Will CPRIT Be Perry’s Achilles Heel?

Disclosure upfront: Despite thinking Zac’s series on Gov. Rick Perry is hilarious, I sort of like Perry, not least for his ability to make “enlightened” types see red. That said, I can’t help thinking that the governor’s defenders in the Travis County dust-up—including David Axelrod and Alan Dershowitz—are underestimating one aspect of the case.

That is, the implication that Perry vetoed the public integrity unit funds because the unit was investigating funny business at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, one of Perry’s “signature accomplishments.”

That might be seen as a stretch—if the governor didn’t have a history of bigfooting in this manner. Remember how he delayed investigation of the Willingham arson case by replacing several members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission just before a key presentation? Just seems like the CPRIT angle might strike Jane and Joe Six-Pack as a little more troubling than Perry’s defenders are letting on.

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State Rep. Jason Villalba Calls For Investigation of Craig Watkins

State Rep. Jason Villalba (whom I’ve written about) has called for the Texas State Auditor’s Office to conduct an audit of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office following the allegations that DA Craig Watkins (whom I’ve also written about) used more than $60,000 of county asset forfeiture money after rear-ending a car after a speaking engagement, while staring at his phone.

“It’s our responsibility to earn and maintain the public trust, that’s why this case demands an immediate review and audit,” Villalba said in a press release. “Public funds should never be used to cover up reckless driving or to pay personal settlements on behalf of public officials. If Mr. Watkins has violated the law, he should be held responsible.”

Prediction: it doesn’t get better for Watkins for a bit.

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Suggestions for Home Rule Commission: Student Trustees, Board Accountability, and Impeachment

The first three of my posts offering suggestions for consideration by the Home Rule Commission debating whether to rework the DISD charter. Come get a taste:

1. Should we have a student trustee?
2. How can we instill board accountability?
3. Should the board be able to impeach one if its own?

More to come. As always, read with your eyeballs.

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Can Texas Support a Privately Funded Bullet Train?

The Texas Tribune today has a piece about the proposed bullet train from Dallas to Houston, which we’ve mentioned before. The big question, of course, is whether the money for the privately funded project will materialize:

Richard Arena, a transportation and infrastructure consultant who sits on the board of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, said he believes Texas Central’s project could become the first truly high-speed rail system in the country, but he has concerns about the project’s financing. In particular, he’s not clear how the Dallas-Houston line will manage to earn enough revenue to pay off the interest on the billions of dollars’ worth of bonds that will likely have to be issued to fund the construction. Such financial challenges are why some public subsidies are the norm for public rail systems, he said.

“I still have skepticism of where the funding is going to come long-term,” Arena said.

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Leading Off (8/15/14)

DA’s Office Paid Secret Settlement Following Car Crash. In February 2013, Dallas County district attorney Craig Watkins was driving up the Dallas North Tollway “reading information” on his cell phone when he ran into the back of a truck. Watkins was in a county-owned vehicle at the time but failed to follow the proper reporting procedures. Eventually the DA’s office paid the man that Watkins hit more than $50,000 and had him sign a settlement stating that he would not talk to the press. The settlement money also came from asset forfeiture funds, which seems to be questionable legally, especially since the spending never went before the county commissioners court for approval.

DA’s Office to Investigate Police Shootings. In the wake of the recent string of officer-involved incidents in Dallas, and the events playing out in Ferguson, Mo., this week, Craig Watkins announced his plan to create an investigative unit to look into any shootings involving cops. “I think it would be somewhat irresponsible if we didn’t address the fact that there is a lack of trust with the police,” Watkins said.

Cheating School’s Test Scores Plunge. An investigation last fall determined that students at Dallas ISD’s Umphrey Lee Elementary were being fed exam answers. So what happened after five teachers and an instructional coach were forced out? STAAR passing rates fell significantly during the last school year.

Cowboys Erect Party Tent Outside Stadium. The Corral, which was a feature at Texas Stadium back in the team’s 1990s heyday, is being resurrected starting with this weekend’s preseason game. Because JerryWorld isn’t big enough, I guess.

Corinth Doesn’t Want Beaver Nuggets. A crowd packed the Corinth City Council meeting last night before a hearing on granting incentives to bring a Buc-ee’s truck stop to Interstate 35E. Neighbors were concerned by the amount of traffic it would attract. At about 1 a.m. this morning, the council voted against Buc-ee’s.

Future Serial Killer in Lewisville. Hard not to reach that conclusion after reading this creepy story about 20 rabbits found killed in a “ritualistic” manner in the Castle Hills neighborhood.

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Museum Tower Shows Strong Uptick in Sales

Last night, I was leaving downtown shortly before 10 o’clock when I espied Museum Tower and what appeared to be about six of its residents still awake and with their lights on. “Either that tower is still very empty,” I thought, “or the folks who live there turn in early.” So, once again, I combed through the numbers in DCAD.

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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: Barrett Brown and Anonymous

Considering his future plans, Barrett Brown told Tim Rogers in early 2011: “I might move to New York or L.A. I might stay here. Or I might be in jail.”

