The Texas Signal https://texassignal.com Progressive Media for a Progressive Texas Wed, 24 Feb 2021 23:05:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 https://i2.wp.com/texassignal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/cropped-favicon.png?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 The Texas Signal https://texassignal.com 32 32 166339080 After Cancún trip, Ted Cruz will probably never see the White House https://texassignal.com/after-cancun-trip-ted-cruz-will-probably-never-see-the-white-house/ Wed, 24 Feb 2021 23:05:19 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32429 New polling this week shows that the trip Sen. Ted Cruz took to Cancún amid a catastrophic snowstorm in Texas may be the political blunder that ends his dream of becoming president. The recent national survey of registered voters by Morning Consult and Politico found Cruz has a favorability rating of only 25 percent and an unfavorability rating of 55 percent.  The same poll found that only 14 percent of registered voters have heard “nothing at all” over Cruz’s Cancún escape.   The new polling shows an even further decline in Cruz’s approval when compared to another Morning Consult poll of […]

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New polling this week shows that the trip Sen. Ted Cruz took to Cancún amid a catastrophic snowstorm in Texas may be the political blunder that ends his dream of becoming president.

The recent national survey of registered voters by Morning Consult and Politico found Cruz has a favorability rating of only 25 percent and an unfavorability rating of 55 percent. 

The same poll found that only 14 percent of registered voters have heard “nothing at all” over Cruz’s Cancún escape.  

The new polling shows an even further decline in Cruz’s approval when compared to another Morning Consult poll of registered voters conducted in the wake of the Capitol attack in January. 

At the time, 29 percent of registered voters had a favorable view of Cruz and 47 percent had an unfavorable view. 

The consistently dim nationwide polling probably means the end for Cruz and his long-standing dream of becoming president. 

“Look, I hope to run again,” Cruz told the Christian Science Monitor in 2019. “We came very, very close in 2016. And it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”

While Trump had some of the highest unfavorability ratings ever seen in a presidential candidate, according to Gallup, his approval rating never dipped below 36 percent on the campaign trail. 

So it’s safe to say that unless Cruz magically makes American voters forget about his infamous reputation, he’ll have to remain satisfied with being the junior senator from Texas. 

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

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Five takeaways from Texas Democrat’s big post-mortem 2020 report https://texassignal.com/five-takeaways-from-texas-democrats-big-post-mortem-2020-report/ Wed, 24 Feb 2021 20:27:47 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32428 This week, Texas Democrats released a detailed analysis of their performance in 2020, a post-mortem report of sorts requested by party officials after suffering losses in November that saw Democrats gain few statehouse seats and no congressional districts. The 29-page report dives deep into data about voter registration, turnout, voter targeting, and offers a by-the-numbers look at how Democrats can flip the state. For the most part, the report reinforces much of the coverage and analysis that arrived in the days and weeks after election day; that the pandemic stifled Democrat organizing, that rural majority Latino counties shifted toward Trump, […]

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This week, Texas Democrats released a detailed analysis of their performance in 2020, a post-mortem report of sorts requested by party officials after suffering losses in November that saw Democrats gain few statehouse seats and no congressional districts.

The 29-page report dives deep into data about voter registration, turnout, voter targeting, and offers a by-the-numbers look at how Democrats can flip the state.

For the most part, the report reinforces much of the coverage and analysis that arrived in the days and weeks after election day; that the pandemic stifled Democrat organizing, that rural majority Latino counties shifted toward Trump, and that better ground game would be needed in future elections. But the report also fills in the gap for those broad brush strokes and puts forward a valuable and sobering look at the work that remains for the party. 

Here are some of its biggest takeaways:

Republicans still have room for growth

The conventional argument for why Texas would flip in 2020 is that while turnout among Republicans was still considerably ahead of Democrats, it had also been relatively stagnant for quite some time. 

In 2002, after Republicans captured the Texas House from Democrats (the last lever of power Democrats were ousted from) Republican turnout in presidential election years stabilized in Texas. 

Between 2004 and 2012, GOP turnout was practically motionless, remaining around 4.5 million until the 2016 election, which saw Republicans gain 130,000 votes. When 2018 proved to be another energizing high-turnout election for Democrats and a historically weak showing by Republicans, flipping the state in the next presidential election appeared feasible. 

The post-mortem report found that while both parties enjoyed higher turnout in 2020, Republicans had a higher turnout among their base than Democrats.

“Republicans did better in activating their base in Texas among high propensity voters, low propensity voters, and everyone in between,” read the report. “Republicans had a better turnout operation than we did.” 

In other words, Republicans were better at reaching their most devoted voters as well as Republican voters who only occasionally visited the polls.

Trump reached almost 5.9 million votes in 2020, a new unexpected ceiling for Republican turnout that Democrats were 631,221 votes short of. One contributing factor to Republican success in 2020 was the unique appeal of Donald Trump to a certain segment of the conservative electorate. In practice, this group was smaller than you would think, accounting for only 2-3 percent of the Republican vote total, but Trump was also uniquely helpful in turning out Republican voters with spottier turnout history.

“There is no way that Democrats can underperform relative to Republicans in turnout and still win Texas, given current Republican advantage in the state,” the report noted. “We estimate 51 percent of the voting population are Democrats, but Republicans are more likely to vote. Democrats have to run a superior ground game to overcome this.”

The report said Republicans had a superior ground game because Democrats were unable to do in-person canvassing and because they had inefficient voter contact targeting.

Avoiding the voter echo chamber 

Democrats and campaigns nationwide depend on a massive and growing database of voters to coordinate their outreach efforts. With limited labor and resources, the idea is to hone in on voters that will be swayed or motivated by that outreach. 

One would think that reaching out to voters who have a strong history of voting for their team would offer the best return on investment, but in reality, they are some of the least valuable voters to devote time and money to when it comes to canvassing.

