• Special Election Update The race to replace Houston Democrat Sen. Mario Gallegos comes to a head this week. Gallegos died last year, but too late to have his name removed from the ballot, and so Gov. Rick Perry has called a Jan. 26 special election to replace him. There are eight candidates in contention – five Dems, two Republicans, and a Green. But even though the seat has traditionally been a Democratic stronghold, with only 6,700 ballots cast in early voting by Jan. 21, it seems unlikely any one candidate will get more than 50%, triggering a run-off. Currently, the top contenders are two Democrats: sitting Rep. Carol Alvarado and former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia. The vacant seat is leaving Dems with a headache: Until it's filled, they only have 10 voting members, making it tough to use the two-thirds rule to derail controversial legislation.
• How Was Your Weekend? The House and Senate returned Jan. 23 after a six-day break. Lawmakers left early for MLK Day, and were given an extra day to get back from the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. Still, someone might want to remind them that they only have 125 days of the session left.
• Shuffling Deck Chairs on the Titanic The biennial apportionment of Senate committee chairs took place Jan. 18, with prime appointments for lawmakers whose districts include Travis County. Education advocates are furious that freshman Tea Party favorite Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, replaced Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis on the Senate Education Committee. Sen. Kirk Watson will serve as Higher Education vice chair, while his fellow Democrat Judith Zaffirini – whose gerrymandered district stretches from Laredo to Southeast Austin – chairs Government Organization. Republican Troy Fraser, who lives in Horseshoe Bay but still serves a chunk of Northwest Travis, stays on as chair of Natural Resources in a session where water will be a top priority.
• Redistricting, Still in Limbo The U.S. Supreme Court has yet again left Texas' redistricting appeal off its calendar. Michael Li, author of the highly regarded www.txredistricting.org, writes that this makes it highly unlikely that SCOTUS will review the case this year. The state is appealing the Justice Department's refusal to preclear their heavily gerrymandered maps, passed last session, which the feds say violate the Voting Rights Act. Now the question is whether the Texas courts will step in and draw new maps.
• Dear Interwebs Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, has launched his own blog. The former chair of the House Technology Committee writes, "The only guaranteed audience for this blog is the opposition researcher working for my next political opponent." Follow Strama at www.insidetherailtexas.com.
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