Editorial Roundup: Texas

Austin American Statesman. November 6, 2022.

Editorial: On Election Day, vote for candidates who respect democracy

Texas has more election deniers on the ballot than any other state, according to the FiveThirtyEight website

As you cast your ballot for your chosen candidates Tuesday, vote as if democracy depended on the outcome. Vote against those who threaten and undermine it by propagating the lie that Donald Trump had the 2020 presidential election stolen from him. Sadly, many Americans, including many candidates on Tuesday’s ballot, bought into The Big Lie. It now threatens to unravel our democracy.

A disturbing New York Times poll revealed that more than one-third of U.S. voters are open to supporting candidates who deny that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States. This includes 36% of Republicans and 15% of independents who said they would be “very comfortable” voting for election deniers if they aligned with their preferences on other issues. Just 4% of Democrats polled said they would do so.

The poll results are alarming, not least because the thought that Americans would refuse to accept the results of a U.S. presidential election was once unthinkable. But that was before Trump disgracefully poisoned our politics by refusing to accept his loss in 2020 and enlisting the help of his supporters, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to overturn the result. Trump spread The Big Lie that he had been robbed, leading to a violent but unsuccessful attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 to overthrow the results. On Tuesday, we the voters, no matter our ideologies, have the opportunity to prevent more attacks on democracy by refusing to vote for candidates who engage in, or otherwise rationalize or normalize, such behavior.

“It’s within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy, and I believe we will,” Biden said in an address to the nation on Wednesday night. “You have the power, it’s your choice, it’s your decision. The fate of the nation, the fate of the soul of America lies where it always does, with the people, in your hands, in your heart, in your ballot.”

Dire warnings about the decline of American democracy are not mere hyperbole. A decade ago, the United States received a score of 94 out of 100 in Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s respected annual report on political rights and civil liberties around the globe. That score put the U.S. in the company of other established democracies, such as France and Germany. Today, France and Germany still rank at 90 or above, while the United States has fallen to a score of 83, on par with newer, shakier democracies like Romania, Croatia, and Panama.

According to an analysis by the Washington Post, election deniers are on the ballot in 48 of 50 states and make up more than half of all Republicans running for congressional and state offices in the midterm elections. The FiveThirtyEight website found that Texas has more election deniers on the ballot than any other state.

Meanwhile, attempts to destabilize elections occur with alarming frequency. These include tampering with election equipment, threatening and harassing election officials, and refusing to certify election results. Such threats to the integrity of our elections are likely to increase if they are not called out.

On Oct. 23, our editorial board recommended candidates in 35 political races, including 16 contests for Congress and the Texas Legislature. None of the candidates we recommended deny that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election or propagate the lie that U.S. elections are rife with fraud. We urge you to consider these recommendations and to vote for candidates who support one of the cherished hallmarks of democracy — free and honest elections.

Many of the candidates we recommended in races for Congress and the Texas Legislature told us they would work to expand voting access so that all eligible voters can participate in democracy, another important reason to support them. Attempts to restrict voting access, as we’ve seen in Texas, can hurt all Americans when some lose faith in the voting process and question whether their voices and their votes matter.

On Tuesday, vote for candidates who stand for truth, not lies, and who believe in democracy. Reject those who peddle lies and conspiracy theories.

Our president was right. The power to protect our democracy lies with us.

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Dallas Morning News. November 6, 2022.

Editorial: Texas can’t ignore extreme weather in planning future water supply

The state must invest in infrastructure and conservation efforts.

Just this past summer, broken water lines triggered a 13-day boil water notice in Laredo and a major water outage in Odessa, and Zapata almost ran out of water after reservoirs reached dangerously low levels. Texas is in dire need of better water infrastructure.

But to invest more wisely, state officials need to improve Texas’ long-term water plans. A sense of urgency should also apply to water conservation efforts.

The good news is that there is federal money available to spend in water infrastructure, and policymakers are hopeful that the state Legislature will invest more, too. The bad news is that water is evaporating faster than ever, and the state’s dependence on surface water supplies such as rivers and reservoirs is becoming riskier, as the Texas Tribune recently reported.

The rainy weather this week may obscure the fact that in the summer North Texas had a 67-day streak without any measurable precipitation. Then, in August, we experienced a storm described as a “one in a thousand years” event, with some parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area flooded with more than 10 inches of rain in less than 24 hours.

This is the type of extreme weather data that the state must incorporate into its planning, said Jeremy Mazur, senior policy adviser for the think tank Texas2036 who directs research around water issues.

