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Santorum endorses Abbott for Texas governor

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum ran for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.(Photo: Seth Wenig, AP)

Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and his PAC are getting behind Republican Greg Abbott’s bid for Texas governor.

“Greg Abbott has been a fearless defender of our Constitution, fighting against Obamacare and the intense government overreach of the Obama administration. He has also been a champion fighter in Texas to protect the unborn,” said Santorum.

Abbott, currently Texas’ attorney general, and Democrat Wendy Davis are the leading candidates to replace retiring Gov. Rick Perry. Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth, shot to fame last year with her marathon filibuster against a bill imposing restrictions on abortion.

Santorum has long been a favorite of social conservatives for his staunch opposition to abortion rights.

While Santorum is perhaps best known from his 2012 presidential campaign and his days as a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, he made sure to note his Texas ties in the news release from his Patriot Voices PAC.

“As CEO of a Texas-based company,” Santorum said, he’s looking forward to hitting the campaign trail in the Lone Star state with Abbott. That’s a reference…Continued here:

Comptroller Candidates Duel Over Tax Bill in Speeches


A $700 million tax reform measure served as a political football Thursday, as three of the four Republican candidates for comptroller spoke at a conference in Austin.

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy; state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville; and former gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina each delivered speeches at the annual meeting of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. Former state Rep. Raul Torres is also a candidate in the Republican primary. And Democrat Mike Collier is running, as well. Neither Torres nor Collier attended the event.

While all three candidates said they were interested in working to continue the state’s ongoing economic success, Hegar and Hilderbran also offered competing takes on the evolution of House Bill 500, a major franchise tax reform measure that they worked on together earlier this year.

Hilderbran, who serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax bills, originally passed the bill out of the House with provisions targeting specific industries that had long complained that the franchise tax treated them unfairly.

In the Senate, Hegar, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters, argued that the House version was too complex, and he replaced most of those provisions with a broad 5 percent cut in the franchise tax rate.

The bill that ultimately passed included elements of both versions.

On Thursday, Hilderbran said the bill could have been better and criticized Hegar’s work on it.

“One of my colleagues in this race, who really begged and pleaded to make sure he got to carry my bill, and when he did, it went to his subcommittee. What did he do? He stripped everything out of it, including the permanent tax-rate cut, and replaced it with a temporary tax-rate cut of two years,” Hilderbran said.

Hegar argued during his speech that the Senate made HB 500 more equitable.

“We wanted to make sure we dealt with the most egregious issues of those different categories of the margins tax,” Hegar said. “But, also, how do you give something to all 800,000 businesses. Everybody deserves something.”

Medina, who officially entered the race Wednesday, avoided the debate over HB 500 and used her speech to criticize the state’s overall tax structure as inefficient and unfair.

“Rather than a tax code that is simple, transparent and reliable, we’ve created a convoluted system of some 60-plus various taxes with volumes and volumes of exceptions and exemptions,” Medina said.

She she said she was interested in becoming comptroller to further a statewide conversation on abolishing the state’s property tax, which she argued “distorts the free market.”

“It’s important that we begin to look at taxes more appropriately, not as reward and punishment, not as carrot and stick, but as a means of equitably sharing in the cost of local and state government,” Medina said.

While Hegar and Hilderbran had launched their campaigns months ago, Medina had only been exploring a bid until Wednesday. In September, Medina said she was considering a second run for governor, this time as an independent, in part because she was having trouble drawing enough donations to properly fund a bid for comptroller.

On Thursday, she said fundraising remains a challenge, although she had built her campaign account enough to begin hiring a campaign staff.

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Local Governments Pursue Obamacare Enrollment


HOUSTON — To coordinate education and outreach efforts associated with the Affordable Care Act, the Houston Department of Health and Human Services is taking an approach that mirrors how the Federal Emergency Management Agency might react to a catastrophe.

