As a native Texan, I never felt anxious about winter. On the contrary, winter always meant celebrating the holidays and getting much-needed breaks from work and school. Not to mention the enticing start to a new year, and the occasional cold front that reminded us to be grateful for the more moderate temperatures year-round.
That is, until last winter, when we saw a historic winter freeze — yet another sign of the growing climate crisis — that killed nearly 250 Texans, shut down our state and tested the competence and preparation of the climate deniers leading our state government. For over a week last February, we endured freezing temperatures resulting in power outages, boil notices for weeks in some cases, and busted pipes and house fires that threw families and neighbors into houselessness, many seeking safety and heat in their cars.
And yet, while there has been no shortage of anticipatory discussion around Winter Storm Landon and whether a repeat of last year should be expected, the most glaring question of all remains: What the hell have our Texas elected officials been doing since witnessing the devastation of last year’s freeze to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
Just like a scene out of Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” the truth is that Governor Abbott and other Republicans have prioritized political games and culture wars above Texans’ safety and preparedness amid our new apocalyptic climate reality. While I had hoped that the last winter freeze catastrophe would awaken statewide action to focus on issues affecting everyday Texans — such as strengthening the power grid or expanding health care access — it didn’t. Instead, Governor Abbott and his Republican allies continue to willingly leave Texan lives on the line in an effort to prioritize their anti-immigrant and xenophobic agenda, mirroring their disastrous handling of the pandemic.
In 2021, the Texas legislature met from January to May for the regular legislative session and subsequently from July to October for three additional special sessions called by Governor Abbott. During these eight months of legislative meetings, Republicans focused on attacking immigrants and other vulnerable groups, while ignoring much-needed reforms to weatherize our energy infrastructure.
During last year’s winter freeze, Gov. Abbott treated the real climate crisis as a joke and instead made up a crisis about our border for his own political gain. Texans like myself watched as he falsely blamed frozen wind turbines and solar panels for the power outages that left us in the cold and in the dark and minimized the true gravity of the climate disaster we were enduring. Yet in May, just a few months later, Gov. Abbott eagerly issued an unwarranted disaster declaration to help fund the border wall. Gov. Abbott’s anti-immigrant fearmongering and false declarations of a “border crisis” resulted in the wasteful allocation of 250 million in Texans’ taxpayer dollars for greater border militarization that is neither desired nor needed by Texans. Let me be clear: Abbott’s anti-immigrant declarations are nothing more than political theater.
While lackluster and insufficient regulations were made to the power grid, Abbott gleefully signed a nearly $2 billion bill in September to triple funding for border wall construction and assign more agents to terrorize the region. The bill sought to align the Texas legislature with Abbott’s effort to scapegoat and incarcerate immigrants exercising their legal right to seek asylum in the U.S. After months of this political theater, more people are recognizing that Abbott’s persecution campaign against immigrants was not just unnecessary, but dangerous; and nothing more than an attempt to deflect anger and channel violence towards immigrants and people seeking asylum.
In fact, following the numerous legislative sessions during which the Republican-led Texas Executive and Legislative branches refused to pass serious legislation addressing our power grid deficiencies, the energy industry rewarded Gov. Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick with generous campaign donations.
Since Thursday, at least 70,000 Texans have experienced power outages. While Republicans will frame this as a success compared to last year, winter isn’t over just yet and the truth is, leaving just one Texan without access to power and heat is a failure. We should not have to live under the constant fear that a defunct government will permit hundreds of preventable deaths in order to maintain political power. Anything less than a complete catastrophe should not be the standard by which our government officials consider success. We’re tired of Gov. Abbott’s efforts to pit Texans against one another through his anti-immigrant hate and lies. He has failed all Texans and once again proven his inability to keep our best interests in mind.
Juan José Martinez-Guevara is a DACA recipient and the Texas Advocacy Associate of United We Dream. They have lived in Texas for 21 years.