Editorial Roundup: Texas

Dallas Morning News. September 23, 2023.

Editorial: Finding Tally: A Texas turtle’s long journey on sea, land and air

Texas Gulf Coast is becoming a safe haven for flippered friends

A recent bit of news from Galveston reads like a children’s book: Tally the Turtle wandered too far from home and got lost. Tally was cold, alone and afraid. But then some nice marine biologists found her and let her fly in an airplane to be reunited with other turtles in Texas.

But this isn’t a children’s book. Tally is a real-life sea turtle — a Kemp’s ridley, to be exact. Her breed is the smallest species of sea turtle (adults only grow to about two feet long) and one of the rarest. They are found primarily in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and along the East Coast, but they can be swept up in strong Gulf Stream currents and taken far from home. Tally was discovered stranded and near death on the shores of Northern Wales, near Liverpool, in 2021.

Then last month, after a year and a half of rehabilitation at the Anglesey Sea Zoo, Tally made the 4,600-mile trip home. The rescue effort involved several agencies. The Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research at Texas A&M University at Galveston received Tally and helped prepare her for her new home. The Houston Zoo provided veterinary care. The British Royal Air Force helped resolve logistical and bureaucratic hurdles, which included a layover at Heathrow. (We’ve been there, Tally.) And a nonprofit organization called Turtles Fly Too chartered the actual flight. Yes, wayward turtles happen often enough that there’s a 501(c)(3) that mobilizes general-aviation pilots to return them to their homes. Founder Leslie Weinstein told us his group has relocated more than 4,000 turtles since 2014. And, because this story isn’t quirky enough, we note that Turtles Fly Too is based in Boise, Idaho.

Weinstein was complimentary of the Texas agencies he has worked with. The Texas Gulf Coast is earning a reputation for turtle research and care. When the 2021 winter storm shut down much of the state, it also stunned thousands of turtles. The South Padre Island Convention Centre made national headlines when it housed about 2,500 of them. The Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi was involved with that effort as well as another event that left 400 loggerhead turtles stranded last year. In March, the aquarium opened the Port of Corpus Christi Center for Wildlife Rescue which gives the public a behind-the-scenes look at marine rescue. And the Texas A&M at Galveston center, one of the very few university sea turtle conservation programs in the nation, is expanding to a $20 million facility where “Sea turtles in residence will serve as ambassadors to educate visitors on marine conservation, coastal resiliency and life in coastal Texas,” according to a press release.

Turtles like Tally get stranded, in part, because of climate change. Warmer waters in northern latitudes let them venture farther north in summer than they used to. When temperatures turn cold, they’re caught.

Tally’s story has a happy ending, but many others do not. We’re grateful for those who ensure that turtles like Tally can always come home to Texas.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. September 20, 2023.

Editorial: Texas GOP ‘civil war’ after Paxton verdict isn’t good for state, party

The Texas Republican Party has been at war with itself for years, waging battles large and small, consequential and petty. The split over Attorney General Ken Paxton spilled it all into the open.

But just because the House voted to impeach Paxton and the Senate voted to acquit him, it doesn’t follow that the GOP, which runs everything at the statewide level, should fight indefinitely. But there are some, inside and outside the tent, encouraging just that.

By Saturday afternoon, as senators began to vote on Paxton’s fate, it had become clear that there aren’t just Republicans who think he’s guilty and those who think he’s innocent. There are many who obsess over grievances against what they believe are corrupt federal institutions and there are some who don’t — and they prefer to expend their energy elsewhere. These differences have become all-consuming, in part because of the towering figure they involve, and they ensure the Republican party will remain less effective.

That figure himself, Donald Trump, magnified the fractured nature of the GOP when he took credit for helping Paxton get acquitted. On his Truth Social site Monday, Trump wrote that he used the platform to save Paxton “from going down at the hands of Democrats and some Republicans, headed by PAUL RINO (Ryan), Karl Rove, and others, almost all of whom came back to reason when confronted with the facts.”

If Trump was involved in some way, that’s inexcusable. He has no business even attempting to interfere in such an important, sober, state-centered matter. And his argument that Ryan, the former U.S. House speaker, and Rove, who did more to build the Texas GOP’s dominance than almost anyone, were part of a cabal against Paxton is, as usual, paranoid and fact-free.

