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Texas Touts Toll Roads

Photo: KTRH 

Some people like them, some hate them, others tolerate them as a necessary nuisance.  Regardless, toll roads are apparently here to stay in Texas.  At the recent annual conference for the toll road industry in Austin, Texas leaders including Gov. Rick Perry and TxDot’s executive director Joe Weber praised the state as a leader in the pay road industry.  Perry called Texas “the mecca of innovation on transportation infrastructure,” while Weber described toll roads as “vital” to the state’s transportation needs as it deals with crowded roads and a growing population.  Moreover, the state’s gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993, resulting in an estimated $5 million annual shortfall in the Texas highway fund.

Critics say it’s not about how much money is coming in, but where it is spent.  “The toll roads make, I think, $600 million or more per year, they keep raising the fees, and now they want to do a number of other projects,” says Tom Bazan, a Houston transportation activist and longtime critic of METRO.  Bazan tells KTRH he is not against toll roads.  “The taxes need to come from somewhere,” he says.  “If they are specifically from the users and applied towards maintaining the roads, I don’t have a problem with that…they just need to keep it from being diverted to other spending priorities.”

The Harris County Toll Road Authority has several projects currently in the works, including an extension of the Hardy Toll Road to downtown, and widening of the Sam Houston Tollway.  In a statement to KTRH, the HCTRA says, “Toll Roads, whether build by TxDot or HCTRA, are just a part of the solution.  Toll Roads are not meant for every project.”

Bazan agrees that toll roads are only part of the solution, but he wants to see more drastic change in road funding.  “We need more rubber-tired solutions,” he says.  “We need to quit wasting the money on urban rail, and quit taking the gasoline tax from the drivers and giving it to things like education.”  Texas voters will decide this fall on a ballot measure to divert some of the state’s oil and gas tax revenues to the highway fund.

Read more: http://www.ktrh.com/articles/houston-news-121300/texas-touts-toll-roads-12785793/#ixzz3ERfVtVt1

by KTRH’s Corey Olson

The Liberal Newcomers: Limit immigration or watch conservative efforts become irrelevant.

File Photo

People come to America because it is a remarkable oasis of freedom, prosperity, and opportunity. Conservatives recognize that the principal reason for our unique abundance is our constitutional restraint on the power of government. As Thomas Jefferson said, “In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Maintaining this system requires the public to support limited government. In a new report, Eagle Forum details how immigration is fundamentally changing the electorate to one that is much more supportive of big government.

By itself, the annual flow of 1.1 million legal immigrants under the current system will create more than 5 million new potential voters by 2024 and more than 8 million by 2028. Congressional Budget Office projections indicate that under the Senate Gang of Eight’s S.744 bill, the total additional potential voters would rise to nearly 10 million by 2024 and 18 million by 2028. The influx of these new voters would reduce or eliminate Republicans’ ability to offer an alternative to big government, to increased government spending, to higher taxes, and to favorite liberal policies such as Obamacare and gun control.

 There is nothing controversial about the report’s conclusion that both Hispanics and Asians, who account for about three-fourth of today’s immigrants, generally agree with the Democrats’ big-government agenda. It is for this reason that they vote two-to-one for Democrats.

The 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey found that 62 percent of immigrants prefer a single, government-run health-care system. The 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that 69 percent of immigrants support Obamacare. Pew also found that 53 percent of Hispanics have a negative view of capitalism, the highest of any group surveyed. This is even higher than the 47 percent among self-identified supporters of Occupy Wall Street.

The Pew Research Center has also found that 75 percent of Hispanics prefer a “bigger government providing more services,” and only 19 percent prefer a smaller government. Pew also reported that 55 percent of Asians prefer “bigger government providing more services,” and only 36 percent prefer a smaller government. So it’s no surprise that in 2012, 71 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Asians voted for Obama.

Even Republican emphasis on patriotism and national sovereignty is likely to alienate many immigrants. A Harris poll found that 81 percent of native-born Americans believe our schools should teach students to be proud of being American, compared with only 50 percent of immigrants who had become naturalized U.S. citizens. Only 37 percent of naturalized citizens (compared with 67 percent of native-born citizens) think our Constitution is a higher legal authority than international law.