That’s because a high propensity voter (a fancy way of saying a very likely voter) who is a committed Democrat and who has voted reliably blue for the past decade will probably do so again, regardless of whether they get a phone call, text message or visit from an excited volunteer.

“Talking to somebody with 35 percent turnout likelihood is approximately five times as valuable as a person with 80 percent turnout likelihood,” read the report. “Unfortunately, statewide Democratic contact attempts were clustered around high turnout propensity voters who were likely to vote whether or not we talked to them.”

That inefficient voter targeting, the report said, was because not all campaigns adopted the practice of focusing on these low turnout Democrats, and because the inability to do in-person canvassing compounded the problem altogether, making it even more difficult to reach out to low turnout Democrats.

“We need to invest heavily in direct voter contact as much as possible, especially to newer voters or those with inconsistent voting history,” the report recommended. “As soon as it is safe, we need to begin knocking doors across the state.” 

Trump mobilized conservative Latinos

The robust get-out-to-vote operation of Texas Republicans also found success in energizing their base among Latino voters, especially in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas where Democrats have performed traditionally well.

Much has been made of the Democratic underperformance in South Texas and the RGV among Latino voters, particularly speculation about Latino voters abandoning Democrats. 

In truth, Democrats also made gains, with Joe Biden consistently winning the counties that he should have. Where Democrats ran into trouble was the margin. Republican turnout increased significantly, and while Democratic turnout did as well, the Republicans were able to wipe out the traditional margin of victory that Democrats enjoyed due to their energized base. 

“Many have interpreted this as ‘Latinos voted for Trump’, but it’s more accurate to say, ‘Latinos who were already Republicans turned out more than Latino Democrats,’” the report argued. “Roughly two-thirds of Latinos continue to support Democrats, but Republican Latino voters turned out at a higher rate than Democratic Latino voters in the 2020 cycle, relative to expectations.

There’s plenty of good news

Despite Joe Biden losing the state by more than 5 points and down-ballot statewide candidates faring a little worse than that, Texas Democrats were only 23,000 votes away from flipping the majority in the Texas House for the first time in decades, a difference of just a couple thousand votes per targeted district.

That’s great news for Democrats who felt they were within striking distance after a 2018 cycle that saw Beto O’Rourke win a dozen districts that remained in Republican hands, and bodes well for Democrats in the 2022 cycle, provided we don’t end up with a wildly different state house map. 

Unfortunately, with redistricting on the docket for the legislature this session that is an unlikely outcome, but Democrats still feel good about the gains they’re making in suburban and exurban counties and districts.

Statewide, Democrats in Texas expanded their electorate by 34 percent, adding 1.3 million votes to their totals from 2016. 

It’s almost an unheard of explosion of turnout and would have been enough to get Democrats over the finish line — had Republicans also not enjoyed explosive turnout in 2020.

The path to statewide victory is steep but on track

To flip Texas in the next presidential election, the report estimates that Democrats will need to register between 100,000 and 150,000 more voters per cycle than Republicans.

That may prove difficult considering Republican voter registration outpaced that of Democrats in 2020, namely thanks to a last-minute surge in voter registration powered by massive GOP investments that comparatively wiped out gains in voter registration Democrats had been making since 2018.

The good news is that Democrats appear to have a deeper well to draw from, and with better voter targeting and turnout, the party believes it could see a statewide victory in 2024. 

The bottom line, while 2020 was no boon for Democrats, it was a continuation of a decade-long trend in the state that has seen Republican margins slowly widdle away. 

In 2004, John Kerry lost the state by a massive 23 point margin. Barack Obama brought that margin down to 12 points in 2008 before losing Texas by 16 points in 2012, and Hillary Clinton came within 9 points of beating Donald Trump here in 2016, which at the time was the worst performance for a Republican presidential candidate in Texas in a generation. 

Joe Biden’s margin in 2020 was just 5.5 points, cementing Texas’ position as a battleground state and putting Democrats on a similar trend to newly-blue state Georgia, which voted for Biden in November and delivered twin wins in U.S. Senate runoffs in January to the Democrats.

Photo: SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images

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Biden’s disaster response stands in stark contrast with Trump’s https://texassignal.com/bidens-disaster-response-stands-in-stark-contrast-with-trumps/ Wed, 24 Feb 2021 16:27:52 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32425 In the week following the devastating winter storm that left millions of Texans without power, President Biden is showing his ability to lead during a crisis. Last week, Biden declared a state of emergency in Texas and had FEMA send generators and other supplies (unfortunately, incompetent state leadership resulted in 60 generators sitting idle as FEMA awaited delivery instructions). Texans in over 100 counties can apply for federal assistance for damage and economic losses incurred during the disaster.  Biden is also set to visit Houston on Friday, along with First Lady Jill Biden. According to White House Press Secretary Jen […]

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In the week following the devastating winter storm that left millions of Texans without power, President Biden is showing his ability to lead during a crisis. Last week, Biden declared a state of emergency in Texas and had FEMA send generators and other supplies (unfortunately, incompetent state leadership resulted in 60 generators sitting idle as FEMA awaited delivery instructions). Texans in over 100 counties can apply for federal assistance for damage and economic losses incurred during the disaster. 

Biden is also set to visit Houston on Friday, along with First Lady Jill Biden. According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Biden will “meet with local leaders to discuss the winter storm, relief efforts, progress toward recovery and the incredible resilience shown by the people of Houston and Texas.” The president will also visit a COVID health center distributing vaccines while he is in Texas. Biden had discussed visiting Texas earlier, but did not want to impose a burden on the state until the disaster was sufficiently under control. “When the president lands in a city in America it has a long tail,” Biden told reporters last Friday.

