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January 23rd, 2013:

When, Wendy?

When will Sen. Wendy Davis run for statewide office?

Sen. Wendy Davis

Fortified by a convincing re-election victory, state Sen. Wendy Davis is resuming her role as a fierce critic of Republican-led education cuts as she enters her third regular session of the Legislature.

Political watchers say the session could set the stage for Davis to run for statewide office.

In a wide-ranging interview last week, the Fort Worth Democrat said one of her objectives is to reverse deep cuts in education and other services that she says were orchestrated by Gov. Rick Perry and other Republicans during the 2011 session.

“If we continue on the track we are today, with the tremendous underfunding of public education and higher education, we are putting Texas on a path to fail,” she said.

Davis amassed Democratic star power by repelling a well-funded Republican assault in November and gaining a second term in her Tarrant County Senate seat.

Her defeat of then-Rep. Mark Shelton, a Fort Worth pediatrician endorsed by Perry and other Republican leaders, heightened speculation that she is on her way to a statewide political run, possibly in 2014.

“From the perspective of electability, she’s one of our top superstars in Texas,” said state Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who believes that Davis is a potential candidate for governor, lieutenant governor or the U.S. Senate. “Her sensibility and approach to politics will just automatically propel her as a top candidate for statewide office.”

Davis has acknowledged an interest in moving up the political ladder but says her immediate focus is on working for District 10 and pushing a diverse legislative agenda in the 83rd Legislature, which will run until May 27.

I believe this is the interview they’re referring to. As the story notes, one likely factor in any decision Davis may make will come today, when Senators draw lots to see who has to run again in 2014 and who gets to wait till 2016. If Davis is in the latter group, she can run for something else in 2014 without having to give up her seat in the Senate unless she wins. If she draws the 2014 straw, however, she has to make a choice. That doesn’t necessarily mean she’d choose to stay where she is, but that seems the more likely possibility. This is one reason why Sen. Kirk Watson resisted suggestions that he run for Governor in 2010 – he was up for election that year.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said a statewide run by Davis is “much more a matter of when rather than if.”

“I think since the early days of her tenure in the Legislature, she has been somebody that Democrats have looked at with high expectations,” he said.

I can’t say for certain until the updated district information is published by the Texas Legislative Council, but Davis may have been the only Dem in 2012 to win a district that was not carried by President Obama. That says something. There are other names out there for 2014 – Henry Cisneros, Cecile Richards, and Julian Castro have all been mentioned as possibilities, if only by me in Cisneros’ case – and like Julian Castro, Davis may decide that it isn’t her time yet. Which would be fair enough and totally understandable, but I’ll say again that there’s no guarantee that 2018 will be a better opportunity than 2014. It’s a leap of faith, and you can only hope to be ready for it.

Speaking of such things, via press release from Edinburg Politics, there is now a Republican not named Rick Perry or Greg Abbott who claims to be running for Governor next year.

South Texan Miriam Martínez, a renowned international journalist, small business owner, and the former 2012 Republican nominee for state representative, House District 41, on Monday, January 21, announced her plan to seek the March 2014 Republican nomination for Texas governor.

She said her campaign would focus on key issues, such as job creation, education, child support, and immigration. But she also emphasized the importance of the Republican Party having a candidate who is a woman and a minority to lead the top of the political ticket.

“I do not believe in discrimination. I just think it’s time for a woman to do the job.” said Martínez, a survivor of family violence. “I know how to take care of business. As a Mexican American woman, I can handle challenges and defeats. What I can’t handle is living a life of regret and asking myself, ‘What if?’”

Martinez got 38% of the vote in HD41. She also got 1,210 votes in the GOP primary for HD41. As the story noted, she originally announced for HD41 as a Democrat – I had her listed there for awhile on my 2012 Election page after finding her via Google while compiling candidate names – which one presumes would be used against her in the unlikely case that someone feels the need to attack her candidacy. One can be successful as a Democratic candidate in a low-profile primary with a Hispanic surname and not much else. In a high-profile Republican primary, I’m guessing that probably isn’t so. Be that as it may, you have to give her credit for having the gumption to jump into the race before either Perry or Abbott has publicly made up his mind.

UPDATE: According to Postcards, Davis drew a two-year term, meaning that she would have to run for re-election next year. That would seem to put a damper on her gubernatorial prospects, at least for now. But you never know.

More from the Larry Marshall files

This guy is a piece of work.

HISD trustee Larry Marshall, fresh off a two-day school board retreat, flew from Houston to Tampa, Fla., on a clear winter day to watch the 2009 Super Bowl in Raymond James Stadium.

Cheap seats for the match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals cost $500 each, but brokers were charging $2,000. The price, however, didn’t matter to Marshall, who paid nothing for his ticket, his airfare or his hotel that weekend.

