Victory in Defeat
After the years of protests, testy neighborhood meetings, and a bitter lawsuit, the controversial Walmart at Northcross quietly opened last week to minimal fanfare. A few ads popped up on Facebook, and people started heading in to shop. Responsible Growth for Northcross, the organization that filed the lawsuit to block what was originally supposed to be a Walmart Supercenter, painted the opening as a win, despite losing the lawsuit: "Remember, when this all started in November 2006, the original plan called for a store that would have been one of the largest Walmarts in the United States at 225,000 sq. ft.," wrote RG4N in an e-mail to its supporters. "Then against all odds, we ended up winning. The store was reduced to 99,000 sq. ft. That is 56% smaller. And it's called Neighborhood Market by Walmart. Definitely not a Supercenter. That result was due to economic factors, as well as your tenacious and steadfast demand for a more responsible plan." And now, neighbors will wait and see if predictions of ravaged nearby small businesses and crushing traffic come true. – Lee Nichols
The 82nd Legislative session doesn't start until January, but lawmakers got to set out their agenda on Nov. 8, when bill prefiling began. First out of the gate was Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, with her normal scattershot slew of voter ID and anti-immigrant bills. She was quickly followed by Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and his attempt to undercut federal health care reform with a prohibition on required health insurance. Two Democratic members of the Travis County House delegation have also been busy. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez prefiled three bills, including House Bill 211, which calls for 35% of Texas' energy to come from renewables by 2020. Rep. Mark Strama has penned five bills, including sweeping campaign finance reform, unemployment compensation reform, and new cyber-bullying legislation. Up in the Senate, Austin Democrat Kirk Watson has co-authored a water conservation bill with Sens. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, while his Republican neighbor Jeff Wentworth wants tougher sentencing for reckless drivers, as well as new rules removing children from school for threatening or harassing teachers. – Richard Whittaker
Conservatives for Straus
Long before the Nov. 2 election, the scuttlebutt around the Texas House held that if the GOP increased its majority – which it did, moving up to 99 seats – the party's conservative wing would oust Speaker Joe Straus. Now the battle lines are being drawn to see whether the San Antonio moderate Republican will hold the gavel for a second term. Straus became speaker in 2009 as a Democrat-backed consensus candidate, dethroning the divisive Tom Craddick, R-Midland. So far, only Straus and Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, have filed the requisite speaker race paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission, but rumored candidate Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has come out swinging. In an open letter, he called Straus' speakership "a disaster" for Republicans. Outside the House, Dave Welch, executive director of the fringe right wing group Houston Area Pastor Council, savaged Straus for scoring low on the Heritage Alliance's conservative-o-meter. However, Straus is not without conservative support; several State Republican Executive Committee members have formed a new group called Conservatives for Joe Straus. The incumbent has picked up a surprising vocal ally: In an open letter, Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, confirmed his pledge to Straus and told Berman, "I will put my conservative credentials up against anybody's, even yours." – R.W.
Greens Advance Ballot Goal
With all the talk of a Republican landslide in the Texas election, a tectonic shift in the state's third-party politics has gone unnoticed. Neither the Libertarian Party of Texas nor the Green Party of Texas picked up a single seat or office, but they both scored a major victory in the race for comptroller of public accounts, where Libertarian Mary Ruwart picked up 10.5% and Green Edward Lindsay got 6.3%. While the results may sound modest, both parties will see the payoff in 2012. Under Texas election code, parties must receive 5% of the statewide vote to get ballot access in the next election. This time around, the Greens only got on the ballot through a signature drive linked to GOP funders (see "Republicans Go Green," June 11). Because the Democrats failed to field a challenger to incumbent Comptroller Susan Combs, there were more protest votes to go around, giving both third parties a slot on the 2012 ballot. In a statement, the Green Party said it was starting to recruit candidates now in order "to offer a true alternative to the standard corporate parties across the board on Election Day, 2012." – Richard Whittaker
Former Austin Police Officer Leonardo Quintana was booked into jail this week for four misdemeanor charges filed by Leander Police in connection with an alleged domestic violence incident last fall between Quintana and his former fiancée, Lori Noriega, who is an APD officer. Quintana has been under a microscope since May 2009, when he shot and killed Nathaniel Sanders II in an East Austin parking lot. Quintana was suspended for 15 days in connection with that incident, not for anything directly related to the shooting but for failing to activate his in-car video camera before approaching the car Sanders was in. In January, Quintana was fired after being popped for DWI in Williamson County; that case is still pending. He got his job back when an arbitrator said APD Chief Art Acevedo's decision to terminate Quintana was too harsh a punishment. Less than a week later, however, Acevedo canned Quintana again in connection with a domestic violence incident in October 2009, to which Leander Police responded and which forms the basis for the four charges filed against him this week. Quintana has denied that he was violent with his former girlfriend. – Jordan Smith
Police Monitor Finalists Named
Last week the city named six finalists vying to become the city's next police monitor, replacing Cliff Brown, who was elected district judge and will take the bench in January. City Manager Marc Ott is expected to narrow the field and then name the next monitor in December after a round of public meetings with the finalists. The six finalists include five local candidates and one out-of-towner, chosen from among 66 applicants for the job.
Renita Sanders, the city's current assistant police monitor
Margo Frasier, former Travis County sheriff
Ann del Llano, who was among those who served a decade ago on the Police Oversight Focus Group, which helped devise the city's monitoring system
Brian Johnson, a former Harris County prosecutor who currently works for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
Rebecca Bernhardt, current policy director for the Texas Defenders Service
Cristina Beamud, a former Rochester, N.Y., police officer who is currently executive director of the Atlanta Citizen Review Board – J.S.