Tag Archives: Texas Tribune

Famed Karolyi Gymnastics Ranch Under Investigation By Texas Officials

For a state well known for highlighting its achievements, there’s no doubt that one sight near Huntsville was a definitive point of pride.  The famous Karolyi Ranch has been perhaps the most famous gymnastics training site on the planet for over 35 years.  Each Quadrennium, Texans would regularly watch news reports from the secluded ranch, featuring interviews from a group of young ladies destined to rule the summer Olympics.

But within that secluded space, Texans did not know the horrors which occurred away from the glare of the cameras.  In the wake of long-time USA Gymnastics Team Doctor Larry Nassar being sentenced to prison for the sexual molestation of nearly 200 girls, the ranch itself is now coming under heavy scrutiny.  Here’s more on that from Ayan Mittra and Emma Platoff of the Texas Tribune

Nearly a week after prominent USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for the sexual assault of several female gymnasts, Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate misconduct allegations at the famed Karolyi Ranch, the U.S. Olympic training facility in southeast Texas, north of Houston, where Nassar treated athletes.

“The public statements made by athletes who previously trained at the Karolyi Ranch are gut-wrenching,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Those athletes, as well as all Texans, deserve to know that no stone is left unturned to ensure that the allegations are thoroughly vetted and the perpetrators and enablers of any such misconduct are brought to justice. The people of Texas demand, and the victims deserve, nothing less.”

The Governor is adding some major state resources to look into matters at the site.  As Cody Stark of the Huntsville Item reports, they may have reason for this thanks to the work of local officials that were getting close to filing charges…

Local charges are still a possibility for a disgraced sports medicine doctor who was sentenced to decades in prison this past week for sexually assaulting more than 100 female athletes over the years, some of which reportedly took place at the USA Gymnastics National Training Center in Walker County.

Sheriff Clint McRae said Friday that his office had an ongoing open investigation into alleged criminal activity by Larry Nassar at the Karolyi Ranch in southeast Walker County. He did not comment on specifics of the case.

“This is an open investigation, but I cannot comment any further on what type of investigation it is at this time,” McRae said last week. “We are gathering information in anticipation that more charges could be pending.”

As of last week, the United States Olympic Committee has officially ended all training activity at the ranch, and with famed coaches Bella and Marta Karolyi.  With now multiple investigations under way, more news is likely.

 

Beto O’Rourke Jumps Into 2018 Senate Race. Can He Win??

If you’re a Texas Democrat, it’s easy to say “we’ve been here before.”

Remember when Bill White was going to roll Rick Perry in 2010?  How about when Wendy Davis was going to sail into the Governor’s Office and “transform Texas” in 2014?  A polished, politically savvy Democrat is once again deciding to take a stab at the “red firewall” of Texas, and this time that politician is Beto O’Rourke, Congressman from El Paso who is challenging Ted Cruz for the United States Senate.

As Abby Livingston of the Texas Tribune reminds us, the odds O’Rourke aren’t just long, but may seem astronomical…

No Texas Democrat has won a U.S. Senate seat in nearly thirty years or any statewide office since 1994. It is hard to find a political operative in Washington or back in Texas who would bet money – or professional credibility – on O’Rourke winning this race. 

But the El Paso Democrat is earnestly bullish that he will go to the Senate through a strategy of bringing retail politics to a state of 27 million people. 

He has no pollster and no consultants at this point, and said he has no interest in hiring operatives of that ilk. 

“Since 1988, when Lloyd Bentsen won re-election to the Senate, Democrats have spent close to a billion dollars on consultants and pollsters and experts and campaign wizards and have performed terribly,” he said.

So that’s where we are.  But eventually, the Lone Star State have to suspend disbelief and focus on where we are going.

Texas Democrats are caught in a chicken vs. egg scenario. If we don’t run strong candidates, we’ll never build the infrastructure needed to win a statewide office. If a good candidate is out there, we would rather see them run now than us continue to wait for the “right moment”.

