The King of Texas
“The king reigns but does not govern.” - Louis Adolphe Thiers
Texas no longer has a governor. Greg Abbott has become a king. His ordination was subtle, but just as powerful as if he were given a crown and throne on which to sit and issue edicts. Accountability is of no interest to King Greg unless you are a lobbyist with a checkbook or an arch-conservative voter in the GOP primary. Abbott decides, unilaterally, what he wants to do, and then simply does it. You can call it an executive order, if you wish, but mostly his activity has become comparable to a king.
Which can be entertaining.
King Greg still thinks his route to the White House runs along the Rio Grande. The posturing of this small man is as laughable as it is pathetic. In recent days, he held a news conference in Starr County to share his excitement over a 900-foot stretch of new border wall erected by his administration. His minions were gathered around his chair with furrowed brows, conveying their seriousness and ignoring the other 1254 miles of Mexican frontier that will never be closed off by political posturing. The King’s first section is “expected to be a nearly 2 mile stretch of wall.” Just 1252 miles to go, your highness!
Tinpot Crackpot Skilled at Wasting Money and Ruining Lives
Abbott’s efforts are every bit as silly as Trump’s, but at least the former president followed the law and provided public information on his futile project, which ended up building just 21 miles of new wall. King Greg is refusing to say where his wall will be constructed or how much it will cost, even though he has requisitioned just over $1 billion in taxpayer dollars to put up a monument to his political aspirations. We do know the state awarded a $162 million contract to build a grand total of 8 miles of a new barrier. When you do the math on the piece being constructed in Starr County, that’s a mere $20 million per mile. Multiply that by 1254, as in miles, and see what you get.
Trump’s big tin wall also became a travesty. The Atlantic recently reported that the metal bollards used to make the fence, not a wall, precisely, are rusting in the desert. They are worth a billion dollars in taxpayer money, which was taken from the U.S. military budget to keep Trump and the righteous right happy. Now, it’s just a write off, unless we reach the point where they can be used when we set up camps to hold liberals as prisoners?
Billion Dollar Bullshit Bollards Rusting in the West
The king has wanted his subjects to contribute to a fund to build the fence, but they have been mostly non-responsive. His money-grubbing campaign stalled out at $1.25 million until Timothy Mellon of Wyoming, heir to a banking and real estate empire, started donating stock to Texas, which, ultimately, was worth $52 million. Mellon is an appropriate confederate for King Greg; he supported Trump, and in Mellon’s autobiography he criticized Texan LBJ’s Great Society reforms by saying they did not help Blacks and they “became even more belligerent and unwilling to pitch in to improve their own situations” and that the social safety net was “slavery redux.”
The $52 million is spit in the ocean, though, when dropped into the more than $3 billion the King is wasting on the border. In addition to raising his single monolith to celebrate his xenophobia, Abbott has deployed thousands of DPS officers and Texas National Guardsmen, who are being accused by rights groups of illegally arresting border crossers. The state has no legal authority to arrest immigrants entering the country without documentation but has been blamed for marching them onto private property and taking them into custody for trespassing and then throwing them into prison without access to a lawyer. The King has no interest in legal due process and is so eager to get brown people in jail that cases are being thrown out because paperwork does not detail what private property was trespassed upon by the immigrants.
Less noticed is the endless isolation and absence from home and work that is a result of the King’s call up of the Guard. The service is involuntary, and according to the Army Times, is taking a physical and psychological toll. Four service members deployed to the border have now taken their own lives with self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Part of the mental health crisis apparently stems from the fact that there is no known end to their assignment. Many have lost jobs and other opportunities and are enduring familial stress with spouses and children dealing with their absences. There are now 6500 troops on the border, and according to the Army Times, most officers and rank and file soldiers believe they are trapped in a project that lacks purpose and is strictly about politics to sustain King Abbott.
One of the soldiers sent to the border for Operation Lone Star was Pfc. Joshua Cortez, who had been offered what he described as a “lifetime job” with one of the largest insurance companies in the country. He applied with his commanders to be relieved of duty because Lone Star was to be his second deployment preventing him from starting his career. Guard leadership denied his request.
