Editorial Roundup: Texas

Houston Chronicle. Oct. 8, 2021.

Editorial: The phony ‘critical race theory’ crusade strikes again - and Katy ISD fell for it

Near the end of the graphic novel at the center of this week’s firestorm in Katy ISD, a white seventh-grader named Liam is invited by two of his Black friends to spend the day with their families. The friends, Jordan and Drew, had spent most of the story in predominantly white spaces and now they were giving Liam a chance to see life from their vantage points for a change.

“Wow! This was great!” Liam says to his classmates. “Thanks for letting me experience it, Jordan.” As smiles light up faces all around, Jordan replies, “And thank you for trying.”

This happy little scene was a long time coming in noted Black author Jerry Craft’s “Class Act,” a story filled with conflict between and among the races, but one that also takes his young readers on a journey full of humor and unexpected twists.

Craft says when he was growing up in New York City, he never got a chance to read books for school whose characters looked like him. In his own books, he strives to “show kids of color as regular kids” and gives readers of color a chance to see themselves. Their white classmates get a chance to see life from a different perspective, too.

He might have told students that himself on Monday, had his invitation to speak virtually to the Katy school district not been pulled at nearly the last minute. About 450 Katy ISD parents signed a now-deleted online petition to have Craft’s books removed and his speaking appearance canceled. His offense?

The petition argued Craft’s books promote reverse racism against white students and would have left them feeling shame over the way some of the white characters treat Jordan, the book’s 12-year-old protagonist.

That’s incredibly short-sighted. As it happens, characters in the book should be recognizable to all its readers as they navigate the perils of social media and figure out where they fit in the school cafeteria. They stumble through preteen mini-relationships, get called the wrong names and experience visiting classmates’ homes.

Katy ISD has deprived its students of an opportunity to engage with a vibrant writer who could have helped some students feel seen and affirmed, and others challenged to think about life in some of their classmates’ shoes.

Yes, “Class Act” does have scenes in which white youth and adults make clumsy or offensive, if usually well-intentioned, comments that have the effect of ‘othering’ the Black preteens in the story. But the book is also full of generous characters and moments to which readers of all backgrounds can relate. It’s seventh graders working through misunderstandings and coming together — an example we could all use.

The impulse to ban books is nothing new. But the latest impetus to challenge everything that offers a new perspective on race in America stems from the ongoing fight over what’s known as critical race theory, an academic lens to American history that’s been part of graduate studies for decades though not the Texas public school curriculum. In the current polarized environment, it’s often wildly mischaracterized as a way of reading American history with the goal of making white people feel terrible.

The theory is now a catch-all bogeyman keeping Americans fearful of our nation’s changing demographics. And the paranoia is spreading beyond race to seemingly attack anything that might challenge the cultural status quo. Just this week, Spring Branch ISD removed a book with a character who comes out as transgender, due to a parent’s complaint.

This is classic “zero-sum game” thinking: the idea that intentionally centering the experiences of Blacks or Latinos means white people are somehow losing something or being sidelined.

Critical race theory doesn’t teach white students that they’re irredeemably racist. It’s designed to give scholars a frame to understand the impact racism has had on our laws, our history, our culture.

Neither books like Craft’s, nor unflinching history lessons, are about instilling shame. Differences and inequalities already exist, as do the impacts from institutionalized racism, whether we teach them or not. Why not introduce our students to engaging literature that encourages them to look at issues from a variety of perspectives?

We can’t be afraid to have students encounter material that represents reality, even if that reality can be uncomfortable. Middle and high school can indeed be tough for Black children in predominantly white schools. Transgender kids exist. People of color do often get nervous when stopped by police. Those are truths about society, so we might as well have books and poems and curriculum that reflect them.

Craft said recently that when he speaks to groups of students, one or two kids will often approach him afterward, and say, “Hey, Mr. Craft, I hate to read, but I read your book in two days — and it’s the first time I ever did that.”

