Editorial Roundup: Texas

Houston Chronicle. January 19, 2024.

Editorial: Conservative appeals court gets it right. Texas booksellers aren’t the morality police.

Atticus Finch, the relentlessly principled defense attorney and father in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” has just wrapped up his closing statement when his family’s cook and housekeeper interrupts the court, to pass him a note. For a moment, Finch loses his composure. It turns out his children haven’t been seen at home for hours and, to his chagrin, he realizes they’ve been sitting in the balcony watching proceedings of the trial.

The details of the allegations his children heard aren’t the sort that most parents discuss openly with their children, especially 9-year-olds like “Scout,” the narrator of the classic book. The language of the proceedings is rife with sexually explicit descriptions and racial slurs. And yet, the 1960 novel was for years required reading in private and public schools across the country because of the way its author used a full set of storytelling tools to give young readers a nuanced understanding of these most taboo of subjects.

We’re glad Lee put those fictional children in the courtroom, and that many school districts agreed that kids ought to have an opportunity to read and discuss such a troubling story and a remarkable contribution to American literature.

So it was easy to scoff when the Texas Legislature passed a bill meant to keep inappropriate books off library shelves by requiring vendors to rate the explicitness of any sexual references in the books they sell to school districts. Would “To Kill a Mockingbird” be canceled? What about the Texas classic “ Lonesome Dove?”

The name of the bill — the READER Act — invited another layer of ridicule. It stands for Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources.

In truth, the act that made it into law is more nuanced than its detractors let on. Before designating a book “explicit,” vendors are to “consider the full context in which the description, depiction, or portrayal of sexual conduct appears” and whether that might “mitigate the offensiveness of the material.”

Sounds good at first. And hey, it could be a decent jobs program for all the English majors out there who’d much rather get paid to read than to drive for Uber. Trouble is, the law expected booksellers to shoulder the cost of this vast undertaking. And not just for future sales to schools, but for past ones as well. A lawsuit was promptly filed to challenge the law. One of the plaintiffs, Blue Willow Bookshop, on Houston’s west side, estimated that such assessments would cost between $200 and $1,000 per book, and between $4 million and $500 million to rate the ones already sold. By comparison, the store’s annual sales are just over $1 million.

On Aug. 31, one day before the law would have gone into effect, a federal district judge agreed with the booksellers and blocked the enforcement of the bill. Texas appealed. On Wednesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, widely considered the most conservative federal appellate court, upheld the lower court’s ruling. The justices ruled that the law violated the First Amendment because it “compelled speech.” If Blue Willow didn’t issue ratings it would lose business with Katy ISD — and, according to the suit, already has — and would go out of business if it tried to comply.

The author of the bill, state Rep. Jared Patterson, a Republican out of Frisco, posted to X that he was “disappointed” by the 5th Circuit’s decision but added that “the state library standards, which are the first ever of their kind, remain Texas law, as the court opinion states, ‘the library standards are not an issue.’”

Patterson has a point. State policymakers and school districts have an obligation to set standards. The folks who write, publish and sell books — as the 5th Circuit made clear — have a constitutionally protected right to put whatever they think will sell out into the world, but that doesn’t mean all of it, no matter how prurient or vulgar, should end up on a library shelf. These days, actually, it is liberal school districts removing “To Kill a Mockingbird” from their assigned reading lists because of outrage over the racial slurs used by bigoted characters and the depictions of Black characters through the white child narrator’s eyes.

Even Harper Lee, the author, seemed uneasy about having written a book for young audiences that’s so explicit. Her moral hero, Finch, is upset that his kids snuck into the courtroom. A minister sitting next to the children objected, too, but eventually both relented. They seem to understand that children can’t be protected from the harsh realities of the world, and that was before kids carried little computers in their pockets connected to the internet.

Kids need moral guides, not blinders.

At home, those guides should be parents or guardians. At school? There’s a whole profession dedicated to interpreting community standards when picking out books. They’re called teachers and librarians, and they deserve thoughtful and clear policies with enough discretion to curate school collections that can help our children become informed, engaged citizens —not people who fear information or engagement with people who hold different beliefs. We’ve got enough of those already.

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San Antonio Express-News. January 17, 2024.

