Senator

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate Committee on Higher Education heard bills Wednesday to limit tuition increases in higher ed.

In 2003, legislators deregulated tuition, granting universities control of tuition rates. Since the tuition deregulation, in-state tuition at UT has increased from $2,721 to $4,905 per semester, but for the past four years, tuition rates have been relatively constant.

“We now allow boards of regents to raise tuition on their own, and [they are] shifting funds away from states and to families,“ Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) said. 

The committee heard two bills — one by Ellis and another by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown). While both bills have slightly different implementation measures, their goals are essentially the same: to regulate tuition at the state level again.

Unlike Ellis’ bill, Schwertner’s addresses capping student fees as well as tuition. His bill also only applies to public four-year institutions.

Ellis, author of SB 255, said he thinks the deregulation of tuition has placed a financial burden on Texas students and their families.

“That makes it hard for students to attend the schools that were built to serve them,” Ellis said. “It pushes families to a point where they incur debt.”

The availability of loans to finance student tuition limits universities’ interests in decreasing tuition, according to Schwertner, author of SB 233.

“Because of readily available access to student loans, universities never truly have an incentive to control costs or lower tuition,” Schwertner said. “Universities know that the financing will always be there.”

Plan II and biochemistry senior Andrew Gulde testified at the hearing in support of Ellis’ bill. He said the only way for students to have a say in UT’s tuition decisions is through the nonvoting student regent.

“I support SB 255 because it’s the only bill that allows families like mine and me to hold legislators accountable for tuition decisions,” Gulde said. “I believe the Legislature — not an elected board — is the proper place for these decisions to be made.”

University library assistant Kathryn Kenefick testified on both bills. Kenefick said she supports the strong push in the Texas Legislature for tuition.

“I hear tales from students as they are getting ready to complete school and looking for jobs and have the terrible burden of student debt that has come from the institutional costs,” Kenefick said.

When Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) asked Schwertner if he thought the bill would pass through the full Senate, Schwertner chuckled and said, “There’s always hope, Senator.“

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio and lieutenant governor candidate, talked about her goals to reform educational policy, veteran services and other issues at a primary election party at Mi Tierra Cafe and Panaderia in San Antonio on Tuesday night.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) stepped down Friday after 24 years in the senate.

Van de Putte announced she would leave the Capitol in January, after loosing the race for lieutenant governor to Dan Patrick in November. The now former San Antonio senator said she plans to run for mayor of San Antonio.

In an emotional farewell on the Senate floor, Van de Putte thanked members of the legislature, their staffs and the press for their work at the Capitol.  

“We are all so very blessed to be part of a legacy blazed long ago in this most deliberative body,” Van de Putte said. “The Texas Senate is a place where you work hard, and you work hard to find common ground despite the political differences.”

In the speech, Van de Putte said her stay as senator would not have been possible without her constituents.

“I thank my fellow San Antonians for allowing me the privilege and the honor of being their voice here at the state Capitol for almost a quarter of a century,” Van de Putte said.

Senator elect José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) will succeed Van de Putte. His swearing-in will take place next Wednesday.

Kay Bailey Hutchison, former senator and president of the Texas Exes, spoke at the KBH Center Symposium Friday. The symposium offered an interdisciplinary take on Mexican energy issues, exploring UT’s potential role in drilling opportunities in Mexico.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison spoke at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on Friday during the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center’s Symposium on North American energy security, an event designed to discuss geopolitical issues in North American energy. The symposium was part of UT Energy Week, a conference showcasing emerging research in the energy field. Hutchison discussed about the future of energy technologies and the effects of the energy reforms in Mexico. After the event, Hutchison sat down with The Daily Texan for a Q&A.   

Daily Texan: Where did the idea for the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center come from, and what unique perspective does a multidisciplinary study of the industry with business, law and engineering have to offer, specifically?

Former senator Kay Bailey Hutchison: Honestly, John Beckworth, associate dean of the UT law school, thought of a joint business and law school energy center. I immediately loved it because I have been general counsel of a corporation, and I know so often that the business people do not understand the legal needs to make sure everything in the transaction is right. Conversely, sometimes the lawyers do not understand the needs of the business people to complete a transaction in a timely way so that they do not lose their deal or their customer. So, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to have a joint center where law students in the energy field would learn about the business side and the business students would understand the legal side. [The Center] also has a particular focus on Latin America and the differences in the laws and legal systems. This could be very helpful for somebody who wants to explore or produce energy in another country. It was a perfect fit, and when they decided to name it after me, I was thrilled. 

