Editorial Roundup: Texas

San Antonio Express-News. March 26, 2021.

Editorial: In yet another slap to voters, Paxton blocks rally records

One constant of indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton’s tenure in public office is there is no bottom, just newfound lows.

It’s bad enough the state’s top law enforcement official was indicted in 2015 on securities fraud, a dark cloud that hovers over Paxton and strains his credibility. But Paxton is also reportedly under federal investigation for using his office to support a campaign donor — allegations made by former staffers in the attorney general’s office.

These allegations raise important questions of character, or lack thereof. But Paxton has also demonstrated he is profoundly anti-democratic. He has the ignominy of leading the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, filing a garbage lawsuit — as described by one election law expert — to advance the baseless claim of widespread voter fraud in support of former President Donald Trump.

There was no widespread voter fraud, but Paxton has been consistent in his fervor to politicize this nonissue (the great voter fraud is the lie that widespread voter fraud occurred). His office’s election fraud case unit logged 22,000 staff hours in 2020 — and resolved 16 cases.

An American Civil Liberties Union analysis of voter fraud prosecutions pursued by Paxton’s office since 2015 found at least 72 percent of the cases were brought against Black and Latino defendants, and 45 percent were against Black and Latino women.

Given all of this — the sycophancy to Trump, the promotion of the Big Lie of voter fraud — it was no surprise Paxton attended the Jan. 6 “Save America Rally” that morphed into an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

But who paid for Paxton’s jaunt to Washington, D.C., for the rally? And with whom did Paxton communicate during the week of the insurrection? How did he react to the riot as it unfolded? Who booked him as a speaker?

These are the types of questions Texas journalists have been asking — questions Paxton refused to answer. It is so important to understand Paxton’s role in the “Save America Rally” that the San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statesman, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune are working together to obtain the relevant records to inform the public.

That’s proved problematic.

For starters, the news outlets have learned there is no policy to guide the release of work-related messages Paxton might send or receive on his personal devices — stunning since the attorney general’s office settles disputes over records requests involving other agencies and branches of government.

Who reviews Paxton’s messages for release? The attorney general’s office or Paxton? It’s unclear.

The Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News have requested all of Paxton’s messages for Jan. 5 through Jan. 11, but to no avail. A public information officer has said the records fall under confidential attorney-client privilege. Maybe, but it is hard to believe all his communications would be confidential. We could go on, but the point here is Paxton has no regard for the public’s right to know.

As he tweeted: “Triggered Texas Fake News Cartel strikes again. My office follows open records law. That’s our policy. These ‘journalists’ didn’t like what they got so they complain and spread misinformation. Pathetic.”

No, sir, what is pathetic is an elected official with such disregard for democracy and the public’s right to know. With each new low, Paxton only proves more unworthy of office.

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Dallas Morning News. March 26, 2021.

Editorial: Dallas ISD’s cell tower pilot is a worthy experiment to close the digital divide. A remarkable number of students lose internet access when the school day ends

School districts learned the hard way from a year of disrupted and disjointed remote learning that the digital divide is a major impediment to academic achievement, particularly to children from impoverished backgrounds.

Districts found that internet access away from school classrooms may be limited to a parent’s smartphone, simply not readily available or prohibitively expensive for some families. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas estimates that roughly 42% of Dallas households do not have high-speed internet. Many of those households have school-age children, so a remarkable number of students lose internet access when the school day ends.

Enter Dallas ISD with an innovative $4.5 million pilot program to erect five cell towers to extend the district’s internet network for free to help students study at home. It is part of a three-pronged connectivity strategy that includes district-funded mobile hotspots and internet service contracts with traditional commercial providers for students whose families lack high-speed internet at home.

The first tower started service at Lincoln High School in late December for about 50 students. When the other towers are completed and running, students who live in the neighborhoods around Roosevelt, Spruce, South Oak Cliff and Pinkston high schools — about 5,000 students within slightly more than a mile radius of the schools — could have Wi-Fi access at home to the district’s internet network. The district would give each household a password-protected receiver to connect a laptop or other digital device in the house, giving students the same access that they would have in the classroom.

