summer of 2018, has led to big shifts in how medical staff treat women facing medical complications while having a baby. Amy Papst, the chief medical officer at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, said her hospital delivers about 4,800 babies a year. So, she said, the staff felt compelled to join the state in its effort to improve maternal health here.

“We deliver the most babies and we are the biggest hospital [in Austin],” she said, “and we wanted to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with childbirth.” A few years ago, state officials began to hear growing concerns about the rate of women dying – or almost dying – while giving birth. Manda Hall, the associate commissioner for community health improvement at the Texas Department of State Health Services, said health officials saw an opportunity to step in. “We all kind of have looked at it and understood that there were things that we could get better at as far as improving our maternal health outcomes here in Texas,” she said.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 16, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Senseless to punish students for hairstyle

Black hair is unique. It is unique in its expression of culture but, more importantly, unique in how it must be cared for and styled. Anyone who doesn’t have black hair, and doesn’t think it’s unique, should try growing an Afro or wearing braids, cornrows or dreadlocks.

For black people, the politics of black hair can be touchy, sometimes literally. Common is the experience of children and adults having classmates and work colleagues innocently touch their hair — with and without permission. But the more serious consequences of black people wearing hairstyles unique to them have been lost jobs and school suspensions. The latest and notable example of the latter is DeAndre Arnold, until recently a senior at the ironically named Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu. By all accounts a model student, Arnold was told he couldn’t walk the stage at commencement unless he cut his dreadlocks. He refused and was suspended. He has since transferred to another school district. What’s insidious about the school’s decision is that Arnold began growing his dreadlocks in seventh grade without any complaint or action from school administrators. The new edict was made last December before Christmas break and only a few months before Arnold’s class graduates.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 17, 2020

Rule changes might affect school partnerships in San Antonio

In the two years after the Legislature created incentives for Texas school districts to let outside agencies handle campus operations, dozens of San Antonio schools have shifted their management to nonprofits. Several more such agreements are being drafted by officials who now must heed proposed new rules that would give the outside partner final authority over matters, such as hiring, that up to now have been left open to more collaborative language. Some of the proposed changes floated by the state education commissioner, Mike Morath, are causing concern, confusion and calls for clarity by school officials here.

If the new rules trip up potential agreements in Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s ambitious plan to create so-called lab schools in seven high-poverty school districts, for example, extra state funding under the incentive system created by the Legislature in 2017 won’t be available. “When you enter into a partnership, you don’t leave one another’s culture and values and beliefs and support systems and all those things at the door. You take the best of both and create something new, even better,” said one superintendent negotiating with the university, Roland Toscano of East Central Independent School District. Contracts between schools and outside partners that are worded Morath’s way would be “like going to the altar and saying, ‘One of you has to give up your religion and culture and values and adopt ours.’ It’s set up for failure when you do it like that,” Toscano added. The law involving the incentives, Senate Bill 1882, awards more per-student funding and autonomy to schools that give management authority to a nonprofit group, charter school organization, higher education institution or government agency.

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Gainesville Daily Register - February 13, 2020

Texoma gas prices still cheapest in Texas

For the fifth week in a row, Texoma drivers are paying for the cheapest gas in the state, averages announced Thursday by AAA Texas indicate.

Gas prices in the Sherman-Denison metro area fell four cents this week to land at $1.92 on average for a gallon of unleaded fuel, the AAA Texas Weekend Gas Watch showed. That’s down from $1.96 last week and below the $1.97 average seen at this time last year, according to the travel agency. Statewide, gas prices are averaging $2.08 per gallon of regular unleaded, three cents less than on the same day last week and 10 cents more per gallon compared to the same day last year.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 16, 2020

3 Democrats vie for Michael McCaul’s seat

Three Democrats are facing off in the March 3 primary for a shot to unseat U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican seeking his ninth term in Congress. Austin physician Pritesh Gandhi, Austin lawyer Shannon Hutcheson and former Austin city attorney Mike Siegel are running for the Democratic nomination in the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from Northwest Austin to the Houston suburbs.

Early voting will start Tuesday and run through Feb. 28. The race is likely to go to a runoff, and the winner will face an uphill climb against McCaul, who doesn’t have a primary opponent and has continued to outraise all three Democrats. In the final quarter of 2019, McCaul raised $378,000 and reported $984,000 in his campaign coffers, according to the Federal Election Commission. Gandhi raised the most money among the Democratic candidates with $258,000 during that same period, while Hutcheson raised $217,000. Siegel, who lost to McCaul by 4.3 percentage points in 2018, raised $96,000.

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County Stories

Rivard Report - February 13, 2020

Jail operations an issue as Sheriff Salazar faces 4 primary challengers

After a first term marked by jail and staffing challenges, Sheriff Javier Salazar acknowledges the problems that beset his department but points to progress being made. He must, however, defeat four Democratic challengers in the March primary to have a chance to win reelection in November. The four Democratic candidates running against Salazar cite erroneous releases from the jail, detention officers working mandatory overtime, deaths of jail inmates, and a spate of deputy arrests as signs that Salazar has not run a tight enough ship.

“The arrests that occurred – those are symptoms of a systemic problem,” said José Treviño, sergeant investigator at the Texas Attorney General’s Office, at a candidate forum earlier this month. “From the administration, we need to bring accountability from the top. While we don’t condone the behavior, we need to look at the whys.” Candidate Pete Lozano, who worked at the Texas Department of Public Safety for 23 years before retiring, said he was disappointed with the way Salazar has handled deputies’ arrests for an array of alleged offenses, including domestic abuse and DWI. “If one of the deputies got into trouble, Sheriff Salazar didn’t take any blame and has not taken any blame for that misfortune [or] violation of the law,” Lozano said. “He’s always blaming everyone else for the way that the sheriff’s department or office has functioned under his watch.”

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - February 16, 2020

The San Antonio Housing Trust has offered $39 million in tax breaks for affordable housing but rents are too high.

A nonprofit created to provide affordable housing operated with little oversight and produced few apartments for San Antonio’s poorest residents as the city’s housing crisis worsened in recent years, a city-commissioned report shows. Instead of focusing solely on the needs of low-income residents, the San Antonio Housing Trust and its affiliates often approved residential units out of their reach, according to the study by the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders. The 66-page assessment commissioned by the city shows the trust operated for years without a clear sense of what kind of housing it should support. And the trust lacked the expertise to help create affordable housing, the report says.

City Council members who sit on the board of the San Antonio Housing Trust Public Facility Corp., the most active arm of the trust, often had little information when approving deals that removed housing developments worth tens of millions of dollars from the tax rolls and provided a questionable level of affordable apartments. Furthermore, council members mostly relied on an outside attorney who acted as a go-between for developers and the council to guide them through various housing deals, about a third of which went to a developer that he had previously done legal work for. To local affordable housing advocates, the problems laid out in the report are symptomatic of the city’s decades-long lack of clear goals regarding housing policy — and the city’s knotty housing bureaucracy. Mayor Ron Nirenberg agrees.

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Dallas Morning News - February 16, 2020

The Toll: Tracking homicides in Dallas in 2020 after last year’s high murder number

Editor’s Note: In 2019, murders in Dallas spiked to the highest level in more than a decade. This year, The Dallas Morning News is tracking the city’s homicides, exploring the impact on families and neighborhoods and examining the possible causes of the rise in violence. Marleny’s voice shook. The Pleasant Grove resident unfolded a note she wrote for Dallas police officials at a packed meeting last month. The key message? How violence was plaguing her neighborhood.

Despite her calls during last summer and through the year, police did not stop the gunfire from escalating, she said. In December, a 26-year-old man was shot to death on her street, she recalled. Someone else was also shot multiple times in the same incident near Lake June and Jim Miller roads. “That person dead could have been one of us,” she told Chief U. Reneé Hall at the January forum. Many in the crowd clapped and nodded in agreement, recounting similar stories of open drug deals at convenience stores, dangerous drag racing that killed an 8-year-old girl and gunshots at night that make the area sound like a war zone. Marleny gave only her first name to The Dallas Morning News out of fear of retaliation. The chief had hosted similar meetings since late last year — “listening sessions” designed to focus on the department’s five-year strategic plan.

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Rivard Report - February 14, 2020

Robert Rivard: Credit Sheryl Sculley for sounding alarm on union spending

Sheryl Sculley was right. The city manager was right in 2013 when she first convinced Mayor Julián Castro and City Council that San Antonio’s runaway spending on police and fire union wages, health care benefits, and pensions could not be sustained. Left unchecked, spending on wages and benefits for the City’s uniformed personnel and their dependents would consume 100 percent of the City’s general fund by 2031, according to staff estimates.

With the two unions’ five-year collective bargaining agreements set to expire on Sept. 30, 2014, Sculley pressed for action to break the cycle of agreements that over three decades had made San Antonio police and firefighter compensation the envy of their Texas peers. Who else, in this day and age, receives free health care for themselves and their dependents, among so many other benefits? Yet Sculley had to work to win support. Elected officials knew that any critical look at the contracts would be met by union leaders claiming that first responders were being undervalued. Who wants to be branded as being unappreciative of the men and women in uniform? Public safety spending, Sculley pointed out, was consuming about 66 percent of the City’s general fund, and thus limited the money available to address historic disinvestment in inner city neighborhoods, to address homelessness, and to improve public transportation, parks, and libraries.

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National Stories

Associated Press - February 16, 2020

Xi's early involvement in virus outbreak raises questions

A recent speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping that has been published by state media indicates for the first time that he was leading the response to a new virus outbreak from early on in the crisis. The publication of the Feb. 3 speech was an apparent attempt to demonstrate that the Communist Party leadership had acted decisively from the beginning, but also opens up the Chinese leader to criticism over why the public was not alerted sooner.

In the speech, Xi said he gave instructions on fighting the virus on Jan. 7 and ordered the shutdown that began on Jan. 23 of cities at the epicenter of the outbreak. His remarks were published by state media late Saturday. “On Jan. 22, in light of the epidemic’s rapid spread and the challenges of prevention and control, I made a clear request that Hubei province implement comprehensive and stringent controls over the outflow of people," Xi told a meeting of the party's standing committee, its top body. The number of new cases in mainland China fell for a third straight day, China's National Health Commission reported Sunday. The 2,009 new cases in the previous 24-hour period brought the total to 68,500. Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the percentage of severe cases had dropped to 7.2% of the total from a peak of 15.9% on Jan. 27. The proportion is higher in Wuhan, the Hubei city where the outbreak started, but has fallen to 21.6%.

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Wall Street Journal - February 16, 2020

Democrats weigh whether to pursue new investigations as election looms

House Democrats are grappling with whether to pursue further investigations of President Trump following his acquittal in the Senate, facing both an election in nine months and fresh White House actions that they say demand scrutiny. Democrats want to look into whether the president improperly influenced the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for a Trump confidant, casting Mr. Trump as emboldened by the end of the impeachment process. At the same time, party leaders are eager to focus on pocketbook issues for voters, such as health care, and Democrats are wary of launching another drawn-out fight with the White House that could backfire in November.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) staked out a middle ground Thursday. She said the House should investigate any role Mr. Trump played in federal prosecutors’ decision to reduce the initial sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering. Mrs. Pelosi called such alleged meddling an “abuse of power,” echoing the charge in the first of the two impeachment articles. But Mrs. Pelosi also said House Democrats aren’t going to “spend all of our time going after every lie that the administration henchmen make,” and emphasized that one priority is working with the administration on lowering prescription-drug costs. She signaled no new probes, instead pointing to testimony by Attorney General William Barr scheduled for March and a request made by Senate Democrats for an investigation by the Justice Department inspector general.

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CNN - February 16, 2020

Break out the tumblers. The price of wine is dropping fast

Let's raise our tumblers and toast to cheaper wine. The price of wine is expected to drop to its lowest levels in five years thanks, in part, to a surplus of California grapes. Combined with a decreased demand for wine, drinkers can expect to get better value for every drop they drink this year. The cheaper prices may even last up to three years. Rob McMillan, founder of Silicon Valley Bank's Wine Division and author of the annual State of the Wine Industry report, predicts US wine consumers will enjoy the "best wine retail values in 20 years."

Vineyards in Northern California began planting thousands of acres of new vines in 2016, and with more efficient harvesting methods, it has led to more bountiful harvests of grapes. Having more grapes to make wine sounds good, but if there's not enough demand to support increased production, the surplus grapes go to waste. Jeff Bitter, president of Allied Grape Growers, told CNN that it's possible for surplus grapes to make it to the secondary market, where they're used for brandy or as grape concentrate. But that market doesn't typically provide sustainable returns for growers. "The main cause of oversupply today is the culmination of a few years of slowing wine shipment growth, with an ample 2018 wine grape crop as an exclamation point," Bitter said. "Until 2015, wine shipments had grown, almost predictively, for two decades. The slowdown in growth has caught the industry by surprise.

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Washington Post - February 16, 2020

Too small to hire guards, too worried to go gun-free, community churches are now arming themselves

Sunday service had just ended, but Noah Tillman-Young called his small congregation back for another prayer. Shots had been fired at a rural church just down the road — a church a lot like theirs. As his 30-some parishioners stood in a circle asking God for protection, something changed for the pastor of Joyful Heart. An act of mass violence in his Stockdale, Texas, church was no longer unthinkable. Ten miles away, 26 people were dead at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, the deadliest shooting at a house of worship in the country’s modern history. That night, Tillman-Young and parish leaders held a vigil for their neighbor church. The next day, they decided to arm their own.

With a new team of private security officers and an armed corps of volunteers, Joyful Heart joined the wave of small and midsize places of worship adopting security measures to gird against the rising threat of violent attacks. While there is no definitive tracking of shootings or other attacks on houses of worship, several researchers and the federal government have documented a significant rise in targeted acts — particularly those with high death tolls. FBI statistics show a 35% increase in hate crimes at churches, synagogues, temples and mosques from 2014 to 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. The nonprofit Faith Based Security Network found a 60% increase in “non-accidental deaths” at such sites from 2014 to 2017. And of the 88 people killed in mass shootings at places of worship since 1966 — defined as incidents in which four or more people were killed — more than half the deaths came in the last five years, according to The Washington Post’s mass shootings database.

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NPR - February 13, 2020

A big vote registration push reaches millions — but divides elections officials

A nonprofit group wants to see more unmarried women, young people and people of color on the nation's voter rolls, so it recently sent 9 million letters urging those groups to register. But the mailers have upset some election officials, who say they've left voters confused. The mailers clearly state that they're from the Voter Participation Center or its sister organization, the Center for Voter Information. But the letter inside looks like it could come from the government.

It says a review of publicly available records shows that the recipient may not be registered, and if that's so, recipients should complete and send in the enclosed official registration form. A postage-paid envelope addressed to the local election office is also included. The problem is the mailers don't just go to unregistered voters. Sometimes, by mistake, they're sent to people who've died, are too young to vote, or are already on the rolls. "I myself received one of the letters saying that I wasn't registered to vote," says Meagan Wolfe, the state of Wisconsin's chief election official. Wolfe knows better than most that she is, in fact, registered — and has been for years — but she's concerned that many other voters aren't so sure. "A lot of times we'll hear from our local election officials that they're hearing from their voters that their voters are confused," she says. "They don't know where to send those forms back. They don't know who's sending them. And one of the things that really confuses people is that they don't know why they're receiving it."

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TEGNA - February 17, 2020

Michael Bloomberg still hasn't qualified for Wednesday's Democratic debate

Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas is likely to include a lot of attacks by candidates against former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, but there is still the chance Bloomberg won't be there to defend himself or to fire back. Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. EST is the deadline to qualify and, as of early Monday morning, Bloomberg had not yet met the requirements. To qualify, a candidate must receive 10% or more support in at least four Democratic National Committee-approved polls or 12% or higher in approved Nevada and/or South Carolina polls. Candidates who have at least one pledged national delegate in primaries or caucuses will also qualify.

A Politico tracker finds that Bloomberg has passed 10% in three approved polls. He's earned no national delegates. The Hill reports some are questioning whether it's in Bloomberg's best interest to take part in the debate -- should he qualify -- considering he isn't even on the ballot. His name will not appear until March 3 when the Super Tuesday states vote. A spokesperson for Bloomberg told The Hill that he will be at the debate if he qualifies. Other Democratic candidates have criticized Bloomberg for, they claim, trying to buy the election -- a sign of how seriously they are taking him. Bloomberg, who is worth an estimated $62 billion according to Forbes, has spent a reported $350 million on his campaign. But he hasn't taken part in a debate. His message is getting out via personal appearances, digital and social media, and an onslaught of television ads aimed squarely at President Donald Trump.

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Newsclips - February 16, 2020

Lead Stories

Midland Reporter-Telegraph - February 15, 2020

Clayton Williams dies at age 88

A Midland legend passed away Friday night. Clayton Williams was surrounded by family and loved ones in Midland when he died from complications of a bout with pneumonia, according to a long-time work associate. Williams was 88.

Close friends already started to remember Williams -- a hall of famer in the oil industry and one of the greatest characters in the history of Texas politics -- on social media Friday evening. Williams ran for governor in 1990, losing a spirited race to Ann Richards. Still, Williams remained a loyal Republican and an even more dedicated graduate of Texas A&M. Williams, A&M class of 1954, received a degree in animal husbandry and was a member of the school’s Corps of Cadets. His generosity over the years earned him high praise from his alma mater. In 1981, he was named an Association of Former Students Distinguished Alumnus. A&M named the school’s alumni center in his honor.

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Dallas Morning News - February 14, 2020

Conservative Koch-backed group endorses 5 Dallas-area GOP lawmakers in battle for Texas House

Two conservative political action committees started by powerful GOP donors Charles and David Koch have endorsed 13 state lawmakers up for reelection on Friday, including five from North Texas. Americans for Prosperity Texas Action and its affiliate LIBRE Action unveiled endorsements for Reps. Matt Krause of Fort Worth, Jeff Leach of Plano, Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Scott Sanford of McKinney and Matt Shaheen of Plano.

Three of those lawmakers — Krause, Leach and Shaheen — are top targets for Democrats looking to flip the Texas House and are expected to have close races in the November general election. Shaheen won his last election by only 400 votes. The groups praised Leach’s work as the chairman of the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence committee and his support for a bill to cap property tax revenue growth for local governments. They also praised Shaheen’s work on the Ways and Means Committee, which handled the property tax bill and his work on criminal justice issues, like the unsuccessful effort to reform how bail works in Texas. Krause, they said, “influenced policies to reduce unnecessary regulatory restrictions that create barriers to opportunities and ultimately encourage innovation and principled entrepreneurship.”

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Austin American-Statesman - February 14, 2020

Trump makes mark on Texas judiciary

It was a showcase of Texas’ new generation of conservative judges: the 17 U.S. district and three federal appellate court judges appointed by President Donald Trump who gathered in December and posed in their judicial robes with their sponsors, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. It was a milestone, too: the Trump imprint on the Texas judicial landscape is now almost complete with the last vacancy — a district judgeship in Corpus Christi — expected to be filled soon. Houston lawyer Drew Tipton, the nominee for the post, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday and will be voted on soon by the panel and then by the Senate for the lifetime appointment.

The remarkable speed in filling the vacancies – which were labeled “judicial emergencies” by the U.S. court system – reflects the priority that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has put on placing conservative jurists in the courts by changing Senate procedures to quicken the process. And Texas has been at the forefront of the push to stock the courts with conservative judges. “It’s rare to have that many openings and fill them so quickly,” said Carl Tobias, professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, who is an expert on judicial vacancies. Texas was among the states with the most judicial vacancies when Trump took office. Civil cases had languished with backlogs, he said, and the influx of judges will mean speedier trials. “People will have their day in court and that’s good,” Tobias said. In 2019 annual pay for circuit court judges was $223,700 and annual pay for district judges was $210,900.

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Fox News - February 15, 2020

Bloomberg campaign downplays report he is considering Hillary Clinton as running mate

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign on Saturday downplayed a report that he is considering 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as his pick for vice president. The Drudge Report, citing a source close to Bloomberg’s campaign, reported that Clinton was under consideration after internal polling found that a Bloomberg-Clinton ticket would be a “formidable force.”

The conservative news aggregator, which came to prominence in the 90s for first reporting the Monica Lewinsky scandal, reported that Bloomberg would consider changing his residence to a home he owns in Colorado or Florida, “since the electoral college makes it hard for a POTUS and VPOTUS from the same state.” But the Bloomberg campaign quickly tamped down that report but fell short of denying it outright. "We are focused on the primary and the debate, not VP speculation," Bloomberg communication director Jason Schechter said in a statement. A source familiar with Clinton’s thinking said the former Secretary of State hasn’t closed the door on politics and would seriously consider joining a VP ticket.

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New York Times - February 14, 2020

Border patrol will deploy elite tactical agents to 'sanctuary cities,' including Houston

The Trump administration is deploying law enforcement tactical units from the southern border as part of a supercharged arrest operation in sanctuary cities across the country, an escalation in the president’s battle against localities that refuse to participate in immigration enforcement. The specially trained officers are being sent to cities including Chicago and New York to boost the enforcement power of local Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, according to two officials who are familiar with the secret operation. Additional agents are expected to be sent to San Francisco; Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, New Orleans, Detroit and Newark, New Jersey.

The move reflects President Donald Trump’s persistence in cracking down on sanctuary cities, localities that have refused to cooperate in handing over immigrants targeted for deportation to federal authorities. It comes soon after the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security announced a series of measures that will affect both American citizens and immigrants living in those places. Lawrence Payne, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, confirmed the agency was deploying 100 officers to work with ICE, which conducts arrests in the interior of the country, “in order to enhance the integrity of the immigration system, protect public safety, and strengthen our national security.” The deployment of the teams will run from February through May, according to an email sent to CBP personnel, which was read to The New York Times by one official familiar with the planning.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 15, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: We recommend Susan Criss in Democratic primary for Senate District 11

Within hours of the 2005 Texas City Refinery explosion that killed 15 workers, Judge Susan Criss of the Texas 212nd District Court in Galveston County began meeting with lawyers representing victims and BP to begin handling what would eventually number 4,005 settled claims. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, Criss again oversaw a massive number of disputes over insurance claims even as she struggled to repair her own flooded home. As a result of her judicial experience, and time as a criminal defense lawyer, Criss has an exceptionally deep understanding of how Texas laws can be improved.

She is bursting with ideas for criminal justice reform, mitigating flood damage and making the workings of the Legislature more transparent. We believe all this adds up to make her an extraordinary candidate for the Texas Senate and Democrats’ best choice for Senate District 11 in the March 3 primary. Her father served in the Legislature when she was a student at the University of Texas and she wants to rekindle the bipartisan spirit that she saw firsthand. She also stresses the importance of working with different types of experts at the table.

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Houston Chronicle - February 15, 2020

Texas appeals ruling that favored Harris County in Exxon environmental case

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday appealed a state district court judge’s recent ruling that would allow an environmental enforcement lawsuit brought by Harris County against Exxon Mobil to proceed. Harris County sued Exxon on Aug. 1, a day after a chemical fire at its Baytown facility injured 37 and produced volumes of pollution that exceeded the levels allowed under its state Clean Air Act permits.

Paxton filed his own lawsuit four days later, and in November took Harris County to court, arguing that the county’s case should be dismissed in favor of his own lawsuit. This Exxon case - one of three County Attorney Vince Ryan has pending against the company - is the first legal test for an order the county Commissioners Court passed last April letting Ryan file some environmental lawsuits without first securing the court’s approval on a case-by-case basis. Paxton’s office argues this blanket authorization is improper, and has noted in court filings that some commissioners backed the idea as a way to “get around the State” out of a concern that state officials are filing their own lawsuits to “give cover to” industry.

