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State seeks exec for abstinence, abortion programs

By ALEXA URA

AUSTIN — As part of a legislatively ordered restructuring of Texas health agencies, the state health commission has begun advertising for someone to fill a new executive job overseeing “women’s education services” — including abstinence education and counseling on alternatives to abortion. The position could pay six figures.

The new Director of Women’s Education Services would be part of the newly formed Women’s Education Services Unit, according to a job listing posted to the health agency’s website, responsible for overseeing three hot-button programs previously run by a sister agency — abstinence education, abortion alternatives and funding for judicial bypass proceedings for minors seeking abortion.

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Richards shows alternative to Cruz’ Texas

By Peggy Fikac

 

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, participates in a phone banking event at the Hillary Clinton campaign office in Austin on Sept. 9. Photo: Carolyn Van Houten / 2016 San Antonio Express-News Photo: Carolyn Van Houten Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, participates in a phone banking event at the Hillary Clinton campaign office in Austin on Sept. 9.
AUSTIN – In a state stereotyped nationally by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz cooking bacon on a machine gun, Cecile Richards sees a different kind of sizzle.

The daughter of the late trailblazing Gov. Ann Richards and prominent labor and civil-rights lawyer David Richards, her outlook was shaped by the progressive causes that she was taught to revere, but have always faced an uphill battle.
“In Texas, you don’t get anything that you don’t fight for. I certainly learned that from my mom and my dad, whether it was the labor movement or the civil rights movement or the early women’s rights movement,” Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

“I don’t think it’s accidental that a lot of strong leaders come out of the state of Texas,” said Richards, who lives in New York but makes frequent trips back here as she did recently, combining some campaigning for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton with attending her 83-year-old father’s wedding.

Richards, 59, is the determined leader of Planned Parenthood as the organization is repeatedly targeted by anti-abortion forces, becoming a lightning rod for the right whether she is enduring a congressional grilling, joining a throng of protesters, writing about her own abortion, celebrating a U.S. Supreme Court victory or touting Hillary Clinton’s support for women’s rights and health care.

While turning aside suggestions for years that she run for office, Richards sees Texas activists pushing back against the long GOP reign that she says doesn’t represent Texans’ desires, despite elections to the contrary.

She pointed to clamorous Texas Capitol protests when the Republican-dominated Legislature in 2013 passed tighter abortion restrictions. The law was overturned this year by the U.S. Supreme Court, which called the requirements an undue burden on abortion rights.

‘Lift up the voices’

“I never have felt that the politicians – and I would certainly include Gov. (Greg) Abbott in this – are reflecting the hopes and desires of folks in Texas. These attacks … were on far more than access to safe and legal abortion. They were on access to basic cancer screenings. They’ve shut Planned Parenthood out of the breast cancer screening program,” she said. “I believe that every time they have put their political agenda ahead of the well-being of women in the state of Texas, they’ve made a huge mistake.

“And we have seen the most extraordinary organizing and pushback,” she said. “I believe so strongly that that Supreme Court decision is directly linked to what we have seen people on the ground do in Texas and that is … lift up the voices of women who have been disenfranchised.”

An Abbott spokesman declined comment.

Richards praised others when asked about being perhaps the nation’s best-known face in the fight for access to safe abortion and women’s health care. It’s a reputation she has put to use in traveling to more than 20 states for the first woman to be a major party’s presidential nominee, but she takes pains to emphasize it’s built on the work of many.

“There are a lot of women – and not only women – that have been in the forefront of this fight for a long, long time. I’m honored to be part of it, but I don’t by any stretch want to think that I am the sole or even the most important leader in this movement,” she said, a familiar theme for her. After the Washington Post outlined the “bolder” abortion rights movement under her leadership at Planned Parenthood, she submitted a correction saying it had overstated her role.

National influence

Richards nevertheless has influenced national policy since taking the top job at Planned Parenthood more than 10 years ago, recounting a memorable personal call from President Obama before his announcement that birth control would be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

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Texas Lawmakers Criticize Border Surge For Moving Crime but Not Stopping It

The Texas Tribune

The $800 million border security operation passed by state lawmakers has helped seal off parts of the state’s southern border. But the surge has also made the rest of the area more of a hotbed for illegal activity, the state’s top law enforcement officer told lawmakers on Wednesday.

