Editorial Roundup: Texas

Dallas Morning News. Sept. 25, 2021.

Editorial: Biden administration misled America on Haitian migrants

The most important leadership skill for any administration is to be frank, direct and purposeful — to say what they mean and mean what they say.

In its response to the crisis of Haitian migrants at the border, the Biden administration has misled the American people. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has talked tough, suggesting the border with Mexico is closed and that the United States would deport Haitian migrants back to the island nation.

Instead, the administration also was quietly releasing thousands with a summons back to a court in 60 days, information that came to light through reporters on the ground in Del Rio.

There is no other way to put it. The administration is playing both sides against the middle and sending jumbled messages to the American people, to Mexico and Central American governments and mostly to desperate migrants seeking refuge in the United States.

What the Biden administration fails to admit is that the surge in Del Rio is the result of an embarrassing diplomatic failure. In April, the Biden administration struck an agreement with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to temporarily deploy troops to increase border security and prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border.

Then in June, the Biden administration formally ended the Trump-era policy of returning asylum-seekers to Mexico until their court dates in the United States, according to a memo from Mayorkas.

Earlier this month, however, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador indicated that he wanted Biden to address the root causes of migration, something we thought Vice President Kamala Harris had been tasked to do, and offer temporary work visas to Central Americans.

The surge of Haitians began a few days later, and this week, López Obrador said Mexico will continue to help the United States slow illegal immigration. “We have tried to keep migrants in shelters, above all to protect minors, women,” López Obrador said. “But this can’t go on forever; we have to get to the bottom of the issue and that means investing in the development of poor countries.”

The U.S. policy of sending Haitians to Haiti has caused some to turn around and others to stay in Mexico or return to Central or South America, where many had lived since an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010.

A policy of contain and detain is not a solution. Most asylum-seekers aren’t Mexican, and Mexico is under no legal obligation to accept non-Mexican asylum-seekers back across the border to wait for hearings on their claims. As López Obrador says, “You can’t open the border and let everyone freely cross.”

Yes, that is true, and it applies to Mexico’s northern and southern borders, too.

The Biden administration continues to send mixed messages to migrants, neighboring countries and the American people. There will be other surges of distressed migrants willing to attempt the hazardous journey from the Northern Triangle and beyond across México to the United States. Del Rio was the entry point this time. But the Rio Grande Valley remains a major crossing point, too.

Slowing the surge of migrants depends on several factors. Congress and the administration must be willing to secure the border and provide swifter processing of asylum claims. And this effort also requires regional cooperation to rebuild economies and suppress criminal cartels to reduce the incentive for families and individuals to migrate northward.

Vice President Harris has expressed concerns about the treatment of Haitian migrants by border patrol agents on horses, a tone echoed in the resignation letter of Daniel Foote, the Biden administration’s special envoy to Haiti, who characterized the expulsion of Haitians from Del Rio to Haiti as “inhumane.”

Any valid allegations of mistreatment deserve investigation, but we also urge the president and vice president to engage more productively through diplomacy. The State Department had reached out to Chile and Brazil to take Haitians who were previously residing in those countries. Long-term solutions will be tougher to achieve unless existing agreements to slow surges northward hold up.

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Waco Tribune. Sept. 26, 2021.

Editorial: Now we learn Ken Paxton is not a public employee

One central tenet of any representative democracy involves holding elected officials accountable — and not just through elections every so many years but through the rule of law that ensures no public official is above laws others must obey. Yet more and more we see elected officials claiming they are indeed above our laws. Latest example: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who last week through the state solicitor general argued before an appeals court that he’s exempt from our state’s whistleblower act because he’s not a public employee.

This claim should raise eyebrows, questions and stink. One inquiry from the peanut gallery: Why on earth then are we Texans paying Paxton an annual salary of $153,750? He’s sure listed as a public employee in the state retirement system.

Paxton, 58, one of Texas’ most ethically compromised public servants even before election to statewide office in 2014 (and over more qualified Republicans), even now remains under indictment for securities fraud involving circumstances he’s acknowledged. More recently he has been accused by eight of his own senior aides of abuse of office, bribery, tampering with government records and obstruction of justice on behalf of a deep-pocketed political donor. In short, the very worst in corruption is alleged in our state’s top law enforcement agency.