Editorial: We shouldn’t have to be so thankful that the state power grid held up

No news was good news when it came to the arctic blast that brought freezing temperatures to Texas this week.

As a state, we’re still grappling with PTSD from the February 2021 devastation of Winter Storm Uri, which caused the state’s power grid to fail, forced more than 4 million households to go without electricity and took the lives of hundreds of Texans.

In the days leading up to this week’s cold front, many of us nervously stocked up on essential items. We loaded our pantries with nonperishables. We made sure our flashlights had working batteries.

When the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which oversees the state power grid, issued a conservation appeal Sunday for Monday morning, we worried.

“Operating reserves are expected to be low tomorrow morning due to continued freezing temperatures, record-breaking demand, and unseasonably low wind,” ERCOT announced. “We request Texas businesses and residents conserve electricity use.”

A similar appeal was issued for Tuesday morning, but, thankfully, the state power grid held up this time.

To be sure, an element of luck was involved. This freeze wasn’t as severe as Uri. It didn’t last as long, and it didn’t produce as much freezing precipitation.

“I don’t think that this should be taken as if we had another Winter Storm Uri, we’d be fine,” said Doug Lewin, president of Stoic Energy Consulting. “This was not Winter Storm Uri. It’s not that kind of test.”

Solar and wind generation gave the grid a nice boost, and ERCOT’s calls for conservation probably spurred some reduction in energy usage. That combination of forces enabled the grid to make it through the cold front.

We can appreciate the success of the grid this week while also recognizing that we shouldn’t have to consider it a remarkable achievement to go through a few days of sub-32-degree temperatures without millions of Texans being plunged into darkness.

In other states, residents don’t expect to lose power every time there’s a cold front. And we shouldn’t have to either.

Four months after Uri, Gov. Greg Abbott signed two bills that he promised would do “everything that needed to be done” to fix the state power grid. One bill called for weatherization of Texas power plants, and the other reorganized the governing structure of ERCOT.

While it’s hard to quantify the impact of recent state-mandated weatherization efforts, it’s reasonable to assume they were at least somewhat helpful in preventing the widespread shutdowns of thermal power plants that occurred during the 2021 freeze.

But when it comes to power generation, our margin for error is too thin. Last summer’s prolonged heat wave repeatedly pushed the power grid to the brink of its capacity. A more intense freeze this week might have pushed us past the brink.

An obvious answer would be for Texas to follow the example of other states by joining an integrated, multistate grid network.

Texas has stubbornly refused to take this approach because it would subject the state to federal regulations.

The go-it-alone strategy, however, has cut Texas off from supplemental power sources it could lean on in times of crisis.

Our power grid made it through this week successfully. And we’re thankful. But we shouldn’t have to be thankful that our lights stayed on. It should be expected.

When it comes to our power grid, stability isn’t something we should hope for. Reliability isn’t something we should aspire to achieve. These are things we should be able to count on.

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Dallas Morning News. January 19, 2024.

Editorial: Ken Paxton rolls over

Texas attorney general talks tough, but can’t face truth.

Attorney General Ken Paxton loves to represent himself as a relentless fighter in the culture wars.

But Paxton announced Thursday that he’ll stop fighting in one arena: the whistleblower lawsuit brought by his former top executives.

Why give up so easily in his own legal fight against charges of corruption?

The answer couldn’t be clearer. The one thing Paxton will go to any length to avoid is having to sit down and answer questions under oath about allegations that he accepted bribes and other benefits on behalf of Austin real estate magnate, turned federal indictee, Nate Paul.

And the Texas Supreme Court has now cleared the way for Paxton to be deposed in a lawsuit filed by Blake Brickman, Ryan Vassar, David Maxwell and Mark Penley. A judge Friday ordered that to take place Feb. 1. The four former deputies are among eight loyal Texans who sat at the pinnacle of power in state government. We named the eight our 2023 Texans of the Year for their courage in refusing to accept Paxton’s repeated attempts to put the power of the state in Paul’s hands to attack his business enemies.