The Enroll Gulf Coast initiative has set up an “incident command structure” to synchronize the activities of 13 organizations in Harris and 12 nearby counties. An “intelligence committee” created heat maps showing the ZIP codes with the region’s highest number of uninsured residents and “access” points, like community centers and libraries, to connect with people in those neighborhoods. Meanwhile, an “operations committee” uses that information to host canvassing and health insurance enrollment events in targeted neighborhoods. The groups also share an online dashboard to input data and track their coordinated enrollment efforts in real time.

“The number of uninsured people that we have here in Harris County, 1.1 million, yeah, that’s a public health emergency,” said Ben Hernandez, deputy assistant director for the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. “That’s why it’s easy for us to say, ‘Let’s treat it like we’d treat a hurricane.'”

While no one believed carrying out the Affordable Care Act in Texas would be easy, a series of additional obstacles has impeded efforts to help the 6.2 million uninsured Texans find health coverage. The launch of the federal marketplace,, was a technical disaster. The state’s Republican leadership, saying Medicaid is broken, has refused to expand the program for impoverished adults. And last week, the Texas Department of Insurance issued state regulations that added further training and other requirements for the navigators hired and trained by recipients of federal grants to help people enroll in the health marketplace.

Still, government officials and community-based organizations are working together to incorporate new rules, maximize their resources and educate uninsured Texans on how to take advantage of the federal law.

Will Velazquez, a project coordinator for Bexar County’s Department of Community Resources, is working to unite health care and nonprofit entities in San Antonio to educate the community about the law. “We basically said, ‘How can we serve the community as a whole?’” he said.

Twice a week, the county reserves 16 computers at BiblioTech, the digital library in San Antonio, and brings in navigators and certified application counselors from five local organizations to assist people with enrollment.

“I need health care right now, so I’m anxious to get in there and see how that’s going to work for me,” said Lisa Guerrero, a part-time clerk in the Bexar County constable office, who visited BiblioTech recently for assistance.

Guerrero has been uninsured for nine years. During that time, she relied on community-health clinics that offer sliding-scale prices for low-income residents.

It can be difficult for low-income families like hers to navigate the health system, because those clinics’ wait times for an appointment with a specialist can range from four to six months, and scheduling follow-up appointments with the same doctor can be nearly impossible. Guerrero said she shared diabetes and blood pressure medication with her father, because appointments are too costly.

“It’s kind of ridiculous that we have to jump through so many hoops to get cough medicine, to get diabetes meds, to get a check-up or a Pap smear,” she said.

Of the 6.2 million uninsured Texans, 28 percent would qualify for tax credits to help them purchase private health plans on the federal marketplace, and 14 percent would qualify for Medicaid coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In addition, more than one million Texas adults — 17 percent of the state’s uninsured population — fall into a coverage gap, according to Kaiser, because the state declined to expand Medicaid to include adults below the federal poverty threshold.

So far, only 118,532 Texans have selected a health plan on the federal marketplace.

Gov. Rick Perry has said expanding Texas’ Medicaid program would cause taxes to “skyrocket” and crush the state’s economy “under the weight of oppressive Medicaid costs.”

In September, he asked the Texas Department of Insurance to enact additional regulations on federal navigators. The regulations were necessary to protect consumers, he said, because the navigators handle sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, and the federal guidelines were insufficient.

The insurance department issued the regulations Tuesday, requiring federal navigators to undergo background checks and receive an additional 20 hours of state-specific training. Navigators must register with the insurance department by March 1, and complete the additional training by May 1, the end of the six-month enrollment period for the federal marketplace.

“Obamacare presents enough problems for Texans without the risk of a convicted felon handling their personal information,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said in a statement. “These are basic requirements for screening individuals hired with taxpayer money to handle sensitive consumer information.”

The federal Department of Health and Human Services awarded $11 million to organizations in Texas to hire and train navigators. They are required to receive 20 to 30 hours of training under federal law.

The United Way of Tarrant County received the largest grant, $5.8 million, and has distributed the money to 17 organizations around the state. There are 165 navigators in that consortium, including 13 hired by the city of Houston. To expand its efforts, Hernandez said the Houston health department has trained 90 city employees to become navigators and expanded their job responsibilities.

The Houston health department is also working with government entities and community-based organizations in Dallas, El Paso, Austin and the Rio Grande Valley to extend Enroll Gulf Coast’s strategy across the state, Hernandez said.