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Houston Chronicle - February 14, 2020

In conservative stronghold of Montgomery County, the Republican party turned on itself

Wally Wilkerson looked down as his political foe praised him, incorrectly declaring the Montgomery County Republican Party meeting to be the last that Wilkerson would preside over as chairman. “Thank you for all your service, sir,” said Jon Bouché, a tea party-backed candidate running to succeed him. It was a charged moment. Wilkerson, 89, has chaired the county GOP for 56 years. He is retiring not because he wants to, but because Bouché and others stripped him of power, causing a split between those loyal to the longtime chairman and those who oppose him. Wilkerson is slight, with a strained but firm voice. He hates to see his party at war. Still, he spent the meeting standing stubbornly in front of the dais, rather than sit with those who helped bring on his decision not to seek another term. “It’s Republicans against Republicans,” Wilkerson said.

As Texas becomes more diverse and counties such as nearby Fort Bend lean blue, Montgomery County Republicans are determined to keep their county of 600,000 bright red. Some argue for adhering more strictly to tea-party principles. Others back Wilkerson’s more inclusive approach. Their split reflects the broader conservative conflict seen between those who cheer on President Donald Trump’s in-your-face rhetoric and those who miss George H.W. Bush’s decorum. On March 3, Republican primary voters will choose between Bouché, a 54-year-old real estate agent, and 44-year-old Bryan Christ, an IT consultant backed by Wilkerson. Whoever wins takes over a party so at odds that each side files its own financial reports. “We have to modernize this party,” Bouché says. For Wilkerson, it’s perhaps one last big fight. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Wilkerson says.

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Houston Chronicle - February 14, 2020

Turner says he ‘would prefer’ Bloomberg accept campaign contributions over self-funding

Mayor Sylvester Turner, two months removed from a re-election win over a self-funding millionaire opponent, said Thursday he would prefer billionaire Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg accept contributions instead of running an entirely self-funded campaign. “I would prefer for Mike to be raising money,” Turner said in an interview after an event with Bloomberg, whom he has endorsed. “His response to me was, when you have as much as he has, he’s uncomfortable with asking people to give money to him when he has more than enough to run a campaign. My response was that it's a way of allowing people to participate. Some knock on doors, some contribute.”

Turner, who was re-elected in December, defeated trial lawyer Tony Buzbee in a runoff after falling a few percentage points short of an outright win in November. Buzbee put $12.3 million of his own funds into the campaign and refused all contributions. Bloomberg, meanwhile, has deployed hundreds of millions of dollars on ads and campaign staffers, putting him in an increasingly strong position in various polls around the country. He has amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune through his private financial data company, Bloomberg L.P. During an October debate in the Houston mayoral race, Turner expressed support for limits on how much city candidates can contribute to their own campaigns. City rules limit contributions to $5,000 per person and $10,000 per political action committee every two years.

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Houston Chronicle - February 15, 2020

TSU alumni demand president be reinstated; ask regents who ousted him to resign

Dozens of Texas Southern University alumni condemned the school’s attempted ouster of its president, calling on the regents behind the move to resign or be removed from office during a closed-door meeting Saturday Pilgrim Congregational Church. Texas Southern’s national alumni association hosted the nearly two-hour meeting, but did not allow media inside. The association’s president declined comment. Those who spoke to the Chronicle were united in their support for President Austin Lane, who regents placed on leave in January without offering any explanation.

“Dr. Lane is a wonderful person. He has not given us any reason to believe otherwise… It’s just unfair, it’s unfair to him to demolish his professional reputation like that,” said Paula Johnson-Ealy, a 1991 graduate. “We want the president reinstated and the regents removed.” “This was a broadside. We didn’t know this was coming. We’re going to get to work,” Johnson-Ealy added. The university’s regents voted earlier this month to begin the process of firing Lane, alleging that he failed to act or inform the board about allegations of admissions fraud by a former law school official. Regent Marc Carter said that despite evidence of a law school assistant dean’s fraud involving a student, Lane or his subordinate “allowed this student to be admitted into the university.” Carter also said the dean accepted $14,000 in exchange for awarding a student a scholarship. Lane has denied the charges and cast the investigation as a “calculated witch hunt.” He said the fraud allegations were already being investigated by an internal auditor when the regents hijacked the probe.

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Houston Chronicle - February 16, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: We recommend Amy Klobuchar in Democratic primary for president

Comments It’s difficult to watch even now — that graceless moment during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation when he cracked under pressure, shattering the fine shell of judicial temperament and hurling contempt at a senator across the room. That senator, whose name many Americans couldn’t pronounce at the time, asked if Kavanaugh had ever drunk so much he couldn’t recall the previous night. No, he responded before turning the question back on Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who only moments before had described her father’s struggle with alcoholism. “I’m curious if you have,” Kavanaugh said, his mouth twisted with rage. “I have no drinking problem, judge,” Klobuchar responded calmly. “Nor do I,” the judge huffed. After a break, Kavanaugh apologized to Klobuchar and reiterated his respect for her.

There in that exchange, we see some of what plagues American political discourse and one thing that can save it: a strong leader who can outwit anger, rise above contempt and exercise the good sense to walk us back from the edge rather than push us closer to it. For Democrats, that person is Amy Klobuchar, the third-term senator from Minnesota. Said to be surging after her head-turning third-place finish in New Hampshire, Klobuchar, 59, the daughter of an elementary teacher and newspaperman, had been dismissed by some as a milquetoast, midwestern moderate who couldn’t hold a candle to the burn of Bernie Sanders’ revolution or the ambition of Elizabeth Warren’s fully foot-noted vision. “Being a progressive, the last time I checked, meant that you should make progress,” Klobuchar says. It’s time for Democrats to look beyond fiery speeches, beyond big ticket promises devoid of price tags, and if possible, beyond the cinematic beckoning of that billionaire button-down Messiah stalking your smartphone, and ask: Who can really get things done?

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Dallas Morning News - February 16, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: We won’t recommend a candidate for president in 2020 and here’s why

If asked to identify one thing that has made this country unique and a model for the world, we would say this: From the start, this nation was always an idea, a concept about liberty that had both practical implications for how people live and that also invited a perpetual debate about how society should be organized to expand and safeguard our rights. Today, the United States is in the midst of a fresh presidential election and there is more at stake than the future of one candidate, than the ability of one party or the other to control the levers of power in Washington.

The country is at a crossroads, a point at which its voters will make crucial decisions about such fundamental issues as what role government should play in our lives, how officials will lead this large and fractious country, when we should build and sustain international alliances, and even the very ideas we should be known for in the world. Every election is pitched as a crucial moment in our history, a point when we can either pivot into a bright future or fall into an abyss. What’s different this year is a twofold problem that is much more prominent than it has been in years past. First, there is a broad push to drive our politics to extremes, to destroy without building consensus for what should be rebuilt. Second, our political debates are being driven not by policy proposals or governing principles but by assessments of political personalities and, too often, populist passions on the right and the left. And one danger is that personality-driven politics can end up empowering a person or a party without voters having seriously debated policy implications.

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Dallas Morning News - February 15, 2020

Texas judges are inconsistent about ensuring minors’ right to an abortion, study says

Texas judges who are supposed to be weighing minors’ best interests when they seek abortions without the approval of parents may be influenced other issues, according to a study published last month in the American Journal of Public Health. In 37 states, including Texas, parental consent laws require minors seeking an abortion to obtain consent from a parent. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that parents cannot have an absolute veto on a minor’s abortion, so many states allow minors to seek an abortion with the approval of a judge in a process called judicial bypass.

A study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin found some Texas judges denied minors’ judicial bypass requests, especially during the years following related policy changes and increased political attention. That could mean judges are also concerned about how their decisions will be viewed in the public policy debate, the study’s authors say. Amanda Jean Stevenson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, partnered with Austin attorney Susan Hays to look at the denial rates between 2001 and 2018. Hays co-founded the nonprofit Jane’s Due Process in 2001 to offer Texas minors undergoing the judicial bypass process legal representation. She examined denial rates for the nonprofit’s cases along with data the state began collecting in 2016.

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Dallas Morning News - February 15, 2020

Bernie Sanders brings his revolution to Mesquite, says he’ll beat Trump

Bernie Sanders on Friday said he will win Texas on the strength of a multigenerational movement, and then oust President Donald Trump from the White House. “We’re going to win the state of Texas," Sanders told several thousand supporters in Mesquite. “We’re going to beat Trump. We’re going to transform this country.” Sanders said Trump had steered the nation off course and continued to be a flawed president.

“We cannot have a president who continues to be a pathological liar,” Sanders said. More than 4,000 people gathered at the Mesquite rodeo arena to hear Sanders, who is riding high after strong finishes in the early contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The Texas presidential primary is March 3, and a win here could cement Sanders as the Democratic Party’s front-runner for the nomination against Trump. Sanders sought to assure voters that his progressive policies were nothing to fear. Rivals have warned that the nomination a self-described Democratic socialist against Trump would lead to certain defeat. He said that was a sign that his campaign is resonating.

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Dallas Morning News - February 15, 2020

Texas has record voter numbers, but primary schedule makes it hard for presidential contenders to mobilize them

Texas voters on Tuesday will start voting in the Democratic race for president, even though that by the time primary Election Day rolls around, some of the candidates on the ballot may no longer be in the race. Early voting starts Tuesday and ends Feb. 28. The primary is March 3, while the Nevada caucuses are on Feb. 22 and the South Carolina primary is Feb. 29

That puts voters in an unusual predicament. It’s possible that some contenders won’t make it to Texas on March 3, and a vote for a candidate who dropped out would be wasted. And it’s likely that the dynamic of the race will change after the more diverse populations in Nevada and South Carolina have their say. Nevertheless, Texans appear to be eager to vote. There are more voters on the rolls in Texas than at any point in its history. The state has 16.1 million eligible voters on the rolls. That’s up from the 14.1 million voters eligible at a similar period in 2016, when Donald Trump was on his way to winning the White House. So the Democratic presidential primary could be flooded with new voters, as well as the tried and true.

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Dallas Morning News - February 15, 2020

Dan Patrick: Trump’s trade deals are a huge victory for Texas

President Donald Trump campaigned in 2016 promising to fight for more fair trade deals for Texas workers, and with the signing of phase one of the China trade deal and the passage of U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, that’s exactly what he’s done. In Trump, farmers, workers, and families across Texas finally have someone fighting for them in the White House. Phase one of the new trade deal with China will put an end to years of unfair Chinese trade practices, protect American intellectual property, and open new markets for American farmers and manufacturers.

By committing to purchase at least $250 billion in goods from American manufacturing, energy, agriculture, and other industries, China will finally start sending money back into the U.S. Without a doubt, this is a huge victory for the Lone Star State. There’s more good news though. The USMCA has been signed by Trump, and it will undo decades of damage brought on by the North American Free Trade Agreement. The new agreement will create over 176,000 new American jobs and promote fairer wages, providing a nearly $70 billion boost to the U.S. economy. Manufacturing workers in the U.S. would receive the largest gains in new jobs, wages, and exports, another big win for blue-collar Texans. Texas’ agriculture industry will see exports rise significantly as new markets in Canada and Mexico open.

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Rivard Report - February 15, 2020

Coronavirus-hit cruise ship passengers bound for San Antonio

The U.S. government is preparing to evacuate Americans who have been quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan for more than a week after dozens of people on board tested positive for the novel coronavirus earlier this month. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Saturday sent a letter to passengers and crew on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship detailing plans for a voluntary evacuation for U.S. citizens and their immediate family from the ship to take place Sunday evening.

Embassy officials said Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland may receive cruise ship evacuees. Following the same protocol as with previous evacuations, the plane will land in the U.S. at Travis Air Force Base in California. Passengers not showing symptoms of coronavirus at the time of their arrival may be directed to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, where they will remain under a 14-day quarantine. The local Air Force base has already received 91 evacuees who returned to the U.S. from China’s Hubei province. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed one of those evacuees tested positive for coronavirus, marking the 15th case in the U.S. The person was transported from the base in a special ambulance from the Infectious Disease Response Unit to Methodist Texsan Hospital, where the patient is in maximum isolation and in stable condition.

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Rivard Report - February 15, 2020

Jones, Gonzales emerge as favorites to replace Hurd in 23rd District

A traditional swing district stretching from Bexar County to the western reaches of Texas is back in play as three-term U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes) will vacate the seat this year. While there’s no shortage of names on the ballot, two clear frontrunners have emerged. As early voting begins Tuesday, Gina Ortiz Jones seems to have the edge over five Democratic candidates, and Tony Gonzales appears to have the upper hand in a field of nine Republicans.

In her second campaign for the seat, Jones, who came within 926 votes of beating Hurd in 2018, has raised a total of about $2.5 million, drawing contributions from some of the biggest institutional supporters in Democratic politics. Her nearest challenger, Rosey Abuabara, has raised just $16,000. With a significant war chest to draw from – she still has more than $2 million on hand – the 23rd Congressional District appears to be Jones’ to lose, said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “She’s the favorite to win that seat simply because 2018 uncovered some dynamics in Texas politics that are continuing into 2020, and I do think Democrats will pick up that seat,” Jillson said. However, Jillson believes a runoff is probable in both primary races.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 15, 2020

Ed Espinoza: Texas primaries exclude too many voters, candidates. Here’s how we can fix them

Texas has one of the earliest primary dates in the nation — the first Tuesday in March. This is true in presidential years, when our Super Tuesday status puts us in a competitive position after the first few states vote. But it’s also true in midterm elections, when the early date serves less of a benefit. But unlike general elections, in which voters are conditioned to identify November as a time for voting as much as they are December a time for holiday shopping, primaries are lesser-known elections and require more voter education and engagement.

Because of that, our early primary election date poses hurdles. The first is that the period for candidates to file papers to be on the ballot is from November to December of the previous year. Thus candidates, donors, and political entities have to guess what the political winds will be one year out from a general election, and candidates have to launch their campaigns during the holiday season, when few people are paying attention. The second hurdle is that t most of the people who are even aware of the filing period are political insiders, making it harder to draw new talent into our system of government.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 15, 2020

UT Arlington graduates more African-American students than any university in Texas, report says

The University of Texas at Arlington graduated more African-American undergraduate and master’s students than any other university in the state, according to a list released by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education Magazine. Jason Shelton, director of UTA’s Center for African American Studies, said the accomplishment could help encourage more students of color to attend college and achieve a degree. The university ranked 17th nationally.

“It’s maybe hard for some folks to understand, but when you see someone who looks like you do something, it makes you think, ‘Wow, I can do that, too,’ “ Shelton said. Copenhagen Elliot, a recent graduate, said the university has resources for students of color and first generation students that he believes helped it achieve its graduation rate. “They have a multitude of resources for students, like a mentor I had matched through the Center for African American Studies,” Elliot said. Elliot, who studied finance and accounting, works for GM Finance in Arlington.

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Dallas Voice - February 14, 2020

Tammye Nash: Log Cabin: Making progress?

By now, most everybody knows that the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, an LGBTQ Republican organization, have once again had their request denied to have a booth at the Texas GOP state convention, set for May 14-16 in Houston. I — like most people, I think — was not the least bit surprised to hear this news. After all, Log Cabin has been asking for a booth at the state convention, and state GOP officials have been telling them no for as long as I can remember.

My first reaction — again, like most people’s, I think — was, so what? Why does Log Cabin keep trying? And how on earth can any self-respecting LGBTQ person identify as Republican in the first place? Especially these days, when our community — and in particular, transgender people, the most vulnerable segment of our community — are being targeted right and left with hate and discrimination. That’s my first reaction. But when I stop to think about it, I have to admit, I am wrong to be so dismissive and judgmental. First of all, this year wasn’t just like all the years before. There were a couple of significant differences, as Marco Roberts, board secretary for Log Cabin Republicans of Texas and president of Log Cabin Republicans of Houston, points out.

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One Zero - February 15, 2020

Rising seas may force coastal residents to move to Dallas and four other cities

The year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, over 60,000 families were forced to relocate to other parts of the country. Nearly 10,000 of them ended up in Houston. Since then, thousands more around the U.S. have had to retreat inland because of extreme storms, flooding and sea-level rise linked to climate change. As sea levels rise up to eight feet by the end of the century, climate refugees will increasingly seek shelter away from the coasts.

By 2100, as many as 13 million people in the United States could be forced to move inland, according to a study published in PLOS One in January. And certain cities, the authors of the study argue, must brace themselves to receive the majority of these climate refugees. Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Denver, and Las Vegas will be among the most popular relocation destinations, say the researchers, whose machine learning model predicts an influx of hundreds of thousands of climate refugees from America’s Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coasts by 2100. These cities, all of which besides Houston are landlocked, are already common destinations for people to migrate to for non-climate-related reasons, which the researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) call “business-as-usual” migration. They will likely see even more people moving inland because, with the exception of Houston, of their distance from the coasts, as well as their ability to offer housing, jobs and infrastructure, all of which the study took into account when factoring in forced migration patterns. Now, officials in these cities must brace for increased demands on water, transportation, energy infrastructure, and housing markets.

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The Hill - February 14, 2020

Julián Castro endorses Rep. Cuellar's primary opponent in Texas

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Texas native Julián Castro has endorsed Jessica Cisneros, who's challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) in a Democratic primary. “The people of South Texas deserve a homegrown champion for hardworking families, good paying jobs, better health care, and immigrants’ rights,” Castro said in a statement Friday. “I’m proud to endorse Jessica Cisneros because she will put the people of South Texas first, not special interests or Washington politics.”

Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio who dropped out of the presidential race in January and threw his support to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), marks Cisneros’s first big-name endorsement from an in-state Democrat. Castro’s twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, though Texas Democrats in Congress have stayed relatively silent on the race. Cisneros, a 26-year-old immigration attorney, has criticized Cuellar for taking corporate PAC money from the fossil fuel industry and private prison groups that run detention camps in his district. "As mayor of San Antonio, as housing secretary, and throughout his career, Secretary Castro has shown us how to talk about and localize major issues, and I am so grateful for his role in elevating immigration policy on the presidential debate stage," she said in a statement.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 14, 2020

Rep. Joaquin Castro leads third challenge to Trump’s border emergency declaration

For the third time in the past year, San Antonio Rep. Joaquin Castro is leading the charge to terminate President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration being used to justify spending on a border wall. About a year ago, the same resolution authored by Castro passed in both the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate. But Trump vetoed the legislation in March 2019. The House did not have the votes to overturn the veto. By law, Congress can vote every six months on a national emergency. Castro tried again in September, and again, both chambers tried to end the national emergency. Trump vetoed the measure in October.

“President Trump’s latest power grab is the result of losing a political fight with Congress,” Castro said in a statement Friday. “A Democratic House and Republican Senate have voted to terminate the president’s sham emergency declaration and prevent him from diverting billions in military funds reserved for actual national security priorities. Raiding these funds to build a wall does nothing to make us safe nor does it address the real humanitarian crisis across our southern border.” Trump has brushed off criticism over his use of an emergency declaration, saying he wasn’t the first president to do so. Other presidents have used the authority, but not to free up funding for projects that weren’t supported by Congress. The Defense Department announced Thursday that it will divert $3.8 billion to build 177 more miles of the wall. All together, Trump has obtained just over $3 billion for border barrier construction by working through Congress, subject to limitations imposed by lawmakers.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 16, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: We recommend Kim Ogg in Democratic primary for Harris County District Attorney

We have yet to see the ultimate fallout from the Harding Street raid, but early indications show the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is going to need steady leadership as it evaluates thousands of convictions that are now suspect because of the testimony of former Houston narcotics officer Gerald Goines. Current District Attorney Kim Ogg — who charged Goines with murder in the botched drug raid and who has aggressively sought to find justice in this case — can provide that leadership. She is our choice in the Democratic primary.

“We are in the midst of righting a lot of wrongs,” Ogg told the Editorial Board during a meeting with all four candidates in the race. “What needs to be done is the prosecution of the officers involved, the reform of the way we prosecute and, eventually, the reform of the way drug cases are investigated.” That’s a lot of talk of change for an incumbent who has left herself open to attack over her apparent tepidness on bail reform, most notably her last-minute objection last year to the settlement in the lawsuit over misdemeanor cash bail. Two of her opponents — senior prosecutors who left the district attorney’s office last year — have centered their campaigns on arguments that she’s failed to live up to her own reform pledges. It’s true — Ogg has expressed concerns about the way the bail reform agreement has been implemented. But voters shouldn’t mistake her calls to tap the breaks — even if her foot is sometimes a little heavy — as a disavowal of her record, which is overwhelmingly for change.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 14, 2020

Bexar County Clerk removes employees, files from Judge Uzomba’s court in downtown San Antonio

A simmering feud between two elected officials erupted publicly Friday after Bexar County Clerk Lucy Adame-Clark removed her two deputies and all the case files from County Court-at-Law Judge Grace Uzomba’s courtroom over allegations the employees had been mistreated. Neither Adame-Clark nor Uzomba would discuss the allegations, but Administrative Judge John Longoria confirmed what had virtually the entire courthouse buzzing all day.

“I’ve been made aware that some deputy county clerks have made complaints” about Uzomba, said Longoria, who oversees the county’s 15 courts-of-law and also is presiding judge of County Court-at-Law No. 5. He declined to give details because it could be a personnel matter, adding: “I have seen letters, but my knowledge is limited.” Longoria called Adame-Clark’s action an “extraordinary and unusual step” that he never had seen in the more than 40 years he has held elected office. Sources said the controversy stems over having the clerks work weekends and nights and trying to force them to work on holidays, among other work condition complaints.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 14, 2020

Fort Worth area cement plant wants to double its emissions. These moms are fighting it

Abigail Slye, 32, remembers the first time she drove down U.S. Highway 287 from Fort Worth to Midlothian. Her husband had a new coaching job at a local high school and they were in search of their first home. They drove past one of the three cement plants in the city, and he joked, “Look, it’s Six Flags over Midlothian,” Slye said. She asked her real estate agent about the white clouds spewing from the top of a towering smoke stack visible from their front yard. Just steam, she remembers her Realtor saying.

It took the mother of three several years before she realized the clouds were made of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter so small it can enter the bloodstream through the lungs and cause breathing and heart problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pollution from Midlothian, known as the Cement Capital of Texas, isn’t restricted to the city. The EPA lists Ellis County as part of a nine-county smog zone in North Texas, along with Tarrant, Dallas, Collin and Denton counties. Winds from the south and southeast carry pollutants from as far as the Gulf of Mexico, according to Chris Klaus, senior program manager of the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ air quality department.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 16, 2020

‘Powerful’ White House appointee delaying Fort Worth’s Panther Island, Kay Granger says

During a Friday visit to the Star-Telegram, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger came prepared to talk about Panther Island. “I have something for y’all,” she said. Granger picked up a white, four-inch thick binder and dropped it on a table. The binder was stuffed with a 300-page environmental study prepared in 2006 by the local branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that works on infrastructure projects like Panther Island.

“Why do you need a study on something that has been studied to death and approved and begun?” she asked. Granger was referring to news from last week: On Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a work plan that contained federal funding for water-related infrastructure. Panther Island, which has been authorized by Congress to receive some $500 million in funds for flood control, was allotted just $1.5 million — for a multi-year feasibility study the project’s leaders have long insisted they have already done. The news marked the latest in a string of setbacks in the years-long effort to redevelop an industrial area north of downtown Fort Worth. A feasibility study could delay the project further — likely by at least three years. But although Granger expressed frustration at the news, she said she wasn’t surprised. The holdup in federal funding is, in part, the result of changes in Washington that have made the White House’s Office of Management and Budget more powerful and thrown Panther Island’s funding plans into disarray.