DT: How would you gauge the success of the KBH center in achieving the goals that you mentioned?

KBH: Well, we have only been created since last summer, but we have come such a long way in a very short time. I think this inaugural symposium has been a huge success. We have had Mel Martínez, the former senator and cabinet member, and Bob Jordan, the former ambassador from the United States to Saudi Arabia. They have given great insights on international energy. Mel is the chairman of J.P. Morgan Latin America, so he showed us the corporate side. Bob Jordan was insightful because Saudi Arabia is doing so much right now to affect the price of oil globally. He also had some good insights on the new king and the new hierarchy in Saudi Arabia. The symposium has been a wonderful success. The panels have been good, the questions have been good. The audience is really asking questions and that is what you want in a good conference. 

DT: Has the KBH Center participated in the debate regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline?

KBH: I am a total supporter of the Keystone Pipeline, myself, but we have not taken a real position on that. It has been discussed in the symposium, and the [Obama] administration was represented here by an assistant secretary of state. The question has come up: Why would we not have a Keystone pipeline? Many in the room think that it would be an environmentally safer way to transport oil from Canada than the trucks that we are having to build new highways to accommodate. So that has been a real debate here and it has been very relevant.

DT: At a panel earlier this week, during UT’s Energy Week, experts agreed that for some issues, such as energy storage, regulatory agencies have fallen behind in developing regulation. Has the center tackled any of these issues and did you encounter any of these issues as a senator?

KBH: Absolutely. As a senator I encountered the new energy innovations. With solar energy, the biggest problem with using it was that it was so cyclical, and we could not store it. Even natural gas for cars. There has been so much that has emerged just in the last 10 years. I think the regulators are certainly trying to keep up with what is necessary in the regulatory field, but it is a work in progress. 

DT: Could you talk about some specific ways that you helped regulatory agencies catch up?

KBH: Well, for sure, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center will be able to shed light on what is coming up in regulation in terms of what might be needed, what might not be needed, what would be a better way to regulate. We want to allow for creativity to grow and progress. [We] do not want to stifle creativity by regulating something that is not there yet because it is not ready. There has to be balance to assure that the new kinds of energy, clean energy especially, are not regulated to death before they are able to be useful. For instance, the lack of battery storage for solar panels is a problem. If we allowed battery storage we would be able to run manufacturing plants consistently rather than have to lessen output in peak hours. Battery storage is an area where the federal government is doing more research and it’s very important to develop that. But, we want to make sure that as we do, there are environmental rules that assure that we are doing it safely and in an environmentally friendly way. We want the creativity to emerge so we can start using solar energy more efficiently. The new technologies would apply in other areas as well.

DT: Obama has supported an all-of-the-above policy that supports natural gas as well as nuclear and other forms of energy. So, a lot of different forms of energy are being researched. What energy innovation are you most excited about?

KBH: I think it is essential to make sure that we are getting the oil and gas in an environmentally correct way so that we become energy independent. It is going to make us more competitive globally because our businesses will have lower-cost energy. This is an area where America has led. We creatively produce new ways to get oil and natural gas out of the ground and out of the water. So, I think oil and natural gas is probably the biggest area where we can move forward and truly towards energy independence. Solar power and wind power are also very promising. We do not have the mechanics yet to make it a big percentage of our energy use, but Texas is doing quite a bit in wind, as well as solar, and it is very efficient once it is up and going. If we could get the battery storage, it is going to be a real part of our overall energy independence. I am excited about that, and I am excited about Texas’ role in producing these new options. 

There is also another option — using currents in the oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. [We] can use currents to generate energy for use on land. That is something that is being experimented in the Galveston-Houston Area. The University of Houston is doing work in that area, as well as others.

DT: Today’s symposium has an international focus of stabilizing North America’s energy. What are specific energy initiatives in Mexico by Mexicans, Americans or private actors that you look forward to see implemented?

