GOP Governor Greg Abbott—The Lone Star State’s Biggest Disaster March 3, 2021
Disasters -- medical, climate, and political ones roaring in like a vicious tornado. That’s what Texas, the Lone Star State, has been smashed by. TX, like the rest of the nation, has been suffering from the nearly one-year COVID-19 pandemic. By 2/24/2021, at least 41,980 Texans had died from COVID-19 and TX, the second most populous state, had over 2,264,763 COVID confirmed cases (Texas Department of State Health Services, Updated 2/24/21). As if the pandemic were not enough, the weather gave TX one humungous sucker punch. On 2/16/2021, during the 2/13/-2/17/2021 North American winter storm, power plants across TX broke down. More than 4 million households were left without power amid dangerously low temperatures, and an increasing number did not have heat or running water. Some families were burning furniture to stay warm, and grocery stores were emptying. At least 80 people died, including an 11-year- old boy found frozen in his bed. Vietnam veteran Carroll “Andy” Anderson (75) died of hypothermia and a lack of oxygen in a Houston suburb after the electricity that ran his oxygen tank was cut during the storm. In the freezing darkness, many desperate Texans felt they were left to fend for themselves (cnn.com, Cillizza, C., 2/25/21, nytimes.com, Klein, E., 2/25/21, latimes.com, 2/26/21, Hennessy-Fiske & Stokols).
And it now turns out that Texans could have faced an even more catastrophic blackout. According to Bill Magness, president and chief executive of Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the power grid that was supposed to handle such extreme cold weather events, TX was roughly 4 minutes and 37 seconds away from suffering a total collapse and a near statewide blackout for weeks or more (Golgowski, N., huffpost.com, 2/25/21, Klein, nytimes.com, 2/25/21). ERCOT, apparently, had failed to prepare for the present disaster. It wrongly used a 2011 cold snap as its model, even though TX’s worst cold experience had occurred in 1989. As New York Times columnist Ezra Klein noted, “Texas hadn’t just prepared for the far future. It failed to prepare for the recent past (nytimes.com, 2/256/21).”
And then there is the third disaster TX is being forced to deal with at the same time as COVID-19 and freezing weather. That is the disaster of the Lone Star State’s political “leaders.” TX boasts of its being a low wage GOP laissez-faire state and is obsessed with deregulation. The ERCOT power grid, which covers most of TX, is not connected to other states and not subject to federal regulation. It is independent (tjogel.org). Only the western El Paso and eastern Beaumont areas, not part of the ERCOT intrastate power grid, had relatively fewer and shorter power outages (Rogalski, J., khou.com, 2/17/21).
TX has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in more than a quarter of a century, and has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter. In 2016, Demagogue Donald carried TX by 9 points over Hillary and in 2020 Trump beat Biden by more than 5 percentage points (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac, Siders, politico.com, 2/24/21). TX’s two U.S. Senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, are staunch GOPers. The TX U.S. House delegation has a 33-22 GOP-Dem tilt, with one vacancy caused by a GOP Congressman’s death. The two TX state legislative chambers also have GOP majorities (See 117th Cong. At Your Fingertips, Early Guide, Cohen & Cook 2020, wikipedia).
On 2/26/2021, President Biden and First Lady Jill toured the hard-hit Houston area. Houston is the country’s fourth largest city, and this is Biden’s first trip to a major disaster site since he took office, just over a month ago (americanindependent.com, AP, 2/26/21). Biden also visited a federal COVID-19 vaccination center. He was accompanied by TX GOP Governor Greg Abbott. Sen. Ted Cruz, who fled the storm in TX to fly to Cancun, Mexico for a vacation, was speaking at the annual Trump “Golden Calf”-adorned CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in Orlando, FL. Biden showed his strong empathy with hard-hurting Houstonians and praised some of the volunteers, relief workers, and vaccine administrators as “very talented (nytimes.com, 2/26/21, latimes.com, 2/26/21).” Unlike Trump, who threw paper towels at Puerto Ricans while visiting them after Hurricane Maria, Biden did not throw snow shovels at Texans. When Trump visited Houston after Hurricane Harvey hit it in 2017, he did not meet storm victims. Trump told people who had re-located to shelters to “have a good time (AP, americanindependent.com, 2/26/21).” Biden waited to visit TX until the storm had passed and relief work had started lest he interfere with these operations (See latimes.com, Fiske-Hennessy & Stokols, 2/26/21). What a real President we now have!
