Clinton stumps for Gallego
Former President Bill Clinton spoke to an overflow crowd at South San Antonio High School last week aiming to boost Democratic turnout at a crucial moment for congressional hopeful Pete Gallego (above), who's locked in a tight race with GOP Congressman Francisco "Quico" Canseco. The Hill, Real Clear Politics, and the Cook Political Report have all labeled the race for Texas' 23rd congressional seat a toss-up. Things got particularly ugly this month, with Canseco's campaign sending out mailers accusing Gallego of denying God, supporting "abortion for young girls," wanting "marriage to be between man & man." Gallego called the mailers — which featured a stained-glass image of Jesus, a photo of a baby, and a photo of two men kissing — over the line, crass, and disrespectful. More recently the Sierra Club has targeted the race, airing a new Spanish-language radio ad in El Paso, Odessa, and San Antonio highlighting Canseco's ties to big oil and gas, which has donated $230,000 to his campaign. The Canseco campaign has responded by claiming Gallego is aligned with "radical environmentalists." In his San Antonio speech, Clinton summarized Canseco's strategy as "your basic, standard Tea Party deal. 'The government would mess up the two-car parade, and God is on my side.' Isn't that basically what they're saying?" Seems about the size of it.
Pre-K 4 SA debated
Mayor Julian Castro's been out in full force giving his city-wide pre-kinder initiative a final push before Election Day, as anti-tax groups and local conservative electeds continue to hammer away at the proposal. In two local forums last week, Castro touted his Pre-K 4 SA initiative, which would fund full-day pre-K for about 22,400 kids over the next eight years by maxing out the city's sales tax with a 1/8-cent increase. If voters approve it, the money raised will fund four so-called educational "centers of excellence," training for local teachers, and competitive grants for local school districts to help them expand their own pre-K programs. Castro and Pre-K 4 SA supporters note that the Lege last year cut some $200 million that local districts had used to fund full-day pre-K.
"Am I gonna wait for the governor or the federal government to actually do something about the education of our children who are not getting high-quality, full-day pre-K? No, I'm not going to wait for that," said Castro in a forum at Rackspace Hosting last week with Northside Councilman Carlton Soules, who opposes the tax increase. Among his many reservations, Soules questioned the notion that full-day pre-K is superior to half-day, which Texas school districts already offer.
Groups like the tax-averse Homeowner-Taxpayer Association of Bexar County have argued over the benefits of full-day pre-K, despite research showing full-day students get substantially more time learning core academics and average higher academic gains than their half-day peers. Jeff Judson, a senior fellow with the conservative Heartland Institute, and former local Tea Party president George Rodriguez ramped up efforts against Castro's plan this month with a 501(c)(4) nonprofit (which may be skirting finance disclosure laws) dubbed the South Texas Alliance for Progress. Among their claims: full-day pre-K ignores "how parents play a crucial role in the lives and development of their 4-year-olds."
Local lawyer vying for Supremes
The Texas Supreme Court hands down decisions every week that have a direct impact on the lives of nearly every Texan, says Alex Winslow, director of Texas Watch, a nonpartisan citizen advocacy group that follows the court. "And yet they operate in relative obscurity," Winslow said. "They are as powerful and influential as the Legislature and the governor." Democrat and local civil trial lawyer Michele Petty hopes to change the makeup of the all-Republican court, claiming the justices are woefully slanted toward business interests. Petty is challenging GOP State Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, the court's senior member who has served four six-year terms.
"The court expresses an extreme bias against consumers and individuals," Petty charged. "It has been brazen and ongoing." This year, Texas Watch released its own study finding the state Supremes have sided with large corporate or government interests in 79 percent of cases since 2005 — evidence, Petty insists, of the court's pro-defendant, anti-consumer bias. Hecht has criticized the study, saying it cherry-picked cases, something Winslow denies, saying Texas Watch looked at all cases between 2000 and 2010 that put small-business owners and individuals up against corporations or government entities. "Direct corporate involvement in the court appears to be very substantial, and I think the results speak for themselves," said Winslow. "When you've got a court that goes out of its way to ignore legislative intent and legal precedent time and time again, you have to wonder what's going on there."
Planned Parenthood still fighting Texas for women's health care
A state judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order to keep Texas from kicking Planned Parenthood out of the widely successful Womens Health Program — at least for now. Planned Parenthood filed suit last week as the state sought to implement new rules barring "affiliates" of abortion providers, like PP's non-abortion providing family planning clinics, from the WHP by November 1. PP clinics currently serve nearly 50,000 low-income and uninsured women in the program, which offers contraception and breast and cervical cancer screens. The order by Travis County District Judge Amy Clark Meachum should force Texas to wait until after a November 8 hearing on the matter, though it appears the state may march forward anyway. Texas Health and Human Services Commission officials have said the agency will proceed with plans to launch a fully state-funded WHP, excluding PP, this Thursday, and Governor Rick Perry tweeted shortly after the judge issued the order, "TX will keep fighting to protect innocent life," saying the Travis County ruling "ignores the will" of the Legislature.
In its suit, PP argues the new rule banning "affiliates" of abortion providers violates Texas' Human Resources Code, which made the WHP subject to federal approval when the Lege created it in 2005. Up until last year, when the state passed the PP ban, federal cash covered 90 percent of the $36 million Medicaid waiver program. In March, the feds told Texas it could not renew the waiver, saying Texas' new rule excluding qualified Medicaid providers, like PP, doesn't pass muster and violates longstanding Medicaid law. PP in its lawsuit last week claims Texas' Human Resources Code bans any new rules to the program that would force it to give up its federal funding.
As the fight over PP's participation in the WHP continues, state data is already starting to underscore the deep impact of other Lege-directed attempts to defund the organization. Last year lawmakers cut by two-thirds the budget for state family planning programs — cuts designed to target Planned Parenthood. So far, at least 50 clinics, many of which are not Planned Parenthood-affiliated, have closed across Texas, and another three dozen have cut operating hours. According to numbers from the Department of State Health Services out this month, 90,237 women were served by state family planning funds for the period between December 2011 and May 2012, half the number served during the same period last year.