Still, his post is a reminder that the Texas Republican Party embraces Trump and Trumpism, obsessing over one man who still can’t acknowledge 2020 election results and embraces whatever positions are the most convenient to get elected (or re-elected). Trump’s insistence that only he can convey to Congress and the world the everyday concerns of the Everyman, including Texans, while himself living in a vortex of lies, deceit, machinations, and indictments is hypocritical, immoral, and ineffectual. This form of populism must be rejected.

The two factions of the Republican Party, the grassroots most personified by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the more traditional conservatives aligned with House Speaker Dade Phelan, have always been rivals. But when Trump entered politics, it increased tenfold. Now, in Texas, there are only Democrats, Republicans for Trump, and Republicans who never want Trump to hold office again. (Sorry, Libertarians.)

Following the acquittal, Patrick gave a 10-minute speech describing what he thought about the entire process. He scolded the House on how quickly it sent over articles of impeachment. He also called for amending the Texas Constitution on impeachment to require that testimony in a House investigation be under oath, and “the target must be allowed to be present with a lawyer to cross examine the witnesses,” two frequent complaints from Paxton’s defenders.

He also recommended giving the House two weeks to review any future impeachment-related evidence before voting next time. And on Monday, he requested a full financial audit of the impeachment proceedings. It’s good to learn lessons about the process, but do we need to look back on this and have more House-Senate bickering?

Patrick and Phelan have continued to trade barbs, though, and House Republicans who voted for impeachment can count on vigorous primary challenges.

Matt Rinaldi, the chairman of the state party, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, after the Paxton acquittal: “The Texas House needs new leadership that will (1) stop the GOP civil war @DadePhelan started and (2) end the absurd practice of sharing power with Democrats. Texas Republicans are united for 2024. We invite House Republicans to join the team.”

Rinaldi is right that a civil war is bad for the GOP, but he’s incorrect to observe that Texas Republicans are united or that the only way to do so is to support MAGA conservatives, which he does. This is neither conservatism nor right, morally or politically.

True conservatism embraces individual freedom, personal and fiscal responsibility, rule of law, human dignity, free markets, and a limited government. True conservatism is an idea based on a set of principles, not a person, and certainly not one who continually abuses power, whether that be Trump, Paxton, or anyone else.

There is a time for everything — there is even a time for internal fights, especially if it purges one side of harmful or petty influences. But an indefinite war does the GOP no good. A split GOP is useless, unfocused, and accomplishes little.

It’s unfortunate that the Senate failed to remove Paxton. But it’s time for Republicans to focus where they agree and govern for the benefit of all Texans.


Houston Chronicle. September 24, 2023.

Editorial: Texas theocrats are a home-grown threat to American democracy

Since its founding in the early 1880s, the little town of Cisco, 45 miles east of Abilene, has been in the news twice. In 1919, Conrad Hilton paid $40,000 for the Mobley Hotel in downtown Cisco, which eventually gained fame as the first in a worldwide chain of Hilton hotels. Eight years later, two days before Christmas 1927, Santa Claus and three of his helpers robbed the First National Bank of Cisco.

National notoriety will again fall on Cisco if Texas voters — Republican, Democrat and independent — don’t get engaged with their democracy sometime soon. The little town is home to the Wilks brothers, Dan and Farris, oil and fracking billionaires who, by playing Santa Claus to Republican officeholders receptive to far-right extremists, are on a mission to transform Texas into a Christian nationalist state. Their efforts, in conjunction with an even more influential West Texas oil billionaire, Tim Dunn of Midland, was on insidious display during the recent impeachment trial of the most corrupt state attorney general in America.

Ken Paxton skated, not necessarily because he was innocent of the charges that 121 House members, including 60 Republicans, brought against him. He’s back on the job and baying for RINO blood because most Republicans in the Texas Senate are either in thrall to the West Texas triumvirate or they tremble in terror at the prospect of being “primaried” by a Wilks-and-Dunn-anointed challenger. All 19 Republican senators and at least half of the Republican House members have taken money from the West Texas billionaires or their affiliated PACs and organizations.