While it seems that much of the Republican-party leadership has not actually looked at the policy preferences of immigrants, everyone else who has looked at the polls comes to the conclusion that significant majorities of immigrants and their children are big-government liberals. The New York Times’ Washington bureau chief admitted last year that “the two fastest-growing ethnic groups — Latinos and Asian-Americans — are decidedly liberal.” As University of Alabama political scientist George Hawley observes, “Immigrants are well to the left of the American public on a number of key issues.” He also makes clear that “liberalizing immigration will liberalize the U.S.” Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute points out that it “is not immigration policy that creates the strong bond between Hispanics and the Democratic party, but the core Democratic principles of a more generous safety net, strong government intervention in the economy, and progressive taxation.”

Immigration in general — not race — is the issue. The limited data for other immigrants — including Europeans and Muslims — indicate that they, too, generally hold views well to the left of the average American voter. In fact, as discussed in our new report, for reasons largely outside the control of conservatives, immigrants and their children gravitate to left-wing parties in almost all Western countries. The problem for conservatives is not race or ethnicity but immigration as such.

Read more here.

By Phyllis Schlafly

Chaffetz: Four men with Middle East terrorist ties caught at Texas border on Sept 10

Photo: FOX News Screen Shot

Was the United States closer to a terrorist attack on home soil on the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, than Americans realize?

At a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, questioned Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about a report that four men with known ties to Middle East terrorist groups were apprehended on Sept. 10, as they tried to cross the Texas border.

“I’ve heard reports to that effect, but I don’t know the accuracy of the reports or how much credence to give them,” Johnson said nonchalantly, while scratching his nose.

Again, this is coming from the man whose task is to “secure the nation from the many threats we face,” as the department defines its mission.

Chaffetz was a guest Wednesday on “The Kelly File,” and after noting that Johnson did not confirm or deny the report, host Megyn Kelly explained that Chaffetz had earlier asked Johnson if any suspected or known terrorist have ever been apprehended on the southern border.

“Sitting here right now, no specific case comes to mind,” Johnson answered, according to Kelly. “That doesn’t mean there is none, perhaps FBI director [James] Comey can think of one.”

Feeling more secure now?

Chaffetz noted that 466,000 people have been caught illegally crossing the U.S. border over the last 351 days, with 157,000 getting away, according to Homeland Security — those captured came from 143 different countries, including Syria, Iraq and Iran.

“We have a porous border […] I’m worried about [Islamic State militants] actually coming to the United States and crossing that porous border and getting into the homeland,” he told Kelly.

The New York Times reported Monday that that Homeland Security pushed back on such concerns.

“There is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by ISIL to attempt to cross the southern border,” Homeland Security officials told the Times in a written statement.

See the full exchange between Kelly and Chaffetz on the Fox News video here.

 

by Tom Tillison

Waitress Says Rush Limbaugh Tipped Her $1,000 on Two Occasions — Here’s What She Did With the Money Just to Spite Him

Photo: AP/Chris Carlson

A waitress turned author claims she received two generous tips of $1,000 on two separate occasions from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh — but she couldn’t find it in herself to keep the “blood money.”

Instead, she allegedly donated a “sizable chunk” of Limbaugh’s $2,000 tip to an abortion charity.

Author Merritt Tierce makes the claim in her debut novel “Love Me Back,” in which she tells stories about her experience as a waitress at a fancy Dallas steakhouse.

In a recent interview with the Dallas Morning News, she recalled the two occasions where Limbaugh and his friend, sportscaster Al Michaels, dined at the restaurant and left the massive tips.

“It felt like laundering the money in a good way. He’s such an obvious target for any feminist or sane person. It was really bizarre to me that he gave me $2,000, and he’s evil incarnate in some ways,” she told the paper.

Tierce said she donated a good portion of money to the TEA Fund, a charity that helps fund abortions for low-income women. However, the Dallas Morning News article does not specify how much of Limbaugh’s $2,000 represents a “sizable chunk”

Tierce was reportedly the executive director of the TEA Fund at the time.