The school district’s most senior trustee recently disclosed under oath that he accepted the free trip from the owners of Fort Bend Mechanical, a Stafford company that three months earlier had won an HISD construction contract potentially worth millions.

New deposition testimony reveals that the Super Bowl trip was just one example of Marshall’s social interactions with actual or prospective HISD contractors. He also forged relationships over meals at places like the Four Seasons and Fleming’s, with the contractors typically picking up his tab, he said.

These connections would not have been disclosed publicly save for an ongoing civil lawsuit alleging a bribery and money laundering scheme involving Marshall, Fort Bend Mechanical and another company, RHJ-JOC.

The gifts normally fall under a loophole in state law, which allows local elected officials to keep secret any meals, lodging, travel or tickets they receive from contractors so long as the contractor is present at the event. The “guest” rule meant Marshall did not have to file disclosure paperwork about the Super Bowl because he attended alongside the district vendors who paid the bill.

“Not only do we need more disclosure, we just need to ban that practice,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the watchdog group Public Citizen of Texas. “It’s a well-known psychological trick used by lobbyists at whatever level that if an elected official associates you with pleasurable events that they’re going to look favorable to any proposal you make to them.”

That loophole has since been closed, which is good if a bit late. What’s amazing to me is not just the extent of Marshall’s questionable behavior (I’m being generous here) but the extent to which he doesn’t see it as questionable. All I know is that Marshall is up for re-election this year, and I truly hope he gets challenged on this stuff. It has no place on the school board. K-12 Zone has more.

One place where a little austerity would do some good

Rick Perry’s slush funds get no love in the opening budgets.

The House and Senate’s initial two-year budgets would force Perry’s deal-closing Texas Enterprise Fund to exhaust its last $7 million and throttle back on state film incentives and subsidies for major sporting events.

The Emerging Technology Fund, which subsidizes high-tech commercial ventures, would face slightly less dire prospects. The 8-year-old effort, which a Dallas Morning News investigation in 2010 found had awarded more than $16 million to firms with investors or officers who are large Perry campaign donors, has an estimated $120 million of existing money.

Lawmakers’ initial budgets would let it spend down that sum in the next two years.

“The Legislature is tired of seeing some of these programs being used the way they’re being used — or the appearance that they’re being used for that,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. “By zeroing those things out, the Legislature will have a way to look at these programs.”

In the past, Perry generally has succeeded in defending the programs, except in 2011’s budget-cutting session, when the Enterprise Fund and tech fund received no new money.

This year, though, Perry isn’t facing criticism only from Democrats, who say education and social services should get the first call on limited state dollars.

The Republican governor also is dodging charges of crony capitalism that were bandied about in his failed run for president last year and recently aired by Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, in his failed bid to become Texas House speaker.

Last spring, Texans for a Conservative Budget, a coalition of a half-dozen groups, urged lawmakers to consider eliminating dozens of programs, including the Enterprise Fund and tech fund.

Of course, as we know, these budgets are “just a starting point”, so Perry isn’t going to have to beg for loose change on the streets for his pet projects just yet. I could live with the continued existence of these funds if there were some actual oversight on them, and more stringent rules and sanctions for the job creation requirements of the grants. But just not giving them any more money works for me, too.

San Antonio strip club lawsuit

If you’re a lawyer representing strip clubs these days, you sure don’t lack for business.

More than a dozen strip clubs have sued the city of San Antonio over amendments to ordinances requiring entertainers to wear bikinis, claiming the changes are another heavy-handed attempt to shut the cabarets down.

The federal lawsuit resembles one at the center of a court battle almost 10 years ago when the city amended its human display ordinance to, among other things, bar nude dancing, set greater restrictions on lap dances and prohibit small, private and unsupervised VIP rooms in all strip clubs. It ended in a settlement.

Many of the topless clubs got around those restrictions, and greater regulation, by having entertainers wear pasties, while clubs that offered nude dancing challenged citations individually.

The ordinance pertaining to sexually oriented businesses and the human display ordinance were amended last year, with the changes meant at tightening technicalities.

The changes are set to take effect in the coming two months.

“They did a number of things, most of them were technical provisions, but of note, they changed the definition so if you are wearing less than a bikini you’re a sexually oriented business,” City Attorney Michael Bernard said. “It gets rid of this whole pasties thing.”

“The effect is to tighten up the definition of a sexually oriented business,” Bernard said. “If your business is sexually oriented, you are going to be sexually oriented under the law. Before, there were loopholes in which they avoided that.”

This sounds very similar to the original SOB ordinance in Houston that triggered a lawsuit that was finally resolved in the city’s favor more than a decade later, but a bit more restrictive. Houston has taken a somewhat different approach to policing its strip clubs these days, but it’s not out of the question that what happens in San Antonio could get imported here. So we may as well keep an eye on it.