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MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Voting Rights

A day after a federal court invalidated two of Texas’s congressional districts because they were drawn to dilute minority voting power, a separate federal ruling has once again found Texas in violation of the Voting Rights Act. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that the Lone Star State restricted the interpretation assistance available for English-limited voters at the ballot box, according to the Texas Tribune. Part of the Texas Election Code requires interpreters to also be registered to vote in the same county in which they are helping voters cast ballots, which apparently goes against federal voting protections. The law violates a section of the Voting Rights Act which says any voter who needs assistance because of visual impairments, disabilities, or literacy skills can choose who helps them vote, provided it’s not their employer or a union leader. “The problem remains that the Texas provisions expressly limit the right to the act of casting a ballot,” the judges wrote in the opinion, according to the Tribune. “It should go without saying that a state cannot restrict this federally guaranteed right by enacting a statute tracking its language, then defining terms more restrictively than as federally defined.”

Five Flags

Six Flags Over Texas won’t be changing its name to Five Flags Over Texas anytime soon. That’s because the Arlington amusement park won’t remove its Confederate flag, even amid a wave of Confederate monument removals in cities across the country. TMZ first reported the park’s steadfast refusal to get rid of the Confederate banner that sits atop the park’s main gate, alongside the American flag, the Texas flag, and the Mexican flag. It’s not quite the stars-and-bars version that we’re all used to seeing, though—the one at Six Flags is the Flag of the Confederacy rather than the more commonly used Confederate Battle flag. A Six Flags rep told TMZ that park patrons “are astute enough to know the difference,” though it’s unclear what, exactly, the big difference is between two flags which both represent a failed secessionist state that embraced slavery. “Six Flags Over Texas continues to fly the Confederate States of America Flag and does not fly or sell any variation of the Confederate Battle Flag,” a Six Flags spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle.

B1RTHD4Y

It’s the hundredth anniversary of the first time license plates were used in Texas, and you can celebrate the big birthday by purchasing a pair of custom license plates, according to KXAS. The plates don’t come with candles or covered in funfetti, but they will feature a unique design commemorating the centennial. Car history nerds will want to act fast, because the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles is only making the specialty plate available to the first 100 buyers. Those lucky few will receive a special plate pattern with “100” as the first three characters followed by three letters starting with “AAA.” There’s a seal in the center of the plate, reminiscent of the 1917 radiator seal, and on the top corners of the plate there’s a “19” and “17.” The plate also has security threads and the word “TEXAS” on a white background, just like it is on the current general-issue plate. The 100-year anniversary marker is doubly appropriate here, because that’s about how much time you spend waiting in line at most DMV offices!

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Class Dismissed

The Texas Lege finally acted on the public school funding issue, with the House and Senate each passing the other’s priority school finance reform bill on Monday, according to the Texas Tribune. Lawmakers waited until the eleventh hour to pass the legislation—there are only two days left in the special session. The House passed Senate Bill 16 to form a commission to look at future school funding reform, and the Senate voted Monday night to pass House Bill 21, which would give public schools an immediate $351 million infusion to help address the struggles of small rural schools and students with special needs. HB 21 also adds $212 million to a health insurance program for retired teachers. But as the Dallas Morning News notes, there’s still a lot of work to be done this session on school finance, and “with time so short,” the legislative harmony could fall apart just as soon as it came together.

Deep Trouble

A former South Texas police chief is facing federal drug charges for allegedly working as a member of a drug trafficking organization, according to the McAllen Monitor. Ex-La Joya police chief Geovani Hernandez was arrested by federal agents over the weekend after a federal investigation revealed his ties to an unidentified drug trafficking organization. Court records show Hernandez allegedly had been working with a middleman for drug traffickers, and told several confidential informants that he was helping run drugs over the border. Hernandez also allegedly told an informant that he was a close friend of Gulf Cartel Plaza boss Juan Manuel Loza Salinas, also known as “El Toro.” In November, Hernandez also appeared as an actor in a narco-corrido, or drug ballad, music video for a song about running cocaine from Mission to Houston, which isn’t exactly lying low. Hernandez had been working with the Progreso Police Department as a “provisionary sergeant” at the time of his arrest—Progreso officials announced that Hernandez was no longer with the department effective Monday.

Hazing Scandal

Seven deputies at the Bexar County Jail were put on administrative leave for allegedly participating in a hazing incident at the facility, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced on Monday, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The incident happened at a house party on Friday night, when six deputies on the elite Special Emergency Response Team at the jail allegedly hazed a seventh deputy. Salazar said the hazing involved county-issued handcuffs, shackles, and a stun gun. The deputies were placed on leave after video of the incident surfaced. All of the deputies involved viewed it as a joke—apparently involving a deputy’s four-year-old daughter in the hazing process—but Salazar certainly isn’t laughing. “It’s not to be tolerated. It’s not something I’m going to stand for,” he said at a Monday press conference. The deputies could face criminal charges, including hazing, unlawful restraint, and child endangerment.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Ted Talks

Senator Ted Cruz issued a statement condemning the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend after a man described as a Nazi sympathizer drove into a crowd of protesters, killing one person and injuring dozens more. A graduate of Bellaire High School in Houstonwas among those injured in the attack. “It’s tragic and heartbreaking to see hatred and racism once again mar our great Nation with bloodshed,” Cruz said in a statement released Saturday night, according to the Dallas Morning News. “The First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans to speak their minds peaceably, but violence, brutality, and murder have no place in a civilized society. The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”

Wall March

Hundreds of activists marched to protest the construction of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall in South Texas on Saturday, according to the Texas Tribune. The protesters gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mission and walked four miles to La Lomita Chapel, about 300 yards from the Rio Grande. The latest plan for the wall prompted concerns that La Lomita Chapel will be stuck between the wall and the river. Marchers from different backgrounds participated, as the proposed wall has inflamed private property owners who may lose their land to the wall, conservationists who are concerned about several wildlife refuges in the path of construction, and immigration advocates. The mix of characters resulted in an interesting scene: people walked, used golf carts, and rode bikes during the march, blasting rock music as church bells rang out. Our Lady of Guadalupe’s longtime priest, Father Roy Snipes, led the protesters from the driver’s seat of his baby blue, four-door 1984 Ford Escort with a nearly five-foot statue of the Lady of Guadalupe sitting on top, “accompanied by at least a few of his dogs,” according to the McAllen Monitor.