The Other Prop. 1: State prop. gets overshadowed by electoral hot topics

PHOTO BY JOHN ANDERSON

There’s a multibillion-dollar transportation initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot. No, not that one. While Aus­tinites mull building a new rail system, also on the ballot will beState Proposition 1, which could put $1.5 bil­lion a year into road repair and maintenance. And chances are good that you have heard nothing about it.

Currently, what happens is basically that a portion of state gas and oil tax revenue goes into the Economic Stabilization Fund (better known as the “Rainy Day Fund”). If Prop. 1 passes, half that sum would move instead into the State Highway Fund. Unlike Austin’s rail proposition, the money will not go to a specific project, but will be spent like any other revenue on the general upkeep and maintenance of Texas roads. Even should Prop. 1 pass, the results will be, at best, a patch job. Lawmakers heard last session that, if current hydrocarbon tax revenues hold, the measure will provide $1.5 billion a year. Unfortunately, the Texas Department of Transportation estimates it faces $5 billion a year in unmet needs.

The public vote is an oddity, and nearly didn’t happen. Austin Sen. Kirk Watson noted that, between the anti-tax, anti-fee, anti-toll, anti-rail, and anti-debt groups, “everyone had a way to be against whatever the funding was.” Normally, constitutional amendments like Proposition 1 take place in the first election after the session in which the Legislature approves them; but knowing the measure was controversial, Speaker Joe Straus got lawmakers to delay it a year, so it would not endanger voter approval of the new $2 billion State Water Implementation Fund. Now the road funds are the only statewide proposition, and seemingly have fallen into oblivion.

“It’s definitely flying under the radar,” said Scheleen Walker, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. The group has not taken an official position on the measure, instead concentrating on endorsements in local and statewide races. It’s a complicated issue: Environmental groups generally are frustrated by the lack of rail and public transit options in the proposition, but then, congested roads generate more pollution. Still, Walker said she’s been telling voters to ask themselves one simple question: “Is this the issue that you really want to tie up Rainy Day funds?”

A handful of “Yes on One” groups have sprung up, most with strong links to the GOP: Former TxDoT chair and Gov. Rick Perry’s chief of staff Deirdre Delisi sits on the board of Move Texas Forward, while Karen Rove, wife of Karl Rove and a heavy-hitting lobbyist in her own right, serves as treasurer of Texas Infrastructure Now. However, neither group has made a major splash. The most high profile campaigning has actually been from out of state: In July, Wisconsin-based Case Construction Equip­ment sent its Dire States tour, highlighting collapsing infrastructure, on a seven-day excursion to Texas in July, and returns on Sept. 22. Why does a Wisconsin corporation care about a Texas proposition? Spokesman Bill Elverman admitted that, in part, it’s because they have large commercial construction customers in Texas. Yet there’s also a worrying lack of national discussion about infrastructure investment. Congress is at an impasse over the Federal Highway Trust Fund, and Missouri voters recently rejected a temporary sales tax increase for bridge and road investment. By contrast, he called Prop. 1 “a very unique opportunity, because there’s no new taxes and no tolls.”

So why aren’t Texans talking about the first serious investment in road infrastructure since the last gas tax increase, two decades ago? Watson suggests there’s no spare political energy. He said, “There’s been a few editorials, but it’s all being subsumed in everything from the governor’s race to, right here in Austin, the other Prop. 1” (the local transportation bond). He’s still optimistic the measure will pass. “Most people, when they hear what the proposition is and does and will achieve, they’ll go, ‘well that’s a no-brainer’.”

If Watson is right, and voters approve the $1.5 billion a year this November, that still leaves the big question of how to cover the other $3.5 billion needed just to maintain the status quo. The Democrat will be pushing to end gas tax diversions (“I’m going to scream bloody murder to make that happen,” he said, and he will seemingly have Straus’ support). However, that would only raise another $1 billion, and Watson expects to fend off the only major suggestion coming from the right: Transfer all sales taxes on motor vehicles to roads. Continuing to advocate for fiscal transparency, Watson slammed that as just another diversion, one “that would blow a $3.2 billion hole in the state budget.”