The Texas Water Development Board, the entity in charge of preparing the state’s water plan, factors a 1950s drought to determine future water availability. With extreme weather events becoming more common, the board needs a new approach.

Climate change is already here. Higher temperatures exacerbate the effects of drought and cause less rain to flow into rivers and streams. Water evaporation accelerates.

With increasing population across the state and perennial drought conditions, Texas needs an all-of-the-above approach to water planning, including new reservoirs, seawater desalination projects, purifying wastewater and aquifer storage.

Mazur points to another problem, and that is water loss because of leaky pipes all over the state, especially in rural areas. He said this accounts for the loss of about 570,000 acre-feet of water annually. That is the equivalent of Possum Kingdom Lake.

As reference, one acre-foot of water can provide water to three households in a year.

Tackling this issue would make a huge difference. In small, rural communities, 50% to 60% of water leaks out pipes before reaching consumers, Mazur said.

This situation is unacceptable, and it underscores why all levels of government, from city halls to the statehouse, must invest in conservation. This will require clear policies, more cooperation and funding.

There’s already some money ready for the taking. Through the federal infrastructure bill, Texas will receive $2 billion in the next five years for water infrastructure. Mazur told us this is just a starting point to address the bigger problem. He estimates that the state needs to invest between $60 to $70 billion in the next 20 years to keep up with population growth.

We urge the state Legislature to treat water planning with the seriousness and thoroughness it deserves. There will be a slew of problems to solve, but the state needs to make water a priority. Texans’ well-being and livelihoods depend on it.

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Fort Worth Star Telegram. November 4, 2022.

Editorial: Candidates see Tarrant as bellwether on Texas turning blue. What does it mean for midterms?

Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke agreeing on something in the final days of a campaign might seem impossible. But both the Republican senator and his erstwhile challenger, who’s now the Democratic nominee for governor, came here recently to proclaim the importance of Tarrant County to Texas’ political future.

Everyone, it seems, wants to make Fort Worth and its neighbors the central battleground in this and future elections. For Democrats, it’s the last cache of big urban and suburban votes to offset Republican strength in smaller cities, rural areas and exurbs. For the GOP, it’s a linchpin to holding Texas — and, some even say, remaining competitive in White House races.

But is it true? And what might we learn about where things stand as early voting wraps up Friday and Tuesday’s election are, mercifully, almost over?

Tarrant County remains a Republican stronghold, even if not as overwhelmingly as in the past. The results at the top of the 2018 and 2020 ballots have created an incorrect impression of a county that could tip from red to blue at any moment. It won’t happen this year, and it’s unlikely in the near future.

Those two elections were anomalies driven by large personalities — Cruz and O’Rourke, of course, but also Donald Trump. In 2018, Democrats and even some dissatisfied Republicans were itching to make a statement against the then-president. In 2020, they had a chance to do so directly.

So, when O’Rourke and Joe Biden narrowly won Tarrant County, it wasn’t evidence of an inevitable switch. After all, Republicans dominated the ballot in 2020 beyond the presidential line, even as Democrats made Texas House seats in the area a priority. Countywide, GOP candidates such as Sen. John Cornyn and Sheriff Bill Waybourn won easily.

We suspect Tuesday’s results will show largely the same. O’Rourke has paid great attention to Fort Worth, visiting 13 times during his run against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott (another frequent visitor who was here in the campaign’s final days). That work could pay off with another close Tarrant County win. But there’s little evidence of a huge surge for local Democrats. Their fundraising has been unimpressive, and few political professionals think Republicans such as county judge nominee Tim O’Hare or district attorney hopeful Phil Sorrells will break a sweat.

Too many have assumed Tarrant County’s booming population growth must bring with it a shift to the left. Some of those predictions are based, as with all of Texas, on growth among the Hispanic population. But Hispanic voters everywhere are in the midst of a realignment. More are voting Republican, particularly men. The majority will probably still go Democratic, but not at the large margins Democrats need to reverse decades of political atrophy.

Growth here has been dominated by north Fort Worth and the surrounding suburbs, which remain distinctly red. Grapevine, Southlake, Keller, northwest Tarrant County: These are the areas flush with new population. And they’re from everywhere — other parts of Texas, blue states, other red states. Many are drawn by economic opportunity, affordable property and conservative governance, so they vote Republican.

If Democrats again take substantial losses Tuesday, some of it will be the effect of impossible headwinds. A midterm election is almost always bad for the party that holds the White House, and this one looks especially grim for Democrats, given concerns over the economy and crime.

