George P. Bush outraises Attorney General Ken Paxton in primary challenge debut

"George P. Bush outraises Attorney General Ken Paxton in primary challenge debut, though Paxton has bigger war chest" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Land Commissioner George P. Bush kicked off his attorney general campaign by outraising the incumbent, fellow Republican Ken Paxton, and another primary challenger, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. But Paxton has more money saved up for the battle than both of his opponents.

According to campaign finance reports released Friday, Bush raised $2.3 million over the last 10 days of June, while Paxton took in $1.8 million and Guzman collected $1.1 million. The campaigns had announced those figures earlier in the week, making clear Bush would be the fundraising leader for the period.

The filings that came out Friday, though, showed Paxton with a clear cash-on-hand advantage — $6.8 million in reserves. Bush reported $2.7 million in cash on hand, while Guzman disclosed $611,000.

The GOP primary for attorney general is shaping up to be one of the hottest statewide contests of the election cycle, with Paxton facing the two opponents amid an FBI investigation into claims that he abused his office to help a wealthy donor and a long-running securities fraud indictment. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

Making the primary even more dramatic is the fact that former President Donald Trump has teased an endorsement in the race.

The 2022 gubernatorial race has also drawn early interest. Gov. Greg Abbott already faces at least three primary rivals, including former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas and former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West, the most recent entrant. West announced his campaign July 4, which came after the period covering by the latest filings with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Huffines announced his Abbott challenge in early May, and his campaign claimed last week that he "raised over $9.1 million since entering the race." However, his report shows that was a misleading claim — his campaign had $9.1 million in receipts, but $5 million of it came via Huffines himself. He directly loaned himself $500,000 and secured a bank loan of $4.5 million that he guaranteed.

Abbott, meanwhile, announced last week that he raked in over $18.7 million during the last 10 days of June and had $55 million cash on hand, a massive war chest even by the high fundraising standards Abbott has previously set. Huffines disclosed a cash-on-hand balance of $7.6 million.

Abbott's full report, including information on his donors, was not immediately available Friday morning.

Huffines, however, had a top contributor in his brother, Phillip Huffines, who gave $2 million.

In the GOP primary for attorney general, Paxton's top donors included the Republican Attorneys General Association and Midland oilman Douglas Scharbauer. Each donated $250,000.

Bush got some of his biggest contributions in installments of $100,000 each from Dallas oil mogul Trevor Rees-Jones, Woodlands lawyer Arnulfo Eduardo Treviño Garza and H.H. 'Tripp' Wommack Ill, the CEO of a Midland oilfield services company.

Guzman's donor list was led by Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the tort reform group that backed her quickly after she launched her bid. She got $200,000 from TLR, as well as $100,000 from its founder, Dick Weekley.

As her campaign promised Monday, Guzman attracted donations from some top Texas GOP donors. She got $100,000 from Dallas billionaire businessman Robert Rowling, for example. At least one of the names touted by Guzman's campaign, Woody Hunt, also gave to Bush.

The land commissioner hailed his fundraising success as another sign that Texas Republicans are ready to move on from the embattled Paxton. Bush said in a statement Monday — after it became clear he had outraised Paxton and Guzman — that "the message here is clear — Texans demand accountability from our Attorney General's office."

While Guzman's campaign touted her prominent donors earlier in the week, a Bush friend and fundraiser, Jay Zeidman, said he saw a distinction with the crowd that his candidate has been attracting.

"I think it's just a stark contrast to the old establishment trying to hand-select a candidate versus this next generation candidate in George P.," Zeidman said. "I look around at the people helping him, supporting him, raising money — it's not a room full of a bunch of old guys. It's an incredibly energetic, very diverse group of people."

On the Democratic side of the race, the candidates include Joe Jaworski, a Galveston lawyer and former mayor of the city, and Lee Merritt, the well-known civil rights attorney from North Texas.

Jaworski raised $452,000 during the first half of the year, according to his latest TEC filing, and ended the period with a balance of $525,000. Merritt did not officially announce his campaign until Tuesday — after the period covered by the latest reports — though he has had a TEC account open since early June and reported $100,000 in donations from Real Justice PAC, a national group that mainly works to elect progressive prosecutors at the local level.

Outside the contests for governor and attorney general, Democrats have a candidate for lieutenant governor, Mike Collier, who reported raising $757,000 through June after announcing his intent to run in early April. He spent $509,000 for a balance of $203,000.

Collier is running against the Republican incumbent, Dan Patrick, again after losing by 5 percentage points in 2018. Collier's campaign said the $757,000 haul represented a "massive fundraising increase compared to his 2018 run."

Still, Patrick remained far ahead of Collier in the money race on the latest filings, showing $5 million raised and $23.6 million cash on hand.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/07/16/george-p-bush-ken-paxton-texas-2022/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Baylor University stirs anger and confusion as it opens the door for first LGBTQ student group

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LGBTQ students at Baylor University have been pleading with school leaders for years to officially recognize a group on campus, which would not only allow them to meet on campus and qualify for school funding, but also affirm for queer-identifying students there is a place for them within the university community.

The request for recognition by Baylor students has been consistently rejected.

But this spring, the university's board of regents narrowly opened the door for a change. They passed a noncommittal resolution that will allow university leaders to explore the possibility of approving a LGBTQ student group in an effort to be a more "caring community."