That should be celebrated. Instead, Katy ISD officials listened only to a few hundred of the loudest voices in this debate. Leading a district of nearly 90,000 students, they should have stood up for all those who were counting on them to not be intimidated.

Somewhere in Katy there’s a struggling 12-year-old who’s been given a hard time, feeling isolated because of her dark skin or odd interests — or both.

Let’s give that student, and all her classmates, materials that explore and embrace difference rather than fear it. And then those young people can show us adults how it’s done.

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San Antonio Express-News. Oct. 6, 2021.

Editorial: Abbott panders on immigration, violates due process

The great unifying sin of Gov. Greg Abbott’s tenure is that, of course, he knows better.

This is a man who served as a state Supreme Court justice and Texas’ longtime attorney general before ascending to the governor’s office. He knows it is blatantly unconstitutional to arrest people and not provide representation or due process for weeks on end. One doesn’t have to be an attorney to know and understand this, but for a public official with Abbott’s legal pedigree, the failure to honor due process is galling.

In launching Operation Lone Star and creating a new legal system to detain immigrants on state trespassing charges, Abbott has blatantly disregarded constitutional rights at the altar of political expedience found in anti-immigrant posturing.

Regardless of one’s feelings about immigration and border security — whether the federal government is doing its job (comprehensive reform is long overdue), or a border wall is necessary (it is not), whether Dreamers should have a pathway to citizenship (they should), or the application of Title 42 under the Trump and Biden administrations is a moral failure (it is) — all Texans should be concerned about Abbott’s jailing of immigrants because it is an assault on due process and civil liberties.

Hundreds of immigrants have been detained for weeks on trespassing charges without representation, violating state law and overwhelming county justice systems, all while undercutting federal due process. Immigration is a federal issue.

As the Texas Tribune has reported, those facing criminal charges in Texas must be assigned counsel within three days of asking for an attorney. Prosecutors must also file charges within 15 to 30 days in typical trespassing cases. But these basic standards are not being met.

In rural Kinney County, where the vast majority of immigrants have been detained, the Texas Tribune reported, there aren’t enough local defense attorneys to take cases. Meanwhile, prosecutors have been slow to file charges, and the Washington Post has reported that non-English speaking detainees were asked to sign documents to decline representation. These documents were not in their native language.

In an example of how flawed this “system” is, about 250 migrants who were detained for more than a month without charges were recently released, thanks to the efforts of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

Since its launch in March, Operation Lone Star has resulted in 6,000 arrests on charges ranging from trespassing to smuggling and human trafficking, state officials have said. To make room for these defendants, the state has converted prison space at the Briscoe Unit in Dilley and Segovia Unit in Edinburg, the Washington Post has reported.

But, clearly, the system isn’t prepared for this type of influx and capacity. If it were, detainees would be represented, not languishing in jail waiting for charges.

For example, the Lubbock Private Defenders Office, a fabulous model for indigent defense, has been asked to help appoint attorneys. But Lubbock is nowhere near the border, and the outfit is too small to take on so many cases. To provide legal representation would cost millions in addition to housing costs — and after disposition of these trespassing cases, the migrants are sent to federal authorities for processing.

At best, Abbott’s system is duplicative and costly. At worst, it is a violation of due process that plays to fears of migrants.

Like so many other politicians, Abbott, through his efforts to build a wall, rhetoric and willingness to cast aside due process, is invested (through taxpayer dollars) in the fight over immigration, not in solutions that balance security and economic concerns with human dignity.

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The (Harlingen) Valley Morning Star. Oct. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Unfair: Current redistricting clearly discriminatory

America’s founders believed our representative form of government could only work if equal representation was guaranteed. It’s clear from the wording of the Constitution, and it’s the sole constitutional basis for the decennial census; they’d surely be horrified to see that today it’s primarily touted as a tool for reallocating resources that have been taken from taxpayers.

So it’s safe to assume that those who designed our system of government would be similarly appalled at the way political districts are delineated, with the full consent — endorsement, even — of officials at all levels of government.