Arguing against former Paxton aides who filed a whistleblower suit to recover their jobs and lost wages in the abuse-of-office furor, Solicitor General Judd Stone told an incredulous panel of Texas 3rd Court of Appeals justices that all elected officials are exempt from the whistleblower law and that the case against Paxton should be dismissed. Yet in researching the law, we found a statement from the Office of the Texas Attorney General (complete with official seal) not only championing the law but stressing that it “protects public employees who make good faith reports of violations of law by their employer to an appropriate law enforcement authority. An employer may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who makes a report under the Act.”

Thus another question arises: Was Paxton not the employer of these senior aides who called foul on him?

Pathetically, some local Republicans would have party faithful divert their gaze from Paxton’s ethical transgressions and support without question a third term for the attorney general. They practically suggest he’s a favorite son of McLennan County, owing to two degrees from Baylor University (which ought to call in the parchments). But the stink is out about Paxton, even among Texas Republicans. Among his primary election opponents in spring 2022: former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

Judging from the astonishment of 3rd Court of Appeals justices, the idea the state’s whistleblower act doesn’t apply to elected officials is an invention of desperation. Yet one worries if this suit reaches the strongly partisan, all-Republican Texas Supreme Court. It will face doing what many of us as voters have not — putting aside partisan interests in favor of state law, justice and integrity.

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San Antonio Express-News. Sept. 23, 2021.

Editorial: Abbott, Lege’s faux concerns about free speech

We’ve seen the signs.

“No shirt. No shoes. No service” and “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

These are tenets of American business ownership, at least in the bricks-and-mortar world. If a company isn’t discriminating against someone’s civil liberties, owners have the right to determine who they serve. It’s a freedom that shouldn’t be infringed upon, especially in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott constantly talks about the sanctity of individual and corporate rights.

More accurately, Abbott and the Texas Legislature pick and choose which individual rights they protect as they pander to their base. Let us count the ways.

Freedom to carry guns without a permit or training? Sure.

Freedom to not wear a mask in the midst of a pandemic? Of course.

Freedom to not get a COVID vaccine? Definitely.

Freedom to vote? Nah.

Freedom for a woman to make decisions about her own body? Not so much.

Freedom for a company to flag and block false information online? Absolutely not.

In line with Texas’ spate of kowtowing to the extreme right, Abbott signed House Bill 20 on Sept. 9. The bill purports to protect free speech on social media, but it’s really meant to protect conservative free speech. In a press release, Abbott states “there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas.”

The bill aims to counter what Abbott and legislators deem online censorship. From the same release: “House Bill 20 prevents social media companies with more than 50 million monthly users banning users simply based on their political viewpoints.”

This is an offshoot of the Big Lie of massive voter fraud in the 2020 election. Just as there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud — Yes, President Joe Biden won, just as Republicans won across the board in Texas — there’s no evidence of social media companies booting people for simply communicating their “political viewpoints.”

Social media companies act against content that violates their terms of use. Twitter’s policies, for example, forbid violence, threats, terrorism, violent extremism, child sexual exploitation, abuse, harassment, hateful conduct, promoting suicide, adult content or illegal activities. People must acknowledge the terms of use before using the platforms.

Abbott calls it a free speech issue, but that’s a misnomer — not all speech is protected.

“Social media websites have become our modern-day public square,” he said. “They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely.”

Let’s run with that. Nobody is arguing that free speech and public debate should be infringed upon, but can you threaten, terrorize, exploit, abuse or harass people in a public square? Can you scream fire in a movie theater or talk about a bomb in the airport security line? If someone made racist comments in a restaurant or coffee shop, does that business have a right to ask that person to leave? Are private companies public squares?

The former president wasn’t banned from Twitter for expressing free speech. The company banned him because his speech incited violence.

It’s not like speech has been canceled. After all, conservative politicians, pundits and personalities led an exodus from social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to places such as Parler, Gab, Rumble, Signal and Telegram in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The move was a reaction to traditional social media outlets banning and suspending accounts.

We all saw how campaigns and foreign actors manipulated social media in the 2016 election. In the years that followed, social media companies have become more savvy (but not savvy enough).

Our concern about social media isn’t about limits to free speech. It’s about users manipulating these platforms to push disinformation. Apparently, Texas lawmakers are for that.

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Houston Chronicle. Sept. 26, 2021.

Editorial: How would you spend $16 billion? Probably not how Texas lawmakers would

For a state whose leaders seem to delight at constantly thumbing their noses at Washington bureaucrats, Texas certainly seems to be comfortable living off the federal dole.