Defaced

A primarily African-American church in Waco was defaced with Nazi graffiti, the word “Satan,” and the name of President Donald Trump last week, the Waco Herald-Tribunereported on Friday. The vandalism was discovered on Tuesday morning at the thirty-member Willow Grove Baptist Church in McLennan County. A swastika, surrounded by a six-point star and circle, was drawn in ketchup and mustard at the church’s fellowship hall, which is where churchgoers hold Bible studies, Sunday classes, and community events. The total cost of damages is about $3,000. The historic church is nearly 200 years old, and was established by former slaves, A.J Crawford and Buck Manning. Pastor Kenneth McNeil—who is also a U.S. Army veteran—reacted with compassion toward the perpetrators. “Offer them love and forgiveness,” McNeil told the Tribune, echoing how he thought Crawford and Manning would respond to the vandals. “As I read some of their records, I think they would offer forgiveness.”

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Offsides

The National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars became the first professional sports franchise to come out publicly against the bathroom bill on Wednesday, according to the Dallas Morning News. “Dallas was warm and welcoming when we came to this great city 25 years ago,” President Jim Lites said in a statement on Wednesday. “The Dallas Stars stands strongly opposed to any legislation perceived as discriminatory, including proposed bathroom legislation. We welcome fans from all over the globe, and our roster boasts players from half a dozen countries. Dallas welcomes all, and we welcome all.” Lites also references the NHL draft, which Dallas is set to host next year amid protests from LGBT advocates. “We are proud of our home and want every visitor to feel safe at home here, too, and that’s why we oppose this discriminatory bathroom legislation,” Lites said in the statement. As the Morning News notes, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has been critical of the bill, and the Dallas Cowboys have reportedly been lobbying against it quietly.

Brace Yourself

Texas’s coastal residents should prepare to batten down the hatches this hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on Wednesday that the Atlantic hurricane season will result in an above-average fourteen to nineteen storms strong enough to earn names, a prediction that could disrupt energy and agriculture markets now that it looks like a system-softening Pacific El Niño won’t arrive to save the day. “There is a possibility now that the season will be extremely active,” said Gerry Bell, lead hurricane seasonal forecaster at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, according to the Houston Chronicle. “We are now entering the historical peak months of the season. This three month period is when the bulk of hurricanes occur.” This most recent prediction is even harsher than the NOAA’s last hurricane season forecast in May, when the agency said we would be likely in store for between eleven and seventeen major storms.

Bombs Away

Former Exxon CEO and Wichita Falls native Rex Tillerson is in a tough spot. The secretary of State must now put out the massive fire started by President Donald Trump, who earlier this week seemed prepared to go to war with North Korea, saying the country would face “fire and fury” if it does not stop making threats toward the United States. On Wednesday, Tillerson defended President Trump’s remarks, but also downplayed the threat of nuclear war. “What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said in an interview with reporters while flying from Malaysia to a scheduled refueling stop in Guam, according to the Washington Post. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime that the U.S. has the unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies, and I think it was important that he deliver that message to avoid any miscalculation on their part.” Tillerson also told reporters that he does “not believe that there is any imminent threat.”

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

School’s Out

Some Houston schools are in such bad shape that the state might have to step in and take over, according to the Houston Chronicle. Unless thirteen struggling schools show improvement, Houston ISD could fall under the jurisdiction of state-appointed managers as early as next year, Texas Education Agency officials warned at a meeting Monday with Houston’s legislative delegation. Only one of those thirteen historically failing schools needs to receive failing accountability marks in 2017 and again in 2018 to trigger state oversight of the entire district. As an alternative, the TEA could also just take over individual campuses. Houston ISD isn’t alone in that respect—according to the Chronicle, 46 independent school districts across the state could face potential state takeovers, thanks to a law passed by the Lege in 2015 that targets schools that have been in “improvement required” status for five or more years, as of the 2018 to 2019 school year. As the Chronicle notes, it’s not a new concept for the state to take control of failing school districts and individual schools, but it’s never been done on a scale as large as HISD, which, with more than 210,000 students at over 280 schools, is the seventh-largest school district in the country.

Making the Rounds

Upstart Senate candidate U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke drew a big crowd during his tour of the High Plains, meeting with a crowd of nearly 500 people at a middle school in Amarillo on Tuesday, according to KAMR. The El Paso Democrat spoke at Austin Middle School, touching on subjects ranging from veterans’ issues to the economy. It marked O’Rourke’s fourth visit to the Amarillo since he launched his campaign to challenge Senator Ted Cruz in March. “Being in Amarillo for a fourth time this year is just another reminder that first and foremost we’re Americans,” O’Rourke said at the campaign event, according to KAMR. “We’re Texans. We want to do right by each other. Right for this state and the right things for this country. That’s the way [my wife] Amy and I feel. That’s what’s brought us back to Amarillo again.”

Butting In

H-E-B is making a move on Whole Foods territory in Houston. According to the Houston Chronicle, H-E-B is under contract to buy property in the Upper Kirby neighborhood—specifically, a plot of land that sits directly across the street from a Whole Foods Market. Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B Houston, told the Chronicle on Tuesday that the company is in a due diligence phase with the property, but offered no additional details on the company’s possible plans for the site. As the Chronicle notes, H-E-B has been very busy in Houston lately, with an urban prototype store under construction in a mixed-used development on the city’s busy Washington Avenue. The 96,000-square foot behemoth will include a walk-up coffee and food concept topped with 230 fancy apartments and a few floors of office space. H-E-B is also planning a new location in the Houston Heights neighborhood.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Rest in Peace

Former Texas governor Mark White died on Saturday at the age of 77, according to the Austin American-Statesman. White was one of the last Democratic governors in Texas, serving a single term from 1983 until 1987, during which he notably oversaw major reforms in education, including implementing pay raises and competency tests for teachers, limiting class size for elementary schools, creating the state’s basic skills graduation test for high school, and pushing through a $4 billion tax increase to help pay for schools and highways. As Texas Monthly‘s R.G Ratcliffe notes, White’s “no-pass, no-play” rule for student-athletes was perhaps the most controversial policy of his tenure, given its devastating impact on Friday night football early on. Despite upsetting incumbent Republican Bill Clements in the 1982 election, White lost a rematch in 1986, ending his time as governor. “He cared about Texas deeply,” his son Andrew said, according to the Statesman. “He realized that this wasn’t about getting re-elected. This wasn’t about being popular. This was about making Texas a better place.”