Paxton abused his office repeatedly and wrongly fired the four who are now suing. Paxton tried to reach a settlement with them, but the Texas House, led by Speaker Dade Phelan, rightly refused to pay up to cover up. Instead, the House impeached Paxton in an overwhelming vote. Sadly, 16 Republican senators turned their backs on the plain facts laid out in the impeachment trial and voted to acquit.

The Texas Republican Party is now torn in two. Paxton is on the stump attacking the conservative members of the House who did what conscience and truth demanded when they impeached him.

But while he’s got plenty of time to campaign against decent Republicans, our attorney general is doing all he can to avoid being deposed about his own activities.

As State Rep. Jared Patterson — a man who couldn’t be more conservative — wrote on social media, Paxton’s pathetic attempts to duck a deposition only sing the truth of what he’s done.

“TOTAL VINDICATION,” wrote Patterson, who is among those Paxton is hounding. “Today, Attorney General Ken Paxton admitted he violated the Texas Whistleblower Act and confirmed offenses laid out in Texas House Impeachment Articles 6, 7, 8 and 15. I supposed Mr. Paxton views this total reversal as more appealing than answering questions … ”

We pray Paxton’s give-up-the-ghost tactic doesn’t work, and whistleblower attorney Tom Nesbitt has promised it won’t.

“This is but another desperate stunt by Ken Paxton to prevent the truth from coming out,” he said.

We plead with conservative Texans not to believe the nonsense that Paxton and his coterie are spouting. Look at the facts. Look at the backgrounds of the people making these accusations. Look at the bona fides of the House members who impeached him.

Don’t be like those 16 senators and our lieutenant governor. Have a mind and an eye for the truth. Texas needs you to.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. January 18, 2024.

Editorial: Cowardice, poor training: New report details police ‘failure’ in Uvalde shooting

Since a shooter invaded Robb Elementary school in Uvalde in 2022 and killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers, it’s been clear that law enforcement failed that day. What has not always been clear is how or why this could have happened, let alone how to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

A new Justice Department report begins to answer some of those questions. While it doesn’t contain huge revelations, new details confirm that however bad you thought that day in Uvalde had been, it was far worse.

Unfortunately, the answers don’t provide relief or comfort; they only reinforce the notion that cowardice and chaos took over in law enforcement’s response.

The scathing federal report, nearly 600 pages, calls Uvalde a tragic example of “cascading failures of leadership, decision-making, tactics, policy and training.” Known as a Critical Incident Report, it’s based on reviews of more than 14,000 documents and 260 interviews. It covers law enforcement response, emergency services, and logistical and communication nightmares in the aftermath that have prohibited families from knowing what exactly happened to their child or providing them with any accountability.

Though several law enforcement officers arrived within minutes of the report of an active shooter at Robb Elementary, no one breached the classroom, despite the fact that halting immediate threats is typical active shooter response protocol.

“Officers on scene should have recognized the incident as an active shooter scenario and moved and pushed forward immediately and continuously toward the threat until the room was entered, and the threat was eliminated” the report says. The report found that no one “assumed a leadership role to direct the response toward the active shooter.” This created absolute mayhem and cost precious minutes.

Law enforcement officers have said that they simply didn’t know the shooter was still in a room full of children who needed aid, but the report found differently. It found that for more than an hour, there were instances of gunfire heard from the room, about 45 rounds. “Any one of these events should have driven the law enforcement response to take steps to immediately stop the killing,” the report says.

About 30 minutes after the shooter arrived, fourth-grader Khloie Torres made a 911 call from inside the classroom. Through whispers, she communicated that she and her fellow students were trapped with the shooter. Still, law enforcement waited 40 more minutes to breach the door.

After Border Patrol agents finally confronted the shooter, the former school Police Chief Pete Arredondo, whom the report identifies as the terrible de facto on-scene commander, delayed providing medical aid to wounded children in the classrooms, presuming they were all dead. In fact, 17 other children were wounded and survived.

Arrendondo “intentionally prioritized the evacuations over immediate breach and entry into the room,” which is “counter to active shooter response principles, which state the priority is to address and eliminate the threat,” the report says. It’s likely some victims would have survived if officers had followed protocol.