Biden’s response to the winter storm is in stark contrast to Trump’s record of disaster response. When wildfires raged on the West Coast last summer, Trump’s first instinct was to chastise California’s government. “They have massive fires again in California,” Trump said at a Pennsylvania rally in August. “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.” Trump repeatedly claimed that California’s fires were their own fault because they didn’t properly manage their forests, even though most forest land in California is owned by the federal government. 

Trump didn’t visit California for weeks, finally showing up in September to deny climate change. Trump also refused to approve a disaster relief package until October, finally relenting after pressure from California Governor Gavin Newsom and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. 

Many said Trump’s hesitancy to help California stemmed from politics.  “He told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him and that politically it wasn’t a base for him,” said Miles Taylor, a former Trump administration official who later became an outspoken Trump critic.  

However, Trump’s record of helping states that did vote for him isn’t great either. In March of 2020, the Trump administration refused to approve disaster relief funds for October tornadoes that struck Dallas County. In spite of urging from both Republicans and Democrats,  Trump’s FEMA administrator said that the “damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments,” in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott. The Trump administration’s disaster response may be characterized more by sheer incompetence than petty politics. 

In any case, Biden’s actions to assist a state that did not vote for him demonstrates a stark contrast with Trump, who routinely failed both red states and blue states. Biden is already fulfilling his promise that he would govern for all Americans, regardless of how they voted. Perhaps it should be no surprise that someone with decades of public policy experience is better at managing a crisis than a former reality TV star and failed businessman. 

Photo: The White House / Wikimedia Commons

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More Texas Republicans, including Ken Paxton, fled during historic crisis https://texassignal.com/more-texas-republicans-including-ken-paxton-fled-during-historic-crisis/ Tue, 23 Feb 2021 20:40:40 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32424 Last week, as millions of Texans suffered through freezing temperatures with no power and water, Ted Cruz took an infamous vacation to Cancún, Mexico (and initially blamed his daughter for the trip). It turns out, Cruz wasn’t the only Texas Republican who abandoned the state. Ken Paxton, the state’s embattled attorney general who is currently under investigation by the FBI, traveled to Utah with his wife, state Senator Angela Paxton during the disaster. On Wednesday, when over two million Texans were still without power, Paxton was in Utah meeting with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. Paxton’s spokesperson confirmed the trip, […]

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Last week, as millions of Texans suffered through freezing temperatures with no power and water, Ted Cruz took an infamous vacation to Cancún, Mexico (and initially blamed his daughter for the trip). It turns out, Cruz wasn’t the only Texas Republican who abandoned the state.

Ken Paxton, the state’s embattled attorney general who is currently under investigation by the FBI, traveled to Utah with his wife, state Senator Angela Paxton during the disaster. On Wednesday, when over two million Texans were still without power, Paxton was in Utah meeting with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.

Paxton’s spokesperson confirmed the trip, and said it was “previously planned.” In Utah, Paxton allegedly discussed a multi-state lawsuit against Google and attended a simulation from law enforcement officials.

Angela Paxton’s spokesperson also verified that the state senator was hundreds of miles away from the district she represents. “[Angela Paxton] joined AG Paxton on a previously planned trip to Utah, which included meetings that benefit her efforts to promote human dignity and support law enforcement,” said Paxton’s spokesperson in a statement.

State Rep. Gary Gates also left the state. He took a private jet to Orlando on Wednesday and returned Friday. Speaking with Houston’s KPRC-TV, Gates defended the decision noting his power was out and much of his home was flooded. “I was more productive by being there and I had the ability to be able to put myself in a position to be able to be more productive that way,” said Gates.

Earlier today, Paxton took to Twitter and posted about his trip to Utah. It was the first post on his personal account since February 20.  

Paxton is currently under investigation by the FBI for abuse of office and bribery in connection to a donor in Austin named Nate Paul. After agents with the FBI and the U.S. Department of Treasury raided Paul’s office and home in 2019, Paxton, through his office, stepped in and launched an investigation into those government agencies who targeted Paul. That prompted seven members of Paxton’s staff to report their concerns to federal authorities.

Six years ago, Paxton was indicted by a state grand jury on felony securities fraud. That case has continued to bounce around various Texas courts.  

For a complete rundown of Paxton’s legal troubles, you can listen to “Paxton Patrol” from the Tex Mix Podcast, presented by Texas Signal. Available on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Photo: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images

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Congress demands answers from Abbott over grid failure https://texassignal.com/congress-demands-answers-from-abbott-over-grid-failure/ Tue, 23 Feb 2021 15:54:29 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32422 Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, including Reps. Marc Veasey of Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher of Houston, are conducting a probe into Gov. Greg Abbott and why Texas’ electrical grid was unprepared to handle last week’s snowstorm. In a recent letter to the governor lead by Energy and Commerce Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, members picked apart Abbott’s response to the crisis, including the governor’s visit to Fox News in which he spread lies about wind and solar energy being the chief culprit behind the blackout.  “These statements either suggest a lack of understanding of the Texas power […]

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Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, including Reps. Marc Veasey of Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher of Houston, are conducting a probe into Gov. Greg Abbott and why Texas’ electrical grid was unprepared to handle last week’s snowstorm.

In a recent letter to the governor lead by Energy and Commerce Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, members picked apart Abbott’s response to the crisis, including the governor’s visit to Fox News in which he spread lies about wind and solar energy being the chief culprit behind the blackout. 

“These statements either suggest a lack of understanding of the Texas power grid’s fundamental operations or were an attempt to shift blame away from the very real issues that have existed within the state’s energy structure for years,” read the letter.

“The response to this ongoing crisis raises significant questions regarding Texas’ grid design, preparation, and whether the state is taking appropriate action to aid citizens in this crisis,” the letter continued.

The members of Congress criticized Texas’ isolated power grid for being unable to import enough power from other states while it was under extreme stress — an issue of resiliency they said would be needed to be solved in the face of changing climate and more frequent extreme weather events. 