The most obvious case in point is our own state of Texas, which seems to be the nation’s laboratory for determining what partisan measures will pass judicial review.

State lawmakers have released preliminary maps of new political districts, from seats in Congress to the state legislature, judicial districts and other political offices. Once lawmakers officially approve the redistricting bills, we expect many will be challenged in court. They always are, and with good reason: they’re discriminatory and don’t accurately represent the state’s population.

For example, Texas’ growth over the past 10 years bring it two new congressional seats. Demographers note that nearly 95% of that growth came from Latino, Asian and Black residents. The new districts, however, greatly decrease the influence of those demographic groups.

Most notable is the fact that Texas’ Latino population is virtually equal to the Anglo population — 39.3% to 39.8%, respectively, and Latinos are expected to become the state’s largest ethnic group within two years. People of color now comprise 60% of the state’s population. However, of the state’s 36 current seats in the U.S. House, 22 have White majorities, eight are predominantly Hispanic, one is mostly Black and the rest have no clear majority. In the proposed new districts, 23 will be mostly White, seven Hispanic and the rest have no clear majority. No district will carry a Black majority.

Ideally, ethnicity shouldn’t matter. However, it’s clear that the Republican-dominated Legislative Redistricting Board drew the districts along racial lines.

Defending the districts drawn after the 2010 enumeration, state officials said their goal was to gain political advantage for the Republican Party, and they focused on the results of individual election precincts; the fact that those results reflected ethnic grouping was coincidental.

The Supreme Court has no problem with it.

But discrimination is discrimination, whether it’s based on race, religion or political preference. The very fact that state officials acknowledged their intention to increase the influence of one group and decrease others violates our constitutional mandate of equal representation of the laws.

It’s naive to think that current Supreme Court will find fault with current redistricting strategies that favor the Republican Party. Nor is it a given that all ethnic minorities support liberal ideals and candidates. However, if historic voting trends hold true and minority growth continues to dominate, discriminatory redistricting might prove not only immoral and unconstitutional, but possibly futile.

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Abilene Reporter News. Oct. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Endorsements by local Republican ‘leaders’ - mayor and commissioner - not their job

An email arrived almost at high noon Friday from Team P.

Team P is George P. Bush’s campaign army that is pushing the current land commissioner for attorney general in the 2022 election.

Bush, of course, is part of Team Bush, which has been in politics across four generations. Two Bush boys, George H. (41) and George W. (43), were elected president. Another, Jeb, sought the presidency in 2016.

George P. Bush is Jeb’s eldest son.

Following the family tree, George P. is the nephew of W. and the grandson of H.W.

The Bush bonanza began with Prescott Bush, who was elected senator in Connecticut in 1952.

So, we’re greatly familiar with the Bush family.

What we’re not used to is an email saying two Taylor County “Republican leaders” were endorsing him as attorney general. Bush wants to unseat troubled AG Ken Paxton, as does former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman.

This is going to be a good race and one with some fire. One that has prompted our current state senator, Dawn Buckingham, to seek the land commissioner post.

Texas politics, in recent years, has been about climbing the ladder. Buckingham wants more than to represent District 24, which includes most of Taylor County, an area that has not garnered much of her attention over the years. Other than jumping on the Great Lakes Cheese bandwagon recently.

But that’s not today’s issue.

What is? Endorsements of Bush by Abilene Mayor Anthony Williams and Taylor County Commissioner Chuck Statler.

Keep politics out of local leadership

The Abilene mayor is elected to lead our city, not to represent a party. There is no R or D by his name (to date, no woman has been elected).

Williams showed little, if any, party leaning during his first term. But he more recently has increased his visibility as a Republican.

When John Cornyn came to Abilene on Super Tuesday in 2020, the mayor was not seen at his breakfast (sans breakfast) stop in Abilene at Cypress Street Station.

But the mayor a year ago this month, before the general election, intentionally was seen front and center with Cornyn.

