Editorial Roundup: Texas

San Antonio Express-News. July 16, 2021.

Editorial: Texas House Democrats’ retreat is continued march for rights

In late August 1776, the British redcoats routed George Washington’s Continental Army in the Battle of Brooklyn, capturing, wounding and killing more than 2,000 American troops. Washington and his remaining soldiers were surrounded by the Brits with the East River to their backs.

Had he continued to fight or surrendered, the American Revolution would have been over less than two months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But with amazing stealth, Washington led 9,000 troops across the river and into Manhattan. New York City would be under British control through the end of the war, but because of the retreat, Washington and his men lived to fight until independence was won.

In Selma, on March 9, 1965, two days after “Bloody Sunday” in which marchers led by John Lewis and Hosea Williams were beaten by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Martin Luther King Jr. led a march to the foot of the bridge. Blocked by troopers, King knelt and led the 2,000 marchers in prayer before turning around.

King was derided as a coward, but there was an injunction against the march and had he violated it, had he not retreated, King would have endangered lives and the cause for voting rights. Less than two weeks later, King led the five-day march to Montgomery, which would culminate Aug.6 with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act.

The Selma campaign in 1965 was a continuation and culmination of what began with the American Revolution in 1776.

Two brilliant tacticians —Washington and King — understood that sometimes you must retreat to keep fighting. It’s something understood by the more than 50 Texas House Democrats who last week retreated from their posts in Austin to prevent Texas from becoming the 18th state this year in which a Republican-led statehouse passed suppressive voting bill, which experts say disproportionately hurts Black and Latino voters.

Like their walkout in May, which kept the legislation from passing during the regular session, this walkout only delays the inevitable. They don’t have the numbers to defeat the measures, and while they may be able to run out the clock in this special session, Gov. Greg Abbott can continue calling 30-day special sessions until the Democrats must return.

By denying a quorum in which the House can conduct business, they used the only remaining weapon in their arsenal. Most important, they went to Washington to pressure President Joe Biden and Democratic senators, saying the multistate assault on voting rights can only be stopped by passage of the For the People Act, a sweeping federal elections bill, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, a critical section of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013.

But their passage is impossible if the filibuster exists because it requires 60 votes for passage of a bill instead of a simple majority. Biden’s impassioned speech July 13 on voting rights may have been the best of his young presidency, but he didn’t lay out how he and the Democratic majorities will protect those voting rights. He never mentioned “filibuster.”

Still, the Texas House Democrats may make this work. By dramatically seizing the national stage on voting rights and relentlessly lobbying Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia, they may yet shame them into carvinh out an exception to the filibuster when it comes to voting rights, an idea to which Manchin is open.

Protecting democracy and stopping a Big Lie-fueled encroachment on voting rights should be a bipartisan mission. But it’s not.

In retreating to Washington and prolonging the fight to preserve what we thought was won and secured in Selma, Texas House Democrats are continuing the march across that bridge.

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Dallas Morning News. July 17, 2021.

Editorial: Texas needs skilled workers. Here’s an idea to grow them at home

With competition for employees at historic highs, one trade association is ramping up recruitment efforts to reach potential workers earlier and more creatively than ever. This is a smart approach that may be a harbinger of things to come.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) has created a campaign called “Creators Wanted” that will visit schools and community gathering places around the country in coming months to attract future workers to that industry. Creators Wanted features a tractor-trailer-mounted escape room and “immersive experience” designed to hold kids’ attention while also overcoming stereotypes that keep students from choosing careers in manufacturing. The rig will be parked in Dallas at the Tippie National Aviation Education Center in Red Bird through July 20.

Jamie Hennigan, NAM’s vice president of communications, told us workers are the only thing keeping the U.S. from dramatically growing its manufacturing output. According to the group’s estimates, that industry will need to fill 4 million jobs by 2030. The Creators Wanted campaign aims to reduce the skills gap in the U.S. by 600,000 workers by 2025, and increase the number of students enrolling in technical/vocational schools or reselling programs by 25%. Those are lofty ambitions, probably too lofty for a PR campaign and an escape room. But the impulse is well-conceived and perfectly timed.

Just this week, more news broke about rising competition for skilled workers as the economy continues a strong rebound from the pandemic, especially here in North Texas. According to a survey of 3,000 companies by the staffing firm Robert Half, 6 in 10 Dallas-area firms plan to hire by the end of the year, more than any other market in the country except San Diego. And nationwide, many of those new job openings are in manufacturing, according to reporting from this newspaper’s business team.

Growing a skilled workforce is an area where Texas needs focus. According to a report from the think tank Texas 2036 last year, 71% of Texas jobs will require a postsecondary credential by 2036. But only 32% of Texas high school graduates earn such a credential within six years of graduation. That puts Texas dead last in that category among a group of peer states.

