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Straus Says He’s “Awfully Sick” of UT Regents Drama

Photo by: Bob Daemmrich

*Correction appended.

Speaking at the University of Texas at Austin on Saturday, House Speaker Joe Straus said he’s “awfully sick” of the drama between regents and legislators that is making it the “only campus in the state of Texas that gets this much attention.”

“I think we’re hopefully about to work our way through this,” Straus, R-San Antonio, said in an interview at The Texas Tribune Festival, suggesting that a new governor would appoint some new regents. “I hope that a new governor … will be mindful of where we’ve been. I think we’ll find, the regents will find, that the Legislature wants a better relationship with them.”

Straus was referencing an ongoing faceoff between a House committee that voted to admonish and censure University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall — who was waging a personal investigation into lawmaker influence in the UT-Austin admissions process — and system regents. The UT system has commissioned an outside review of those same types of allegations.

Straus, who has acknowledged writing letters on behalf of applicants he saw as qualified, said he hopes the state isn’t headed to a point where students don’t want lawmakers to recommend them. He called the allegations of improper legislative influence in admissions “a manufactured issue.”

Higher ed wasn’t the only topic Straus touched on Saturday.

Asked about whom he might support in the 2016 presidential cycle, Straus wouldn’t say directly, but hinted strongly that he was a big fan of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and added that the Bushes were close family friends.

On his own political ambitions, Straus wouldn’t say how long he hopes to stay in his position. But he added that he’s hopeful that he’ll be elected to a fourth term — and acknowledged that his early challenge, from state Rep. Scott Turner, a Frisco Republican — was “a little distracting” from legislative business.

Straus said that even though there will be big turnover after the November elections, “my prediction for the session is it’s going to be orderly and not as scary as some people are predicting.”

He also said that while outside groups have begun to play an outsized role in Texas politics, inside the Texas House, partnerships and relationships are the same as they’ve ever been.

“I reach out to other members. I don’t close the door on anyone,” he said. “I don’t think bipartisanship is a four-letter word.”

One thing that could be different in the upcoming session, Straus suggested, is how the Legislature decides which news organizations qualify for media credentials. He said he’d like to see a press committee get involved in devising new rules for reporters.

“Those that have a political point of view, that then engage in campaign politics, are political consultants during the off year, maybe fit under a different definition,” he said.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

Correction: A previous version of this story said UT system regents had commissioned an external investigation. The UT system commissioned the investigation. 

Weeks After Davis Revelation, Dukes Says She Had Abortion

Photo: The Texas Tribune 

*Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

Two weeks after news emerged that state Sen. Wendy Davis terminated two pregnancies for medical reasons, another Texas legislator talked about her own abortion during a heated debate Saturday on women’s health.

During a panel discussion at The Texas Tribune Festival, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, revealed that she has had an abortion. After Dukes argued that there are false perceptions about the psychological effects of abortion, Republican Molly White, who is running unopposed to represent House District 55, said that women who have not had abortions don’t have the same understanding about the effects of the procedure.

“To the world, I had an abortion,” Dukes shot back, adding that she had not suffered from any psychological effects because of the procedure. White, who has had two abortions, said her experience had led to drug and alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts.

During the panel, Dukes also criticized recent abortion regulations passed by the Republican-led Legislature, saying the argument that the regulations are about women’s safety is false.

My statement was 2 counter that abortion causes women 2 become alcoholics/drug addicts,” Dukes wrote on Twitter after the panel in response to a reporter. “FALSE! Those women need counseling period.”

The politics around abortion became a focal point last summer when lawmakers proposed a new abortion law, which eventually passed as House Bill 2. The law bans abortions after 20 weeks, requires doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, and requires abortion facilities to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways and having pipelines for anesthesia.

Davis filibustered the original abortion legislation last summer during a special legislative session, temporarily derailing it, but it was signed into law weeks later at a second special session.

Supporters of the law say that it offers protections that will improve women’s safety when obtaining an abortion. But opponents argue that it is only serving to shutter dozens of clinics across the state and is intended to reduce access to the procedure in the state.

A provision of HB 2 is being challenged in federal court. Days before it was set to go into effect, a federal judge overturned the admitting privileges provision. It remains unenforced, but state attorneys have asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to enforce the law as the law­­suit goes through the appeals process

If enacted, the final provision of the bill could leave only six or seven abortion facilities open in the state.

On Sunday, the day after her panel, Dukes posted on Facebook that she was grateful that “a safe and legal means was available when as an adult woman, I had to make the decision to have a medical procedure performed.”

“My reason for making this decision was private and will remain private — end of story,” she wrote. “Folks have about as much right to know why as they have a right to know when/why you have a pap smear, rectal exam or root-canal — none whatsoever.”

Eva Longoria producing drama loosely based on Vogue story about Castro twins

Photo By Charles Dharapak/Associated Press 

Eva Longoria is producing a drama loosely inspired by a Vogue article about Julián and Joaquin Castro, according to Deadline Hollywood, a website that reported will explore the “lies, blackmail and manipulation” it takes wield political power

The idea for the project came from a March 2013 Vogue magazine article about S.A.’s Castro brothers.

“The colorful and cutthroat world of Texas politics will serve as backdrop of a Latino family drama from Eva Longoria’s UnbeliEVAble Entertainment and Condé Nast Entertainment, which has landed at ABC,” the website reported.

ABC Entertainment publicist Janet K. Daily confirmed a political drama for the network is in the works.

The drama — to be called “Pair of Aces,” taken from the headline in the Vogue article profiling the twins, “Pair of Aces: Rising Democratic Stars Julián and Joaquin Castro” — is loosely inspired by that article. The story profiled Democratic rising star Julián Castro, who was mayor at the time and presently is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and his brother Joaquin Castro, then-newly elected U.S. congressman.

“After reading the VOGUE article, I thought, ‘What if we did a show about brothers on opposite sides of the political spectrum,’ ” Longoria said by email. “And with a dark family history that is full of skeletons. So actually it’s the opposite of the Castro brothers! Haha(.) I think Texas politics are as big as national politics so it was an interesting background for a show.”

Deadline reported that the project is “described as an operatic family drama” and “revolves around brothers Chris and Alex Reyes, Latino golden boys who are both best friends and rivals. They are rising stars in Texas politics whose destiny is engineered by their manipulative mother Maria. She is determined to turn the Reyes family into the most powerful dynasty modern politics has ever seen.”

How does the Castro twins’ mother Rosie Castro feel about the plot description?

“I’m not going to take it personally. It’s an interesting concept, and I wish (Longoria) luck,” she said. “This is fictional, and I think any author or writer takes pieces from here and there to create a drama and build on it. ... You need manipulative people because every good story has to have conflict.

The Vogue profile by Jacob Weisberg featured the twins and their mother and focused on the brothers’ background, and their close relationship now to each other as family and as political allies.

“It’s not that the Castro brothers are interchangeable: They have separate lives, interests, and careers in public service ... But as a political phenomenon, they are a two-for-one package, halves of a joint enterprise focused on expanding the kind of educational opportunity that has enabled their own, mutual rise. They’re each other’s closest advisers, best friends, and top supporters,” Weisberg wrote.


Staff Writer Jeanne Jakle contributed to this report.