AUSTIN, Texas – Days before a winter storm plunged Texas into prolonged frost, bursting water lines and cutting power, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (right) announced a new legislative priority : All publicly funded events in the state should play the national anthem.
With the exception of special sessions, the Texas legislature only meets once every two years for five months, so Patrick’s priorities may crowd out other goals. The fact that the Architect, who chairs the State Senate, thought this issue deserved the legislature’s limited bandwidth amid a pandemic and widespread unemployment, tells you everything you need to know about him.
Over the past week, as state leaders like Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott (right) called for investigations into the shortcomings behind the catastrophic failures that left millions of people without power, the protecting the star-spangled banners probably seemed a little less urgent, even to Patrick. But his stupid choice of priorities was not unusual. And it helps to understand how things got so bad in Texas in the first place.
The problem is simple: In a sunny state that rarely experiences prolonged frosts, power companies have not invested much in precautions to deal with extremely cold weather or to boost the system’s reserve capacity. Texas lawmakers have also done little to induce or compel utilities to prepare for unusual disasters like the one that hit the state last week.
That’s not to say Texas Republicans haven’t done anything to fix the problem. A similar, though less severe, winter storm caused widespread blackouts in 2011. In response, then-senator Glenn Hegar drew up a bill requiring a report to assess how Texas could provide electrical service. reliable during extreme weather events. The law passed and the Texas Utilities Commission made a report. But that’s about as far as it went.
Instead, Republicans, who have controlled all state offices and both houses of the legislature since 2003, have prioritized social battles like Patrick’s National Anthem Crusade. In their zeal, they often neglected ho-hum tasks like winterizing the power grid, against advice they themselves had ordered. This lack of interest is the backdrop against which some 4 million Texans lost power at the height of the crisis, while many more were left without clean water and dozens died.
In perhaps the most iconic episode of Texas Republicans’ tendency to elevate phantom problems at the expense of real problems, lawmakers ended the 2017 session without taking action on a must-see sunset bill to prevent several state agencies to close. (In Texas, the legislature must periodically vote to perpetuate most state agencies or they are abolished.) This happened not because lawmakers believed state agencies shouldn’t stay open, but because that Patrick had a more urgent plan: he wanted to pass a law forcing Texans to use public toilets as sex on their birth certificate.
Critics saw the move as an attack on transgender people, many of whom do not change their documents after transition due to the bureaucratic hurdles involved. Patrick argued that he was, in fact, targeting bathroom-changing sexual predators who, in his mind, could not be prosecuted harshly enough under current law.
His intransigence on the issue forced Abbott to call a special session of the legislature. The bathroom bill ultimately failed and the procrastination bill was passed – but only after lawmakers wasted time that could have been used to fix issues that can be verified. .
“Texas has been in the hands of people who don’t believe in government in the first place,” former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro (R) said at a press conference last Friday. “It’s a leadership crisis that has real consequences for families across the state.”
The annals of Texas law are filled with plans of dubious urgency that cut forward down-to-earth measures that could have done more to keep the lights on and the water running – especially the early years of Obama in the 2018 midterm election, when the Republican right-wing enjoyed its greatest influence, said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.
“We just saw a lot less concern about the issues of global governance and a lot more concern about the red meat issues that appealed to the grassroots, even though they were unlikely to have any real political consequences,” said Jones. “The point was to signal to the grassroots that you were pursuing the real Republican agenda.”
Some of these issues were the sort of harmless legal adjustments that could occur in any state – even if in retrospect, winterizing vulnerable gas and water lines seems more important than criminalizing bestiality or s’ ensure that no one is confused that teachers can say “Merry Christmas”.
Others were more politically controversial. A multi-year battle in the state legislature ended with a 2011 law requiring Texans to show photo ID before voting, which sparked a long-standing court battle. Republicans have never proven that Election fraud was everything that looked like an election threat, but prosecuting the few isolated cases it can find remains a top priority for State Attorney General Ken Paxton. (Like US Senator Ted Cruz, Paxton left the state during the height of the winter frost.)
And measures effectively restricting immigration have been a perennial GOP favorite, superfluous or redundant as they are. When the Texas legislature in 2017 passed a crackdown on so-called “sanctuary cities” that limit cooperation with immigration authorities, only one county in the state had adopted such a policy. Texas has amassed more than $ 2 billion at the border over the past decade, although the federal government already controls it heavily with officers from three agencies who, unlike National Guard troops and police from State deployed by Abbott, are legally empowered to make immigration arrests.
Much of the ideological praise of the past decade is due to the rise of the right-wing Texas GOP during President Barack Obama’s first term. The year 2017 marked the height of Republican social conservatism in the state in large part because the right-wing party suffered heavy losses at the polls the following year, as the attempt by former US Representative Beto O ‘Rourke to oust Ted Cruz from his Senate seat unexpectedly resulted in Democratic participation. across the state.
“It put the fear of God in the Republicans of Texas,” Jones said. “It really sobered Republicans as they entered the 2019 legislative session. In comparative terms, they really downplayed the ideological issues.
But Republican leaders are still struggling to shake off the old habit of leaning over windmills. In an interview with Fox News last week, Abbott cited the Texas energy debacle as a reason to condemn the Green New Deal, a progressive proposal to sprint towards renewable energy. Critics have pounced on him, pointing out the obvious: Texas’s energy grid is powered largely by fossil fuels.
“We don’t have the Green New Deal here in Texas,” said US Representative Marc Veasey, a Democrat from Fort Worth. “They were responsible for this.”
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up to become a founding member and help shape the next chapter of HuffPost