2012 Presidential Election
7:33 am
Tue November 6, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be An Independent Voter In Texas?

Independent voters outnumber those who call themselves Democrats or Republicans. But what, exactly, is an independent voter? And what sort of influence, if any, do independents really have in Texas?

A recent Gallup survey found 40 percent of voters nationwide claim to be independent. That's several points higher than those who identify as staunch Democrats or Republicans. Linda Wilson is among those independents.

"I've always considered voting a straight-party ticket to be pretty lazy."

The 52-year-old Houston paralegal describes her independence in terms that may sound familiar.

"I tend to be somewhat fiscally conservative, and somewhat socially liberal."

She says there are good candidates and bad candidates in both major parties. But she admits to leaning more Democratic lately over issues like healthcare, education, and economic assistance.

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7:07 am
Fri November 2, 2012

La Niña Could Bring More Drought to Texas

Daniel Reese for KUT News

After the brutal drought of 2011, welcome rains this year put minds at ease in many parts of Texas. But any respite may be short-lived.

The best hope Texas had for a full recovery from its long drought was a wet upcoming winter. But recent weather models show that’s growing less and less likely. The reason? The El Niño weather pattern meteorologists expected is not forming in the Atlantic.

State Climatologist John Neilsen-Gammon tell StateImpact Texas the bad news doesn’t end there.

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1:25 pm
Fri October 26, 2012

Texas to 'Immediately' Cut Off Women's Health Program Funds to Planned Parenthood (Updated)

A court ruled that Texas no longer has to include Planned Parenthood in the Texas Women's Health Program.

Update: 1:25 p.m.:

Planned Parenthood isn't giving up the legal fight over whether the state can ban its clinics from the Women's Health Program.

In a lawsuit filed today in state court, Planned Parenthood claims the “Affiliate Ban Rule” that bars its clinics from the program is "invalid" under state law.

Original Story: 6:43 a.m.:

Governor Rick Perry says the state is moving to immediately to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood.

The announcement came after a federal appeals court said Thursday it will not reconsider a decision that says Texas can withhold funds under the Women’s Health Program.

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1:05 pm
Fri October 26, 2012

What Draws People to Austin: Readers Respond

An illustration of the most common words left by commenters on KUT News' blog post, "What Draws People to Austin (And What Drives Them Away)."

Reaction to KUT News’ post about what draws new residents to Austin has been great. While the 26 comments readers left on the blog are shy of the 85 now in the original Reddit thread that inspired the post, they’re no less illustrative or provocative in their assesment of the changing face of Austin. (And that doesn't even count the 58 comments left on the Facebook thread NPR started.)

Let’s start with the highest-rated comment, a joke from Jessica Ellison:

My favorite Austin joke: How many Austinites does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but 25 to talk about how great the old light bulb was.

Commenters seem divided on what change means for Austin. Commenter tee vee dee writes:

Austin is certainly suffering the "Best City" curse. Mass waves of people all trying to escape the dregs of their life, yet unwilling to let it go completely and fully embrace what's here. They're drawn to the vibe without ever really experiencing it or adding to it before giving it a white wash of familiar chain stores and restaurants. I'm all for inner city development, but much of the growth of the past few years has been decidedly un-weird.

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1:01 pm
Thu October 25, 2012

Will 'Left Lane for Passing Only' Signs Make a Difference?

Is there any hope for Mopac? A TXDoT initiative is reminding motorists the left lane is for passing only, but the signs are mainly going up on faster highways.
Jillian Schantz Patrick for KUT News

Here’s a mantra you may repeat to yourself in Austin traffic (likely in-between bouts of profanity): The left lane is for passing only.

Despite the fact that passing on the left is the safest practice (and the fact that Texas has prohibitions against passing on the right), it’s a practice that’s routinely disregarded – just ask any Central Texas motorist.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) is trying to do something about that, by installing a little reminder on Texas highways: some 3,400 signs stating “Left Lane for Passing Only.”

Before you get your hopes up, here’s the rub – they’re only going up on highways with speed limits over 75 mph. That excludes Mopac and Interstate 35 as they cut through most of Central Austin.

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7:08 am
Thu October 25, 2012

Midsize Companies Power Texas Job Creation

Midsized Texas companies are adding jobs.
Teresa Vieira for KUT News

Midsize companies — firms with annual revenues of $10 million to $1 billion dollars — are now adding jobs at almost double the national average.

Middle market companies account for just 0.5% of all Texas businesses. But they employ 30% of the state’s workforce. Anil Makhija teaches finance at Ohio State University. He says midsized businesses are more reliable job creators than small ones.

“If you think about small firms, they do deserve our attention, because they are frequently the centers of innovation. But they have a very high failure rate.”

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3:02 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

Historic Letter Heads 'Home' to the Alamo

William B. Travis wrote the famous letter at the Alamo in 1836.