Yet the board simultaneously stressed the school was not abandoning its official position on human sexuality, which states marriage is between a man and a woman. In that statement, Baylor writes that "it is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching."

The school's action drew questions and concerns from both proponents and opponents of the effort to recognize the LGBTQ group on campus, with both sides appearing to agree that Baylor is sending mixed messages with seemingly conflicting stances.

"What confuses me is like how we're advocating for something," said Brit LaVergne, Baylor senior and president of Gamma Alpha Upsilon, or GAY in Greek letters, the unofficial LGBTQ student group on campus. "Are we advocating for something by existing?"

Students like LaVergne said while the resolution is a step in the right direction, they're skeptical Baylor can create a group that would be palatable to queer students, given their unrelenting position on issues like gay marriage. Meanwhile, conservative Baptist leaders characterized the move as Baylor caving to progressives.

"Baylor University is trying to have its cake and eat it too," said Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on an episode of his daily podcast. "The reality is that it still wants to present itself as, in some sense, a Christian institution, a Baptist institution. But what we're looking at here is just another way of getting to surrender to the moral revolution without admitting that that's what you're doing."

Whether Baylor ultimately approves a LGBTQ group remains to be seen. University officials declined multiple requests to discuss the May decision with the Tribune, insisting in a statement that they are waiting until students return for the fall semester to discuss what the new group might look like, and using the summer to plan a process to approve a group.

But the university's murky, sometimes fumbling announcement over a nonbinding resolution illustrates the tightrope officials are trying to walk as the school attempts to remain aligned with its interpretation of Christian tenets while also trying to respond to a changing world where inclusivity and diversity are increasingly emphasized.

After Baylor's board of regents passed the resolution about the LGBTQ group in May, the school laid out an explanation in a two-page document posted on the school's website. The document answered questions like "Why is Baylor taking action now?" "Why establish a chartered student group?" and "Is Baylor changing its stance and policies on human sexuality?"

The tone of the document was empathetic to the LGBTQ student experience. It suggested that faith and inclusion don't have to be mutually exclusive.

"Inaction is a disservice to our students. Their wellbeing must be our priority. We have the opportunity to reach out to and care for our LGBTQ+ students at this critical point in their lives and provide them support," the document said. "Baylor has the opportunity to demonstrate how a faith-based institution can strengthen care for LGBTQ+ students that rises above the cultural landscape and remains true to our mission and values."

But the document was taken down sometime after May 19. Screengrabs of the document were captured and posted on a conservative news site.

Asked about its removal, university spokesperson Jason Cook said the board's resolution "speaks for itself." The resolution text is slightly more than a page and reaffirms Baylor's "core commitments" of its Christian mission.

"We wanted to ensure clarity regarding Baylor's position and next steps," Cook said in an email.

Justin Tidwell-Davis, a queer Baylor alumnus who has advocated for more inclusivity of LGBTQ students on Baylor's campus, said he thought it was "interesting" Baylor removed the document. While he thinks it had some flaws, he said he appreciated its attempt to provide some compassion for the experience of LGBTQ students on campus.

"The statement by the Board of Regents makes no such effort," he said in an email. "This indicates to me that even the tiny amount of support indicated by the document was too much for Baylor's donors and prominent conservative Baptist public figures."

In the now-removed document, Baylor officials cited an increase in reports of bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students on campus as one reason they are considering a chartered group. The document also pointed to national statistics that show LGBTQ students have higher instances of mental health challenges.

Veronica Penales, a rising junior who identifies as queer, said she's one of the LGBTQ identifying students who has faced discrimination on campus since she started at Baylor University in 2019. The first time she was called a homophobic slur happened after she posted a photo of herself on Instagram running the Baylor flag across the field at a football game with a Pride flag painted on her leg.

People commented #NotMyGoodBaptistUniversity and #NotMyGoodChristianUniversity.

Then, people started leaving Post-it notes on her dorm room door.

"There were simple sticky notes that said f-a-g," Penales said. "I kept getting them day after day, week after week." She said when she reported it to her residence hall leaders, nothing happened.

The Post-it notes on her door, Penales said, were in response to her work trying to convince the university to recognize the LGBTQ student group. Last October, she served on the Baylor student Senate and lobbied for approval of a resolution calling on the school to rethink its human sexuality statement so a group for queer students could exist. It passed 30-15 after intense debate, she said. Earlier this year, Baylor's Faculty Senate also approved a resolution in support of the chartered LGBTQ student group.

In the past few years, the cries for Baylor to approve a LGBTQ group have grown louder among students, faculty and alumni.

A 2019 petition, which has garnered at least 3,200 signatures, urged Baylor to reverse its stance. It argued Baylor's decision to allow a young conservative group to bring a controversial speaker to campus at the time, despite his homophobic and sexist views, demonstrated Baylor's unfair treatment of some student groups versus others.

Students and alumni who support an official LGBTQ group also point to various political student groups on campus that promote ideas that don't align with Baylor's. They noted recent instances where conservative groups that have been approved by administrators have made controversial statements without rebuke.

"We have political groups on campus that are very different and don't always align with what Baylor as a university, like teaches or stands for," LaVergne said. "Baylor has been able to keep their distance from their political statements. So they can keep their distance from ours too."

Earlier this year, the Young Conservatives of Texas at Baylor caused a controversy when they wrote in a flyer for a campus event that "American slavery, and its legacy are incomprehensibly ordained by God for ultimate good."