The last time a recession hit in 2009, the state used billions of dollars in federal aid to maintain government services and pay down debts, allowing Texas to years later indulge its favorite pastime: cutting taxes.

With $16 billion in federal recovery funds sitting untouched in the state’s coffers — courtesy of the American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed in March — and a surplus in general revenue, the state has an opportunity to be far more ambitious in its recovery from the pandemic.

Gov. Greg Abbott has decided to use the third special legislative session to finally decide how that money will be allocated.

He hasn’t asked ordinary Texans what they’d like the money spent on, but Dallas nonprofit Texas 2036 did in a recent poll. It found a vast majority of voters surveyed support targeting long-term, long overdue infrastructure solutions — from delivering cleaner drinking water to expanding broadband internet access to upgrading state parks.

Advocacy groups are also putting together ambitious goals for the federal aid, including housing assistance, increasing public education funding and early childhood education.

Unfortunately, anybody with lofty goals for the one-time bonanza of federal aid will likely be disappointed.

Judging by the bills that have already been filed this week, the Legislature appears to have far less ambitious plans, such as granting homeowners temporary property tax relief and using nearly half of the federal aid — $7.2 billion — to shore up the state’s depleted Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

Texans who blanche at any hint of federal overreach will be happy to know that this money comes with few strings attached. The American Rescue Plan specifically allows funds to be used for any expenditures incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, including those involving medical treatment and public health, the economy and those “reasonably necessary to the function of government.”

Such broad leeway is the beauty of a federalist system where states’ rights are valued.

Yet history can be instructive. We don’t have to look back too far to understand how irresponsible it would be to simply use a massive amount of free money to plug budget holes.

After the Great Recession hit in 2009, Texas received $17 billion in aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a bill that was the pillar of President Barack Obama’s effort to stimulate a flagging economy. The Legislature used those funds to plug a $3.3 billion budget hole and spread out the rest to supplant state spending on struggling programs such as Medicaid. While that injection of money tided Texas over through that period, when the Legislature reconvened in 2011 lawmakers were facing a $4 billion budget deficit and a projected shortfall between $15 billion and $30 billion in 2012-13. Rather than — gasp! — bump up taxes to maintain state services in this growing state, the Legislature passed a budget that dramatically slashed spending, including $4 billion from public education. The Legislature cut the franchise tax several years later, assuaging businesses, but further whittling away at much-needed revenue.

Supplanting state spending is a nice accounting gimmick when the funds are available. But when the well of federal money dries up, if there’s no plan to add revenue — don’t count on a tax hike with Republicans controlling the Legislature — the state will once again be left with a yawning shortfall.

Alas, old habits die hard. The Legislature is eager to, in the words of state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, “give back to the taxpayers,” even though such a gift would ultimately be fleeting.

Bettencourt’s bill would use at least $2 billion of the state’s general revenue to buy down school districts’ “maintenance and operation” tax rates over the next two years — meaning the owner of a $300,000 home, roughly the median price in Texas, would pay, on average, $200 less in property taxes. While the bill doesn’t directly dip into the $16 billion, budget experts believe the Legislature wouldn’t be considering cutting taxes without the federal funds as a backstop. The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, though even some of Bettencourt’s Republican colleagues questioned the urgency and wisdom of a temporary tax cut that would have to be accounted for during the next budget cycle.

“I’ve been here when we (cut property taxes) at least twice,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, during the committee hearing. “They don’t appreciate when it goes back up.”

Another bill filed Thursday by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would address the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, depositing $7.2 billion of federal aid to replenish the fund after it was tapped dry when the pandemic hit. While it is critical that Texas keep the trust fund fully funded, a one-time injection of federal funds will simply enable the Legislature to continue underfunding it for years to come.

A 2020 analysis by the U.S. Department of Labor placed Texas 50th out of 53 states, districts and territories in terms of unemployment funding. The state intentionally keeps the fund at a bare minimum to avoid tough decisions on raising taxes. The Legislature even proceeded to — again — reduce the amount businesses would have had to pay in unemployment taxes this year. Using federal funds to cover for these missteps without a long-term plan to keep the fund solvent would be fiscal malpractice. Either way, the bill will come due eventually.

These misguided bills underscore how detached the conversations in the halls of the Capitol are from the needs of people whose tax dollars they are entrusted to spend. Huge majorities of voters, as detailed in the Texas 2036 poll, are far more eager to see the state use federal aid to finally invest in its crumbling infrastructure than to spend it on unemployment insurance.

