Interest high as primary filing period opens
AUSTIN — The filing period to run in next year's Democratic and Republican primaries opens Dec. 3 with an extra helping of political interest. Former gubernatorial hopeful Tom Schieffer is out of the Democratic Party primary race; Houston Mayor Bill White now is considered the leading Democratic candidate for governor; and GOP candidate U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said she will remain in the Senate until after the primary. Gov. Rick Perry and Hutchison have scheduled a debate in North Texas for Jan. 14.
That means Hutchison, if she files to run for governor, will have to maintain her presence in Washington while trying to campaign against Perry in Texas. And it leaves other Republicans hoping to move up the political ladder having to seek their current offices rather than a higher or different one in the March 2 primary. The deadline for filing to run in the two primaries is Jan. 4.
White is a proven fundraiser and popular mayor who would give the Democrats their best opportunity in years to win statewide office. The other candidates who have said they will enter the primary race for governor are rancher Hank Gilbert, hair products entrepreneur Farouk Shami and humorist Kinky Friedman. All said they intend to stay in the race.
Even if White wins the March primary handily, he will have an uphill race against either Perry or Hutchison. Republicans have won every election for a statewide office since 1996.
Military contract lost
The Pentagon has decided to switch production of Army trucks from Sealy to Wisconsin, which could mean the loss of $2.6 billion and 10,000 jobs if Texas politicians can't save the contract for BAE Systems. BAE, which has been making the trucks for 17 years, lost the bid for the contract to the Oshkosh Corp.
Oshkosh had financial help from the Wisconsin governor's office and the support of the state's Democratic congressional delegation. Gov. Perry's office said BAE did not ask for the governor's help in securing the contract. Oshkosh's bid to build 23,000 trucks and trailers over the next five years was about 10 percent below BAE's.
"We never saw this coming — we were completely blindsided," says a top aide to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a former member of the Senate Armed Services Committee panel with jurisdiction over military vehicles.
Perry rejects standards
Gov. Perry has told Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott the state should not adopt national standards in seeking federal stimulus money. The U.S. Department of Education is giving preference for Race to the Top stimulus funds to states that adopt national standards and assessments for public school students.
Perry said that Texas is ahead of most states in setting standards for students to be college-ready at high school graduation and that the federal government should not be intruding in Texas classrooms. In a release from his office, Perry said Texas is eligible for as much as $750 million in Race to the Top funds, but it would cost the state up to $3 billion to realign its education system to meet the education department's standards.
"The federal government works best when it supports state-led efforts to improve our schools," Scott said. "This is not a state-led effort." Texas has been praised in education circles for its standards for schools and its efforts to measure student progress.
No extra pay for retirees
Attorney General Greg Abbott has ruled that retired state workers and teachers are not eligible for a $500 bonus this year. Last session, the Legislature approved the bonus for retired members of the Employees Retirement System (ERS) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS).
But the $155 million in payments depended on a ruling from Abbott that the bonus was legal. In his opinion, Abbott said the Legislature's requirement for a conclusive ruling made it impossible to find authority for the onetime payment.
Tim Lee, executive director of the TRS, said it appeared the Legislature wrote the bill to ensure the bonus would not be awarded. The $500 one-time payment was a compromise. The House had proposed a $1,000 payment, but the Senate bill had none. The $155 million will now go into the two retirement funds, which still can't cover their obligations to retirees over the next 31 years.