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KIIITV - February 12, 2020

City Councilman Michael Hunter assaulted in downtown Corpus Christi

A Corpus Christi City Councilman is recovering Wednesday after a mugging along Chaparral Street in Downtown Corpus Christi. Councilman Michael Hunter was able to get away with a few minor injuries. Police are currently searching for the person or persons responsible for the incident.

Hunter was walking along the sidewalk after he left a nearby restaurant when that frightening encounter took place. "I was pretty fast in high school. I've never been this fast," Hunter said. Hunter is still in disbelief recounting the moment he was able to escape a dangerous situation. "Very, fortunately, I was extremely lucky and got away," Hunter said. Just hours after wrapping up a city council meeting, Hunter was downtown on Chaparral Street near Lawrence Street when the robbery took place right around 10 pm. "Also lucky enough that the Corpus Christi Police Department was patrolling the area. If it wasn't for that, who knows what might have happened," Hunter said.

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National Stories

Politico - February 15, 2020

Deep cracks emerge in Biden’s firewall

His message is uninspiring. His ground game is flawed. After Iowa and New Hampshire, they’re no longer convinced he can beat Donald Trump. Interviews with two dozen South Carolina lawmakers, consultants and voters here suggests there are deep cracks in Joe Biden’s firewall state, where his campaign expects to turn his misfortunes around with a robust victory that highlights his broad-based support — particularly among African Americans.

No one denies the state has an affinity for the former vice president to Barack Obama. Biden boasts endorsements from nearly 200 black South Carolina community figures and state legislators, a testament to his decades-long relationships with many leaders here. And he’s led in every single public poll in the state over the past year. But his advantage has gradually eroded. In a state where African Americans cast 61 percent of the primary vote in 2016, a February Quinnipiac poll showed Biden's support among African-Americans at 27 percent — a 22-point slip from before the Iowa caucus. While almost no one is willing to predict a Biden defeat here, many point to worrisome signs about the state of his campaign. During a get-out-the-vote effort Wednesday in a North Charleston neighborhood just blocks away from Biden’s offices, members of the media rivaled the number of volunteers present. Some prominent black state leaders expected to be firmly in Biden’s camp have migrated to other campaigns, namely those of Tom Steyer and Bernie Sanders.

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Politico - February 14, 2020

Republicans snooped on Democrats’ House polls

Campaign committees pay lots of money to get an edge on their opponent. They have research teams, conduct detailed and pricey polls and dispatch trackers across the country to catch members of the other party in unscripted and damaging moments.

But on Wednesday the NRCC walked across the street to the DCCC’s headquarters on Capitol Hill to stake out some Dem candidates, and stumbled upon what they consider a quite fortuitous find. Dems say it represents tactics that are totally out of bounds, and downright creepy. The DCCC was holding a polling meeting with the blinds wide open, all their information on display for passersby to see. The meeting was billed as part of their Red to Blue program -- the GOP seats Democrats are trying to flip. The NRCC aides snapped photos, and you can see their photo document here.

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ABC News - February 14, 2020

Trump's State of the Union guest given scholarship already attends desirable school

Among the guests at President Donald Trump's State of the Union address was a fourth grader from Philadelphia, Janiyah Davis, sitting alongside her mother, Stephanie Davis, in the House gallery, watching from above. At one point, he talked about his campaign issue that there should be "choice" in education. "For too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools,” Trump said.

Then, in a moment that took the Davis family by surprise, the president announced that Janiyah would receive a scholarship to the school of her choice. “The programs are so popular that tens of thousands of students remain on a waiting list. But Janiyah, I have some good news for you because I'm pleased to inform you that your long wait is over,” Trump said. “I can proudly announce tonight that an opportunity scholarship has become available, is going to you and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice," he said, as the president's supporters in the chamber began applauding. But Janiyah already attends one of the most exclusive charter schools in Philadelphia, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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NBC News - February 16, 2020

Trump pushed CIA to find, kill Osama bin Laden's son over higher priority targets

When intelligence officials briefed President Donald Trump on the most worrisome terrorist threats during the first two years of his tenure, they regularly mentioned the names of the senior terror figures the CIA was working hardest to find and kill, including the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri. Trump would ultimately greenlight successful strikes on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Yemeni al Qaeda chief Qasim al-Rimi — perhaps the most significant names on the CIA list of potential U.S. targets.

But he was more interested in a young and less influential figure much farther down the list, according to two people familiar with the briefings, because he recognized the name. "He would say, 'I've never heard of any of these people. What about Hamza bin Laden?'" one former official said. "That was the only name he knew," a Pentagon official added. Although Osama bin Laden's youngest son was not believed to be planning attacks, the U.S. ultimately carried out an airstrike that killed him in 2018, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. At first, officials weren't sure of his fate, but in July, NBC News was the first to report that U.S. officials believed he was dead. An examination of the process that led to the strike against Hamza bin Laden puts a spotlight on how Trump has approached what is among the most weighty responsibilities of the U.S. president in the post 9/11 era: deciding which of America's enemies should be marked for death.

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New York Times - February 16, 2020

Former Justice Dept. lawyers press for Barr to step down

More than 1,100 former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials called on Attorney General William P. Barr on Sunday to step down after he intervened last week to lower the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for President Trump’s longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr. They also urged current government employees to report any signs of unethical behavior at the Justice Department to the agency’s inspector general and to Congress. “Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice,” the former Justice Department lawyers, who came from across the political spectrum, wrote in an open letter on Sunday. Those actions, they said, “require Mr. Barr to resign.”

The sharp denunciation of Mr. Barr underlined the extent of the fallout over the case of Mr. Stone, capping a week that strained the attorney general’s relationship with his rank and file, and with the president himself. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. After prosecutors on Monday recommended a prison sentence of up to nine years for Mr. Stone, who was convicted of obstructing a congressional inquiry, Mr. Trump lashed out at federal law enforcement. Senior officials at the department, including Mr. Barr, overrode the recommendation the next day with a more lenient one, immediately prompting accusations of political interference, and the four lawyers on the Stone case abruptly withdrew in protest. The Justice Department said the case had not been discussed with anyone at the White House, but that Mr. Trump congratulated Mr. Barr on his decision did little to dispel the perception of political influence. And as the president widened his attacks on law enforcement, Mr. Barr publicly reproached the president, saying that Mr. Trump’s statements undermined him, as well the department. “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me,” Mr. Barr said during a televised interview on Thursday with ABC News.

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NPR - February 16, 2020

US Appeals Court upholds ruling blocking states' Medicaid work requirements

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court decision blocking states' requirements that people must work in order to receive Medicaid. Residents of Kentucky and Arkansas brought the action against Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, contending that Azar "acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner when he approved Medicaid demonstration requests for Kentucky and Arkansas."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed, writing in an opinion posted Friday that the secretary's authorization was indeed unlawful. The ruling will apply only to Arkansas because Kentucky's new Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, rescinded his state's planned requirements in December. In affirming the lower court's judgment, the three-judge panel concluded that Azar "failed to analyze whether the demonstrations would promote the primary objective of Medicaid — to furnish medical assistance." Medicaid establishes certain minimum coverage requirements for states. But federal law allows states to deviate from those requirements if the HHS secretary approves them to engage in "experimental, pilot, or demonstration" projects that are "likely to assist in promoting the objectives" of Medicaid.

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CNBC - February 14, 2020

Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti found guilty in Nike extortion trial

Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti was convicted Friday by a jury of all three charges related to his efforts to extort up to $25 million from athletic apparel giant Nike, in what a top prosecutor called “an old-fashioned shakedown.” The verdict in U.S. District Court in Manhattan came two years after Avenatti gained widespread notoriety for his representation of porn star Stormy Daniels in her legal disputes with President Donald Trump.

The bombastic attorney, who briefly flirted with running for the Democratic presidential nomination, faces two other pending federal criminal cases this spring related to alleged thefts of millions of dollars from clients, including Daniels, and other serious charges. “I think he’s in a bit of a state of shock,” one of his defense attorneys, Danya Perry, told reporters after the verdict, which Avenatti plans to appeal. “But he’s a fighter, as you all know, and he’s staying strong.” Daniels posted a statement on Instagram, saying: “Sadly, it appears what Michael Avenatti did to me was just the tip of an iceberg of deceit. I am not surprised his dishonesty has been revealed on a grand scale.”

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The Hill - February 13, 2020

Sanders holds commanding edge among Democrats in Latino donations: study

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has received more than four times the amount of campaign contributions from Latinos than any other candidate in the Democratic presidential primary. According to a study published Thursday by the technology company Plus 3, Sanders has received more than $8.2 million from Latinos as of the last Federal Election Commission filing deadline. That’s $6 million more than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who received about $2 million each from Latinos. Former Vice President Joe Biden received about $1.4 million and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) received about $319,000.

However, the study also found that Latino campaign contributions fell by 25 percent in mid-2019, as the crowded field began to narrow. When former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) left the race, they had earned $2.6 million and $1.8 million from Latinos, respectively. Latinos in San Antonio, Castro’s hometown where he was once mayor, donated more than those in any other city, followed by Los Angeles and then El Paso, where O’Rourke is from. “Overall, $6.5 million dollars and 315,000 Latino contributions have in effect disappeared as the field of candidates has narrowed from 23 candidates to 5 leading candidates,” the study said. The study comes after the New Hampshire primary, where Sanders won the popular vote but was closely trailed by Buttigieg. The two received the same amount of delegates from the state. In the earlier Iowa caucuses, Buttigieg topped Sanders by less than 1 percentage point, picking up two delegates more.

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Newsclips - February 14, 2020

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 14, 2020

Bernie edges past Biden among Texas Democrats

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont holds a narrow lead over former Vice President Joe Biden among Texas Democrats, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released Friday. The survey of 1,200 registered voters conducted from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9, spans the period from just before the Iowa caucuses to the eve of the New Hampshire primary. It reflects Biden’s sagging fortunes and Sanders’ rise as the party’s at least tentative front-runner.

Sanders was the choice of 24% of Democrats, doubling his 12% share in the October poll, conducted by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, and vaulting him past both Biden, at 22%, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, at 15%, who also led Sanders in the last survey. Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, said the results reflected the air going out of a Biden candidacy whose lead in past polls in Texas and nationally may have mostly reflected his standing as a long-time senator and former vice president who was familiar to voters. The poll has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.83 percentage points, and an overall margin of error of plus or minus 4.09 percentage points for Democratic trial ballots.

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Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2020

Mike Bloomberg uses Houston rally to apologize for stop and frisk

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg used a rally at Houston’s Buffalo Soldiers National Museum to tell a predominately black audience that he “deeply regrets” ever supporting the controversial stop and frisk policy he employed while mayor of New York City. Bloomberg told the audience that he knows now he was wrong to defend the policy that targeted black and Hispanic residents for pat downs to see if they had weapons. That program has become a major stumbling block for many Democratic voters as they weigh Bloomberg’s run for the White House.

“I should have acted sooner and faster to stop it, and for that I apologize,” said Bloomberg, who was mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013. Bloomberg, who turns 78 on Friday, insisted he’s learned from that time and vowed to be the biggest champion in the White House for black and Hispanic communities. “I am committed to using the power of the presidency to right the wrongs of institutional racism,” Bloomberg told the crowd. For Bloomberg it was his fifth trip to Texas since December and his third stop in Houston. Most of those visits in Houston have been focused on the black community. But Thursday’s speech was his most detailed apology yet for his support of stop and frisk. The program has come under intense criticism since a recording came to light in which Bloomberg can be heard defending the policy by saying “we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods” because “that’s where all the crime is.”

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Texas Tribune - February 13, 2020

Greg Abbott plans pre-primary tour supporting GOP state House incumbents, candidates

Gov. Greg Abbott has spent the past seven months unveiling endorsements for Texas House Republicans and other GOP candidates for the lower chamber — and now he is about to hit the road for them. As early voting begins next week for the March 3 primary, Abbott is embarking on a statewide tour to get out the vote for at least 10 incumbents and candidates, his team tells The Texas Tribune. The travel is the latest evidence of the governor's priority focus this election cycle on the state House, which Democrats are working to flip in November.

But before the general election fight, Abbott has to get his favored Republicans through their primaries, and his itinerary reflects that. He is making stops to stump for at least four members with primary challenges: Reps. Geanie Morrison of Victoria on Tuesday, J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville on Feb. 25, Briscoe Cain of Baytown on Feb. 26 and Jared Patterson of Frisco on Feb. 27. Abbott will also campaign for his endorsed candidates in open-seat races and Democratic-held districts that the GOP is trying to flip back. He will be in Highland Village on Monday to appear with Kronda Thimesch, who faces one other Republican in the primary to challenge Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton. The next day, Abbott will head to Waxahachie to stump for Jake Ellzey, one of three Republicans vying to replace retiring Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie.

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Associated Press - February 13, 2020

Barr: Trump tweets on cases make it 'impossible' to do job

Attorney General William Barr took a public swipe at President Donald Trump on Thursday, saying that the president's tweets about Justice Department prosecutors and cases "make it impossible for me to do my job." Barr made the comment during an interview with ABC News just days after his Justice Department overruled its own prosecutors — who had recommended in a court filing that Trump's longtime ally and confidant Roger Stone be sentenced to 7 to 9 years in prison — and took the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek. The department didn't offer an amended number.

Barr himself has been under fire for the Justice Department action, and Thursday's comment served as a defense of his own integrity. The department insisted the decision to undo the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump blasted the recommendation on Twitter as "very horrible and unfair"— and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it. The about-face prompted the four attorneys who prosecuted Stone to quit the case. One left the Justice Department altogether. "I'm happy to say that, in fact, the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case," Barr said in the interview. "However, to have public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we're doing our work with integrity."

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2020

Judge orders congressional candidate to stop making domestic violence claims about opponent

A state district judge on Wednesday barred Democratic congressional candidate Nyanza Moore from making domestic violence allegations against opponent Derrick Reed after the former Pearland councilman sued her for defamation. Brazoria County Judge Patrick Sebesta issued a temporary restraining order after concluding that Reed would “suffer immediate and irreparable damage” to his integrity and reputation if Moore persisted with a series of social media posts implying that Reed “beats women.”

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Reed cited a handful of times in which Moore alleged or suggested that he had beaten his ex-wife or otherwise committed domestic violence. In one post, Moore indicated she possessed a protective order between Reed and his ex-wife. In the court filing, Reed emphatically denied the allegations and said no protective order “exists between he and his ex-wife or any other woman.” “Mr. Reed was with his ex-wife for approximately 20 years and has never beat or abused her,” the filing reads. “The police have never been called out to any of their residences for domestic violence or any physical altercation.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2020

Woodlands man in New Hampshire primary allegedly exaggerates military background

Residents of The Woodlands who were following the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire noticed an unknown candidate vying for votes in the Feb. 11 primary — David John Thistle, who lists his residence as The Woodlands. Thistle, 49, received 53 votes in the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary, far below front runners such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and a list of other Democratic hopefuls. In 2016, Thistle also appeared on the ballot for the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire, garnering more than 200 votes.

Despite his two bids for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020, not much is known about Thistle and his connection to The Woodlands. However, while local residents may have never heard Thistle’s name before, U.S. Navy veterans across the nation have — that is because Thistle is alleged to have been fabricating a military career resume that some say includes his false claims of being an elite U.S. Navy SEAL. Thistle vigorously denied those allegations in a telephone interview with The Villager. According to Don Shipley, a retired Navy SEAL Senior Chief who now resides in Maryland, the claims by Thistle to have been a SEAL are, as he says, “phony.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2020

Sen. Bernie Sanders endorses Audia Jones for Harris County DA

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday endorsed Audia Jones for Harris County District Attorney, fresh off his Democratic presidential primary win in New Hampshire. Jones is one of four state's attorney and district attorney candidates that the longtime senator singled out for promises to reform a criminal justice system that he says discriminates against minorities.

“I’m proud to endorse these progressive leaders for the important offices of state and district attorney,” Sanders said in a statement. “Now is the moment to fundamentally transform our racist and broken criminal justice system by ending mass incarceration, the failed war on drugs and the criminalization of poverty, and that’s exactly what they’ll do.” Jones has vowed to support an end to felony cash bail practices in Harris County, and to stop prosecuting sex workers and people caught in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs. She’s previously earned the endorsement of the Houston chapter of the Democrat Socialists of America and Real Justice PAC, a group co-founded by several members of Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. The Texas Organizing Project and the Houston GLBT Caucus also endorsed Jones over incumbent Kim Ogg.

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Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2020

Brady to host Navasota town hall with opponents of Texas bullet train

Rural residents remain bitterly opposed to a proposed high-speed rail line from Houston to Dallas, an unchanged position the past five years that is expected to be on full display in Navasota next week. Congressman Kevin Brady, a Woodlands Republican who has remained opposed to the bullet train, announced Thursday he would hold a town hall meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Grimes County Expo Center.

The meeting is in conjunction with Texans Against High-Speed Rail, the opposition group that has helped landowners fight property claims by the company planning the train. The meeting precedes the expected release later this month of the Federal Railroad Administration’s proposed safety and environmental rules for the project. Texas Central, a group of Texas-based investors, has since 2013 proposed a bullet train linking Houston and Dallas. The private company, which would seek international investment and possibly tap federally-backed loans, plans to use Japanese Shinkansen trains along a sealed corridor, likely from south of downtown Dallas to near Loop 610 and U.S. 290, the current site of Northwest Mall.

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Houston Chronicle - February 14, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: We recommend Mike Schofield in GOP primary for House District 132

Three sessions ago, Mike Schofield was named “freshman of the year” in the Texas House. Three years later, in 2018, he lost to a Democratic opponent by 113 votes. Schofield, who is our choice in the Republican primary for District 132, said he is ready to take back the seat for the GOP. So far, he says he has knocked on 3,200 doors and found a receptive audience for his message of lowering property taxes and keeping Texas a business-friendly state.

“People can’t afford to live in their homes if the property taxes keep going up and up,” he told the Editorial Board. “We can’t continue to have property taxes be the bulwark of local government or you’re going to crush the American Dream for people in our district.” Schofield speaks of maintaining “traditional Texas values” when it comes to attracting and generating employment, arguing that the state keeps taxes low, has a reasonable regulatory structure and has enacted lawsuit reform — all issues he championed in the Legislature and as an adviser to former Gov. Rick Perry.

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Dallas Morning News - February 13, 2020

Gov. Abbott tasks Texas leaders to develop a plan that ensures more students are workforce ready

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday charged education and workforce leaders to identify specific strategies to help more students complete college or career programs that lead to high-paying jobs. Abbott wants the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative -- whose members are the commissioners of the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Workforce Commission -- to look across the educational pipeline to see where the pitfalls are for students and how to help them.

For example, strategies should address how to improve early childhood programs; how to strengthen middle school learning; and how to increase the number of Texans who complete college or credential programs. "We must continue in our efforts to ensure Texans of all ages have access to high-quality education and workforce skills training that empowers them to achieve their full potential,” Abbott said in a statement. Abbott’s move is tied to the historic school finance overhaul passed last spring, which included additional state funds for efforts that address college, career or military readiness.

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Dallas Morning News - February 13, 2020

Texas Sens. Ted Cruz, John Cornyn vote against bipartisan measure to limit Trump’s Iran war powers

Neither Sen. John Cornyn nor Sen. Ted Cruz on Thursday joined a bipartisan effort in the Senate to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to attack Iran unless he first gets authorization from Congress. The opposition from the Texas senators didn’t stop the Senate from voting 55-45 to approve the war powers resolution, with eight Republicans voting in the affirmative.

But the Texans’ stand helped make clear that the rebuke has no chance of withstanding the veto Trump has pledged to issue if and when the Democratic-run House approves the measure. It also marked another instance in which Cruz and Cornyn declined to buck the president, a fellow Republican. “What I read this resolution to do is to try to tie the president’s hands,” Cornyn said. “We’ve all seen enough of how Congress operates to say that Congress doesn’t operate … with the necessary efficiency to deal with a national security crisis, particularly involved in self-defense.” Cruz, in turn, said he was “disappointed” by the Senate’s vote, adding that he looks “forward to continuing to work with the Trump administration to make America safer.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 13, 2020

Coronavirus case confirmed in Texas, the 15th in the U.S.

Another case of the new coronavirus has been confirmed in a U.S. evacuee from China, this one in a person who is under quarantine in Texas. Health officials announced the 15th confirmed U.S. case Thursday, which is the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Texas. The infection was confirmed through a lab test Wednesday night.

The patient, who had been flown to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, is in isolation at a hospital and was reported to be in stable condition. The patient had returned to the U.S. on a state department-chartered flight Feb. 7, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. “There may be additional cases we identify. I do want to prepare you for that,” said Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s division of high consequence pathogens and pathology. The risk for people in San Antonio and the state is still low because the person has been in quarantine, the Department of State Health Services said.

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Dallas Morning News - February 13, 2020

The consulate general of China in Houston urged people not to overreact to coronavirus. Then thousands of new cases were reported.

A Chinese diplomat on Wednesday sought to alleviate concerns about the new coronavirus from China, claiming that the communist government is taking “extraordinary measures” to contain the outbreak. However, hours later, thousands of new cases were reported in China, bringing the total number to more than 60,000 infected and over 1,000 dead. In an exclusive interview with The Dallas Morning News, Cai Wei, Chinese consul general in Houston, urged people in both countries not to overreact.

“Do not be over-panicked ... This is the most important thing,” he said. “The virus might be, in itself, fearful. But what is more fearful is the panic.” Cai met reporters and editors of The News in between meetings with civic leaders, including Dr. Phil Huang, director of the Dallas County health department, and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. There are neither any confirmed nor suspected cases of the virus in Texas or other states in his territory, which also includes Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, Cai said.

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Dallas Morning News - February 13, 2020

Top Texas Republican criticizes Trump’s plans to divert $3.8B from military to border wall

Clarendon Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, on Thursday criticized President Donald Trump for planning to shift $3.8 billion in military funding to pay for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Texan, who’s retiring at the end of this term, said in a news release that the “re-programming announced today is contrary to Congress’ constitutional authority.”

“I believe that it requires Congress to take action,” he said, adding that the Trump administration’s move “undermines the principle of civilian control of the military and is in violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution.” Thornberry’s pushback bolstered a deluge of criticism coming from Democrats, who fumed that the siphoning for the wall would take away funds that were slated to go toward fighter jets like the F-35, Navy ships and National Guard equipment. The diversion would come after the Trump administration already reallocated more than $6 billion from military accounts, largely related to construction projects, and other areas to help pay for the barrier.

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D Magazine - February 13, 2020

Is this Dallas Morning News editorial just a mess of lightly researched fearmongering?

an editorial went up on the Dallas Morning News site with the “hey, I’m just asking questions” headline, “Is bail reform the cause of Dallas’ climbing crime?” The answer is not really in the story, because what they are actually talking about, almost exclusively, is the murder rate, and to a lesser extent aggravated assault and other violent crimes. (There is a reference to a 14 percent rise in robberies last year, but it is almost as an aside.) But even if you change the question to “Is bail reform the cause of Dallas’ climbing murder rate?” their answer is, “Who knows, but someone should probably look into it, right? Huh? Right?”

Much of the editorial is weighted by anecdotal evidence from law enforcement officials like Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall and Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown, with no pushback or numbers to back up their claims, which, for the most part, have little to do with bail reform. Bail reform is about reducing a jail population that is largely made up of pretrial detainees, people who can’t afford to get out, even at seemingly low amounts like $500. Across the country, almost two-thirds of people incarcerated locally have not been convicted of anything. In Texas, it’s 70 percent. Releasing defendants for low-level offenses without bond means “everybody’s getting out on a court date, and those people don’t come back,” Brown said. “What that does is that affects us on our end because warrants are now issued for those persons who are not coming back to court for their court date.”