KBH: The exciting part of energy in Mexico is that they are opening it up. It used to be just PEMEX, the national oil company, that was able to produce oil and gas in Mexico. But President Nieto has certainly made strides in saying, “We want to open it up, we want foreign investment and we want more out of the ground, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.” He is making it happen, and the [Mexican Legislature] is going along with it, and they are in the regulatory stage now. I think the American companies are going to want to be a part of this. They are going to want to work, in some cases, with PEMEX, and, in some cases, independently. [The companies] are going to bid on leases in the northern part of Mexico that would be the continuation of the Eagle Ford find in South Texas that we think continues on in North Mexico. But also, in the Gulf of Mexico, there is a lot of opportunity. American and European countries are bidding and winning in the Gulf of Mexico for drilling in the deep water, but it is very expensive so that may be down the road because the price of oil is so low right now. But, the big question mark out there is safety and the drug cartels. No foreign company is going to want to come in if they are not going to be able to be safe and also be able to do business in a transparent way because we have laws that require that. This large criminal element in the drug cartels is really hurting so much of the tourism in Mexico, most certainly, and in some ways, business as well. 

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, begins her filibuster of Senate Bill 5, the original bill that led to House Bill 2, on June 25, 2013.

Photo Credit: Guillermo Hernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: In state Sen. Wendy Davis’ (D-Fort Worth) memoir, released Tuesday, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate discusses her personal experiences with abortion in the ‘90s. Below, a Daily Texan columnist debates the merits of that decision and analyzes its implications. This is the third part of a weekly Point/Counterpoint series. To see the opposing viewpoint, click here.   

It’s been a little more than a year since the sneaker-clad state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, sent shockwaves throughout the nation with her 13-hour filibuster to safeguard women’s abortion rights. Now, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Davis has made headlines once again with her memoir “Forgetting to Be Afraid,” in which she divulges little-known information that has perhaps been the driving force behind her views regarding reproductive freedom: The senator has terminated two pregnancies of her own.

Though abortion is never a completely binary decision, it’s important to note that both pregnancies were relatively atypical and heralded high-risk factors for both Davis and child. One abortion was an emergency end to an ectopic pregnancy — a procedure that is less choice than life-saving medical necessity for the mother. The second terminated pregnancy was a daughter, for whom Davis and her then-husband had already picked out a name: Tate Elise. When doctors discovered the baby would be born with severe brain abnormalities and would likely never progress beyond a vegetative state, Davis was forced to make a paralyzing and heartbreaking choice.

“The baby began to tremble violently, as if someone were applying an electric shock to her in the womb,” writes Davis, describing the suffering her child was experiencing even before birth. “We knew the best thing we could do for our baby was to say goodbye.”

In the wake of such a personal revelation, it is easy to get swept away in swollen-heart declarations of support and admiration for Davis, who dared to pioneer a cause and then step bravely out from behind the curtain to reveal her own personal stake in the matter. It can be tempting to dive headfirst into sentimental anecdotes and throw strategy to the wayside in unwavering support of a cause or a story.

But that would be giving Davis far too little credit.

Let me be clear: This is not about a senator’s choice to have — or not have — an abortion. This is about a timely release of information in order to aid a campaign.

Does Davis have a right to disclose the information? Absolutely. But did she do it free from underlying party agenda? Unlikely. The memoir’s release — and its trove of secrets trumpeted within — fall within months of November’s gubernatorial election, sure to keep Davis’ reputation as a pioneer for women’s rights fresh in the hearts and minds of Texans everywhere. It was a calculated risk; those vehemently opposed to abortion could look pejoratively upon Davis’ second pregnancy termination, but many voters have expressed only empathy to Davis for her incalculable loss.

The power of a story carries extreme political currency. It adds roots where only facts existed before; it sets the speaker on a level that seems somewhat above reproach. Like any good candidate, Davis is using her past to throw out a cleverly disguised gauntlet that she knows will resonate with voters.

At the heart of all her pink-shoed, rags-to-riches glory, Davis is a politician. She is ambitious and shrewd — she wouldn’t have earned a spot in this race if she were anything else.

More than ever, she knows it is time to pull out the big guns. The latest polls are somewhat grim, placing the senator a whopping 12 points behind Republican candidate Greg Abbott. Though Davis continues to press on with the strength and dexterity necessary for any Democrat to persevere in the Texas Legislature, it cannot go without saying that the bulk of her fame stems from her work for reproductive freedom. A year ago, an overwhelming number of Texans “stood with Davis.” Now, struggling to rally voters around her initiatives on education and equal pay, Davis is retreating to familiar territory.

More than anything, Davis knows the power of getting personal. Her “narrative” as a senator is a rare breed of feminine heroism, one which strikes with both empathy and ambition, and it is through the ingeniously crafted public relations machine around her that Wendy has appealed to poverty-level voters and pundits alike. She is quick to reference her own humble beginnings and speaks frequently of the adversity she faced as a self-supporting student at Harvard Law School. Davis knows this is the forum in which she shines. If anything can help this underdog candidate stand a fighting chance in the race, this last-ditch ploy for empathy will be it.

