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