When the pandemic hit, Dallas struggled to get students set up at home. Many districts allowed students to take home laptops and tablets but then discovered that these students didn’t have internet access, unlike children in many suburban districts who have computers, laptops and other digital devices at home.

We want students in the classroom full-time but see this effort as a potentially powerful educational tool. The district’s decision to provide internet access broadens learning opportunities for poor students, many of whom are students of color and English language learners. And over time, greater connectivity might be an answer to snow days when buses aren’t running.

Dallas has plans for remote-learning options next year and Texas has seven authorized full-time online programs that allow students from across the state to enroll in schools well outside their home district. Dallas and other school districts also expect dollars from the federal $1.9 trillion recovery law that they could use to improve remote learning and access for students.

Too many in poor communities are on the wrong side of the divide. Ultimately, this effort must show cost-effective results. Dallas ISD, however, deserves credit for recognizing that the status quo is unacceptable and for exploring a way to narrow the divide.

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Houston Chronicle. March 24, 2021.

Editorial: Too many GOP men are refusing to get the COVID vaccine. That puts everyone at risk

Texas knows how to change the minds and behavior of its citizens — white males included. Just think of the wildly successful “Don’t Mess With Texas” ad campaign that helped tamp down littering. Gov. Greg Abbott’s office could do a world of good by launching a similar campaign to convince Texans of the truth that vaccines save lives, including perhaps their own.

Now that Texas is set to become the first large state to open coronavirus vaccine eligibility to its entire adult population, we have to find a way to reach a certain faction of white male Republicans who are insisting they intend to spurn the shot. According to a recent NPR/PBS/Marist poll, 49 percent of GOP men said they are not planning to get vaccinated. That startling number, higher than in any other demographic, is in contrast to only 6 percent of Democratic men saying no. Other polls report similar findings.

The vaccine naysayers apparently are unmoved by the fact that they’re not only risking their own health, but also the health of family, friends and the broader community. Their stubbornness threatens to stymie the nation’s efforts to reach COVID-19 herd immunity, the only way we’re going to put this dreadful pandemic behind us.

If Republican men have dismissed Dr. Anthony Fauci, now that he’s working under the Biden administration, maybe they will listen to our local, plainspoken and trusted vaccine scientist, Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine. Both experts believe that herd immunity will require vaccinating between 70 percent and 85 percent of the population. Men of the GOP are standing in the way, for what appears to be no good reason, just politics.

They aren’t entirely alone. Some Americans, wary of a history of exploitation at the hands of unethical medical authorities, have also proven reluctant to be vaccinated. Reassuring Black Americans has been a top priority for public health officials for months now. But those same efforts have fallen flat among Republican men. Perhaps it’s because a certain immediate past president who made sure he and his wife got their shots, albeit in secret, still has their ear (and their arm). Perhaps these men are listening to Rand Paul, the maskless GOP senator from Kentucky who prefers picking a political fight with Fauci to finding ways to defeat a devastating pandemic. Maybe the holdouts have fallen into the clutches of a shameless Tucker Carlson, who stokes his Fox News ratings by accusing government health experts of lying about vaccine efficacy.

None of these carnival barkers have these men’s best interest in mind. And their objections — plus the ridiculous conspiracy theories bandied about on social media — are taking their toll — and risk ruining what might otherwise be a major accomplishment by Texas. Beginning Monday, our hope is that the GOP skeptics will relent, particularly when they see more and more family members and acquaintances getting vaccinated with no lasting ill effects, more and more friends hugging grandkids, boarding flights and dining at restaurants without fear.

Vaccine holdouts, we implore you to join those who have been freed from the bonds of this pandemic.

We urge churches and synagogues, fraternal organizations, civic groups and, yes, political parties to encourage their members to get the shot. Point them toward the Texas Department of State Health Services website’s links to vaccine hub providers across Texas. Print readers: just Google “Texas vaccine signup” to find the DSHS vaccine page.