BY RICHARD WHITTAKER

Texas lawmaker failed to disclose his own clout letter in UT flap

AP Photo/Eric Gay

The co-chair of a legislative committee that investigated University of Texas regent Wallace Hall failed to disclose his conflict of interest in his conduct of the investigation: he had written one of the clout letters at issue in the controversy.

When Hall began asking questions about legislators pulling strings to get their unqualified friends and family members into UT, Speaker Joe Straus responded by assigning Reps. Dan Flynn and Carol Alvarado to lead a committee in finding grounds to impeach Hall.

Flynn, however, is one of the lawmakers who tried to pull strings for a family friend, and never disclosed that fact throughout his yearlong investigation, even as the question of legislative influence became the subject of two official investigations and independent media investigations, and ultimately led to the forced resignation of the university’s president, Bill Powers.

Flynn wrote a letter to Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa on behalf of a family friend who was applying to UT; the name of the applicant and the letter’s date are redacted on a copy of the letter that was published Thursday by the Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune published 112 pages of correspondence with Cigarroa’s office involving letters of recommendation; five of those letters were from state legislators: Reps. Flynn, Tryon Lewis and Brandon Creighton, and Sens. Carlos Uresti and Mario Gallegos.

A limited inquiry into Powers’ correspondence with legislators regarding 86 applicants found those applicants were four times more likely to be accepted than the general population.

The Tribune didn’t bother to mention Flynn’s letter in its own report. It did mention that Tryon’s letter invokes clout by referring to funding for the university’s engineering program.

The release also included a letter from Regent Steve Hicks to Powers on behalf of an applicant. Hicks is a supporter of Powers.

By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org

Contact Jon Cassidy at jon@watchdog.org or @jpcassidy000.

Is the conservative press legitimate? Texas speaker wants a rule

Photo from Texas Legislature

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus wants a committee of journalists to decide which reporters are “legitimate” so the Legislature can limit Capitol access to sufficiently apolitical reporters.

Straus made his suggestion to Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune, during a public interview at TribFest, the Tribune’s lucrative annual conference in Austin.

The timing of Straus’ remarks is noteworthy.

Since the last legislative session, three right-leaning publications have come to figure more prominently in Texas politics, and none has been particularly favorable to the Republican speaker.

Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Empower Texans website continues to hire reporters and analysts. Breitbart launched a Texas-specific publication in February and publishes articles by Sullivan.

Watchdog.org has figured in the biggest political story of the last year, the University of Texas admissions scandal and the impeachment of Wallace Hall.

Sullivan is Straus’ main antagonist in state politics. Breitbart has criticized Straus in dozens of articles. Watchdog.org has spotlighted Straus’ role in the admissions scandal, and criticized his effort to decrease government transparency.

Ramsey asked Straus if he planned to distinguish between journalists and advocates when deciding who to allow onto the House floor during the legislative session. In the old days, Ramsey said, it was easy to identify reporters,  all of whom worked for newspapers, TV, or radio.

“Now it’s blurry and there are journalists who work for publications of whatever kind that have an ideological viewpoint,” Ramsey said. “One of them is 60 years old, The Texas Observer, they have been here for ages. When you get to this point where you’re looking at a spectrum of people calling themselves journalist who includes sort of like old-school definition of journalist all the way to maybe this is an advocate, do we let them on the floor of the House? Where is the thinking on this right now?”

“I don’t know,” Straus answered. “I do know what I would like to see happen and I would like for the press association or the whatever organization is out there of media members to kind of maybe self-describe what’s legitimate and what’s not. I don’t know.”

The Legislature has long granted access to left-leaning reporters from Texas Monthly and the Texas Observer, not to mention the dailies. Straus has had little to object to from Texas Monthly, which regularly puts him and his allies on its list of Best Legislators.

