Here are the top political headlines from Austin, Washington, the campaign trail and Dallas.
Points from Austin
1. Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday bestowed the state’s highest civilian award on a deacon who last month returned fire against an attacker who killed two parishioners during Sunday worship at a White Settlement church. In a ceremony on the lawn at the Executive Mansion in Austin, the Republican governor awarded Wilson the Governor’s Medal of Courage.
Jack Wilson of Granbury is “a hero” for risking his life to gun down the shotgun-wielding assailant, Abbott said.
2. Abbott also wrote to President Donald Trump on Monday, asking him to issue a presidential disaster declaration in response to October storms that tore through Texas, including a tornado outbreak in the Dallas area. Such a declaration is needed to release millions of dollars in federal relief funds.
3. On Friday, Abbott said Texas will not accept any more refugees for initial resettlement this year, making it the first state to decline resettlement under Trump’s executive order creating state and local vetoes. Abbott effectively overrode recent letters by leaders of Dallas and other major Texas cities opting in. A spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party condemned Abbott’s move, and refugee advocates expressed disappointment.
4. Three professors and 14 staff members at the University of Texas at Austin have been found in violation of school policies against sexual misconduct since 2017, according to records the university released last week upon request. Ten employees were fired or resigned.
5. State employees cannot make payroll donations to Planned Parenthood under a law that went into effect last year, according to Attorney General Ken Paxton. Senate Bill 22 prohibits government entities from entering a “taxpayer resource transaction” with an abortion provider or an affiliate of one, such as Planned Parenthood. In an opinion issued last week, Paxton said the law also applies to the State Employees Charitable Campaign, in which state employees can authorize payroll deductions to donate to organizations.
Robert T. Garrett is the Austin bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News. A fifth-generation Texan, he has covered state government and politics for decades. Here, Bob offers his take from the Capitol.
· On Wednesday, state candidates must submit to the Texas Ethics Commission their “January semiannuals,” which show how much money they raised and spent in the last six months of 2019. After the dust settles, we’ll know more about how the battle for the Texas House is shaping up. With continued GOP control of redistricting on the line, one can argue that – other than the presidential race – the contest between the two major political parties for a majority of the chamber’s 150 seats is the weightiest matter on Texans’ ballots next year.
· Gov. Greg Abbott has said he’s going to treat the House races – and work for a Republican resurgence -- as if he’s personally on the ballot. Look for him to coordinate various GOP and conservative groups’ efforts to fill the void left by Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s downfall.
· On the Democratic side, a slew of state and national groups are trying to capitalize on the dozen-seat gain their party achieved in 2018. The surge left Democrats nine short of control. According to the Texas Tribune’s Cassi Pollock, on Sunday night, Dallas Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchia told a group he plans to run for speaker if Democrats win a majority. He thus became the first House member to publicly express interest in the speaker’s job since Bonnen in late October, amid scandal, threw in the towel.
Points from the trail
1. During a campaign stop in Dallas on Saturday, Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg called Abbott’s decision to deny the future resettlement of refugees in Texas an outrage.
“This is America. We shouldn’t be doing this. … It’s not good for Texas. It’s not good for America. It’s certainly not good for the people who are trying to get here.” Bloomberg said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News and KXAS-TV (NBC 5).
2. Bloomberg isn’t the only Democratic presidential candidate stepping up outreach to Texas voters ahead of the March 3 primary that will gauge whether the Lone Star State is legitimately a political battleground. Since early January, several presidential candidates have made stops in Texas. The overall turnout in the primary will signal whether Democrats are enthusiastic about their candidates and ready for a general election that they boast will turn Texas blue.
3. Congressional candidate Genevieve Collins, R-Dallas, failed to submit a required personal financial disclosure form to the U.S. House, according to House records. The first time-candidate is trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Colin Allred in District 32. The report was due in August, but Collins had filed for an extension to November. Collins said Monday that she would file the report this week and pay a $200 fine for being late. She blamed her tardiness on a software problem.
In the fundraising race, Collins and Allred have so far hauled in the most cash in the highly anticipated contest.
4. Last week, Collins released the first digital ad in the campaign. In the 75-second video, she boasts of her Texas roots and touts herself as a successful businesswoman, without mentioning Allred or any of her rivals for the GOP nomination.
5. Meanwhile, Allred announced he is backing Joe Biden for president, describing the Democratic front-runner as the best hope to unite a fractured nation. Biden now has the support of every Democratic member of Congress from North Texas. The endorsement came days before the former vice president is set to campaign in Dallas. His trip includes a Thursday fundraiser hosted by former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.
6. In the Democratic race for Senate, candidates are beginning to show some spark, the DMN’s Gromer Jeffers writes. The clock is ticking toward the primary, where the 12-person contest to unseat Republican Sen. John Cornyn is expected to go to a runoff.
Points from Washington
1. At the end of 2019, beer, wine and spirits producers, were waiting to see if Congress would keep a significant cut to federal alcohol taxes that began in 2018 and was set to expire at the end of last month. Lawmakers waited until almost the last possible day to extend the perk for another year. Many Texas craft producers say the tax break has been crucial in helping them add staff, invest in infrastructure and take chances on new products.
2. Meanwhile, Dallas wine importers are among those worried about two additional tariffs may be coming on European goods. The most immediate threat is a 100% tariff on French sparkling wines that could go into effect before the end of January. Another tariff threatens to levy a 100% tariff on most European wines, as well as Scotch and Irish whiskies, European cheeses, olive oils and other food products.
3. Trump will fly to Austin on Sunday to keynote the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention to tout progress on trade deals with China, Mexico and Canada. A lengthy trade war with China had imposed pain on Texas agriculture and other sectors.
4. Texas is one of seven states without a personal income tax. So a reader asked Curious Texas where the state gets its funding for public services such as schools and health care. The short answer is that Texas relies on other taxes, particularly from sales and property. The long answer is here. Curious Texas is an ongoing project from The Dallas Morning News that invites readers to join in our reporting process. Submit your questions here.
Points from Dallas
1. Dallas businessman and Republican National Committee co-chairman Tommy Hicks Jr. is leading an effort to buy a conservative TV channel that competes with Fox News, according to a Wall Street Journal report. His investment firm, Hicks Equity Partners, is exploring the acquisition of the parent company of One America News Network, according to the report. The right-leaning news channel was founded in 2013.
2. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and other council members on Monday criticized the police department’s crime reduction plan and urged the chief to establish more aggressive goals after the city’s most violent year since 2007.
Police Chief U. Reneé Hall on Monday afternoon briefed the full council at the Public Safety Committee meeting, where the city’s elected officials peppered her with questions and criticized her strategy to decrease violent crime by 5%. In Southeast, Southwest and South Central patrol divisions, the goal is a 10% drop in murders and aggravated assaults.
Curious Texas, an ongoing project from The Dallas Morning News, invites you to join our reporting process. You can ask us questions about politics, the Texas Legislature or elections, and we’ll have our reporters answer them. Submit your questions here.
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