In addition to that need, NAM’s move here is smart in light of shifting attitudes about college. Pandemic disruptions along with the soaring price of college have left many potential students looking elsewhere for their future. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment in higher education dropped by 603,000 students this spring, seven times the decline from a year earlier, which was also down.

In the past, if industry groups competed for the attention of high school kids at all, which was rare, those efforts were aimed at the college-bound crowd. NAM’s campaign is an indication that is changing.

Creators Wanted is a clever approach that teens will enjoy. We encourage parents and guidance counselors to consider it. But the larger point here is about the pipeline of workers needed to ensure our economy can continue to grow. NAM has taken the initiative to improve that pipeline, putting them ahead of the competition for now. We hope to see others join that race soon.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 18, 2021.

Editorial: Conservation isn’t enough. Booming Fort Worth area needs new lake as a water source

No one builds a lake on a lark.

It takes decades of discussion and planning to designate a reservoir site, conduct extensive environmental reviews and acquire permits and property. Along the way, stakeholders at every level have ample opportunity to weigh in.

That process has been playing out for nearly 25 years when it comes to the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir. It’s a key part of the future for much of the Dallas-Fort Worth region, including Tarrant County. So, its inclusion in the latest version of the state’s master water-supply and regulation plan is good news.

Landowners in northeast Texas, the proposed site of the lake, and some environmentalists are reinforcing their opposition to the new reservoir, which still wouldn’t be built yet for decades. There’s no question its creation will be a hardship for many, and property rights deserve the utmost respect and defense.

But it’s in the best interest of the region and state to build Marvin Nichols, and it’s not a close call. The process must move forward.

Dan Buhman, general manager of the Tarrant Regional Water District, which ensures a safe and reliable water supply for the area, said that the agency always seeks first to maximize conservation, reuse water and seek other efficiencies. But the need for a new source in the coming decades is inevitable.

“We have to meet the demands of a growing region,” Buhman said. “Marvin Nichols has got to be part of our portfolio of our possible water supplies. But it’s not our only option. The first priority is always efficiency.”

Dallas-Fort Worth remains primed for huge population growth for decades. That’s a good thing: It means vitality and more opportunity for all. But growth brings challenges, including the need to secure resources and infrastructure for households and businesses alike.

There was a time when conservation efforts were insufficient. But the entire area has made tremendous strides. Per-capita water usage rates in area cities has dropped over the years. Fort Worth and Arlington receive some of the highest scores on conservation from Texas Living Waters, a coalition of advocacy groups seeking to protect freshwater sources.

Buhman said the water district’s service area conserves 20 billion gallons annually, a testament to better technology, more efficient use of resources and a constant reinforcing of the message that saving water is important.

And such efforts should continue. Buhman noted that many new arrivals to Tarrant County come from places where water is abundant, so ongoing education about the challenges of ensuring our water supply is important.

“We have to do everything we can do to use the resources we have responsibly,” said Buhman, who recently ascended to the district’s top job. But “based on all our studies, conservation is insufficient to deal with our growth.”

Even with robust conservation and reuse, the North Texas region (as defined for state water planning purposes) will see its demand increase 67 percent over the coming decades, the Texas plan notes. Where will it come from? The Tarrant district once tried to get more from across the Red River, but it lost a dispute with Oklahoma at the Supreme Court. We simply must have other options to supply and store water. Buhman noted that one of the predicted effects of climate change for the region is fewer rainfall events that are more intense. Capturing that water when it comes is important.

That’s where Marvin Nichols comes in. The state doesn’t build reservoirs on a whim. A new one hasn’t opened in decades, and the last lake built in the DFW area, Joe Pool, is more than three decades old.

Opponents to Marvin Nichols seem reinvigorated by the North Texas region’s push to include the reservoir in the long-term plan. It’s uniting property owners, environmentalists and timber interests. Federal review will take many more years, and they’ll have ample opportunity to weigh in.

No one should pretend that building Marvin Nichols comes without cost. But tradeoffs are necessary. For a glimpse of what can happen when the right decisions aren’t made decades in advance, look no further than California, where a failure of planning and worsening drought have much of the state on the precipice of a water crisis.

Elected and appointed officials alike must stay well ahead of the curve. That kind of prudence, temperament and vision necessary are a reason to pay close attention when offices such as the water district’s board of directors are on the ballot.

After all, as Buhman says, no one wants the day to come when we turn the tap and wonder what, if anything, will come out.

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Victoria Advocate. July 14, 2021.

Editorial: Return of seized cattle should be celebrated

The seizure of 138 head of cattle owned by a Goliad County family in late May shocked ranchers and community members throughout the Crossroads for a number of reasons.

There was the sheer number of cattle taken. There was the uncertainty over the herd’s fate after it was transported to an undisclosed location hours away. There was the fact that the cattle’s caretakers, Jorge and San Juanita Padilla, seemingly had little recourse to prevent the seizure from happening and had to post a nearly $72,500 bond to appeal the decision — money they raised in part due to the generosity of local residents who contributed to their legal fund.