A Ted Cruz victory isn’t as sure as we may think.  Many folks in his own party would like to see the Senator lose his seat, and he may soon be facing some primary challengers.  When it comes to his actual job of representing 27 million Texans, the esteemed Senator doesn’t have much of a record on which to run.  Heck, citizens are lucky just to see the person they’ve paid over 1 million dollars in salary host a town hall meeting where they can express their concerns.  If O’Rourke can improve on these two paltry statistics, he’s off to a good start.

But the Congressman from Texas’ 16th District has an impressive record and some policy goals that will grab the attention of many young voters. His vocal support for the legalization of marijuana has already proven positive among Millennials. His record in local government proves the ability to work across the aisle and actually earn results for the people of his district.

With such depressing results, it’s easy to write Texas off as a wasteland for Democrats. But the potential of this State to surprise should also not be underestimated. Thanks to Bernie Sanders, and (ironically) the election of Donald Trump, Texas Democrats are energized and ready for change in 2018.  If that same coalition were to unite, reignite and stay energized around a statewide Democratic candidate, it’s more than possible that they could win. Indeed, Mr. O’Rourke has a Herculean task ahead of him, but with an early start and unconventional campaign, he might just take Texas by storm.

 

 

 

Growing Support For Texas Medicaid Expansion?

Politicians tend to say a lot of things when on the campaign trail.  They make a barrage of promises to different audiences, trying to court voters at every turn.  The 2014 election was certainly no exception for Greg Abbott, who handily defeated Democratic challenger Wendy Davis just weeks ago.

But sometimes what is not said is just as important in politics.  After a resounding victory, Governor-Elect Abbott, who vowed on the campaign trail to never seek any form of healthcare expansion under the Affordable Care Act, has remained surprisingly silent on the issue as he prepares to lead the state.

Meanwhile the chorus of state leaders supporting a Texas solution to healthcare expansion continues to grow louder by the day, even among persons Abbott has hand-picked for the state’s top administrative offices.  Here’s more from the Texas Tribune

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott’s pick for Texas secretary of state voted for a local resolution last year endorsing the expansion of Medicaid — a central tenet of the federal Affordable Care Act that Abbott fiercely campaigned against.

In a phone interview, Carlos Cascos, a Republican judge from Cameron County, said that as secretary of state he was “not just going to go along to get along” with Abbott, and that on health care issues there would be “policy disagreement” among Republican officials.

Last year, when Cameron County officials endorsed expanding Medicaid, Cascos told NPR, “It’s contrary to what the leadership in Austin is recommending, but we thought it was important enough to take a position.”

On Thursday, Cascos qualified his support for extending Medicaid coverage to more than 1 million low-income Texans, saying, “At the time, I was looking at it from a local perspective in terms of the uninsured we have here in the [Rio Grande] Valley.”

Abbott’s very selection of Cascos seems to suggest that the opinions of RGV Republican leaders are important.  The Secretary Of State Designate’s opinons come on the heals support from another influential group, this time appointed by Governor Rick Perry.  Again, more from the Trib

A board of medical professionals appointed by Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday that the state should provide health coverage to low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act — a move the Republican-led Legislature has opposed.

The 15-member Texas Institute of Health Care Quality and Efficiency recommended that the state’s health commissioner be authorized to negotiate a Texas-specific agreement with the federal government to expand health coverage to the poor, “using available federal funds.”

“We’re trying to look at actions whereby more Texans can be covered,” said board chairman Steve Berkowitz, the president and founder 0f SMB Health Consulting. “We’re trying to take the politics out of it.”

As if advocates for Texas citizens themselves were not enough, don’t forget that Texas hospitals, tired of losing billions of dollars to uncompensated care costs, are also facing some tough choices if the state continues to ignore the situation.  This is exactly why the Texas Hospital Association also renewed its call for the legislature to find a Texas solution that helps them, and those seeking medical care.

