Jay Root, Texas Tribune

Reporter with The Texas Tribune

Jay Root is a native of Liberty. He never knew any reporters growing up, and he has never taken a journalism class in his life. But somehow he got hooked on the news business. It all started when he walked into the offices of The Daily Texan, his college newspaper, during his last year at the University of Texas in 1987. He couldn't the resist the draw: it was the the biggest collection of misfits ever assembled. After graduating, he took a job at a Houston chemical company and realized it wasn't for him. Soon he was applying for an unpaid internship at the Houston Post in 1990, and it turned into a full-time job that same year. He has been a reporter ever since. He has covered natural disasters, live music and Texas politics — not necessarily in that order. He was Austin bureau chief of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a dozen years, most of them good. He also covered politics and the Legislature for The Associated Press before joining the staff of the Tribune.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Comptroller Susan Combs announced Wednesday that she will not seek re-election and that she is retiring from public office at the end of her term in 2015. Combs, who had been positioning herself to run for lieutenant governor, will not run for that post or other elective office. 

"It is with a deep sense of gratitude for the past, coupled with excitement for the future, that I announce today I will not be seeking elective office in 2014," Combs said in a statement, adding that she would keep working on several policy priorities, but that she wanted to spend more time on her West Texas ranch. "I want to make my intentions clear as soon as possible for prospective statewide candidates."

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Small cigarette manufacturers would face new state fees on their sales under a measure that passed the Texas House in a preliminary vote on Monday — a big win for Big Tobacco. 

The bill passed 85-53. 

The nation’s four largest tobacco companies currently pay more than half a billion dollars to the state every year as part of a 1998 lawsuit settlement. They have for years lobbied for small cigarette manufacturers, which were not included in the $17 billion settlement, to face a similar financial penalty.

Steve Jurvetson via Texas Tribune

When Texas promised to protect a threatened lizard in the oil-rich Permian Basin, state officials entrusted the day-to-day oversight to a nonprofit that sounds like an environmental group: the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation.

What’s not advertised is the occupation of the board members who created it.

Muliadi Soenaryo via Texas Tribune

The Texas Ethics Commission backed away Thursday from a controversial proposal to take certain investigative authority away from the Travis County district attorney’s office, but the agency approved two recommendations aimed at enhancing criminal inquiries of state elected officials.

Michael Stravato/Texas Tribune

Democratic victories across the nation left Republican voters and activists with the political version of a hangover last week. In the alternate universe known as Texas, they are blaming the Champagne.

Republicans here are celebrating another statewide sweep. They held onto huge majorities in the Legislature and the Texas congressional delegation. And at a time of increasing angst about their ability to thrive as the Hispanic population grows, the Texas Republican Party has fielded the first Hispanic U.S. senator from Texas — Ted Cruz.

“Thank God for Texas,” Chris Turner, a Republican consultant, said in a post-election speech to Republican activists in a conservative suburb of Austin. He said, joking, that the state might consider using stimulus money “to build a moat around our northern border.”

Nationwide, conservatives watched as Democrats scored come-from-behind victories in some red-state U.S. Senate contests and thinned out the Republican Party’s majority in the U.S. House. Victories by gay rights proponents and supporters of legalized pot did nothing to lift their spirits.

Michael Stravato, Texas Tribune

Ted Cruz, a Harvard-educated lawyer and Tea Party icon, easily won the U.S. Senate race Tuesday night, becoming the first Hispanic from Texas to land the job.

Cruz had a huge, insurmountable lead in early returns. In early statewide returns, his total was slightly behind Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's total, but the gap represented a relatively low number of split ballots. Romney was beating President Obama by more than 15 points with about 10 percent of the precincts reporting, according to early unofficial returns.

The outcome of the U.S. Senate race was never much in doubt. Democrats haven’t won statewide in Texas since 1994, and Democrat Paul Sadler had so little money — about 5 percent of what Cruz raised — that he couldn’t even afford to run a single TV ad hitting all media markets.

Jennifer Whitney, Texas Tribune

SAN ANTONIO — Texas Republicans are used to playing offense — and winning — but in the sprawling 23rd Congressional District, they have a fight on their hands.

