On Friday, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst handed out his picks for the State Senate committees; from those assignments, we learned that "Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security" is, for some mystifying reason, lumped together into one body. And in a move that's drawn a ton of attention and more than a little outrage, Dewhurst removed Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis from the Education Committee, after she led a filibuster to try prevent some $5 billion in cuts on education last session.
Davis staged the filibuster on May 29, 2011, in an effort to delay a vote on the budget cuts, which critics warned would pretty much gut public education in Texas. But the cuts ultimately passed anyway, and the early results have been predictably dismal: 25,000 school district employees lost their jobs last year, while over 6,000 elementary school classes have become overcrowded, with more than 22 students per class.
Davis has said that restoring that money would be one of her main focuses this session. Davis' spokesman Rick Svatora told the Star-Telegram that her removal from the committee is "no more than an attempt by the lieutenant governor to silence a strong voice for public education on the committee." There's now a petition drive on SignOn.org, MoveOn's petition platform, to reinstate Davis to the committee. As of this morning, it's garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.
We contacted Dewhurst's office to ask about the rationale for removing Davis. Spokesperson Matt Hirsch sent us a statement which reads, in full, "The Lt. Governor took into account Senators' requests and geographic diversity, as well as the strengths and talents of each Senator in determining committee assignments."
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In his statement announcing the new committee assignments, Dewhurst said the Senate will be focusing on "balancing the budget without raising taxes, improving public education and increasing highway capacity and drinking water resources for our growing population." A preliminary budget proposal suggests yet more education cuts. This round would take away two percent of the money currently allocated for public universities.