Scout Tragedy

Two teenage Boy Scouts died in a boating accident on Lake O’ the Pines in Hallsville on Saturday, according to the Longview News-Journal. Will Brannon, 17, and Heath Faucheux, 16, were at a troop campout at a private residence near Alley Creek on the lake’s north shore, when, shortly before two p.m. Saturday, they took out a catamaran on the water and their mast hit a power line. Brannon and Faucheux were electrocuted, according to Daniel Anderson, chief operating officer for the East Texas Boy Scouts of America. Another scout, eleven-year-old Thomas Larry, was injured and taken to a hospital, where as of Sunday he remained in critical condition. A crowd of about 300 people gathered in Hallsville Sunday night for a candlelit vigil in memoriam of the two teens. “You’re talking about great young men, men of integrity,” Hallsville Band Director Sherri Morgan told the crowd, according to the News-Journal. “We’re heart-broken, we’re devastated… All is not lost, they leave a legacy. So, they are going to live on forever.”

Legends of the Fall

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Texas-native running back LaDainian Tomlinson were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. Jones gave a speech at the induction ceremony for about 40 minutes, thanking all the folks who helped the longtime owner win three Super Bowls on his way to the Hall. On Jones’s thank-you list were former coaches Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer, quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Tony Romo, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen, Deion Sanders, and Jason Witten, according to the Dallas Morning News. Then, in typical Jerry Jones fashion, the Cowboys owner threw a Texas-sized partyfor himself, a $10 million bash with 1,000 guests at the Glenmoor Country Club, where Justin Timberlake performed in front of a who’s who crowd of Warren Buffett, Jon Bon Jovi, Tony Romo, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. Tomlinson’s induction was a bit less flashy, though perhaps more memorable. The Rosebud, Texas native and TCU alum gave a powerful speech, which is worth your time to watch.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Cool Runnings

About two weeks after a federal judge issued a ruling burning Texas’s prison system for keeping inmates in unsafe heat, the state submitted a plan to move about 1,000 inmates to cooler locations, according to the Texas Tribune. The plan follows the court order, which requires the state to provide cooler accommodations for inmates predisposed to heat-related illness. With a few options on the table, Texas, which argued in court that providing air conditioning was simply too expensive, decided to move the inmates. The plan calls for about 500 inmates to transfer to the Diboll Unit in East Texas, with about 425 more heading to the Travis State Jail in Austin. Some of the prisoners that need more medical attention will be transported to a medical unit in Beaumont. All of these units, of course, are already air-conditioned in the housing areas. This isn’t a long term solution, though, and the state is still fighting it—the lawsuit that forced the judge’s order is currently making its way through appellate court.

Texas to NATO

Kay Bailey Hutchison is officially the U.S. Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The former longtime Texas senator was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday, according to the Houston Chronicle. Unlike some of President Donald Trump’s other appointees, Hutchison’s confirmation was never really in doubt. Her nomination was received warmly by both sides of the aisle, and in her Senate confirmation hearing last month, she promised to stay tough on Russia, according to the Texas Tribune. The 73-year-old served twenty years in the Senate, where she sat on both the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, before she retired in 2012. “Kay has always been known for tireless advocacy on behalf of Texans and her ability to work across the aisle to get things done,” Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn said, according to the Chronicle. “She has the experience, determination, and poise to strengthen our relationships on the world stage, and I’m confident she’ll make Texas—and our country—proud.”

Flush With Power

The anti-bathroom bill contingent keeps growing. On Thursday, a slew of big businesses came out against the pending legislation, which would restrict bathroom use for transgender people in public schools and government buildings. According to the Dallas Morning News, CEOs from ten corporations—including Uber, Lyft, Dallas-based Neiman Marcus, JPMorgan Chase, PayPal, Plano-based Frito-Lay, PepsiCo, and Houston oilfield services company Baker Hughes—penned a letter to Governor Greg Abbott on Thursday, urging him to stop supporting the controversial bill. “No industry will remain untouched by the unnecessary harm that discriminatory laws will do to our competitiveness, to our ability to attract talent, and to our employees and their families,” the CEOs wrote. As the Morning News notes, this latest group brings the number of Fortune 500 companies who explicitly oppose the bill to 34. As it stands, the bill is unlikely to make it out of the House, so these corporate giants really have little to lose by taking a stand against legislation that is generally unpopular in the business community.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Meddling Kids

A bunch of school-age children gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to protest proposed legislation that would overturn local ordinances that preserve trees, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The youngins were joined by two members of the House—Republican Representative Wayne Faircloth, of Galveston, and Democratic Representative Carol Alvarado, of Houston, who read Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax on the Capitol lawn. Governor Greg Abbott has long been pushing a bill that overturns local tree preservation ordinances, and similar legislation has passed the House and is currently in the Senate. It would prevent cities from enforcing rules that bar homeowners and small developers from cutting down trees on their private property. Abbott made the legislation a priority when he set the special session agenda, calling these ordinances “socialistic.” Environmentalists disagree, including ten-year-old Selis Tufekci, who attended the protest and carried a blue-and-pink sign that read, “We speak for the Texas trees.” The Houston resident came to the protest with her teacher and some classmates. “Trees hold the ecosystem, birds, so much life,” she told the Express-News. “If you cut them all down, like in The Lorax, all those animals have to leave.”

Memorial Madness

Former Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss has found another coaching gig. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Bliss is the new athletic director and head boy’s basketball coach at Calvary Chapel Christian School, a high school in Nevada. Bliss resigned from Baylor in 2003 after an NCAA investigation into circumstances surrounding the murder of Baylor player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson. “There’s a great documentary he’s put out there on his testimony, and that is the one thing everybody needs to see right now. That he’s a man of Christ,” September Wilson, a coach and teacher at Calvary Chapel, told the Review-Journal after confirming Bliss’s hiring. In the documentary, Disgraced, which premiered on Showtime in March, Bliss admitted to paying Dennehy, despite having claimed for years that the player had been earning his money by dealing drugs. Bliss resigned from his coaching gig at an NAIA school in Oklahoma almost immediately after the documentary premiered.

