Editorial Roundup: Texas

Austin American-Statesman. May 21, 2024.

Editorial: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pardoned Daniel Perry and shifted the rule of law

There was no rogue DA or ‘woke’ politics. The legal system played out as it should in Travis County. Then Greg Abbott overturned the jury’s decision.

When Gov. Greg Abbott pardoned Daniel Perry last Thursday, the decision was predictable. It was no surprise that Abbott wished to pardon Perry, convicted for murdering a Black Lives Matter protester during a 2020 rally in downtown Austin. Abbott had announced his intent on social media less than 24 hours after Perry was convicted in 2023. But for a governor who uses his bully pulpit to target “woke” politics and “rogue” district attorneys for cherry-picking laws to prosecute, Abbott’s interventions in this case have been chilling. In pardoning Perry, Abbott further shifted the rule of law in Texas to a frightening point where the test of whether one goes to prison is not whether a jury rules you did the crime, but whether the governor agrees with your politics.

It’s fair to note that this case was complex. Two men, both legally carrying firearms, confronted each other with fatal results in a state with a strong “Stand Your Ground” law. What is clear is that an elected DA, José Garza, prosecuted the case after a grand jury heard arguments and found enough evidence to bring Perry to trial. Next, a trial jury heard the evidence and delivered a verdict – jurors sentenced Perry to 25 years in prison. Whatever your opinions of the case — and there are many in Texas who support Abbott’s decision — we should all respect the painstaking work that the trial jury did in sitting through eight days of testimony, hearing from nearly 40 witnesses, reviewing the full picture of the evidence and reaching a verdict and applying the law.

And if the defense had a problem with the jury’s verdict our legal system provides for an appeals process. Abbott didn’t even allow for this possibility, announcing his wish for a pardon less than 24 hours after Perry was convicted.

The jury took far longer to weigh the facts. On July 25, 2020, Perry, a former Army sergeant, killed Garrett Foster, a 28-year-old Air Force veteran marching in an Austin protest against police violence. Foster was legally carrying an AK-47-style rifle. His goal, he had said, was to protect marchers. Perry, driving an Uber, ran a red light and drove into the crowd. He, too, was legally carrying a firearm. When Foster approached, Perry shot and killed him.

Perry later claimed self-defense. But no witness ever stated that Foster aimed his weapon. Records later released by the courts showed that Perry had texted numerous racist fantasies about killing minorities and Black Lives Matter protesters. “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters,” Perry wrote in one text.

After the conviction, conservative commentators, including former Fox host Tucker Carlson, mocked Abbott as being soft on crime. The next day, Abbott pledged to pardon Perry if advised to do so by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. He directed members to expedite a study of the case.

Typically, legal experts say, cases are reviewed for pardon only after the appeals process ends. “This was an unusual situation from the start,” said David Kwok, director of the University of Houston’s Criminal Justice Institute. “Even before this defendant was sentenced, the governor made public his interest in pardoning him… the case was tried, but it technically was not completed at the point when he first spoke about it.”

The pardons and paroles board, whose members are all appointed by Abbott, stated that their unanimous recommendation came after “a thorough examination of the amassed information.” This too, is highly unorthodox, attorney Gary Cohen told the Washington Post. “The parole board in Texas is not supposed to be a judicial body. They don’t engage in relitigating the facts of the case. That’s not the board’s job and never has been.”

It is also normally the offender – not the governor – who initiates a pardon request. Typically, Cohen said, offenders try to show some level of personal remorse and change. But in this case, Perry’s attorney and Abbott made little mention of the loss of Garrett Foster’s life.

Instead, they complained about the toll taken on Perry, his career, and Stand Your Ground laws. “Daniel Perry was imprisoned for 372 days and lost the military career that he loved,” his lawyer stated. “We intend to fight to get Daniel’s military service characterization upgraded to an Honorable Discharge.”

Abbott directed blame at Garza and the jury and invoked politics. In his pardon, issued immediately after the board’s recommendation, Abbott said, “Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive District Attorney.”

It was one of the most peculiar features of a pardon riddled with unorthodoxies. José Garza, whom Abbott has targeted for removal from office, of course neither served on the jury or delivered the verdict or sentence. His office presented its case. The jurors performed their duty. Their only transgression seems to have been exercising their conscience after hearing the totality of evidence in the case.


Dallas Morning News. May 23, 2024.

Editorial: Republicans targeting border bill are out of excuses

Real solutions require bipartisan engagement.

No one wanted a reprise of the childish Capitol Hill drama over a Senate bill meant to crack down on illegal border crossings, but we’re getting one anyway. Democrats are reviving a bill that would make it tougher to apply for asylum and that would add more border protection staff. The bill was the product of a bipartisan deal earlier this year — bipartisan, that is, until Donald Trump decided it wouldn’t help his presidential campaign, leaving the GOP to torpedo its own work.

Many Republicans said at the time that they couldn’t support the Senate bill because it was tied to funding for Ukraine. That excuse is no longer on the table.

Senate Democrats plan a vote Thursday despite some division in their own party and continue resistance from Republicans. The GOP is pushing its own bill, even though the compromise legislation has a better shot at passing.

Republicans can’t wriggle their way out of this one and maintain a semblance of credibility on border security.