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - February 10, 2020

Cloud: Trump wants $100 million for Port of Corpus Christi widening project in 2021

The Trump administration has included in its 2021 budget proposal $100 million for the Port of Corpus Christi to support its effort to widen and deepen its ship channel. U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, whose district includes the port and Corpus Christi, said in a statement late Monday the funding could be a part of the president's $4.8 trillion FY2021 budget.

“I’m thankful President Trump has once again prioritized funding for the Port of Corpus Christi’s Channel Improvement Project in this year’s budget," said Cloud, R-Victoria. "Investment into the port is vital for economic growth in Texas and the United States. The port also plays a strategic role in our country’s position as the global energy leader. As we export more American oil and gas, our allies are less dependent on Russia and Iran for those needs. Thank you to Port leadership and all those who’ve worked to bring the project this far.” Funding for the project was listed among those requested in the president's Budget for the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program.

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Defense News - February 13, 2020

Pentagon seeks to cut F-35s, other equipment to pay for Trump’s border wall

The Pentagon is seeking to divert $3.8 billion, largely from its fiscal 2020 weapons procurement budget, in order to fund President Donald Trump’s border wall, according to a reprogramming request to congress obtained by Defense News. Among the victims of the cuts: a mass of aircraft purchases including F-35 joint strike fighters, C-130J cargo aircraft, MQ-9 Reaper drones and P-8 maritime surveillance planes, as well as ground vehicles and naval priorities — choices that drew quick, bipartisan condemnation from key defense lawmakers as reports of the plan filtered out Thursday.

Overall, the plan would shift $2.202 billion in FY20 defense appropriations and $1.629 billion in FY20 overseas contingency operations funding towards the wall, a key priority from president Donald Trump ahead of the November presidential elections. Air Force and Navy aviation spending takes the brunt of the cuts proposed by the Pentagon, with aircraft procurement going down by $558 million for Navy and Marine Corps and $861 million for the Air Force. Importantly, all of the funding decreases target items that were specifically added by Congress during the budgeting process, which could incur rancor from lawmakers. For the Navy, the Pentagon would cut two of the six F-35B short takeoff and landing aircraft added to the FY20 budget by Congress and two MV-22 Ospreys, stating that “current funding is more than sufficient to keep the production line open.” It also seeks to eliminate funding for one of the nine P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft funded in FY20, stating that the additional aircraft is “[in] excess to the 117 aircraft required.”

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San Antonio Express-News - February 14, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Senate race with Cornyn and Edwards would rivet

In a recent Texas Lyceum poll of the 12 candidates running for the 2020 Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in Texas, the leader was “Don’t Know” with 19 percent. “None of the Above” was a close second at 17 percent. The volatile Democratic presidential primary and the impeachment and Senate trial of President Donald Trump have overshadowed the race to challenge Sen. John Cornyn in the general election. Technically, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Cornyn has a handful of primary challengers, but he has a strong conservative record and carries significant authority in the Senate. We recommend John Cornyn in the Republican primary.

As for the Democrats, those aforementioned polling numbers reflect a lack of statewide familiarity, not the considerable talent among the top tier candidates. That top tier includes former Congressman and gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell; retired decorated Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar; labor organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez; and state Sen. Royce West. All are talented and substantive candidates. Hegar and Ramirez represent a new generation of leadership that includes more young people, women and people of color. As does Amanda Edwards, the former Houston City Council member we recommend as the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate. The charismatic 38-year-old Edwards, a municipal finance attorney, is a rising Democratic star with an array of gifts that would make her a formidable challenger to Cornyn. She has an impressive depth of a wide range of issues, is thoughtful about governing and being a servant-leader, can connect with people across all lines, and is fearless in calling out Cornyn for what she says is his lack of accessibility and communication with constituents. If elected, Edwards would be the first African American to serve in the Senate from Texas.

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Courthouse News Service - February 13, 2020

Lawyers expect feds to approve contested Texas pipeline within days

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to give Houston-based pipeline giant Kinder Morgan the go-ahead to clear land for a hotly contested natural gas line through the Texas Hill Country within the next two days, attorneys for the company and the federal government said Wednesday. “The Corps expects to issue the verifications under the Clean Water Act that would permit this project to go forward no later than Friday,” Department of Justice lawyer Devon McCune said during a telephone hearing relating to a federal lawsuit challenging the project.

Still, a lawyer for Kinder Morgan said during the hearing that the company would not move forward with construction on the planned Permian Highway Pipeline until another hearing in the case that is tentatively set for Friday, even if it does receive the Corps’ approval. The U.S. is among the defendants named in the lawsuit, which was brought against the pipeline company in early February by Central Texas landowners, the City of Austin and other local governments over concerns about possible environmental damage and allegations of regulatory violations. Opponents say the planned 430-mile pipeline from the West Texas oil patch to the Gulf Coast could harm federally protected birds and salamanders in the Texas Hill Country. They claim the company is therefore required to obtain federal permits to “take” the animals but has failed to do so.

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County Stories

KUT - February 14, 2020

95% of eligible voters are registered in Travis County. That's a record.

Ahead of the primaries next month, officials say, more than 822,000 people are registered to vote in Travis County. The 95% registration rate is an all-time county record – one that will likely be broken before Election Day in November. Travis County Tax Assessor Collector and Registrar Bruce Elfant says his office saw roughly 50,000 new registrations added to voter rolls since the last election, bringing the total to 821,101 registered voters in the county.

"I was a little bit surprised it was as high as it was," he said. "I look at this stuff every day, and it caught me off guard a little bit – but in a good way." Normally, Elfant said, the odd years are "kind of sleepy" following midterms and presidential elections. He said the "unprecedented" number of registered voters could increase by 40,000 to 50,000 registrations ahead of the general election, bumping that percentage to 96%. While the window to register ahead of the primaries is closed, voters can still register for the November election.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 14, 2020

Some, or all, of Tarrant County CPS might be moved out of Judge Alex Kim’s courtroom

Tarrant County district judges are expected to decide next week whether new Child Protective Service cases should be moved from the 323rd Family District Court and split between the other six Tarrant County family district judges. The 323rd Family District Court is headed by Judge Alex Kim at the Scott D. Moore Juvenile Justice Center, at 2701 Kimbo Road in Fort Worth. Kim handles all new CPS and juvenile delinquent cases.

The possible move follows questions raised by Judge David Evans about whether rules over how cases are assigned have been followed. It also follows several instances in which Kim’s judgment has been questioned, although judges would not speak to the specific reasons factored into the discussion. Kim declined to comment. Evans, who presides over the 48th Judicial District Court in Tarrant County, began a discussion on the allocation of CPS cases and “the possible reallocation of some or all of those cases to Family District Court” during a Board of District Judges meeting last month, according to a draft of the meeting minutes obtained through a records request. A committee was formed to assess the allocation of CPS cases, according to the meeting minutes. During an earlier meeting by the Tarrant County Juvenile Justice Board, Evans said there was a 50 percent increase of CPS and juvenile cases over the last five years and that cases should have been assigned to judges by random selection.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 13, 2020

Legendary Fort Worth barbecue man who helped transform the family business dies

Jim Riscky knew barbecue. He should, since he spent decades working for the family business, starting as the “bottle boy” who moved soft drink bottles to the back of the store so they could be recycled, and ultimately helping convert the original grocery store and market into the Riscky’s Barbeque restaurant chain that exists today. The 77-year-old self-described workaholic died Feb. 9.

“He was a fair and honest man, a hard worker, and a friend and supporter,” according to a Facebook post by Flames Barbecue that referred to him as “one of the originals.” “Prayers going up for his wife Norma and the whole Riscky Family as they continue to carry on the family tradition of great Texas Barbecue.” Mr. Riscky, born to June and Pete Riscky in 1942, began working in the family business in 1954. After serving as the bottle boy, he took on nearly every job in the store, ultimately following in family tradition to become a butcher, according to an obituary written by his family. By the 1970s, he built a wood-fired steel pit that would eventually be used as a model for all future pits that would smoke barbecue sold at the restaurant.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 13, 2020

Jury finds San Antonio oilman Brian Alfaro guilty

A federal jury Thursday found San Antonio oilman Brian Alfaro guilty on all seven counts of mail fraud for allegedly misusing investor money to support an extravagant lifestyle. Alfaro, 51, showed no emotion when the verdicts were read. U.S. District Judge Fred Biery directed Alfaro be taken into custody to await his sentencing on June 22.

Alfaro faces up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count. The 12 jurors deliberated about four hours over two days before reaching their verdict. The trial lasted eight days. “We’re extremely disappointed with the verdict,” Michael McCrum, Alfaro’s defense lawyer, said. “We disagree with the verdict.” He declined to comment further. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Surovic said he was pleased with the outcome. “Justice has been done,” he said. “Now we’ll see how he gets sentenced.” Alfaro did not take the stand to testify in his own defense. Had he testified, prosecutors could have called into question his credibility given alleged prior misstatements.

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Dallas Morning News - February 14, 2020

Dallas ISD’s chief internal auditor offers resignation after decrying decision of an early peer review

Dallas ISD's chief internal auditor offered his resignation Thursday, two days after decrying the school board's decision to call for an early peer review of his department's audit plans. The auditor, Steven Martin, had been with DISD for a little over a year, coming from Garland ISD. His resignation will be effective Feb. 28. Efforts to reach Martin on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The resignation comes after Martin spoke as a public speaker during a DISD school board subcommittee meeting on Tuesday, alleging that the call for a peer review two years early was an attempt to discredit or diminish recent audits from his department that detailed significant misspending on maintenance projects. “Why is the audit committee and management bringing in third parties to audit our audit reports, and why does administration try to change policies preventing internal audit from investigating vendors?” Martin said. “For which audit has the lack of confidence come?” A statement from Dallas ISD’s board of trustees said the school board had received “serious allegations regarding the validity of the Internal Auditor’s methodology and the accuracy of the calculations.” In addition, the statement read, “Martin did not discover the overpayment issues with these contracts and was not being prevented from investigating them.”

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Austin American-Statesman - February 13, 2020

Austin’s land code rewrite gets 2nd pivotal approval at testy council meeting

The Austin City Council gave its approval to the second reading of their rewrite of the city’s land development code Thursday night. The pivotal vote moves the effort to overhaul the city’s rules on what can be built and where toward final approval, which is slated for late March or early April.

The final result, if approved, will shape the face of the city for decades to come. Among myriad policies, it would dictate how many homes can be built on specific lots, how large they can be, what they can be used for and how many unrelated occupants each can have. The final vote was 7-4 with Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, Leslie Pool and Kathie Tovo against. That vote split has remained commonplace since as early as 2018, when the rewrite’s aborted predecessor CodeNext was still active. But even while the vote outcomes were often expected, the four council members on the losing end of the vote have expressed growing frustration during a meeting that stretched for more than 20 hours over three days.

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National Stories

NBC News - February 13, 2020

'Tidal wave of voter suppression' washes over states, lawyer says

In Texas, officials in mostly white Waller County, citing cost concerns, announced that they would not make an early voting site available on the campus of a historically black university. Then the state passed a law effectively requiring other communities to take similar action. A Tennessee law threatens third-party groups that register citizens to vote with criminal penalties if they make mistakes on forms or the forms arrive incomplete. The state’s governor, a Republican, said the law will make elections fairer.

And in Florida, state lawmakers overrode the results of a ballot initiative restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. Lawmakers who opposed the initiative insisted it was up to them to define what constitutes a completed sentence. States across the country have, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision striking down part of the Voting Rights Act, moved swiftly and repeatedly to reshape almost every element of voting. Lawmakers are using a variety of race and age-neutral measures with explanations as pragmatic as cost and as prudent as election security.

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Associated Press - February 13, 2020

Weinstein lawyer: Prosecutors have a ‘tale,’ not a case

Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer told jurors Thursday that prosecutors in the rape case against him were acting like moviemakers, conjuring up a world “where women had no free will.” “In the alternative universe that prosecutors have created for you, Harvey Weinstein is a monster,” lawyer Donna Rotunno said in her closing argument. But, she said, he’s an innocent man relying on jurors not to be swayed by a “sinister tale.”

Rotunno argued that prosecutors had to come up with a damning story about the once-powerful movie producer because they don’t have the evidence to prove the charges. “The irony is that they are the producers and they are writing the script,” Rotunno said, urging the jury to not buy into “the story they spun where women had no free will.” “In their universe, women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with, the choices they make to further their own careers, the hotel room invitations, the plane tickets they accept, the jobs they ask for help to obtain,” or the messages they send, Rotunno said.

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Reuters - February 14, 2020

New York prosecutor to make closing argument in Weinstein rape case

New York prosecutors on Friday will urge jurors to find former movie producer Harvey Weinstein guilty of rape and sexual assault, a day after Weinstein's lawyers accused the prosecution of being "overzealous." Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi is expected to deliver the closing argument for the Manhattan District Attorney's office, setting the stage for the jury to begin deliberating next week.

Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress, in 2013. The trial is a milestone for the #MeToo movement in which women have accused powerful men in business, entertainment, media, and politics of sexual misconduct. Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct. The former producer, who was behind films including "The English Patient" and "Shakespeare in Love," has denied any nonconsensual sex. On Thursday, Donna Rotunno, one of Weinstein's lawyers, assailed Weinstein's accusers as unreliable and said an "overzealous" prosecution was trying to portray consensual sex as assault.

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McClatchy - February 14, 2020

McClatchy files bankruptcy to shed costs of print legacy and speed shift to digital

McClatchy Co. filed for bankruptcy Thursday, a move that will end family control of America’s second largest local news company and hand it to creditors who have expressed support for independent journalism. The Chapter 11 filing will allow McClatchy to restructure its debts and, it hopes, shed much of its pension obligations. Under a plan outlined in its filing to a federal bankruptcy court, about 55 percent of its debt would be eliminated as the news organization tries to reposition for a digital future.

The likely new owners, if the court accepts the plan, would be led by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management LLC. They would operate McClatchy as a privately held company. More than 7 million shares of both publicly available and protected family-owned stock would be canceled. “While this is obviously a sad milestone after 163 years of family control, McClatchy remains a strong operating company and committed to essential local news and information,” said Kevin McClatchy, chairman of the company that has carried his family name since the days of the California Gold Rush. “While we tried hard to avoid this step, there’s no question that the scale of our 75-year-old pension plan – with 10 pensioners for every single active employee – is a reflection of another economic era.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2020

Climate bills sweep Washington, as GOP and Democrats compete on approach

From a carbon pricing schemes to outright fracking bans to tree planting, a wave of legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions has emerged in Congress in recent weeks. Nine months before the presidential election, climate change is taking up greater political bandwidth, as interests from across the ideological spectrum vie for position on an issue that looks to have monumental implications for the U.S. and global economies in the decades ahead.

“Politicians in all camps are seeing increasing stakeholder demands, calls by industry and just frankly a need to do something, as these extreme weather impacts keep hitting us” said Janet Peace, a senior vice president at the think tank Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “You used to talk about climate impacts being far in the future.” Some the America's largest corporations, including Exxon Mobil, JP Morgan Chase and AT&T, got into the act Thursday, pitching what they called a “bipartisan” carbon tax plan, with the goal of decreasing U.S. emissions 50 percent by 2035. In exchange, they want a undo existing greenhouse gas regulations, like those restricting emissions from power plants, and halt any future action.

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GQ - February 13, 2020

Why is Bloomberg's long history of egregious sexism getting a pass from the media?

In December 2015, employees at Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control organization funded by Mike Bloomberg, arrived at work to find a holiday gift on their desks from their employer: the former mayor’s 1997 autobiography, Bloomberg by Bloomberg. Flipping through the book, staffers found themselves uncomfortably reading their billionaire founder’s boasts about keeping “a girlfriend in every city” and other womanizing exploits as a Wall Street up-and-comer.

Indeed, Bloomberg’s casual boasts about his sex life in his own autobiography are now some of the least problematic parts of the his candidacy for president. In recent days, the former New York City mayor’s track record on race is undergoing renewed scrutiny: Bloomberg oversaw and expanded the racist and unconstitutional “stop and frisk” program, and a newly unearthed video shows him blaming the end of a racially discriminatory housing practice known as “redlining” for the 2008 economic recession. But it takes a telling amount of gall and cluelessness to gift a book with anecdotes about your own womanizing to employees at your gun safety non-profit in the year 2015, especially for a politician with presidential ambitions who has been vigorously denying allegations of misogyny throughout his entire career—including some 40 sex discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits brought against him and his organizations by 64 women over the past several decades.

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Inside Higher Ed - February 13, 2020

College lobbying declined after earmarks

A decade ago, Bucknell University was among 700 other higher education institutions and groups that spent about $100 million to hire lobbyists in Washington -- many of them hitting up members of Congress for earmarks to pay for things like a new campus lab or building. But in the years since 2011, when federal lawmakers stopped handing out earmarks to their favorite projects, much has changed in how higher education lobbies.

Many smaller and midsize institutions, like Bucknell, have decided to not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on D.C. lobbyists if they can no longer get a line inserted in the budget for new equipment or a building. The number of higher education institutions and groups hiring lobbyists to influence Congress has dropped by about a fourth between 2010 and 2019, from 683 to 396, according to an Inside Higher Ed analysis of federal lobbying disclosure data. All told, the industry spent about $74.5 million to lobby Congress in 2019, roughly $22 million less than the $96.4 million it spent in 2010. The drop in congressional lobbying by higher education reflects an overall drop in spending on educational lobbying, including K-12, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a D.C.-based group that tracks campaign contribution and lobbying spending.

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Newsclips - February 13, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2020

Former Texas senators to fellow Republicans: Stand up for bipartisanship

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were having breakfast together, the story goes, when Jefferson called Washington to account for agreeing to the creation of a second — and unnecessary, Jefferson thought — legislative chamber. “Why,” responded Washington, “did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer before drinking?” “To cool it,” answered Jefferson. “My throat is not made of brass.” “Even so, we pour our legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it,” said Washington, making his point. The purpose of the 31-member Texas Senate is similar to that of the U.S. Senate: to cool down some of the fevered legislation filed in the Senate or passed by a simple majority of the Texas House of Representatives.

This is accomplished by a Senate rule that requires a super-majority vote (60% of senators on the floor at this time) to bring up a bill for debate. This rule was enacted in 2015; for 70 years previously, a larger, two-thirds vote was required (21 votes of those present). It’s no coincidence that the 2015 rule change mirrored the Senate’s partisan balance. It allowed Republicans, who held 20 seats, to bring up and pass a bill without any Democrat support. Now — with the possibility that Democrats may gain Senate seats in the general election — the idea has been raised to further lower the threshold during the 2021 legislative session to require only a simple majority vote. As former Republican senators — with a total of 80 years of service in this wonderful, deliberative body — we oppose this possible change. Requiring only a simple majority would be bad for the Texas Senate, the Texas Legislature, and the State of Texas. Those outside the Capitol arena may believe a debate over Senate procedural rules to be in-the-weeds or irrelevant. We believe this rule strongly influences what legislation will impact the lives of all Texans. A stronger rule encourages, even forces, senators to work with colleagues across the political aisle. In our experience, working in a bipartisan manner led to better legislation and made the Texas Senate a more collegial body.

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NBC News - February 13, 2020

Houston mayor backs Bloomberg and will help launch "Mike for Black America

Mike Bloomberg picked up the endorsement Thursday of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who leads the fourth largest city in the nation. The announcement follows his endorsement this week by three members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Their support could help allay any renewed concerns about Bloomberg's use of "stop and frisk" policies while he was the mayor of New York City.

Earlier this week, an audio recording of a 2015 speech leaked, during which Bloomberg can be heard defending racial profiling employed in stop-and-frisk. In the audio recording Bloomberg can be heard saying that "95% of your murders and murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take the description and Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities 15 to 25." Bloomberg, who appeared to be defending the policy's efficacy because it was meant to protect people who live in high-crime neighborhoods, continued, "That's true in New York. That's true in virtually every city in America. And that's where the real crime is. You've got to get the guns out of the hands of the people that are getting killed."

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Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2020

Presidential contender Michael Bloomberg rising in polls as he targets Texas, Super Tuesday states

Michael Bloomberg is pounding the Texas airwaves with provocative television ads and unleashed a behemoth field operation that features 175 paid staffers working out of 19 offices. The billionaire is self-funding his effort and so far it’s netted results. He’s catapulted near the top of the polls, placing third in a survey by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. He is also third, behind Sanders and Biden, in a new Quinnipiac national poll.

In what’s been an unpredictable contest, Bloomberg is staging an experiment that could not only change presidential politics, but make him a serious contender for the Democratic Party’s nomination. After a late entry into the race, he’s eschewed participating in the early contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. But even there his presence is felt. Just past midnight Tuesday he got three write in votes—two Democratic and one Republican—in the tiny Dixville Notch, N.H. His Texas support is growing. Hundreds of people on Saturday attended the official opening of his Knox-Henderson office, highlighted by state Rep. Julie Johnson’s declaration that she’s tired of going with the “safe choice.”

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Associated Press - February 13, 2020

Pro-Trump effort raises over $60M in January

Pro-Trump groups raised more than $60 million in January and have more than $200 million on hand for this year’s general election, shattering fundraising records on the path toward a goal of raising $1 billion this cycle.

The Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump’s campaign have raised more than $525 million since the start of 2019 together with two joint-fundraising committees. The RNC and the Trump campaign provided the figures to The Associated Press. The January haul coincided with most of the Senate’s impeachment trial, which resulted in the Republican president’s acquittal earlier this month. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said, “We already have 500,000 volunteers trained and activated, and this record-breaking support is helping us grow our grassroots army even more.”

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2020

UH medical school granted accreditation, will start in July

The University of Houston medical school has been granted accreditation, enabling a summer opening of the city's first new medical school in nearly half a century. The Liaison Committee on Medical Education on Wednesday informed UH that it has granted its College of Medicine preliminary accreditation, the last hurdle before UH can start training doctors with a focus on primary care in underserved areas. UH can now begin recruiting and enrolling students toward that mission.

“Today is a historic day for UH, the city of Houston and the state of Texas because we are building this dream together,” UH President Renu Khator said in a written statement. “Our dedicated faculty and students will work tirelessly, with boots on the ground in clinics across the city, to advance health care delivery and ultimately improve the well-being of our communities.” Khator added that “by training the next generation of compassionate physicians who understand how to provide quality health care at a reasonable cost, we are expanding our capabilities to serve the people and neighborhoods too often left behind.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 13, 2020

National money flows into Texas for 2020 Democrats

Jessica Cisneros is getting used to the comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the liberal New York congresswoman who shocked the nation when she beat a longtime Democratic incumbent in 2018. “But down in South Texas, that doesn’t mean a lot to people,” says Cisneros, a 26-year-old progressive who is backed by Justice Democrats, the group that helped Ocasio-Cortez win her seat in Congress.

The national attention Cisneros has garnered — including endorsements from AOC and other members of “The Squad,” Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and the national group Emily’s List that promotes female Democratic candidates — do matter a lot outside of South Texas, however. They’ve helped her rake in nearly $1 million — a shocking amount for a political newcomer taking on a two-decade incumbent who hasn’t faced a serious challenger in years. More than 40 percent of Cisneros’ money has come from out-of-state donors, not including donations under $200, which the Federal Election Commission does not require candidates to itemize and are instead reported as a lump sum.