Fourth Chance

Governor Greg Abbott weighed in Wednesday on a 9/11 memorial controversy that has Southern Methodist University in an uproar. SMU recently adopted a new policy prohibiting all displays on the Dallas Hall lawn, where an annual display of American flags honoring the victims of 9/11 had stood since 2010. All displays on the lawn are to be moved to a nearby park, centrally located on campus. Part of the new policy said the university “respects the right of all members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing.” Although SMU said the 9/11 display was moved because of its location and not because it was “triggering,” the buzzword among conservatives landed SMU in hot water in the national media, and the university eventually changed the language of the policy to remove the part about “triggering” messages, according to the Dallas Morning News. In a letter sent to SMU President R. Gerald Turner on Wednesday, Abbott urged the university to keep the memorial on the lawn. “This display is not political,” Abbott wrote, according to the Morning News. “It is not partisan. It is not controversial. This is about our nation united.”

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Opinionated Perry

Rick Perry offered his two cents on President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops in the military on Friday. “I totally support the president in his decision,” Energy Secretary Perry told reporters after speaking to workers at an air conditioning manufacturer in Waller, Texas. “The idea that the American people need to be paying for these types of operations to change your sex is not very wise from a standpoint of economics.” Perry was an Air Force cargo pilot for five years. “I think the president makes some good decisions about making sure that we have a force that is capable,” Perry said, pointing out the potential medical costs of sex reassignment surgeries as reason for the ban. As the Washington Post notes, that cost is actually minuscule: between $2.4 and $8.4 million a year, according to a study commissioned by the Department of Defense last year, representing a tiny “0.04 to 0.13-percent increase” in military healthcare expenditures. For comparison, the military has spent more than $294 million on Viagra or similar medication since 2011, according to the Military Times. When asked Friday what he thought about the high cost of those pills, Perry said, “You know what, I don’t check on the price of Viagra.”

Hot, Hot, Hot

President Donald Trump’s border wall may be coming sooner than expected in Texas. Well, at least a three-mile section of it. According to the Texas Tribune and ProPublica, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will get started on the construction of the first segment of Trump’s wall in November, building it through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near McAllen, using newly available money that was shifted around in the agency’s budget. Although border wall preparations have been ongoing in Santa Ana for months, it was thought the construction wouldn’t start until wall funding was approved by Congress (the House recently sent a spending bill to the Senate). But last week, Border Protection officials passed word along to refuge workers that they had enough money to get started sooner. “I was alarmed,” Jim Chapman of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor told the Tribune and ProPublica. “It was not good news.” A wall through Santa Ana could cause serious environmental damage. The 2,088-acre refuge is home to more than 400 species of birds, endangered ocelots and jaguarundi, and some of the last surviving stands of sabal palm trees in South Texas.

Hot, Hot, Hot

It’s really hot, y’all, which, as you well know, is nothing new for summer in the Lone Star State. But this time, instead of simply complaining about the heat, you can now complain about the record-breaking heat. Austin hit 105 on Sunday, breaking the previous record of 104, which had stood for 60 years, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Heat indices across Central Texas were between 103 and 109, and the sweltering Sunday marked the thirteenth straight day of triple-digit temps in Austin. San Antonians, meanwhile, were just as sweaty as their neighbors in Austin over the weekend. The Alamo City broke heat records on Saturday and Sunday, according to the San Antonio Express-News, recording temperatures of 105 and 104, respectively. Saturday’s hot day broke a 67-year record, while Sunday scorched a record set in 1946.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Holly Jolly Trial

After playing a game of Judge Shuffle, Attorney General Ken Paxton finally has his trial date set. Paxton is scheduled for a holiday-time trial, with jury selection starting December 1 and testimony beginning on December 11 for his securities fraud case, according to the Houston Chronicle. District Judge Robert Johnson, a fresh face in the 177th Criminal Court, made the decision in a hearing on Thursday, the second hearing Johnson has presided over since he was assigned the case after it was moved from Paxton’s home of Collin County to Harris County. Paxton’s trial had originally been scheduled for May, and it was moved to September before it was again pushed back as Paxton’s attorneys sparred with prosecutors over where the case would be heard and by whom. If it seems as though Paxton’s case has been dragging on forever, it’s because it has. He was originally indicted in July 2015.

Fall From Grace

Austin frequently tops a lot of “best of” lists, and since 2015 it’s held down the number-one spot in WalletHub’s “Best Big Cities to Live In” survey. But no more. WalletHub’s latest study saw Austin drop precipitously from number one all the way down to lowly number six, beat out by Virginia Beach, Seattle, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Colorado Springs, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Of course, there’s nothing to be ashamed of as the sixth-best city in the country, but Austin seems to have been sunk by its low affordability rating (32 out of 62 cities ranked), a number that doesn’t seem like it will get any better in the near future. Texas was well-represented on the list, with eight cities in all. Austin was joined by El Paso (ranked 25), Arlington (30), Forth Worth (33), San Antonio (35), Dallas (43), Corpus Christi (47), and Houston (48). The only state to land more cities on the list was California.

Risky Business

Following the deaths of ten people who were found trapped in the trailer of one of Pyle Transportation’s trucks, the company is now under fire for its troubling history of shady business practices, according to the Associated Press. Dozens of immigrants were found trapped in a sweltering truck in a San Antonio Walmart parking lot last weekend, and the driver, James Bradley Jr., was charged on Monday for the deaths. Pyle said that it didn’t know anything about what federal authorities have called a sophisticated smuggling operation that’s been linked to a Mexican cartel, but federal regulators have launched an investigation into the company’s safety record, which isn’t great. The Iowa-based company’s owners have previously found themselves in trouble with regulators for falsifying records, refusing to pay taxes, and falling out of safety compliance. The company has also been sued for failing to pay drivers, and some former drivers told the AP that Pyle “routinely pushed them to violate federal safety rules.” As one ex-driver told the AP, Pyle is a good place to work only “if you don’t like rules.”

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Staying Put

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently took an oddly-timed vacation to Texas, prompting rumors that he was considering quitting his post. CNN reported earlier this week that Tillerson was upset at President Donald Trump’s recent treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump has publicly criticized amid whispers that the AG is on his way out. According to CNN and USA Today, Tillerson is frustrated at being continually undercut by the Trump administration on a wide range of policy issues. “Ultimately, the president is in charge of this country,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Tuesday. “He decides. He’s the boss. And I’ll just leave it at that.” But the former Exxon CEO and Wichita Falls native put to rest rumors of a so-called “Rexit” when he returned to work on Wednesday, telling reporters that he’s “not going anywhere,” and adding that he plans to stay “as long as the president lets me.” When asked how his relationship with Trump is, Tillerson responded succinctly: “good.”