It’ll take a confluence of circumstances, including a much better political environment, for Tarrant County Democrats to break through. They can prepare the ground by investing more in party infrastructure and recruiting better candidates.

So, in that sense, Tarrant is indeed a bellwether for the state. Just perhaps not the way Democrats have hoped.

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Houston Chronicle. November 2, 2022.

Editorial: What happened to affordable flood insurance?

A decade ago, floods made some strange bedfellows in America.

An unlikely coalition of free-market conservatives, good government groups, environmentalists and insurance industry lobbyists came together in 2012 to push Congress to reform the National Flood Insurance Program. The upshot of the bipartisan bill was simple: to end many of the federal subsidies for flood insurance premiums and to eventually stop the NFIP from borrowing from the Treasury to pay out claims.

Then reality set in. Homeowners across the country, particularly in flood-prone areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, complained that they faced unaffordable rate increases — some as much as 500 percent — because of the NFIP reforms. The flood insurance program had to fully pay for itself by charging policyholders more. Just two years later, essentially the same coalition pushed Congress to roll back the reforms, reverting the NFIP to a more fiscally precarious position by hard-capping how much it could increase flood insurance rates each year.

The government has to balance keeping flood insurance affordable while being good stewards of tax dollars.

Last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the NFIP, took a significant step toward a new rate structure, attempting to more accurately reflect a property’s actual flood risk, accounting for factors such as flood frequency and the cost of rebuilding.

This change, while well-intentioned, has had an effect similar to the well-intentioned reforms 10 years ago. Yearly flood insurance premiums have skyrocketed by hundreds of dollars — nationally, 77% of policyholders will see an increase — and Houston-area homeowners have had enough. The Chronicle’s Rebecca Schuetz reported last week that as many as 45,000 buildings in the region have dropped their NFIP policies. One out of every 12 buildings in Houston once insured by FEMA will not have that protection if and when another major storm sweeps through Southeast Texas.

While some of the premium increases will happen gradually — annual increases are limited to 18% under federal law — even minor rate hikes are out of reach for Houstonians who are living on the margins. At a time of economic uncertainty, when inflation is already stretching household budgets thin, protecting one’s home from a flood has become, for some, an unaffordable luxury.

It’s been five years since Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and three years since Tropical Storm Imelda. We’ve been fortunate to dodge another major storm since then, despite several too-close-for-comfort hurricanes that have pummeled our Gulf Coast neighbors in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. As another uneventful hurricane season comes to a close this year, and Houston and Harris County continue work on flood control projects, it’s perhaps easy to be lulled into a false sense of comfort. That is, until we remind you that of the more than 204,000 homes and apartment buildings Harvey damaged in Harris County, three-quarters of them were outside the federally designated 100-year flood plain.

Yet in an effort to keep the NFIP solvent — it is currently $20.5 billion in the red — the federal government has lost track of the NFIP’s original mission: affordability. As long as taxpayers are helping to subsidize the NFIP, the program has an obligation to the community at large to make it as accessible as possible. We applaud local nonprofits such as West Street Recovery for attempting to rectify the problem on a granular level — covering flood insurance premiums for 22 homeowners who can no longer afford it — but we can’t simply rely on the benevolence of the private sector to solve such a massive problem.

Fortunately, there is an opportunity for Congress to take bold steps to both make the NFIP more affordable and more solvent. Congress has to reauthorize the NFIP by Dec. 16 or FEMA would have to stop selling and renewing policies nationwide. Since 2017, there have been 21 short-term reauthorizations, essentially kicking the can each time on making structural changes to the program and ensure financial stability. What if, this time, they decided to actually fix it?

A 2021 report from the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan public policy research institute, outlined a range of policy prescriptions Congress could consider to reduce the amount that NFIP policyholders have to pay. The most intriguing option is a means-tested affordability program that would target premium discounts or subsidies to qualifying households. An income-based approach, relying on median income or federal poverty guidelines, would require lower-income households to pay down a portion of the premium, with FEMA covering the remainder. If you’re a multimillionaire with a beach house, well, too bad, no more subsidy for your afternoons with a boogie board. President Biden has already endorsed such an idea. In his original domestic agenda proposal, Build Back Better, Biden included $358 million for a program to help low-income people buy flood insurance and also protect their properties from flood damage.