The assessment by Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw came during a House Homeland Security and Public Safety meeting in Brownsville, where Democrats hammered away at the DPS chief and questioned whether the buildup is successful is if it’s not securing the entire 1,254-mile border.

In 2015, lawmakers approved money to fund 250 more DPS officers on the border and to flood the area with cameras and other detection equipment to help stop illicit activity.

The allocation came in response to an unprecedented surge of illegal immigration in Starr and Hidalgo counties, mainly by unaccompanied children or families from Central America. State lawmakers said the surge was necessary because the migration tied up U.S. Border Patrol agents and made the area less safe.

While those counties have seen less crime, gangs have moved their operations into other parts of the border where the DPS presence isn’t as great.

“So what that two-year operation did was it reduced the traffic of crime and drugs in two counties but it moved it to other counties?” asked state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D- Rio Grande City during the hearing, which was broadcast via livestream.

“Yes, that’s correct. They displaced it elsewhere,” said McCraw who described a frustrating situation where cartels and smugglers play a border game of whack-a-mole with American law enforcement.

It means that nearby counties like Zapata and Webb to the west and Cameron to the east have seen a spike in crime, the director testified, adding that the far West Texas counties of Hudspeth and Brewster are “unsecure.” DPS’ “unsecure” designation means law enforcement has limited or no detection, interdiction or support capabilities.

“At one time, the Rio Grande Valley was the center of gravity for everything,” he said. “For the first time, we’ve seen the Laredo Sector is increasing and may go beyond the Rio Grande Valley in the number of drugs seized.”

Drug seizures were down in Starr and Hidalgo counties by more than 20 percent from 2014, while seizures in Webb and Cameron counties increased by more than 10 and 20 percent, respectively, according to 2015 data from the El Paso Intelligence Center that McCraw presented to lawmakers.

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Massive Texas congressional district isn’t home for either candidate

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A West Texas congressional district sprawls 58,000-plus square miles and two time zones, from San Antonio to just outside El Paso. Yet neither the Republican who represents it nor the Democrat trying to reclaim the seat actually lives there.

The home of first-term Republican Rep. Will Hurd, 39, is in the San Antonio suburb of Helotes, just outside the borders of a district that is larger in land area than 29 states.

The challenger, former Rep. Pete Gallego, spends most of his time away from the district in Austin, but lists his official address as the remote town of Alpine, which is in the district. One of the properties his family owns there — a boarded up home and former cafe site — was recently slapped with a sign declaring it a “dangerous” violation of Alpine safety codes. Gallego has declined to say if he ever stays at one of the others.

Gallego, 54, keeps a district apartment in San Antonio that serves as his base while campaigning, but his wife, Maria Elena Ramon, and 11-year-old son Nicolas live 80 miles north of San Antonio in Austin. Contracts show Gallego worked as a city lobbyist there as recently as the summer of 2015.

Federal candidates aren’t required to live in the district where they run for office, and districts represented by members of Congress who reside elsewhere are fairly common throughout the country. But few districts nationwide are as large as the one Hurd and Gallego are contesting.

Conservative Texas activists have sometimes tried to make living outside a congressional district an issue. GOP primary challenger and Dallas-area tea party organizer Katrina Pierson, now a national spokeswoman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, accused longtime Republican Rep. Pete Sessions of it in 2014. That charge didn’t stick and Sessions trounced Pierson. Hurd faced no serious primary challenger this cycle.

“You can’t really make the argument that Will doesn’t live in the district, either. He’s in San Antonio all the time when he’s away from Washington,” said Hurd campaign manager Justin Hollis.

A former Texas A&M student body president, Hurd spent nine years with the CIA in India, New York, Afghanistan and Pakistan before returning to Texas. Hurd’s house in Helotes was part of the district when he first ran for Congress and lost in the Republican primary in 2010, Hollis said, and now is “less than 100 yards” outside it according to more-recent redistricting maps.