The stakes are high in Texas, and with Davis lagging behind in recent polls, the gubernatorial candidate is doing for her narrative what politicians do best: picking up the pen and writing it herself.

Deppisch is a government senior from League City.

Kay Bailey Hutchison speaks at a conference on research in Dallas Tuesday, June 4.

Photo Credit: Bobby Blanchard | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: Associate Editor Noah Horwitz currently works with Jason Fuller, Hutchison's former regional director. Horwitz was not involved in any way in the planning, writing or editing of this editorial.

Last Monday Kay Bailey Hutchison was named president of the Texas Exes, UT’s 100,000-member alumni association. It came to us as a pleasant surprise that the former United States Senator had found a way to re-establish a personal relationship with the University from which she graduated twice and for which she has fought across her career. 

The position of president of the Exes brings with it a number of challenges. Unlike most public university alumni associations, the Exes are not officially affiliated with the University. That frees the group from restrictions on petitioning the Legislature and thus broadens the scope of its leadership. Scarcely can its president shy away from the spotlight and hang his or her hat on the title. In addition to making the rounds of the private donor circuit, the organization’s chief fundraiser must also work the political machine inside the Capitol, firing the cylinders of philanthropic muscle while also greasing the wheels of checks-and-balances friction.

That friction, while to a certain extent inevitable, has increased as a result of the past few years of discord between the Legislature and the University. Two sessions ago, legislators made massive cuts to higher education appropriations that sent the University reeling. Since then, those wrongs have been partially righted, but the wound of the Wallace Hall-initiated public relations disaster has been torn open in its place. The UT System regent has been in the news for more than a year for his sweeping open records requests of the University and now his possible impeachment. In addition, just last week it was reported that UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa had given an ultimatum to our very popular president, William Powers Jr., to resign or risk being fired.

With the terrain rockier than ever, Hutchison will have to exercise great finesse to find her footing in the new position. However, we expect she will rise to the occasion with ease thanks to her decades of experience in the U.S. Senate and her tireless advocacy for both the state of Texas as a whole as well as higher education more specifically. Already, she has shown her leadership skills and commitment to the University by condemning Cigarroa's recent actions in an email to the Exes.

During her time in the Senate, Hutchison unabashedly sought to maximize the state’s take of federal dollars for local projects. While this earned her scorn from some in her own party, she never backed down from her commitment to the people of Texas, casting her divergence from the dominant anti-earmarking sentiment of the Republican Party as a safer bet than leaving the state at the mercy of federal bureaucrats. 

More importantly, though, Hutchison understands the importance of statesmanship and compromise. While she always disliked being labeled a moderate, it seemed the only fitting descriptor for a senator who eschewed hyperpartisan brinkmanship and embraced across-the-aisle outreach at a time of increasing division, bitterness and rancor.

We think the skills Hutchison displayed in Washington, and more recently here in Texas, will serve her well in her work for the 40 Acres. The University needs them now more than ever.

Some lawmakers hope for campus construction money in third special session

Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back for third 30-day special session Tuesday to deal with a $4 billion hole in transportation funding. Although Perry has only put transportation funding on the agenda, some lawmakers hope they will be able to pass key measures in higher education policy this time around.

Minutes after the governor decided to keep them in Austin, lawmakers filed at least three bills to fund campus construction projects at the state's higher education institutions. Perry has given no indication that he will add the so-called tuition revenue bonds to the agenda but has said in the past he would keep an open mind after the Legislature passed a transportation bill. The Legislature can only act on items the Perry puts on the agenda.

SB 10, a campus construction bill, was filed on Tuesday with 22 senators signed on as authors. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, also filed bills for campus construction projects. UT-Austin is currently hoping to receive $95 million for a new engineering building. 

Rumors were rampant on social media that the governor would add campus construction projects and measures for a concealed firearms on campus to the agenda, but by Tuesday evening only transportation was on the call.

"When it comes to transportation, the stakes facing our state could not be higher, and a failure to act now could take years - if not most of a decade - to correct, as traffic congestion increases and harms our quality of life," Perry said in a statement. 

Second Special Session: Terms you need to know

Editor's Note: The Texas legislature started the second special session on Monday, July 1, without much fanfare. But following the dramatic ending to the first special session, there are sure to be dramatic moments in the coming days. Lawmaking is a messy and confusing business, and it is easy to get lost in the sea of terms and vocabulary. The Daily Texan has thus prepared a glossary of terms you need to know to survive the second special session. You can try to memorize this list now, or just refer back to it throughout the session when you have questions. 

