Editorial Roundup: Texas

Austin American Statesman. May 1, 2022.

Editorial: The GOP’s rhetoric isn’t solving any problems at the border

State Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican, made headlines last month when he asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to issue an opinion on whether Texas could declare an “invasion” at its border and start enforcing federal immigration policy.

Some will recall that “invasion” is the incendiary term a vigilante used in an anti-Hispanic manifesto he wrote before gunning down 23 shoppers in an El Paso Wal-Mart two years ago. The shooter’s diatribe mirrored sentiments expressed by then-President Donald Trump, who used the words “invasion,” “criminal” and “animals” to describe immigrants more than 500 times from 2017 to 2019.

Krause should be ashamed he echoed this dangerous rhetoric. So should Gov. Greg Abbott, who’s used the term “invasion” in reference to immigrants, drugs and guns crossing into Texas from Mexico.

Abbott is considering Krause’s request but acknowledges there are legal hurdles. He’s right. Legal experts say declaring an invasion would likely be struck down in court because, in their view, framers of the Constitution aimed to allow states to protect against a potential invasion by a hostile power, not immigrants coming to America to seek a better life.

Amid non-productive GOP rhetoric about an “invasion,” Paxton sued the Biden administration late last month for its decision to halt a Trump-era policy allowing for mass federal deportations of asylum seekers.

Lawsuits targeting those who are desperately trying to escape violence and persecution in their home countries, and grandstanding about an “invasion” of immigrants are the latest ploys state Republican leaders have ginned up to garner support from their right-wing base ahead of the November elections. They come on the heels of Abbott’s widely ridiculed decisions last month to bus migrants to Washington using taxpayer money (he is now asking Texans to reach into their wallets again as he seeks private donations for the rides) and to conduct secondary inspections of commercial trucks at the border.

Those inspections snarled border traffic for days and cost the Texas economy $4 billion in lost gross domestic product. And what did Texans, who never asked for this, get in return? Abbott’s political stunt yielded no arrests, no seizures of illegal drugs and no weapons. Nothing.

It all begs the question: If problems at the border are “a crisis” as Abbott insists, when will Republican leaders get serious about immigration reform? We saw a glimmer of hope last week with the news that a bipartisan group of U.S. senators – including Texas Republican John Cornyn – aim to jump-start long-stalled immigration reform negotiations in Congress. That’s where this debate belongs because border enforcement is a federal, not state, responsibility.

“I’ve been here for a while now, and we’ve never failed to fail when it comes to immigration,” Cornyn, a 20-year Senate veteran, told Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. “So I’m hoping this time is different.”

Instead of using the bully pulpit for campaign theater that achieves nothing, Abbott should have appealed to Cornyn – the ranking member on the Senate’s Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety Subcommittee – long ago, asking him to propose reforms addressing border security and Texas’ significant workforce needs.

Immigrants comprise 23% of the Texas workforce and are key to sustaining rapid economic growth. About 1.2 million of these workers hired by Texas employers are in the country illegally, according to the Center for American Progress. But Republican officials who love to talk about an “invasion” on the border conspicuously omit that point from their rhetoric.

Politicians like Krause exploit the dearth of serious policy reform proposals to poison the political discourse. Worse, it appears that Krause and Abbott are taking their cues from out-of-state agitators, such as Ken Cuccinelli, a former deputy secretary of Homeland Security under President Donald Trump. Cuccinelli has argued that states can adopt the authority to use force against immigrants at the border by invoking Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution.

Constitutional scholars disagree.

“The intent of the framers in the whole document clearly means to give power of national defense to the national government,” Jeffrey Abramson at the University of Texas School of Law told the Statesman. “They had in mind an invasion from an organized force, a foreign power, foreign government.

“Border security is a very serious matter,” Abramson continued, “but, to my mind, it’s silly, when we see an actual invasion in Ukraine, see what an actual invasion by a foreign power looks like, to say to ourselves that Texas is under an actual invasion.”

This editorial board on many occasions has acknowledged that border security and immigration enforcement are immense challenges that require informed debate and substantive policy proposals. We’re not getting that from the party that uses scare tactics and rhetoric instead. Texans deserve better and they should remember that when they go to the polls in November.

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Dallas Morning News. May 2, 2022.

Editorial: Renewables supplied a third of Texas’ electricity in 1Q. Why that gives us hope for grid reliability

The competitive electricity market is a powerful tool.