Even the emergency response was a disaster. Emergency personnel were not allowed immediate access to the critically wounded children. Instead, the deceased were moved first. Some injured children were placed on school buses, rather than ambulances, and ushered to hospitals. In one case, a helicopter with medics was available to transport wounded but lack of communication ensured that an ambulance drove 15 minutes away to get a child on a life-flight to a hospital, according to the report.

The skewed timeline, misinformation, and lack of accountability has kept loved ones from having any closure. “Some have asked if their child was alone or near friends. Others want to know if their child would have lived had law enforcement entered the classroom earlier. Many victims and family members have reported that no one has taken accountability for what happened, no one has apologized, nor even acknowledged that the families deserve this information,” the report said.

This is gut-wrenching and beyond disrespectful to families who deserve a full and honest account of the events of that day and a genuine apology for the untold failures.

While the report didn’t recommend any punitive measures, it did state that training protocols on active shooter situations must be remedied or, where lacking entirely, instituted in the first place.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and it’s easier for people outside this tragedy to posit what should have been done. We understand that law enforcement brings constant challenges and situations that individuals may not ever feel they have fully prepared for.

However, there were hundreds of officers on site that day, dozens of whom arrived within minutes. Together they’ve received thousands of hours worth of training for responding to violence, yet many hadn’t received training for active shooter scenarios.

Even if the Legislature had passed a red flag law making it harder, or impossible, for the disturbed teen shooter to carry out such an act or barred people his age from buying semiautomatic rifles, there will always be evil people intent on doing violence. We rely on law enforcement to deter, halt or intervene when necessary.

If evil triumphs when a good man doing nothing, what does one call an event where hundreds of trained men, armed with weapons and tactical gear, did not respond? This report confirms that every person who arrived that day, save perhaps for the couple of men who breached the room, should be fired. They must be held accountable. Training must be increased and improved.

The loved ones of the people who died that day are owed this. Texans are owed this.

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AIM Media Texas. January 19, 2024.

Editorial: Border issues require cooperation rather than confrontation

The waves of people coming to our borders seeking asylum is a crisis that has plagued our country for nearly a decade. It’s only getting worse as wars, failed governance and economic collapse around the world drive more and more people to flee their home countries and seek refuge in this country, which has long been a bastion of hope, freedom and economic opportunity. The numbers of refugees have overwhelmed U.S. officials as the backlog of requests for safe haven continues to rise.

Unfortunately, many public officials and candidates have turned the border crisis into a political football. This only complicates the issue and makes any resolution more difficult and lengthy.

They should recognize the need to put more heads together and brainstorm possible strategies, instead of firing potshots that worsen the political divide that make matters worse.

A good place to start would be for border governors — on both sides of the border — to stop using immigration for their political benefit and start exchanging information and ideas to seek possible solutions.

A good place to start would be to resurrect the Border Governors Conferences, an annual gathering that brought together the executives from the four U.S. and six Mexican states along our common border. The meetings led to bilateral approaches to common issues, and gave strength to border-related presentations and requests that were forwarded to both countries’ federal governments.

In fact, federal officials increasingly participated in the annual summits as officials from our own departments of Homeland Security, Commerce and Environmental Protection began attending and thus including a federal presence into the negotiating process.

Recently, however, individual governors, particularly Texas’ Greg Abbott, have boycotted the meetings. Reasons for their refusal to participate have ranged from the drug war to the threat of cartel encroachment across the border to, most recently, border security and immigration.

These issues, however, are best addressed on both sides of the border, and inclusion of all border states helps secure more reasonable, comprehensive strategies that have a better chance of success.

Immigration isn’t the only issue they need to address. Recent railway mishaps show the need to make sure trains from both countries are safe. In addition, Texas’ water infrastructure badly needs attention, as does Mexico’s increasing inattention to the water-sharing treaty between our two countries.

Moreover, immigration is an issue that plagues both countries, as most people seeking asylum here are not from Mexico but from Central America, Cuba, China and other countries.

These are complex issues that have plagued the border region for years, and are best addressed by active and frank exchanges of ideas. Grandstanding by politicians who place their own interests ahead of the public’s needs only make matters worse.

Border officials, beginning with Abbott, need to set aside their personal agendas and begin addressing the needs of the people they were elected to serve. If they don’t, voters should consider the need to elect other people who will.

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