Even before Biden visited Houston, he had signed off on a declaration declaring 108 TX counties disaster areas. A disaster area declaration authorizes FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to provide grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans that cover uninsured property losses, and other similar programs for individuals and business owners. Biden stated that more TX counties could be added to the disaster declaration. He also approved a disaster declaration for 16 counties in Oklahoma and signed emergency declarations for other hard-hit Southern states. He spoke on the phone with seven other governors in this region, most of them GOPers. Prior to Biden’s TX visit, FEMA had sent generators and additional supplies to TX and other affected states (latimes.com, Hennessy-Fiske & Stokols, 2/26/2021, dallasnews.com, Gillman, 2/25/21).
While TX Sen. Cruz has rightfully been condemned and taken a popularity dive in polls after his Cancun getaway, IMHO, the real political disaster TX has on its hands is GOP Gov. Greg Abbot. This storm could prove to be the costliest disaster in TX history (See latimes.com, 2/26/21). While Cruz selfishly fled, Abbott, the fellow really in charge was “MIP,” Missing in Person. A few weeks before this mega-storm hit, Abbott ordered TX state agencies to find ways to sue the Biden administration over energy regulation (latimes.com, Hennessy-Fiske, 2/26/21). And what were Gov. Abbott’s initial comments? On 2/16/2021 Abbott showed up on GOP propaganda FOX News and told Trump lackey Sean Hannity that the Green New Deal “would be a deadly deal” for the U.S. Abbott further blamed wind and solar power for the largest drop in solar energy (newsweek.com, Roche, 2/25/21 & Klein, nytimes.com, 2/25/21). All big right-wing lies. First, the Green New Deal sponsored by NY Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), the right’s latest scapegoat after Speaker Pelosi, has not passed Congress and won’t the way it is written. Right-wing “devil” AOC herself has raised millions for TX relief and has personally visited storm-hit TX. Second, the largest drop in power outages came from frozen natural gas and coal lines which Abbott wants more of, not frozen wind turbines (See Klein, nytimes.com, newsweek.com, Roche).
After being ridiculed by Texans and nationally for his absurd comments, Gov. Abbott changed his tune. He admitted that his failure to winterize the TX grid was to blame as well as fossil fuels-- natural gas, and coal. Abbott, the former true believer in the TX ERCOT independent energy grid, started to blame that agency. He stated he would force the TX legislature to meet and “not leave until these energy problems were fixed (Roche, newsweek.com, 2/25/21).” Gov. Abbott, these problems occurred on your watch and that of your state’s GOP majority. Abbott suddenly “discovered” that this 16- member independent ERCOT board that regulates TX energy had four board directors on it (25%) that lived outside TX, including in MI and IL! These outside board members resigned. A fifth board member also resigned. A candidate for a director position who did not live in TX withdrew his name from consideration. Presently, a total of six ERCOT board members have resigned. Imagine any other state with their own regulatory agencies allowing outsiders to decide how that state should regulate gas and coal. They would be run out of town. People in TX are furious with ERCOT and Abbott. Abbott is also taking hits for his poor management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The widow of Vietnam Andy Anderson who died when his oxygen tank had electricity cut from it has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against TX (latimes.com, Hennessy-Fiske, Stokols, 2/26/21, Hennessy-Fiske, latimes.com, 2/26/21). Let’s meet Lone Star Disaster Gov. Greg Abbott.