“But the media landscape clearly is changing,” Straus said.  “The Texas Tribune is an example of that. But those that have a political point of view that then engage in campaign politics and they’re nothing but political consultants who were working in the off year, maybe it would fit under a different definition. But the San Antonio Express News makes endorsements in campaigns, so I don’t know where the line is, but it’s a tricky one and it’s complicated. Again, I would like for maybe the media associations to help us sort it out.”

According to House rules, the House Committee on Administration oversees press credentials, said Straus spokesman Jason Embry. The chairman of the committee is Rep. Charlie Geren, one of Straus’ lieutenants.

That sort of arrangement is common in state legislatures. Correspondents committees handle credentialing for U.S. Congress.

According to a legal brief filed for the Society of Professional Journalists, when “a government official denies a reporter a press pass because of something he or she has published, the denial is presumptively unconstitutional. However, government officials are unlikely to expressly state that they are withholding a credential for this reason.”

Handing credentialing over to a press committee helps elected officials dodge liability. Press committees, however, are made up mostly of mainstream reporters comfortable with the magazines and alt weeklies that have been telling compelling and factual stories from left of center and much less so with the same kind of reporting and storytelling from the right.

Watchdog asked Sullivan and Breitbart Texas’ editor, Brandon Darby, whether they would be applying for Capitol press credentials.

“No one from Empower Texans has ever applied for floor access,” Sullivan said. “I had legislative press credentials years ago when I was at the Denison Herald and Brazosport Facts. Not to say Empower Texans wouldn’t in the future, but thus far we have not.”

Darby didn’t respond right away.

Watchdog.org’s Deputy Editor Mark Lisheron has had credentials for years. This reporter doesn’t, and doesn’t plan to ask for any.

Which doesn’t mean this reporter would sit still for a press committee denying him the option.

By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org

Contact Jon Cassidy at jon@watchdog.org or @jpcassidy000.

Dwaine Caraway says he has the votes on Dallas City Council to rename Lancaster Road for Nelson Mandela

Photo: David Woo/ The Dallas Morning News Staff photographer

On Wednesday the Dallas City Council will vote on council member Dwaine Caraway’s proposal to rename a six-mile stretch of Lancaster Road in honor of late South African president Nelson Mandela. He will need the support of three-fourths of the council. Caraway insists he has it.

Wednesday’s vote comes less than a week after the City Plan Commission recommended denying the name change by a vote of 13-1. The only commissioner to vote in favor of the name-change was District 4′s representative Betty Culbreath, Caraway’s appointee. The CPC’s vote came two months after its Subdivision Review Committee likewise recommended denial of the street name change. Said commissioner Bobby Abtahi in July, “There does seem to be a lack of support, and it doesn’t seem that this was a groundswell in the community.” But, he said then, this will ultimately be decided by the full city council.

“I believe in letting people have a voice and the right to their opinions,” Caraway says of the CPC’s vote. “But when it gets to the council I will make my points known. I expect to have the votes Wednesday to pass it. That’s the level where I’m hands-on. I don’t get into a big to-do about it. But I am a little disappointed with some of the planning commissioners, especially those that portray themselves to be of African descent.”

Some at Dallas City Hall say this is far from a sure thing, in part because of the sheer length of Lancaster — six miles, from Illinois Avenue all the way to Interstate 20, inside the Dallas city limits. That will impact hundreds living and working along that corridor, including the Dallas VA Medical Center, which has remained neutral, at least publicly, about the proposal. Several speakers at CPC Wednesday pointed out the sheer logistical nightmare of renaming a street that long.

But Caraway needs three-fourths of the council to sign off on the proposal for two reasons: Dallas City Code prohibits naming a street for someone who hasn’t been dead for at least two years; and there’s a 14-character limit on street names. Caraway says he isn’t concerned.

The name change to Nelson Mandela Boulevard is needed “if we’re going to grow south and change the attitude and give new hope and bring crime down and bring retail of quality,” he says. “All of the horrible conditions of Lancaster have been there forever. A new name brings about new opportunity. There are people who are excited about it. The rest who don’t want it, that’s the nature of the beast. Now I am lobbying for the votes, and I do have the votes.”

