Editorial Roundup: Texas

Austin American Statesman. May 17, 2024.

Editorial: A small Texas town prudently says no to expanding state’s abortion ban

It was the latest effort by an anti-abortion pastor to expand restrictions on reproductive rights

Last Thursday, the city council of Clarendon took a bold step – it said no to an extreme anti-abortion measure. The three-member council unanimously voted down a proposed ordinance that would ban travel through Clarendon city limits for an abortion elsewhere, curtail sale and possession of medications linked to abortion, and block Clarendon residents from getting abortions – no matter where they happen to be in the world.

The stand makes the Panhandle town of about 1,700 a rarity – and a potential leader – for other Texas communities facing such proposals. Calling themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn,” 69 cities across the country now have adopted such ordinances, 52 of them in Texas. Most have 25,000 residents or fewer except for Lubbock, with a population of 264,000. Of the dozens of cities that have considered these measures in Texas, Clarendon is one of the first to reject one, according to the Texas Tribune.

The Clarendon vote is important – but not for opposing the Panhandle’s deep-red values. To the contrary. In this conservative town, leaders’ personal views on abortion simply took a back seat to the public good. Expanding Texas’ almost-complete abortion ban to test ideological frontiers simply came at too high a cost. With a clarity that other Texas communities should note, Clarendon’s leaders understood the real price of carrying out zealots’ drive to further control reproduction.

“Our business is making sure our city gets water, streets to drive on, trash is taken out and much more,” council member Eulaine McIntosh said before the vote. “We’re not allowed to take action beyond state law, and this ordinance comes very close to overstepping state law.”

The Clarendon measure was part of a movement to expand and test restrictions

Clarendon’s proposal didn’t sail in out of the blue. It’s the latest effort by anti-abortion pastor Mark Lee Dickson to expand – and test – current restrictions on reproductive rights. His strategy: pushing cities to adopt “sanctuary city” measures, often with doubtful legal merit.

But Clarendon understood – and rejected – the costs of this performance. First, Texas already has a near-total abortion ban. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in 2022, Texas enacted some of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws. The procedure is illegal unless a physician, using reasonable medical judgment, deems it necessary to prevent the pregnant person’s death or serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.

Secondly, taking on the label of sanctuary city just transfers the financial and civic costs of an extremist political project onto everyday citizens. “Abortion has nothing to do with running the City of Clarendon,” Roger Estlack, the publisher of the Clarendon Enterprise, wrote before last week’s vote. “We elect our mayor and city council and then they hire employees to do important things that affect our daily lives. Their priorities are to make sure the streets are fixed, see to it the trash is collected, maintain a water system and provide a host of other city services.”

Adopting the measure could have turned neighbor against neighbor

What the proposal could do is pit neighbor against neighbor. Among the provisions of the 17-page proposal Dickson submitted is one permitting individuals to file lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone who gives financial or other kinds of help to women pursuing abortions.

Voting yes, in other words, could have turned one of the most divisive of national issues into a toxic local issue – poisoning the neighborly culture that gives the high plains such resilience. On a practical level, it would have pulled Clarendon’s government away from its work. When the proposal was tabled previously for review, activists overwhelmed city workers with sometimes hateful emails and calls. “How much,” publisher Estlack wrote, “has this cost the city already in terms of money and lost productivity?”

Last week, Clarendon’s leaders chose services for its citizens over antiabortion grandstanding. Some other conservative communities seem to be questioning extreme abortion laws too. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the New York Times reported, in all seven states where citizens have directly voted on abortion measures, abortion rights won -- even in red states.

Following Clarendon’s lead, by focusing on services rather than ideology, could also pay off in less tangible terms. The same week that Clarendon’s council voted “no,” the Association of American Medical Colleges announced a troubling finding. For the second year in a row, U.S. medical school seniors were less likely to apply for residencies in states with deep restrictions on abortion. That includes Texas, where rural communities are already fighting to find doctors. If Clarendon’s leadership were echoed statewide, it might restore health to Texas in more ways than one.


