Like many Texans, I’ve spent the past few days kicking around resolutions for 2022. Reading more, cursing less, eating better, limiting the anger-inducing midnight scrolls through Twitter — the list of things I’d like to improve on is long, sprawling, and, unfortunately, unrealistic.
Sadly, the same can be said for Gov. Greg Abbott. The Republican enters the New Year saddled with a staggering number of recent policy failures, from his callous fumbling of the pandemic to his abandonment of Texans during and after Winter Storm Uri. Since the governor isn’t exactly known for his humility or willingness to admit mistakes, I took the liberty of providing a few resolutions that he’d be wise to adopt for the sake of, well, all of us.
Resolution #1: FIX. THE. GRID.
This week’s sub-freezing temperatures have been chillingly reminiscent of last February, when Texas was hit with a devastating winter storm. Uri paralyzed our roads, froze our water systems, and shut our energy grid down. Upwards of ten million residents were left without electricity and water. Hotels and shelters overflowed with people desperately seeking warmth. Those who hunkered down at home were forced to weather near-freezing indoor temperatures and flush their toilets with melted ice. Hundreds died.
The storm’s snowmelt left behind a second crisis, too. Estimates by The Perryman Group, a respected economic firm in Texas, put the total damage to the state at upwards of $130 billion — much of which came in the form of utility costs. Reports of skyrocketing electricity bills circulated, many akin to that of Scott Willoughby, who owed his energy provider nearly $17,000 after Uri. Because Texas’ market-based system is set up to maximize profits for power plants and providers, the energy shortfall created a situation where electricity was scarce and demand was high. Like in any marketplace, that drove up the price of power.
When Texas lawmakers reconvened last March, they said addressing the blackout and subsequent energy bill spikes was a top priority. Abbott vowed consumers wouldn’t be left holding the bag. But the opposite happened. The legislature passed a series of bills that simply stretched out the mounting energy costs that had come due for everyday people; so, rather than having to pay huge bills in a short time, Texans will face higher charges for years to come to cover gas utilities’, electric cooperatives’, and electric companies’ financial losses from the storm. Texas’ power players pulled the wool over their constituents’ eyes. And that was always the plan.
“It’s tough, because if you take on $200 million in debt, you really have to do some kind of frog boil to get that back from your customers,” Arthur D’Andrea, the then-commissioner of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, told investors during a secret phone call that was leaked in March 2021. “If you raise your rates too fast, they’ll just switch to some other plan.”
But these spiking energy bills, also referred to as “the Abbott tax,” aren’t the only concerning aspects of the governor’s inaction here. Just as importantly, he and his party did far too little to bolster, weatherize, and update the state’s power grid. That means that, once again, Texans are woefully unequipped and unprotected against a similar outage this winter.
So, here’s a tip, Gov. Abbott: Have some state pride. Rather than making empty promises that “the lights will stay on” when the temperatures dip — not exactly the most inspiring of guarantees considering we live in the Energy Capital of America — do something. Reconvene the legislature for something that actually helps Texans. Fix the damn grid.
Resolution #2: Take your head out of the sand. Protect your people from COVID-19.
Abbott has been nothing if not consistent when it comes to the pandemic. Since March 2020, the governor has shown little interest in listening to public health experts, taking the virus seriously, or, generally speaking, safeguarding Texans. And it shows: More than 76,000 people have died from COVID-19 — by far the most of any state, save for California (which has 10 million more residents than Texas).
So much of this could have been avoided by taking the proper precautions or showing compassion for those afflicted by the deadly virus. But Abbott has done the exact opposite. Instead, he’s politicized the pandemic. He’s used his platform and power to push extreme right-wing, anti-science rhetoric. By suing school districts over mask mandates and decrying President Joe Biden’s workplace vaccine requirements, the governor hasn’t just prioritized scoring cheap political points with his party’s base: He’s endangered the lives of his constituents.
To that point, he’s reportedly still considering bringing back the Texas Legislature for a fourth special session centered around combating vaccine mandates — even as the highly contagious Omicron variant rips through the state at a harrowing clip.
Gov. Abbott clearly isn’t interested in helping with the pandemic, but his presence atop the Texas government is actively making this state less safe and less prepared. If he’s not willing to listen to public health experts or take the necessary steps to mitigate the threats posed by this ongoing pandemic, the least he can do is get out of the way and not make things worse.
Resolution #3: Expand Medicaid.
Similar to the previous two resolutions, Abbott could address Medicaid expansion by reconvening the state legislature. The reason for this is obvious: Now more than ever, low-income Texans are in dire need of accessible, affordable health care. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there’s billions of federal dollars just sitting there for the state to use.
Unfortunately, the governor and Texas Republicans have shown zero interest in the idea. Just last spring, efforts to expand Medicaid stalled in the Senate. Sen. Nathan Johnson, the Democrat who unseated GOP gubernatorial hopeful (and right-wing provocateur) Don Huffines in 2019, led the campaign but ultimately was stonewalled by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Since-retired Rep. Lyle Larson, the sole GOP supporter of the measure, experienced a similar blockade in the House.
There’s nothing new about Abbott’s stance on this issue, of course. The Texas GOP has long villainized Medicaid expansion — a move that dates back to Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to denounce the policy because he thought it would help his narrow chances in the 2012 presidential election. Rejecting Medicaid expansion didn’t catapult Perry to the top of the Republican ticket (oops), but it did lay the foundation for Abbott’s foolish position on the issue.
To be clear, this is about more than providing better, more accessible health care to Texans. Expanding Medicaid is also smart fiscal policy. Experts agree that embracing expansion would inject a flood of money into the state’s health care system and, in effect, countless communities. This would prove especially impactful in rural parts of the state, where hospital systems are often the economic backbone of their surrounding cities.
Expanding Medicaid makes sense on all fronts. Abbott’s view of the issue, on the other hand, is partisan nonsense that hurts the Texas residents who are most in need.
Resolution #4: Stop stoking fears and wasting taxpayer money at the border.
This one’s pretty straightforward. Following the Trump playbook, Abbott has doubled down on scare tactics and Fox News propaganda to stoke fears and spread lies about the Texas-Mexico border. It’s obvious why he’s doing it: Talk of migrants, border walls, and security is a go-to talking point for Texas Republicans. And for good reason — it’s a lightning rod issue that typically plays well with the GOP’s base and moderates. Just as importantly, it’s a shiny object that can be used to distract voters from Abbott’s failures.
But Abbott’s political gains are Texans’ losses. Like Trump did in 2016, he’s hoping to fear monger his way to victory against former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. To date, he has already dedicated more than $250 million state dollars to building a southern border barrier. He’s also called in the National Guard — an effort that’s been defined by plummeting morale, rampant drug use, and needless deaths.
Here’s a suggestion, governor: Stop putting far more time, energy, and state resources into a false, manufactured border crisis than the real-life crises your state is currently facing.
These resolutions may be wide-ranging and aspirational, but they share a common thread. If the governor doesn’t start making some changes, Texans must do it themselves in November.