For the first time since it was written more than 170 years ago, the Travis letter will return the Alamo.

The famous letter—known to many as the “victory or death” letter—was written by William B. Travis to request reinforcements at the Alamo.

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has controlled access to the letter since the early 1900’s and it has only been loaned out and displayed a few times.

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The Lead
8:29 am
Tue October 23, 2012

The Lead: AISD Super’s Contract Extended, F1 Street Closures Slashed, More Election News

Good morning. Austin’s in for another warm, breezy and partly cloudy afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on:

The Austin school board voted 7-2 to extend an employment contract with Dr. Meria Carstarphen, the superintendent who oversees the education of more than 86,000 Austin children in the largest school district in Central Texas. 

The city of Miami claims to have taken almost half of its homeless population off the streets in the last 10 years. In Austin, where homeless services are stretched to the limit, the City Council is looking for new solutions. Last night, council members met with officials from Miami. The challenges of one local homeless family that is struggling on the streets show how complex the problem can be.

Proposition 5 would amend the city charter to allow council members to directly hire their own staff instead of having the city manager make those appointments. … Prop 6 would allow the City Council, instead of the city manager, to hire the city attorney, which is already standard practice in many large cities.

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10:31 am
Mon October 22, 2012

Heated Battle in CD-23 Getting Lots of Attention

Pete Gallego and Francisco "Quico" Canseco.
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.

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The Lead
8:48 am
Mon October 22, 2012

The Lead: Early Voting Begins, Violent Night on Sixth Street, Austin’s F1 Track Opens

Good morning. It’s a muggy start to the week; the National Weather Service says Austin is in store for a partly cloudy, warm and breezy day, with a high in the mid-80s. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on this morning:

And here’s some more Austin and Texas stories from around the web:

Officer Fires on Car in Weekend Sixth Street Incident  

Shortly after 2 a.m. early Sunday morning on Sixth Street, an Austin police officer opened fire on a car that the officer said was driving straight at them, after hitting two bystanders.

The Statesman reports that the driver of the car, an unidentified woman, was uninjured; the two alleged victims of the driver were reported to have non-life threatening injuries. 

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3:52 pm
Fri October 19, 2012

Photos: State Fair Mascot 'Big Tex' Catches Fire (Updated)

State Fair of Texas mascot Big Tex went up in flames today. The 2012 State Fair was Big Tex's 60th anniversary.

Word broke this morning in Dallas that “Big Tex” – the iconic, 52-foot cowboy that greets visitors to the State Fair of Texas – caught fire and burned this morning.

It’s a bizarre end to the State Fair, which closes this Sunday. Big Tex celebrated his 60th birthday this year.

WFAA quotes Mitchell Glieber, the vice president of marketing for the State Fair, as saying it appears to have been an electrical fire. 

"There's obviously some electronics inside of Big Tex that leads to the ability for his mouth to move when he speaks," Glieber said. "I believe there was an electrical short, but that hasn't been confirmed or investigated."

You can follow Twitter hashtag #BigTexFire for more details. 

Update: YouTube member TexasStormChasers was rolling tape on fire dispatch radio when the Big Tex call came in. "There's a tall cowboy with all his clothes burnt off," says one responder. "Howdy folks – it’s hot,” says another.

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Texas A&M
12:11 pm
Fri October 19, 2012

A&M Evacuated Amid Bomb Threat (Updated)


Updated 4:15pm: The A&M campus is now reopened, according to the university's emergency website:

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12:08 pm
Fri October 19, 2012

What the World Can Learn from U.S. Politics: A Pakistani Journalist’s Perspective

Samreen Ghauri meets with Gov. Rick Perry after a press conference earlier this week.
Office of the Governor

Samreen Ghauri is a Pakistani journalist visiting the U.S. on a fellowship under the U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism. The program is run by the International Center for Journalists in Washington D.C. and is funded by the U.S. State Department. Here’s Samreen’s thoughts on U.S. politics this election season.

Attending a Texas House of Representatives committee meeting and a press conference with Governor Rick Perry in one day – all against the ongoing backdrop of the U.S. presidential debates – I felt the true democratic, liberal force that makes America a prosperous country and role model to countries around the world. 

Democracy aims for social justice, equal opportunity, and people’s rights of liberty. Citizens’ political ideas, values, and beliefs are important components in democracy everywhere, especially in societies undergoing a democratic transition. This is my impression of the American society I have been observing for the last two weeks. Here in America, in a middle of a presidential campaign, I see politics and the democratic process being debated everywhere.

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9:39 am
Fri October 19, 2012

Three Republicans Hit GOP Congressman For 'Jesus Ad'

A mail piece using the face of Jesus, circulated by U.S. Rep. Quico Canseco, is stirring controversy in the competitive congressional district 23 race. Click to enlarge.
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.