Dallas Morning News. May 17, 2024.

Editorial: Texas made the wrong decision on toll roads

Speaker Dade Phelan should appoint committee to reconsider state policies.

The state of Texas has abdicated its responsibility to provide necessary transportation infrastructure in exchange for a vast web of toll roads controlled by a patchwork of powerful, self-interested organizations that often act to the detriment of residents.

That’s our conclusion after reading a yearlong investigation conducted by our newsroom into how Texas built more toll roads than nearly all other states combined over the last two decades, and the alarming consequences for the public.

State leaders, seeking ways to handle an influx of residents without raising taxes, approved policies and laws far too favorable to outside toll operators, paving the way for today’s sprawling toll road network and a host of concerns, the recently published Toll Trap series reveals.

It also documents what many of us have long suspected — unfair pricing, especially during peak driving hours, and o verly harsh enforcement practices that take advantage of unsuspecting motorists and that lead to economic segregation.

Some state leaders now rightly regret supporting the policies and laws that drove the toll road construction boom. “We were sold a bill of goods,” state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, told investigative reporter Yamil Berard. “We were just looking for how to find money. We now know that this was the wrong way to do it.”

If that’s not a compelling argument for reconsideration of those decisions, we don’t know what is.

We support the efforts of state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, chair of the House Transportation Committee, who earlier this year urged House Speaker Dade Phelan to appoint a group of lawmakers to review the state’s complex toll system and to make recommendations for reforms during the 2025 legislative session. We call on Phelan to grant that request.

Done right, toll roads are a reasonable and smart way to fund roads. Often privatized and built relatively quickly, they’ve allowed communities and even whole regions to handle population growth without burdening taxpayers. North Texas in particular has benefited from these massive projects.

But our newsroom investigation highlighted several disturbing aspects of Texas’ toll road system. For example, some lease agreements between operators and the state have allowed operators to collect tolls for 50 years, netting them excessive profits far beyond their design, construction and maintenance costs.

Toll roads also sometimes engulf whole middle- and low-income neighborhoods, making it difficult for residents who can’t afford them to make their way to free roads, which are then often highly congested, the investigation revealed. And, particularly troubling, toll operators aren’t always required to be transparent with their financial and safety records.

With thousands of motorists driving down more than 800 miles of Texas toll projects every day, and more projects likely on the horizon, too many people are impacted by the concerns revealed in our newsroom investigation. The Legislature must not turn a blind eye to these issues; it’s time to reconsider some of the wrong decisions that created them.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. May 17, 2024.

Editorial: Tarrant jail death video is revolting, but here’s how it can inspire justice, change

The overwhelming reaction to watching Tarrant County jailers brawl with Anthony Johnson Jr., to one subduing him with a knee, to Johnson’s cries that he can’t breathe, is revulsion.

Revulsion that, whatever happened, a young man had his life snuffed out, that Johnson was failed by our patchwork approach to mental health and the criminal justice system that so often has to absorb the fallout.

Then there’s anger over deputies, doing an admittedly difficult job but erring so badly. There’s incredulity at a veteran supervisor who wouldn’t or couldn’t step in to prevent a move as harmful as driving a knee into Johnson’s back after he’d been restrained.

There’s shock and sadness for Johnson and his family. His mother, his sisters and others who love him will have these images seared into their memories, as if losing their beloved son and brother so young wasn’t bad enough.

There’s disgust on behalf of the public, which depends on officers to walk a fine line to keep us and themselves safe. We ask them to deal with dangerous people and somehow protect their charges and themselves and their colleagues at the same time.

Then there’s shame on behalf of the good officers who work hard and play by the rules and will suffer reputation damage over something few would condone.

And there’s bitterness, too, that we yet again confront the shortcomings of a broken system that intertwines mental health treatment and the criminal justice system to the detriment of both.

Sheriff Bill Waybourn did the right thing in showing the public the video Thursday, although it — and he — left plenty of questions unanswered. While we wait, though, we can already think about what must come next: justice for Johnson and change that ensures his death is not entirely in vain.