DACA Detainments

Fifteen people were arrested for blocking the street during a protest march for immigrant rights in Austin on Wednesday, including four undocumented immigrants protected by the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the protesters were arrested during a sit-in on the north side of the Capitol at the intersection of Fifteenth Street and Congress Avenue. They were charged for obstructing a highway or other passageway, which is a Class B misdemeanor. As the Texas Tribune notes, the arrest roundup was a noticeable test to Travis County’s immigration policy, which has been in the middle of a national controversy over immigrant sanctuaries, in which local governments don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities and jails won’t immediately turn over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. “All the DACA beneficiaries are very aware of the risks of this action,” protest organizer Maria Fernanda Cabello told the Tribune. “We’re counting on Travis County not to cooperate with ICE. If they do decide to cooperate with ICE and go against their policy, we’re going to make sure that all the media knows.” All four DACA recipients were released from jail by late Wednesday night.

Mr. 3,000

Texas Rangers star third baseman Adrian Beltre is closing in on a major career milestone: 3,000 hits. The future Hall of Famer is just four knocks away from joining the exclusive 3,000-hit club after going 3-for-3 at the plate on Wednesday, so he has an outside chance to get there during Thursday night’s game against Baltimore. Beltre has told reporters that he wants to get it over with to get the attention off of him and back on baseball, but he also said that he wants to make sure he reaches the mark in front of his home crowd in Arlington. “I really want to get it in this home stand because I think the fans deserve that and I really want to do it in front of them,” Beltre told reporters earlier this week, according to the Dallas Morning News. “At the same time just get it over with and play baseball.” Only thirty players in the history of Major League Baseball have collected 3,000 hits, and no one has ever accomplished the feat while wearing a Texas Rangers uniform.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Trafficking Tragedy

More details continue to emerge about the dozens of people who were trapped in a hot trailer in a San Antonio Walmart parking lot. Ten people have died, including Frank Guisseppe Fuentes, a 19-year-old Guatemalan. Fuentes had been living in the country legally under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program until his DACA holder status was revoked in March, after he was convicted of assault and battery by a mob in Virginia, according to the Washington Post. Fuentes first entered the U.S. illegally in 2000 and grew up in Virginia. He was reportedly attempting to return to his family when he was found in the trailer, where he died of heat exposure and asphyxiation. Of the 39 people taken off the trailer, thirteen remain hospitalized, including sixteen-year-old Brandon Martinez Deloera. According to the San Antonio Express-News, Deloera left his home in Mexico on July 10, hoping to reach the U.S. so he could better provide for his three-month-old son. “He wanted to buy a house for his kid and his future wife, start a business,” Deloera’s father, Jose De Jesus Martinez Delgado, told the Express-News. Deloera remains in intensive care and has damage to his brain, lungs, and kidneys.

Another Oops

Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently fell victim to a prank call from a pair of Russian jokesters who had him believe he was talking to Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. According to the Washington Post, Perry spoke for a long time to Russian prank callers Vladimir “Vovan” Kuznetsov and Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov, discussing a wide range of topics, including a potential pipeline across the Baltic Sea for Russian gas, cyber attacks on the U.S. power grid, natural gas exploration in Ukraine, and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. The prankers also told Perry about a new biofuel invented by Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko, made out of home-brewed alcohol and pig shit. Perry said he’d like to get more information about the “scientific development.” The biofuel, of course, doesn’t exist. “Secretary Perry is the latest target of two Russian pranksters,” DOE Spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in an email to the Post. “These individuals are known for pranking high level officials and celebrities, particularly those who are supportive of an agenda that is not in line with their governments. In this case, the energy security of Ukraine.” Oops.

Monkey Business

A monkey allegedly bit a kid at a Buc-ee’s last week. No, seriously. Apparently a man brought a monkey into one of the beaver-themed stores in Terrell, near Dallas, and when a child tried to pet him, the monkey bit the kid, according to the Houston Chronicle. According to Terrell police, the bite wasn’t that bad, but now police are hunting for the monkey’s owner. A surveillance photo shows the man walking through Buc-ee’s cradling a monkey, and police are hoping to locate the man to make sure the primate’s shot records are up to date. Police haven’t released a description of the monkey, but he looks to be maybe, like, a foot tall, with brown fur. If you see something, say something, and remember, do not approach the monkey, because it bites. Buc-ee’s didn’t have much to say about the incident. “We are not making any comments at this time as this is an active criminal investigation,” Buc-ee’s spokesman and general counsel Jeff Nadalo told the Chronicle on Tuesday, adding that animals are not allowed in stores unless they are service animals.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Funding Cut

President Donald Trump’s administration has slashed more than $200 million in funding toward teen pregnancy prevention and research programs around the country, and Texas has seen $8.6 million of funding go up in smoke, according to the Austin American-Statesman. According to the Statesman, the Lone Star State has the nation’s fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate, the fourth-highest teen birth rate and the highest repeat teen pregnancy rate in the country. The federal funding went toward “evidence-based” programs, proven by research to have an impact on lowering teen pregnancy rates. The state, meanwhile, mostly only funds “abstinence-only” programs that lack research-proven results. It’s unclear why these funds were cut—ten Democratic Texas legislators, including U.S. Representatives Lloyd Doggett and Joaquín Castro, wrote a letter on July 14 to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in search of an answer. “Terminating an effective program is another short-sighted decision, done by fiat behind closed doors,” Doggett said in a statement Friday, according to the Statesman. “These programs bring life-changing education to our youth, helping those in our community avoid unplanned pregnancies and make healthy decisions.”

Grand Champion

Jordan Spieth won the British Open on Sunday, bringing him one major victory away from a career Grand Slam. The Dallas native and former University of Texas at Austin golfer won in dramatic fashion, finishing with a flurry after struggling mightily early on. The Associated Press called his closing performance “among the greatest finishes in major championship history.” After leading by three shots going into the final round, Spieth lost the lead on the thirteenth hole, when he sent a shot sailing 75 yards from the fairway, settling in thick grass on a dune “so steep he could hardly stand up, let alone take a swing,” according to the AP. Spieth smartly took an unplayable penalty shot, backed himself up to the driving range, and somehow escaped with a bogey. On the final four holes he went birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to win. Spieth, 23, is the youngest American to ever win the British Open, and Jack Nicklaus is the only other golfer to have won three different majors at that age.