By Robert Wilonsky

Abbott’s hard push for Hispanic votes has an eye to future

Photo: KXAS-TV (NBC5)

Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott set their first debate in the Rio Grande Valley, where Abbott has visited more than a dozen times.

EDINBURG — From billboards on high featuring his Latina mother-in-law to the ground game of knocking on doors, Greg Abbott this weekend is continuing an unprecedented Republican push in South Texas.

It is not just the need of now, for this campaign for governor, but the effort to build a future Republican majority as well.

Throughout the campaign, Abbott has placed an emphasis on the Rio Grande Valley. It’s designed to blunt not only Democrat Wendy Davis’ support this year but also Democratic efforts to turn the state blue in the future.

“This is not about beating Wendy Davis. This is about beating Battleground Texas,” an Abbott adviser said.

Democrats scoff at the idea that Republicans can win Hispanics over, given the heated immigration rhetoric of some on the right, cuts to education funding and opposition to Medicaid expansion and a boost in the minimum wage. But Abbott and some other Texas GOP leaders hope to make a connection on issues ranging from abortion to economic opportunity.

And there’s a more basic starting point, too — showing up in their communities and asking for votes. Abbott has visited the Valley more than a dozen times, and in Friday’s debate with Davis, a first for the region, he emphasized his efforts to offer an inclusive tone.

Four years ago, Democrat Bill White won 42 percent of the vote against Gov. Rick Perry, largely by garnering 61 percent of Hispanics’ ballots, according to exit polls.

Battleground Texas, a group headed by veterans of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, has set up shop in Texas with the intention of boosting Democratic voter turnout, especially among Hispanics.

By actively competing for Hispanic voters, Abbott and his GOP allies hope to hold down Davis’ vote total. If she fails to do much better than White, their hope is that Battleground Texas’ efforts would be called into question and money aimed at boosting Democratic fortunes in the state in 2016 and beyond could dry up.

Davis campaign officials dismiss Abbott’s contention that he could win an unprecedented 50 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas. They don’t think he will even match the high-water mark of 44 percent earned by President George W. Bush in the state in his 2004 re-election campaign.

The chances that could happen? “Zero,” said James Aldrete, who is heading the Latino media effort for Davis.

“It’s not that Hispanics in the Valley are yellow-dog Democrats, but when you look at which party they’re welcomed in, it is overwhelmingly Democratic,” Aldrete said.

He pointed to issues that Davis raised Friday night in the first governor debate ever held in the Valley — issues that the campaign will remind voters of again and again.

Among them, Abbott has defended the Legislature’s $5.4 billion cut in school funds and has favored dismantling parts of the Voting Rights Act. The state Republican Party platform contains harsh language denouncing immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

“It’s hard to say that he can remove the baggage of his party with a little bit of rhetoric, especially because he’s not backing off any of the policies,” Aldrete said.

Nevertheless, Abbott has managed to win endorsements from seven mayors — including Harlingen’s and McAllen’s — from the Valley. The Republican Party of Texas has sent full-time field representatives to Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley and opened Hispanic outreach field offices in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso.

Virtually all of Abbott’s ads are in Spanish as well as English, including one just released starring Mexican telenovela star and singer Eduardo Verástegui. Abbott also likes to say he married into a Hispanic family and would bring the first Latina first lady to the governor’s mansion.

Abbott’s chief political strategist, Dave Carney, said the campaign was buoyed by Democratic primary results in which Davis lost several South Texas counties to a Hispanic opponent who did almost no campaigning. Davis’ team has dismissed the results as irrelevant.

Carney said the campaign has focused part of its field operation and voter-identification effort on Hispanic voters. He cited “dynamic modeling,” in which the campaign has identified more than 1 million Hispanic voters it believes would be receptive to the Republican’s message about jobs, the economy and conservative social values, especially opposition to abortion.

“We look at who’s for us,” he said. “We have a 100-person field team. And we’ve been doing it over a year.”

“We know every single voter we need to turn out, who they are,” Carney added. “Our outreach program — both [the state GOP’s effort] and what we’re doing — it’s all focused on a very specific model.”