Waybourn and the state Department of Public Safety’s Jeremy Sherrod, speaking on behalf of the Texas Rangers investigating the case, stressed that the investigation is not complete. But at an absolute minimum, we see enough to ask a Tarrant County grand jury to charge Detention Officer Rafael Moreno and Lt. Joel Garcia. They knew or should have known that Moreno’s behavior would endanger Johnson.

We still don’t know the extent to which possibly life-saving care was delayed by their actions. If those delays amount to neglect or worse, it’s not an exaggeration to say grave crimes may have been committed.

Beyond the specific case, though, there may never be a better prompt for county commissioners to finally take seriously the state of the Tarrant County Jail. Waybourn runs it, but commissioners fund it, and it’s time that everyone with a hand in the jail makes it a top priority for county government.

As is common in such cases, the question comes down to how much to blame individual officers and how much needs to change about training, procedures and cultures.

It’s not enough to fire Moreno and Garcia, though that appears to be a thoroughly appropriate and necessary step. An investigation must determine how many jailers understand the specific rules of using dangerous restraints.

Other commanders need to be assessed for their knowledge, too, and perhaps as important, their willingness to step in on behalf of an inmate even when that person has caused danger to officers. Emotions can run high in such situations, and leaders have to rise above that.

And we’ll reiterate that the entire jail operation demands a sweeping review and an honest assessment of needs. County Commissioner Manny Ramirez has called for policy changes to ensure transparency in cases such as Johnson’s. That’s a good start, but it’s not close to enough. The Commissioners Court must examine the jail top to bottom, employing independent expertise as necessary. And it must be prepared to approve smart new spending on training, better staffing and perhaps even facilities changes.

Waybourn clearly understands that Johnson’s tragic death is a bruise on the operation he’s led for eight years. We applaud his steps toward transparency. Now, we need to see similar embrace of change.


San Antonio Express-News. May 17, 2024.

Editorial: With pardon of murderer, Abbott shows all lives don’t matter to him

After Gov. Greg Abbott sought to pardon Daniel Perry, who was convicted of murdering a Black Lives Matter protester, the most generous speculation framed his request as a cynical ploy to court extreme right-wingers.

Now that Abbott has done the unpardonable by pardoning Perry, we know this is more sinister than political calculation.

Abbott was moved to show compassion for Perry, who has made any number of racist and hate-filled comments, but not for the man he murdered, Garrett Foster.

On Thursday, in approving the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles’ recommendation that Perry be pardoned, Abbott affirmed his belief that Perry’s life is more precious than Foster’s.

On the night of July 25, 2020, Perry, who was a U.S. Army sergeant, was moonlighting as an Uber driver in Austin when he ran a red light and drove toward a Black Lives Matter march.

A group of protesters, including Foster, a U.S. Air Force veteran who was legally carrying an AK-47, approached Perry, who rolled down his window and shot Foster five times with his legally owned .357 revolver. Perry drove away and called 911.

For eight days, a jury of Perry’s peers, Travis County residents fulfilling their civic duty, listened and evaluated evidence. They deliberated for 17 hours before reaching the unanimous decision in April 2023 that Perry was guilty of murder.

Less than 24 hours after the verdict, Abbott called for an expedited review of the case from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members he appoints. The board began doing so even before a sentencing date had been set, even before Perry’s attorneys could begin the appeal process or submit a pardon application.

In his pardon, Abbott repeated Perry’s attorneys claim that their client shot Foster in self-defense after Foster raised his rifle at him.

This was disputed by witnesses and by Perry, who in his police interview said he shot Foster because “I believed he was going to aim at me. I didn’t want to give him a chance to aim at me.”

Abbott also cited Texas’ “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to avoid criminal prosecution if they respond to threats when they are in a place where they have a right to be. But that doesn’t apply if a person provokes a threat, which is what prosecutors and witnesses said Perry did. Jurors agreed.