In Houston, we’re fortunate to have Dr. Hotez, who recently co-authored a paper with 17 other vaccine experts that corrected much misinformation. Despite the accelerated timetables, for instance, the new COVID-19 vaccines have been proven safe. Tens of thousands of volunteers served as test subjects in those trials, an effort equivalent to other large trials in the past. The work to develop the vaccines didn’t begin last year — it relied on decades of previous research on coronaviruses.

Oh, and the vaccine doesn’t change your DNA, despite what you’ve heard. While mRNA in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines does enter the cell, it doesn’t enter the cell’s nucleus, where our DNA is kept.

Lastly, while some claim the vaccines aren’t worth it because they can’t entirely eliminate the chance of getting the virus, the vaccines in the U.S. are highly effective at keeping you alive and out of the hospital if you get it. Preliminary research also shows that if you are vaccinated, you have a smaller chance of spreading the virus to someone else.

Bottom line: all of us, from politicians to doctors to concerned sons and daughters, need to persuade the vaccine-skittish among us to step up and do their patriotic duty. To do otherwise, as conservative columnist Kathleen Parker has gently suggested, is just plain dumb — but more importantly, potentially deadly.

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Lubbock Avalanche Journal. March 23, 2021.

Editorial: Pandemic revealed resiliency of West Texans

Over the past week, West Texas, like the rest of the country, has marked a somber occasion in its history – one year of living with the reality and impacts of COVID-19. It has not been an easy co-existence with the virus, and only recently has the tide begun to turn.

This is a battle that is still not over, though. That’s not to incite panic or fear, merely to point out vigilance will continue to be its own reward, especially once we are truly on the other side of finally, thankfully, making our way to whatever the newest version of normal might look like.

We have recounted the myriad way life has changed for so many in the past dozen months. Potter, Randall and Lubbock counties account for more than 80,000 official virus cases during at most recent count. Unofficially, the number is likely much higher because a COVID-19 infection has a more dramatic impact on some.

The most sobering statistic, the one that should not be forgotten, is the loss of more than 1,400 lives in Potter, Randall and Lubbock counties as a result of the virus. Across Texas, the number is more than 45,000. These are not just cold, hard figures. Each represents someone with family and friends. As the pandemic has continued, it has become increasingly more likely that almost everyone knows someone who has experienced virus-related loss of life.

And that, more than anything else, has left the people of West Texas scarred and wounded – but not broken.

“There are many things that have challenged us, but we can celebrate through them,” Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said in our recent retrospective story looking back at the past year. “Remembering the lives that we lost is definitely the hardest thing to do in marking that milestone.”

Her counterpart in Lubbock, Dan Pope, expressed a similar sentiment.

“We realize the impact that the pandemic continues to have on families, individuals and businesses in our community,” he said. “We’ll never lose sight of that. Even as things are getting better, we know that some of you are still hurting, and you’re in our thoughts and in our prayers.”

Equally impactful was the seemingly endless toll the virus took on the health care system and the caregiving heroes who emerged during this time – putting themselves in harm’s way to offer compassion, mercy and healing to so many. From the fall through most of the winter, West Texas was one huge virus hotspot, and the region’s excellent health-care infrastructure was stressed like never before.

Literally, local hospitals treated thousands of COVID-19 patients, and hundreds were hospitalized. The demand for space was so great at times that the state directed additional resources to West Texas, and local officials considered hotels and other facilities as possible additional space for patients – an eventuality that did not take place.

Slowly, the crisis abated, and the number of new cases has continued to slow dramatically. Officials credit the overwhelming majority of people in West Texas for adhering to public-health protocols, including the wearing of face coverings, for curbing the spread of the virus. That, coupled with the arrival of vaccines, has finally allowed for a hint of daylight at the end of the tunnel.

It has been a challenging year, but it has also once again revealed the character and the resilience of the people of West Texas – people who, by and large, still look after each other through the toughest of times.

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