Filibuster: A filibuster is a type of legislative procedure that typically aims to talk a bill to death. If a lawmaker can keep the filibuster going until time runs out, a bill will die.

During a filibuster, a lawmaker must remain standing. They cannot lean on anything, eat any food or drink any liquids. They also may not use the restroom. If a lawmaker breaks any rule three times, the filibuster ends. Other lawmakers must point out a broken rule first with a point of order.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, made an 11-hour filibuster on the abortion legislation in the first special session. Filibuster records are not necessarily well kept, but many believe the longest filibuster in United States history was by Texas Judge Bill Meier when he was a Texas Senator in 1977. Meier’s filibuster lasted for 43 hours, and was on a bill relating to open records law. The bill Meier tried to stop passed shortly after his filibuster ended.

Gallery: Both the House and the Senate have an upper deck where people can gather to watch the legislative process. The rules forbid screaming, clapping or cheering from the gallery.

During the first special session, people watching the Senate’s gallery started to scream and chant during the final moments of the last day. Many attribute the crowd as one of the reasons the abortion legislation did not pass. Some have criticized the crowd, accusing them of “hijacking democracy” and behaving like a mob.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said he will clear and empty the gallery if the crowd is loud again in the special session.

Germane: During a filibuster, lawmakers must stay on topic, meaning the issues they discuss must be germane to the bill up for consideration.

House Bill 2: Filed by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, HB2 is very similar to SB5 from the first special session. Just like SB5 from the first special session, Senate Bill 1 will ban abortion after twenty weeks, place restrictions and more safety measures on abortion clinics in Texas and add additional restrictions to abortion-inducing drugs.

Parliamentary Inquiry: A parliamentary inquiry is a question directed at the residing president, officer, speaker or lieutenant governor about procedures or rules. These inquires can be made when a lawmaker is confused about a law or a rule, and seeks clarification. Parliamentary inquiries can also be used as a means to filibuster or delay a vote on a bill.

Point of Order: A point of order can be raised at any time during the legislative process. Points of order are raised by a lawmaker when they believe a rule has been broken. The point of order must be resolved before procedures continued.

During a filibuster, points of order were raised against Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, for going off topic and receiving assistance with a back brace.

Senate Bill 5: SB5 was the abortion-related bill that failed to pass the Texas Senate during the first special session. The bill would have banned abortion after twenty weeks, placed restrictions and more safety measures on abortion clinics in Texas and added additional restrictions to abortion-inducing drugs. This bill failed to pass in the final minutes of the first special session. SB5 was filed by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy.

Senate Bill 9: SB9 would place restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs. The restrictions in SB9 are similar to those in SB5, from the first special session. SB9 was filed by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston.

Senate Bill 1: Senate Bill 1, filed by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, is referred to as "the Senate Bill 5 of the second special session." Just like Senate Bill 5 from the first special session, Senate Bill 1 will ban abortion after twenty weeks, plac restrictions and more safety measures on abortion clinics in Texas and add additional restrictions to abortion-inducing drugs.

Senate Bill 2: Senate Bill 2, filed by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, has to do with juvenile sentencing. The bill would create a life sentence without parole for 17-year-olds who committee a capital felony. Juvenile sentencing is one of the issues Texas Gov. Rick Perry placed on the call for the second special session.

Senate Joint Resolution 1: This resolution would create a state constitutional amendment that would create the transfer of certain general revenue to the state highway fund. Transportation funding is one of the items Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants lawmakers to consider during the second special session. This resolution was filed by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

Special Session: A special session is a 30-day long legislative period. Only Texas Gov. Rick Perry can call a special session, and during the session, only items the governor chooses can be considered. The governor can call a special session at any time. All bills die that don’t make it through the legislative process to Perry’s desk before 30 days.

During the first special session, Perry told lawmakers to consider legislation on redistricting, transportation funding, juvenile sentencing and abortion restrictions. Only redistricting passed through both the House and the Senate. Legislation on transportation funding, juvenile sentencing and abortion restrictions all failed to make it through the Senate on the last day of the 30-day session.

The day after the first special session ended, Perry called a second special session. He said legislation on transportation funding, juvenile sentencing and abortion restrictions were all to be considered in this second special session.

Since taking office, Perry has called 11 special sessions.