"A single tweet from a group of students does not represent the institutional values, beliefs and policies of the University," Cook said in response to emailed questions.

Religious conservatives disagree that Baylor can remain a Christian university while also opening its doors to people whose lifestyle goes against their interpretation of biblical teaching. Speaking on a conservative radio talk show after the regents passed the resolution, a Texas pastor said Christian families shouldn't send their children to Baylor.

"What they teach and the underlying philosophy is anti-Christian," First Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress said on Todd Starnes' radio show. "And I don't think any true Christian parent who wants their kids to have a Christian education would allow their child anywhere near Baylor University."

There have also been outspoken groups on and off campus that have pushed back against any university changes, asking the university to adhere to its "traditional values," including a petition urging the regents not to approve a LGBTQ group. That petition garnered around 110 signatures.

Given the intense pushback from some members of the Baylor community and within fundamentalist Baptist groups, LGBTQ student leaders say they're skeptical the school will sign off on a group that would truly reflect them and worry it will be an LGBTQ group in name only.

"If Baylor wants to limit us in any sort of way as an organization that other organizations are not subjected to, then we don't want that official chartership. Then, we want to continue the community that we've already put in the time and the effort and love into," LaVergne said.

LaVergne said leaders in GAY have already agreed they will not join a group where they must provide an official student roster, since some students do not publicly share their gender identity, or if they are subject to rules or requirements that are not required for other student groups.

They also said they will not participate in a group that supports or discusses conversation therapy, the attempt to try and change someone's sexuality through psychological or spiritual practices. Baylor officials have not suggested any such requirements and President Linda Livingstone has said previously that Baylor counselors do not support or promote this kind of therapy.

Baylor has long grappled with how to satisfy fundamentalist supporters while adapting with the times and has taken longer to adopt campus policies that reflect the changing world. The school integrated in 1963, eight years after the Baylor Student Congress called on the university to end segregation. They removed a ban on "homosexual acts" from its sexual conduct policy six years ago and didn't allow dancing on campus until the mid-1990s. These strict rules have garnered criticism over the years and the Princeton Review has labeled it an LGBTQ unfriendly school year over year.

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a national group that tracks how welcoming colleges and universities are to LGBTQ students, said the group also expects to add Baylor to their "Worst List" this year, which names the colleges least supportive of LGBTQ youth.

Beyond its own campus community, Baylor is also balancing external pressures that could affect its status as a research and athletic powerhouse.

The regent's resolution came shortly before the federal government recently affirmed that LGBTQ students are protected under the federal civil rights law that bans discrimination based on sex, Title IX. Under that law, religious universities are allowed to apply for a religious exemption, which allows schools to enforce certain rules if the university is "controlled by a religious institution" or such rules "would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization."

The religious exemption portion of Title IX is the focal point of a recent class action lawsuit filed by a group of LGBTQ students who are enrolled at or attended federally funded Christian colleges and universities against the U.S. Department of Education, including Penales at Baylor. The students claim that a religious exemption clause is unconstitutional.

Baylor applied for a religious exemption regarding issues of "premarital chastity" in 1976, which was later granted in 1985 under President Ronald Reagan. A Baylor spokesperson said the university has not applied for another exemption, because its position is that it is unnecessary given the university's First Amendment rights.

Recently, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, which Baylor is affiliated with, asked a judge if they could intervene in the case to argue for the religious exemption clause, a request opposed by the U.S. Department of Education. The plaintiffs are waiting for a judge to rule on the request.

Meanwhile, some LGBTQ advocates said they feel the university's recent resolution is simply an adjustment to the times as queer student organizations have become the norm across the country on college campuses.

"It's good for their business, their finances, their sports teams," Windmeyer said. "You cannot be an institution of higher learning and discriminate against a group of people that are your students."

Disclosure: Baylor University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Wendy Davis, others sue law enforcement and Trump supporters over 'Trump Train' harassing Biden bus in Texas

Former state Sen. Wendy Davis and others who were traveling on a campaign bus for President Joe Biden last fall when it was surrounded and followed by former President Donald Trump's supporters on a Texas highway have filed multiple lawsuits over the events that transpired that day. The suits target people who were allegedly following and harassing the bus, as well as local law enforcement for not helping after assistance was requested, according to those on the bus.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Thursday against at least seven members of the so-called "Trump Train," who followed the bus, claims the group violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and Texas law by organizing a "politically-motivated conspiracy to disrupt the campaign and intimidate its supporters."

The Klan Act prevents groups from joining together to obstruct free and fair federal elections by intimidating and injuring voters, or denying them the ability to engage in political speech.

The second lawsuit was filed against law enforcement who "turned a blind eye to the attack — despite pleas for help — and failed to provide the bus a police escort," according to Protect Democracy, the group of lawyers representing the plaintiffs. The second lawsuit was filed against Chase Stapp, the head of San Marcos' director of public safety, and the San Marcos City Marshal's Department.

The lawsuit against the Trump supporters claims the defendants violated that law when they followed the bus, yelling death threats and streaming their activities on social media and "bragging about their aggressive driving."

The plaintiffs in both suits include Davis, David Gins, a then-campaign staffer who now serves as deputy director for operations for Vice President Kamala Harris, Eric Cervini, another campaign volunteer, and the bus driver, Timothy Holloway. The lawsuit also states that the plaintiffs continue to suffer psychological and emotional injury from the event. The bus driver, Holloway, has been unable to drive a bus following the experience.

