Abbott focuses on police politics as Texas leads U.S. in COVID-19 cases

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Gov. Greg Abbott will be hosting a Texas “Backs The Blue” press conference on Wednesday. 

He will be joined by Sen. John Cornyn, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Texas Statehouse Speaker Rep. Dennis Bonnen — three fellow Republicans who in recent months have desperately attempted to refocus the 2020 election away from issues like the pandemic and healthcare to that of police funding.

It all began in August, when Austin City Council voted to cut its police department budget by $21.5 million and reinvest the money into public health and safety programs. The city council vote ultimately targets up to $150 million of the Austin police department budget in multiple phases, including reassigning police functions to civilian-run agencies.

Shortly after that vote, Abbott, Patrick, and Bonnen threatened to pass legislation next session that would freeze property tax revenues for cities that cut from their police department budget. A month later (perhaps after taking a peek at the polls), Abbott released a “Back the Blue Pledge” and signaled to Texas Republicans what to stake their re-election on. 

So far, no staffing changes at APD have actually occurred, according to the Houston Chronicle. That means Abbott and Texas Republicans have no proof that those divestments are affecting crime in the city, as they routinely falsely claim. 

As Election Day draws closer, Texas Republicans have only intensified their focus on police politics. 

During the U.S. Senate debate earlier this month, Sen. John Cornyn accused Democratic candidate MJ Hegar of supporting defunding the police — she does not. 

Rep. Chip Roy gave his congressional opponent Wendy Davis the same treatment during their debate. 

And in addition to this week’s press conference, Abbott has also been running ads fear-mongering about “extreme liberal” Beto O’Rourke and the defunding of police.

All of this irrespective of the fact that Austin is the only major city in Texas to see any divestment from its police department budget. All other major Texas cities have actually seen their budgets grow. That’s true for the rest of the country as well. Only about a dozen law enforcement agencies across the nation have seen cuts. 

That hasn’t stopped Texas Republicans from presenting an unrealistic world where police departments everywhere in Texas are shrinking, leading to an increase in violent crime.

The violent crime bit is true, cities have seen an increase in homicides, but experts are associating that with the ongoing pandemic as well as social unrest/erosion of law enforcement legitimacy over the police killings of Black people — the same issues Republicans are deflecting from with their messaging.

Likewise, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner last week cited the pandemic as the source of rising crime in the city. 

“Major cities across the nation are experiencing an increase in homicides, shootings and other crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Turner said in a press conferencing announcing a $4.1 million boost to police overtime patrols using CARES Act funding. “There is no denying the virus has contributed to anxiety and stress as people cope with job losses, feelings of isolation, illness or death of loved ones, children learning at home virtually and fear of the unknown.”

The obsessive attention Texas Republicans have given to police politics is particularly striking considering Texas leads the nation in total COVID-19 deaths, and as of this week, COVID-19 cases too; the statewide surge in COVID-19 is real, while the statewide crackdown on police funding exists only in the imagination of Republicans and their campaign ads. 

Perhaps most telling of where the priorities of the state’s Republican leadership lie, Abbott and Texas Republicans have released at least seven legislative proposals for the next session that relate to police, but zero regarding the pandemic or the state’s economic recovery. 

Photo: Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images

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