The biggest recipient by far in this state is none other than Paxton himself. It’s likely that the Wilks and Dunn trio paid for his $4 million impeachment defense, which included the time and effort of very expensive Houston lawyers, Tony Buzbee and Dan Cogdell.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the judge during the impeachment trial, also is beholden to the West Texans. Their Defend Texas Liberty PAC donated $1 million to the lite guv, while loaning him another $2 million. The PAC largesse came shortly before Patrick began presiding over Paxton’s trial, a trial that ended with a fiery Patrick speech denouncing the impeachment process.

In addition to being fossil-fuel billionaires, both Dunn and Farris Wilks are Christian nationalist evangelists — Dunn as a lay preacher for the Midland Bible Church, Wilks as a preacher for a Cisco congregation founded by his father called the Assembly of Yahweh Seventh Day Church. Dan Wilks and his wife oversee the Heavenly Fathers Foundation, a group funded with a portion of the $3.2 billion the brothers made when they sold the majority stake of their Cisco-based oil field trucking company, Frac Tech Services.

From the pulpit to the campaign pockets of politicians, the West Texans are on what they see as a God-imbued mission to transform Texas and beyond. Over the past 20 years, they’ve contributed nearly $100 million to think tanks, nonprofits, fundraising committees, websites and Texas candidates who support their crusade.

In their preaching and practice, climate change is merely God’s will; homosexuality is an evil on par with incest, bestiality and pedophilia; abortion is murder, unlawful with no exceptions; gun owners enjoy a God-given right to carry their weapons in public without permits or training; only Christians have the God-given right to hold leadership positions in government (which, as Texas Monthly reported, left former House Speaker Joe Strauss, who is Jewish, beyond the pale). Also, oil and gas is a gift from God to be used with gratitude. (They don’t mention God’s gift of sunlight and wind.)

Kel Seliger, a longtime GOP state senator from Amarillo, ran afoul of the triumvirate in recent years. Reasonable, affable and conservative, Seliger is no longer in the Legislature. “It’s a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple,” he told CNN last year. “Really, really wealthy people who are willing to spend a lot of money to get policy made the way they want it — and they get it.”

What those “really, really wealthy people” want these days is to destroy Texas public education, a hotbed, as they tell it, of critical race theory and other elements ofwhat one Dunn-and-Wilks-backed group calls “Marxist and sexual indoctrination,” all funded by “far-Left elites for decades.” (That would be the Texas taxpayer.)

Their strategy, as Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor, told Chron.com, is to recruit a generation of Wilks and Dunn-funded mouthpieces in state and local positions to push the narrative that public schools are harmful to students and their parents. Once public education is weakened beyond repair, they offer private religious schools as “a better way.”

With an insidious, well-funded effort, our home-grown theocrats will make sure that Gov. Greg Abbott has all the financial ammunition he needs in the next few weeks for his last-ditch, special-session effort to persuade lawmakers to use taxpayer money in the form of vouchers for private, often Christian-based schooling. Abbott calls it “school choice.” Rural lawmakers, who’ve fought the plan for years, know it’s school suicide.

The West Texans “want to destroy the public school system as we know it and, in its place, see more home-schooling and more private Christian schools,” former state Sen. Bob Deuell, a northeast Texas Republican, told CNN. Deuell, a physician, got crossways with the West Texans when he supported a bill that updated the state’s end-of-life procedures. Dan Wilks, falsely claiming that the legislation would “strengthen Texas’s death panels,” backed tea party activist Bob Hall, who defeated Deuell in 2014. Hall was one of Paxton’s most outspoken supporters during the impeachment trial.

Texas is a big state, but the West Texans have Christian nationalist ambitions beyond our borders. They are reliable supporters of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and, of course, former President Donald Trump, who decried Paxton’s “shameful impeachment.” In an expansive, post-impeachment mood these days, Paxton seems to be pondering a larger field of dreams for himself. He told Tucker Carlson last week he may challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. “His time is done,” Paxton told a radio talk-show host.

If Trump wins the presidential election next year, the disgraced Texas AG would be a prime candidate to head the U.S. Justice Department. (His paramour, the woman he brought from San Antonio to Austin, could be installed in a Georgetown townhouse, only a short Uber ride away from Justice.) He (they) would be right at home in a Trumpian Washington, where, as U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney said to The Atlantic writer McKay Coppins, “A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.”

The party’s presidential nominee in 2012 has said he worries about the survival of America’s democratic experiment.