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Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2020

Houston Rep. Lizzie Fletcher opposes fracking ban bill pushed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Two Texas Democrats say they will oppose a ban on hydraulic fracturing proposed by some of their Democratic colleagues. U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher — a freshman Houston Democrat considered one of the most vulnerable members of Congress — called efforts to ban fracking “misguided” in a lengthy statement issued just hours after U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Darren Soto of Florida introduced a bill to outlaw it. “I do not support this bill or any similar proposal to ban fracking,” said Fletcher, whose west Houston district includes the energy corridor.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a South Texas Democrat facing a primary challenge from a progressive immigration attorney backed by Ocasio-Cortez, said in a statement to Hearst Newspapers that “the oil and gas industry provide more than 108,000 jobs in my region of Texas, and fracking plays a large role at this time.” “These jobs do not only feed our local families, they also feed our local economy and fund our local schools,” said Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. Cuellar said he supports “both conventional and alternative forms of energy, in order to maintain America’s energy independence from foreign sources.” “I am working in Congress to responsibly transition our economy to alternative forms of energy, without sacrificing American livelihoods or safety,” he said.

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Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2020

President Donald Trump endorses Wesley Hunt in Houston congressional race

President Donald Trump is jumping into one of the hottest Republican primary races in Houston, throwing his support behind Wesley Hunt just days before early voting starts. Hunt is one of six Republican candidates battling the 7th Congressional District hoping to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in November.

“Wesley is strong on Crime, the Border, our 2nd Amendment, Trade, Military and Vets. Wesley has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. Hunt, a West Point graduate who retired after more than 20 years in the Army, responded by praising Trump’s tenure as president. “Under President Trump, we’ve seen our economy skyrocket to new heights and unemployment plummet to historic lows,” Hunt said. “We’ve made real progress in securing our southern border, unleashing American energy production and reasserting American authority overseas by eliminating terrorists and reestablishing American strength. I am honored to have President Trump’s endorsement and will work with him to continue to make the United States better and stronger.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2020

Trump endorses former Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne in heated Texas congressional primary

Beth Van Duyne, the former mayor of Irving, has secured the biggest endorsement any Republican congressional candidate can hope for. President Donald Trump, in a tweet Wednesday, said Van Duyne had his support in the March 3 primary for Texas’ 24th Congressional District.

Van Duyne “did Great things as Mayor of Irving, Texas, with my Administration. She is a Strong Conservative who supports Border Security, Loves our Military, Vets, and supports your #2A. Beth has my Full Endorsement for Congress!” Trump tweeted. Van Dunye spent about two years as a regional director at the housing department. She resigned to run for the open seat vacated by fellow Republican Kenny Marchant.

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Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2020

Jenifer Sarver: I’m single and conservative; here’s why I support paid family leave policies

Nestled among the soaring rhetoric and surprise accolades in President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address were two short lines about a topic that has the capacity to unite Republicans and Democrats, strengthen American families and boost our economy: paid family leave. In December, the president signed into law paid parental leave for the federal workforce. Last week, he called on Congress to expand those benefits beyond the Beltway and into Main Street. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without such a policy.

But some Texas organizations are already leading the way. A new nonprofit newsroom called The 19th recently launched nationwide with headquarters in Texas. Its name is a nod to the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote a century ago this year. Its chief executive, Emily Ramshaw, a former reporter for The Dallas Morning News, wrote on Twitter: “One of my top goals in conceiving of @19thnews was to help women advance in news leadership. That’s why we’re offering 6 months *paid leave* for new parents, 4 months *paid leave* to care for sick relatives …” A follower quickly replied: “why should I pay you for not attending your job … while you elect to have a child or elect to care for a family member”? Her quick reply: to retain top talent.

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Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2020

East Texas nonprofit gives $80 million for UT System’s proposed Tyler medical school

The East Texas Medical Center Foundation will support the University of Texas System’s proposal for a medical school in Tyler with an $80 million gift. The gift comes less than a week after the UT System announced plans to establish the first East Texas medical school. The system’s board of regents is set to vote on final approval at its next meeting Feb. 26.

The gift is the largest donation to establish a medical school in Texas, according to the UT System. In addition to the $80 million, the foundation has committed matching funds for future support, said Kevin Eltife, chairman of the board of regents and a former Tyler mayor. “This donation is unprecedented in terms of upfront costs for a medical school in Texas, and it will go a long way to help us create the medical school,” said Eltife, also a former state senator. “We are just so appreciative and overwhelmed by their commitment to an East Texas medical school.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Is bail reform the cause of Dallas’ climbing crime?

By all measures, May 2019 was the deadliest month in Dallas in two decades. Forty people lost their lives to murder. Prior to that, the highest monthly murder tally came in 2000, when 29 people were killed in a single month. Ask city officials what happened, and the answer you’ll get is some combination of gangs, drugs and guns. More than 200 people were murdered in Dallas in 2019. May stands out, but it was only the most obvious data point in a troubling trend of rising crime that saw Police Chief U. Reneé Hall fielding hard questions about what cops were going to do in response.

By summer, police had increased their presence in crime hot spots, state troopers were deployed, and the murder rate returned to historic levels. Still, largely because of May, the city finished the year with a 27.3% increase in homicides. It saw a similar increase in aggravated assaults and a 14.5% increase in robberies. The year would end as the worst in a decade for a host of violent crimes. The first month of this year doesn’t give us hope that the worst is behind us. In sorting through what happened and what can be done about it, there has been significant public focus on the police response and the diminished number of officers. But few city leaders have publicly raised serious questions about other aspects of law enforcement that deserve greater examination.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 12, 2020

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: Forgey, Wymore lead our list of Texas House primary picks

Republicans this year hope to reclaim a couple of legislative seats in Central Texas that turned blue in 2018. Their best bet for doing so: Pick GOP nominees who are focused on the pocketbook issues that resonate with voters. Jenny Roan Forgey, our pick of the Republican primary field for Texas House 47 in western and southern Travis County, says her top priority is addressing property taxes “because it hits families where we hurt the most.” An attorney who previously ran several family businesses, including a limousine service and a cabinet installation company, Forgey has a common-sense touch on matters of fiscal policy and government regulation.

Regrettably, that’s less of a priority with some of the other GOP contenders who want to face House 47 Democratic Rep. Vikki Goodwin in November. In neighboring Texas House 45, which spans Hays and Blanco counties, attorney Kent “Bud” Wymore gets our nod in the Republican primary. He, too, is focused on addressing soaring property tax bills and infrastructure needs in the fast-growing district, where he has the backing of many local elected officials. Attorney Aaron Reitz has staked his campaign on “reining in out-of-control political subdivisions,” doubling down on state meddling in city policies instead of respecting the rights of local communities to govern themselves. Attorney Jennifer Fleck says she got into politics as “a one-issue activist” on matters related to sex ed programs in local school districts. Don Zimmerman, who served on the Austin City Council from 2015-16, demonstrated a fierce commitment to protecting taxpayers’ dollars, but too often he chose inflammatory stunts over constructive governance.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 12, 2020

Head of Texas health agency resigns

After a little more than a year on the job, the head of Texas Health and Human Services is leaving for a similar post in Louisiana. Courtney Phillips, executive commissioner of the agency, on Wednesday submitted a resignation letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, who appointed her to the post in October 2018. Phillips said she wanted to return to her home state to be closer to family. She will serve as Louisiana’s secretary of health.

Texas Health and Human Services is a sprawling agency with a $78.5 billion budget, 40,000 employees and more than 200 programs ranging from health care, food safety and benefits to public health tracking and regulation of child care, nursing and health care facilities. Phillips oversaw the creation of the agency’s inaugural business plan, Blueprint for a Healthy Texas, which, according to officials, serves as a guide “to transform into a more efficient, effective and responsive system.” Under her tenure, the agency improved oversight of the Medicaid managed care program, eliminated a waiting list for outpatient mental health treatment, and opened the first women, infant, and children’s clinic inside a supermarket in Lubbock, according to her letter to Abbott.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 12, 2020

Texas GOP to primary candidates: Avoid bipartisan forums

The Texas Republican Party has instructed GOP candidates to decline invitations to primary candidate forums that involve Democrats, according to an internal memo obtained Tuesday by the American-Statesman. The advisory comes as Republicans are girding for possible close contests come November in several congressional and state House districts that have been in Republican hands for years, amid rapid demographic changes and shifting political terrain in Texas suburbs.

“Selected left-leaning groups are organizing events around the state and inviting Republican candidates to participate,” according to the memo, authored by party Chairman James Dickey and sent to Republican candidates, elected officials, and party leadership. “The Republican Party of Texas strongly advises against any participation during the Primary in any events, including forums or debates, that involves candidates from other parties.” The memo, dated Jan. 21, says the primary election “is the time for Republican voters in Texas to decide between the filed Republican candidates for their nominee for the General Election. The General Election will be the opportunity for Republican nominees to face off against those from other parties.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 12, 2020

Texas Republicans back strong presidential war powers, as long as he’s a Republican

A pattern is expected to repeat itself Thursday: Texas’ Republican senators will vote against a measure to limit President Donald Trump’s war powers. But when President Barack Obama was in office, Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans, backed similar measures to limit the Democrat’s powers. Fort Worth area House members have followed the same pattern. Republicans have opposed War Powers Resolutions with Trump in the White House, but supported them when Obama was. And the Democrats opposed efforts to restrict Obama, but are eager to reign in Trump.

Congress is supposed to share power with the president to start wars, but it has given up that power so much in the last 80 years, said Sanford Levinson, a professor of law and political science at the University of Texas at Austin, that now the process has just turned into “games of political chicken.” A War Powers Resolution restricting Trump’s ability to send troops to Iran passed a Senate procedural vote Wednesday, 51 to 45, with eight Republicans joining the Democrats. A similar measure passed the Democratic-controlled House last month with a nearly party-line vote. Trump advisors have already threatened a veto. Some version of this measure is all but certain to go to the president. When it does, the president can simply veto it, which would block the effort unless two-thirds in both chambers vote to override. Trump vetoed a similar measure last year on the war in Yemen, and his veto was sustained. This dynamic gives the president nearly full leeway to choose when to send troops, and War Powers Resolutions are instead used by Congress as a political rebuke of the president.

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Odessa American - February 12, 2020

President Donald Trump endorses Pfluger

President Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed Lt. Col. August Pfluger (R-San Angelo) in the Republican Primary for Texas’ 11th Congressional District via Twitter.

The tweet: @AugustPfluger is a Great Veteran and Strong Leader for Texas where he is running for Congress. He will protect your #2A, fight for our Farmers, Oil/Gas Workers, and he supports our #MAGA & #KAG Agenda. August has my Complete and Total Endorsement!

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San Antonio Express-News - February 12, 2020

Richard J. Reddick: Black students' hair shouldn't be a discipline problem

DeAndre Arnold probably did not intend to make headlines during his senior year in high school. But he did, and just recently he walked the red carpet at the Oscars as the guest of superstars Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade and filmmaker Matthew Cherry — all because he was suspended from his high school near Houston and banned from graduation because he wore his hair in dreadlocks. Walking on the red carpet is an unforgettable experience, but it should have never gone this far.

As an education professor, parent and someone who wears his hair in the same style, I understand that this focus on black people’s natural hair can have a devastating impact on students’ self-esteem and academics. Arnold handled it with grace. But this example shows more than ever that we need to focus on what’s inside our students’ heads and celebrate what’s adorning them. Fortunately, state legislators across the country are introducing bills, called CROWN Acts, that protect students and employees from discrimination based on their hairstyles. Perhaps for this year’s Black History Month, we need to be better educated about how hairstyles have been used to resist oppression and exult black identity. We all need to recognize the unfortunate historical legacy of policing black people’s bodies — and, to the point, all people’s bodies.

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KFOX - February 12, 2020

Walmart shooting suspect pleads not guilty to all federal charges

Patrick Crusius made his first appearance in federal court Wednesday since being indicted on 90 federal charges last week. Crusius’ defense team filed to waive his detention hearing. He was scheduled to have his arraignment Feb. 18, but that was canceled because Crusius pleaded not guilty to all federal charges.

The suspected gunman appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Miguel Torres wearing a suit and in shackles. David Lane, a defense attorney, was looking to vacate the detention hearing. "All I can say is we are starting this process and our job is to protect your constitutional rights, as well as that of the accused. We are going to do everything in our power to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of America," said Lane. KFOX14 asked Lane why he was filing to waive the detention hearing. He responded: “That’s all I have to say. Thank you very much.” Torres ordered Lane to file an official motion requesting for the hearing to be vacated.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 12, 2020

Travis County’s chief appraiser has faced recent troubles

The Travis Central Appraisal District’s lack of access to market data on residential properties is not the only challenge the district has faced in recent months. The district, which sets property values for taxing purposes, has faced soaring costs as the number of formal appraisal protests and subsequent reviews overwhelmed the office last year. It played a major role in a delay of the district’s certification of the 2019 county tax rolls, a critical number from which all Travis County cities and school districts derive revenue estimated for their budgets.

Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler has faced repeated criticism for how her office has handled the increase in protests. The Travis County Appraisal Review Board, Crigler and two firms representing protesters settled a 2018 lawsuit that argued property owners were improperly denied hearings. The property owners and their representatives claimed in the suit filed in Travis County state District Court that Crigler overbooked hearings on their 2018 protests to keep taxpayers from having the representation they wanted as part of a “war” on tax agents. Crigler’s lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the suit, saying it was an attack on Crigler’s right to free speech. The parties settled when the appraisal district agreed to grant the owners and their agents new hearings.

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Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2020

Lina Hidalgo: $3.2 billion budget is imperfect, but a better fit for Harris County

Harris County Commissioners Court approved a $3.2 billion general fund budget Tuesday, which includes a 2 percent raise for employees and modest spending boosts for the sheriff, public health and pollution control departments. The $198 million in new spending, which court members approved unanimously, represents a 6.4 percent increase over the current budget.

Court members also set a Harris County Flood Control District budget of $718.5 million, a 14 percent increase over the current year. More than half of that total will come from the $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond voters approved in 2017. County Judge Lina Hidalgo called the budget imperfect but more reflective of the needs of the county than when she took office a year ago. “It was a much more thorough process than it has been historically, in terms of what was presented to us,” Hidalgo said. “The big step that’s missing is true evidence-based budgeting.” Hidalgo, who wants the budgeting process to be more focused on performance-based metrics, had urged department heads to make ambitious funding proposals. They took that advice to heart and pitched a total of $114 million in increases, far above the additional $50 million the budget office estimated was available.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 12, 2020

Anne Marion, major leader in Fort Worth, arts, dies at 81

Anne Marion, a pivotal Fort Worth arts patron and philanthropist and the primary benefactor of the city’s modern art museum, died Tuesday. She was 81. An oil and ranching heiress, Marion died in California, according to Cody Hartley, director of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which Marion founded with her husband. Marion, a resident of Westover Hills, was a “passionate arts patron, determined leader, and generous philanthropist,” Hartley wrote in a statement, the Associated Press reported.

“Highly intelligent, cultured, hard-working, determined, strong-willed, tough as whit leather, and so very kind,” said Richard L. Connor, owner and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. “If you were lucky enough to become her friend, you had her loyalty as a friend forever.” “The Charles Goodnight Award was given for 20 years to a Texan who embraced and embodied the Western way of life and its traditions,” he said. “She is the only woman who ever won the award.” Connor and Kit Moncrief conceived the honor in the name of the legendary cowman and rancher, Charles Goodnight. Mrs. Marion became one of four directors of the Goodnight Foundation after she won the award. Once she joined the small board,” said Connor, “we pretty much did whatever Anne wanted us to do. She was a powerhouse and Fort Worth and Texas will not see her kind again. This is a loss to all who knew her.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 12, 2020

Jury clears two Fort Worth police officers in lawsuit alleging excessive force

A jury in a federal lawsuit decided that no damages would be recovered by a family that accused two Fort Worth police officers of using excessive force during a fatal drug raid. The jury began deliberating late Wednesday morning in a civil trial about the death of Jermaine Darden, a 34-year-old auto mechanic and father of two sons, and returned with a decision in less than 30 minutes, according to attorneys. The trial began Monday in senior U.S. District Judge John McBryde’s court.

Kenneth East, the attorney representing Fort Worth police officer W. F. Snow, said that jurors answered the first of 17 questions that were included in the jury instructions and did not have to consider anything else. “My client is relieved,” East said. “There is no celebration, just relief.” The officers conducting the raid did not know and could not have known details about Darden’s fragile medical condition, East told the jurors during his closing arguments. “This officer served as the point man in one of the most dangerous jobs that an officer can do,” East said. “On most people a Taser works. But Darden immediately pushed back up. The officer thought he was resisting.” After a second Taser deployment, Darden remained non-compliant, and Snow was unaware of the extent of his underlying medical condition, East said.

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Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2020

City launches ‘Resilient Houston’ plan to prepare for future disasters

No traffic deaths on Houston streets, 4.6 million new trees, and no more homes in the floodway. All by 2030. Those are some of the lofty goals set in the master resiliency plan, “Resilient Houston,” that Mayor Sylvester Turner and city officials unfurled Wednesday, a 186-page document that spells out how the city and its residents can orient themselves to best prepare for future disasters like Hurricane Harvey.

The plan addresses resiliency at five scales — people, neighborhoods, bayous, the city and the region — and sets 18 targets, along with a corresponding set of 62 actions to make those happen. “There’s a lot in there,” said Marissa Aho, the city’s chief resilience officer, who has spearheaded the production of the plan over the last 18 months. Aho was hired from Los Angeles, where she developed a similar framework. About a third of the actions are initiatives the city already has in the works. Another third build on existing city projects, and the remaining actions are new. They range from the immediate term, such as the appointment of resilience officers in each city department this year, to the more distant future, such as reaching complete carbon neutrality by 2050.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 12, 2020

Anonymous $5k donation pays off a thousand NEISD students' school lunch balances

Thanks to an anonymous donor, nearly 1,000 elementary school kids across the Northeast Side school district were able to pay off their negative school lunch balances. The $5,000 check not only helped to pay off the negative balances but was used to provide meals to students who were running out of funds, said Sharon Glosson, the district's executive director of school nutrition.

"This is very important to these kids," Glosson said. "There are programs and resources for free meals but often we forget about the students who are above the qualification requirements but still struggle to pay for it even if it is reduced, so they may accumulate that negative bill. This provides them with a little extra help." NEISD has a limit students can go into the red before they are given a separate meal instead of the one provided to the other kids. Glosson said if kids reach that limit, they still get fed, but they receive a sandwich, fruit and milk so that their negative balance doesn't increase. For NEISD, school lunches typically cost about $2.60 and breakfast costs about $1.10. In the elementary schools, the limit is $15. For middle school and high school, it's $10 and $5, respectively.

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Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2020

Deportation defense fund for immigrants is about to launch in the city of Dallas

The International Rescue Committee in Dallas, an agency that’s resettled refugees for decades in North Texas, is expanding its services to immigrants caught up in deportation proceedings. The IRC will administer $200,000 in grants from the City of Dallas and the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based nonprofit, for an attorney and other staffing.

The IRC is now in “turbo mode” due to sweeping changes in national immigration, asylum and refugee policies, said Suzy Cop, the executive director of the Dallas IRC office. “There’s a huge waitlist to get legal representation. It’s great that the city finds this so important.” The new fund is a first for Dallas and was recommended by an immigration task force advising the city’s Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs. The Vera Institute has been giving catalyst money for one year for such private-public programs for immigrants since 2013. It began in New York City and spread to such cities as Austin, San Antonio, Sacramento, Santa Ana and Chicago.

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National Stories

Vanity Fair - February 12, 2020

AOC's speech snub, ICE remarks rankle Sanders campaign

With Bernie Sanders largely sequestered in Washington, D.C., at the end of last month ahead of the critical Iowa caucuses, the Vermont senator’s campaign deployed what is arguably its greatest weapon: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And traversing the state, Ocasio-Cortez delivered, drawing massive crowds and pushing the message of progressive populism and younger voters that underlies Sanders' campaign. Ocasio-Cortez’s celebrity is bigger than politics, delivering a wattage that few campaign surrogates can match.

Ocasio-Cortez has undeniably been a boon to the Sanders campaign—she endorsed him in October, as he recovered from his heart attack, which was crucial to him regaining his momentum. But Ocasio-Cortez’s star power and independence make her a wild card. In Iowa, while AOC didn’t exactly go rogue, her performance stoked some tensions between herself and the Sanders campaign. Following Ocasio-Cortez’s three-day stint, Sanders’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, texted AOC’s campaign manager to express his dissatisfaction with aspects of her performance, according to a source familiar with the exchange. Specifically, the Sanders campaign was miffed that Ocasio-Cortez didn’t mention Sanders by name when she closed out a campaign event at the University of Iowa on a Friday night at the end of last month—a fact that Fox News picked up on.

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Associated Press - February 13, 2020

Inside Mike Bloomberg's big play for black voters

A meeting with nearly 80 black pastors in Detroit. A speech before a black Democratic organization in Montgomery. A rally at a historically black university. A tour of Martin Luther King Jr.'s church. An early voting kickoff at an African American museum. All in the past two weeks. While Mike Bloomberg's rivals battled it out in majority-white Iowa and New Hampshire, the billionaire presidential candidate aggressively courted the black voters critical to any Democrat's chance of winning of the nomination.

The effort, backed by millions of dollars in ads, has taken him across Southern states that vote on March 3, from Montgomery, Alabama, and this week Raleigh, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, states where African American voters can decide a Democratic primary. His pitch is one of electability and competence — hoping to capitalize on black Democrats' hunger to oust President Donald Trump. But as he courts black voters he'll also have to reconcile his own record as mayor of New York and past remarks on criminal justice. Bloomberg's outreach aims squarely at former Vice President Joe Biden, who is banking on loyal black voters to resuscitate his bid after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

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Associated Press - February 13, 2020

Iowa Democratic Party chairman resigns after caucus chaos

The chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party announced his resignation Wednesday after a disastrous caucus process beset by technical glitches led to a dayslong delay in reporting the results, inconsistencies in the numbers and no clear winner. The embarrassing episode also threatened Iowa's cherished status as the first voting contest of the presidential primary season and led both front-runners to request a partial recanvass of the results.

“The fact is that Democrats deserved better than what happened on caucus night. As chair of this party, I am deeply sorry for what happened and bear the responsibility for any failures on behalf of the Iowa Democratic Party," Chairman Troy Price wrote in a resignation letter a week and a half after Iowa's caucuses. “While it is my desire to stay in this role and see this process through to completion, I do believe it is time for the Iowa Democratic Party to begin looking forward, and my presence in my current role makes that more difficult.” Price said his departure would occur as soon as the state party elects a replacement, and he called an emergency Saturday meeting to do so. After a breakdown in tallying the results on Feb. 3, it took until Feb. 6 for the state party, which operates the series of roughly 1,700 local meetings statewide, to issue what it said are complete results.

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NPR - February 13, 2020

CBP chief admits officers 'overzealous'; critics say Iranians and others targeted

The head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection made a surprising admission this week about the agency's Seattle field office. Last month, officers at a border crossing there pulled aside hundreds of Iranian-Americans — including U.S citizens and green card holders — and held them for hours. "In that specific office," acting CBP commissioner Mark Morgan said at a briefing with reporters in Washington, "leadership just got a little overzealous."

At the time, tensions with Iran were rising after the U.S. air strike that killed a top Iranian general. And field offices had been told to be vigilant. But Morgan says they were not instructed to hold and question everyone from Iran. "That was not in line with our direction. And so that was immediately corrected," Morgan said. "And it was very unique to that one sector." But immigrant advocates say this was not an isolated mistake. Across the country, they say, Customs and Border Protection officers are targeting travelers for extra scrutiny — particularly travelers from Iran and the Middle East, many coming here for school.