#Stand4Life: This is the hashtag that has been commonly used on Twitter to show support for abortion legislation and restrictions. Supporters of the bills have been wearing the color blue.

#StandWithWendy: This is the hashtag that has been commonly used on Twitter to show support for Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Supporters of Davis and opponents of the abortion legislation have been wearing the color orange.

Two-thirds rule:  In the Senate, bills are brought up in the order they pass through committee. Lawmakers typically file “blocker” bills, which are on top of the calendar and can block other bills from being considered. In order to get a bill pass this “blocker” bill, the Senate has to suspend this rule, which takes a two-third vote.

This is the rule that prevented abortion legislation from passing in the regular session.  While Republicans in the Senate have the simple majority needed to pass abortion legislation, they don’t have enough two-thirds votes needed to suspend the rules. The “two-thirds rule,” however, can be suspended during a special session.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst kept the rule out of the first and second special session.

WASHINGTON  — With a solemnity reserved for momentous occasions, the Senate passed historic legislation Thursday offering the priceless hope of citizenship to millions of immigrants living illegally in America's shadows. The bill also promises a military-style effort to secure the long-porous border with Mexico.

The bipartisan vote was 68-32 on a measure that sits atop President Barack Obama's second-term domestic agenda. Even so, the bill's prospects are highly uncertain in the Republican-controlled House, where conservatives generally oppose citizenship for immigrants living in the country unlawfully.

Spectators in galleries that overlook the Senate floor watched expectantly as senators voted one by one from their desks. Some onlookers erupted in chants of "Yes, we can" after Vice President Joe Biden announced the bill's passage.

After three weeks of debate, there was no doubt about the outcome. Fourteen Republicans joined all 52 Democrats and two independents to support the bill.

In a written statement, Obama coupled praise for the Senate's action with a plea for resolve by supporters as the House works on the issue. "Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsense reform from becoming a reality. We cannot let that happen," said the president, who was traveling in Africa.

In the final hours of debate, members of the so-called Gang of 8, the group that drafted the measure, frequently spoke in personal terms while extolling the bill's virtues, rebutting its critics — and appealing to the House members who turn comes next.

"Do the right thing for America and for your party," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who said his mother emigrated to the United States from Cuba. "Find common ground. Lean away from the extremes. Opt for reason and govern with us."

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said those seeking legal status after living in the United States illegally must "pass a background check, make good on any tax liability and pay a fee and a fine." There are other requirements before citizenship can be obtained, he noted.

He, too, spoke from personal experience, recalling time he spent as a youth working alongside family members and "undocumented migrant labor, largely from Mexico, who worked harder than we did under conditions much more difficult than we endured."

Since then, he said, "I have harbored a feeling of admiration and respect for those who have come to risk life and limb and sacrifice so much to provide a better life for themselves and their families."

The bill's opponents were unrelenting, if outnumbered.

"We will admit dramatically more people than we ever have in our country's history at a time when unemployment is high and the Congressional Budget Office has told us that average wages will go down for 12 years, that gross national product per capita will decline for 25-plus years, that unemployment will go up," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

"The amnesty will occur, but the enforcement is not going to occur, and the policies for future immigration are not serving the national interest."

In the Senate, at least, the developments marked an end to years of gridlock onimmigration. The shift began taking shape quickly after the 2012 presidential election, when numerous Republican leaders concluded the party must show a more welcoming face to Hispanic voters who had given Obama more than 70 percent of their support.

Even so, division among Republicans was evident as potential 2016 presidential contenders split. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was one of the Gang of 8, while Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas were opposed to the bill.

The legislation's chief provisions includes numerous steps to prevent future illegalimmigration — some added in a late compromise that swelled Republican support for the bill — and to check on the legal status of job applicants already living in the United States. At the same time, it offers a 13-year path to citizenship to as many as 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully.

Under the deal brokered last week by Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee and the Gang of 8, the measure requires 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, the completion of 700 miles of fencing and deployment of an array of high-tech devices along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Those living in the country illegally could gain legal status while the border security plan was being implemented, but would not be granted permanent resident green cards or citizenship.

A plan requiring businesses to check on the legal status of prospective employees would be phased in over four years.

Other provisions would expand the number of visas available for highly skilled workers relied upon by the technology industry. A separate program would be established for lower-skilled workers, and farm workers would be admitted under a temporary program. In addition, the system of legal immigration that has been in effect for decades would be changed, making family ties less of a factor and elevating the importance of education, job skills and relative youth.