Whether it survives depends in large part on what happens here in Texas, where the national far right comes for funding and ideas. Decades of one-party rule have contributed to voter apathy and made our state a fertile testing ground for extreme policies. It’s telling, for example, that the AG was reelected last year with the support of about 13 percent of the populace (4 million votes out of a population of nearly 30 million). Paxton and other Dunn and Wilks dependents only have to listen to their West Texan Santa Claus trio, not to the people of Texas.

On a Friday morning in Cisco nearly a century ago, a little girl was among the first to notice that the Santa who stepped out of a stolen Buick and into the lobby of the First National Bank was a fake (and a dangerous one, at that). In Texas these days, maybe we’ve grown jaded. Perhaps it will be young voters of all political persuasions who will take the lead in calling out — and rejecting — the dangerous extremists in our midst. Perhaps taking heart from the brave Republicans who dared impeach an errant AG, they’ll elect representatives of the people, not altar boys and girls on call for Christian nationalists.


San Antonio Express-News. September 23, 2023.

Editorial: The truth is out there, and NASA report will help find it

Look to the sky enough and you may eventually see something you can’t explain.

For decades such occurrences were often called “Unidentified Flying Objects,” or UFOs, a title the Air Force coined in 1952. But over the last few years, the Pentagon and other government agencies have changed the catchall term, first to “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,” and most recently to “Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena” — both known as UAP.

Like other phrases that change over time, future generations will someday consider UFO an old-time synonym for UAP. While more accurate and comprehensive, the term “UAP” needs more years and stories to carry the same mystique as UFOs.

The shift in the language represents a larger change in how the government thinks about and addresses the unknown — or at least a shift in how it is talking with citizens about these phenomena.

A more science-based conversation about the unexplained is a necessary step forward, however, it requires as much transparency as rigor. Talking about UAP is good, but the real test of the government’s newfound candor on the heavens’ mysteries will be how it addresses evidence of extra-terrestrial life.

Has the government found evidence of non-earthly life in prior UAP incidents? Will the government reveal signs of extra-terrestrial life if it finds them, or will it follow its past playbook of secrecy? Is this new conversation a new way to veil facts?

In July 2022, the Pentagon stood up a new office, the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, or AARO, to lead the government’s effort to understand UAPs. The agency will “improve data collection, standardize reporting requirements, and mitigate the potential threats to safety and security posed by UAP.”

Working with other government agencies, such as NASA, is part of that approach. On Sept. 14, the space agency released the report from its independent study team that had analyzed UAP. The document explains that most sightings of strange things in the sky can be explained, however, “a small handful cannot be immediately identified as known human-made or natural phenomena.”

According to AARO, most UAP since 1996 have been round white, silver or translucent shapes that are 1 to 4 meters wide and flying as high as 30,000 feet. Some were stationary, while others flew at speeds up to Mach 2.

Outside of government channels, people report thousands of UAP sightings around the world each year. While not a scientific database, the National UFO Reporting Center lists more than 6,000 incidents for Texas since the 1940s. Many of those have been explained, but some remain unsolved.

The list shows more than 300 for the San Antonio area since 1965.

Reading the accounts of spheres, eggs, orbs, fireballs, triangles, cones, cigars, lights and unknowns zigzagging across local skies captures the imagination.

To learn more about UAP, the NASA report calls for “new and robust data acquisition methods, advanced analysis techniques, a systematic reporting framework and reducing reporting stigma.”

The report also highlighted how “negative perceptions” of reporting UAP is an obstacle to accurate data. The agency hopes its involvement will help break down such stigmas.

This movement came too late for Walter Andrus Jr., a former Seguin resident who died in 2015 at the age of 94. In 1969, he founded the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, known as “the world’s oldest and largest UFO phenomenon investigative body.” Andrus led the group for decades, and as the area expert on UFOs, reporters often interviewed him when weird things happened in the sky.

He was breaking the stigma and pushing the conversation about the phenomena formerly known as UFOs when the government rarely acknowledged the subject.

In a 1997 interview with the Express-News, when asked if UFOs exist, he said, “There is no question they exist. The evidence is overwhelming. We have tens of thousands of reports in our files. All these people are not liars.”

More knowledge will come from the government’s renewed focus on UAP. The question is, will we believe?