It would seem Williams has changed strategies.

He’s not just welcoming a political visitor to Abilene but wants to be associated with him or her. This speaks more to possible political ambitions after the completion of his second, and final, mayor’s term than it does to currently being our mayor.

Local politics thankfully has stayed clear of the storm clouds of national politics.

May the best man or woman with a plan win.

But that political independence may not be the case anymore. National politics and the divisiveness that comes with it may be creeping into local government. And that’s sad.

We’ve seen greater evidence of this change during the pandemic.

Paxton is the target

As for Statler, the outgoing, down-home commissioner enjoys the public eye. We appreciate his willingness to comment on Commissioners Court decisions.

Commissioners in Texas run with party affiliation. In Taylor County, the candidates have been Republicans for years, so it comes down to name recognition, accomplishments — which still is important in our view — and, today, which candidate is the most conservative. Because they all are as candidates.

The Bush folks call Williams and Statler “Abilene Republican leaders.”

We prefer to think of them as local leaders who may happen to be Republican.

In his endorsement, Williams called Bush a “great friend to our oil and gas industry and, as AG, I know he’ll continue to be a champion for jobs.”

In his endorsement, Statler said “we need an attorney general that we can be proud of. Not one that is an embarrassment.”

Paxton has been under fire for years, including accusations of taking bribes. He has been indicted for felony securities fraud.

Being a Republican, Paxton has kept his job. But maybe for not much longer.

As Republicans size up their future in Texas - keeping Republicans in office - candidates such as Paxton may be jettisoned to avoid being easy targets for Democrats.

Keep it local

Williams and Statler are free to have preferences, as we all are. And if they want to rub shoulders with Republicans leaders who come to town, that’s their call. Each in his way is an affable host.

But it seems the interests of Taylor County and city of Abilene residents transcend politics. We have potholes to fill and need solutions for increasing first-responder numbers outside the city limits.

In a climate that divides almost everything into red and blue categories, is building a downtown hotel or considering salaries for deputies and jailers a Democrat or Republican issue?

In our view, it’s best to put political affiliations aside and simply serve our community, as elected to do.

And if Williams or Statler aspire to Republican leadership, take the next step. Run for the open state Senate seat.

Really put your Republican self out there.

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Dallas Morning News. Oct. 7, 2021.

Editorial: After school shooting, we pause to lament

Tragedy came to Arlington yesterday. Dozens of lives were forever changed because of the violent actions of one young man, if police suspicions hold true. There is much we still don’t know. It appears that four people were hurt, three of them seriously enough to be taken to hospitals, and that two of those victims were shot. Police gave us the name of a young man suspected in this case and said they believe the shooting erupted after a fight with another student.

All of those details remain preliminary and unconfirmed. Our reporters will work hard in the coming days to discover what exactly happened and who is responsible. But at this point, the day after the event and before we know all the details, the most appropriate response for us to offer is the one found in the ancient practice of naming what has been lost.

We lament the loss suffered by the victims and their loved ones. We don’t know how great those losses will be, but lives have been forever changed. For students wounded in the gunfire yesterday, school went from “the place my friends are” to “the place the threats are.” It went from a place to get an education to a place to get shot.

We lament the same effect for students who weren’t physically wounded. Just as schools were welcoming back a cohort of kids beset by mental health challenges from online culture and pandemic isolation, yesterday’s terror further contributed to the gnawing sense of exposure and anxiety many of them feel.

We can be grateful too, that some 1,700 students escaped without physical harm. There is no such thing as a good outcome when someone starts shooting in a school, but yesterday’s violence could have wounded or killed more than it did.

And last, we are not too proud to mourn a ruined life. Yesterday’s events will follow the shooter forever.

There will be time in the coming days to investigate, to pursue justice, to press charges, to debate policy. The ink is ready for us to write those stories. But today’s story is about living, as the author of the biblical book of Lamentations wrote, “besieged and surrounded with bitterness and hardship.”

END