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The Lead
8:37 am
Fri October 19, 2012

The Lead: Austin’s Charter Election, Real Estate Prices Rising

Good Friday morning. The National Weather Service is forecasting warm days and mild evenings this weekend. Here’s a look at KUT News’ top stories:

And here’s some more stories from around the web:

  • 10-1 District Plan Backers Say They’ll File DOJ Complaint if Competing Plan Wins (Statesman)

Austin’s black population is small and dispersed, making it tough to draw a district that will encompass them. The larger the number of districts, the more likely that at least one district will have a large number of African American residents, giving them a fair shot at electing candidates they prefer, [Austinites for Geographic Representation] said.

David Butts, a member of Austin Community for Change, the group supporting the 8-3 plan, said African Americans would likely still be elected under that plan either to a district seat or a citywide seat. Austin has a long history of Hispanic and white voters voting for black candidates in local and state races, even in districts that have small populations of African-Americans, he said.

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Women's Health
4:28 pm
Thu October 18, 2012

Doctors in Women's Health Program Can Discuss Abortion

La'Tonya Ephraim speaks with Carrie Adney, a Women's Health Program client since last year, at Seton-Circle of Care Women's Services in Round Rock, TX.
Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

In a peace offering of sorts to medical and women's groups on Thursday, Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek announced rules for the new state-run Women's Health Program that permit doctors to discuss abortion with their patients and practice alongside physicians who provide abortions.

“What we wanted was to allow for the one-on-one, private, non-directive counseling between a physician and her patient,” Janek said.

But the new rules have done little to stem the frustration of family planning providers: They come as the state's Republican leaders prepare to run the Women's Health Program on their own — without the federal support the state has received for years, and without Planned Parenthood clinics.

“Once and for all, we implore Texas to put politics aside and put women’s health first," said Ken Lambrecht, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. "The Women’s Health Program and Planned Parenthood have worked together to provide women with essential health services, including cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams, for the past five years." 

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1:32 pm
Thu October 18, 2012

Audio: The TribCast Remembers Senator Gallegos; and God on the Gridiron

Todd Wiseman

On this week's political round-up from KUT and the Texas Tribune, Ross Ramsey, Reeve Hamilton, Morgan Smith and Ben Philpott remember the career of Houston State Senator Mario Gallegos, who died this week at the age of 62.

Also, Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott come to the aide of high school cheerleaders who want to use bible verses on their football signs. And hilarity ensues when the two front runners for the 2014 Texas Governor's race end up at the same press conference. Have a listen. 

Waller Creek
11:11 am
Thu October 18, 2012

Waller Creek Design Winner Named; Plans to Turn Area Into 'Chain of Parks'

“The Poppy” at Waterloo Park, proposed by the winning Waller Creek design team, can hold some 1,000 people under its folds.

A winner has been named in the Waller Creek design competition.

The team of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. and Thomas Phifer & Partners was named by the Waller Creek Conservancy and approved by the Austin City Council this morning.

As KUT News reported in our live blog of presentations from the Waller Creek design finalists, the team envisions Waller Creek as a chain of parks. They propose blowing out the concrete structure supporting Interstate 35 from Fourth to Sixth Street to allow more East-West connectivity.

“If I lived in East Austin I’d be mad as hell about that highway,” Valkenburgh told KUT News. “We’ve taken very seriously this notion of blowing out this section between Fourth and Sixth street, cutting out all the underneath and liberating Fifth Street as a new aperture, but also to redesign Waller so it’s accessible and friendly from the east.”

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The Lead
9:17 am
Thu October 18, 2012

The Lead: Council Open Meetings Settlement, Austin Charter Election, 2013 Lege Preview

Good morning. Let's get to it this breezy, sunny Thursday, with some of KUT's  morning stories. 

​And here's two big overnight stories from Austin:

  • City Leaders Signing Deals To Avoid Charges In Open Meetings Saga (Statesman)

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and a lawyer representing Council Member Mike Martinez confirmed to the American-Statesman on Wednesday that they had entered into a “compliance agreement” with prosecutors in the Travis County Attorney’s Office. The deal, which has been offered to other council members as well, caps a two-year inquiry and an embarrassing saga at City Hall. …

Turner and Brian Roark, an attorney representing Leffingwell, declined to publicly release the document Wednesday because they didn’t know if other county members had signed it yet. Travis County Assistant Attorney Mack Martinez declined to comment other than to say, “There has not been a conclusion to our case.”

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8:47 am
Thu October 18, 2012

Abbott Sides With East Texas Cheerleaders in Bible Verses Case

A judge is expected to decide today if a group of cheerleaders can use Bible verses at public high school football games.

A Hardin County Judge is expected to rule today on whether to allow a group of high school cheerleaders to continue to display Bible verses at football games.

The Kountze High School cheerleaders are seeking a temporary injunction after Kountze Independent School District officials told the cheerleaders they could no longer use scripture on banners. An atheist group complained about the displays.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says he’ll defend the East Texas cheerleaders.

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