Meanwhile, the Biden White House and the Mexican government are working together to curb illegal border crossings, and they’re showing progress. Cooperation — turns out it works!

Our federal government tallied about 179,000 encounters with border authorities in April, compared to 211,000 last April and 235,000 the year before that. Historic data shows that the number of encounters along the southern border tends to rise after a winter slump, but this spring, the U.S. seems to have reversed that.

If you want to understand why, turn to Mexico. While President Joe Biden has at times clashed with his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, their governments have been partnering lately to address the mutual problem of illegal migration.

NBC News reported that Mexico, which early last year was intercepting about 100,000 migrants per month, had stopped 280,000 migrants inside the country or at its southern border in March. Compare that with 189,000 people intercepted by the U.S. at its southern border that month.

“U.S. officials say Mexico’s willingness to interdict more migrants, a costly process, is in large part due to increased dialogue between the two countries on issues like immigration, fentanyl and illegal firearms trafficking,” wrote NBC News journalists.

As we’ve noted in our series The Unraveling of Latin America, Mexico’s cooperation is crucial to clamp down on illegal immigration. López Obrador has been openly hostile to the U.S. before, but a White House official told NBC News that treating Mexico as a “sovereign equal” has improved the relationship.

Illegal immigration is as much a political problem as it is a humanitarian crisis for both countries. Human smuggling fuels organized crime and violence in Mexico and strains border communities on both sides of the Rio Grande. The border has become a liability for Biden in an election year.

And it is precisely for this reason that the Senate bill seems doomed once more, even though it has many provisions that Republicans themselves wanted. We hear them call on Biden to use executive action to stop illegal border crossings, even though those unilateral actions usually end up in court, delaying an actual crackdown.

So go ahead and sink this border bill again, Republicans. Just don’t go crying to the American people about a border crisis that you have no interest in resolving.


San Antonio Express-News. May 20, 2024.

Editorial: Gov. Greg Abbott is to blame for lack of school funding

The Texas public education funding system is complicated, inequitable and inadequate. It was surprising, then, for Gov. Greg Abbott, laser-focused on vouchers, to claim public school funding is strong.

This isn’t so. Texas does less with more. Despite enjoying a $33 billion surplus last year, state lawmakers failed to raise the basic allotment for students. It has not been increased since 2019. Not surprisingly, Texas ranks in the bottom 10 states nationally in per-student funding, according to Raise Your Hand Texas.

If public schools were adequately funded, they would not be facing massive shortfalls.

Northside ISD estimates a $90 million to $100 million deficit. North East ISD expects a $39 million deficit. San Antonio ISD is grappling with an anticipated $36 million shortfall and overwhelming HVAC costs, and will soon close 15 schools. South San ISD estimates a $4.8 million deficit. Edgewood ISD estimates a $3.2 million shortfall.

Many other local and state school districts contend with the same reality, yet Abbott has said, “You’ll be shocked to hear this, but it’s not me that’s responsible for this.”

This is a bit of gaslighting on the governor’s part. He has connected additional public school funding to vouchers, even though vouchers will pull funds from public schools as families already attending private schools will collect them.

The reality is that Abbott is the governor of the state. Texas Republicans have had total power for decades. They are responsible for the public education system and consistently fall short in prioritizing it. The list of failures is familiar: underpaid, burned-out teachers; school districts navigating budget deficits; campus closures; program cuts; and underfunded mandates.

One such example is House Bill 3, which requires school districts to have a commissioned peace officer at every campus. While the Legislature increased the school safety allotment in 2023 by 28 cents per student and sent $15,000 to campuses to help districts comply with the mandate, this still does not meet the cost of increased security.

Christina Martinez, president of the San Antonio ISD board, said districts simply can’t keep up with costs.

“In Texas, where inflation has hit upwards of 22% and public education has not seen an increase in state funding in five years, the school district budgeting process is more arduous than usual this time,” she said.

Add to this reality the prospect of school vouchers, which is very much on the ballot in Republican runoff races this week, and public education in Texas is in a shockingly precarious position.

So, again, even though Abbott has said, “it’s not me that’s responsible for this,” he clearly is.

In a May 13 letter to state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Cypress, Abbott singled out 39 House Democrats who failed to back a bill that contained $6 billion in public school funding. This would be the funding that was tethered to vouchers.

Rosenthal’s response, a letter signed by more than 30 House Democrats, said Abbott’s assertions about why schools are facing deficits are disingenuous, citing the $11,803 funding per student that is much less than the national average of $15,633 per student.

Abbott also points to declining enrollment in public education because “many parents across the state with whom I have visited complain about their growing dissatisfaction with the ideological leanings of education delivered by some public schools.”

But this too rings hollow as rural Republicans have long opposed public school vouchers.

Bob Popinski, Raise Your Hand Texas’ senior director of policy, said many districts have been grappling with double-digit inflation since 2019, the COVID-19 funding cliff (which Abbott did acknowledge in his May letter), enrollment decline and increased unfunded mandates coming out of Austin.

Given the momentum for vouchers, school district leaders are understandably nervous about the 89th Legislature set to begin in January. Lawmakers likely will have a $20 billion budget surplus. Yet that is no guarantee of adequate school funding.