Beyond this, in several social media posts Perry had expressed his desire to harm Black Lives Matter protesters. Prosecutors introduced some of these posts into evidence.

On May 29, 2020, four days after George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer sparked nationwide protests, Perry sent a text message saying, “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.”

On June 1, 2020, Perry said in a Facebook message that when he is in Dallas, “no protestors go near me or my car.”

When the other man replied, “Can you catch me a negro daddy?” Perry’s response was, “That is what I am hoping.”

Perry’s bigotry preceded Floyd’s murder. In 2019, he messaged in Facebook, “Too bad we can’t get paid for hunting Muslims in Europe.”

These messages speak to the character of the man Abbott believes was worthy of a pardon and wronged by the criminal justice system.

If Lady Justice is supposed to be blind (she is not), can anyone imagine a scenario in which Abbott would have pardoned Foster had he shot and killed Perry? Of course not.

But in his pardon of Perry, he misrepresents the facts of the case and launches attacks on Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza, whom Abbott accuses of not trying “to see that justice is done.”

But it’s Abbott who has undermined justice.

How tragically ironic that the murder of a Black Lives Matter protester, who was white, illustrates that all lives don’t matter for Abbott, that they don’t have equal meaning. Apparently, the value of a life is situational and dependent on how it aligns with political ideology.

This is who Greg Abbott is. This is his character. These are his values.

We will say what Abbott won’t: Garrett Foster’s life mattered.


AIM Media Texas. May 16, 2024.

Editorial: Winter Texan numbers falling; we should seek to draw retirees as permanent residents

Winter Texans have been a boon for the Rio Grande Valley, adding nearly $2 billion per year to the region’s economy. Those numbers have been falling in recent years, however, and changing finances appear to be a major reason.

A recent survey by the American Association of Retired Persons finds that increasing numbers of Americans are retiring later in life; many of them said they simply can’t afford to stop working. They cite higher costs of living and depleted savings and lower retirement fund accounts. Twenty percent of U.S. adults above age 50 said they have no retirement savings and more than 60% fear they won’t have enough money on which to retire.

Fortunately, retiree trends suggest that when people do retire, many of them might choose to move to areas such as south Texas permanently, rather than maintain a second residence here only for the winter months.

Valley officials should take note of these trends, and continue to promote the region’s resources and qualities that draw Winter Texans in the first place, but with an eye toward encouraging full-time rather than part-time residence.

Winter Texans’ contributions to the Valley can’t be understated. A recent study by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Department of Data and Information Systems reported that winter visitors contribute more than $1.5 billion to our economy. Moreover, nearly three-fourths of them receive visits from family members and friends while they’re here, adding another $60 million in hotel, restaurant and retail revenue.

The benefits aren’t just monetary, 90% of our winter residents volunteer at our libraries, nonprofit organizations and community groups while they’re here, further enriching the area and helping to provide public services.

The UTRGV report also noted that Winter Texan numbers have been falling by 1%-2% per year, which likely means that natural attrition isn’t being replaced by new residents.

Another fact is that growing numbers of winter residents no longer stay at RV parks or maintain mobile homes, but instead are buying homes and condos. This might suggest that many of them intend to move here permanently, as “converted Texans.”

Local officials should do what they can to encourage such moves.

There’s much to promote, beginning with the financial incentives. The Brownsville and McAllen areas both rank in the top 10 on multiple lists of most economical places to live. The reports cite lower housing and grocery costs that make the cost of living as much as 20% lower than the national average in the McAllen area and 30% in the Brownsville area.

These areas also make most lists for the best places to retire, with noted assets including affordable living, favorable year-round climate and activities many older residents enjoy such as birdwatching, nature walks, going to the beach and, most recently, the chance to see SpaceX rocket launches.

While Winter Texan numbers are declining, the potential exists that more people will choose to live here permanently when they retire — making their contributions to our Valley year-round rather than seasonal. Officials should seize the opportunity to sell the area and work to help make it happen.