Politics

Politics
11:21 am
Wed March 5, 2014

On to November: The Winners in the 2014 Texas Primaries

Attorney General Greg Abbott delivers his primary acceptance speech in San Antonio.
David Martin Davies, TPR

The results are in for the 2014 Texas Primary Elections. We now know who most of the candidates will be in the November general election, but several statewide races are headed to a runoff on May 27.

We've compiled a list of the top vote earners for the major statewide and Travis County races. The percentage of votes received (as of this writing) is shown next to each candidate's name. Races with an asterisk are heading to a runoff.

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Primary Election Day
3:10 pm
Tue March 4, 2014

You Can Now Vote Until 9 p.m. in Travis County Primaries. Here's Where.

Primary voters can cast their ballot at any polling place with a "Vote Here" sign.
KUT News

Update: It's worth noting that ballots accepted from 7 to 9 p.m. will be provisional ballots. A press release from Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has more: 

Pursuant to Texas election laws, ballots cast by individuals who arrive at a polling place after 7 p.m. but before the polls close, will be voted as provisional ballots.  Ballots cast provisionally are reviewed by a ballot board and will be accepted as long as the voter is otherwise qualified.  Votes casts by eligible voters during extended hours will be counted and included in the final tally, however, results from these ballots will not be included in this evening’s unofficial vote totals. 

“We appreciate the dedication and stamina of our election workers who will be working long into the night.” said DeBeauvoir.  “Elections wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of these steadfast and faithful citizens who conduct elections under extraordinary circumstances.” DeBeauvoir added.

Some observers are already discussing what effect those ballots could make – especially in one Travis County race. Jim Henson, director of UT-Austin's Texas Politics project, tweets "That ringing sound you hear? Calls from[Andy] Brown, [Sarah] Eckhardt to election lawyers." 

Update (2:40 p.m.): A judge has granted a request to keep Travis County polling places open an extra two hours tonight - until 9 p.m. - after icy weather caused voting officials to delay opening polls until 11am this morning.

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Politics
11:56 am
Tue March 4, 2014

On Farms, School Lunches & Gas Pumps, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Weighs In

The Agriculture Commissioner focuses on much more than cows and crops.
KUT News

When Texans – mostly farmers and ranchers – sat down to write the state constitution in the 1800's, they didn’t see the need for an elected Agriculture Commissioner.

That oversight was quickly remedied.

Texas agriculture, crops and cattle are known across the country and around the world. Its "Go Texan" campaign can be seen in grocery stores and TV ads across the state: Why buy vegetables from California, when you can pick from that (noticeably labeled) batch from Texas?

But the office does more than sell the product. It also helps farmers and ranchers successfully grow it. 

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Politics
2:29 pm
Mon March 3, 2014

The Main Thing People Think Texas' Attorney General Does (But Really Doesn't)

The state's attorney has many roles in the Attorney General's office.
flickr.com/safari_vacation

Texas' current Attorney General, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott, has his own memorable description for his job.

"My job description has been simplified over the past four years," Abbott said during a speech in April. "Because what I do is I go into the office, I sue the federal government and then I go home."

Abbott was purposely oversimplifying what his office does, but defending the state's laws is a key element.

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Politics
2:01 pm
Mon March 3, 2014

Texas Comptroller, the State Bureaucrat Who Can Grind Budgets to a Halt

How much money the state spends can be dictated by the Texas Comptroller.
flickr.com/amagill

The Texas Legislature writes the state budget. The Governor signs it into law. But with a single action the Texas Comptroller can kill the entire appropriations process.

But before we get to that. let's start with the real burning issue: How do you pronounce it?

"No that's the argument right, is do you pronounce it controller or comptroller," UT Law School professor Hugh Brady says.

OK. Pronunciation aside, what does the office do?

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Politics
11:36 am
Mon March 3, 2014

The Surprising Role of Land Commissioner, Launch Pad of Texas Politics

This 1849 map of Texas was compiled from land office records – and is currently available for sale on the land office's website.

The state of Texas owns a bunch of land. That's because, in case you didn't know, we used to be our own country and joined the United States without the need for a land grant from the Feds.

All that land needs someone – and an office – to look after it.

"I think the Land Office describes the duties of the Land Commissioner pretty well," says the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Bill Peacock. "It's basically to take care of the public lands of the state of Texas that don't belong to a specific agency or universities or things like that." 

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Texas Politics
3:47 pm
Fri February 28, 2014

A Brief History of Texas' Most Powerful Political Office: Lt. Governor

The Bullock Texas State History Museum. Bullock helped build the office of Lieutenant Governor into a political powerhouse.
Credit Teresa Vieira for KUT News

When I moved to Austin in 2002, one of the first things I did to acclimate myself to Texas was visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum

I remember standing on the second floor, staring at the statue of the man whose name was chiseled onto the side of the building. Then I started to read his history on the plaque at the base of the statue to see just how long he'd been Governor or U.S. Senator.

That's when I discovered Bob Bullock had only been Lieutenant Governor.