Tim McKinney, the chief executive of United Way of Tarrant County, said navigators within their consortium had conducted 10,000 one-on-one information sessions with Texans, and enrolled 914 people in health plans, as of Dec. 31.

“The primary mission of a navigator — it’s really not to enroll, it’s to educate and inform,” he said.

Democrats and some health care advocates are critical of the new state rules, saying they are intended to obstruct navigators’ work by adding additional costs and training requirements during the final weeks of the six-month enrollment period.

“It’s really difficult to say that it’s not a politically motivated stunt,” said Tiffany Hogue, statewide campaign coordinator for Texas Organizing Project, political advocacy group for low-income Texans that is working with government entities in Dallas, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley to educate Texans on the their insurance options..

The insurance department has said that “unrelated political considerations would be an inappropriate basis for the rules,” and that its intent is to broaden the pool of qualified navigators.

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

MRAP, Maxx and the Militarization of Our Local Police Forces

What a Christmas little Bastrop had! It’s still a mystery how Santa Claus got it down the chimney, but Bastrop got a nifty present that most children could only dream about: a big honkin’, steel-clad, war toy called MRAP.

But Bastrop is not a 6-year-old child, and an MRAP is not a toy. Bastrop is a Texas county of some 75,000 people, and MRAP stands for “Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected.” It’s a heavily armored military vehicle weighing about 15 tons — one of several versions of fighting machines that have become the hot, must-have playthings of police departments all across the country.

Are the good people of Bastrop facing some imminent terrorist threat that warrants military equipment? No, it’s a very pleasant, laid-back place. And while the county is named for a 19th century land developer and accused embezzler, it’s never been a haven for particularly dangerous criminals — indeed, the relatively few crimes in Bastrop today don’t rise above the level of routine police work.

Even the sheriff’s department, which is the proud owner of the MRAP tank, says it doesn’t have a specific use for the machine, but “It’s here if we need it.” Well, yeah … but that same feeble rational would apply if the county decided to get an atom bomb — you just never know when a big mushroom cloud might come in handy!

What we have here is the absurdly dangerous militarization of America’s police departments. Our sprawling Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon (which gave the MRAP to Bastrop) are haphazardly spreading war equipment, war techniques and a war mentality to what are supposed to…Continued here:

El Paso County judge race: UTEP professor predicts Apodaca, Escobar will end up facing off

County Judge candidates Aliana Apodaca, top left, and incumbent Veronica Escobar answer questions from a moderator as Burges High School as students hold time cards in front of them at a political debate Saturday at Burges. County judge candidate Eddie Holguin chose to not attend the debate. (Rudy Gutierrez / El Paso Times)

By Aileen B. Flores / El Paso Times

While the race for county judge features three candidates, a political expert forecasts the March 4 Democratic primary will end up in a runoff election between incumbent Veronica Escobar and political newcomer Aliana Apodaca.

City Rep. Eddie Holguin is also seeking to oust Escobar.

There are no Republican candidates competing for the seat.

Gregory Rocha, political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said despite Holguin’s name recognition, his latest campaign finance report did not favor him. And although campaign contributions don’t necessarily dictate the winner, money helps candidates promote themselves, he said.

On Jan. 15, Escobar and Apodaca reported more than $60,000 in donations each. Holguin’s campaign finance report shows he has collected about $7,300.

At six weeks away from the election, Holguin has to take the race seriously and work hard to catch up and win, Rocha said.

Holguin, who has served as an El Paso city representative for about nine years, was the last candidate to announce his candidacy in December.

Holguin said Rocha’s prediction is good news to him.

“Dr. Rocha gets almost everything wrong 100 percent of the time,” Holguin said.

Although he has not been able to raise as much in contributions…Continued here:


George P. Bush running multimillion-dollar campaign

Photo courtesy: Star-Telegram Paul Moseley

By Anna M. Tinsley

FORT WORTH — George P. Bush recently added more than $750,0000 to his already multi-million dollar campaign war chest, in his quest to become the state’s next land commissioner.

