Dave McNeely

Dave McNeeley, Austin American Statesman columnist Ralph Barrera/AA-S 8/1/2000

Royce West, the longtime Democratic state senator from Dallas, is the latest Democrat to put his toe in the water for the nomination to contest Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who is 67, next year.

He enjoys the opportunity to have a "free-ride" election. He was re-elected to another 4-year term in 2018, so his seat isn't up for re-election in 2020. So he can run for something else – like the U.S. Senate – and lose, without having to give up his current state senate seat.

West, 66, has been in the Texas Senate since 1993. In what has become sort of standard operating procedure, he hasn't yet announced he'll run.

But he's announced he'll announce something on Monday (July 22), and not many think his message will be, "Aww, never mind."

Assuming he runs, he'll join several others already declared:

-- Former Houston U. S. Rep. Chris Bell, 59, who was the Democrats' gubernatorial candidate in 2006, getting 30 percent to run second to Republican Gov. Rick Perry's 39 percent, in a race including Independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn (18 percent) and Kinky Friedman (12 percent).

Bell is already taking shots at

Cornyn, declaring on Friday (July 2) that he was "disgusted but not shocked" by a Dallas News story "detailing the private, for-profit prison PAC money flowing into the campaign coffers of Texas Senator John Cornyn.

"Cornyn’s campaign has

accepted $10,000 so far this year from one of the top operators of immigrant detention facilities along our border," Bell said. "The same detention centers that have packed asylum seekers into chain link cages, without adequate food, facilities and healthcare."

-- MJ Hegar, 43, a former Air

Force helicopter pilot from Round Rock, who in 2018 came within 3 percent of unseating longtime District 31 Republican U.S Rep. John Carter.

-- Other declared candidates who lost in 2018 Democratic primary races are Sema Hernandez, Senate; Michael Cooper, lieutenant governor; and Adrian Ocegueda, governor.

No indication so far that Beto O'Rourke might drop his presidential try and run again for the senate.

# # #

Senators Run In Presidential Years?

Since the two Texas US senators serve 6-year terms, that come up for election in different even-numbered years, there will be one Texas senator on the ballot in two out of three presidential races.

And the senators themselves, if they serve long enough, will come up for election in a presidential election year every 12 years.

For Cornyn, 2020 will be the first time since 2008 that he's run alongside a presidential candidate. In 2008, the Republican nominee, John McCain, beat Democrat Barack Obama in Texas by 12 percent, while Cornyn enjoyed a similar edge over Democrat Rick Noriega.

# # #

UT Austin Adding Tuition Grants. . . .

Students at the University of Texas at Austin will be eligible beginning in 2020 for free if family income is less than $65,000 adjusted gross income, the University's board of regents has announced.

The grants will come from a special $160 million distribution from the University's endowment fund.

“Our main focus at the UT system is our students. That's it, that's what we're in business for is to provide an affordable, accessible education for our students," board Chair Kevin Eltife said after the vote.

(( NEXT GRAF (42 WORDS) CAN BE DROPPED OR TRIMMED FOR SPACE.))

"We all know the struggles that hardworking families are having putting their kids through school," Eltife said. "What we've done here is repurposed an endowment into another endowment that will provide tuition assistance to a lot of the working families in Texas."

About a fourth of the undergraduate students – about 8,600 students – would have tuition fully paid under the new plan. Another 5,700 would be eligible for financial aid from the fund.

It wouldn't include living expenses, which are currently around $17,000 for the academic year. Tuition and fees were about $10,314 for Texas residents.

Texas A&M and Texas Tech have been providing free tuition for middle and low-income families for more than a decade.

The "Aggie Assurance" program at A&M covers tuition – but not fees -- for students from families with adjusted gross incomes less than $60,000 a year.

# # #

Trump Backs Down on Census Citizenship Question. . . .

President Donald Trump finally threw in the towel on his belated effort to force a citizenship question onto federal census interviews for the first time in seven decades, despite the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that the administration's justification for the question being added seemed "contrived."

Opponents to the question said it spooks families that contain illegal aliens, causing them to dodge the census – leading to population undercounts that affect everything from distribution of federal aid to allocation of congressional districts.

Trump apparently finally realized that the infrastructure around the census – with questionnaires already being printed without the question – would be tied up in court for months.

Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail.com.

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