But perhaps most shocking of all was the allegations of animal cruelty faced by the Padillas.

Animal cruelty is a wide-ranging offense, but it implies that the animal’s owner is neglectful at best and malicious at worst. To ranchers who spend hours working cattle daily and depend on their herd’s welfare for their family’s livelihood, the idea that a ranching family would intentionally inflict harm upon its herd was almost unthinkable.

Like many other ranchers dealing with the aftereffects of a lengthy drought followed by an unprecedented freeze, the Padillas faced their fair share of challenges in caring for their herd. But anyone questioning the family’s devotion to their cattle should look to the actions of the couple’s 16-year-old son, Jorge Jr., who spent weeks bottle feeding two calves left behind after the seizure to ensure they remained properly nourished.

The community’s response to the seizure was admirable, from the monetary donations, hay and supplies the family received to the way residents rallied around the Padillas during their initial courtroom defeat and successful appeal. On the day the Padillas’ cattle were returned, dozens of ranchers showed up to tag and dehorn them and treat them for pests.

Not only did the community’s response help the Padillas endure this ordeal, it demonstrated why seizing the family’s cattle was a misguided response to an unfortunate set of circumstances. This was not a situation that called for punitive measures — and especially not an illegal, warrantless drone search of private property. It was a situation that called for compassion.

Judge Walden Shelton’s decision to return the family’s cattle was a relief for many, but it would be a mistake to forget this incident. Ranchers are already discussing measures to prevent future seizures from taking place and empower Goliad County residents to care for animals within the county. That is an admirable response.

Legal changes should also be considered to prevent law enforcement agencies from overstepping their bounds and intervening in agricultural affairs when doing so is not warranted. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst sent a representative to the Padillas’ appeal hearing. It is good to see state officials taking notice.

Preventing unwarranted seizures may not have made it onto Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda for the now-postponed special session. But let’s hope it’s on the Legislature’s radar in 2023.

For now, the Padillas’ cattle are back in Goliad County. And that is worth celebrating.

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Beaumont Enterprise. July 7, 2021.

Editorial: Abbott shouldn’t penalize renewable power providers

Southeast Texans would never ignore the plight of other residents in this state, but it’s time like this that we are grateful we are on a different power grid than the rest of Texas. A typical Texas summer is just getting started, but already there are fears that the state’s main power grid won’t be able to provide enough electricity to keep homes and businesses air-conditioned. That’s concerning enough, but some of the solutions ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott won’t help the problem.

Abbott has ordered the Public Utility Commission to make substantial changes to “ensure the reliability of the Texas power grid,” but he wants to rely more on the same power sources that fell short in the February freeze as well as a heat spell in early June.

Abbott wants incentives for traditional power plants fueled by coal or natural gas as well as penalties for renewable power sources such as wind or solar. He wants renewable energy generators to pay additional costs for periods when they don’t provide power to the grid and establish a maintenance schedule for them to supposedly prevent mechanical failures.

Those moves are political, not practical. Abbott, faced with two hard-right challengers for the Republican nomination next year, doesn’t want to be seen as soft on oil or gas — or too friendly to wind or solar power.

There’s no operational justification for these orders, and they ignore the ironic fact that oil-friendly Texas produces more wind power than any other state — 23% of our state’s total and 28% of all wind power in the nation. The state’s wind power is half of the largest power source — 46% from natural gas — but growing every year. Coal produces only 18% of the state’s power, along with 11% from solar plants and 2% from the state’s two nuclear plants.

Abbott and every governor in the nation should encourage more use of non-polluting wind and solar power. Fossil fuels still make up a big part of power production in Texas and most other states, but that probably won’t be true in 20 or 30 years. The worldwide shift toward renewable power is clear, and it can even be less expensive for consumers if developed properly.

In the meantime, if Abbott wants Texas to get through this summer without brownouts, he should be doing all he can to bolster all power providers regardless of their source.

“What we need for reliable electricity isn’t picking winners and losers,” said Daniel Cohan, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, “but figuring out better ways for all of these power sources to work together as a better functioning team.”

Another glaring point is that the recent regular session of the Legislature that ended May 31 was supposed to fix this very problem. The February freeze occurred when House and Senate members were gathered in Austin, and they got an earful from angry constituents who didn’t have electricity for days at a time. Abbott himself even proclaimed on June 8, “Everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.” But a brief heat spell in early June brought back the same capacity problems that occurred in the winter.

Most of the Texas power grid is governed by the (ironically named) Electric Reliability Council of Texas — ERCOT. Southeast Texas operates under a separate grid, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator or MISO. But even though the two power systems are not directly connected, what happens in the rest of Texas can affect our region. We endured brief power blackouts in February instead of multi-day outages, and while that was bearable it was hardly ideal.

State officials shouldn’t play political games with our power supply. We need more of it, and more reliability from it. This summer, consumers won’t care whether it comes from a natural gas plant or a wind farm, and neither should politicans.

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