Wichita Falls, TX native Governor Gregory Wayne Abbott (63) is currently serving his second term in Austin. Raised in Dallas County’s Duncanville, Abbott received a 1981 Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of TX and a 1984 law degree from TN’s Vanderbilt University. In 1984, during his final law school year, a falling tree hit Abbott while he was out running. He was left paralyzed in both legs, and has used a wheelchair ever since. He sued the homeowner and tree service company and received an insurance settlement that gave him monthly payments for life and lump sum payments every three years until 2022, adjusted “to keep up with the cost of living (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac, texastribune.com, Root, 8/04/13).” As of 8/2013, Abbott’s monthly payment was $14,000. Despite his paralysis and the resulting settlement he received, Abbott was a believer in capping damages for plaintiffs’ injuries. Even before he became governor, Abbott backed legislation in TX that limits “punitive damages stemming from non-economic losses” and “non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases” at $750,000 and $250,000 respectively, with no built-in increases for the rising cost of living. While Abbott’s settlement was in a “non-medical liability lawsuit,” which remains uncapped, Abbott has faced criticism for “tilting the judicial scales toward civil defendants (Root, texastribune.com, 8/04/13).” Paralyzed Abbott has little sympathy toward other injured victims.
Abbott practiced law with a firm from 1984-1992 (Cohen & Cook 2020). From 1992-1995, Abbott served as a state trial judge in the 129th District Court. Then GOP Gov. George W. Bush appointed Abbott to the TX Supreme Court, that state’s highest civil court. He was twice handily re-elected to that position (ourcampaigns.com, 11/03/98). In 2001, Abbott resigned from the TX Supreme Ct. and worked again in private practice, this time for Bracewell & Giuliani LLC (yes, Trump fanatic Rudy Giuliani) and was an adjunct professor at the University of TX Law School (votesmart.org/biography/greg-abbott). In 2002, Abbott ran for TX Atty. General and defeated his Democratic opponent by a 16% margin (TX Atty. General Race, ourcampaigns.com, 11/05/02).
As TX Attorney General, Abbott, expanded his division from about 30 people to more than 100, another “small government” GOP “believer.” In 2013, Attorney General Abbott described his job this way, “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home (Cook & Cohen 2020).” Abbot filed at least 31 lawsuits against Obama’s administration. He filed suits against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Health and Human Services, including challenging Obamacare, and the Dept. of Education, among many others (Sweany, 10/2013, texasmonthly.com). Abbott sued over abortion and voter ID. In 2005, Abbott successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Ct. over the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments monument on the TX State Capitol grounds (Cohen & Cook 2020 Almanac). He defended the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014. He argued that TX could prohibit same-sex marriage because “same sex-relationships do not naturally produce children (texasobserver.com, 7/30/14).”
After TX GOP Gov. Rick Perry announced he would not run for Governor again, Abbott jumped into the 2014 race. Abbott received an “A” rating and an endorsement from the NRA and lots of money from energy resource groups including Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron (Reynolds, 9/18/14, texastribune.org). Abbott has collected in total more than $26 million from the oil and gas industry (cnn.com Cillizza, 2/25/21). In GOP year 2014, when Obama was heartily disliked in “Red” TX, Abbott clobbered his Democratic rival State Senator Wendy Davis by 20 points. In 2018, Abbott was easily re-elected against his Democratic Mexican-American opponent Lupe Valdez by 13 points. Abbott’s wife is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. In 2014, Abbott received 44% of the Hispanic vote. In 2018 42% of Hispanics, and even 16% of blacks voted for him (Cohen & Cook 2020, politico.com,”2018 General Election”).