Asked why Hurd hasn’t moved into the district since, Hollis said it was a moot point because the congressman “lives a stone’s throw away.”

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DPS Director: Crime Will Increase Even With More Border Security Funding

Despite an increased budget request in border spending, Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said security along the Texas-Mexico border is only expected to worsen. His statements were part of a special House committee meeting that took place this week in Brownsville.

McCraw told the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security that Operation Secure Texas has allowed troopers to focus on cracking down on drug smuggling and human trafficking in just a couple counties within the Rio Grande Valley.  He says that cartels operating along the border have since shifted their criminal operations to adjacent border counties where crime has suddenly risen.

“It’s going to become worse as we continue to move east and west, there’s no question about it, we’ve seen it with the numbers, at the same point the goal that was set was to displace it outside of Texas,” McCraw explained. McCraw laid out his vision for increasing the DPS border operations budget to help cover the remaining 1,200 miles of the border.

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Houston Taco Trucks Pull Double Duty as Voter Registration Booths

Next time you stop by a taco truck for a quick lunch, budget a few extra minutes into your break because you might be able to sign up to vote.

Starting this week, taco trucks all over Houston will hand out voter registration cards to customers in an effort to raise voter turnout in the upcoming election. The idea for the initiative, which is a partnership between the local design firm Rigsby Hull and Mi Familia Vota – an organization that aims to increase Latinos’ civic engagement – came from an unlikely place: a hashtag, #tacotrucksoneverycorner.

A few weeks ago, Marco Gutierrez, founder of the group Latinos for Trump, appeared on MSNBC to warn about the apparent “problems” that his culture might bring to the United States. “My culture is a very dominant culture. And it’s imposing and it’s causing problems,” he said. “If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks [on] every corner.”

The phrase quickly went viral, as many on social media bashed Gutierrez using the hashtag #tacotrucksoneverycorner.

“We thought it was an unfortunate statement but rather funny, because in Houston we do have taco trucks everywhere, and food trucks of all kinds,” said Thomas Hull, of Rigsby Hull. The firm had been interested in getting involved with the election, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity – why not turn those taco trucks into voter registration booths?

So Rigsby Hull reached out to Mi Familia Vota and, within only a few weeks, the initiative launched. “It perfectly fits with what we do,” said Carlos Duarte, Mi Familia Vota’s Texas state director, explaining that Mi Familia Vota staff often travel everywhere from parks to churches to try to register voters.

Many taco truck owners were enthusiastic about the idea, Hull said. “We’re selecting trucks in areas that we knew would reach out to the Latin community, so they were parked in the areas where we figured that would have the impact on the community we’re trying to reach the most,” Hull explained. “Others were kind of high-traffic areas.”

However, because Houston is so diverse, the initiative is intended to reach more than just Latino potential voters, Duarte said. “I had the opportunity to man one of the taco trucks and I had people of Asian descent, African Americans that had moved from California, a couple of white folks and, yes, a couple of Latinos.”

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Texas energy sector remains depressed

DALLAS, Sept. 29 (UPI) — Remnants of a slump in the oil and gas sector are still evident in the Texas economy even as signs of improvement emerge, a bank survey found.

A survey of business activity from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas finds support for a general expansive sentiment for energy firms. Those companies tied to the exploration and production side of the energy sector showed contraction, but at a slower pace than previous quarters.

Michael D. Plante, a senior economist with the Dallas Fed, said that, generally speaking, the oil and gas sector showed signs of recovery during the third quarter.

“With that being said, signs of the slump still remain visible as employment indicators remained soft, and respondents expressed concerns about continued oversupply in the oil market,” he said in a statement.

The Texas Railroad Commission, the state energy regulator, reported this week that daily production for July was up slightly from earlier this year. The recovery comes as crude oil prices are holding steady in the mid $40-per-barrel range and energy companies are starting to show resilience to what was abnormal just two years ago when crude oil prices were about $100 per barrel.

Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, whose agency is charge of energy in the state, said the Permian shale basin in particular showed strong signs of strength even as pressure in the broader sector remains.

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