For Abbott to remain silent when so many groups are speaking out is telling.  Is he listening to the bi-partisan coalition to help Texas families?  Will he change his position on the issue and allow our Texas tax dollars to come back where they belong?  Even if Abbott were to come out in support, what are the chances of finding support withing the legislature, or of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick even bringing such an issue to the Senate floor?

The answers to all will be revealed soon, but for now, the best thing Texans can do is keep talking.  At least then, there is a small chance that our voices will be heard as well.

 

(photo credit:  Travel Trip Journey)

Texas Doesn’t Want Everyone To Vote

With the approaching apex of election season, debates over voting rights and procedures are certain to become vigorous.  Last week on Houston Matters with Craig Cohen, I even managed to enter the fray with fellow panelists Russ Capper and Lisa Falkenberg over the issue.  Russ stated that he is clearly in favor of Voter ID, while Lisa questioned the necessity of such laws when in person voter fraud doesn’t seem to be a problem.  You can listen to the segment here if you’d like.

The main point that I attempted on the show was this… If Texas really cared about implementing an effective Voter Law, then they would help people to vote instead of hindering them.

On the issue, I agree more with Lisa’s position.  There simply has not been sufficient evidence to prove that Voter impersonation is a problem. The cases of actual in person voter fraud are so miniscule that we’d have better proof to institute a ‘don’t climb on top of a lightning rod during a thunderstorm’ law to prevent people from getting struck by lightning.  This is a problem that simply doesn’t exist.

Be that as it may, I’m not in total opposition to Voter ID laws in concept.  But Texas’ law is specifically designed to disenfranchise certain groups of voters, while not providing sufficient resources to help them vote or obtain the proper ID.  Alice Speri of Vice News has more on what makes Texas law so restrictive…

The voter ID law is not just discriminatory, Martinez Fischer said — it’s also very short-sighted.

[…]

He called Texas’ voter law the “most stringent, harshest voter identification legislation in the country.”

To put that in perspective, Texas’s voter ID law is seen as being more strict than Alabama’s — the state that successfully challenged part of the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court.

“Alabama is not exactly a hotbed of liberalism, but even their voter ID law is much, much more lenient and permissive than Texas,” Singh said. “In Alabama, you can use a student ID card, or a government card. In Texas, you can’t use a University of Texas ID. A state employee in Texas is not able to use his state government ID card.”

So a student photo ID, or government employee ID cannot be used to vote, but a concealed carry permit can?  That’s nothing more than a veiled attempt to go after what the Republican Party assumes to be their “base voters” while making sure as many non-Republicans as possible get turned away, or are forced to cast a Provisional Ballot.

The only solution that Texas’ stringent law does provide is a new form of ID that can only be used for voting… the Election Identification Certificate, or EIC.  These special IDs are “free” to those that qualify for them, but the birth certificate that you have to purchase before obtaining the EIC is at a cost.  Another problem with the EIC system?  Most people don’t know where to obtain them, and the Secretary of State isn’t helping to change that.  But at least Democrats have noticed and are trying to broach the issue before election day.  Here’s more from the Texas Tribune

More than a week ago, Texas Senate Democrats put Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry on notice: They wanted her office to get more mobile units on Texas streets to give voters without an acceptable photo ID a chance to get one before November’s election.

One week later, there’s been no movement to do so, says state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

The problem, he says, is that there are not one but two state agencies in charge of putting more mobile units out in the community. The Secretary of State’s office (SOS), which includes voter registration, has to coordinate where the mobile units will go. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) actually owns the mobile units which can issue the new Texas election identification certificates, or EICs.

After trying to get the two entitites to agree on how to do it — and to do it quickly — Watson said late Tuesday that it “appears to me it is a breakdown on both ends.”

Under the state’s voter ID law, residents must present an acceptable form of photo identification for their vote to be counted. Acceptable photo IDs include Texas driver’s licenses or Texas ID cards that have not been expired for more than 60 days at the time of voting, U.S. passports, or military or U.S. citizenship certificates with photos.