Here is what the Army Times reported:
“I’ve been waiting for this job and I’m on my way to getting hired,” the 21-year-old mechanic wrote in his request for a hardship release from the mission. “I missed my first opportunity in September when I had to go on the flood mission in Louisiana….I cannot miss this opportunity because it is my last opportunity for this lifetime job.”
Cortez’s company commander recommended approval. But his battalion commander and brigade commander, Col. Robert Crockem of the 176th Engineer Brigade, disapproved, writing, “Soldier can deploy. If offered a job, then Soldier can be given time for training.”
Crockem signed the form at 8:19 p.m. on Nov. 4.
Sometime in the next 36 hours, Cortez drove to a parking lot in northwest San Antonio and shot himself in the head. First responders found him at 7:40 a.m. on Nov. 6.
Pfc. Joshua Cortez, Soldier of Misfortune
The story of 1st Sergeant John, “Kenny,” Crutcher, as detailed by Army Times, is simply crushing. A captain in the Dallas fire department, Crutcher and his wife had a disabled family member with special needs who was wheelchair bound. The top NCO of the Guard’s B Company, Crutcher had applied for and received a hardship reprieve because his wife had undergone emergency surgery and was unable to provide the needed care. When he was informed that he had to report and his hardship status was ending, Crutcher shot himself to death.
Kenny Crutcher in his Dallas Fire Captain’s Uniform
King Abbott does not care, though. Not once has he offered anything encouraging to the troops being used as props for his ambitions. In fact, he has done the exact opposite. As the state legislature was approving a few billion for border security, Abbott was urging them to cut tuition assistance in half for National Guard members, which was in the bill the King ultimately signed. While taking them from their families and daily lives, Abbott offers them no purpose to their service or any prospective end to their deployment. They are away from home for the holidays and have no clue when they will be back. There will almost certainly be more suicides among troops deployed in a meaningless exercise. While Abbott lines the border with shipping crates and boats and police cars, Guard soldiers sleep in portable barracks and Humvees. They do not arrest immigrants.
“They aren’t doing shit out there,” a former officer told the Army Times.
Moral contradictions and constitutional violations are of no consequence to the man who holds the scepter, though. He builds his kingdom on secrecy and defiance of social mores. Why should a democratically elected leader be forced to disclose public information if it harms his plans to rule? Ever since the electric grid failed in last winter’s historic storm, he has been more concerned about energy companies and power generators than he has his poor subjects, many of whom froze to death in the dark because he ignored warnings about weaknesses in the Texas grid.
Abbott is less concerned about the grid’s failures and the dangers to Texans than he is how a recurrent collapse might harm his reelection chances. If the grid goes again, he probably goes, and he knows as much, which is why he called together energy company CEOs to get reassurance that his pledge “The lights will stay on,” can be kept. Of course, he also probably hit them up for donations to his campaign, but we will never know because they met behind closed doors and the King has refused to speak about it with lowly journalists. The CEO’s, their lobbyists and PACS, have already contributed at least $3.2 million to Abbott’s campaign coffers, including a million dollar donation right after the grid failed and Texans froze to death.
Here’s a handy little chart to help you keep track of how Abbott is owned by the energy boys:
No one is surprised that Abbott is making promises he does not know if he can keep. There is a completely new Public Utility Commission that seems more concerned with making sure the grid generates profits for power companies, and the governor has put an oilman in charge of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, a man who donated $250,00 to Abbott’s permanent campaign. The PUC, ERCOT, and maybe even the Railroad Commission are presently messing with algorithms that will avoid the last multi-billion market gouge of consumers but will still put hundreds of millions into the power generators’ pockets when the worst weather happens, or maybe it doesn’t even need to be that bad.
ERCOT has offered not much reassurance to Texans about reliability of electricity. They presented a recent study, which you may not want to take the time to read, but that indicates it would not take a storm like last winter’s to throw the entire operation into Def Con One. Worse, they used no data from last year’s collapse. According to one energy consultant, they aren’t even planning for a “winter as bad as the last one.” In fact, natural gas producers were not declared “critical infrastructure” and were able to avoid investing in changes by filling out an application for exception and pay a $150 fee. Yep, probably less than most monthly utility bills.