"Not knowing whether the police would show up to help us was terrifying," said Holloway in a press conference Thursday afternoon.

They are asking for compensatory, and punitive damages and for legal fees to be covered in both lawsuits.

"What Defendants cannot do under the law is use force, intimidation, or threats against those with whom they disagree politically. Yet that is precisely what Defendants did by conspiring to use their vehicles as weapons to interfere with the constitutional rights of those who supported the Biden-Harris Campaign," the lawsuit reads. "The Constitution's guarantee of free speech, association, and assembly is empty if those rights cannot be freely exercised. And where groups are permitted to terrorize those with whom they disagree into forgoing their constitutional rights, the functioning of our democracy demands accountability."

The individuals named in the lawsuit could not immediately be reached for comment. The city of San Marcos declined to comment due to pending litigation.

The confrontation, captured on video in late October, made national news in the days leading up to the 2020 presidential election. It featured at least one minor collision and led to Texas Democrats canceling three scheduled campaign events in Central Texas, citing "safety concerns." The plaintiffs argue the forced cancellation due to these intimidation tactics also infringed on their First Amendment rights. The FBI continues to investigate the incident, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

A group of Trump supporters, who documented their progress on social media, had followed the group throughout the Texas campaign. On Oct. 30, a social media user using the hashtag #TrumpTrainTexas posted on Twitter, "Trolling is FUN." The user called for other Trump supporters to "escort the Biden [bus] coming through San Antonio."

Once they left San Antonio, dozens of trucks with Trump and American flags surrounded the bus, shouting and honking at it, and tried to slow it down. The campaign canceled an event in San Marcos and continued on to an event in Austin. But plaintiffs said they struggled to get police to respond as they continued north on Interstate 35.

Many of the defendants who are named in the filing were linked by their social media posts of the incident in which their license plate numbers are visible. According to the filing, the defendants include Steve and Randi Ceh, who were apparent leaders of the Trump Train in New Braunfels, and their daughter, Hannah. The filing states that Hannah posted several videos that showed her license plate number. Eliazar Cisneros, who appeared to participate in the Alamo City Trump Train, also posted videos with his license plate visible, the filing states. The filing also said according to social media posts, Steve and Randi Ceh were also pictured at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In an interview with the Tribune in January after the insurrection, Davis said she saw a direct link between the two events. She also said she didn't think law enforcement had taken the situation on I-35 seriously enough. She said in San Antonio, police responded to a request for assistance, pushing the trucks with Trump flags back. But once they left San Antonio, the caravan once again surrounded the bus. Davis said they called 911 again in San Marcos but they could not get an officer to respond.

"They just kept saying, 'Where are you now? Where are you now,'" Davis said in January. "We kept giving them landmark after landmark, mile marker after mile marker. … Never were we able to get anyone to come out. It was unbelievable."

A San Marcos spokesperson said in October that police received a call from the Biden campaign bus requesting a police escort but due to traffic weren't able to catch up to the bus before it exited the city.

According to the filing, the San Marcos Police Department told the plaintiffs, "they would not respond unless the Biden-Harris Campaign was 'reporting a crime,' explaining: 'we can't help you.'" the filing reads. "Despite being told the bus was driving through San Marcos, and despite the fact that Plaintiffs had already tried calling 911, an officer from the San Marcos City Marshal's Department made similar excuses, saying: 'we don't know if the bus is in our jurisdiction' and 'call 911 if there's a problem.'"

Lisa Prewitt, a former San Marcos council member who was running for a county commissioner seat at the time, also told the Tribune in the days after the skirmish she had flagged the event to local law enforcement 24 hours in advance and mentioned safety concerns. Prewitt said she had called Stapp, and alerted him the bus was 30 minutes away from the event location in San Marcos and was being followed by 50 or more vehicles with Trump flags.

"I let [Stapp] know what was going on and [asked] if we were going to be receiving San Marcos [Police Department] backup, and I was reassured once again that would happen," she said in October. "We never did see any law enforcement from the county nor the city show up to assist the Biden bus."

Last year, Stapp denied that Prewitt specifically requested a police escort or mentioned the ""Trump Train" was causing issues, but did not respond to follow up questions at the time.

"With the exception of the two phone calls to me from Ms. Prewitt, at no time did anyone from the campaign request assistance from the San Marcos Police Department in advance of the event so that the request could be evaluated and prepared for," Stapp said in a statement to the Tribune last year.

The incident garnered praise from Republican lawmakers at the time. Trump tweeted a video of the Trump supporters following the Biden bus saying, "I LOVE TEXAS!" and claimed inaccurately that the supporters were "protecting" the bus.

Whistleblowers say Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is distorting testimony to get their lawsuit dismissed

A group of former top aides to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton reiterated in a court filing this week that they believe Paxton committed crimes while in office, and suggested that Paxton is intentionally mischaracterizing witness testimony in their whistleblower case against him for political reasons.

The aides are taking issue with a brief and a press release issued on June 2 where Paxton's lawyers asked the 3rd Court of Appeals to throw out the case four aides filed against the state's top lawyer in which they allege he fired them for reporting his alleged illegal behavior to federal and state authorities. Paxton, who has denied the charges, said he fired aides last year because they had gone "rogue" and made "unsubstantiated claims" against him.

