Texas’ Top Stories in 2016

What impacted the Lone Star State the most this year?

By Rhonda FanningDecember 26, 2016 2:44 pm,

To help top off 2016, we’re looking back on Texas news that had an extraordinary impact on the Lone Star State this year.

Lauren McGaughy, reporter for the Dallas Morning News, and Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston join the Standard to talk about their picks.

The shooting of the five law enforcement officers in Dallas

McGaughy: “This came on the heels of a number of very high profile shootings of black men in other states. There was what was a very peaceful protest for the majority of the time against those shootings and one individual who took violence into his own hands and decided to take the lives of five of our law enforcement officers.”

Ted Cruz’ presidential run

Rottinghaus: “The fact that Ted Cruz was able to do as well as he did in the primary season suggests that, on paper, it was a sellable item. But problem is that the odds changed for Cruz. He didn’t necessarily have the kind of magnetism that a lot of people look for in that presidential candidate, so his campaign had to be much more efficient, much more direct, and I think to some degree, much more personal.”

The “broken” foster care system in Texas

McGaughy: “There were not enough [Child Protective Services] caseworkers, not enough people to actually check on these kids that could be in danger. … And a lot of that was because pay is so low. It’s an incredibly incredibly difficult, physically and mentally straining job and when you’re not getting paid much for it you’re not going to stay very long.

“Political leaders in this state dragged their feet on addressing the real problem. There were changes of leadership at the agency. … The real issue – instead of just treating the symptom, but treating the actual illness which is low pay and high turnover – hasn’t really been tackled until now. At the end of the year, we’re finally seeing some pay raises. It’s been like pulling teeth, really, for months to get state leaders to acknowledge the problem.”

The sexual assault of women by Baylor University football players

Rottinghaus: “This is a big story, especially for universities, who are caught in the middle of all these different cross-cutting visions. There’s a real tension between a kind of modern university that has legal and moral obligation to protect students but also has pressure to compete in big-time college athletics. For Baylor, if you throw in this kind of Christianity base as part of that it becomes a real powder keg.

“So this could be a turning point for universities that have to restructure how they handle these accusations. … The sad truth is that when you consider this in the context of football and sort of big-time sports, that it’s gonna be hard for these changes to be manifest anytime soon.”

Advocates’ Supreme Court case against Texas’ restrictive abortion laws

McGaughy: “This was a victory for clinics in Texas that wanted to stay open in the wake of this House Bill 2 … putting restrictions on what they would need to live up to. … This bill effectively made it impossible for these clinics to stay open … and the Supreme Court says that the key provisions of that law made it too difficult for women to get an abortion and in that way we’re infringing on their rights. It was a pretty landmark case”

Texas voter ID law Supreme Court case

Rottinghaus: “The split court eventually upheld the lower court’s ruling which basically put the law away. … The state ended up having to draw up new rules that essentially allows people who don’t have a photo ID to be able to have some kind of a combination when they get to the polling place. The problem is this also creates confusion. The literature on this suggests that when people are confused about whehter or not they need this voter ID it leads to fewer voters. … So voter ID has a wide ranging effects – not only for the politics of this state, but also for just the kind of legal ability to get to vote.”

Supreme Court case placing an injunction on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals extension

McGaughy: “The state had a win in that it was opposing [President Barack] Obama on an immigration law that would’ve resulted in the number of adults to be deported. Obama wanted to keep those people in the United States if they had met certain benchmarks – or at least give them the ability to have some kind of a work permit. But Texas objected, as well as did a number of other states, and they ended up winning in the Supreme Court.”

What will be big stories in 2017?

School finance

Rottinghaus: “There’s a big menu that’s open. There’s at least enough hungry mouths that want be able to get some more funding into the system, but it’s going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. And you’ve got a lot of different competing interests, so it’s going to be complicated to be able to get that money on the board.”

Medicaid expansion

Rottinghaus: “There’s been some jockeying in the courts on this issue. … But when you’ve got a kind of restrictive budget and you’ve got lots of different things going on, it’s hard to be able to get a firm priorities in place. And so we’ll see how the legislators handle that.”

Transgender rights bathroom bills

McGaughy: “This is something that is going to be time-consuming next session. I’m not sure if something will actually end up passing. There’s some disagreement between the House and Senate about whether it’s a priority or not.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.