Texas Republicans (more like TEApublicans… many don’t deserve to carry the label “Republican” anymore) have led the charge to adopt the nation’s most restrictive Voter ID law.  They do this because they know that having fewer people vote gives them a better chance at maintaining power and codifying their fringe-Right ideology. For those out there that truly consider themselves to be proud ‘Texas Republicans’, the the Voter ID law should give them pause over what their party stands for.

For Texas Democrats, this is all the more reason to prove them wrong in 2014.  If you haven’t volunteered to help get the word out about the changes to voting, please do so.  Try as they may, the Texas GOP cannot hold the state back forever. In 2014, let’s make sure that the TEApublicans get to see what Texas really looks like.

 

 

 

Rick Perry Indicted On Felony Abuse of Power Counts

Some shocking late breaking news tonight, as a Grand Jury has accused Texas Governor Rick Perry of abusing his Gubernatorial Powers. Here’s the story from the Texas Tribune

A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on Friday on two felony counts, alleging he abused his power by threatening to veto funding for the state’s anti-corruption prosecutors unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who had pleaded guilty to drunk driving, stepped down from office.

The first count returned from a grand jury, abuse of official capacity, is a first-degree felony with a potential penalty of five to 99 years in prison. The second count, coercion of a public servant, is a third-degree felony with a penalty of two to 10 years.

Perry’s legal counsel, Mary Ann Wiley, said Perry would vigorously fight the charges.

“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” she said. “We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

Other than the pledge to fight the charges, the Governor has said very little of the issue himself thus far, instead letting his taxpayer-funded legal counsel speak on his behalf.

As one can imagine, the news has launched a complete frenzy among Texas Democrats. Within minutes of the official news wire, Democrat and left-leaning groups had blasted fundraising emails all over the planet.

Perry’s questionable actions are not about the specific situations here. No one will argue that the Governor of Texas has the ability to issue a line-item veto. He was also well within his power to make a public call for Lehmberg’s resignation, if that’s what he thought would be best for the Office of Public Integrity and the people of Texas. But the problem lies in Perry’s motivation to use that power. You cannot issue a threat to an individual and punish an entire responsibility of government for their actions. At least on it’s face, the Governor has never given any reason for why the entire OPI should be defunded other than his personal preference that Lehmberg leave her job.

There is much left to sort out here, but one thing is for sure… This is an historic event for the Lone Star State. Though probably not the type of history Rick Perry was wanting.

UPDATE: On Saturday August 16th, Governor Perry responded to the indictment, calling it a “farce” and promising to vigorously defend his decision.

 

A Big Deal: Texas’ First Lieutenant Governor’s Debate

For over two weeks, Texans have been wondering if there would be a Lieutenant Gubernatorial debate this year.  Now we have the answer, as Dan Patrick has agreed to at least one of five debates proposed by Democratic rival Leticia Van de Putte.  Along with the article linked above from the Texas Tribune, here’s an official press release from the Texas Democratic Party…

Austin, TX – On July 28, 2014, Senator Leticia Van de Putte released her Texas First debate schedule. She challenged Dan Patrick to at least five debates, broadcasted across major regions of this great state.

After 15 days of silence, Dan Patrick’s staffer accepted one debate via Twitter.

Will Hailer, Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party, released the following statement:

“After hiding for 15 days, Senator Patrick has finally agreed to a single debate with Senator Van de Putte through a staffer on Twitter. He dodged the press last week at the Texas Association of Broadcasters and even though he had more than 20 debates and forums during the primary season, Dan Patrick is running scared and has only agreed to a single debate when Senator Van de Putte proposed at least five. Patrick’s team knows that the more he talks publicly, the more Texans will reject his extremism. One debate, Dan Patrick is thinking small for Texas, where everything is bigger.”

UPDATE:  The debate is set for Monday, September 29th.

Gubernatorial candidates Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott will have two debates this fall… September 19th in the Rio Grande Valley and September 30th in Dallas.

