AUSTIN - It was a cold inaugural on Jan. 16: so cold and icy, in fact, the smaller-than-planned-for crowd moved inside the Capitol.

Texans and the rest of the world enjoyed access to the inaugural ceremonies via live webcast for the first time ever.

Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst were sworn in. Both men made speeches broad in scope: so broad, in fact, their words, to many ears, belied grander political ambitions.

Perry regaled strong families as the backbone of society and outlined his agenda for his second full term as governor.

He spoke of the need for tighter immigration control, a secure border with Mexico, safer neighborhoods, affordable health care, improvements in education, substantial and long-lasting property tax relief, and budget reforms that would protect taxpayers.

He also echoed a theme that has a Washington, D.C.-ring to it: "Texas is better off when Republicans and Democrats work together because our potential is too vast to be spoiled by a politics leavened with partisanship," Perry said.

Diverging here for a moment on the subject of bipartisanship and possible higher aspirations, the governor flew to the nation's capital with Texas Democratic congressional representatives to meet with other Democrats.

The Washington, D.C., Democrats let Perry know they have not forgotten his role in bringing about the unusual mid-term redistricting in 2004 that squeezed a few Democrats out of office.

Dewhurst also delivered an expansive inaugural speech, with emphasis on his "Texas Children First" package of legislation.

The legislation, he said, is based on the premise that, "Safe and healthy children learn, they grow, and they go on to lead lives that strengthen our state and make us proud."

Dewhurst asked lawmakers to pass tougher laws dealing with child predators, put defibrillators in public schools and take illegal steroids out through mandatory, random drug testing.

Dewhurst assured the audience there would be a "Jessica's Law" in Texas, including an automatic 25-year sentence for first-time child molesters and a death sentence for those convicted a second time.

Speaker reassures


Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick told The Dallas Morning News, in effect, he's holding out the olive branch to members of his own party.

Craddick, R-Midland, was re-elected speaker after Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, dropped his challenge.

Pitts threw his support behind Craddick when it was decided the vote for the speakership would be a recorded vote, not by secret ballot.

Earlier, Pitts and another former challenger, Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, individually expressed the need for a change in atmosphere in the House, because transparency and bipartisanship in the legislative process had eroded under the speaker's tenure.

Craddick said he would do a better job of communicating.

State unemployment

rate drops

Texas' seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 in December, the lowest in five years, the Texas Workforce Commission said in a report released Jan. 19.

To illustrate the improvement, the unemployment rate in November was 4.7 percent, and a year ago, in December 2005, the rate was 5.2 percent.

Nonagricultural employment grew by 15,600 jobs in December as Texas employers continue adding jobs.

Over the last 12 months, the Texas economy grew by 213,200 jobs, and Texas employers have added jobs for 27 consecutive months, the agency reported.

Senator proposes

smoking ban

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said he would file legislation banning smoking in all public buildings in Texas.

Ellis is looking for a House sponsor of his bill and expects to file his version this month.

Eighteen states have laws banning smoking in public buildings.

ED STERLING, of the Texas Press Association, writes a weekly column for the Empire-Tribune.