Paxton's lawyer said in June that in a trial court hearing on March 1, former First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer would not say he specifically saw Paxton commit a crime, but only that he had "potential concerns" about Paxton's dealings with real estate developer Nate Paul. Paul is a political donor and friend of Paxton who the whistleblowers allege Paxton helped with his legal issues in exchange for personal favors.

Paxton's lawyers argued that the appeals court should overturn a trial court decision denying the Office of the Attorney General's plea to dismiss because the court doesn't have the jurisdiction to hear the case.

But in a new brief filed on Monday by the whistleblowers' lawyers, they argue Paxton's lawyers took the exchange they cited out of context to argue Mateer never saw Paxton commit a crime. They said Mateer's comment was in response to a specific question about whether any employees raised concerns about Paxton's behavior in June 2020, three months before former employees reported Paxton's behavior to law enforcement.

"This claim distorts Mateer's testimony," the brief states. "In fact, Mateer testified unequivocally that he believed at the time of Appellees' FBI report—and still believes today—that Paxton committed crimes, including abuse of office and bribery." They also point out that Mateer signed a letter on Oct. 1, 2020 that alerted the attorney general's office that the whistleblowers had reported Paxton's behavior to the FBI, further proving Mateer believed Paxton had violated the law.

Mateer, who is not a plaintiff in the case, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Paxton's lawyer.

The whistleblowers' attorneys say the AG's office did not accurately explain to the appeals court that Mateer's potential concerns were specifically in response to a question about Paxton and Paul's relationship in June 2020.

"OAG took even greater license in its [June] press release, predicting victory because its brief shows that Mateer "swore under oath that Paxton committed no actual crimes," the lawyers wrote in a footnote in the brief. "Given the … OAG's mischaracterization of what Mateer 'swore under oath,' perhaps this portion of OAG's brief was written for an audience other than the justices of this Court."

A lawyer in the case told The Texas Tribune they believed the press release was written for Paxton's supporters and Texas voters, rather than to make a legal argument.

Paxton issued the press release hours before Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced he is running against Paxton for attorney general in the 2022 Republican primary. Since then, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman has also announced her candidacy for the position.

Paxton will likely face sharp criticism for this lawsuit during the primary campaign, as well as the six-year-old felony fraud case in which prosecutors claim Paxton persuaded investors to buy stock in a technology firm without disclosing he would be compensated for it while he was in the Texas House of Representatives.

The lawyers asked the 3rd Court of Appeals to consider this appeal without hearing oral arguments. If the court decides to hear arguments, the aides requested it happen as quickly as possible.

The four former aides also laid out in detail in the filing the specific instances where they believe Paxton broke the law.

In February, they alleged in a court filing that Paul helped Paxton remodel his house and gave a job to a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair. In return, the aides allege, Paxton used his office to help Paul's business interests, investigate Paul's adversaries and help settle a lawsuit. The filing in February was the most detailed explanation as to what the former aides believe Paxton's motivations were in what they describe as a "bizarre, obsessive use of power."

They also alleged Paxton improperly intervened in multiple open records requests to help Paul gain access to government documents after his company had been raided by the FBI.

"Paxton personally spoke to Paul about the subject matter; told [whistleblower Ryan M.] Vassar that he did not want to assist the FBI or DPS; took personal possession for several days of files that OAG could not officially release to Paul; and specifically directed the release of the FBI's unredacted brief to Paul," the brief states.

The whistleblowers also allege Paxton used AG resources to help Paul in a lawsuit filed against him by an Austin charity and pressured staffers to issue a legal opinion that would help Paul, despite the fact the ruling was inconsistent with previous opinions. The whistleblowers say in the court filing that they reported their concerns to multiple authorities and "spent several hours with two FBI agents telling what they had observed, answering questions, and discussing reasonable inferences they could draw."

The brief also rejects Paxton's repeated argument that he cannot be sued under the Whistleblower Act because he is not a public employee.

Texas bill limiting teaching of current events, historic racism appears headed for governor after Senate revives it

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Texas GOP senators revived a contentious bill Friday night that would limit how Texas teachers can talk about current events and America's history of racism in the classroom, hours after House Democrats seemed to have successfully killed the legislation. The bill now appears back on track to reach Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for approval.

House Bill 3979 originated in the House, but the Senate substantially changed it earlier this month. Those changes included stripping out more than two dozen requirements that students study the writings or stories of multiple women and people of color.

When the bill went back before the House on Friday, state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, raised a procedural violation, arguing that some changes from the Senate were not relevant to the bill. His point of order was sustained, appearing to block the bill in the final days of the Legislature.

But hours later, senators removed the amended language and reverted back to the House version of the bill, over the objections of Democratic senators. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, called his own point of order in the upper chamber to try to block the Senate's move, noting that the Senate rules say that a four-fifths vote is required to pass out a bill this late in the legislative session. But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, overruled that objection. Patrick told senators, some of whom seemed confused, that the vote was not on passing the bill — but simply on removing their previous amendments to it. The Senate then agreed to strip their previous amendments.

The bill says teachers cannot be compelled to discuss current events, and must explore various view points without giving deference to either side. And the Senate's move Friday also revived the requirement that various historical women and people of color and their writings be studied.

Many educators and education advocacy groups had opposed the bill, which still states that teachers cannot be compelled to discuss current events and if they do, they must "give deference to both sides." Opponents say it limits honest conversations about race and racism in American society.

After Senate Republicans tried to revive the House version, Senate Democrats still raised issues that the bill does not reflect the necessary hard conversations that teachers and schools must have with today's youth.