Frequent readers of this blog know already which of those relocations came to pass, because Brown has lately been our Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution correspondent. He was arrested in September 2012 after posting a video online — following an earlier FBI raid on his apartment — in which he threatened to kill federal agents. He got some good news in March, when the government dropped most of its charges against him. He no longer faces the prospect of a 105-year prison sentence, but he still awaits sentencing (on Oct. 6) for obstruction of justice and those death threats he made.

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John Oliver vs. Ace Cash Express and Other Payday Lenders

Last night on his HBO show, John Oliver did a 16-minute segment on predatory payday lenders, including Irving-based Ace Cash Express. Oliver rightly went on the attack against an industry that legally gets away with charging usurious interest rates and (as we’ve mentioned before) trains its employees in how to catch customers in a vicious cycle of borrowing.

He played clips from this explanatory video produced by Ace, which features a pleasant woman pleasantly describing how the company “will work with you” if you can’t get a loan paid back on time.

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Leading Off (8/8/14)

Why Businesses Aren’t Charged With Bribing John Wiley Price.  News 8′s Brett Shipp investigated why the companies named in the indictment of the county commissioner aren’t themselves having to facing possible punishment for their parts in the alleged crimes. And it turns out, well, maybe the federal prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to charge the companies? Or maybe they just focused on the bigger target, a government official? Or somehow Bradley Cooper fouled the whole thing up by falling hard for one of his informants? Hard to say.

Cowboys Lose Meaningless Game. Quarterback Tony Romo didn’t play, so feel free to blame him for the 27-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers in the team’s preseason opener.

Family Sues DirecTV For Sending Sex Offender to Their Home. Wahren Scott Massey didn’t work for DirecTV, nor for the subcontractor sent to respond to a service call at a home in Murphy. But he did tag along with an installer in August 2012 and was caught taking photos of the family’s 12-year-old daughter while she was stretching. Massey has been a registered sex offender since 1998. The family believes DirecTV should be held accountable, while the company denies responsibility since Massey didn’t work for them and should never have been along on the call with the installer.

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Alice Murray, President of Dallas Citizens Council, Says She Thinks Trinity Tollroad Will Happen

This morning I had the pleasure of attending a breakfast discussion hosted by Urban Land Institute North Texas. After a keynote from the ULI’s Rachel MacCleery about the group’s most recent report on infrastructure and how it shapes competitive cities, Robert Wilonsky moderated a panel populated by MacCleery, Patrick Kennedy, Tom Rousakis, and Alice Murray, who is the president of the Dallas Citizens Council. At the risk of giving you the false impression that the morning was dull and nothing of note happened until the confab was nearly over and Councilwoman Sandy Greyson asked a question about the Trinity tollroad, I will say that the room did perk up a bit when Greyson raised her hand.

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Poll: How Liberal Is Dallas?

I posted yesterday about the Economist’s charticle showing that Dallas falls closer to the liberal vs. the conservative side of the political spectrum, as do most of the big cities in the United States. This was not surprising, given that Dallas County has gone Democratic in recent election cycles.

But that got me curious about FrontBurner Nation, since our audience isn’t strictly confined to the Dallas city limits or even the county lines. Two other North Texas cities — Fort Worth and Arlington — charted on the conservative end of the scale, after all. So where do you fall?

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Arlington is the 6th-Most Conservative City in the U.S.

The Economist today published a chart ranking the relative conservatism vs. liberalism of American cities with a population greater than 250,000. Mesa, Arizona, is the country’s most conservative, while San Francisco is the most liberal.

Arlington, Texas, is the sixth-most conservative. Fort Worth is 12th-most. Meanwhile, Dallas is a relative bastion of godless hedonism, falling (like most of the cities on the list) to the more liberal end of the scale. I’m not sure why Plano, which also has a population greater than 250K, isn’t represented on the chart. Maybe they were going by 2000 Census numbers.

Their data are based on an article in this month’s American Political Science Review, though I’m sure I didn’t have to tell you that.

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Leading Off (8/4/14)

Steve Blow Apologizes to Jim Schutze Six Years Later. Back in 2008, Schutze speculated that there was a connection between John Wiley Price and Ross Perot Jr., that Price was being paid by Perot’s company Hillwood to delay the Dallas inland port project. Blow publicly doubted Schutze, refusing to believe JWP would betray his constituents in that way. But now the indictment shows perhaps Schutze was right all along. Props to Blow for the rare public apology.

Fort Worth Doctor With Ebola Arrives in Atlanta, Improving. This video shows Dr. Kent Brantly walking from an ambulance into Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital over the weekend. Before he was transferred to the States, Brantly received an experimental serum and is now showing signs of improvement.

Bystander Rescues Man, Dog from Car in Pond. A bit light on details here, but apparently the car was traveling south on the President George Bush Turnpike when it drove onto the grassy median and into the water. A stranger jumped in to rescue the man and the dog. The man was transported to Parkland. No word on the dog. Also no word on what else the car, which is badly damaged in this video, hit before landing in the water.

To Stand a Chance, Wendy Davis Needs to Increase Voter Turnout in Dallas. She’ll likely win the county, sure, but to have a chance to beat Greg Abbott in November, she’ll need extremely high voter turnout numbers in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. She’s hoping to increase turnout by at least 5 percent, quite the task for a midterm election.

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