Campaign spokesman Avdiel “Abe” Huerta called the outreach unprecedented for a Republican candidate and said Abbott “remains committed to securing half of the Hispanic vote in the upcoming election.”

Former state Rep. Aaron Peña, who switched to the Republican Party four years ago, helped host a pachanga in Mission on Saturday night featuring Abbott.

He said he remembers speaking to Abbott over lunch several years ago, long before the attorney general had announced his candidacy for governor.

“The subject came to my community in South Texas and the Hispanic community. He said we’re going to transform politics in this state. He wanted to make an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community and do it like it’s never been done before,” Peña recalled.

He said he recognized that some Republican activists, and even a few candidates, have used harsh rhetoric and placed punitive proposals into the party platform that make it harder to win over Hispanic voters.

“There have been outliers who have not helped our cause,” Peña said.

Erica Sackin, a spokeswoman for Battleground Texas, said what she has seen on the ground in South Texas belies the optimism and wishful thinking of the Abbott campaign.

“The level of enthusiasm we have among our volunteers is high, and there are big numbers out knocking on doors and making phone calls and doing everything they can to support Wendy Davis,” Sackin said.

The Davis campaign points out the candidate has made more than three dozen campaign stops in South Texas. She also has a long list of community leaders — more than 50 from the Valley — who have endorsed her and are working as surrogates for her at campaign events.

In addition, Sackin said Battleground Texas has signed up 30,000 volunteers who are trained to go into the community, talk to friends, call relatives and knock on neighbors’ doors to urge them to register and vote.

“We’re so excited by how much momentum we’re seeing of people who are organizing in the Valley, who are community members,” Sackin said.

Peña said he’s seeing a different momentum. When he asks Democratic friends about Davis’ campaign, he contends, they shake their heads.

The combined antipathy toward President Barack Obama in Texas and Davis’ fight against a bill that outlawed abortions after 20 weeks has persuaded a lot of Valley voters to sit out this election.

“They might vote for Hillary [Clinton in 2016], but they’re not going to vote for Wendy Davis,” Peña said.

And that’s the start Abbott needs.

Follow Christy Hoppe on Twitter at @christyhoppe and and Wayne Slater at @wayneslater.

choppe@dallasnews.com;

wslater@dallasnews.com

UPDATE: Answering the question about Obama

AUSTIN — Wendy Davis answered a question Saturday that she ducked when rival Greg Abbott asked it in Friday’s debate: She doesn’t regret her vote for President Barack Obama.

Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor, blew off Abbott’s question, which was designed to tie her to the unpopular president in debate viewers’ minds. She talked instead about what she hopes to do as governor.

Asked again Saturday at an event sponsored by The Texas Tribune, Davis said: “No, I don’t regret it.” As for why she didn’t say that in the debate, Davis said: “We were there to talk about who we are going to be as future leaders of this state. … I thought it was striking that when he had the one opportunity to ask me a question, instead of asking me something about who I will be as governor, he asked me about who I voted for as president.”

By Marissa Barnett

Migrant children, in limbo, settle across Texas, U.S.

Photo: ROBERT CALZADA

Since last October, more than 66,000 children from Central America have illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without parents — a steady flow that has overwhelmed Border Patrol agents and federal social workers who, following the law, dispersed the children to cities across the nation.

Their arrival overflowed short-term detention facilities this summer, triggered humanitarian relief efforts and prompted heightened efforts by U.S. and Mexican officials to dissuade migrants from attempting the dangerous journey north. The border crisis further exposed divisions on either side of the immigration debate, as President Barack Obama called for expedited deportations and Gov. Rick Perry, saying federal efforts weren’t adequate, deployed National Guard troops and additional Department of Public Safety troopers to patrol the border.

But as children continue to cross the border — now at a slower pace than earlier in the summer — and settle into cities across the country, a humanitarian crisis is becoming a bureaucratic one.

“They were getting those kids out as quickly as they possibly could,” said Meghan Johnson, an attorney with the ProBAR Children’s Project, which provides legal services for migrant children facing deportation proceedings.

Many of the children are staying in Texas, with more than 350 in Travis County living with sponsors, typically family members, the third-highest number among Texas counties.