"We keep talking about a United States, but we keep on doing things like this that frankly divide us," West said.

Educators and advocacy groups also protested that it prohibits students from getting credit or extra credit for participating in civic activities that include political activism or lobbying elected officials on a particular issue.

The version now apparently heading to the governor also bans the teaching of The New York Times' 1619 Project, a reporting endeavor that examines U.S. history from the date when enslaved people first arrived on American soil, marking that as the country's foundational date.

The vote to strip the previous Senate amendments came in a 18-13 vote. In a statement after the Senate's move, Talarico, who'd imperiled the bill in the House earlier, echoed his fellow Democrats.

"It's ironic that Lt. Governor Patrick ignored the Texas Constitution to revive a bill about civics" said Talarico. "I'm proud that my point of order forced the Senate to pass the House version of HB 3979, which includes important Democratic amendments requiring Texas educators to teach the history of white supremacy.

Talarico and Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, sparred on the House floor over amendments the Senate stripped from the bill that would require students to learn about and read historical writings of women and people of color throughout history. Talarico was especially angry his amendment that required schools to teach that white supremacy is morally wrong was also removed.

"Is it fair to say that any bill that strikes language condemning racism is a racist bill?" Talarico asked Toth.

Supporters of HB 3979, which mirrors legislation making its way through state legislatures across the country, argue they are trying to combat personal biases bleeding into public education, pointing to a few individual instances in school districts across the state where parents have raised concerns.

But many teachers and advocates say those issues are few and far between and should be addressed on the local level rather than by state lawmakers.

"The actions taken in the Senate tonight reveal just how politically motivated this piece of legislation actually is, and just how far removed it is from the real lives of teachers and students in Texas," said Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition in a statement.

They also criticized GOP lawmakers for interfering in the classroom to gain political points.

"We know full well at this time in our history that this bill is politically motivated," said Round Rock High School teacher Sheila Mehta, who views the bill as a pushback against efforts among history teachers like herself to include more perspectives and historical accounts in history lessons. "If I look at the words of the bill, I feel like it's almost like I don't have to change anything. I just can't be compelled to do this. Whereas the spirit of the bill, I know that there's a lot of legislators who want me to stop doing what I'm doing."

Teachers said they don't feel trusted as professionals to have these nuanced conversations with students, which they often have and are able to keep their personal opinions to themselves.

Throughout legislative debates over the bill, GOP lawmakers have expressed concerns that teachers are unfairly blaming white people for historical wrongs and distorting the founding fathers' accomplishments. In recent years, there have been calls for more transparency about historical figures' racist beliefs or connections to slavery.

Disclosure: The New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


Texas educators worry GOP bill will whitewash history and put their students at a disadvantage

Dallas Independent School District teacher Jocelyn Foshay was guiding a social studies lesson with her middle school class about the amendment that protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure.

"Where was the Fourth Amendment to protect Breonna Taylor?" a student asked her, referring to a Black woman who was shot and killed in her apartment by Louisville police officers during a botched raid in 2020.

Foshay turned the question back to her students. "What do you think?" she asked, allowing students to process their thoughts and draw their own conclusions.

These are the kinds of conversations and questions that teachers say are typical of students, especially in the past year as the news cycle has exploded with stories about race relations, injustice and inequity. These sorts of conversations about current events often can be teachable moments and exercises for critical thinking for young minds, educators say.

But Texas educators say they're concerned they won't be able to have these types of open, far-reaching conversations, often prompted by inquisitive students, if the Texas Legislature approves a bill that restricts how teachers can discuss current events in the classroom and teach about America's historical treatment of people of color.

House Bill 3979, which mirrors legislation making its way through state legislatures across the country, has been coined the "critical race theory bill," though neither the House nor Senate versions explicitly mention the academic discipline, which studies the ways race and racism have impacted America's legal and social systems.

Supporters of the bill argue they are trying to combat personal biases bleeding into public education.

"We want to do our part to preserve the system and yes to talk about our history, warts and all," said state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, on the Senate floor Friday. "But present it truly and accurately, especially those founding principles, which have made Americans so special."

A new version of the bill, which was substituted on the Senate floor late Friday night and approved, says teachers can't be compelled to discuss current events and if they do, they must explore it from multiple positions without giving "deference to any one perspective." The bill also has already passed out of the House.

It bars students from getting course credit for civic engagement efforts, including lobbying for legislation or other types of political activism. It also added a civics training for teachers to be developed by the state and a list of founding documents students must be required to be taught.

The Texas Education Agency estimates that the new training program will cost $15 million annually starting in 2023.

Teachers say the language of the bill is often vague and it's unclear to them how the bill will directly impact or change their lessons. But the fear of being at odds with the law alone could create a chilling effect, they said.

"Part of his bill that kind of makes me freeze up is like feeling like I can't talk about race or feeling like I'm going to say something that's out of my lane, out of my professionalism as a teacher," Foshay said. "If kids aren't able to make those connections [about] why this [lesson] matters to them here sitting in the classroom right now ... we're really losing a piece of making school matter to kids."

Supporters of the legislation say they have concerns teachers are unfairly blaming white people for historical wrongs and distorting the founding fathers' accomplishments. In recent years, there have been calls for more transparency about historical figures' racist beliefs or connections to slavery.

