FROM STAFF REPORTS
LAREDO — State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, whose meandering district includes about a third of Hays County, has been appointed to the senate’s Natural Resources committee.
In her new assignment, Zaffirini, D-Laredo, will have a chance to shape the committee’s work on seven interim charges it was handed on Wednesday. They include reviews of ongoing audits of river authorities like LCRA and GBRA and oversight of a $2 billion fund to implement a far-reaching state water plan.
The appointment “will provide countless opportunities to champion the priorities of Senate District 21 [which] include promoting responsible, sustainable development of Texas’ energy resources, maintaining healthy air quality and protecting precious water sources such as the Edwards Aquifer,” Zaffirini said.
The committee will also size up prospects for Texas energy companies to profit from efforts in Mexico to tap the Eagle Ford shale formation for natural gas. Zaffirini’s district includes five of the 26 counties in Texas’ Eagle Ford region — Bee, Karnes, La Salle, Live Oak and Webb counties — where, according to the Texas Railroad Commission, drillers have recovered 878,214 barrels of oil and nearly 3.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the first five months of 2014 alone.
Twice in less than two years, Zaffirini has been removed from powerful posts as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tried to douse criticism from some conservatives that he placed too many Democrats in key positions. Months before the 2013 legislative session, Dewhurst ousted Zaffirini as chair of the senate’s Higher Education committee; this summer, she was removed from the Legislative Budget Board. In both cases, Dewhurst named Republicans to replace her.
Despite his efforts to track to the right, Dewhurst was trounced by State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, in the Republican Party primary runoff this spring. In the Nov. 4 general election, Patrick faces State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, for the lieutenant governor’s gavel. The victor will make committee assignments for the 2015 session; consequently, Zaffirini’s turn on the Natural Resources committee could well be over and done with by January.
In 2011, the district Zaffirini has represented since 1992 was redrawn to include all or part of 18 counties scattered from the U.S.-Mexico border to south Austin.
Senate District 21 includes 24,194 people in San Marcos as well as 9,070 in Kyle (32 percent); 565 in Niederwald (100 percent); 1,014 in Uhland (100 percent; and 13,875 in unincorporated areas of eastern Hays County, according to the U.S. Census data used during redistricting. In addition, all of Caldwell County and about 38 percent of Guadalupe County lie within Zaffirini’s district.
COVER: Zaffirini on the floor of the Texas Senate during the 2011 legislative session. TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO by BOB DAEMMRICH
CORRECTION 3:26 p.m. AUG. 12: This story incorrectly stated the percentage of Niederwald and Uhland that lies within Senate District 21.