Two years ago, Francisco "Quico" Cansecorode the Tea Party wave to Washington after defeating the Democratic incumbent. Now he faces a challenge from state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, who has served in the Legislature for 22 years.

The district, larger than Mississippi, stretches from San Antonio to El Paso and encompasses 800 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. It has the unusual distinction of being both overwhelmingly Hispanic (66 percent) and almost perfectly balanced between the two parties.

In 2008, Barack Obama got 49.88 percent of the vote here, and John McCain got 49.27 percent.

Texas Tribune

Three Republicans who served in the Legislature with Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, are criticizing his GOP opponent's use of a picture of Jesus in a controversial mail piece.

Gallego said U.S. Rep. Quico Canseco's adverstisment, which uses both the face of Jesus and two men kissing each other to criticize the Democrat’s stand on social issues, went “beyond the pale,” and he has called on Canseco to apologize to the voters who got it.

Canseco's campaign said the congressman stands by the ad and calls it accurate.

The Gallego campaign released statements from state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, and former Reps. Elvira Reyna, R-Mesquite, and David Swinford, R-Dumas.

Texas Senate

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, throwing some red meat to conservatives after his bruising defeat at the hands of Tea Party darling Ted Cruz, has put private school vouchers and expanded “parental choice” back on the legislative agenda.

Speaking to delegates at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, Dewhurst said he would work with state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to hammer out the details of the proposal.

Dewhurst made it clear that he supports the voucher concept, though he said that is just one of many options to pursue.

Gov. Rick Perry unveils his "Texas Budget Compact" in Houston on Monday, April 16. On stage with Perry, from left to right: state Reps. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, and conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.
Photo by Jay Root, Texas Tribune

Ambitious Republicans have been waiting in the wings for years, anticipating when Gov. Rick Perry will step out from under the spotlight they crave. 

But the longtime governor may not be ready to move off the stage just yet.

Despite carrying the wounds from his gaffe-prone presidential campaign, Perry showed this week he still knows how to dominate the political conversation. He urged all Republican candidates for state office this year to sign on to his pledge to cut spending and oppose all tax increases — and many of them are rushing to embrace it. (And even if they're not embracing it, they're talking about it).

Photo by Gage Skidmore via the Texas Tribune

Rick Santorum’s withdrawal today from the 2012 presidential contest makes Texas Republicans, once again, all but irrelevant in their party’s nomination process.

The drawn-out nature of the race had given party activists rare hope that this would be the most competitive presidential primary since 1976, when Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford duked it out in a contest that didn’t end until the party’s convention.

But a legal fight this year over redistricting pushed the Texas primary to May 29 from early March.

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is picking up a big Texas endorsement Tuesday — from Speaker of the House Joe Straus.

“The people of Texas are looking for a leader that will stand up to President Obama and clearly articulate conservative values. We’ve had enough of the out-of-control spending, government intrusion, and economic decline of the last three years,” Romney said in a release. “I look forward to working with Joe in the months to come as I outline my vision to restore America’s greatness.”

The Straus endorsement comes as a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll shows rival Rick Santorum with a huge lead in the Lone Star State, crushing both Newt Gingrich and Romney by double digit margins. Gov. Rick Perry, who withdrew from the presidential race late late last month, has endorsed Gingrich.

Image by Todd Wiseman/Jay Root, Texas Tribune

As the White House and Congress battle it out over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the Canadian company that wants to build it is still using its land-seizure powers to get property easements for the ambitious project.

And it’s ruffling some feathers in a politically conservative patch of Texas.

Several landowners along the proposed pipeline route say TransCanada has bullied them into selling their property by asserting “eminent domain” authority, the same power that governments use to seize land for highways and other public infrastructure projects. A property rights coalition tracking the condemnation proceedings has uncovered at least 89 land condemnation lawsuits involving TransCanada in 17 counties from the Red River to the Gulf Coast — cases that could test the limits of a private company's power to condemn property.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Rick Perry’s presidential campaign is trying to remain a player in national politics even though the candidate dropped out of the race nearly a month ago.