If the Legislature insists on quick-hits, let it go to those who need it most while looking for long-term fixes. New York has put $100 million of federal aid toward offering loans to small businesses. Louisiana has set up a $50 million program to give one-time hazard pay bonuses to essential and front-line workers. Texas could use this money to fix its broken foster care system, where 23 children have died since 2019. The state could finally live up to its promise to repair and expand its state parks, a magnet for tourist activity. It could even bump up public education funding, as Texas is still well behind the national average for per-student funding and teacher pay.

Too often we are told by lawmakers that Texas doesn’t have the money to do these things, only to see Abbott on a whim conjure up $2 billion for border security by simply moving money around and borrowing from other state agencies. Having this additional federal money is an opportunity for Texas to grow its economy beyond its pre-pandemic status, to allow more Texans to share in the prosperity, and to ensure that fewer families are living on the edge when the next recession hits. This kind of surplus is a precious opportunity to make a difference in Texas. We can’t let the partisans in Austin squander it. Call or write the governor and your representatives and tell them how you want the money spent.

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Amarillo Globe-News. Sept. 26, 2021.

Editorial: Time is perfect for WT’s ambitious fundraising campaign

Philanthropy has become a vital and necessary part of higher education. As state funding dollars have declined during the past several decades, universities and colleges have sought ways to close the gap.

One answer has been an intentional fundraising emphasis directed not only at those who support the noble mission of higher education, but even more importantly, those who have been directly impacted by that mission.

There has always been an emotional connection between an institution and the graduates it produces through the years. In recent times, this connection has enjoyed a somewhat higher profile as universities look to a growing alumni base and a multitude of success stories that have come about as a result of their educational experience.

No longer is higher education philanthropy the sole province of those with the deepest of pockets, although they still play a critical role that should not be diminished. Now, though, more and more alumni see the opportunity and benefit of giving back to the university that helped orient them toward success.

Someone once said every college graduate ought to sit down each year and write a check to his or her alma mater as an act of gratitude and acknowledgement for what was gained during those years spent on campus and in classrooms. The size of the gift wasn’t as important as the act of giving.

Fundraising, as we have said before, is part art and part science. In this part of the country, the art of relationship will always have more sway than the science of numbers. This is especially important in the growing area of higher education philanthropy where emotions can play a big part.

Success comes from an ability to connect the hearts of donors with the sweeping vision of an institution, something easily seen Thursday in West Texas A&M University’s fundraising campaign. The bold One West initiative had been quietly underway and gathering significant momentum before the public unveiling.

This is not unusual in fundraising circles, particularly when an ambitious end is in mind. Typically, organizations like to do some of this work ahead of time so that when the formal announcement is made, the ball is already rolling and others are inspired to get involved.

For WT, consider the quiet phase of its One West campaign fairly noisy as university leaders announced $80 million already has been raised, almost two-thirds of the way toward a goal of $125 million campaign scheduled to continue through 2025.

“WT’s values are reflective of, and responsive to, the people we serve. And WT makes this region better every day,” Walter Wendler, the university’s president, said in a news release. “The One West comprehensive campaign will ensure WT’s future not only for this area we call home, but also for the world as we grow our influence as a regional research university.”

One West is characterized by its leadership as “the largest and most ambitious fundraising effort across the Texas Panhandle."

West Texas A&M University is well-positioned and well-equipped to launch such an endeavor. Regardless of whatever metric one chooses, the school has steadily grown and strategically expanded. It is no longer only the first educational choice in this region, although it is certainly that, but it also draws students from across the state and beyond.

And now the time is right for a comprehensive philanthropic campaign with transformational potential. The One West campaign is WT’s first organized fundraising endeavor in almost a decade, when the university raised $53 million (well over its $30 million goal) in 2012.

This fundraising initiative has three priorities according to the university’s news release: people through scholarships and professorships; programs through enhancing academic offerings and research; and places through improving existing building and new construction. People, program and places are at the heart of the educational mission in terms of preparing students for the next phase of life.

“One West is a transformational campaign for WT and the Panhandle Region,” Dr. Todd Rasberry, vice president for philanthropy and external relations, said in the news release. “It will have enormous impact for the next half century and beyond.”

It would be somewhere between difficult and impossible to overstate historically what WTAMU has meant to this region in terms of lives touched. Suffice it to say, its impact has been generational with ripples of educational excellence and community leadership continuing now and for years to come.

The One West campaign will ensure that legacy continues to grow and expand.

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