Beyond City Limits
On Nov. 14, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, the American Lung Association, and others announced the settlement of a lawsuit forcing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finally to implement the national ozone (smog) public health standard established in 1997. The settlement requires the EPA to determine by April 2004 which areas of the country violate the so-called "8-hour" ozone standard -- the list may include over 300 communities in 38 states, including Austin. The public health standard had been challenged by industry groups, but the Supreme Court upheld it and environmental groups sued to require EPA enforcement -- including development limitations and possible loss of highway funds. The EPA's most recent data indicates violations of the 8-hour standard in 12 Texas counties, including Brazoria, Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Galveston, Gregg, Harris, Jefferson, Montgomery, Tarrant, and Travis. -- Michael King
On Nov. 5, incumbent Dist. 57 state Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, easily defeated his youthful Republican opponent, Jeffrey Hibbs, with over 60% of the vote. But Hibbs, a 23-year-old Baylor grad student, isn't quite ready to concede. He's filed a lawsuit to prevent the state from certifying Dunnam's victory because, Hibbs claims, Dunnam doesn't live in the district. Redistricting put Dunnam's home near McGregor into neighboring Dist. 56, so he established residency in Waco to run for re-election. (Texas law allows candidates to establish residency either by living in the district or "intending" to move there.) According to the Waco Herald-Tribune, the lawsuit calls Dunnam's residency "a sham and a fraud." Dunnam described the suit as "frivolous" and the "irresponsible act of a sore loser," and he added, "I hope the Republican leadership is not trying to silence what is a pretty strong voice in Austin." -- M.K.
Though they lost their automatic ballot status for 2004, the Texas Green Party celebrated its best year yet -- scoring a victory in Bexar Co., where hydrologist George Rice beat Gil Coronado, a retired Air Force colonel appointed in July, for a seat on the Edwards Aquifer Authority board. As you might have guessed, Rice supports stronger oversight by the EAA, which is in charge of conservation and protection of the aquifer over an eight-county region. Nationally, the Greens won 70 races Nov. 5, including a statehouse seat in Maine and a City Council seat in Providence, R.I.; in total, 172 Greens now hold office in the U.S. -- L.A.
Among the long queue of applicants for Tony Garza's job at the Railroad Commission is none other than Austin's A. Jo Baylor, the former congressional and legislative candidate who might not get that job but may well find a higher profile in the new Republican Texas. On Nov. 12, the U.S. Senate confirmed Garza's nomination by President Bush as the new ambassador to Mexico. Garza described items on his ambassadorial agenda as including granting residency status to more Mexican immigrants, creating a "market-driven" guest-worker program (i.e., serving the labor needs of U.S. industry), and extending the Immigration and Family Equity Act, which allows Mexican nationals to remain in the U.S. while completing permanent residency requirements. Gov. Perry has 120 days to appoint a new commissioner to complete Garza's six-year RRC term, which ends in 2004. Baylor is thus far the only female applicant, but there are more than a dozen others -- among them state Reps. Warren Chisum and Tommy Williams, San Antonio Judge Sam Katz, and a long list of current or former oil and gas executives -- ready to make certain the RRC remains sufficiently deferential to the industry it purportedly regulates. The job pays $92,217 a year. -- M.K.
In the wake of the GOP takeover of the state House, it didn't take long for the assault to begin on gay rights. Shortly after Warren Chisum filed his perennial (and now viable) "Defense of Marriage Act" (see "Capitol Chronicle"), Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, took another hard swing with HB 194, which would disqualify "homosexuals or bisexuals" from serving as foster parents. Talton's bill, which last session died in committee, mandates the Dept. of Protective and Regulatory Services to first ask if a prospective foster parent is homosexual or bisexual, but DPRS need not take "No" for an answer. The law would also allow for an unspecified "reasonable investigation" to confirm a sufficient level of heterosexuality. "This is a hateful and unnecessary bill," said Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas director Randall K. Ellis. "The law would disqualify perfectly competent, caring citizens from taking distressed children into their homes." Talton's bill does not address whether gay children should be disqualified from having parents. -- M.K.