His fundraising efforts dwarfed those of other candidates in the race, fellow Republican David Watts of Gilmer, who raised another $7,000 for his campaign, and Democrat John Cook, who raised more than $13,000, according to recent campaign finance reports.

“He’s got the same name as two former presidents of the United States,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “When your name is George Bush, you are going to be able to raise money.

“People give more donations to people whose name they recognize — and people who they think are going to be winners.”

In this race, Bush and Watts are squaring off in the March 4 primary. The winner will face Cook in the November general election.

At stake is the Texas Land Commissioner post, an office held since 2003 by Jerry Patterson, a former state senator who now is in the GOP race for lieutenant governor.

The land commissioner oversees a broad variety of functions, including managing billions of dollars of state assets, investments and mineral rights, and serves as chair of the Texas Veterans Land Board and on a variety of state commissions and boards such as the School Land Board and the Coastal Coordination Advisory Committee.

Past land commissioners have sought higher office, including Republican David Dewhurst, who now serves as lieutenant governor, and Democrat Garry Mauro, who unsuccessfully ran for governor against Republican George W. Bush in 1998.

‘Money matters’

Bush — son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush and grandson of former President George H.W. Bush — lives in Fort Worth with his wife, Amanda Williams Bush, an attorney, and their young son, Prescott Walker Bush.

The Spanish-speaking attorney and asset manager has dominated fundraising efforts, raising $772,582 in the last half of 2013, to give him $2.8 million in cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission that reflect donations in the last half of 2013.

“We know money matters,” said Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, an associate political science professor at the University of North Texas. “If you are in a tight race, you can draw on money to do a lot of things your opponents can’t do. … Candidates need money to get their message out.”

Bush’s latest report included more than two dozen local donations, including $5,000 from the BNSF Rail Political Action Committee in Fort Worth, $10,000 from Fort Worth philanthropist Anne Marion and $10,000 from Fort Worth architect Christopher Huckabee.

Bush received $9,000 each from the Good Government Fund PAC and the PSEL-PAC, political action committees run by the Bass family. He also received $200 from the Freese and Nichols PAC, $1,800 from the Penrose Group LLC of Fort Worth and $5,000 from Compass Well Services in Fort Worth.

“The Classic 101 of running a good campaign is raise money early and raise as large a war chest as possible not only to stave off a primary challenge, but also one in the general election,” said Victoria Farrar-Myers, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“Money isn’t everything, but it speaks volumes.”

‘Shake things up’

In the last half of 2013, Watts, an East Texas businessman, raised another $7,000 for his campaign and has $2,709.79 in cash on hand, reports show.

He received at least half a dozen donations from supporters in Tarrant County, including $200 from Michael Olcott of Fort Worth, $100 from Kelly Cannon of Arlington and $100 from Carol Cox of Arlington.

Cook, of El Paso, received the bulk of his donations from his hometown.

While he raised $13,153 during the last six months of 2013, he listed that he had no cash on hand by the end of the year, according to the campaign finance reports.

Among his filings was a more than $19,000 loan from a Tram Cook… Read more here:

Without contribution limits, Texas legal reform group expects more spending from ‘bully’ attorney

By David Yates

HOUSTON (Legal Newsline) – Viewing him as a “bully” at the state capitol, a legal reform group suspects plaintiffs attorney Steve Mostyn will continue to spend millions of dollars on liberal politicians, such as state Sen. Wendy Davis, to ensure he has his way with the Texas legislature.


As previously reported, on Dec. 31 the Mostyn Law Firm donated $1 million to the Texas Victory Committee – a joint project of Wendy R. Davis for Governor and Battleground Texas, according to the Texas Ethics Commission. Davis is a democrat running for governor, likely against current Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott.


“Houston hurricane lawyer Steve Mostyn’s massive contributions to Wendy Davis are no surprise – he has a history of helping the most liberal politicians in America,” said Sherry Sylvester, spokesperson for Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC.


“Mostyn is viewed as a bully in our state capitol as he does everything he can to expand the reach of litigation in order to reap ever higher awards and legal fees for personal injury and mass tort plaintiff lawyers.”