As the country turned to Texas in the past couple of months to boost oil and gas production to supply our allies against Russia, something else happened, something quiet and extraordinary.

In March, Texas oil and gas regulators issued a record number of drilling permits. That’s no surprise; Washington politicians have been calling on the Permian Basin to produce more fossil fuels to support European nations that are cutting off or being cut off from Russian oil and gas. High oil prices are a good signal to the industry to produce more.

Also in the first quarter, Texas hit an entirely different energy record. The state produced more renewable energy than ever before. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, about a third of the power on the Texas grid came from wind and solar.

Some folks thought this kind of success for renewables could be best achieved by protesting outside of an Exxon shareholder meeting or climbing in trees scheduled to be bulldozed to build a pipeline. Turns out market forces are more powerful than bullhorns.

The Texas wholesale electricity market was designed to favor low-cost electricity, which at the time when the market was first established meant nuclear and coal power. Lawmakers added some incentives for renewables with modest expectations.

A competitive market plus incentives for renewables turned out to be a powerful combination. It also helps that Texas hardly ever rejects a wind or solar project, as regulators in many other states do. Soon renewables on the ERCOT grid became so plentiful, that they knocked many older, more expensive fossil fuel plants out of business. Great for consumers: cheaper, cleaner energy. At times, wind is so plentiful that market prices dip below zero, because of the way the renewable energy credit system is set up to subsidize investment in clean energy.

It all worked better than anyone could have anticipated. So well, that ERCOT has to change the way it manages the grid to make sure that when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining, there is enough back-up power to keep the lights on.

In fact, keeping the grid reliable is getting dicey, because investors do not want to build expensive fossil fuel plants, nor do they want to keep operating old coal and gas plants that don’t make money. Our electricity market that incentivizes cheap, clean energy has failed to incentivize reliability.

Regulators are on it, planning to buy back-up power and subsidize the cost. It’s a good start, but not nearly enough. The success of competitive markets in growing renewable energy in Texas should give us great hope that market forces can also be used to grow reliable energy, too.

There’s no need to give an advantage to certain fuel types or technology. Instead, by changing market rules, the Public Utility Commission can ensure that the Texas electricity market is fertile ground for investments in plants and equipment that can produce power on demand. That could be a new natural gas plant, an old coal plant outfitted to meet environmental standards, batteries, or some technology that, like wind and solar 20 years ago, we can hardly imagine will ever become reality in Texas.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. April 26, 2022.

Editorial: Arlington soldier died a hero at the border. But why is the National Guard even there?

What did Bishop Evans die for?

No one should question the Texas National Guard specialist’s heroism and sacrifice. The 22-year-old, an Arlington resident and product of Mansfield schools, jumped into the Rio Grande last week to help two migrants struggling in the water. They survived; Evans did not.

It demonstrates the damning flaw of the Guard mission that brought Evans to the border: Troops are there to address problems they cannot truly engage. Stopping illegal immigration is a federal task, and no matter what level of resources Texas throws at it, there are hard limits to what state actors can do.

It’s high risk, very little reward. Evans paid the ultimate price. Many of his colleagues have suffered through long deployments, poor work conditions and even delayed pay.

Gov. Greg Abbott deployed the Guard as part of Operation Lone Star, his ongoing attempt to fill the federal government’s gaps on border security. Texas leaders, already exasperated with a broken immigration system, anticipate even larger numbers of migrants will soon arrive at the border and/or get past it.

The battle of the moment is over a policy called Title 42. It’s the pandemic policy started by the Trump administration that let border officials immediately expel arriving migrants, even those requesting asylum. Texas Republican leaders — and notably, some Democrats in Congress — are concerned, and rightfully so, that when the Biden administration ends the policy, migrants will overwhelm the border.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined several other states and sued the feds last week over Title 42. On Monday, in a separate case, a Louisiana federal judge temporarily blocked the administration from letting the Title 42 policy expire May 23, as it intended to do.

The U.S. needs an asylum system that doesn’t allow people to enter on specious claims and melt into the background. But using emergency public-health policy to police immigration isn’t the answer.

Neither is sending Texas troops to the border with little authority to meaningfully address the problem.

Under Operation Lone Star, Texas is apprehending some migrants crossing illegally. But it has no authority to deport them. The best the state can do is process trespassing or other minor charges. And it’ll spend more than $4 billion in the current two-year budget on the overall effort.

Where the state can be useful is helping local communities bearing the brunt of the federal government’s failures. Border counties are generally small and need help with law enforcement, technology and equipment. Local landowners are suffering, too. Ranchers see their fences cut or trampled.