With the details of the Senate bill well-known, House Speaker John Boehner said at a news conference the separate legislation the House considers will have majority support among Republicans. He also said he hopes the bill will be bipartisan, and he encouraged a group of four Democrats and three Republicans trying to forge a compromise to continue their efforts.

He offered no details on how a House bill could be both bipartisan and supported by more than half of his own rank and file, given that most of the bills that have moved through the House Judiciary Committee recently did so on party line votes over the protests of Democrats. None envisions legal status for immigrants now in the country illegally.

Boehner declined to say if there were circumstances under which he could support a pathway to citizenship, but he made clear that securing the border was a priority.

"People have to have confidence that the border is secure before anything else is really going to work. Otherwise, we repeat the mistakes of 1986," he said, referring to the last time Congress overhauled the immigration system.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, also said he favors a bipartisan approach. At the same time, she noted that Democratic principles forimmigration include "secure our borders, protect our workers, unite families, a path to legalization and now citizenship for those" without legal status.

While the outcome of the Senate vote was not in doubt, supporters scrambled to maximize the vote and fell short of 70, a level they had talked of reaching. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday night as he lobbied — successfully — for the vote of the state's Republican Sen. Jeff Chiesa, whom the governor appointed to his seat.

In the past couple of years, Ted Cruz, a former UT law professor and U.S. Senator-elect from Texas, has catapulted himself to national prominence on a very simple premise: Find room to the right of the extremely conservative Republican establishment in one of the nation’s most Republican states. By doing so, Cruz has successfully attracted a great deal of adoration, acclaim and funding from the hyper-conservative Tea Party movement. Riding that wave, he upset Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a runoff primary race last summer and soundly defeated Democratic Senate nominee Paul Sadler in the general election for retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s open seat. Cruz will represent Texas in the Senate for at least the next six years, and is one of the most popular Republican names being tossed around by pundits and news commentators as potential presidential candidates in 2016.

But Cruz has never held elected office before now, so we have no way of knowing for sure what kind of legislator he will be. He has some of the most impressive academic credentials in the Senate, with degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law School, and has been nationally recognized as an expert debater since his undergraduate years. But in his campaign for the Senate seat this year, he showed a pronounced tendency to build his platform on political expediency rather than good sense.
In the hotly contested primary election, Cruz and Dewhurst did their best to out-conservative each other, which resulted in them taking nearly identical stances on almost every issue. The reason Cruz prevailed is that he successfully painted Dewhurst as being willing to work across the aisle with Democrats — a charge that many voters would consider a point in Dewhurst’s favor, but not Texans, and definitely not in today’s polarized political climate. By portraying Dewhurst as too quick to compromise, Cruz appealed to a Republican base that hates the opposition more than it supports productive, bipartisan legislation. It worked out well for Cruz in the primary last May, but it was cause for concern for anybody hoping to see our nation’s leaders work together anytime soon.

In the November general election Cruz called for the abolishment of the departments of Commerce, Energy and Education, the International Revenue Service and the Transportation Security Administration. The Department of Education provides much of college students’ financial aid. Cruz called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” in an interview with the Texas Tribune last fall and proposed to gut it by raising the retirement age and privatizing most of the program’s benefits. He’s also claimed that “Sharia law is an enormous problem” in the United States, called both Medicaid and Medicare unconstitutional, and has promised to repeal “every syllable” of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) even if he has to “throw [his] body in front of a train to stop anything short of its complete and total repeal.”

These positions made for great applause lines at Tea Party rallies, but they’re almost completely implausible. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all five of the government departments he mentioned are here to stay and are widely accepted as being necessary by people not wearing tinfoil hats. And because the U.S. Supreme Court declared Obamacare constitutional, the president won a second term and Democrats held on to the Senate majority, Cruz may want to schedule his railroad tracks outing.

We’re not even going to dignify the “Sharia law” comment with a response.

Anybody who’s heard Cruz speak recognizes his reasoning ability, so it’s hard to believe he wasn’t aware of the irrationality of his campaign rhetoric. The past year showed that he is willing to say whatever he needs to say to energize the conservative base behind him. It paid off, but one can reasonably expect Cruz to moderate his tone now that he’s won. If he hopes to accomplish much of anything as a legislator he will have to ally himself with the Republican establishment he has been criticizing for the past year. They’re eager to have his star power on their side, and he can’t get meaningful legislation passed simply through fiery speeches and refusal to compromise.