Johnson and her team based in the Rio Grande Valley have for years responded to a steady flow of unaccompanied minors picked up by border agents. Like border officials, they had a system that worked: Let the children settle at a short-term facility, then teach them their legal rights and implore them to show at court in their destination cities.

But then the border apprehensions spiked this year, causing a bottleneck in the system. With thousands of children stuck in border lockups, federal officials scrambled to open more long-term facilities or expand existing ones. They needed to shuffle more children through, faster.

An unintended consequence, Johnson said, is children might not have enough time with attorneys — which could lead to some failing to appear in court. Others might not fully appreciate how difficult it is to win an asylum case in immigration court.

Most of the children are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where violence and extreme poverty are driving people out. Unlike children from Mexico, children from noncontiguous countries are by law remanded to the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some members of Congress have said they plan to repeal that proviso in the otherwise popular Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Immigration attorneys also are concerned that Obama’s efforts to expedite removal proceedings threaten to violate the right of children to make a case for refugee status — a concern heightened by the dearth of attorneys willing to take on a child’s case for free.

Nearly half of minors in deportation proceedings appear without an attorney, according to a study of 100,000 cases over the past decade by Syracuse University researchers. The same study found that about half of the children represented by a lawyer weren’t deported, while only 1 in 10 children facing immigration court alone were allowed to stay in the U.S.

How smoothly the recent wave of migrants’ cases will flow into immigration courts is yet unclear, but both immigration attorneys and judges have expressed skepticism that simply speeding up the court docket would work.

“Because we have been left to the mercy of the political winds, which constantly buffet immigration issues, we have been resource-starved for decades,” Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said in a news conference.

Migrant children in Texas

However this tangle plays out, it will play out in Texas.

About 5,300 of the unaccompanied child migrants, or 8 percent, have been placed with family or other sponsors in Texas, which is now home to more of the unaccompanied migrant children than any other state, according to an analysis of data from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Nearly 2,900 sponsored children are living in Harris County, which accounts for more than half of Texas’ migrant children population and is now home to more migrant children than any other county in the nation. There are 851 migrant children living with sponsors in Dallas County, the second-highest in the state. The 354 migrant children living with sponsors in Travis County is more than double the number in Bexar County.

But those numbers don’t account for the thousands of children who remain in federal facilities and shelters throughout the country. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which effectively has custody over the children, wouldn’t say how many children remain in facilities in Texas, but a spokesman said that about 2,500 are in such care nationwide.

Historically, about 85 percent of unaccompanied children are reunified with sponsors somewhere in the U.S. in about 35 days, according to the agency.

Texas licensing records show that, as federal workers hurried to place children in beds this summer, state officials relaxed some rules to allow more than a dozen facilities to expand their capacity. At the height of the influx, records indicate state regulators allowed agencies to add about 800 beds. Currently, about 3,000 beds are available to children in Texas. The average stay in such a facility is less than a month, officials said.

Not a security risk

Federal figures indicate the flow of migrants is waning. The politics, though, haven’t abated.

The activation of 1,000 National Guard troops by Perry, who is considering a presidential run, recently was criticized by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Some South Texas police agencies have called the deployment unnecessary, while business groups and economists have said the military presence is hurting the local economy.

Perry, for his part, has said that the state’s border enforcement initiatives will help secure the border from criminals, even terrorists, while the Border Patrol deals with the problem of unaccompanied children.

The combined cost of the National Guard and DPS operation is costing Texas taxpayers as much as $18 million a month.

Yet the national security risk posed by the migration of mostly women and children remains unclear.

“From our standpoint, from the security standpoint, the children that are coming across are not a security risk,” DPS Director Steve McCraw told a House committee this month. “They may be an indirect risk.”

Early fears that the travelers could bring illness with them have proved unwarranted, though three cases of H1N1, or swine, flu and multiple cases of chicken pox were documented.

“Our schools are safe as far as disease goes,” Dave Gruber, a regional director for the Department of State Health Services, told that committee.

 

By J. David McSwane – American-Statesman Staff