Lawmakers also requested Abbott answer several questions relating to the crisis, including why Texas failed to implement weatherization recommendations made by a 2011 federal report that was conducted after a snowstorm caused blackouts in Texas that same year.

Another question by the members focused on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state-run corporation that oversees Texas’ isolated power grid and which has become the main scapegoat for Texas Republican as they seek to deflect blame from their decades-long governance of the state — including repeatedly ignoring both federal warnings and legislation from Democrats that aimed to prevent blackouts like those in 2011. 

“You have called for an investigation into ERCOT,” the members wrote. “If you proceed with an investigation, what authorities are the basis for your request? Please define the scope of that investigation and whether it will include any formal recommendations on how to prevent such an event from reoccurring. Please also identify the entities responsible for the investigation, explain their jurisdiction and authorities, and identify any measures in place that will ensure that the investigation is independent and adequately resourced.”

Members of the energy committee said they had “broad jurisdiction” over energy policy and requested Abbott deliver the answers before March 22. 

On Friday, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher spoke with MSNBC about the probe and said Texas’ electrical grid suffered from both a lack of oversight and poor leadership in the state.

“I think what we’re seeing now is a massive failure of our system,” Fletcher said. “And it’s both the grid, and ERCOT, the Public Utility Commission, but also our elected leaders and state government. The governor, the legislature oversee this system.”

Photo: Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Sunrise Movement mobilizes across Texas to address climate change https://texassignal.com/sunrise-movement-mobilizes-across-texas-to-address-climate-change/ Mon, 22 Feb 2021 23:04:09 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32420 After a cataclysmic winter storm left millions of Texans without power and water, the Sunrise Movement is mobilizing across the state and demanding answers from leaders at every level of Texas government. The Sunrise Movement is a grassroots collection of young people that is championing the Green New Deal, congressional legislation that would address climate change by transitioning away from the fossil fuel industry. The Green New Deal was introduced in 2019 by Senator Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but it did not advance beyond a Senate committee. Across the country, chapters of the Sunrise Movement have proliferated as […]

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After a cataclysmic winter storm left millions of Texans without power and water, the Sunrise Movement is mobilizing across the state and demanding answers from leaders at every level of Texas government.

The Sunrise Movement is a grassroots collection of young people that is championing the Green New Deal, congressional legislation that would address climate change by transitioning away from the fossil fuel industry. The Green New Deal was introduced in 2019 by Senator Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but it did not advance beyond a Senate committee.

Across the country, chapters of the Sunrise Movement have proliferated as more young people recognize the urgency of addressing climate change. After what happened in Texas last week, that sense of urgency has multiplied for the nine chapters of the Sunrise Movement in the state.

As Texans were forced from their homes or required to boil water, volunteers with the Sunrise Movement went into quick action. Members of Houston Sunrise were with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as she joined Rep. Sylvia Garcia and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee at the Houston Food Bank. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez announced she raised over five million for relief efforts in Texas. 

Today, members from multiple chapters of the Sunrise Movement convened at the Texas Capitol for a rally. Members addressed the galling decisions of Gov. Greg Abbott (who lied about the Green New Deal on Fox News) and Sen. Ted Cruz, who fled to Cancún. But they also challenged President Joe Biden, and urged him to seriously confront the climate change crisis.

At the rally, leaders from the Sunrise Movement called for the resignation of Abbott and Cruz. They also are demanding direct, immediate relief to Texans and a transition to a 100 percent renewable, resilient energy system.

The Sunrise leaders also called on President Biden to come to Texas. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden could travel this week. Initially Biden said he wanted to hold off until his visit wasn’t a burden. He did sign disaster relief for the state.

With Texans in the process of rebuilding after the disaster, Sunrise Movement chapters are pledging to continue the work of lobbying for local efforts to combat climate change. Sunrise Dallas is directly looking to confront the city about the Comprehensive Environmental Climate Action Plan (CECAP) that was passed last year.

In a conversation with Texas Signal, Kidus Girma, an organizer with Sunrise Dallas, said that the plan as it stands currently does not adequately address the threat of climate change. “It simply does not go far enough.”

Girma also emphasized that Sunrise Dallas is calling for concrete commitments from local leaders regarding climate change, not just “political showmanship.” Girma pointed to several other initiatives that Sunrise Dallas plans to focus on, including zoning laws and transportation. For many in DFW, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is too unreliable and has too many neighborhood deserts. “Our transportation [system] only works to go from the suburbs to the center of the city,” said Girma.

The process of rebuilding after the past week in Texas is daunting, and Republican leaders statewide seem incapable of taking any responsibility. For Sunrise Movement chapters across Texas, that means their efforts on the local level are even more important.

Sunrise Dallas understands on the local level, it’s still a challenge. “We have a city with a lot of talk and not a lot of action,” said Girma. Sunrise Dallas isn’t backing down. Their 2021 launch kicks off virtually next weekend.  

Photo: Sunrise Movement/Wikimedia Commons

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Greg Abbott’s spin on wind turbines isn’t insulating him from conservative criticism https://texassignal.com/greg-abbotts-spin-on-wind-turbines-isnt-insulating-him-from-conservative-criticism/ Mon, 22 Feb 2021 20:13:41 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32418 I always tip my hat to Republicans for their ability to tie their brand so closely to the identity of Texas but it’s also why they couldn’t escape the blame when the Lone Star State went dark. “I’m taking responsibility for the current state of ERCOT,” Gov. Greg Abbott told the press referring to the state’s grid operator. He doesn’t really have a choice; he appointed the three commissioners of the Public Utility Commission that oversee ERCOT. He has also been a strong defender of keeping Texas on an electrically isolated island beyond federal reach.  Republicans sold limited government to Texans […]

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I always tip my hat to Republicans for their ability to tie their brand so closely to the identity of Texas but it’s also why they couldn’t escape the blame when the Lone Star State went dark. “I’m taking responsibility for the current state of ERCOT,” Gov. Greg Abbott told the press referring to the state’s grid operator. He doesn’t really have a choice; he appointed the three commissioners of the Public Utility Commission that oversee ERCOT. He has also been a strong defender of keeping Texas on an electrically isolated island beyond federal reach. 

Republicans sold limited government to Texans but what we got was dysfunction — even conservative activists and officials are angry at the Republican heads of state. This high profile failure will have economic reverberations for a generation and could eventually lead to many companies rethinking their relocations to Texas. That’s happened at least once already according to Harry LaRosiliere the Republican mayor of Plano, a Dallas suburb. The mayor said a company cited potential future water shortages as too high a liability to make the move. LaRosiliere also said that Republicans in Austin are too focused on divisive social issues instead making sure our infrastructure investments keep pace with our population growth.

It’s understandable that a mayor, who serves where the rubber meets the road, might have concerns about the condition of said road and other necessary utilities for a city to function. But other more ideologically driven conservatives have Abbott in their crosshairs for a different reason — his previous support for renewable energy. On Feb. 9, Abbott received the Wind Leadership Award from Tri Global Energy to which he proclaimed, ”clean and renewable energy are a valuable part of America’s future and are closely tied with Texas’ prosperity and success.” Big mistake, at least according to right wing pundits and climate deniers. It took just a week for Abbott to flip and falsely blame Texas’ blackout on frozen wind turbines. While his words confused many reality-based observers, a quick look at the conservative echo chamber painted a different picture where renewable energy, not deregulation, were to blame. 

The influential and oil-funded rightwing activist Michael Quinn Sullivan riticuled Abbott for having accepted the award, tweeting: “for the state’s reckless subsidies of ‘green’ energy from a leftwing lobbyist. $19 billion wasted on subsidies since 2006. Wonder if that trophy is still on display in the @GovAbbott’s office?” 

Chad Prather, a conservative commentator on Blaze TV, called the award a “participation trophy…one of those you get for not producing anything worthwhile” and said what was happening in Texas was the result of “failed leadership.” 

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, claiming that green energy “failed,” launched a petition to “Demand ACCOUNTABILITY from ERCOT and Governor Abbott’s hand-picked Public Utility Commission appointees…” He also criticized Abbott’s executive orders as, “a day late and a dollar short.” 

Former state Rep. Matt Rinaldi mocked the governor’s call for “emergency” legislation as ineffectual: “We know you are freezing. But fear not, your government is discussing things. Maybe some legislative hearings and a commission. If you are good and pay your taxes on time, we (fingers crossed) could get another task force to discuss the situation with even more determination.” 

Former Republican Senator Don Huffines just cut to the chase when he tweeted, “This disaster is 100% at the feet of @GregAbbott_TX. Here’s his office number if you’d like to tell him what it’s like to sit in 40 degree temps: (512) 463-2000.”

Judging by his increasingly flustered tone Gov. Abbott must be feeling the heat. But no matter how you boil it down the buck stops with him. He is the current leader of the GOP, he sets the agenda, and for at least the last five years as governor he did not act on the federal government’s warning to weatherize our power generation. He did not ensure proper oversight when his appointees claimed to be prepared and he did not prevent the deregulated players from cashing in on vulnerable Texans desperately trying to stay warm. For some it costs their lives and others’ their life savings. 

Julie McCarty, CEO of True Texas Project, captured a common theme among the criticism Abbott has faced when she tweeted, “When he shut down business @GregAbbott_TX lost no pay. When ERCOT failed on his watch, his mansion was exempt. A leader sacrifices more than they ask. Think of the greats…none hide in luxury while others suffer; none believe they’re more vital. Quite the opp. Abbot is no leader.”

If Abbott is responsible as he claims, it’s hard to believe how any Texan, liberal or conservative, can trust him to fix the biggest man-made disaster in Texas history when it happened on his watch. Red or Blue we’re all the same color in the dark and in the dark is exactly how many Texans feel about the future reliability of our basic infrastructure. 

Photo: Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images

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Musings: Greg Abbott and the Failed State https://texassignal.com/musings-greg-abbott-and-the-failed-state/ Mon, 22 Feb 2021 15:58:39 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32417 When I first moved to Texas and was learning about the political systems and power structures of the Lone Star State, people repeatedly reminded me that the most powerful chair in the state was the one the lieutenant governor sat in on the Senate floor. Endowed with the power to set the agenda in the state’s upper legislative chamber and pick and choose committee chairs, people would often opine about the governor’s job and jokingly say things like, “Who would want it?” Indeed, to steal the title of a book by the great and good Glen Maxey, to be Governor […]

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When I first moved to Texas and was learning about the political systems and power structures of the Lone Star State, people repeatedly reminded me that the most powerful chair in the state was the one the lieutenant governor sat in on the Senate floor. Endowed with the power to set the agenda in the state’s upper legislative chamber and pick and choose committee chairs, people would often opine about the governor’s job and jokingly say things like, “Who would want it?”

Indeed, to steal the title of a book by the great and good Glen Maxey, to be Governor of Texas is to essentially be the head figurehead in a state full of outsized personalities. While governors in Texas are often credited with setting the tone of statewide policy debates, they haven’t often been regarded as policy heavyweights, necessarily. 

But understanding the nexus of power in the governor’s office is central to understanding what draws people like Rick Perry and Greg Abbott to its orbit, while also revealing the ultimate accountability trap Abbott now finds himself in after six years of his leadership did nothing to avoid a predictable and preventable calamity that has turned into an enduring and tragic humanitarian crisis.

Where governors derive most of their power in Texas is through their ability to appoint the members of the powerful boards and commissions that are actually chiefly responsible for making rules and regulating the expansive reach of state government.

One of those boards and commissions is the Public Utility Commission of Texas or PUC. While much has been made of ERCOT’s massive failure in the statewide power outages that have killed dozens and left hundreds of others sick from carbon monoxide poisoning and exposure-related ailments, Abbott is likely to push responsibility on PUC, the entity responsible for regulation and oversight of ERCOT.

It’s an extremely cynical lie because the members of PUC are all appointed by the Governor of Texas. Every single member of that commission serves at the pleasure of the governor, and Abbott is granted broad freedom to appoint new members. What Abbott would essentially be arguing is that it isn’t he who bears any responsibility, but his hand-chosen commissioners who are at fault.

What often gets left unsaid in the discussions around gubernatorial appointments in Texas is the seedy underbelly of how those appointments get made. The tentacles of the Texas government are a cesspool of high-level donors and other “influencers” in the political orbit, supposedly selected for their subject matter expertise but often chosen for their political fealty to the governor.

It is, in practice, no different from the patronage system of government still used in cities and states generally governed by Democrats that Texas Republicans love to attack regularly. I’ve lived in cities like Chicago and Buffalo, where city departments are regularly staffed by members of a specific elected official’s “organization.” In New York, both parties engage in patronage at the county level, where each party is given an office in the Board of Elections in every county and generally fills their staff with political appointees who are also active in county politics.

It isn’t a great system in many respects, but it is almost inarguable that people who live in those cities receive better service than the citizens of Texas did this week. One of the reasons for that disparity is that the patronage system is often on full display in the cities and states that still cling to it, and you know Bob has his job at the water department because he knocked doors for some state Senator, but at least Bob shows up when the water stops flowing to your house.

In Texas, our patronage system bubbles under the surface, only spilling out on the street in moments of abject crisis. For decades, PUC appointees have been ideologically aligned with the statewide Republican elected officials who opposed efforts to more closely regulate our grid and energy generation practices, leading to fairly toothless work on behalf of the people of Texas.

The end result is a crisis like the one we’re currently living through, which is an unmistakable failure of state government from top to bottom. Unfortunately, in Texas, that failure is by design. Abbott didn’t do more to keep ERCOT in check or put genuine reformers in place at the PUC because he didn’t want to. As long as energy producers were making their payday and the lights stayed on, Abbott couldn’t have cared less if they properly weatherized equipment and facilities or not. What are the odds that will be a problem anyway, right?

And now it’s Abbott who wants to talk tough about holding ERCOT responsible, making it an emergency item on the legislative agenda (one of the few legislative powers bestowed upon a governor in Texas) and pledging to hold them accountable. 

But where is the accountability for Abbott, who was Texas Attorney General when the 2011 ice storms hit the state and prompted the last round of consternation over our inadequate grid and emergency preparedness? How can we possibly trust that, in six years as governor, not a single person ever uttered a concern about our grid and that there wasn’t a single staffer in his office who asked a tough question of ERCOT or the PUC? 

The sad truth is that we can’t trust Greg Abbott, not to tell the truth or to execute his responsibilities as governor with any competence whatsoever. The open question people keep posing on social media is if Texas is a failed state. At times last week, it certainly felt like one, and we can’t ever forget that feeling. As we begin to rebuild and renew, we must remember why we’re in this situation in the first place and who it was that bears ultimate responsibility for the hours we’re spending in crawl spaces trying to fix burst pipes and volunteering to distribute water and food to the Texans most in need.

We can’t forget that we’re in this situation because Greg Abbott and Texas Republicans put profits and politics above human lives.

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

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Texas Republicans are blaming everything on ERCOT and windmills https://texassignal.com/texas-republicans-are-blaming-everything-on-ercot-and-windmills/ Sat, 20 Feb 2021 00:43:26 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32412 On Friday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas finally announced an end to the power outages that left millions of Texas in the cold during this week’s winter snowstorm. The rolling blackouts, ERCOT said, were necessary to prevent Texas’ energy grid from completely collapsing and causing monthslong problems. Along with windmills, Texas Republicans have shifted a bulk of the blame for this week’s disaster onto ERCOT, the state-run corporation that runs Texas’ isolated power grid. On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into ERCOT and its actions during the crisis, and the next day, the governor told ABC […]

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On Friday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas finally announced an end to the power outages that left millions of Texas in the cold during this week’s winter snowstorm.

The rolling blackouts, ERCOT said, were necessary to prevent Texas’ energy grid from completely collapsing and causing monthslong problems.

Along with windmills, Texas Republicans have shifted a bulk of the blame for this week’s disaster onto ERCOT, the state-run corporation that runs Texas’ isolated power grid.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into ERCOT and its actions during the crisis, and the next day, the governor told ABC 13 he believed ERCOT board members should resign. 

“This was a total failure by ERCOT,” Abbott said. “ERCOT stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas … and they showed that they were not reliable.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, who fled Texas for Cancún amid the disaster, welcomed the news of the pending ERCOT investigation along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who promised to line up hearings in the Texas Senate next week “to get answers.”

Democrat state Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas who has served in the Texas House Energy Resources Committee since 2015, said Abbott blaming ERCOT for the disaster was like blaming an air traffic controller for planes falling out of the sky. 

“ERCOT definitely deserves blame here, there’s no question about it,” Anchia told the Signal. “But literally, every ERCOT member including the one that lives in Canada and the others that live outside the state were approved by the Public Utility Commission, which is Greg Abbott’s handpicked team to regulate ERCOT.”

After a similar winter storm in 2011 froze out energy production and caused rolling blackouts in the state, Anchia said the legislature gave the Public Utility Commission of Texas broad powers to regulate ERCOT. 

“The bottom line is that the governor doesn’t want to take responsibility for his team that failed here,” he said. 

The Houston Chronicle reported Friday that the Abbott-appointed Public Utility Commission cut ties with a nonprofit last year that worked to monitor the reliability of Texas’ power grid.

“Greg Abbott appoints members of the Texas Public Utilities Commission,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa in a statement. “He is responsible for knowing whether or not an appointee meets the criteria for making critical decisions that impact everyday Texans’ lives and livelihoods. Their decision to strip away a regulatory layer of Texas electricity grid with deadly severe winter weather approaching is just another example of the failed approach Texas Republicans have when it comes to complex challenges facing our state.”

In past sessions, Anchia said bills that might have mitigated or prevented this week’s disaster were voted down or ignored in their committees in favor of red meat items that commanded more of Abbott’s attention. He cited a 2011 bill by then-legislator Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner requiring ERCOT to have adequate power reserves to prevent blackouts and another bill by then-legislator Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson requiring state agencies to plan for severe weather events. 

“You need to dust off my bill, and you need to refile it,” Turner said in a Friday press conference. “Because it’s not about just holding hearings. It is about recognizing that in the state of Texas, ERCOT is a closed system. And that’s the way leadership for a number of years have wanted it to be.”

Those thoughts were echoed by Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in another Friday press conference with Texas Democrats where Lee shared her experience in trying to coordinate outside help to stabilize Texas’ energy grid.

“When I called the Department of Energy they indicated their hands were tied because Texas purposely crafted their energy grid to be self-contained, gloating about how much energy they had and not sharing it with neighboring states and not being part of an integrated inter-transmission system that would’ve allowed other states to transfer energy during Texas’ time of need,” Lee said. 

“Why did this happen, it is because we had a failed governmental system that did not direct ERCOT to ensure we had weatherization of power plants, no frozen wind turbines and gas remain in the ground,” Lee said.

Photo: USDA NRCS Texas / Wikimedia Commons

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Texas Democrats blast Abbott and Republicans who failed the state in a crisis https://texassignal.com/texas-democrats-blast-abbott-and-republicans-who-failed-the-state-in-a-crisis/ Fri, 19 Feb 2021 21:34:23 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32411 While the power in Texas is mostly restored, millions of Texans are facing water boil advisories, untold property damage, food insecurity, and other major concerns. As the state begins a daunting cleanup process, Democrats are also demanding answers. At a virtual press conference convened by the Texas Democrats, members of the congressional delegation and other leaders spoke out forcefully against Governor Greg Abbott and the state’s Republican leadership. Rep. Joaquin Castro, who lost power during the storm, tore into Abbott’s priorities. On Monday night, the Governor was on Fox News complaining about wind turbines, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who raised a […]

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While the power in Texas is mostly restored, millions of Texans are facing water boil advisories, untold property damage, food insecurity, and other major concerns. As the state begins a daunting cleanup process, Democrats are also demanding answers.

At a virtual press conference convened by the Texas Democrats, members of the congressional delegation and other leaders spoke out forcefully against Governor Greg Abbott and the state’s Republican leadership.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, who lost power during the storm, tore into Abbott’s priorities. On Monday night, the Governor was on Fox News complaining about wind turbines, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who raised a significant amount of money for relief efforts), and the Green New Deal.

“Every time there is a major disaster, Greg Abbott goes into hiding,” said Castro. The San Antonio representative also noted that in the past Abbott has bragged about sending the National Guard to the border. But this week, Abbott hasn’t shown the same effort to mobilize after this disaster.

As Governor, Abbott has been responsible for appointing all the members of the state’s Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). After the state’s democratic members wrote to the Public Utilities Commission, they got back a letter that Castro said was “one of the most arrogant responses” he has ever seen.

Rep. Marc Veasey echoed many of his colleague’s points about Republican leadership. Veasey also pointed out that there were warnings in 2011 after rolling blackouts occurred, and that ERCOT needed to better prepare for winter storms. Veasey now says we are seeing the consequences of that inaction. He too criticized Abbott for trying to deflect blame on new energy. “Everybody knows we don’t have the Green New Deal in Texas,” said Veasey.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee spoke about heartbreaking conversations she had with constituents frantically trying to reach older relatives. She also recounted stories about medical professionals finding bodies frozen in homes. “I think we have to look at this as a twenty-year failure,” she said. Lee also shared that no member of the democratic delegation has gotten a phone call from Gov. Abbott regarding the disaster.

Julián Castro, the former Mayor of San Antonio and HUD Secretary, also called out the Republican leadership of the state. “Because of their incompetence, because of their cronyism we’re at a point where millions of Texans have been inconvenienced and in some cases have died,” said Castro.

Anna and Michael Mendez, residents in Austin, also participated in the news conference. They described sitting in their home in the dark with their ten-year-old son as temperatures plunged into the single digits. They live near a greenbelt, so they were able to use wood for a fire. “We felt abandoned,” said Anna Mendez. “We literally felt like our state leaders left us out in the cold.”

Photo: World Travel & Tourism Council/ Wikimedia Commons

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We should have seen this coming https://texassignal.com/we-should-have-seen-this-coming/ Fri, 19 Feb 2021 21:14:06 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32409 The word “unprecedented” gets thrown around a lot these days and it’s tempting to apply it to the winter storm that left millions of Texans without power. However, this disaster wasn’t entirely unprecedented and previous cold snaps and outages should have given Texas plenty of heads-up that its grid needed to be prepared for a freeze. The problem is that our leaders ignored the warnings. Severe cold-weather events are not as common in Texas as they are in other parts of the country but they are not unheard of. They’ve occurred multiple times in the past few decades, and two […]

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The word “unprecedented” gets thrown around a lot these days and it’s tempting to apply it to the winter storm that left millions of Texans without power. However, this disaster wasn’t entirely unprecedented and previous cold snaps and outages should have given Texas plenty of heads-up that its grid needed to be prepared for a freeze. The problem is that our leaders ignored the warnings.

Severe cold-weather events are not as common in Texas as they are in other parts of the country but they are not unheard of. They’ve occurred multiple times in the past few decades, and two of them were bad enough to cause widespread power outages. 

The first came in 1989 when arctic air descended on Texas for three days. Temperatures were comparable to what Texas just experienced, reaching a low of 7 degrees in Houston and dipping below zero in Dallas and Abilene. The weather placed an enormous strain on the state’s grid and 1989 became the first year ERCOT resorted to system-wide rolling blackouts to prevent wider outages. A 1990 report by the Public Utilities Commission of Texas found that Texas’ energy infrastructure was inadequately prepared for the cold and recommended winterization improvements to prevent such occurrences in the future. “The near-complete loss of the ERCOT grid brings an awareness that, even in Texas, plant operators must prepare for cold weather emergencies…this awareness of and attention to cold weather problems must be continued,” the report concluded. 

However, these warnings largely went unheeded and Texas actually deregulated its electrical sector in the following years. Then came another blackout in 2011 as an arctic cold front swept across the country. 210 generating units in Texas experienced an outage, a derate, or failed to start. 1.3 million people were out of power at the peak of the event. To make matters worse, this occurred as Texas hosted the Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium. 

In the aftermath, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corporation put together a 357-page report examining what happened in 2011 as well as previous Texas cold weather events like 1989. Once again, the report highlighted vulnerabilities to cold weather in the Texas grid and recommended that proper winterization be implemented. 

One of the problems highlighted by the federal government’s report was with natural gas, preemptively debunking the GOP lie that would arise in 2021 that the issue was all about renewables. Without adequate winterization, water produced alongside natural gas will freeze or crystallize in cold weather, which in turn can completely block gas flow. The report noted that these “freeze-offs” had occurred to some extent in all six previous cold-weather events, with the possible exception of 1983 where adequate records are not available.  It’s not an issue inherent to natural gas as the energy source is used in plenty of cold places like Siberia, but gas systems must be winterized to prevent it from happening. 

The federal government’s report was released ten years ago, yet Texas leaders once again failed to properly heed warnings about the vulnerability of Texas’ grid to the cold. Then came the catastrophic events of 2021. Texas’ natural gas infrastructure failed, as did coal and even nuclear, leaving millions without water or electricity. 

The tragedy is that this was all too predictable. 2011 and 1989 should have alerted state leadership to the problem well in advance of 2021. But they ignored the warning signs and people died. Texans deserve accountability for their negligence.  

Photo: Matthew T Rader / Wikimedia Commons

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Beto O’Rourke, AOC step up while Abbott, Cruz fail Texas https://texassignal.com/beto-orourke-aoc-step-up-while-abbott-cruz-fail-texas/ Fri, 19 Feb 2021 16:39:35 +0000 https://texassignal.com/?p=32405 Shortly after returning from an overnight trip abroad during a pandemic and deadly weather emergency, Ted Cruz spent his evening doing roughly what you would expect: going on television to try to massage the truth of his embarrassing blunder. Within hours of touching back down in Houston, Cruz welcomed a crew from ABC 13 in Houston into his home for a lengthy interview and later appeared remotely on Hannity to spread misinformation about renewable energy. The lies were such a stinker that Lite Gov. Dan Patrick, strangely silent and absent during this crisis, appeared on Fox News shortly after Cruz […]

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Shortly after returning from an overnight trip abroad during a pandemic and deadly weather emergency, Ted Cruz spent his evening doing roughly what you would expect: going on television to try to massage the truth of his embarrassing blunder.

Within hours of touching back down in Houston, Cruz welcomed a crew from ABC 13 in Houston into his home for a lengthy interview and later appeared remotely on Hannity to spread misinformation about renewable energy. The lies were such a stinker that Lite Gov. Dan Patrick, strangely silent and absent during this crisis, appeared on Fox News shortly after Cruz and, admitted he didn’t think Cruz knew what he was talking about.

Governor Greg Abbott appeared angrier at yesterday’s press availability than he had earlier in the week but still faces withering criticism for his shoddy preparation for and response to the weather and energy emergency still ensnaring the state.

Meanwhile, thankfully, Beto O’Rourke was doing what we’ve come to expect from him: he organized a massive groundswell of volunteer support to conduct virtual phone banks that contacted over 784,000 Texans to make sure they knew vital information and could connect with important resources.

O’Rourke didn’t limit his outreach to his existing supporters. He pitched ways to help on national television, condemned Abbott for his callous response, and then dutifully got back to work making sure people left out in the cold had whatever help he could muster as a private citizen. 

It was a powerful testament to the spirit of Texans, who have endured more crises in the last few years than most states have in decades. Stories about neighbors opening up their homes, cooking meals, even boiling snow for their friends and family members to help get through this are heartwarming reminders of who we are as a state and also infuriating reminders of how badly our state’s government has failed.

That juxtaposition played out while Republican elected officials across the state, including Cruz, continued to lie about renewable energy sources in an attempt to create a scapegoat to draw attention away from the thermal sources of energy that failed our state so badly. Texas Republicans have delighted in disparaging the Green New Deal and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all week, and AOC wasn’t interested in sitting on the sidelines.

Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez pushed out a fundraising ask to her social media followers and within hours had raised in excess of $1 million for relief efforts supporting impacted Texans. She is also coming down to Houston this Saturday, where she’ll join Rep. Sylvia Garcia to highlight what’s happening on the ground here in Texas.

As of this writing, the total raised for relief efforts by Abbott, Patrick, Cruz, Cornyn, and Paxton combined remains $0.

Photo: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons and Franmarie Metzler; U.S. House Office of Photography / Wikimedia Commons

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