Trade Rumors

Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving has reportedly requested a trade, and San Antonio is the electric point guard’s preferred destination, ESPN reported on Saturday. It’s unclear if the Spurs are interested in making a move for Irving or if they would have the goods to get him, but he’d be great to pair with Kawhi Leonard. Irving averaged 29 points per game in the NBA Finals this season, and he’s a four-time All Star. He’s one of the best point guards in the league, and if the Spurs did somehow get him, it’d really ramp up the already-strong Texas rivalry with the Houston Rockets, who added a star point guard of their own this season, Chris Paul. The Spurs might be willing to part with big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who they reportedly tried to trade during the NBA Draft in June, according to the San Antonio Express-News, but they may need to give up more pieces or involve a third team to land Irving, who said he’d also consider accepting a trade to the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, and Minnesota Timberwolves.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Death Threat

A San Antonio-area man was arrested for threatening to kill Senator Ted Cruz. 59-year old James Amos Headley was arrested on a federal felony charge of threatening to assault and murder a public official with intent to impede, intimidate, and interfere with the official and his duties, the San Antonio Express-News reported on Thursday. Headley allegedly sent Cruz a death threat. “Pretty soon you’re gonna be runnin for your life, just hope your family is not with ya because I’m not gonna insult them, I’m gonna kill them, right after I shoot you right in front of them,” Headley said in a July 11 voicemail left at Cruz’s Washington office, according to court documents. Law enforcement sources told the Express-News that Headley, of Universal City, is a Trump supporter, and he was apparently peeved at Cruz for taking stands on some issues that don’t align with Trump’s views. A court hearing for Headley is set for next week. He faces ten years in prison if convicted.

Party Hard

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant threw an epic party in his hometown of Lufkin on Thursday, celebrating the community where he grew up. He invited everybody in town, setting up bounce houses and giving free haircuts for the kids, holding a kickball game and importing thousands of dollars worth of barbecue and trimmings from Houston, according to the Lufkin Daily News. Thousands of people showed up to the refreshingly wholesome event. Bryant mingled with the crowd, posing for pictures and signing autographs for the kids, talking to younger fans and former teachers from his days at Lufkin High School. Bryant and his friends even wore t-shirts bearing Lufkin’s 936 area code, as a tribute to his hometown. “Believe it or not, my brother and I were just chilling out this week, and it was about 3 o’clock in the morning, and I told him, ‘Hey, let’s go home and do something fun,’” Bryant told the Daily News. “I wasn’t planning on it being a big media deal. I just wanted to spend time with my people and thank them for all the support I get from them.” Bryant said he hopes to make the party an annual event.

Court Battle

The State of Texas is once again being sued by abortion rights groups, this time over a law banning a common second-trimester medical procedure, according to the Texas Tribune. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood announced on Thursday that they’re suing Texas over a provision in Senate Bill 8 that bars dilation and evacuation abortions, one of the safest ways for women to get abortions. The common procedure involves a doctor a using surgical instruments to remove pieces of fetal tissue, which abortion opponents have described as “dismemberment,” arguing it’s inhumane. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights’s press release, similar laws have been overturned in Louisiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama. “The law we challenged today in Texas is part of a nationwide scheme to undermine these constitutional rights and ban abortion one restriction at a time,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a press release, according to the Tribune. “We are prepared to fight back using the power of the law wherever politicians compromise a woman’s ability to receive the care she needs.”

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Cool Down

A federal judge ordered a Texas prison to provide air conditioning for its most heat-sensitive inmates, the latest development in a long legal battle by inmates seeking air conditioning. According to the Houston Chronicle, U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison ruled on Wednesday that the state must provide cooler living spaces for 475 elderly, disabled and other heat-sensitive inmates at the Pack Unit outside Houston, not exceeding 88 degrees, and a thousand other inmates must have easy access to cooler areas indoors. The prison also has to develop a heat-wave policy. Wrongful death lawsuits have separately been filed on behalf of eight inmates who died from heat stroke in Texas, and at least 20 prisoners have died from the heat since 1998. Ellison ripped into the Texas prison system in his 100-page order. “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Ellison wrote. “To deny modern technology to inmates today for the simple reason that it was not available to inmates in past generations is an argument that proves too much. No one suggests that inmates should be denied up-to-date medical and psychiatric care, or that they should be denied access to radio or television, or that construction of prison facilities should not use modern building materials. The treatment of prisoners must necessarily evolve as society evolves.”

Cash Cow

Governor Greg Abbott has some really rich friends. He pulled in a ridiculous $10 million toward his re-election campaign in just ten days, including $1 million from Michael and Mary Porter of the Cross Creek Ranch in Doss, a tiny Gillespie County town northwest of Fredericksburg, Texas Monthly‘s R.G. Ratcliffe reported on Wednesday. The Porters are cattle ranchers, and they haven’t been particularly politically active in the past. Other than $5,000 donated to Abbott in 2014, their only other political contribution was $50,000 to state Representative Doug Miller in 2016. “My wife Mary and I care deeply about the future of Texas,” Michael Porter wrote in an email to Texas Monthly. “We believe Governor Abbott has put forth a vision to keep Texas exceptional, and we wanted to do our part in supporting that effort. While we understand the interest this has drawn, we would respectfully decline to comment on further questions.”

Party Protest

A group of teens held a unique protest in Austin yesterday, donning colorful quinceañera and tiaras on the steps of the Capitol to oppose Senate Bill 4. About fifteen girls attended the protest, which included a dance and speeches, according to the Dallas Morning News, wearing sashes that read “No hate,” “Equality” and “United Families.” A quinceañera, of course, is a formal “sweet sixteen”-type birthday party celebrated in Latino culture. “SB 4 makes simply being brown a crime,” 17-year old protester Magdalena Juarez said, according to the San Antonio Express-News. “We will resist by celebrating our families and our culture. We will resist by standing in unity.” SB 4 bans so-called “sanctuary cities” in Texas, and critics of the law say it enables local law enforcement to racially profile Hispanic people and will result in unnecessary deportations. It is set to go into effect in September.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Foggy Future

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has some controversial moves in his plan to reorganize the State Department. Among the offices on Tillerson’s chopping block are the one charged with fighting war crimes and the one that handles coordinating cyber issues with other countries. The former Exxon CEO and Wichita Falls native hasn’t made any final decisions yet, but critics are pouncing on the potential shake-up. Human rights advocates are particularly concerned about the potential closing of the Office of Global Criminal Justice. “This is a very harsh signal to the rest of the world that the United States is essentially downgrading the importance of accountability for the commission of atrocity crimes,” David Scheffer, a professor at Northwestern University who served as the first U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, told Foreign Policy. “This sends a strong signal to perpetrators of mass atrocities that the United States is not watching you anymore.” Meanwhile, Tillerson’s plan to fold the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues into the much broader Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs has worried cyber security advocates that the State Department isn’t taking seriously international hacking threats, according to Bloomberg.

