The Brief: Jan. 3, 2011.
By David Muto
THE BIG CONVERSATION:
Welcome back! The big day's coming up fast, but first, let's take a moment.
A little perspective's in order, after all, with the state's legislative governing body convening for its biennial session just eight days from now.
First, the Tribune's Ross Ramsey recently took a look back at the people who mattered and the story lines that popped in 2010. The usual suspects - Rick Perry, Bill White, Kay Bailey Hutchison - drove the story, but in sometimes unexpected ways. And don't forget folks like major Democratic donor Steve Mostyn and attention-grabbing libertarian Debra Medina, new fixtures in Texas politics who - despite their personal political losses - added color to the story lines in unforeseen ways.
(Elise Hu also had a look back at the best political moments on video in 2010, where you'll be reminded of terror babies, chicken suits and a "lesbian gay woman.")
And though sights are set squarely on Jan. 11, when the Legislature gavels into session, the Trib's Kate Galbraith reminded us last week what this whole governing-every-other-year thing is about anyways. It turns out that the issue is a bit of a political football itself: As one Democratic state representative says of the biennial system, "It's just something that doesn't work well" (but don't expect a change any time soon).
As for the session itself, the biggies are clear - the record budget shortfall, redistricting and immigration will occupy most of the legislators' time. But, as Ramsey notes today, questions remain: What exactly will the Republicans do with their supermajority? What's next for the Democrats? And, of course, what are the governor's plans as 2012 approaches?
It's all set to come into focus next Tuesday at noon, when the Lege gavels into session for the 82nd time in the state's history.
Another question remaining: What's about the House speaker's race? In the latest drama, a former speaker has criticized conservatives' attempts to oust moderate incumbent Joe Straus by pushing for a vote in the Republican Caucus - a move by which the Republicans in the House could (but appear unlikely) to mobilize behind one of Straus' more conservative opponents.
With the state's budget coming into stark relief as the session approaches, will Texas follow Arizona's lead with a temporary sales tax hike? "I think it's something that needs to be considered before we gut public and higher education and essential services for the elderly, disabled and children," says one Democratic state representative. Another revenue-generating idea: imposing fees on off-brand cigarettes.
In Washington, where Congress will convene Wednesday, Texas' own Lamar Smith, Republican of San Antonio, is set to take on a new leadership role on immigration in the U.S. House. One of Smith's top priorities, he says: shelving comprehensive immigration reform efforts. "As far as I am concerned, I am acting on the best interest of Americans. Because we disagree, I'm sure my name is taken in vain sometimes," he tells the Houston Chronicle.
"I'm not a finesser. So I'll say things how it is. It might offend people occasionally. I just never was trained or educated on finesse." - Tom Suehs, the state's health and human services commissioner, on speaking candidly about the need to cut crucial state services in light of the budget shortfall
E.P.A. Limit on Gases to Pose Risk to Obama and Congress, The New York Times
Unclear state laws hamper corporate campaign spending in Texas, Austin American-Statesman
Voter fraud in South Texas is rampant, seldom prosecuted, Texas Watchdog
Texas, Other Colleges Confront Demographic Changes, The Texas Tribune