Unlike the vast majority of states, Texas imposes no limits on the amount an individual can contribute to a state candidate.


So in other words, wealthy individuals spending big bucks to elect their chosen candidates and lobby the legislature defines Texas politics, according to one expert.


“The political climate in Texas is very distinctive; we have very low voter turnout compared to other states,” said Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.


The SMU professor believes there is a correlation between the low voter turnout and the fact that a handful of rich Texans spend small fortunes every year to influence elections – a scenario that he suspects will not change anytime soon.


“The same people who are giving large contributions are spending money on lobbyists to make sure the rules don’t change,” Jillson said. “The average Texan looks at that and says ‘what’s the point.’”

When asked if Texas’ no-limit policy was ethical, Jillson said ethics is not a singular decisive rule, giving the example that a pure capitalist would argue people have the right to spend their money as they see… Continued here:


Judge denied Abbott’s request to consolidate marriage equality cases

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia denied Attorney General Greg Abbott’s request to move the Texas marriage-equality case DeLeon v. Perry out of San Antonio and consolidate several cases in Austin.


The judge found that, while the two cases “share a common issue with the present lawsuit in that all Plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of Defendants’ refusal to let them marry their same-sex partners, the three lawsuits differ in important respects.”


While some defendants want to marry in Texas, others want the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages.


Earlier this month, the Austin court hearing one of the cases also denied Abbott’s request to consolidate the cases.


“Furthermore, the Court finds Defendants have failed to establish that Austin is a more convenient venue for this case,” Garcia wrote.


He said that when the venue where the case would be transferred is not shown to be more convenient than that chosen by the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s choice of venue should be respected.

“The Plaintiffs in this case all reside in Texas, and can travel as easily to hearings in either Austin or San Antonio,” Garcia ruled. “Furthermore, the issues to be tried in this case are… Continued here:

Texas Gov. Perry shocks some with comments on marijuana

(Photo: Justin Hayworth, AP)

Rick Jervis, USA TODAY

Says that states should be able to set own policies on abortion, gay marriage and marijuana legalization.

AUSTIN — The Republican governor of Texas supporting less jail time for pot users?

Gov. Rick Perry, a staunch conservative, riled the Lone Star state Thursday when he told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that he supports the decriminalization — though not the legalization — of marijuana use.

“As the governor of the second-largest state in the country, what I can do is start us on policies that can start us on the road towards decriminalization” by introducing alternative “drug courts” that offer treatment and softer penalties for minor offenses, Perry said during an international panel on drug legalization at the summit.

Perry was speaking alongside former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

Perry emphasized that he is not for the legalization of marijuana but defended states’ rights to make those choices. He said it’s perfectly constitutional for states like Colorado to experiment with decriminalization and that Washington should stay out of those decisions.

“I am a staunch promoter of the 10th Amendment,” Perry said, according to U.S. News & World Report. States should be able to set their own policies on abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, he said, “then people will decide where they want to live.”

Annan praised Perry for “beginning to roll that (criminalization of drugs) back in Texas.”

Back in Texas, those who worked with Perry on criminal issues were stunned at the public acknowledgement.

“Shocked,” said Ana Yañez-Correa, director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group that favors drug treatment over incarceration for marijuana possession. “The decriminalization of marijuana is not something Perry has …Continued here:

Judge backs VIA in streetcar fight with AG

Photo: Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News

Vianna Davila

AUSTIN — VIA Metropolitan Transit celebrated a victory over Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Thursday after receiving the go-ahead from a Travis County judge to issue bonds for transit projects the state had argued were linked to VIA’s streetcar project.

Abbott’s office had tried to make the case VIA could not spend the bond proceeds on the projects because they were too closely connected to streetcar. The argument was partially based on the state’s assertion that streetcar is equivalent to light rail, and the money VIA wanted to spend can’t be used for light rail.

But Travis County District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky disagreed with the state’s case and authorized VIA to move ahead with the bond sale.

VIA has said that ultimately, it’s bus riders who will benefit from Thursday’s ruling because the bond proceeds will fund… Continued here: