Must Read Texas – December 1, 2013

AP Reports on Donations and the Charter School Bill;
Historian Fehrenbach Dies; GOP Overstating Battleground Texas Threat?;
Mexican Shoppers Flock to Texas;
What Would Keystone XL Mean to Port Arthur?
Good evening from Austin.
We hope you had nice weekend.

Here’s the short holiday weekend brief:


AP’s Will Weissert reports:

A new landmark law to boost public school alternatives in Texas followed a surge in political contributions by current and former board members and employees of the state’s six-largest charter school operators, an analysis by The Associated Press has found.

Texas Ethics Commission filings show charter school-affiliated donations to officeholders and key candidates peaked during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles with a combined $518,000 — nearly double the total from the election cycles of 2006 and 2008.

Although the total amount is relatively small — especially given deep-pocketed donors in the oil and natural gas sectors — the uptick came ahead of the Legislature approving in May a law that will expand by 42 percent the maximum amount of charter school licenses allowed in Texas by 2019.

Andrew Wheat, research director for Texans for Public Justice, a progressive-leaning political watchdog group, said Texas spends about $55 billion a year on 5 million-plus public school students, with only about 4 percent of those attending charters.“So there’s potential for huge increases in political spending by charters seeking larger slabs of the pie,” said Wheat, who helped compile the analysis.

AP’s analysis tracked 112 contributors who wrote 926 checks from Jan. 1, 2005, to June 30. Donations totaled about $133,000 and $132,000 before the 2006 and 2008 elections, respectively. Political contributions ahead of the 2010 election exceeded $290,000; and nearly $228,000 poured in before the 2012 vote.

Other states have seen political contributions from charter school-affiliated donors rise, coinciding with GOP-controlled legislatures in South Carolina, Missouri and Michigan also voting in recent years to expand charter schools. In many other places, the
bulk of the donations went to Republicans — but Texas’ top overall recipient was a Democrat, 2010 gubernatorial hopeful Bill White.

David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association, said he couldn’t speak to the impact of political donations, but noted the law won wide bipartisan support — even in the Texas House, which had failed to approve charter bills that cleared the state Senate in 2009 and 2011.

“That’s because we’ve been working hard and because it’s the right thing to do,” Dunn said.

The law was the largest expansion of charter schools statewide since 2001, boosting the maximum amount to 305 from 215. It also overhauled the charter approval process. Instead of leaving it up to the State Board of Education to approve new charters as in years past, the law gives the governor-appointed Texas education commissioner the power to approve new charter licenses. The board still retains veto power.

Donors affiliated with KIPP Houston Public Schools, Texas’ fourth-largest charter network by enrollment, accounted for the most political contributions during the last four election cycles — nearly $452,000. The network with the second-largest donor base was Uplift Education, whose allied donors contributed about $124,700.

Some of the charter board members making sizeable donations, however, are simply well-connected executives who would be contributing to Texas political leaders regardless of their affiliation with charter schools.

The largest overall donor was Stan Marek, president and CEO of the contracting giant, Marek Family of Companies. He gave nearly $122,000 between 2006 and last year, with the biggest donations going to White.

Marek said he supported leaders who will push meaningful immigration reform that helps businesses stay competitive — not charter school advocates.

“I think charter schools are great,” he said, “but I’m not going to send money to X politician for that alone.”

The largest beneficiary of charter school-related donations was White, the former mayor of Houston, which is the state’s most-active area for charter schools. He raked in nearly $132,000 between 2005 and 2010, when he unsuccessfully ran for governor.

Gov. Rick Perry was second, with his charter-school linked donations totaling $83,000 between 2005 and the first six months of this year.

The third-highest recipient was state Rep. Dan Branch, a key lieutenant with the ability to marshal votes for Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. Branch received $14,250, much of that from donors associated with Uplift Education, which has its hub in his district in suburban Dallas.

Branch, who is now running for attorney general, responded: “Our campaign is pleased to have a broad base of support from all across Texas, including those who believe that children need more educational options, especially when trapped in failing schools.”

Straus received $10,000 between 2010 and last year from Will Harte, a charter school advocate once listed as an interim Texas CEO with Arizona-based Carpe Diem Schools. In November, the state education board endorsed Carpe Diem for a new charter operating license. It plans to open five campuses in San Antonio.

Harte declined comment. Straus spokesman Jason Embry said, “Mr. Harte is a family friend of the speaker’s, but decisions about charter schools are made by the commissioner and the State Board of Education.”

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who issued nine charter school-related opinions from his post and is now the frontrunner in next year’s governor’s race, got just under $12,000 from donors with major charter school ties.

Here’s the AP obituary for historian and former San Antonio Express-News columnist T.R. Fehrenbach:

The wife of noted Texas historian T.R. Fehrenbach says the former longtime head of the Texas Historical Commission has died. He was 88.

Lillian Fehrenbach said her husband died Sunday of congestive heart failure in San Antonio.

Gov. Rick Perry in 2001 named Fehrenbach commissioner emeritus of the state agency he headed from 1983 to 2001.

Fehrenbach wrote 18 nonfiction books and was a World War II and Korean War veteran. His works included “Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans” and “This Kind of War,” which the Texas Senate once proclaimed essential reading for U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

Fehrenbach was awarded multiple civilian honors and military decorations. He also had a San Antonio Express-News column.

He is survived by his wife, one niece and two nephews.

Your absolute must clicks:
> AP’s Paul Weber reports on Texas Republicans describing the Battleground Texas threat as serious as a time when the rule the state.
USA Today reports on Mexican shoppers coming to Texas due to lower taxes.
> The Vancouver Sun (Canada) reports on how the delayed Keystone Pipeline could impact Port Arthur, TX.


– AP reports that the legal battle over gay rights is headed to Texas.
– Former State Rep. Joe Nixon (R-Houston) has an 
op ed on “ending Constitutional speech rights in Texas.”
– A must read DMN 
op ed from State Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) on explaining the ‘catch-an-illegal-immigrant’ game” to his children.

2013 / 2014 / 2016:
– TT’s Reeve Hamilton reports, for Texas editions of the NYT, on the race for Attorney General.
– A lengthy Townhall Magazine interview with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
– FWST’s Anna Tinsley reports (behind paywall) on Democratic enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Other stories of interest:
– NYT reports on education challenges from Austin.
– DMN columnist Steve Blow 
nominates Texas First Lady Anita Perry for “Texan of the Year” for her “honesty.”

Lighter clicks:
– A bird’s eye view of fracking in Texas.
– Ron Burgundy 
co-anchored a real newscast in North Dakota.
– Amazon aims to 
deliver packages by drone aircraft by 2015.
– The 
great radio call of the end of Alabama-Auburn.  You really must listen. (I happened to catch it live on XM radio as I drove home from San Antonio).
– Charles Barkley celebrated in Auburn, AL after the game 
about as you’d expect.
– Texas A&M 
partners with KIPP.
– Texas A&M and head football coach Kevin Sumlin have agreed “in principle” to a 
six-year extension.
Bowl projections for Texas A&M appear to lead them to the Chick Fil-A Bowl against Duke.
– Bleacher Report on how Mack Brown 
salvaged the 2013 season.

Your Daily Source of Inspiration:
– NYT obit for actor Paul Walker.
– A 
classy move from the head football coach at the University of Michigan.
– This only happens in the Grand Canyon 
once every ten years.
– Can soccer (“football”) 
bring peace to Colombia?


NYT / TT: In Attorney General Contest, Conservatives Crowd the Field (12/1/13 11:59pm)

VANCOUVER SUN: Beleaguered Texas town struggles with Keystone XL (12/1/13 12:10am)

USA TODAY: Mexican shoppers head to Texas to avoid higher tax (12/1/13 11:59pm)

AP: Texas charter-school donations rising (12/1/13 11:52pm)

AP: Gay rights fight comes to Texas, despite ban (12/1/13 11:38pm)

AP: Texas arrests over plant raise terrorism questions (12/1/13 11:36pm)

AP: Ex-BP engineer who deleted texts heads to trial (12/1/13 11:33pm)

AP: Noted historian T.R. Fehrenbach dies at age 88 in San Antonio (12/1/13 11:33pm)

NYT: Closing a Fear Gap So Children Can Achieve (12/1/13 11:29pm)

TOWNHALL MAGAZINE: Why Ted Cruz Fights (12/1/13 7:47pm)

FWST ($): Program aims at cutting smoking among Tarrant County’s homeless (12/1/13 7:36pm)

FWST ($): Obama administration spends $600 million on rail projects that benefit private companies (12/1/13 7:35pm)

FWST ($): Democrats say they are ‘Ready for Hillary’ in North Texas (12/1/13 7:22pm)

WFAA ABC DALLAS: Inside Texas Politics (12/1/13 7:19pm)

CHRON ($): Houston gains key role in synthetic marijuana (12/1/13 7:16pm)

CHRON ($): Superfund cleanup to move at nature’s pace (12/1/13 7:16pm)

AAS ($): Law enforcement claims of khat, terrorism connection questioned (12/1/13 12:48pm)

POLITIFACT ($): Doggett’s math holds up: Democrats gained more votes, fewer seats (12/1/13 12:43pm)

PALM BEACH POST: Ted Cruz to keynote Palm Beach County GOP fundraiser dinner (11/30/13 11:57am)


FWST ($): To the Railroad Commission: Do more than study Azle quakes (12/1/13 7:42pm)

CHRON: Missing ingredient (12/1/13 7:12pm)

CHRON: With Harris County grand juries, it’s ‘pick-a-pal’ (12/1/13 7:12pm)

CHRON: Name game (12/1/13 7:11pm)

SAEN: UTSA research a plus for the region (12/1/13 7:03pm)

SAEN: Road clear for Main Ave. plan (12/1/13 7:03pm)

AAS ($): Hey, kids: Drop the pie. Get moving (12/1/13 12:50pm)

AAS ($): Looking for answers to a simple code enforcement question (12/1/13 12:50pm)


BLOW: Honesty makes first lady Anita Perry my Texan of the Year (12/1/13 11:21pm)

NORMAN ($): Contraception requirement case headed to Supreme Court (12/1/13 7:40pm)

FMR. STATE REP. NIXON: Eroding constitutional speech-rights in Texas (12/1/13 7:23pm)

KING: Income disparity fuels our discontent (12/1/13 7:10pm)

BRODESKY: Hunger never takes a holiday (12/1/13 7:06pm)

PIMENTEL: Ask all Catholics, even the fallen (12/1/13 7:02pm)

ANGLIN: River Walk stroll creates magical holiday memories (12/1/13 7:02pm)

HIOTT ($): Saying goodbye to retirees but looking forward to the next chapter (12/1/13 12:49pm)

SCHNURMAN: As GOP states flip, where’s the Texas answer on Medicaid? (21/1/13 12:41pm)

STATE REP. VILLALBA: As a conservative Hispanic, explaining ‘catch an illegal’ to my child (11/30/13 11:43am)

BLOGS (from the left)

CROOKS AND LIARS: Revisionaries: John Birch Society Is Alive, Well, and Rewriting Texas Textbooks (12/1/13 11:28pm)

BOR: State Rep. McClendon Calls on Texas to Stand Up for the Underemployed (12/1/13 11:24pm)

BLOGS (from the right)

WATCHDOG WIRE: TX: Temple PD fires officers in excessive force case (12/1/13 11:30pm)

Author: Must Read Texas

Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) & Jason Stanford @MustReadTexas