"Lieutenant Governor is basically the Vice President of the United States," University of Texas School of Law professor Hugh Brady says.

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Politics
7:52 am
Fri February 28, 2014

Meet the Candidates: Barry Smitherman

Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman is running for Texas Attorney General
Credit Todd Wiseman for The Texas Tribune

Raised in Highlands, Texas, Barry Smitherman initially set his sights on the world of finance. But a funny thing happened on the way to the top: an op-ed he cowrote on reforming Houston's finances led to him getting fired from his high-profile post at Bank One.

At age 42, Smitherman had to start over, accepting a post as a "baby" prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney's office. Out the blue came an appointment from the Governor to serve on the Texas Public Finance Authority and then the Public Utility Commission, where he became chairman. In 2012, He was elected to the Railroad Commission, which he chairs.

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Politics
6:23 pm
Thu February 27, 2014

President Obama Coming to Austin for Civil Rights Summit

President Obama speaking on the U.T. Austin campus about the importance of education, August 9, 2010
Marsha Miller, University of Texas at Austin

President Obama is planning to be in Austin on April 10 to deliver the keynote address at a Summit on Civil Rights. The event at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum commemorates 50 years since President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. 

“I think we see the Obama Administration has taken active part in the national dialogue about the progress we’ve made over the past 50 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act," says Ranjana Natarajan, a civil rights expert and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. "They’ve been working on policies to further that process, whether it’s healthcare or criminal justice reform."

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Politics
10:29 am
Thu February 27, 2014

Brown, Eckhardt Duke it Out in Dem Primary for Travis Co. Judge

Sarah Eckhardt and Andy Brown have begun their final push to next week's election.
Credit facebook.com/saraheckhardtaustin, facebook.com/andybrowntx

The retirement of longtime Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe has led to a spirited battle in the Democratic primary to pick his replacement. 

One way to view the race is as a battle between connections and experience. Andy Brown has the connections as leader of the Travis County Democratic Party for the last few years. He's participated in multiple campaigns and raised a bunch of money for local Democratic candidates – so maybe it's no surprise that he's backed by a slew of elected officials.

"I've been endorsed by Congressman [Lloyd] Doggett, by Jim Hightower, by every single Democratic elected official who's endorsed in this race," Brown says. "I've been endorsed by the labor union that represents county employees, the one that represents teachers."

On the other side is former Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, who's running on her experience.

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Attorney General Race
6:00 am
Thu February 27, 2014

Meet the Candidates: Dan Branch

State Representative Dan Branch is running for Texas Attorney General
Credit Michael Stravato for the Texas Tribune

If you follow Texas politics, you've heard the news: Republican Greg Abbott's running for Governor.  That leaves his former seat open, clearing the way for the first competitive primary race for Attorney General since … well, you have to go all the way back to 1998.

Three prominent Republicans have stepped up to the plate: State Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman, and, in our studios today, State Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas.  

First elected to the Texas House in 2002, Branch has been practicing law for nearly three decades, launching his own highly successful firm. 

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Politics
3:37 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Sorry Austin Dems: City Won't Host 2016 Democratic Convention

The 2012 Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte, North Carolina. Could Austin compete in 2016?
flickr.com/stevebott

Update: Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced today that the city won't pursue hosting the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Despite noting that “recent past conventions have injected $150 to $200 million into the [host] cities economies,” Leffingwell cited two hurdles to an Austin convention: facilities and transportation.

Leffingwell told reporters the DNC has very specific operational requests; foremost among that is a facility big enough for convention attendees.

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Lt. Governor Race
6:00 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Meet the Candidates: Leticia Van De Putte

State Senator Leticia Van De Putte announces her bid for Texas Lt. Governor
Credit Janis Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Last spring, as Republican lawmakers tried to defuse Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis’ 10 hour filibuster on abortion restrictions in Texas, a fellow Senator named Leticia Van de Putte attempted to get the attention of the presiding officer.  

"Mr. President," Van De Putte shouted, "at what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?"

The remark won Van De Putte some attention, all right.  

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Lt. Governor Race
6:05 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Meet The Candidates: Todd Staples

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is running for the GOP nomination for Lt. Governor.
Tamir Kalifa, Texas Tribune

Growing up in rural East Texas, Todd Staples says he didn’t think much about politics until a fateful telephone call from a former high school teacher. There was ‘a mess’ in the local city council: would Staples consider making a bid for local office? At first he declined. Then there was silence on the line. “I’ll never forget the words he spoke to me,” Staples says. “He said, ‘we gave to you, and it’s time for you to give back’.”

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Politics
7:59 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

Davis Wins Round of Fundraising But Abbott Has More Cash Overall

Democrat Wendy Davis won the latest money battle in the race for Texas Governor. But her likely Republican opponent Greg Abbott is still winning the larger war for campaign cash.

Monday at midnight is the deadline for candidates to tell the Texas Ethics Commission how much they raised in the preceding 30 days.

Davis and a Democratic organization supporting her, the Texas Victory Committee,  raised $2.85 million in the last month.  That was more than Abbott's $2.45 million

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