Summer Spotlight

The Big 12 conference held its football media days on Monday and Tuesday in Frisco, and fresh blood leading two Texas teams took the main spotlight. The belle of the ball was probably University of Texas-Austin coach Tom Herman, the new guy charged with turning around the struggling Longhorns program. “Losing has to be awful, and you can never get used to losing,” Herman told reporters on Tuesday, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “That is one of the biggest downfalls of a lot of teams, is you get used to losing.” Herman also called to revive UT’s gridiron rivalry with Texas A&M. “I don’t know why we can’t play A&M as our marquee non-conference opponent,” Herman said, according to the Houston Chronicle. New Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, meanwhile, emphasized that his regime is working hard to fix the broken culture at Baylor that led to a massive sexual assault scandal. “That which we don’t acknowledge we’re doomed to repeat,” Rhule said, according to the Waco Tribune. “At the end of the day, I don’t know everything that happened, but I just know something that happened that was wrong. If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t learn from it, then what was the point of it? I want to move forward, but I want to move forward always acknowledging the past.”

Dog Days

The Houston Astros were dealt a big blow to their World Series hopes on Tuesday, when star shortstop Carlos Correa was placed on the disabled list to undergo surgery after tearing a ligament in his left thumb. He’ll miss six-to-eight weeks, so he won’t return until mid-September at the earliest, though baseball players are notoriously slow to recover from serious hand injuries. Correa, an All-Star this season who’s batting .320 to go along with twenty home runs, injured the thumb on July 4, and while he’d been able to play through the pain since then, he tweaked his thumb again during Monday’sgame. “Yesterday it snapped on that swing,” Correa told the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday. “On that swing I felt a shock in my finger. It was hurting a lot.” An MRI later revealed a torn ligament. It’s a tough loss for the Astros, who are in the midst of their best season in franchise history, despite suffering myriad injuries, mostly to their starting pitching rotation. The Astros have a commanding 16.5-game lead in the AL West, but they’ll be pretty thin moving forward without Correa. Hopefully he’ll return just in time for the playoffs.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Walled Off 

Federal officials are concerned that construction of President Donald Trump’s border wall would all but destroy the 2,088-acre Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in South Texas near McAllen, the Texas Observer reported on Friday. Federal employees told the Observer that the Border Patrol plans to build an 18-foot levee wall stretching for three miles through the refuge, and the plans were reportedly made in secret to avoid pubic backlash. Workers were already drilling at the refuge to extract soil samples in preparation for the construction. According to the Observer, the refuge has been dubbed the “crown jewel of the national wildlife refuge system,” and it’s home to 400 bird species and 450 species of plants. The proposed plan for the wall calls for the construction of a new road and the clearing of refuge land on both sides of the wall for surveillance, cameras, and light towers. The Observer‘s report enraged environmental activists, who showed up at the refuge on Sunday to protest, carrying signs that read, “Please help me #SaveSantaAna by contacting your US senators and telling them #NoBorderWall,” according to the McAllen Monitor.

Map Battle

The sixth and final day of the trial over Texas’s congressional district maps came to a close on Saturday, when state lawyers went before a panel of three federal judges to make their final arguments for keeping the maps intact. Civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers argue the map was drawn to intentionally dilute the power of minority voters and with the intent to discriminate, while the state claims that the map was legally gerrymandered for purely political reasons. The map in question was drawn by a federal court as a temporary fix, and the state argued in court on Saturday that lawmakers were simply following the orders of the court when the map was permanently adopted in 2013. According to the Texas Tribune, the judges were not really buying that defense. One of the judges said on Saturday that he found “nothing in the record” that the 2013 lege considered any measures to fix voting rights violations declared by another court at the time. Another judge criticized the state for withholding documents and testimony that would help shed light on the lege’s map making decisions. It’s unclear when the judges will hand down a ruling.

Rough Start

Former University of Texas at Austin running back and current Houston Texans rookie D’Onta Foreman was arrested in Austin on Sunday and charged with misdemeanor charges for possession of marijuana and possessing an unlawful weapon, according to the Houston Chronicle. An attorney for Foreman, a third-round draft pick who rushed for 2,028 yards for the Longhorns last season, said Foreman was in a car with friends when police stopped them and searched the car after smelling marijuana. Foreman told police about his legally-owned handgun before officers searched his car, and he said the marijuana belonged to a friend and that he would submit to a drug test to prove his innocence, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The Texans’s training camp starts next week, and it’s unclear how the team or the NFL will handle Foreman’s arrest. “We are aware of the situation involving D’Onta Foreman, and we are gathering more information,” the Texans said in a statement. As San Antonio Express-News columnist Mike Finger noted on Twitter, Foreman’s arrest means each of the top three single-season rushing leaders at UT have been detained at one point by Austin police (the other two are Ricky Williams and Cedric Benson).

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Escape Artist

The latest major revelations about the Trump campaign’s connections to the Russian government have put Republican lawmakers in an uncomfortable position. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz dodged tough questions on Tuesday after Donald Trump Jr. admitted meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a concerted Russian effort to help his father win the election. Cruz did his best to stonewall reporters who asked repeatedly whether he was concerned the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. “You’re being very persistent and I suppose that’s your job,” Cruz responded to a CNN reporter during a gaggle in a hallway, according to Talking Points Memo. “But let me point out the American people want the president to succeed.” When Cruz was pressed further on whether the Trump administration has been too cozy with Russia, Cruz pivoted to blame Barack Obama. “I think that we have had eight years of Barack Obama showing nothing but appeasement toward Russia,” Cruz said. His Senate colleague John Cornyn, meanwhile, called for Trump Jr. to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Midsummer Classic

Seven Astros and Rangers players represented Texas at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Miami on Tuesday night. Houston had a league-leading six playersnamed to the All-Star squad: second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa, outfielder George Springer, and pitchers Chris Devenski, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers. Altuve, Correa, and Springer all started the game for the American League, but they disappointed a bit at the plate, going a combined 0-for-7 in the AL’s 2-1 victory in 10 innings. Devenski came in to pitch a perfect eight inning. The Astros will return from the All-Star break on Friday with a 60-29 record, the best record in the American League. They’re on pace for a franchise-record 109 wins. The Rangers, meanwhile, have been struggling to stay near .500 all season. Their lone bright spot has been pitcher Yu Darvish, whose 3.49 ERA and 152 strikeouts landed him a spot on the All-Star team, the only Ranger player to get the nod. After starting the Rangers’ final game before the All-Star break on Sunday, though, Darvish didn’t take the mound Tuesday night.