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AFP - February 12, 2020

Just 'Mayor Pete'? –– Trump struggles for killer nickname

Donald Trump likes to coin disparaging nicknames for his political opponents -- but so far, he hasn't quite hit the mark with rising young Democrat Pete Buttigieg. Presidential hopefuls "Crazy Bernie" Sanders, "Sleepy Joe" Biden, "Mini-Mike" Bloomberg and "Pocahontas" Elizabeth Warren all crop up frequently in Trump's Twitter feed. But Buttigieg -- a 38-year-old gay military veteran -- has received surprisingly little presidential abuse despite his rapid emergence as a leading contender for the right to take on Trump in November.

"Bootedgeedge (Buttigieg) is doing pretty well tonight. Giving Crazy Bernie a run for his money. Very interesting!" Trump tweeted after the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, in which Buttigieg finished a close second to Sanders. Is it perhaps that Trump doesn't see "Mayor Pete" as a credible opponent? Or is he just struggling to craft a neat epithet for the centrist former mayor of South Bend, Indiana who is reaching out to independents and "future former Republicans"? For Julian Zelizer, a political history professor at Princeton University, there is no doubt that Buttigieg will soon become a more serious target for Trump if his stellar ascent gathers pace. "Whenever Trump sees a threat, he attacks the threat. He will be watching and will unleash, should this intensify," Zelizer told AFP.

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The Hill - February 12, 2020

Barr to testify before House Judiciary panel

Attorney General William Barr has agreed to give testimony before the House Judiciary Committee next month amid growing questions over the administration's alleged interference in the criminal case of a close ally of President Trump. Democrats on the panel released a letter Wednesday confirming Barr’s March 31 appearance, saying they are concerned the agency has become politicized under his watch.

“In the interest of transparency, we wish to be candid about one set of concerns we plan to address at the hearing. Since President Trump took office, we have repeatedly warned you and your predecessors that the misuse of our criminal justice system for political purposes is both dangerous to our democracy and unacceptable to the House Judiciary Committee,” they wrote. The hearing’s announcement comes amid heightened scrutiny over Barr and the Department of Justice (DOJ) amid Democrats’ concerns that President Trump is influencing the agency. Barr's appearance comes after the DOJ asked a federal court to sentence longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone to "far less" than the seven to nine years department prosecutors had recommended just a day earlier.

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Newsclips - February 12, 2020

Lead Stories

NPR - February 12, 2020

Bernie Sanders narrowly wins in New Hampshire, taking front-runner mantle

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has won the New Hampshire Democratic primary, according to The Associated Press. The results make Sanders, who spent much of his career as a political outsider and still is not a member of the Democratic Party, a top contender for the party's presidential nomination. Speaking to supporters in Manchester late Tuesday, Sanders said his win marked "the beginning of the end for Donald Trump."

Sanders was ahead throughout the night but faced a close contest from Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind. His victory in New Hampshire, along with his virtual tie with Buttigieg in last week's still-muddled Iowa caucuses, sets up a contest between the liberal and more moderate wings of the Democratic Party. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, campaigning in the moderate lane, came in third. She was buoyed by a strong showing in last Friday's debate and sagging support for former Vice President Joe Biden. Initially his party's front-runner, Biden finished in fifth place and received far less than the 15% he needed to get any delegates for the nomination. The Minnesota Democrat boasted that she raised roughly $2.5 million since that debate and that undecided voters flocked to her final campaign events across the state.

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Associated Press - February 11, 2020

4 lawyers quit case after DOJ decision on Stone prison time

Three of the lawyers who prosecuted Roger Stone quit the case Tuesday after the Justice Department said it would take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for President Donald Trump's longtime ally and confident. The decision by the Justice Department came just hours after Trump complained that the recommended sentence for Stone was “very horrible and unfair." The DOJ said the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump's tweet — and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.

But the decision raised questions about political interference and whether Trump's views hold unusual sway over the Justice Department, which is meant to operate independently of the White House in criminal investigations and prosecutions. Attorney General William Barr has been a steady ally of Trump's, clearing the president of obstruction of justice even when special counsel Robert Mueller had pointedly declined to do so and declaring that the FBI's Russia investigation — which resulted in charges against Stone — had been based on a “bogus narrative."

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Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2020

Cain backed by GOP House colleagues while challenger wins support of local officials

On a Tuesday evening in early January, several Texas lawmakers convened at the Austin Club, an ornate and ritzy venue three blocks from the Capitol, for a fundraiser in support of state Rep. Briscoe Cain. Among the attendees were House Republicans Dan Huberty and Drew Springer, members who typically do not align with hardline conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus like Cain. The guest list at Cain’s soirée illustrates the broad support he has received from Republican colleagues in his primary battle against Baytown Councilman Robert Hoskins, who is running as a moderate alternative to the incumbent lawmaker with the backing of nearly every mayor in the east Harris County district.

Hoskins has not drawn support, however, from moderate House Republicans who in prior election cycles might have opposed firebrand incumbents. Though partly a product of the Texas GOP’s newfound aversion to primary infighting, lawmakers and Capitol observers said Cain’s widespread support also stems from his ability to more deftly navigate the Legislature last session. A reliable antagonist of former House speaker Joe Straus, Cain, R-Deer Park, switched up his approach under Straus’ successor, Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen. After working closely with the speaker on certain issues during the 2019 session, Cain privately supported him amid last year’s scandal in which Bonnen sought to exchange media access for help targeting certain Republican incumbents. Bonnen announced in October he would not seek re-election.

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Associated Press - February 12, 2020

Fox News has best ratings since Trump election, inauguration

The week President Donald Trump was acquitted in his impeachment trial was Fox News Channel’s best in the ratings since the weeks he was elected and inaugurated. The Nielsen company said Fox News averaged 4.27 million viewers in prime time last week, better than any network except for ABC, which televised the Academy Awards, and CBS. It was the fifth most-watched week ever for Fox’s prime-time schedule, and highest since election week 2016, Nielsen said.

The only other times Fox topped that mark came during two weeks in March 2003, during the Iraq War, and the August week in 2015 when the network showed the year’s first Republican debate — the first one Trump participated in. Measuring the entire day instead of just the evening hours, it was Fox’s best week since January 2017, when Trump took office. Fox News is Trump’s favorite network, although he’s grumbled when there are some things on the air that aren’t to his liking, and the destination of choice for his supporters, too. Besides his impeachment acquittal last week, Trump delivered a State of the Union address highly regarded by his fans, and the Iowa caucus turned into a dysfunctional mess for Democrats.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2020

Three Dallas Democrats vie to challenge Morgan Meyer in one of Texas’ most competitive statehouse races

Two years ago, Democrats came within 200 votes of unseating Dallas Republican Morgan Meyer during a year in which the party picked up a net of 12 seats in the Texas House. This year, they are making him one of their top targets as they look to flip the last two Dallas County seats held by Republicans. But first, primary voters have to pick the candidate they believe can beat Meyer in November.

“The real enemy in this race is Morgan Meyer,” said Kristy Noble, a founder of the Funky East Dallas Democrats, as she opened up a debate between candidates vying to challenge Meyer, the three-term Republican incumbent in House District 108. Joanna Cattanach, a journalism professor in the Dallas County Community College District, was the Democratic candidate in 2018 and hopes to finish the job this year. But she’ll have to get past businessman Shawn Terry, a former Republican who pitches himself as a pragmatist who can win over moderate GOP and independent voters in the district, and activist Tom Ervin, who says he can galvanize progressives better than Cattanach did two years ago.

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Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2020

John Cornyn defends Trump’s firing of Sondland, Vindman: ‘That’s within his prerogative’

Texas Sen. John Cornyn on Tuesday defended President Donald Trump’s decision to dismiss two key impeachment witnesses from posts within his administration in the days after the president was acquitted by the GOP-run Senate. The Republican senator said Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who was ousted Friday from the National Security Council, and Gordon Sondland, who was removed Friday as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, both worked “at the pleasure of the president.”

“He lost confidence in them,” Cornyn said. “So that’s within his prerogative.” Asked if he would’ve counseled the president against those moves, the senator demurred. “Given the nature of the adversarial relationship, I don’t think it was possible to repair,” Cornyn said. “So I understand why he did what he did.” Trump has done little to dispel the notion that the recent firings came in response to the impeachment saga, particularly since Sondland and Vindman were reportedly already eyeing the exits. Both men had given some of the more damaging testimony against the president. GOP senators, in response, have generally acceded to the president’s right to pick his personnel. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, said on Tuesday that “any president is entitled to have staffers who support the policy agenda of the president.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2020

'Diversion, distraction and power’: Federal investigation slams FAA oversight of Southwest Airlines

The Federal Aviation Administration has “not effectively overseen Southwest Airlines’ systems for managing safety risks,” even though its staff raised concerns about the Dallas-based carrier’s safety culture, according to a government watchdog report made public Tuesday. The highly critical report concludes nearly two years of investigations by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General into the relationship between the airline and its regulatory agency. It said Southwest was permitted to make more than 150,000 flights carrying 17.2 million passengers on planes that didn’t meet safety standards.

“Southwest Airlines continues to fly aircraft with unresolved safety concerns,” the report said. “As a result, FAA cannot provide assurance that the carrier operates at the highest degree of safety in the public’s interest, as required by law.” A spokeswoman for Southwest said the airline “adamantly" disagrees with what it described as unsubstantiated references to its safety culture. “Southwest maintains a culture of compliance, recognizing the safety of our operation as the most important thing we do,” said the statement from Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King. “We are considered one of the world’s most admired companies and uphold an unprecedented safety record. Our friends, our families board our aircraft and not a single one of us would put anything above their safety – this mission unites us all.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2020

Will Texas’ new laws against hazing and sexual misconduct on campus be effective? Some concerns remain

Texas passed some of the most comprehensive legislation confronting college sexual misconduct and hazing in 2019, but legislators and advocates acknowledged at a Tuesday state panel that the new laws don’t provide a perfect solution. Some lawmakers raised questions about the impact of Texas’ new measures against sexual misconduct, and advocates said a new law targeting hazing on college campuses falls short of holding those responsible accountable.

Senate Bill 212, an unprecedented law in the country, made it a misdemeanor and fireable offense for college employees to not report allegations of sexual misconduct, assault, stalking and dating violence. The law includes some exemptions for employees whose jobs require confidentiality, during public awareness events, and for students. But Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, raised concerns during the House Higher Education Committee’s meeting that SB 212’s mandatory reporting requirements could discourage students who may not want to pursue an investigation from talking to a trusted employee. “I think we did not carefully think through a way for the victim to have the maximum amount of choice, the maximum amount of support,” said Schaefer, who voted against the bill during the legislative session.

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Dallas Morning News - February 12, 2020

In competitive Denton County Texas House race, Michelle Beckley faces challengers from the left and right

Michelle Beckley, a Carrollton bird shop owner, shocked many when she ousted a Republican state representative in historically conservative Denton County last election. Now, the freshman Democrat is fighting to protect her seat amid challenges from the left and right in a swing district her party will need to hold if it wants to seize control of the Texas House in 2020. Emerging as one of the chamber’s more progressive members last session, Beckley in her re-election bid is emphasizing her legislative experience and a commitment to improving healthcare.

“This election is going to come down to health care,” she said. “Everybody I talk to wants Medicaid expansion and they are tired of Republicans not voting on it in Texas.” Known for making blunt comments, Beckley has ruffled feathers on both sides of the aisle since winning the seat in 2018. Some Denton County Democrats accused her of undermining the candidacy of two candidates of color, an allegation Beckley denies, but one that helped propel primary challenger Paige Dixon, an African American, into the race. Beckley and Dixon align on many issues including expanding Medicaid, boosting teacher pay, expanding background checks for gun purchases and legalizing and taxing cannabis as a way to raise state revenue.

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Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2020

Bernie Sanders making a Valentine’s Day stop in Mesquite

Bernie Sanders will hold a Valentine’s Day rally Friday at the Mesquite Arena, his first Dallas County visit since he launched his 2020 primary campaign for president. Doors for the Vermont senator’s event will open at 6 p.m. He has no other Texas stops scheduled, but will make two stops in North Carolina earlier in the day. Sanders has shot past former Vice President Joe Biden in recent polls, though he still trails him in the race for Texas.

Since last week’s Iowa caucuses, Sanders has overtaken Biden to become the top choice of Democrats nationwide. In a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday, he leads Biden 25%-17%. A Monmouth University Poll released Tuesday has the spread at 26%-16%, with Sanders inching up and Biden plummeting from 30% before Iowa. A poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler completed at the end of January showed Biden leading Sanders in the Lone Star State by a 35% to 18% margin.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 11, 2020

George P. Bush tweets on Austin homeless policies after downtown vehicle break-in

Texas Land Commissioner and Austin resident George P. Bush joined a months-long twitter debate over Austin’s homelessness policies Tuesday after he said his car was broken into near one of the street camps downtown. Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush and the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, posted photos of a smashed car window in his tweet Tuesday morning, but did not say whether Austin police arrested anyone in connection to the incident.

However, he did seem to connect the vehicle break-in to Austin’s homeless camping policies. “This morning, my vehicle was broken into near one of the homeless camps in downtown ATX,” Bush’s tweet said. “These camps pose a serious safety concern for Austin residents. It’s far past time to reinstate [the] camping ban.” Bush’s tweet Tuesday referenced the Austin City Council’s decision last June to change laws regarding where people could camp and sleep in the city, which many said allowed for large encampments to sprout up across Austin. Fellow Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted many times on the issue last year, which continued even after the council voted again in October to restore parts of the ban back.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 11, 2020

Report: Texas HBCUs receive $2,500 less per student than flagship schools

Students at historically black colleges and universities in Texas receive a disproportionately lower amount of money from the state compared with Texas’ largest flagship institutions, despite enrolling more low-income and diverse students, according to a study.

The report released Tuesday by the the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Austin think tank, compared Texas’ two public HBCUs — Prairie View A&M University and Texas Southern University — with the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. The center found that the two HBCUs receive about $2,500 less per student than UT and Texas A&M. “HBCUs are doing great work investing in students and serving students from historically underrepresented backgrounds,” said Ashley Williams, author of the study and a policy analyst at the center. “And the state could be doing more to help these institutions do just that.” In Texas, college funding is determined, in part by formulas. One such formula, regarding operations, calculates the number of credit hours an institution offers multiplied by a funding rate set by the state government. Based on that formula and others, HBCUs received on average $10,506 per student from the Texas Legislature in 2019 while the flagships received about $12,958.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 11, 2020

UT faculty group to develop guidelines in wake of misconduct

The University of Texas has been fraught with tensions for months over what some say is it’s lenient handling of professors found in violation of sexual misconduct policies. Student outrage has led to protests, meetings with administrators and the hiring of outside experts. Now, UT’s faculty council has announced it will create community standards guidelines for professors.

Brian Evans, a professor of engineering and chair of the faculty council, said the guidelines are meant to get faculty and the campus thinking about what faculty interactions with others on campus should look like and to come up with ideas on how to get there. The hope, Evans said, is that these aspirations will help inform policy and procedure changes at the university. “There’s a lot of room for making everything better ... I really want us to see a shift in the university culture that’s positive and constructive,” Evans said.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 11, 2020

GOP fractured in Central Texas congressional race, with Flores knocking Sessions

An internecine GOP conflict in a Central Texas congressional district deepened over the weekend, as retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, snubbed one of his former House colleagues by endorsing a political newcomer. Flores is backing Renee Swann, a Waco businesswoman who has never before held public office, the latest slight of former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who is trying to make a political comeback in the district.

Sessions lost his Dallas-based seat to Democrat Colin Allred in the 2018 midterms and is embroiled in a criminal investigation related to President Donald Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign. On Saturday, at an endorsement event in Waco, Flores called Swann, who was chief operating officer of the Brazos Eye Surgery Center in Waco, a “smart, conservative, tough, businesswoman.” The district stretches from Waco to Bryan-College Station and includes parts of Travis, Bastrop and Lee counties. Swann, who raised $25,000 during October, November and December and finished the year with $158,000 in her campaign account, has said she wants to go after drug cartels, lower the cost of health care and “stop the rise of socialism by removing extremists from power.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2020

Erica Grieder: Suspension of Barbers Hill ISD student over dreadlocks puts focus on hair discrimination

Deandre Arnold is, by all accounts, a young man with a bright future. He’ll graduate from high school this year and aspires to become a veterinarian. The Mont Belvieu teenager has also been making a positive impression on Americans in his new role as an accidental activist. The attention follows the suspension of Arnold, a senior, from Barbers Hill High School, and his being told that he wouldn’t be allowed to walk in the school’s graduation ceremony unless he cut his dreadlocks.

The news took Arnold aback: he’d been growing his dreadlocks since junior high school, without running afoul of district administrators. But recently, Barbers Hill trustees amended the dress code to say boys can’t have hair that would cover their collars or earlobes if let down, even if they wear it up at school — as Arnold had done to comply with an existing policy on hair length. Sophomore Kaden Bradford — Arnold’s cousin — has also faced in-school suspension as a result of the change; he also wears dreadlocks. Arnold and his mother have argued that the change makes no sense. And he has decided to transfer to another school district rather than change his hairstyle, which is, he has said, reflective of his culture as much as aesthetic preferences. His father is from Trinidad, and the style is a way of embracing that heritage.

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Houston Chronicle - February 10, 2020

In Democratic primary, fossil-fuel bans rule — even for centrists

The prospect of the federal government enacting bans to limit oil and gas production is becoming more real going into Tuesday night’s New Hampshire Democratic Primary as climate change takes up increasing bandwidth in American politics. Both Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who placed first and third respectively in Iowa’s caucus last week, have pledged to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing if elected president. And before you label them extremists, consider that almost every Democratic candidate, including avowed centrists Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg, has pledged to stop leasing federal lands for extracting of oil, natural gas and coal.

“In these debates, there’s been a real focus on doing away with fossil fuels and oil and gas,” said Dan Naatz, senior vice president of government relations and political affairs at the trade group Independent Petroleum Association of America. “I don’t think there’s ever been about this amount of rhetoric in the Democratic primaries.” With President Donald Trump’s approval rating at 49 percent just nine months before the general election, the Democratic candidates’ positions on climate change is making many in the oil and gas sector understandably nervous. Just banning hydraulic fracturing on federal land would seriously hamper oil and gas production across New Mexico, Wyoming and North Dakota, three of the country’s largest oil and gas producing states. For instance, in one of New Mexico’s largest oil and gas fields, the Delaware Basin, between 63 and 82 percent of the well completions by Occidental Petroleum, Devon Energy and Concho Resources were on federal land, according to an analysis by the research firm Rystad Energy.

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Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2020

Bernie Sanders campaign opening new offices in Houston, San Antonio

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is coming back to Texas for a rally and ramping up his campaign operations here. On Thursday his campaign will open new field offices in Houston and Austin before opening two more over the weekend, in San Antonio and McAllen.

And on Friday, Sanders will hold a free rally in the Dallas area. Those events come just days after his campaign announced it is expanding overall staffing in Texas and increasing its television and digital ads. “Bernie’s multiracial, multigenerational, people-driven movement is fueling our campaign across the Lone Star State,” said Bernie 2020 Texas Field Director Chris Chu de León.

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Daily Sentinel - February 8, 2020

Clardy: GOP ballot prop is misleading

A proposition on the Republican primary ballot about tax-payer funded lobbying is misleading and would “minimize the voice of small rural counties and cities,” state Rep. Travis Clardy said during the most recent meeting of the Nacogdoches County Republican Party. Proposition 3 on the Republican ballot reads,” “Texas should ban the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying, which allows your tax dollars to be spent on lobbyist who work against the taxpayer.”

“If that happened to be true, I would agree with that. It just doesn’t happen to be true,” Clardy said. The propositions are nonbinding, and are used by political parties to gauge support and opposition for certain issues and could be used to say that a certain percentage of Republicans oppose taxpayer-funded lobbying. “Not once have I had any association or group … come to me and say ‘We need your help. We really want to mess over the taxpayers and we don’t want to get caught doing it.’ That’s not what happens,” Clardy said. A bill proposed in the 86th Legislature would have prevented cities and counties from using taxpayer money to hire lobbyists and make it illegal to use county phones or computers to contact a legislator. The bill would also make it crime to reimburse city or county staff for travel expenses to Austin to speak on behalf of legislation. “I’m not against saving money, but this is a fox dressed up like a chicken,” County Judge Greg Sowell said.

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KUT - February 11, 2020

Texas researchers say they found a way to help cops ID pot with 100% accuracy – using lasers.

Marijuana is in a hazy spot in Texas, legally speaking. It's illegal, sure, but law enforcement has more or less been defanged when it comes to enforcing that ban on pot in the Texas Criminal Code. Since last summer, when its cousin hemp was legalized, officials have had to prove suspected marijuana is actual marijuana. That is, it contains a specific amount of THC – the psychoactive ingredient in pot. Because testing is cost-prohibitive, many counties effectively stopped prosecuting people for low-level possession.

Now, researchers from Texas A&M say they've found a cheap, accurate method for cops to discern whether seized material is illegal. In a study released last month, Texas AgriLife researchers Dmitry Kurouski and Lee Sanchez touted their new testing method as a way for law enforcement to determine whether a substance is pot or hemp – by using lasers. Put simply, a laser from a spectrometer hits a substance and then maps it out on graph. A substance without THC maps differently than one that contains it, providing a near-instant readout of whether a substance violates the state ban on substances with more than 0.3%-concentration of THC or whether it's legal hemp.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 12, 2020

Fort Worth’s Panther Island and its funding are the latest issue in Republican primary

Panther Island has become even more of a political issue. Now that officials have said they expect just a small portion of the federal dollars requested this year for the $1.17 billion project, Republican Chris Putnam said it’s time to take a long look at the project that would reshape the Trinity River north of downtown Fort Worth.

Putnam, a former Colleyville city councilman, is challenging U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, a Fort Worth Republican who spearheaded the project, for the 12th Congressional District seat in the March 3 GOP primary. After federal officials announced Monday that Panther Island will get just $1.5 million for a feasibility study, far less than the $38 million local officials requested, Putnam stressed that while he was on the Colleyville City Council he helped guide efforts to pass transparency and ethics reforms, along with term limits. “In part, these new ordinances required the public disclosure of land ownership, business interests, and government contracts held by officials and employees,” Putnam said in a written statement. “As we have seen with today’s news about Panther Island and the Grangers, they are also much needed in Washington, D.C. ...

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2020

DA Ogg criticizes HPOU president for blog post

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s campaign on Tuesday criticized the Houston Police Officers Union president for a blog post soliciting donations to a political action committee with the goal of the prosecutor’s re-election defeat. Ogg told union President Joe Gamaldi in a news release to “get with the program” of keeping residents safe. And she called his post, written for a Febuary 2020 issue of the HPOU publication “Badge & Gun,” a “misguided” attempt to get contributions via inflammatory rhetoric and “hate speech.”

“I ask Mr. Gamaldi to work along with us,” Ogg said. “Instead, he is trying to raise money and play election-year politics while being paid for working as a police officer. His efforts to undermine the District Attorney’s office, which is the people’s law firm in criminal court, does not make anyone safer. Evidence-based prosecution is the way to build community trust in law enforcement.” Gamaldi responded to the press release on Twitter, criticizing Ogg’s supposed definition of hate speech and alleging — as he did in his blog — that she lets violent criminals off with easy sentences.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 11, 2020

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: Ann Howard’s skills are the right match for Travis Commissioners Court

There’s no question Ann Howard can get things done. For the past eight years, she’s worked with dozens of nonprofits and government agencies to improve the safety net for people experiencing homelessness in Austin. As the leader of the nonprofit Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, better known as ECHO, Howard was instrumental in Austin’s efforts to end veteran homelessness, and she pushed for the innovative Pay for Success program, an investor-driven model to provide services to homeless people with the most challenging needs.

