- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Dallas Morning News. Oct. 5, 2016.

Texas needs to release data to find out why pregnant women are dying after childbirth

It was alarming enough to learn that the rate of Texas women dying of pregnancy-related causes nearly doubled in the last four years.

Now comes the troubling news that the Department of State Health Services won’t release critical case-level data on these deaths that could lead to finding out why.


The Dallas Morning News asked for the data under the Texas Public Information Act after a recent study showed that Texas’ maternal mortality rate shot up to 35.8 per 100,000 births from 18.6 in 2010.

The numbers were even more startling for black women in a separate report commissioned by the state found that they were twice as likely as white women to die within a year after their pregnancy.

The state has refused to release summary index data with valuable information - such as the names, causes of death, the last known addresses of the deceased - citing a 2011 ruling by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott that the information should be kept secret to prevent fraud.

We’re all for protecting Texans’ identities from folks who might use them for wrongdoing. But lives are at stake. The release of this information is critical to getting to the bottom of this public health scare.

There has to be a way to protect patients’ privacy while also allowing doctors and researchers to delve into the details of these cases. Other states - that readily release this information - have figured it out. Texas had a system in place until 2010.

But no more.

Imagine where we’d be if the Centers for Disease Control couldn’t collect detailed case data to develop protocols on how we can protect ourselves from Ebola and the West Nile virus.

Both reports on maternal mortality noted the lack of affordable health care as a cause for concern, especially with Texas being home to more uninsured people than any other state.

One can’t help but wonder if the 2011 Texas Legislature’s cuts to family planning that closed 82 clinics played a role. A Department of State Health Services spokesman says there’s no evidence that it has. We need to know for sure.

Democrat Rep. Armando Walle of Houston, vice chairman of the House Government Transparency and Operation Committee, argues that the Legislature needs to revisit the exemptions in the open records law.

“There seems to be a lot of women dying,” he said. “We need to know why they’re dying. You can’t make corrective action if we don’t know why these women are dying.”

We urge Gov. Abbott to reassess his thinking on this issue, given what’s happened to maternity death rates since his 2011 ruling. Texas must be better than this.


Waco Tribune-Herald. Oct. 6, 2016.

Former Title IX coordinator’s remarks raise doubts about Baylor’s collective efforts to address sexual assaults

Months if not years could pass before the public learns better how Baylor University - already swept up in a runaway scandal involving student rapes and administrative indifference - got crossways with its own full-time Title IX coordinator to the point of irreconcilable differences. The clash led to not only her shocking resignation but also her decision to promptly fly to New York and publicly castigate Baylor’s “senior leadership” for resisting her efforts to improve implementation of Title IX policy on campus.

The terrible irony: The Baylor University Board of Regents has made clear that this is its priority, too.

So what happened? Did Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford, brought aboard less than two years ago, overstep her bounds in terms of helping implement some of the 105 recommendations offered by the Pepper Hamilton law firm charged with investigating years of shortcomings in Baylor’s athletics department and university administration relating to student assaults? Or did someone in the current Baylor administration decide that Crawford’s efforts might threaten the Baylor “brand,” as she alleged on “CBS This Morning”?

We assume that whatever clash of wills prompted Crawford to resign and lash out happened recently, well after regents sent head football coach Art Briles packing and set into motion events that led to the departure of Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr. Assuming Crawford was on the level in her lengthy Q&A; with the Trib a little more than 60 days ago, Baylor leadership has been “very accepting” of her efforts. At least, so she said at that juncture.

However, her televised remarks indicate her differences with certain leadership at Baylor had reached a boiling point as early as July. She told CBS that reports to Baylor’s Title IX office under her oversight increased by 700 percent - and that some senior administrators found this reflected badly on the school. Reportedly, she has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which oversees the admittedly murky world of Title IX “guidance.” She alleges that her authority and independence were steadily undercut.