If the state wants to tackle the effects of the federal failure on immigration, more help for these Texans is in order.

These aren’t the only costs of our border dysfunction. Texas needs workers, as does much of the rest of the country. A rational and effective system for letting people come to the U.S. for jobs in construction, meatpacking, restaurants and other suffering industries would benefit all involved: American companies, consumers and migrants who are subject to exploitation on the journey here and a life in the shadows once they arrive.

Fixing that would take a level of creativity and compromise Congress hasn’t shown in years. In the meantime, Texas will keep throwing resources at the problem.

Davis’ death shows the tremendous risk and cost. He shouldn’t have been there.

Neither should those whose lives he saved.

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Houston Chronicle. April 30, 2022.

Editorial: Thumbs: Beto O’Rourke’s horrible, no good, very bad day in Comal County

Thumbs down — In heated conversation, an analogy invoking Hitler or the Nazis is often considered a disqualifying breach of rhetorical etiquette. These days, maybe the same should go for the word pandemic. While we all agree that the fake paper license tags proliferating around the state and the nation are a problem, we’re not sure it’s a full blown “tagdemic,” as Travis County Sgt. Jose Escribano was quoted saying this week in the Chronicle. Sure, the fake tags by latest count may end up having cost Harris County taxpayers $80 million in lost revenue over the past five years, but that doesn’t seem quite comparable to the 6.2 million people who have died in the global pandemic. Besides, ‘tag-mageddon’ rolls off the tongue much easier. The false tag problem stems from changes to the Texas DMV online system for creating temporary tags that allowed people claiming to be dealers to gain access often under fake names and addresses and harvest millions of tags. The ordeal, and the DMV’s slow response to fixing it, has angered lawmakers and already led to the ouster of longtime agency head Whitney Brewster, who Chronicle reporter Dug Begley wryly noted in a February story “will not be renewing her tag for a spot in the employee parking lot.” We imagine she left the building with a slight smile of relief, turning to bewildered subordinates and delivering those profound, parting words, ‘tag, you’re it!’

Thumbs down — For most people, testing positive for COVID-19 is the low point of the week. For Beto O’Rourke, it may have seemed things were looking up. After all, the Democrat had nowhere to go but up after a weekend of ridicule and rejection in Comal County. The onetime superstar U.S. Senate hopeful-turned-gubernatorial candidate made his name crisscrossing this massive state, leaving no small town Whataburger drive-thru un-driven, but he’s lost a little zip in his zoom since his failed presidential bid and his fightin’ words during one debate about confiscating semiautomatic weapons. He hit a massive stop sign in his campaign for governor last weekend in the deep red area that includes New Braunfels. Texas Monthly’s Christopher Hooks declared that cancel culture had come for O’Rourke when his town hall at a Canyon Lake restaurant was canceled after patrons threatened a boycott. Attempts to reschedule at Canyon Lake High School, then a recreation center, then an amphitheater, were all foiled, Hooks reported. O’Rourke ended up speaking on private property in New Braunfels. Mostly attended by Democratic party loyalists, O’Rourke settled on preaching to the choir, whose help he’ll dearly need as he prays for a miracle in November.

Thumbs twiddled — We’re not sure if O’Rourke hit the New Braunfels’ Buc-ee’s on his way out of town. Maybe it’s lost its allure now that it’s slated to lose its Guinness World Record title as the largest convenience store in the world to a larger store in Tennessee next year. Texas may be back in the game, though, thanks to the generosity of Luling taxpayers, who may subsidize a new deal unanimously approved by Caldwell County commissioners to help the Texas chain of kitschy stores build a “much larger store” about two hours west of Houston, the San Antonio Express-News reported this week. The proposed Buc-ee’s, along with another in Hillsboro, would be equal to the future 74,000-square-foot store in Sevierville, Tenn. We’re pretty sure they can squeeze in an extra row of Beaver Nuggets or another pretty porcelain throne to inch the square-footage past the world record threshold. After all, everything’s supposed to be bigger in Texas — and not just the tax incentives.