"Do you want our Texas kids to be taught that the system of government in Texas, in the United States, is nothing but a cover-up for white supremacy?" asked state Rep. Steve Toth ,as he laid out HB 3979, which he sponsored, on the House floor in early May. "Do you want them to be taught a souped-up version of Marxism?"

Toth, R-Spring, told The Texas Tribune he is still having discussions about whether he will accept the new Senate's changs and send the bill straight to the governor to sign, or reject the amended legislation and request a conference committee made up of members from both chambers to resolve differences.

The fight to ban critical race theory discussions from schools has increasingly become a rallying cry among conservatives as America has grappled with racial injustice and inequities over the past year. The movement was encouraged by former President Donald Trump, who directed the federal government in 2020 to stop diversity and inclusion trainings that support similar sentiments, calling them "propaganda."

Recently, 20 state attorneys general sent a letter to the U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and expressed concern with critical race theory. The letter writers, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, specifically mention the 1619 Project, a reporting endeavor from The New York Times that examines U.S. history from the date when enslaved people first arrived on American soil, marking that as the country's foundational date. The Texas legislation would specifically prohibit schools from teaching the 1619 Project.

"To suggest that America is so racist at its core and it's so irredeemable and they can never overcome biases and treat each other fairly — that's a real problem," Hughes said of the project.

But teachers and historians contend it's impossible to teach America's history without discussing race and injustice, especially when current events mirror historical lessons.

"There is this misunderstanding that the past is walled off from the present by the bill's authors," said Trinidad Gonzales, a history professor and assistant chair of the dual enrollment program at South Texas College. "It is the opposite: The present and past are interconnected. That is history. The bill's authors are obviously not historians."

After the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Foshay said her school had a schoolwide discussion and showed the students news clips, making sure to present the event as it happened, without bias. But she worries the bill would force her to equivocate and not give students a straight answer.

"It's going to feel like I'm grasping at straws to present two sides of something," she said.

On Friday, Hughes tried to reassure Democrats against the bill that it would not require teachers give moral equivalency to perpetrators of horrific violence.

Third grade teacher Lakeisha Patterson, who fielded questions from her students this past year about the Black Lives Matter movement, said she's worried that constrained conversations about difficult real-life issues will ultimately disadvantage students.

"If we're not allowing teachers the opportunity to have these honest and intellectually appropriate conversations with their feelings about the past, then we're basically silencing those communities," Patterson said. "We're saying, 'not only are we ashamed of your heritage and your culture, but we're not even at liberty to discuss it.' And it just goes back to whitewashing history."

Juan Carmona, a history teacher in the Rio Grande Valley town of Donna, said he thinks this kind of legislation is in direct response to the broadening of voices and perspectives examined in the classroom as the student populations also become more diverse.

In recent years, history teachers said they have worked to diversify history curriculum, providing additional context and perspectives. In recent years, the State Board of Education added a Mexican-American history course and an African American history course that's available to all high school students.

"We have seen more student involvement because they can now see their own voices, their own people, their own culture being in history," Carmona said. "They never saw themselves, so they weren't engaged."

School Board of Education member Pat Hardy, who used to teach social studies, said the goal of the bill isn't to "Pollyanna" or "make it only the positives," but she speculated that it is a response to instances in school districts across the state where parents feel "biases are being taught." Hardy would not name specific school districts where there were issues.

"We need to really stress what a unique country we have," she said. "You think about so many kids coming here as immigrants ... and they don't know from their parents about American history, love of country and all that necessarily. And so we really feel like that's an area that needs to be delved into."

Educators also worry Texas students will be at a disadvantage when taking Advanced Placement or dual enrollment classes in high school if they don't receive thorough lessons about how race and gender have shaped American society.

Mallory Lineberger, a former history teacher who now serves as a policy fellow for the advocacy group The Education Trust in Texas, says AP history students are often scored on how well they can connect historical events and modern issues.

"If we can't talk about contemporary issues or current events, how are they supposed to be able to have a thorough and critical analysis of how a topic has changed over time?" she said.

In a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate, the American Historical Association also cautioned that this legislation would limit student access to college courses.

"The uncertainty of how [the legislation] will be implemented and the likely loss of offerings for dual-enrollment and AP History courses could hurt Texas's progress toward increasing its college-educated population," Jacqueline Jones, association president, said in the letter. "Last year 12 percent of all college students in Texas were dual-enrollment students. History is the most offered course in dual enrollment."

More than 220 Texas historians and teachers across the state have signed a separate letter opposing the bill and sharing similar concerns.

Lineberger also identified around 190 current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state approved and required education standards, that she said directly conflict with the bill.

For instance, middle schoolers are expected to "analyze the historical background of various contemporary societies to evaluate relationships between past conflicts and current conditions."

Teachers are also concerned students will be less likely to learn how to participate in the political and civic process if they are not able to assign those kinds of activities or award extra credit. Foshay in Dallas ISD says district leaders have put a large emphasis on an initiative called project-based learning in which students learn by trying to solve real-world problems, which she said can include internships or civic work in the community.

Bill supporters said the legislation would not prevent students from being able to participate in the political process, lobby lawmakers or attend rallies, but it would prevent teachers from requiring students participate in those events for credit or extra credit. The most recent version of HB 3979 approved by the Senate does clarify students can participate in community charitable projects, but Foshay worries it will mean fewer students become engaged in their broader communities.

"Part of me wants to say kids will do this work whether or not they get a grade on it," she said. "But I don't entirely believe that ... because I do think schools really do help them facilitate projects they do."