While we find this and other inconsistencies in Crawford’s remarks between August and now troubling, Baylor regents must shoulder much blame, given that they have opted to say less when more might have helped and even reduced the chance of others defining Baylor in an information vacuum. Crawford’s remarks are damning because they make a lie of all Regent Chairman Ron Murff and interim President David Garland have claimed - specifically, that Baylor strives to be a model campus in taking seriously student assaults and ensuring all Pepper Hamilton steps are fully implemented.

“There are 10 task force teams,” Garland told us in an in-depth Trib Q&A; published July 24. “I meet with them once a week because we consider this so important. We’ve made incredible progress. It’s an all-hands-on-deck thing. This was a wake-up call for us, so we’re really taking this very seriously. We’ve invested a great deal of money in this, and at the end I would hope Baylor is seen as a model (for how to address these problems).”

None of us doubts the tension and strain at Baylor as faculty, administrators, students and regents seek to right what at times seems a foundering ship. But the loss of Crawford cannot be overestimated. Baylor officials had held her out to be one of the Christian university’s symbols of hope, student safety and institutional salvation. Baylor regents now need to investigate what went awry in this embarrassing debacle, determine if certain forces at Baylor are indeed resisting the very best in Title IX reforms and terminate anyone not with the program.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Oct. 6, 2016.

Baylor’s damage control needs damage control

Patty Crawford, who resigned as Baylor University’s Title IX coordinator, had a few words for the university.

We do too.

Back in May, when the Pepper Hamilton law firm published its scathing report of Baylor’s handling of campus sexual abuse complaints, Crawford was supposed to be a leader in implementing better responses.

She says she wasn’t allowed to do so, that Baylor officials interfered. So she resigned.

We don’t know what happened behind closed doors, or how reports of film rights negotiations came into the picture, but her leaving doesn’t look good for Baylor.

Neither does the way officials are handling an ongoing Title IX lawsuit or an incident involving a “football coaching staff member” berating a rape victim and advocate after a speech.

Which is a shame, since Baylor was off to the right start in its damage control. The university cleaned house, mandated more than 100 policy changes and created two task forces.

But as Baylor’s efforts to repair the damage continue, it only seems to get worse. Officials are drawing more negative attention with their interference and public communication.

Quickly finding a Title IX coordinator replacement helps, but Baylor needs to get its act together and work toward putting out the fire instead of adding fuel to it.


San Antonio Express-News. Oct. 6, 2016.

Texas’ seldom traveled toll road

The irony of Texas 130 is impossible to ignore.

In a fast-growing region in the heart of a fast-growing state that is desperate for more roads, the developers of the southern section of Texas 130 managed to build a toll road that few use. That is some engineering feat.

This 41-mile albatross that technically links San Antonio and Austin, if you are willing to drive out of your way to get there, is a monument to failure. Hardly anyone drives Texas 130, yet it’s pocked with persistent pavement problems. The road has likely contributed to flooding around the town of Lockhart. Its developers are walking away from roughly a half-billion federal loan, and another billion or so in private loans, and yet the same developers, through subsidiaries, benefited from construction contracts to build Texas 130.

All of this comes from a recent deep dive by the Express-News into Texas 130’s woes. It told the story of poor planning and unrealistic expectations that ultimately burned the public.

It’s a complicated story weaving European banks, Australian investors and layers of subsidiaries, but this much is clear: Texas 130, with its 85 mph speed limit, was a product of wishful thinking. Its supposed promise was the San Antonio-Austin region would benefit from a new section of highway at no upfront cost, private developers would profit from the operation of the road, and the state would benefit from toll revenues.

This was magical thinking when the hard analysis had already been done. SH 130 Concession Co., the joint venture between Zachry Construction Co. and Cintra, a Spanish developer, has never released its traffic projections for the road. But the state had already studied the matter years ago, determining there wouldn’t be enough traffic on the southern section of Texas 130 to make construction of the toll road worthwhile.