Texas Jaws

A Liberty County man made a shocking discovery while four-wheeling along the riverbank of Twin Lakes in Kenefick, reportedly finding the decomposing remains of a five-foot long bull shark in the water. “I just rode up on it and couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” 25-year old Jared Moser told the Houston Chronicle. “My whole life I’ve heard that sharks can be found in the Trinity River. I am a true believer now.” Moser’s theory for how the shark got so far inland is that it swam up the Trinity River and became stranded in Twin Lakes, Northeast of Houston, when the river levels dropped. But Texas Game Warden Randy Button told the Chronicle that it’s more likely the shark was dumped there by a fisherman. “The only time the river has been high enough to flood that area was last year,” Button told the Chronicle. “That is a long, long time for a shark to survive in freshwater. Bull sharks will go upriver but I personally haven’t seen a shark up that far. It’s really weird.” Moser said he didn’t see any evidence indicating a fisherman deposited the fish carcass, but he and Button planned to take a closer look Wednesday morning.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Cartographer’s Court

The battle over Texas’s congressional districts continued in a San Antonio federal court on Monday, where civil rights groups faced off against the state before a three-judge panel on the first day of a trial that could last all week. According to the San Antonio Express-News, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against Texas in 2011 argued that the Republican-controlled Legislature illegally diluted minority voting rights by adopting a map that had been drawn by the court as a temporary fix in 2013. One former Democratic House member, Trey Martinez Fischer, who represented a district in Bexar County from 2000 to 2016, testified that he was part of the redistricting committee during the 2013 special session, and that Republicans rushed to permanently adopt the court-issued maps despite criticism that it was created as a quick fix and didn’t address all of the districts that were improperly gerrymandered. The state of Texas will present its case and call witnesses later this week.

Persian Gulf Parley

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Doha on Tuesday, where the former Exxon CEO and Wichita Falls native will engage in talks with Qatari officials in an attempt to mend the broken relationship between Qatar and its neighbors, according to Al Jazeera. Tillerson was in Kuwait on Monday, and the trip signals a more assertive role for the U.S. in the ongoing conflict in the region, with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt imposing sanctions on Qatar after accusing the nation of providing financial support for terrorists. As Reuters notes, Tillerson “forged extensive ties in the Gulf” while at the helm of Exxon, but he’s got a long road ahead of him if he hopes to play peacemaker there. Tillerson is also scheduled to meet with leaders in Saudi Arabia, according to the State Department. If it continues to escalate, the Qatar dispute would likely have a detrimental impact on the U.S.’s military presence in the region and on its counter-terrorism efforts.

Dropping Like Flies

The acting director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission unexpectedly resigned on Monday, the latest high-profile departure for the embattled liquor regulating agency that’s been embroiled in controversy since the Texas Tribune exposed its extravagant spending and mismanagement in March. With his resignation on Monday, Acting Executive Director Ed Swedberg became the sixth major departure since April. In a hand-written letter on Fridaynotifying the TABC of his decision to leave, Swedberg wrote that he was quitting because “my conscience will not allow me to take part in the termination of Amy Harrison from the commission,” according to the Tribune. Harrison, the agency’s licensing director, reportedly helped create a controversial illustrated flier that showed agency officials partying it up and drinking beer while on a flight to an expensive out-of-state conference. Swedberg had been leading the TABC since former Director Sherry Cook stepped down in May. In addition to Swedberg’s departure, the agency’s general counsel, chief of enforcement and head of internal affairs have also left in July.

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS…

Cruzin’ On Up

Ted Cruz spent his Fourth of July week at the center of the debate over the GOP’s controversial health care bill that’s currently languishing in the U.S. Senate. According to the Washington Post, Cruz is “suddenly in the hot seat” to get the Republican health care bill passed through the Senate, after touring Texas while most of his congressional colleagues were on vacation. Cruz faced tough crowds in town halls in McKinney and Austin, and encountered protesters at a speech in McAllen. He also did interviews with two Sunday news shows to push his Consumer Freedom Amendment, which calls for an even deeper rollback of the Affordable Care Act. As the Post notes, Cruz’s amendment might appeal to conservative Republicans, but it probably won’t fly with moderates.

Tragedy in Europe

Twenty-two-year-old Baraki Henderson of Austin died on Friday after he was beaten by about eight men during a bar fight in Greece, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Henderson was a recent grad of the University of Arizona and had previously interned in Texas House Speaker Joe Straus’s office. He was visiting the Greek island of Zakynthos while working on a photo shoot to launch his new fashion line. Six Serbian men, a Greek man and a British man have been arrested and charged in connection with Henderson’s death. Police are still investigating the incident. “Bakari loved spending time with family and friends, traveling and meeting new people,” Henderson’s family said in a statement on Friday, according to the Statesman. “He was a big thinker and enjoyed coming up with new business ventures.”

Fixer Bummer

On Saturday morning, a suspected drunk driver smashed through a home in Waco that was featured on season twelve of the popular HGTV show Fixer Upper, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald. The owners, Ken and Kelly Downs, weren’t hurt, but the house, nicknamed “Three Little Pigs” on Fixer Upper, took a hit. The car destroyed an exterior wall and an interior wall of a front room. This is just the latest problem for the house and its owners. Apparently ever since the couple bought the place and had it renovated by show hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines, things haven’t exactly gone smoothly. The Downses seem happy with the renovations, but they say their new neighborhood is plagued by late-night noise from nearby bars and “suspicious activity.” They say they’ve also received pushback from neighbors. “We have been intimidated and harassed,” Kelly Downs told the Tribune. “People have complained about their taxes going up because we moved here. Store owners have complained about taxes. … It’s not safe. This is Fixer Upper gone bad.”