Disclosure: Education Trust and New York Times have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

One dead in Texas mass shooting -- on same day Biden released gun control executive orders

Bryan police are investigating the shootings of seven people, including a law enforcement officer, that started at Kent Moore Cabinets, where officials said someone opened fire Thursday afternoon, killing one person and shooting five others.

The Texas Department of Public Safety also said on Twitter that a DPS trooper was shot pursuing the suspect in the shooting. The officer is in serious, but stable condition.

One person shot at Kent Moore has died and four others shot there were taken to the hospital in critical condition, according to Bryan police chief Eric Buske. A fifth was shot but did not sustain critical injuries. A sixth person was taken to the hospital with asthma related issues.

Buske said the shooter is believed to be in custody and is an employee of the cabinet business.

There have been three mass shootings, generally defined as a shooting in which at least three people die, in America in less than a month, according to Mother Jones. Texas has experienced seven mass shootings since 2010.

Bryan police did not release information on a possible motive or how the shooter obtained a firearm.

Amelia Rodriguez, an employee interviewed on KBTX, said she heard a loud noise and thought it was a broken machine until a coworker grabbed her arm and told her to run.

Rodriguez said as she and her coworkers tried to run outside, they realized the shooter was already outside. She stayed inside with a small group and hid.

Thursday's shooting happened hours after Democratic President Joe Biden announced a slate of new gun control measures. The actions come after multiple mass shootings across the country in recent weeks, including a shooting at multiple massage parlors in Atlanta and a mass shooting that left 10 people dead at a grocery in Boulder, Co.

Biden directed the Department of Justice to create new rules that curb the proliferation of ghost guns, which are difficult to trace, and arm braces for pistols. He also told the department to write model red-flag legislation which allows a court to temporarily bar someone from accessing a gun in certain circumstances.

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott criticized Biden over the measures, hours before the shootings in Bryan. Texas Republicans, who control state government, have long taken pride in the state's reputation as a bastion for gun ownership.

"Biden is threatening our 2nd Amendment rights," Abbott tweeted. "He just announced a new liberal power grab to take away our guns. We will NOT allow this in TX. It's time to get legislation making TX a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary State passed and to my desk for signing."

Abbott's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his earlier tweet, but issued a statement saying he and his wife are praying for the victims.

"I have been working closely with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers as they assist local law enforcement on a swift response to this criminal act," Abbott said in a statement released by his office. "Their efforts led to the arrest of the shooting suspect. The state will assist in any way needed to help prosecute the suspect."

Slightly more than half of Texas registered voters in a 2019 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll said gun control laws should be stricter. A strong majority supported requiring background checks for all gun purchases, and most backed temporarily taking guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves and others.

University to take away Wi-Fi access for students who miss coronavirus tests

Baylor University has started COVID-19 testing on a weekly basis for every student, faculty and staff member, with the help of a new lab on campus.

The weekly tests will be required — making it one of the strictest and most comprehensive COVID-19 enforcement policies among Texas colleges and universities. Those who don't comply could face penalties.

Students won't be able to participate in any co-curricular activities for the rest of the semester after two missed tests. If they miss three tests, they'll also lose Wi-Fi access on campus, with the goal of limiting student activity in campus buildings. After four missed tests, students could be suspended.

Students started getting tested this week as the spring semester began Tuesday.

The decision to require testing comes as Texas continues to grapple with the worst of the pandemic. Across the state, dozens of hospitals are reporting ICU beds have reached or are close to capacity.

University officials said they decided to institute weekly testing because students wanted more face-to-face interaction than the fall semester and officials wanted to make sure they could accommodate the request without increasing the risk of asymptomatic spread.

"Feedback, anecdotally, this week has been positive," said Sharra Hynes, vice president of student life at Baylor. "Students are just, 'OK. If it allows us to do more things together, let's just do this.'"

The university also included incentives such as restaurant vouchers and it will enter students into raffles for end-of-semester prizes.

Baylor partnered with a Dallas-based company, My Labs Direct, to build a lab on campus that can process self-administered nasal swab test results within 24 hours. Officials said they would be able to conduct up to 150,000 tests during the spring semester, processing up to 8,000 more daily tests. Officials would not share how much the multimillion-dollar lab and weekly testing cost.

The American College Health Association recommended colleges test students and employees twice a week for the spring semester and provide results in less than 48 hours. Baylor officials said they decided once a week was sufficient given other mitigation strategies, including mask requirements and social distancing.

Few universities have mandated campus testing. Most universities in Texas are simply encouraging testing among students returning to campus to take classes in-person or online.

But Rice University had already required weekly testing since the start of the academic year. Rice recently delayed the start of the spring semester by one week to Jan. 25 as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the Houston area. When students return, they will be required to get tested twice a week through at least Feb. 15. Then, they'll continue with once a week testing after that.

Rice and Baylor are private universities.

All students, faculty and staff were also required to have a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to campus at Baylor. The university also put a moratorium on all events until Feb. 7 to mitigate any spread as they anticipate a spike in cases at the start of the spring semester, similar to the fall semester. Some 44% of classes at Baylor are in person and 44% are online this semester. The rest are hybrid.

The University of Texas at Austin also pushed all hybrid classes fully online for the first two weeks of the semester. The aim was to space out the time in which students returned to campus to try and slow down the spread of the virus.

Disclosure: Baylor University, Rice University and University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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