Cruz has already shown signs of embracing the party line. About a week after the election he accepted the position of vice chairman for grass-roots operations and political outreach for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a coalition of Republican senators committed to helping other Republican candidates get elected to the Senate.

Cruz has got his eye on the White House. He’s Canadian by birth, so before he can even run for the office something will need to be done about the clause in the U.S. Constitutional saying that only natural-born U.S. citizens can be elected president. But he will also  have to move a lot more to the middle to appease independents and moderates. Hopefully, he’ll start doing so now in his first term in the Senate.

When Kay Bailey Hutchison, the senior U.S. Senator from Texas, retires at the end of this legislative session, we will have a front-row seat to a marked shift in the Texas Republican Party. Likely to replace her is Republican nominee Ted Cruz, a Tea Party favorite who currently leads his opponent, Democrat Paul Sadler, by nearly a 2-1 margin. While both the senator and her likely successor are Republicans, a comparison of Hutchison’s legislative record with Cruz’s goals highlights the contrast between them.

Hutchison, a former UT cheerleader who graduated at 19 and obtained a law degree five years later, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1993. During her 19 years in that office, Hutchison stood with the GOP on most issues, voting with the majority of Republicans almost 90 percent of the time, according to The Washington Post. She invariably supported the oil and gas industry at the expense of environmental protection, and voted for an outright constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. She also voted to exclude sexual orientation from hate crimes criteria. However, her breaks with recent trends in the Republican Party show that she isn’t as through-and-through conservative as many of her colleagues.

Hutchison’s voting record presents a mixed bag on the issue of abortion. She consistently voted for strict restrictions on abortion and contraceptives, but supported Roe v. Wade and repeatedly voted against efforts to prohibit the practice altogether. In a 1993 Senate debate, she argued for restricted but legal abortions up to the third trimester, saying, “I’m not for abortion … The question is, should I make that decision for you, and that’s where I come down on the other side.” In 2003, she told the Dallas Morning News, “I’ve always said that I think that women should have the ability to make that decision, even if I disagree with it.”

The most striking departure from others in her party, however, was her openness toward government spending. In contrast to the Republican holy war on earmarked funds, a major talking point for some Republicans, Hutchison unabashedly sought a great deal of pork barrel government money for her home state. In 2008 and 2009 alone, she claimed almost half a billion dollars in earmarks for spending in Texas and was outspoken in her support of the practice. “I’m proud of being able to garner Texans’ fair share of their tax dollars,” she said in 2009.
Hutchison has also enthusiastically supported federal funding for higher education in Texas. Her website proudly proclaims that  she “has worked to move Texas from sixth in the nation in federal research funding to third.”

That friendly view toward government spending combined with her relatively moderate stance on abortion crippled Hutchison in a 2010 run for Texas governor. Although she was the early frontrunner by a large margin, incumbent governor Rick Perry succeeded in portraying her as a pro-choice, liberal spender and himself as a fiscally and socially conservative alternative to retain the governor’s office for another term. Hutchison had difficulty adapting to an electorate that had turned from predominantly moderate “country club Republicans” to right-wing ideologues, and she lost big. That defeat was more or less the end of her career on the national stage.

Two years later, Hutchison has confirmed her long-rumored retirement and opened up her seat for the next generation. Tea Party Republican Ted Cruz is the overwhelming favorite after his defeat of the GOP establishment’s preferred candidate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in the Republican primary. Cruz, by finding room to the right of the Republican leadership in one of the reddest states in the country, represents a new breed of conservative. Unlike Hutchison, he supports a repeal of Roe v. Wade, calling it a “shameful decision,” and opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. He also proposes the complete elimination of the Department of Education, which would end federal financial aid for college students. Furthermore, Texas can kiss the gravy train of government spending it enjoyed under Hutchison goodbye. In a recent interview with Texas Monthly, Cruz said, “I am absolutely opposed to earmarks. When 435 members of Congress and all 100 members of the Senate go to Washington and view their jobs as feeding at the public trough, that’s how we bankrupt our country, and I don’t think Texans want their senator to be part of that.”

Being a fiscal conservative is one thing, and earmarked spending can certainly be taken too far, but completely cutting off federal support for states and students in a weak economy makes no sense.

It’s a shame that Hutchison is retiring, because she’s the kind of senator Texas needs right now. As she rides into the sunset, a less open-minded generation of Republicans takes her place. That means all the federal spending that brought jobs and growth to Texas, and much-needed help to students, will soon be a thing of the past. That should be cause for concern.