Her track record of coalition building, and her focus on sensible, data-driven solutions, earn Howard our backing in the Democratic primary for the Travis County Commissioners Court seat in Precinct 3, which encompasses the western half of the county. Commissioners oversee a $1.2 billion budget and departments that deal with subdivision permitting, road building and public safety. Howard’s collaborative mindset is essential for a community with big needs and finite dollars. She recognizes that preventing wildfires, a critical concern in Precinct 3, involves not only planning with several emergency service districts but also acquiring conservation land — which would have the added benefit of protecting our watersheds. She also calls for exploring public/private partnerships with Austin’s tech and medical industries to develop a regional crime lab to handle evidence from sexual assaults and other crimes.

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Rivard Report - February 9, 2020

Challengers line up to unseat party chairs as infighting persists

For the past two years, the Bexar County Democratic and Republican parties have weathered internal power struggles and tension among members and leadership. The Bexar County Democratic Party has effectively splintered into two groups, according to office manager Linda Alaniz. Monica Alcantara took over the chair position of the Bexar County Democratic Party in 2018. She unseated former Chair Manuel Medina who had served in that capacity since 2012. Alcantara has faced consistent opposition from people who supported Medina’s administration, Alaniz said. And the current tension is only a chapter in a long history of problems.

Eighty of the county party’s roughly 350 precinct chairs are in contested races, the most the party’s seen in some time, Alaniz said; usually, people who want to serve as their precinct chair simply sign up to do so. Those challenges reflect the dissatisfaction that party members feel with the current leadership. Right now, Alcantara has enough support from party membership to keep things moving, but her critics are actively trying to disrupt that, Alaniz said. “Before, when someone wanted to be a precinct chair, they pretty much got it. … They’re trying to upset the balance of the vote,” Alaniz said. “They’re trying to make it harder for [Alcantara] to pass anything. It’s this constant battle when we have so many challenges to deal with.” The other three candidates running for county chair – Norma Jean Witherspoon, Juan Hernandez, and Grace Rose Gonzales – did not respond to requests for comment.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2020

Robert Wilonsky: With violent crime on the rise, these former gang members hope to save Dallas

For hours on Monday, grown-ups shared stories of children almost broken by life before it had even begun. A former drug dealer recounted a recent story of driving to Dixon Circle to meet a 14-year-old boy so badly bullied at school that he bought a gun. This boy thought shooting his tormentor was the only way to end a fight. “I talked to this boy for two minutes, and asked him, ‘What do you want?’” said Keio Gamble, now a real-estate entrepreneur. “He said, ‘Just don’t leave.’”

A former educator told me about the boy who just wanted to be a firefighter, but instead joined a gang and went to prison for five years. “Because he had no role models,” said Laura Hayes, once a math teacher at Hillcrest High School and assistant principal at Lancaster High School. “No one to tell that to. No one who could just introduce him to a fireman. My God.” A former gangbanger spoke about the 13-year-old girl who had stabbed her boyfriend and others, and was considered so violent the Texas Juvenile Justice Department threatened to lock her up well into adulthood. “Seemed like the sweetest little girl, until you looked at her record,” said the 43-year-old Antong Lucky, the man who first brought the Bloods to Dallas. “She was fierce.” During hours of interviews with men and women trying to curb gang violence in a city seemingly overwhelmed by it, these stories kept coming, like a tidal wave, about the children among us, in our schools and in our streets and in our neighborhoods. Lost. Abandoned. Broken. The ones who don’t think much about tomorrow because they’re not sure they will survive today. The ones who become headlines, statistics, obituaries. The ones who kill. The ones killed.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 12, 2020

Arlington asks voters to approve sales tax increase in May. Here’s what it would mean.

The Arlington City Council decided 8-0 Tuesday to place a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase on the May 2 ballot. Councilman Andrew Piel proposed an amendment that the rate increase expire in eight years, but it failed to pass on a 4-4 vote. Councilman Marvin Sutton was not present for Tuesday’s vote. Arlington voters will be asked to boost the sales tax rate to 8.25%, the highest allowed by law.

Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday the tax would help promote job growth, redevelopment and revitalization. On Tuesday, 16 residents spoke in favor of placing the tax increase on the ballot, saying it would spur economic development and help the city lower property taxes in the long run. But 14 spoke in opposition, calling the tax increase regressive, deceitful and an example of cronyism. The city is hoping that the increase can provide some property tax relief, City Manager Trey Yelverton said at a Feb. 4 meeting. Texas passed a law last year designed to limit the growth of property tax bills.

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National Stories

Slate - February 12, 2020

Andrew Yang and Michael Bennet drop out

Andrew Yang, a businessman who managed to whip up a coterie of ardent supporters online, announced that he would be dropping out of the presidential race just as the New Hampshire primary results started coming in. About half an hour later, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who was profoundly losing to the write-in vote at the time of publication, announced that he, too, would be ending his campaign.

This was Yang’s first political run of any sort, and his inexperience led to some particularly uncomfortable moments on the campaign trail—not that his supporters, the self-declared Yang Gang, cared. Yang’s big pitch was a universal basic income of $1,000 for every American, which paired nicely with his persistent warnings about the dangers of automation taking people’s jobs. And according to a number of interviews he conducted prior to announcing his exit, this almost certainly won’t be the last we hear from him.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 12, 2020

Democrats target plastics industry

A group of Senate and House Democrats are moving to crack down on plastics waste, requiring manufacturers to pay for recycling their products, creating a nationwide deposit system and banning many single-use products. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rep Alan Lowenthal, D-N.Y., introduced legislation Tuesday that would upend the U.S. plastics industry, putting a hold on the construction of new plastic manufacturing facilities so federal environmental agencies can study the extend of the waste crisis.

"Americans across the country can see the problem before their very eyes, with oceans and rivers and landscapes covered in plastic waste," Udall said in an interview. "Local governments on shoestring budget cant keep up. Many of them are shutting down recycling programs because of the cost. The time has come to break free from this failed system." Scientists estimate approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic waste — nearly 20 billion pounds — end up in the world’s oceans each year. The plastic is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces by the combination of salt water, waves and sun, slowly poisoning the fish and other marine creatures that eat it. With growing consumer awareness, governments around the world have already started to ban single-use plastics like bags and straws.

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Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2020

Here’s what the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint will mean for their customers

Now that a federal judge in New York has ruled that T-Mobile and Sprint can combine their companies, their roughly 100 million customers are left wondering: What will happen to my cellular service if this match-up does go through? There remains the possibility of an appeal by the attorneys general from 13 states and the District of Columbia who filed the lawsuit seeking to stop the merger. And there are other bureaucratic obstacles. For example, the California Public Utility Commission, which has yet to rule on the deal, and must give its blessing if the combined entity wants to do business in the most populous state in country.

But assuming the merger goes through, there will be three major wireless service providers in the United States: AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. As part of an agreement with federal regulators, a fourth carrier will be spun off out of Sprint’s Boost Mobile subsidiary, which is being sold to Dish Network. T-Mobile executives have said the merger could close as early as April 1. Here’s what your new wireless landscape will look like, if the deal goes down. The combined company will get a new name. Well, really, it’s an old name with “new” added to it. T-Mobile CEO John Legere is already using “The New T-Mobile” when referring to the post-merger entity.

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Reuters - February 12, 2020

New Hampshire result clogs up moderate lane for Democrats

Bernie Sanders may have established himself as the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party’s leftist wing with his strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, but for moderates looking to rally around a candidate to fend him off, the picture just got even murkier.

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, seemed well positioned to be the early favorite of the party’s moderates after his narrow win in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses - until a surge by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar largely split the moderate vote between them in New Hampshire. And while former Vice President Joe Biden lagged badly in both Iowa and New Hampshire, as the only moderate with substantial backing from African-American and Latino voters, he has vowed to fight on until Nevada and South Carolina, both with significant non-white populations, render their verdicts.

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New York - February 11, 2020

Sarah Jones: Trump likes the economy, but workers don't

For decades, the decline of the American labor movement corresponded to a decline in major strike activity. But new data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, indicates a recent and significant increase in the number of Americans who are participating in strikes or work stoppages. As a report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute explained on Tuesday, strike activity “surged” in 2018 and 2019, “marking a 35-year high for the number of workers involved in a major work stoppage over a two-year period.” 2019 alone marked “the greatest number of work stoppages involving 20,000 or more workers since at least 1993, when the BLS started providing data that made it possible to track work stoppages by size.” Union membership is declining, but workers themselves are in fighting shape.

EPI credits the strike surge to several factors. Unemployment is low, which bestows some flexibility on workers depending on their industry. If a work environment becomes intolerable or an employer penalizes workers for striking or organizing, a worker could find better employment elsewhere. (Though federal labor law does prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for participating in protected organizing activity, employers often do so anyway, and under Trump, the conservative makeup of the National Labor Relations Board disadvantages unions when they try to seek legal remedies for the behavior.) The other reason undermines one of Donald Trump’s central economic claims. Though the president points to low unemployment as proof that his policies are successful, the economy isn’t booming for everyone. Wage growth continues to underperform. People can find jobs, in other words, but those jobs often don’t pay well. As the costs of private health insurance rise, adding another strain on household budgets, Americans are finding that employment and prosperity are two separate concepts.

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Associated Press - February 11, 2020

US regulators probing 5 tech companies’ acquisitions to 2010

Federal regulators are ramping up their investigation of the market dominance of giant tech companies, demanding detailed information on five companies’ acquisitions of smaller firms back to 2010. The Federal Trade Commission announced the move Tuesday, issuing orders to Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. Hundreds of takeovers of smaller companies are involved.

FTC Chairman Joseph Simons said that as a result of the review, the government may require tech giants to unwind earlier acquisitions and divest their assets if it found violations of antitrust law. “All of our options are on the table,” Simons said in a conference call with reporters. “If there are some transactions that are problematic, then we have that opportunity and that ability to go back and challenge” them. Short of requiring divesting pieces of companies, other options could include putting assets into a separate company unit or mandating changes in how the companies conduct business, Simons said.

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Newsclips - February 11, 2020

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 10, 2020

Norman Newton, who helped turn Texas Legislature red, dies at 77

In 1975, when John Tower, then a Republican U.S. senator from Texas, and Norman Newton launched the Associated Republicans of Texas, 20 of the 181 members of the Texas Legislature were Republicans. Twenty-eight years later, Texas Republicans had total control of the Legislature, which they maintain to this day, thanks in large measure to Newton’s relentless, frenetic energy.

Newton, who for decades roamed the state searching for Republican candidates and held court at the Austin Club bar, where he would bring those candidates together with members of the lobby who could help elect them, died in his sleep Sunday morning at his home in Austin. He was 77. “When Republicans were a beleaguered minority in Texas — out of power for a century — Norm Newton devoted his life to turning Texas red, a dream many thought impossible,” said Karl Rove, the Republican political strategist. “His success can be seen all around our state. Every Republican who worked with Norm in this great cause or benefited from his counsel and help feels both loss and gratitude today.” Among the candidates who got a crucial boost from Newton and the Associated Republicans of Texas in his first run for political office was U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in his successful race for a state District Court seat in Bexar County in 1984.

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Washington Post - February 11, 2020

‘The intelligence coup of the century’: For decades, the CIA read the encrypted communications of allies and adversaries

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret. The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. Flush with cash, it became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software. The Swiss firm made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Its clients included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican.

But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages. The decades-long arrangement, among the most closely guarded secrets of the Cold War, is laid bare in a classified, comprehensive CIA history of the operation obtained by The Washington Post and ZDF, a German public broadcaster, in a joint reporting project. The account identifies the CIA officers who ran the program and the company executives entrusted to execute it. It traces the origin of the venture as well as the internal conflicts that nearly derailed it. It describes how the United States and its allies exploited other nations’ gullibility for years, taking their money and stealing their secrets. The operation, known first by the code name “Thesaurus” and later “Rubicon,” ranks among the most audacious in CIA history. “It was the intelligence coup of the century,” the CIA report concludes. “Foreign governments were paying good money to the U.S. and West Germany for the privilege of having their most secret communications read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 10, 2020

Bernie Sanders poised to win NH primary. Is America ready for a democratic-socialist president?

Is America ready for a socialist president? A solid plurality of New Hampshire Democrats are, unless every poll is radically off target. Coming off a strong second-place showing in Iowa last week, a win on Tuesday would typically anoint Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as the undisputed front-runner. But party insiders and pundits will resist that label because of another one that Sanders wears – the label that President Donald Trump relentlessly slams him with and, by extension, the rest of the Democratic field: Democratic socialist.

“Trump’s going to say `socialist, socialist, socialist’ to anyone who’s progressive. I’m sure to him, Franklin Roosevelt was a socialist,” said Andrew Bridger, 72, a retired engineer from Rochester who’s deciding between Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “People say ‘socialist’ and they think, Cuba and Russia. Some people are called fascist who aren’t. It’s label-type politics.” An NBC/Wall St. Journal survey released last week found that 53% of voters hold a negative view of socialism, nearly triple the negative view of capitalism. But the impact on the Democratic primary could be subtle. A recent Texas Lyceum poll found that more Texas voters predict that Sanders could beat Trump in Texas than former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Roll Call - February 10, 2020

What to know about Trump’s budget proposal

Despite his own reelection battle in November, President Donald Trump isn't holding back when it comes to proposing budget cuts that are easy to pillory in 30-second campaign ads, especially when juxtaposed against a bid to renew his 2017 tax cuts, much of which helped the wealthiest Americans. Even some conservative Republicans aren't especially happy that for all the pain that would hit domestic services and safety-net programs, the budget wouldn't balance for 15 years while U.S. debt would continue its sharp rise. Here is what you need to know about Trump’s $4.8 trillion budget request for the coming fiscal year:

Nondefense spending would go down. Picking a fight with Democrats, Trump wants to stray from last summer’s bipartisan budget deal, which called for a modest increase in nondefense discretionary spending of $2.5 billion, or about 0.4 percent, above fiscal 2020 enacted spending. Instead, Trump would cut that spending by about 6 percent, or $40 billion, from this year’s level. Nondefense discretionary spending would total $590 billion, not counting funds set aside for disaster relief and fighting wildfires. Military spending would still go up. Trump would abide by last year’s agreement to raise defense spending. Total defense spending, which includes a separate account for overseas operations, would rise modestly from $738 billion in fiscal 2020 to $740.5 billion next year, an 0.3 percent increase. The border wall funding battle will resume. But this year’s version may not be quite as fierce. The budget doesn’t balance. The government would run a deficit of $966 billion in fiscal 2021, down slightly from the $1 trillion it projects for the current fiscal year.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 10, 2020

In Houston, Democrats running for White House focus on the black community

While most of the other Democratic candidates for president were toiling through Iowa or New Hampshire, Mike Bloomberg was back in Texas recently doing the same thing he did weeks earlier: Trying to win over black voters. Bloomberg, speaking in Greater Greenspoint, addressed hundreds of members of African Methodist Episcopal Churches from around the nation, bluntly telling them something he never talked much about as mayor of New York City.

“The truth is, if I had been black I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities and my life would have turned out very differently,” the billionaire told the crowd. “At the same time, I think it’s mostly true, that many black Americans of my generation would have ended up with far more wealth if they had been white.” He’s far from the only candidate making outreach to black voters a key part of campaign visits to Houston, and Texas overall. During his last trip through Texas, in between private fundraisers, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the National Baptist Convention in Arlington, a predominately black audience. And in the fall Biden campaigned on the campus of Texas Southern University — one of nine historically black universities in Texas. Biden spent 45 minutes shaking hands, posing for selfies and hugging students.

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Houston Chronicle - February 10, 2020

Trump proposes 12% increase for NASA budget in FY 2021

President Donald Trump is proposing $25.2 billion budget for NASA, part of the federal budget released by the White House on Monday. That's up 12 percent from the 2020 NASA budget of $22.6 billion, which was 0.48 percent of all U.S. government spending, according to the Planetary Society, a non-government organization that seeks to get more people engaged with space.

“This is a 21st century budget worthy of 21st century space exploration," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a televised news conference, "and one of our strongest budgets in NASA history.” The increased funding comes as Trump seeks to land men and women on the moon. Of the $25.2 billion, $12.3 billion will support the systems, people and facilities needed to land and operate on the moon in 2024 and prepare for a future human landing on Mars. This includes $3.3 billion to support NASA's work with commercial companies to develop human lunar lander systems.

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Houston Chronicle - February 10, 2020

A $7 billion freeway rebuild looms. Not everyone in Houston is happy about it.

City officials and consultants will spend the coming weeks finalizing a few ways to turn the region’s largest and most controversial freeway rebuild of recent years into an Interstate 45 for commuters and inner-city-dwellers alike. First, however, they must weigh about three dozen ideas with their costs, be it more traffic, trouble for pedestrians or added property acquisition. “Every one of these is a set of trade-offs,” consultant Christof Spieler told a crowd Feb. 1 at Aldine Ninth Grade School. “If you make lanes narrower, that means you need less property, but it also means you might have more crashes.”

City planners and consultants said the ideas are all viable in and of themselves, but some would require the Texas Department of Transportation to seek federal waivers, such as one calling for 11-foot freeway lanes in certain areas. Others could be a choice between different interests, such as moving the freeway away from White Oak Bayou to preserve greenspace, at the cost of a “more massive” set of ramps, planners said. The project, expected to cost at least $7 billion, will rebuild most of the downtown freeway system along I-45, Interstate 10, Interstate 69 and Texas 288 and assorted ramps. North of downtown, TxDOT plans to reconstruct I-45 with two managed lanes in each direction from I-10 to Beltway 8.

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Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2020

Bankruptcy judge lambastes Watson Grinding for putting bank before explosion victims

A veteran bankruptcy judge issued a seven-minute tirade Monday against the firm involved in the west Houston fatal explosion last month, implying company officials were selfishly prioritizing their own financial woes over the devastating losses in the community. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Marvin Isgur began by telling a courtroom packed with lawyers for explosion victims that he’d “rarely been angrier” than he was upon seeing the motion filed by attorneys for Watson Grinding & Manufacturing and Watson Valve, which asked that Watson be allowed to swiftly pay off the company’s bank loan in a discounted $3 million lump sum with insurance money.

The implication of the company’s emergency motion, according to the judge, was that Watson executives were putting their own needs ahead of residents harmed in the blast as well as two workers and a local resident who died as a result of the early morning explosion. The judge spoke in measured tones, but his outrage was apparent to several lawyers who’d spent time in his court. “Our community suffered a major tragedy on Jan. 24, 2020. Hundreds of people’s lives have been changed forever by the catastrophe on that day,” Isgur said. “Today is not the day in which ultimate blame will be placed.” The judge said his “vigilant” focus would be on people facing life-changing upheaval from the blast: “The families who have lost a loved one, who are caring for an injured child, who have lost their homes or had damage to their homes are facing true emergencies.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Middle-class Texans are facing a housing crisis. Here's what's standing in their way.

Building a single-family home in the right place at the right price has never been more difficult, and Texans are suffering more than most. Working-class families are finding it difficult to find affordable housing in urban areas, and a growing homelessness crisis is creating social and political turmoil. Finger-pointing among developers, homebuyers, politicians and neighborhood activists has created a cacophony of recrimination.

While other parts of the country are seeing populations shrink, Texas cities are struggling to cope with 523 people who moved here every day in 2019. Texas is growing faster than any other state. Most new Texans are under the age of 40, looking to start careers and families. They want to live and work in big cities. Harris County added 605,000 people from 2010-18, and Bexar County added 271,000. Texas has added 3.8 million since 2010, exacerbating a housing shortage. The problem is multifaceted. Homebuilders have not kept up with demand, and when they do build, they concentrate on high-end homes with higher profit margins, according to the Urban Land Institute, a developer trade association.

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Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2020

‘The U.K. is open for business’: British trade policy minister visits Houston following Brexit

The United Kingdom, unanchored by the European Union following a historic exit from the trading bloc, is setting its sights on the United States for a new trade deal. But choppy waters are ahead. A free trade agreement between the U.S. and the U.K. would need to satisfy both the British public and a Republican-led Congress. On everything from food standards to drug prices to digital services there are sharply different priorities on either side of the pond.

For now, Conor Burns, U.K. minister of state for trade policy in the Department for International Trade, decided to skip the transatlantic debate altogether, opting instead for the Gulf. In Burns’ first international trip since Brexit, he came straight to Texas. Burns, who was appointed to the Department for International Trade by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last July, visited Houston last week to meet with companies and local policymakers. He said that visiting Texas, a “beacon” of free market capitalism, would send a strong signal that the British economy is open for business. Trade between the Houston region and the U.K. averages about $5.9 billion per year. The U.K. was the region’s ninth top trading partner in 2019.

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Dallas Morning News - February 10, 2020

Anonymous voice of Big Tex, Bob Boykin, has died

Robert “Bob” Boykin, who anonymously served as the voice of Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas for the past seven years, died Jan. 23. He was 73. State Fair of Texas attendees aren’t supposed to know whose voice comes booming out of the 55-foot-tall Big Tex as he hollers “howdy, folks!” to crowds. But Boykin’s identity was released on Feb. 10, in conjunction with a statement from the State Fair of Texas about his death.

Though Boykin was anonymous, he would often walk onto the fairgrounds and talk with attendees at the State Fair — “so you may have spoken with the man himself,” says a statement from the State Fair of Texas. Boykin dabbled in voice acting over the years, not only for Dallas’ tallest mascot but also as an announcer for Green Valley Raceway during his college years. The bulk of his career, however, was spent at Lockheed Martin designing military aircraft like the stealth bomber and the F-16, according to the fair. He worked at Lockheed Martin for 40 years.

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Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2020

Carolyn Barta: Iowa and New Hampshire have no business leading the nomination process

If nothing else, the recent election-night fiasco in Iowa should drive a stake in the heart of what’s become known as the All-Important Iowa Caucus. And not just because of Democrats’ inability to produce timely results. This issue goes way beyond an app failure. The parties have allowed this small, non-representative state to have far too much electoral weight for far too long. By the same token, New Hampshire’s oversized role in the nominations process also needs to be scrapped. In the last 40 years, only Bill Clinton has bucked tradition by getting the nomination without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. Why do these two states deserve to always winnow the field?

New Hampshire has voted first for 100 years because the first primary was staged there in 1920. Then Jimmy Carter discovered, in 1976, that Iowa had a caucus before New Hampshire and upstaged other candidates by organizing there and gaining media attention. Because these states have always been first and have taken their job seriously is not good enough reason for the parties to continue to defend this tradition. Neither state reflects the diversity of the nation. Iowa is a small, rural state, at least 90% white. On the Republican side, Iowans have tended in the past to reward religious or social conservatives. New Hampshire is 93% white, older, better educated, more progressive than other states. New Hampshire’s population is 1.3 million (think Dallas), and its largest city is 100,000.

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Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: We recommend Tom Adair in the Democratic primary for Texas House District 67

The Democratic candidates for state House District 67 are an amicable bunch. All four candidates are courteous and collegial. They call one another by first names and nod in approval at one another’s statements. But two of the four demonstrate a clearer mastery of the issues facing Texas and an ability to outline realistic solutions. And one, Tom Adair, stood out as the best choice because of his insistence that Texans can forge a thriving future without political savagery.