Thumbs up — Of course, no state can compete with our legends and no Texas legend is bigger than Willie Nelson. With news of his recent canceled concerts due to COVID-19 concerns, we’ve been on Willie watch, hoping, praying that our beloved Red Headed Stranger doesn’t become one any time soon. So we’re overjoyed to say ‘Happy Birthday, Willie!’ as the iconic singer/songwriter turned the big 8-9 on Friday, April 29. As the Chronicle’s Andrew Dansby observed, Willie has made it 40 years past his album, “Tougher Than Leather” about almost dying after a collapsed lung. Another 40 years is entirely possible. In all, Willie has made nearly 100 studio albums, including his new release, “A Beautiful Time,” his fourth album during the pandemic. Thank you, Willie, for reminding us why we love this state on days when it’s hard to even recognize it. You fill such a big empty space and you’re always on our mind. We love you.

Thumbs up — Speaking of love, Dallas Love Field certainly earned its name when an Oklahoma City couple whose flight to get hitched in Las Vegas was canceled and they quickly boarded a Southwest Airlines flight in Dallas to Phoenix in full wedding attire. They ended up walking down the aisle, narrow as it was, to a wedding in the heavens. The Dallas Morning News reported this week that “a helpful fellow traveler” who turned out to be an ordained minister, “and an adventurous captain” saw to it that Jeremy and Pam Salda were able to exchange their vows last Saturday in a memorable ceremony at 37,000 feet, complete with toilet paper streamers and a donut wedding cake. The creativity of the impromptu event was almost as inspiring as the gesture itself. The DMN reported that flight attendants dimmed the flights as passengers flicked on their “call attendant” lights and someone played a downloaded version of the wedding march. A professional photographer who happened to be on board snapped pictures and passengers signed a notepad-turned-guestbook. “A lot of them said, ’Thank you for letting us be a part of it,” Salda, the bride, told ABC 15 TV in Phoenix. “We need this kind of stuff.” Yes, we do. Three cheers for the happy couple — and one more for happy endings.

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San Antonio Express-News. April 26, 2022.

Editorial: Lucio stay gives her the gift of time

The eyes of the world were upon Texas this week, looking to see if the state would execute a woman who very well may be innocent of the crime for which she was sentenced to die.

The scales of justice have weighed against Melissa Lucio since 2007. But on Monday, the highest criminal court in Texas began the process of potentially balancing those scales and offering Lucio a fresh opportunity to prove her innocence.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution to Lucio just two days before she was scheduled to be executed for the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Mariah.

A mother of 14, Lucio was found guilty in 2008 of physical abuse leading to Mariah’s death in Harlingen. After affirming her innocence more than 100 times during five hours of interrogation, Lucio finally said, “I guess I did it. I’m responsible.”

That ambiguous admission of quilt, bullied out of a woman who was a longtime victim of domestic violence and sexual abuse, was the primary evidence presented at her trial. Not entered, though, was evidence that Mariah’s death may have been the result of a fall, nor did jurors hear about the absence in Child Protective Services records of any allegations or evidence of abuse.

As Lucio’s case and its exculpatory details became more widely known through the years, so did demands that she be taken off death row, given a new trial or even released. In the months leading up to her execution date, Lucio has drawn support from around the world, including from celebrities. Some of the jurors who convicted her have expressed deep remorse, and politicians across party lines have rallied in support of her. Most of the Texas House of Representatives and more than two-thirds of the Texas Senate had asked for the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Greg Abbott to stop the execution.

In the end, it was the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that intervened.

Now the pressure turns to Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, who said his office has “the opportunity to prosecute this case in the courtroom: where witnesses testify under oath, where witnesses may be cross-examined, where evidence is governed by the rules of evidence and criminal procedure, and where the court rules pursuant to the rule of law.”

“That is our criminal jurisprudence system,” he said, “and it is working.”

Saenz had refused to exercise his power to withdraw the execution warrant, saying at a hearing earlier this month that if Lucio didn’t get a stay by “a certain day” he’d stop it. He didn’t.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the case and make a recommendation to Abbott. But the Court of Criminal Appeals acted first, remanding four of nine claims from Lucio’s defense team back to a trial court in Cameron County. Among the questions to be answered: whether she is innocent, whether new scientific evidence may have precluded a conviction and whether the state suppressed favorable evidence for the defense. This sends the case back to Cameron County, where a hearing will give Lucio’s attorneys an opportunity to develop grounds for actual innocence.

Any hearing could take months, or even years, to determine whether Lucio will receive a new trial. While the stay does not remove the possibility that Lucio will be executed, it indefinitely postpones the execution.

The court’s ruling granted Lucio, her family and supporters the gift of more time. With so many questions looming, it would have been unconscionable to go forward with an execution. Now comes an opportunity to prove her innocence.

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