The CRS report also includes several options for Congress to reduce NFIP debt, including wiping it out entirely or at least eliminating the $400 million a year in interest payments FEMA pays to the Treasury. There is precedent for such a measure: Congress already canceled $16 billion of the NFIP’s debt in 2017. Congress could also change the way that losses from catastrophic storms are financed by setting a threshold for the maximum amount of losses the NFIP would be expected to fund. Anything beyond that threshold, the federal government would assume responsibility.

Of course, we also must not lose sight of the best long-term solutions — keeping people’s homes from flooding in the first place. Houston and Harris County are undertaking a wide range of flood control projects such as requiring structures to be built higher, buying out properties in flood plains, preserving and restoring wetlands, as well as constructing massive storm surge protection systems such as the Ike Dike. The payoff from substantially reducing our flood risk from these measures is far greater than any short-term reductions in premium.

The reality of living in any low-lying, coastal city such as Houston is that paying for flood insurance is an absolute necessity. It’s time for Congress to act like it.

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San Antonio Express-News. November 1, 2022.

Editorial: Antisemitism is on the rise. Condemn it.

In his 1933 novel “The Oppermanns,” Lion Feuchtwanger did what all great writers do: He captured the specific to reveal the universal.

The book represents a dual tragedy, fictional and real, for the author is eerily prescient in his depiction of a Jewish family in Germany. It is a hard read because we know what will happen in the world beyond the fiction. A nation will succumb to hate, and millions of people will perish as a result.

The Oppermanns can be seen, in retrospect, as a warning, a siren alerting the country — and the world — to the evil in their midst. Some listened, but many more did not. The death camps emerged, and the victims multiplied: men, women and children, their bodies stacked in the fields outside Auschwitz and Belzec and Treblinka and…

America is not Nazi Germany, and a second Holocaust is not looming. But the rhetoric of 2022 bears a chilling resemblance to the rhetoric of 1934. Vile words lead to vile deeds. Antisemitic attacks are on the rise — and must be condemned at every turn.

We have heard vile words recently. When celebrities utter these comments, it adds poison to an already toxic environment. It corrodes our national spirit, legitimizing in the minds of some attitudes that have no legitimacy in a just and caring society.

Kanye West, the rapper who calls himself Ye, may be a gifted artist, but talent is no shield against the malignance that can rot a person’s soul. Ye, who sported a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt at a recent fashion show, tweeted he would go “death con 3” on Jewish people — an ugly comment that sparked a rally in which white supremacists hung a banner from a freeway overpass in Los Angeles: “Kanye is right about the Jews.”

Unlike the response in 1933 Germany, the reaction here has been swift, just and decisive, especially among the business community. Companies associated with West — Adidas, Balenciaga, CAA and MRC — cut him loose, although we would say it took too long. West claimed he lost $2 billion in one day.

“We cannot support any content that amplifies his platform,” CAA and MRC executives wrote in a joint memo.

Before West unleashed his tirade against Jews, former President Donald Trump said American Jews “better get their act together,” a comment critics decried as condescending and antisemitic.

“No President has done more for Israel than I have,” Trump, who has a daughter who converted to Judaism and Jewish grandchildren, posted on his media platform, Truth Social. “Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S.”

In another incident, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving promoted “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake up Black America,” an antisemitic movie based on the book of the same title.

“The Brooklyn Nets strongly condemn and have no tolerance for the promotion of any form of hate speech,” the team tweeted.

Each incident has occurred against the backdrop of rising antisemitism. The Anti-Defamation League reported 2,717 antisemitic incidents in 2021, three years after 11 people were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue; the figure represents a 34% increase over the previous year.

“You had Jews being beaten and brutalized in broad daylight, say, in the middle of Times Square or Los Angeles or the Strip in Las Vegas, where people who were simply identified as Jewish came under assault and attack,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, told PBS. “That was new.”

When antisemitic incidents arise, the entire community must respond in full force.

In a 1933 review of “The Oppermanns,” the New York Times said it was aimed at both Germany and “the world outside.”

“It is… bearing the message, ‘Wake up! The barbarians are upon us!’”

Almost 90 years later, Joshua Cohen expressed a similar sentiment in the New York Times.

“His (Feuchtwanger’s) example shows that art can challenge power, as it were, ‘powerfully,’ and yet have no political effect,” he wrote.

Antisemitism does not sprout from a single seed; it is sown and nurtured across communities and across nations.

Yes, 2022 is not 1933. But the real-life tragedy of “The Oppermanns” is that it may be as relevant now as it was then.

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