FEB. 13, 2017

Dan Patrick raises the heat on Travis County sheriff

As reports of immigration raids spread across Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is attributing the action to the "sanctuary" policy recently put in place by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez.

"Because this sheriff isn't doing her job in Travis County — Austin — that's one of the reasons we had ICE raids this week with warrants, finding criminal aliens," Patrick said in an appearance Monday morning on Fox News. "This sheriff won't do her job."

Hernandez has been under fire from GOP officials since she announced the policy, which reduces her department's cooperation with federal immigration authorities. It went into effect Feb. 1 and led Gov. Greg Abbott to withhold $1.5 million in state money to the county. 

Reports of the raids reached a new volume Friday in Austin, though details were fuzzy. Immigrant lawyers and activists sounded the alarm in multiples cities, while federal officials insisted they were just carrying out routine enforcement.

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Castro gives himself two months' deadline for deciding on Senate run in 2018

During an informal community engagement event in Austin Saturday, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, announced he will decide in eight weeks whether he plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. 
 
“I am looking at the Senate race against Ted Cruz," Castro told an excited crowd of roughly 300 supporters. "Since Cruz took office, he has not taken a single day to work for the people in Texas. ... We need a senator who will answer the phone for people when they call."
 
Castro is mulling a challenge to Cruz's re-election bid, along with U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso. Democrats in the state and in Congress are closely watching how the two men maneuver around a possible primary race against each other, but the betting money is that O'Rourke is more likely to follow through with a run.
 
In an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith Monday, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, a Brownsville Democrat, effectively endorsed U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro's would-be candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2018.

The Q&A: Former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff

With today's Blast, we're presenting a conversation with Bill Ratliff who served as a state senator representing SD-1 for 15 years from 1989 to 2004. The Mount Pleasant Republican gained a reputation during his time in the Senate for his ability to work across party lines and whose demeanor inspired the nickname "Obi Wan" among his colleagues.

In December 2000, his Senate colleagues elected him to serve as the chamber's presiding officer following the election of George W. Bush as president and the elevation of then Lt. Gov. Rick Perry to the Governor's Mansion.

Ratliff addresses over the course of our conversation the partisan divide in the Senate, school choice and the advisability of ditching straight-ticket voting in Texas, among other topics.

Due to length constraints, we're presenting this Q&A in segments throughout the week. This is Part 1:

The Blast: Let's go ahead and get started. Obviously, the Senate is an institution that is very close to your heart. What's your view on where the Senate is, if it resembles the Senate that you remember?

Bill Ratliff: Well, the Senate is not the body that it was when I was there. When I came to the Senate, I was the seventh Republican out of 31. So during my stay in the Senate it completely switched until the Republicans almost had the 21 votes necessary for the 21-vote rule.

When I was lieutenant governor, it was 15-15 with me in the chair. So we were absolutely forced to be bipartisan or we didn't get anything done.

Even the most adamant on either end of the spectrum realized that you have to compromise or you just bog down into nothing. And so now we've changed over to the point that since they've changed the 21-vote rule to the 19-vote rule, I think that what that does is encourage partisanship and it destroys much of what I considered to be the greatness of the Texas Senate.

We used to have legislators from all over the United States marvel at how bipartisan the Texas Legislature was and in particular the Senate. And I would always explain to them that the reason for that was the 21-vote rule.

We had to be. And now that's no longer the case.

The Blast: Do you think within the Republican caucus, that it has become more partisan than you remember?

Ratliff: I think it is far more ultraconservative. I think a moderate in the Texas Senate Republican ranks is a lonesome person.

The Blast: What are the implications for policy?

Ratliff: You have to look at the major issues of the day to see what happens when something like that occurs. Probably school choice is as good an example as any.

It appears now that the lieutenant governor is going to have his way and that the Senate is going to pass a voucher bill. And that never would have gotten to first base back when were required to have a bipartisan approach.

It may not make it out of the House. It probably won't. But I think that's just one example of what happens when you don't have to consider the other viewpoints.

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Report: Former Texas GOP chair might be in line for White House job

Steve Munisteri, the former Texas GOP chairman, may be headed for the White House. 

The political newsletter Must Read Texas reported Monday morning that Munisteri has told friends he's "joining the Trump White House as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison, an "interim" position until all vetting is complete." Reached later Monday morning, Munisteri told The Texas Tribune that "nothing is official" yet.

Munisteri, who was succeeded by current Chairman Tom Mechler at the state party, did some work for the Republican National Committee last year. The RNC hired him ahead of its national convention, which was expected to be potentially contested at the time.

Hancock rolls out tort reform legislation addressing hailstorm lawsuits

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, filed SB 10 on Monday, a tort reform effort aimed at curtailing hailstorm litigation that by dint of its low bill number is a top priority for Senate leadership.
 
In rolling out the legislation at a press conference in the Capitol, Hancock said his bill would “address out of control litigation, improve transparency and protect consumers from sky-high premiums without infringing on their right to make an insurance claim or sue their insurance company when it’s not holding up its end of a deal.”
 
Hancock, who is the chairman of the Senate Business & Commerce Committee, said hailstorm lawsuit abuse isn’t a problem with attorneys across the state and instead blames a “small group of bad actors.”
 
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said at the press conference insurance companies raising premiums on owners of homes and businesses hurts the Texas economy and emphasized the importance of lawsuit reform.
 
Tort reform advocacy groups Texans for Lawsuit and Reform and Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse both issued statements in support of Sen. Hancock and SB 10.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Our pillow talk is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.”

— Sebastian Gorka, now a senior White House aide, in a talk last November about a shared passion with his wife — defeating radical Islamic terrorism. Their writings on the topic have made them favorites among far-right political audiences.

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POLITICAL PEOPLE AND THEIR MOVES...

The House Republican Caucus announced Monday that Craig Goldman of Fort Worth and Greg Bonnen of Friendswood have been chosen as chairman and vice chairman of the group's policy committee.

They will be joined on committee by: Jay Dean of Longview, James White of Hillister, Charles "Doc" Anderson of Waco, DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, Ed Thompson of Pearland, J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, Brooks Landgraf of Odessa, Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, Matt Rinaldi of Irving, Kevin Roberts of Houston, Mike Schofield of Katy, Linda Koop of Dallas and Andy Murr of Junction.

All but the final two members, who are at-large appointments, were elected by region.

And in other Texas Tribune news… U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela says he will back U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, should the San Antonio Democrat challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018... more than a year after Texas voters approved routing billions in state sales taxes to roads and bridges, some lawmakers are questioning whether the first payment of $5 billion should move forward as planned.

Thanks to Patrick Svitek, Alex Samuels and Sanya Mansoor for sending along tips for this afternoon’s note. Do you have items for The Blast? New job? A promotion? Tell us all about it. Send tips to jreynolds@texastribune.org.

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