As Lone Star Governor, Abbott did not deviate from his strong conservatism and worked well with Trump, even though in 2016 he had initially supported the White House bid of fellow Texan Ted Cruz. Trump appointed several of Abbott’s employees to federal court positions and called Abbott his “favorite governor (See Cohen & Cook 2020).” As Governor, Abbott signed a measure to cut funding for sanctuary cities. He praised Trump’s efforts to build a wall on the TX-Mexico. Border (Cohen & Cook 2020). In 2016, Abbott called for a national constitutional convention to limit the power of the federal government and to expand states’ rights. Abbott signed a bill to allow the licensed carrying of concealed handguns on public college campuses. He called the problem of gun massacres not one involving those weapons, but one caused by people having “hearts without God.” Even after the 2019 massacre of 22 people in an El Paso Wal-Mart because the racist gunman stated he had targeted “Mexicans,” Abbott remained opposed to a red-flag law to take guns away from mentally disturbed and other extremely troubled people. Abbott promised to pursue an aggressive legal strategy against environmental regulations implemented by the Biden administration. Abbott was implicated in the attempted purging of 100,000 registered voters from the voter rolls. Tens of thousands of those voters were American citizens wrongly flagged for removal. This purge was cancelled after TX settled lawsuits challenging this voter removal. In emails, Abbott had pressed officials at the TX Dept. of Public Safety about the purge before it was to be implemented.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Abbott enacted one of the shortest stay-at-home orders implemented by any governor (from 4/02-5/01/2020). TX COVID-19 cases subsequently soared. Abbott’s response to the pandemic has been called contradictory by many from both political parties. He has called for Texans to stay home but then said the state is “open for business.” Abbott had initially prohibited local governments from implementing required face masks, but in 7/2020, directed counties with more than 20 corona virus cases to wear masks in public places. In 12/2020, Gov. Abbott directed TX restaurants to ignore local curfews that had been implemented to prevent the COVID-19 spread (Wikipedia, Greg Abbott). And on 3/02/2021 Gov. Abbott decided to “open TX 100%.” In a new executive order that will become effective on 3/10/2021, Abbott will rescind most of his earlier orders, including restrictions on business occupancy and the 7/02/2020 mask wearing order. Public health experts and federal health officials said the move comes too early and that the coronavirus still poses a great danger. According to these scientific experts, not enough Texans have been vaccinated to significantly slow the spread of the disease and some variants could also be “somewhat resistant” to the vaccines. Currently, less than 6% of Texans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, far short of the 75%-85% recommended by health experts to neutralize the virus. The Texas Health Association of Business and TX GOP leaders praised the move, while leading TX Democrats joined health leaders in arguing that Abbott was being too hasty in loosening widespread adoption of preventative measures, especially mask wearing (Cobbler, Jones, & Lindell, Austin American Statesman, 3/02/21). Gov. Abbott—a true laissez faire GOPer who believes business profits mean more than humans’ health and lives.
Abbott’s polling has taken a hit because of how he handled the COVID-19 pandemic. In 10/2020, 47% of Texans approved of him versus 40% who gave him unfavorable ratings. However, in 4/2020, Abbott had a sound 56% favorable/32% unfavorable rating. Abbott will surely take more of a hit from the way he handled the winter mega-storm crisis. However, many voters have short memories and Abbott has plenty of time to recover should he decide to run again in 2022, political eons away (See Cillizza, cnn.com, 2/25/21). Former El Paso Dem. Congressman Beto O’ Rourke, who came within 3 points of beating Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, is considering running against Abbott. He is the TX Democratic equivalent of GA’s Stacey Abrams, someone who has raised oodles of money, recruited many “Team Blue” volunteers, and turned out many voters (politico.com., 2/24/21). However, in “Red” TX, Abbott still has to be considered the favorite to win a third term (cnn.com, Cillizza). Beto will, of course, be hammered, in gun-loving TX by Abbott for his comments in a presidential debate when he ran unsuccessfully against Biden. In that forum, Beto declared, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47 (Siders, politico.com, 2/24/21).” And despite Abbott’s 98% ultra-reactionary record, he did sign a $130 million funding bill for school districts whose pre-kindergarten programs met certain standards. He received bipartisan approval for that action (Cohen & Cook 2020). Abbott will be very hard to beat. However, after the way he handled the COVID-19 pandemic and the TX snow storm, Beto, should he run, will do his best to make Texans give Abbott a second look. Hopefully, Texans will get a case of buyer’s remorse where Greg Abbott is concerned.