The winner will face Republican Jeff Leach, a four-term incumbent and erstwhile member of the Texas House Freedom Caucus, who is best known for his efforts to restrict abortion but who softened his strident tea party image in the last session. Adair, 43, is an attorney and former aide to U.S. Congressman Tom Petri of Wisconsin. He thinks Democrats may have the political clout in 2021 to reverse Austin’s decision to refuse Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, one of his top priorities. He demonstrates a deep knowledge of school funding, particularly as it relates to Plano ISD in his district. But Adair’s cooperative posture is central to his appeal. He knows how rancorous politics can be. He worked for a Republican congressman, showing he can reach across political divides. He talks about incivility as an attack on American values.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 10, 2020

David DeMatthews and David S. Knight: Private jets and Spurs tickets? Texas needs more charter school oversight

IDEA Public Schools recently canceled a multimillion-dollar lease for a private jet and San Antonio Spurs tickets after a wave of negative backlash. State officials should dig a bit deeper to ensure IDEA and other charter management organizations, or CMOs, operating in Texas are behaving ethically and in the best interest of all Texas students. Representatives from IDEA have said the money for the private jet and Spurs tickets came from donations. Its CEO said the jet and the tickets were acquired to reward committed educators and reduce workload for organization members who may have to visit IDEA schools across Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

As taxpayers and education policy professors, we’re glad IDEA wants to reward its teachers and administrators, but these financial decisions raise an important question lawmakers should consider: Can a privately run educational system using primarily taxpayer money and operating across multiple states be effectively monitored? CMOs are similar to traditional public schools in some ways, but they differ in others. For example, they are not managed by elected school boards. Instead, IDEA and others have privately appointed boards that may not share the interests of the communities they serve. IDEA recently stopped allowing business deals between school leaders and their relatives, which included an instance in which IDEA’s uniform vendor was partially owned by the husband of Chief Operations Officer Irma Muñoz. Traditional school districts already have rules against this.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 11, 2020

San Antonio scholar could bring ‘healing’ to contentious Alamo makeover

Trinity University history professor Carey Latimore is not likely to make a last stand on any of the controversies brewing amid the Alamo’s contentious 21st-century makeover. Instead, he could play a lead role in untangling the nuances that surround the historic mission and battle site, himself having struggled with a painful past tied to slavery, racial prejudice and unspeakable family secrets. “I know my ancestry. I recognize it in all of its warts, in all of its pieces,” said Latimore, an associate professor and the university’s history department chair. “The American experience is not always the most beautiful experience. But it’s taking a part of this, and that, and finding and forging a way for someone’s own identity.”

President Donald Trump referenced the “beautiful, beautiful Alamo” in his State of the Union address last week, “where Texas patriots made their last stand.” Latimore said the beauty of the Alamo may be its complexity, with an 1836 narrative tied to a chain of successive “freedom stories” that followed. “History has a way of bringing us together, if we allow it,” said Latimore, 44. “And that’s what I see happening in many ways at the Alamo. It’s bringing people together, having different, difficult conversations.” Latimore was tapped last year by leaders of the massive Alamo project to share his research on the peaceful, voluntary desegregation of seven downtown lunch counters that briefly put San Antonio in a national news spotlight in 1960. His report to the nonprofit Alamo Trust has not been publicly released. Nor has an engineering report on the three historic, state-owned commercial buildings in Alamo Plaza — one of which held one of those lunch counters — that could be razed to build a modern Alamo museum for the $450 million, public-private transformation of the site.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 11, 2020

Elaine Ayala: Tzintzún Ramirez is a name you’re not likely to forget

When Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez saw that U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro was going to pass on running for the U.S. Senate, the Austin labor leader and community organizer agreed to jump in. She wasn’t the only Democrat who saw the opening. In the March 3 primary, she’ll face 11 candidates for a chance to run against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. That’s five fewer than will appear on the Democratic primary ballot for president. Ramirez is a 38-year-old progressive who has raised about $1 million for her campaign. She supports Medicare for all and the Green New Deal. She’s working toward at least a second-place finish in a race that surely will result in a runoff.

But she speaks as if she’s already facing Cornyn in a state that got awfully close to purple when Beto O’Rourke scared the bejesus out of the junior Texas Republican senator, Ted Cruz. Bejesus is an exclamation traditionally attributed to the Irish. I looked it up. Ramirez is part Irish. She was recruited to run by former members of the O’Rourke campaign. We met over the weekend and over tacos at Tlahco Mexican Kitchen. She proclaimed the salsa good. “Austin doesn’t know how to make salsa,” she added. Thus, it was easy to like her. Her first surname, Tzintzún, is her mother’s maiden name. It’s pronounced sin-soon. In the indigenous language of the Purépecha, it means hummingbird. Ramirez is fond of saying the Purépechas were the only indigenous warriors the Aztecs couldn’t defeat. Names have been a bit of a complication for Ramirez, though part of that happens when women marry and take their husband’s surname. Ramirez complicated her story even more by recently saying that Tzintzún is “more Mexican” than Garcia or López. She said it was a joke and apologized.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 10, 2020

Judge tosses out federal suit over handling of sexual assault cases

A federal judge in Austin threw out a class action lawsuit Monday accusing local law enforcement leaders of mishandling sexual assault allegations from approximately 6,000 women and failing to prosecute some attackers or take the steps needed to bring them to justice.

In granting a defense motion to dismiss that had been lingering in his court for more than a year, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel noted that many of the claims brought forward by lawyers representing eight sexual assault victims have since been addressed through changes at the state and local level and do not require further attention from his court. Other claims, the judge wrote, were denied because prosecutors in Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore’s office are shielded with immunity that gives them discretion on which cases to pursue. Yeakel’s 32-page ruling is the latest development in the ongoing tensions between sexual assault victims’ advocates and local officials, and it comes one week before early voting begins in the Democratic primary. Moore, who is up for reelection and drew two challengers in large part over criticism that her office doesn’t prosecute enough sexual assault cases, was among several defendants named in the lawsuit.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 10, 2020

Sema Hernandez looks to build on her 2018 Senate race

Among the dozen candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate on March 3, Sema Hernandez has one distinct advantage. She has run for the Senate before, in 2018, and received close to 250,000 votes in the Democratic primary, nearly a quarter of those cast, finishing second to Beto O’Rourke and carrying a swath of border counties.

It was a startling performance, accomplished on a scant $4,000, for which Hernandez, then 32 and making her first run for political office, received almost no credit or recognition. For the press, pundits and politicos, the news was not Hernandez’s surprising strength but O’Rourke’s evident weakness among Latino voters when confronted on the ballot by a Spanish surname. Two years later, that assessment still rankles Hernandez, a sui generis divorced mother of four boys whose political awakening came when a DIY home repair YouTube video she was watching was followed by a video of an unvarnished character named Bernie Sanders declaring his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president. Hernandez, the oldest of seven children of Mexican immigrants, said she was inspired to seek Ted Cruz’s Senate seat in 2018 after watching Cruz debate Sanders on tax and health policy a year earlier.

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Houston Public Media - February 10, 2020

What to know about selecting the potential HISD Board of Managers

The potential state takeover of the HISD board remains in limbo while legal challenges work their way through the courts. But the work continues behind the scenes to prepare for the takeover, should it indeed happen. Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath recently updated Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty on the process of interviewing and selecting members of the board of managers that would oversee the district until the agency sees fit to end the takeover. You can hear their full conversation in the audio above.

Several hundred people have applied. Morath says several hundred people from Greater Houston have applied to serve on the board of managers, and his staff is in the process of interviewing them right now. There’s a key question applicants will have to answer. Morath said he wants to know of each applicant, “Do you actually believe all children can learn?” he said. “And this is important because the expectations that adults set for children are critical. They rise to our expectations. So, if you set extraordinarily high expectations for kids, then you get great things out of kids. But, if you for some reason have lower expectations, then it’s much harder.” There are several important qualities the managers must have. Morath said he’s looking for people who can work together as a group, who are respectful, who are familiar with “big numbers and the big system that they’re going to be thrown into in Houston,” and who understand the role of “governance as opposed to management.”

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Houston Public Media - February 10, 2020

Once a rural problem, feral hogs are now encroaching on Houston’s suburbs

Feral hogs have long been a problem in rural parts of Texas. But now, researchers say they’re increasingly entering urban areas across the state — including Houston’s suburbs — damaging property and raising public health concerns. “We have let pigs grow to such a number that they are living in urban spaces and we’re seeing them regularly,” said Texas A&M wildlife specialist John Tomecek. Wild pigs cause more than $52 million in agricultural damage in Texas each year, according to estimates by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. As they move into the state’s suburbs, property owners and municipalities are also starting to bear an economic cost, as wild hogs destroy golf courses, right of ways and lawns.

Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said feral hogs have become a nuisance in his precinct, which includes The Woodlands. “They are a nomadic, invasive species that roots for food and when they do so they end up destroying private property, whether it’s your grass or your flowerbeds, your yard,” he said. “The real concern is that they can inflict huge amounts of property damage in a small amount of time.” At a recent City Council meeting in Conroe, residents raised similar concerns and asked that they be allowed to install electric fences on their property to keep the hogs out. Further south in Pasadena, feral hogs were also on the City Council agenda, after reports of property damage along the Armand Bayou. And the Kingwood Service Association, which keeps a log of feral hog activity, has also reported an increase in hogs in recent months compared to 2018. Besides property damage, there are also public health and safety concerns. Wild hogs can be dangerous when they feel cornered. In December 2019, a woman in Chambers County died after she was attacked by feral hogs.

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Reuters - February 10, 2020

Texas Democrats weighing ballots, bullets in 2020 campaigns

Texas Democrats are pulling out a new playbook in this year's congressional races, loudly backing gun control in a bet a strategy that paid off in Virginia can also win elections in a conservative-leaning state long associated with gun rights. Their fears of facing a political backlash for supporting gun regulations have evaporated after years of mass shootings, with candidates, party officials and gun-control advocates arguing that making the case for strengthening gun laws will win them more votes. "I am heartbroken by the loss of life caused by mass shootings across Texas and the United States and determined to take on the corporate gun lobby and its enablers," said Wendy Davis, a former Texas state senator who shot to political fame in 2013 when she filibustered an anti-abortion bill with a speech lasting more than 11 hours.

Gun control will be a strong part of her campaign message as she takes aim at an Austin-area U.S. House of Representatives seat that Republicans have held for 41 years. That is a shift from her unsuccessful 2014 run for governor when she supported the open carry of handguns in her state. Davis is targeting one of seven seats the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee thinks it can flip, a target that has grown with the addition of a district in suburban Houston where the number of college-educated voters has rapidly expanded in the past eight years. Republicans hold 23 of the state's 36 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Along with another Texas candidate, she made the DCCC's "Red to Blue" list, which right now includes just 12 people nationwide who will get extra funding and organizational support from the party. Davis and other Democrats say that years of high-profile mass shootings, including the August massacre of 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, have convinced them to directly confront opponents of stronger gun laws. One of the biggest reasons for the apparent lessening blowback on the issue is the emergence of powerful national groups calling for tougher gun regulations, particularly the Mike Bloomberg-backed Everytown for Gun Safety, which has countered the National Rifle Association pro-gun lobby.

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Patch - February 10, 2020

Texas strikes back after California travel ban over gay adoptions

The Texas attorney general on Monday moved to strike down California's ban on state-funded travel to states it considers to have discriminatory laws. California's ban was partially enacted in response to the Texas Legislature's 2017 passage of a law allowing faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to deny gay couples and others from adopting children if such placements violate their religious beliefs. In announcing his action against California in the U.S. Supreme Court, Attorney General Ken Paxton framed the issue as one predicated on upholding "First Amendment protections for religious liberty."

"Texas respects and honors the religious beliefs of its citizens," Paxton said in a press advisory. "California lawmakers do not. As a co-author of California's travel ban admitted, they see religious beliefs as nothing more than " 'code to discriminate against different people.' "Gov. Greg Abbott in 2017 signed into law a measure that allows faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to prevent gay and transgender persons, as well as non-Christians, from adopting children under their stewardship. House Bill 3859 gained approval even as the state has struggling to overcome a critical shortage of homes for abused and neglected children, with many kids placed in hotels and offices as makeshift living quarters as they wait to be placed with adoptive parents. Seeking to defend the move, conservative lawmakers noted at the time that religious agencies make up about a quarter of the child placement agencies in Texas. The law also gives these agencies leeway in denying adoptions to those not practicing the Christian faith, in a Republican-controlled state where theological underpinnings are often intertwined with legislation.

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Abilene Reporter News - February 10, 2020

House District 71 candidates, unchallenged in party primaries, gearing up for November

Sequels: Think "Star Wars" movies, Muhammad Ali fights and, now, the election battle between incumbent Republican Stan Lambert and Democrat Sam Hatton for Texas House District 71. The two battled in 2018, with Lambert winning easily, claiming his second term since succeeding Susan King, who tried unsuccessfully to move from the House to the Texas Senate in 2016.

Lambert won 77 percent of the final tally, with almost 32,00 votes. Hatton received 9,171 or 23 percent. Lambert took more than 80 percent of the vote in 2016 in winning election over Democrat Pierce LoPachin. Lambert and Hatton face each other again in November. Neither candidate is being challenged in his respective primary March 3, but they're still looking for support wherever they can find it. After Lambert's big victory, he went to Austin and participated in what was considered a fairly successful session, including significant changes to school finance and school safety measures and property tax reform.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - February 9, 2020

Big Bend communities prepare for future impact of energy development

Technological advances have oil and gas development in the Permian Basin headed to new areas. In response, some counties are taking steps to prepare for the possible arrival of the industry. The Tri-County area -- Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties -- is one example. A series of seminars on the potential impact of energy development on Big Bend communities is being held through April at Sul Ross State University. Additional seminars are planned for the fall.

The first seminar was last week and featured Mike Teague with Adamantine Energy and David Iannelli with Hudson Pacific. Another seminar, “Development By Design: Where Energy and Conservation Meet” is set for March 18 and will feature Joe Kiesecker with The Nature Conservancy of Texas and Melinda Taylor of the University of Texas. All seminars are held at the Espino Conference Center at Sul Ross State University beginning at 6:30 p.m. “We’ve been tasked with reaching out to communities, landowners, corporations, to see what their thoughts are as energy development makes its way into the region,” said Louis Harveson, Dan Allen Hughes Jr BRI Endowed Director and professor of wildlife management at Sul Ross, in a phone interview.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 10, 2020

County attorney race could hinge on experience question

The dilemma facing Travis County Democrats in the race to select a new county attorney is whether courtroom experience or public policy experience is more helpful for leading one of the most influential legal agencies in town. Those who believe the office should go to a seasoned lawyer have two choices: longtime government attorney Laurie Eiserloh, or former misdemeanor courts judge Mike Denton. Both have been practicing law for 30 years or more and have spent time in the office they are aiming to run.

The contrasting choice is two-term Austin City Council Member Delia Garza, whose track record in softening penalties involving small crimes has highlighted her campaign. Garza, though, has had to deal with critics who have pointed to her limited legal experience and suggested she’ll be in over her head if elected. The three years she has practiced law is more in line with defense attorney Dominic Selvera — an underdog in the race who is less than four years removed from law school — than with Eiserloh or Denton. Concerns about Garza’s candidacy prompted the formation of a political action committee last month whose apparent purpose is to harm her chances. The PAC, Austin Communities First, launched a website criticizing Garza’s credentials that prompts visitors to make financial contributions. The site does not say where the money will go. Austin Communities First treasurer Monica Maldonado did not return a message for comment Monday.

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City Stories

Waco Tribune-Herald - February 10, 2020

Former Marlin ISD superintendent under criminal investigation by Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers are investigating former Marlin Independent School District Superintendent Michael Seabolt, after the Texas Education Agency opened an inquiry stemming from allegations of misuse of public funds and ethics violations by Seabolt. Falls County Attorney Jody Gilliam said Friday that she requested the Rangers open an investigation into Seabolt’s actions, but she said she could not elaborate further because the inquiry is still pending.

On Sept. 4, Seabolt received a written notice of investigation from the Texas Education Agency’s Educator Investigations Division, stating investigators had opened a case file to review allegations of “misappropriation of funds” and “ethics violations,” according to a copy of the letter obtained via a public information request. The TEA declined to comment because its investigation into Seabolt is still ongoing, a spokesman said. The agency flagged his educator certificates, but they remain valid, according to the TEA website. Seabolt resigned Aug. 8, two months after the state-appointed board of managers suspended him and launched a district-level investigation into his performance at the direction of the state-appointed conservator at the time, Jean Bahney. Bahney now serves as the interim superintendent.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 11, 2020

Fort Worth’s Panther Island slated for federal funding, but not enough to keep work going

Fort Worth’s Panther Island, already out of money, will not be getting any federal funding in 2020, except for $1.5 million for a feasibility study, far short of the $38 million locals had requested. The Army Corps of Engineers headquarters included the $1.5 million in its 2020 budget, but local officials said Monday they were waiting to clarify how the money should be spent. Another $1.5 million would also be needed from the Tarrant Regional Water District to pay for the $3 million study, said Clay Church, a Corps spokesman in Fort Worth.

The office of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, who has championed Panther Island in Washington, D.C., did not return emails seeking comment. It was unclear Monday evening what the feasibility study would entail. Typically Corps projects like Panther Island require an analysis that explores the economic benefits of a flood protection project compared with its expected costs. Generally these studies, which can last up to three years, identify a flood problem, explore how to fix it and note the alternatives, Church said. The study would also look at environmental impacts. That study wasn’t done for Panther Island, creating a thorn in the project’s side.

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National Stories

CNN - February 10, 2020

Amy Klobuchar leads midnight vote in New Hampshire

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar won the most votes when a little more than two dozen New Hampshire residents in three tiny townships cast their ballots shortly after midnight in Tuesday's first-in-the-nation primary. Dixville Notch in the state's northern tip, nearby Millsfield, and Hart's Location, further south and tucked in the White Mountains, are the first places to declare primary results because voters cast ballots so early.

Klobuchar started Tuesday with eight votes, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who each had four votes. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang won three votes, while former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg each received two votes. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and businessman Tom Steyer got one vote each. In a surprising twist, Bloomberg, who isn't on the ballot in New Hampshire, won the first votes of Tuesday's Democratic and Republican primaries as a write-in candidate in the township of Dixville Notch. Five voters in Dixville Notch showed up to make their selection at midnight. Two Democrats voted for Bloomberg, one for Buttigieg and one for Sanders. The sole Republican voter also wrote in Bloomberg.

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New York Times - February 10, 2020

New campus sexual misconduct rules will tackle dating violence

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s pending rules on sexual misconduct at the nation’s schools and colleges will include provisions to shore up protections for victims of stalking and dating violence, a response to lethal attacks that have underscored the weakness of current policies. The rules will for the first time cement domestic violence, dating violence and stalking as forms of gender discrimination that schools must address under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive government funding.

In the past, the Education Department has issued guidance on how schools should handle sexual misconduct on campus and interpreted Title IX to require universities to combat sexual assault in particular. The department’s new rules would go further, adding definitions for domestic violence, dating violence and stalking as misconduct that universities must tackle or risk federal investigations and a loss of funding. Victims’ rights advocates and lawyers say that while many schools have presumed such infractions fall under the broad umbrella of sexual harassment, not all have trained their staffs to address them, let alone treat them as civil rights violations. “There’s still a lingering idea that dating violence is an interpersonal issue that two folks need to work on, something that just happens between men and women, rather than seeing it as a form of violence that has an impact on education,” said Sage Carson, the manager of the victims’ rights advocacy group Know Your IX.

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NPR - February 11, 2020

2 big teachers unions call for rethinking student involvement in lockdown drills

Ryan Pascal, a 17-year-old student at Palos Verdes High School near Los Angeles, says when her school holds active shooter drills, it's "chaos." The first time it happened, not long after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, rumors started flying over Snapchat and text that the school was really under attack. "We had some students trying to stack up desks to blockade the door. We had some students sort of joking around because they weren't sure how to handle this. There are other students who are very, very afraid."

Ninety-five percent of American public schools conduct some form of regular active shooter safety drill — sometimes called a lockdown or active threat drill — according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But concerns are growing that these drills have not been proven effective in preventing violence and that they may even traumatize some students. Now the advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety is joining with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — the nation's largest education unions, with several million members — in calling for schools to reassess the use of lockdown drills.

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NBC News and Reuters - February 11, 2020

Coronavirus updates: Death toll tops 1,000 in China as nations race to contain outbreak

The number of deaths attributed to the coronavirus outbreak in China rose by more than 100 on Monday, bringing the total number of deaths across the country's 31 provinces to 1,016, officials said. The number of deaths is well beyond the toll of the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which was caused by a virus related to the current pathogen and claimed the lives of almost 800 people.

The country's National Health Commission said there were more than 42,600 confirmed cases. Earlier, Chinese authorities said that there was hope the spread of the coronavirus might soon reach a turning point. But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there had been "concerning instances" of transmission from people who had not been to China. "The detection of a small number of cases may indicate more widespread transmission in other countries; in short, we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg," he said in Geneva.

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Houston Chronicle - February 11, 2020

Opposing policies in U.S.-China trade negotiations spell trouble ahead

When American executives first show up in Beijing, many seek out Randy Phillips, the CIA’s former station chief in Beijing office who now works as a security consultant. It’s then that Phillips, a fit middle-aged man who would not look out of place in a corporate boardroom, tells them the facts of life about doing business in China: The government will restrict access to certain markets. Their companies will likely have to find a Chinese partner, with whom they must share their technology. Legal norms that guide commerce in the United States and Europe won’t necessarily apply here. “It’s a huge market you don’t want to pass up,” Phillips warns. “But keep your eyes open.”

As the Trump administration seeks to rebalance the trade relationship between the United States and China, the U.S. is taking on a government resistant to relinquishing its tight controls over the domestic economy, a policy designed to not only advantage its own industries but maintain an ordered society. U.S. administrations going back decades have tried to persuade China to move away from central planning and embrace Western-style capitalism where the free market, not the government, determines the path of the economy. But in interviews with Chinese officials, few suggested that China has any intention of making the kind of substantive changes demanded by the Trump administration, such as ending subsidies to favored industries, which allow them to produce goods more cheaply than foreign competitors. Though Americans might be dismayed at China’s refusal to adapt to their style of capitalism, Chinese officials generally exhibited unyielding confidence that their centrally controlled economy is the right path to prosperity.

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Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2020

Big 12, NCAA urge senators to pass federal standard for student-athlete pay

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told senators on Tuesday that states passing laws allowing college athletes to make endorsement money will destabilize the NCAA. He asked the Senate to step in and create uniform restrictions. “I fear that if we adopt a process that permits per se ‘play for pay’ or any proxy for ‘pay for play’ we will find ourselves changing the team chemistry that has made college athletics so special,” Bowlsby said at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection.

Bowlsby’s comments came during the first-ever Senate hearing on student-athlete compensation. Bowlsby testified along with NCAA President Mark Emmert and several college athletic top officials. Bowlsby and Emmert were in agreement for much of the hearing, arguing that schools in states allowing endorsement deals for student-athletes would be able to use money to entice players to sign with them over schools in states without such laws. California passed a law in September that will allow players to hire agents and get endorsements once it goes into effect in 2023. Other states are considering similar legislation.

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NBC News - February 10, 2020

South Dakota's trans health bill is effectively dead, opponents say

The South Dakota Legislature on Monday effectively killed House Bill 1057, which sought to block physicians in the state from providing puberty blockers and gender confirmation surgery to transgender children under 16. By a 5-2 vote, the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee sent the bill “to the 41st day,” which means a bill has been effectively killed because the state’s part-time Legislature has only 40 working days.

"It's gone," Quinncy Parke, 17, who is transgender and testified against the bill, told The Associated Press. “I don’t have to worry about it until next year.” The ACLU of South Dakota, which had led the fight against the bill, cheered its apparent demise. “Though supporters claimed House Bill 1057 was aimed at protecting vulnerable youth, it was clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender South Dakotans,” said Libby Skarin, policy director for the group. “It’s time we stop these attacks and the very real harm they cause to transgender youth across our state. Let this be a signal to the South Dakota Legislature that discrimination against a marginalized group is a distraction from the needs of the state and hurts us all.”

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