Perry’s presidential campaign treasurer, Sal Purpura, is asking the Federal Election Commission whether it can use certain donated funds to create a federal political action committee — possibly even a super PAC — that could solicit unlimited contributions and potentially run ads to support favored candidates or causes.

Purpura asked the FEC on Monday to render an official opinion about whether Perry could convert his campaign to “non-connected PAC status.” Purpura said the campaign is considering a variety of conversion options, including one that would create a super PAC.

The campaign is proposing to fund initial operations of the new committee with some of the $270,000 it had left in the bank when Perry quit the race Jan. 19.

Photo by Ed Schipul, Texas Tribune

Legislation cracking down on insider trading by members of Congress hasn’t landed on the floor of the U.S. House yet, but it’s already become a political football in Congressional District 10.

That’s because the Democrat who wants that seat, international affairs consultant Dan Grant, is alleging that incumbent Rep.Michael McCaul, R-Austin, is benefiting from lax ethics rules for U.S. representatives and senators — rules the pending U.S. STOCK Act would help strengthen.

McCaul says his opponent is flat wrong.

At the heart of the dispute is the McCaul family’s private interest in the company pushing the Keystone XL Pipeline — and the congressman’s public advocacy for the project as a member of Congress. McCaul, believed to be the second-wealthiest member of Congress, reported that his family owned $115,000 to $300,000 in TransCanada Corporation stock as of 2010, the latest year available, according to ethics filings compiled online by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

He may be out the race for the White House, but a combative Rick Perry said Monday he would keep fighting for the conservative ideals he championed on the campaign trail.

“I’m not slipping off into the sunset. I’m not riding off into the west,” Perry told Republican activists in Round Rock. “We’ve got plenty of work to do right here in the state of Texas. And I got plenty of fight left in this old 61-year-old body.”

It was Perry’s first public appearance since pulling of out the presidential race on Jan. 19. He was treated to a hero’s welcome — including two standing ovations — at the event, a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Williamson County.

Perry, who had never lost an election before, leaned on the sports culture of Texas A&M University, his alma mater, to explain what happened to him in the 2012 race. Aggies don’t like to use terms like “lose” or “defeat.”

“We just ran out of time,” Perry said. “I’m not used to running out of time.”

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

When Joe Allbaugh walked into his first staff meeting at the headquarters of the Rick Perry presidential campaign on Oct. 24, the governor of Texas had already blown his once formidable lead in the polls.

But there was still hope that he could rise again, and campaign manager Rob Johnson introduced the physically imposing Allbaugh, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as a key part of the rescue effort.

“I’m just here to help,” several senior Perry advisers remember Allbaugh saying.

A few days later, at a subsequent gathering, it was a different story.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Tiny crowds. Calls for surrender. Defections.

The signs of defeat are everywhere, but Gov.Rick Perry is still campaigning as if he had a fighting chance to win the crucial South Carolina primary and keep his presidential ambitions alive.

Photo courtesy Fox News

The 16th debate of the Republican presidential primary season ended Monday with front-runner Mitt Romney bruised but not beaten. Gov. Rick Perry delivered one of his stronger performances, while Congressman Ron Paul remained blunt and unwavering on his anti-war, noninterventionist foreign policies.

During a two-hour debate before a highly enthused and vocal audience in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the moderators from Fox News and The Wall Street Journal mentioned the notable absence of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who dropped out of the race earlier in the day. That left the four underdogs scrambling for more airtime. They spent the first quarter of the debate criticizing Romney’s business record as the former head of Bain Capital, disputing his job-creation claims.

Rick Perry, trying to claw his way back into the 2012 presidential competition, conjured up images of hungry vultures on Tuesday to describe frontrunner Mitt Romney’s past as a corporate takeover artist.

Perry and other GOP hopefuls are increasingly using Romney’s track record at Bain Capital, the firm he led before becoming governor of Massachusetts, to tar the presidential frontrunner as a purveyor of greed and economic ruin.

Romney says he’s proud of his tenure there and frequently uses it to tout business credentials the other candidates don’t have. But during a town hall meeting in Fort Mill, Perry cited South Carolina companies that were taken over, broken up or sold off, prompting hundreds of layoffs.

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