Here’s how state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, put it: “They didn’t rely on any of the numbers that we put together.”

Texas 130 is 4 years old, but it has never remotely come close to meeting traffic expectations. The growth in traffic is not enough to pay back debt, Moody’s has reported. Toll revenues for the state are well below expectations.

The only benefits we can see from Texas 130 is that it was a source of lucrative construction and design contracts, and it was an asset for private Australian investment funds.

Where the saga of Texas 130 goes from here is unclear. How much is this road really worth? Will federal taxpayers be paid back? Will the flooding concerns in Lockhart be addressed? Who will pay to mitigate the flooding concerns? Will the road ever prove useful for drivers?

Perhaps these questions will be addressed during bankruptcy proceedings.


Houston Chronicle. Sept. 27, 2016.

Conciliatory Cruz: The Texas senator sells out his ideals for the sake of party unity - and survival

What does Ted Cruz see when he looks in the mirror each morning?

A husband and father? A senator? The next president of the United States?

Maybe that last one has been put on hiatus until 2020. But even as Cruz’s political popularity reached its nadir after he refused to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention, our state’s junior senator could still look in the mirror and see a man who stood up for what he believed.

Now that mirror reflects a new truth about Cruz - he’s just another politician. The golden child of the grassroots has tarnished. Our state’s greatest Republican dissident finally joined Team Trump. We thought he would be a hold-out until Election Day.

When his colleagues acquiesced to their new leader, Cruz was not afraid to speak honestly about the reality television show host who had come to control the Grand Old Party.

Trump is “utterly amoral,” a “narcissist,” a “serial philanderer” and a “pathological liar,” Cruz said back in May. Cruz was correct then and he’s correct today.

In July, Cruz made it clear that he wouldn’t put Trump ahead of his own political ideals. He would hold the line against a candidate who had insulted Cruz’s wife and spread lies about his father.

“I care a heck of a lot more about America than I do about any political party,” Cruz told Politico reporter Glenn Thrush. “If the Republican Party stands for individual liberty, if we defend the Bill of Rights, if we stand for keeping this country safe, then we deserve to win, and if we don’t, we deserve to lose.”

Since that time, Trump has run for the White House on a platform that treats individual liberty as an inconvenience and the Constitution as a burden. Nationwide stop-and-frisk doesn’t exactly comport with the 4th or 14th amendments. Praise for Vladimir Putin doesn’t overlap Jeffersonian ideals.

The real estate scion even sold out the longtime Republican Party platform of free trade and robust international presence. And until this week, Cruz could come back to Texas, look voters in the eye and say that he still prioritized those traditional values over partisan convenience.

The freshman senator never promised to play nice with others. As he’s said: “If you want someone to grab a beer with, I may not be that guy.”

Instead, he promised to serve as a true right-wing choice instead of merely echoing from Washington.

So what sent Ted over the line? It was supposedly the Supreme Court. Merrick Garland is still waiting for his confirmation hearings before the Senate and the next president will likely have more empty seats to fill. Earlier in the campaign, Trump promised to appoint justices within Cruz’s comfort zone if elected, and Cruz supposedly pressed the matter before getting on board.

Why Cruz takes the word of this “pathological liar” is a mystery. The pro-choice Republican nominee has promised court positions to supporters left and right. He even supposedly added to his short list Peter Thiel, a gay Silicon Valley billionaire who has used his massive wealth to fund lawsuits against publications that aim a harsh eye at the tech industry. Trump’s campaign now denies that claim.

The truth behind Cruz’s change of heart rests lower on the hierarchy of needs - survival. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has his eye on higher office and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul has been floated as a primary challenger. A refusal to fall in line doesn’t exactly earn the goodwill of party higher-ups and funders.

So what does Cruz see in the mirror? Now that he’s on Team Trump, a second-term senator is probably staring back. But the idealistic upstart whom Texans first elected is long gone.

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