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Weekly Wrap-Up: Coast under gun, Sharp won't run, Kinky's latest fun

By Jennifer Bendery,

Austin, TX –

"Stay calm. Stay patient. You're doing the right thing." Gov. Rick Perry directed these words to the approximately 1.5 million motorists heading out of the Houston-Galveston-Corpus Christi region as Hurricane Rita makes its way to the Texas Gulf Coast. With traffic at times inching forward at a rate of one mile per hour and cars running out of gas without getting beyond city limits, Texas officials spent the better part of the week scurrying to ensure the safety of coastal residents.

State agencies did their part to facilitate evacuations and prepare for the aftermath of the Category 4 hurricane. Employees at Texas State Veterans Homes have a disaster evacuation plan in place to move residents to hospitals or nursing homes. The Public Utility Commission is providing consumers with emergency tips, such as encouraging people to send text messages from cell phones versus voice calls. The Texas Department of Transportation has positioned gas tanker trucks along evacuation routes to assist motorists whose vehicles run out of gas. The agency also opened Interstate 10 and Interstate 45 to allow motorists to travel north in both the north and southbound lanes.

Perry on Monday recalled all Texas National Guard, Texas Task Force One and other Texas emergency personnel and equipment from Louisiana, where they have been assisting with rescue and relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina. "The time is now to begin mobilizing our resources and implementing our plan to ensure an orderly response before Texas is hit," he said. Approximately 1,200 Guard members from Texas have been assisting in the Louisiana disaster efforts. Texas Task Force Once is one of 28 national urban search-and-rescue groups under FEMA.

Meanwhile, just days after a statewide poll placed potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former State Comptroller John Sharp in a statistical tie with Perry in next year's General Election, Sharp on Wednesday put to rest rumors that he would challenge Perry when he accepted the governor's appointment to lead a bipartisan panel focused on tax reform and school finance.

Decrying the failed efforts of legislators to place a tax reform bill on his desk during the 79th Session, Perry said he chose Sharp to head the panel because he is "someone who doesn't have a vote in this building." He noted that the two have known each other for 37 years and used to room together in college. But the two also ran contentious campaigns against each other for the Lt. Governor's seat in 1998. "Whatever political rivalries existed in the past are exactly that," said Perry. "In the past."

While the work of the panel impacts school finance, efforts will focus exclusively on developing a new tax structure. Perry noted that the school finance reform lawsuit currently pending before the Texas Supreme Court is "not connected in any fashion" to the work of the tax reform panel. Regardless of what or when the court rules in the case, the work of the panel "needs to be done," he said.

The Texas Lottery Commission (TLC) on Monday announced the amount transferred to the Foundation School Fund for FY 2005 totaled $1.016 billion, a 1.3 percent increase from last year. It also marks the second consecutive year the lottery has transferred more than $1 billion back to the state for public education. "Not since the early-to-mid starting years of the Texas Lottery have we seen a continued increase in sales and transfers to the state," said Gary Grief, acting TLC executive director. "Thanks to our players and retailers, FY 2005 makes the fourth consecutive year we have increased our support of public education in Texas."

Fifteen members of the Texas House of Representatives voted for the public interest 100 percent of the time in the 79th Regular Session, according to a biennial scorecard released on Tuesday by the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG). The average score for House members was 47 percent, with five members failing to cast a single vote in favor of the public interest. "We applaud the public interest heroes of the 2005 regular session," said Luke Metzger, TexPIRG Legislative Advocate. "But on contested votes, despite their efforts, consumers and the environment broke even this year."

The scorecard is based on representatives' votes on contested environmental, consumer, and good government bills during the 2005 session. The members scoring 100 percent were Reps. Roberto Alonzo, Rafael Anchia, Lon Burnam, Joaquin Castro, Garnet Coleman, Yvonne Davis, Abel Herrero, Scott Hochberg, Jesse Jones, David Leibowitz, Elliott Naishtat, Melissa Noriega, Dora Olivo, Eddie Rodriguez and the late Joe Moreno. The five members scoring zero percent were Reps. Myra Crownover, Peggy Hamric, Joe Nixon, Robert Talton, and Beverly Woolley.

Afterthought: Move over, JibJab. Independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman's campaign this week announced the debut of its first animated online commercial, "I Looove Texas." Casting himself the anti-politics-as-usual candidate, Friedman is running his first political advertisement exclusively on the Internet at the Kinky Friedman Official Site.

Narrated by Friedman, "I Looove Texas" features endangered cowboys, sexy cheerleaders and stereotypical politicians proclaiming their love for Jesus. While Friedman may not have the campaign war chest of Rick Perry or Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the ad reminds Texans they have another choice for governor next year - a "true Texas independent." Friedman encourages supporters to "distribute the ad to friends and family so that it spreads like a bad rumor."

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