Like the TDP, Senator Van de Putte isn’t giving up on the fully proposed schedule.  “I look forward to hearing from Dan on the rest of my proposal. One down, at least four to go. ¡Dale Gas!” Van de Putte’s camp said in a press release.  

This is huge news for the state of Texas, which hasn’t seen a true general election debate in over a decade for the office of Lieutenant Governor.  There also hasn’t been a general election Gubernatorial debate since 2006.  Many people may downplay that a general election debate is really all that important, but it serves an important purpose in presenting both sides of the political argument, especially to low-information voters or those that don’t pay attention to the election until the last minute.  For a very long time in Texas, voters have been trained to believe that there is only one main viewpoint in this state…. Republican.  But now, with at least 3 of these events to look forward to, Texas Democrats have another measure of proof that the party is getting stronger.

Much of the pressure put on Dan Patrick’s camp to debate came from press releases and social media, and Van de Putte’s supporters have not let up.  Could these debates change the scope of Texas Politics?  No one knows just yet.  But this year at least, Texas Democrats have a real fighting chance, instead being locked out of the ring altogether.  Regardless of the final result in November, this is a win for the Party.

 

 

Texas On “Fast Track” To High-Speed Rail

There may be some exciting times ahead for the Lone Star State, especially for those living in Houston or D/FW. From the Texas Tribune

The mayors of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth announced Thursday their unified support for the construction of a privately funded bullet train between the two metropolitan regions.

“If successful, Houstonians will have a reliable, private alternative that will help alleviate traffic congestion and drastically reduce travel times,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said at a press conference at Houston City Hall.

Texas Central Railway announced in 2012 its plans to build a 200 mph rail line that would transport passengers between Dallas and Houston within 90 minutes. The company has said it will not require any public subsidies to fund the multi-billion dollar project, which it is developing in partnership with a Japanese firm, Central Japan Railway.

The mayors praised the project and predicted it would aid the state economically and environmentally by reducing the number of people traveling by car.

“Not only will high-speed rail significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion for Dallas and Houston area residents, but it will also create new, high-paying jobs and stimulate economic growth,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

Earlier this week I was privileged to meet with the team behind this project, known as Texas Central Railway. Sitting down with TCR President and Former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, David Benzion and David Hagy, I was able to hear first-hand just how close the TCR is to becoming a reality. Unlike prospects in California or on the East Coast, TCR believes that that a privately-funded High-Speed rail network can be operational before anywhere else in the country.

Now this is certainly not to say that private investment is always the way to go, or that it will work for every HSR corridor. But in Texas, this route has a particular appeal. Unlike building freeways, the High-Speed Rail is less disruptive. It takes less space and by following already established freight rail corridors, would require far less land and property acquisitions. TCR will still have to obtain eminent domain authority, but they hope to use it as little as possible.

Another reason for a potential “fast track” in Texas is simply the topography of the land between Dallas and Houston. Construction costs are going to be lower than they would in California because builders face fewer natural impediments (mountain ranges, protection from earthquakes, etc.). Building time for the line would be shorter as well, with some estimates saying HSR could be constructed in as little as 3 years. Of course construction is dependent on a number of additional factors, so there’s no specific timeline just yet. 

But another important concern here is safety. Private projects are almost always done faster than government, but that’s because government tends to put people over profits. If this line is built in record time with exclusively private dollars, how does TCR plan to ensure Texans that it is safe to ride, and not just a major accident waiting to happen?

“Federal and state regulators have been involved in this project since day one. Though privately funded, TCR will be regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration, just as if it were a public project.” Eckels said. 

Co-designers of the Texas Project would be JR Central out of Japan, which has an impeccable safety record… no fatalities in almost 50 years of operation.

There are still many steps that need to be taken before Texas High-Speed Rail is a reality. But with the creation of TCR and other recent developments, it seems much more likely than it did a few years ago. Texas is in dire need of additional transportation options, and the TCR is off to a good start.