According to an analysis by the New York Times, short of admonitions from Abbott to his appointees, not much has changed:
“Companies that operate the natural gas systems that froze in February, cutting off supply to power plants, have not been required to better prepare their equipment for this winter. Measures have not been taken to reduce demand for heat, particularly in poorly insulated homes. And the incentives in the Texas market — which has prioritized cheap electricity over reliability — are still largely in place.”
What we do know for certain is that all of us who pay utility bills are getting dunned for the King’s ambitions and the cost of repair to the grid. Reports vary but residential bills are expected to go up $30-$60 per month to pay for repairs at power facilities and natural gas storage and transmission operations. Whether the grid dies this winter, or not, Abbott and his energy pals and regulators have given his Democratic challenger a viable issue to hammer throughout the year. Beto O’Rourke has labeled the utility bill increases as an “Abbott Tax.”
This is an issue that has the power to change the course of the 2022 election. It hits every person who lives indoors under a roof that contains heating and cooling for comfort, and that is most everyone in Texas. Utility bills have already served to elect one governor. In the 1982 race between oilman Bill Clements and Houston lawyer and former Texas Attorney General Mark White, Clements held a comfortable lead heading into the final two weeks of the campaign. Clements had been accused of being too energy friendly and making appointments to the Public Utility Commission that were more concerned about the energy companies than consumers, and that proved to be his undoing.
Journalists, in the last few weeks of the campaign, reported on an obscure rule approved without public input and called the “pass through clause.” The language was created because sympathetic commissioners said that energy companies could not come before the PUC for rate hike approvals every time their fuel costs increased. The market, it was argued, was simply too volatile. The result was the pass-through clause, which enabled electricity generators to simply increase utility bills to consumers to cover the additional costs for coal and natural gas. White blamed Clements for rising utility bills because he allowed his appointees complete discretion at the PUC to approve the pass through clause. The allegations stuck, and White spent the last 10 days of the campaign talking about nothing else. He went from trailing almost by double digits in the polls to defeating the Republican Clements by a margin of 53-46.
And now Greg Abbott has handed Beto O’Rourke the Abbott Tax, which Beto is already swinging like a battle mace in his campaign emails:
“Did you know that there’s a utility bill tax coming your way? You’re not alone. In fact, the average Texas household by the end of this winter will see an increase in utility bills of $20-$50 per month going forward — and state leaders are considering even more utility rate hikes as we speak.
“This is the #AbbottTax. Greg Abbott failed to prepare our electricity grid. And when it collapsed, he failed yet again to do anything meaningful to fix it going forward. Now Texas families have to pay the price to clean up his mess.
“You might already be noticing an upcharge on your bill called something like “Power Cost Recovery Factor” or “Storm Surcharge.”
“To add insult to injury, Abbott’s appointees on the Utility Commission discussed adding another $15-20 to your #AbbottTax on your monthly bill yesterday.
“And if that wasn’t bad enough, while the Public Utility Commission was meeting, Greg Abbott was taking meetings with the same big energy company executives that helped to cause this problem with him in the first place.
“These are the executives who have donated $4.6 million to his campaign, helping to explain why Greg Abbott has done nothing to protect the grid going forward. He’s more interested in looking out for his campaign contributors than he is protecting the pocketbooks of Texas families.”
Abbott is going to have a very difficult time explaining away higher utility bills in a state that is supposed to be the energy capital of America. O’Rourke should be able to ride this political beast all the way to Election Day. Analysts might want to begin recalculating his odds, frankly, because the King has left a plateful of problems for Beto to feast upon. The advance of the Omicron variant has not prompted Abbott to change his laissez faire policy on dealing with the virus. Our health care facilities and professionals continue to be overwhelmed because their King is fighting vaccine mandates in federal courts while our state leaders refuse to expand Medicaid and leave Texas with the highest number of uninsured of any state in the union.
The Texas Comptroller’s Office has recently cited a new study by the Texas Alliance for Health Care that indicates great economic harm is approaching if coverage is not improved to protect the millions in Texas without insurance. King Abbott could expand Medicaid with a few strokes of a pen and eliminate all these risks:
‘The TAHC study predicted that the number of uninsured Texans could rise to 6.1 million by 2040. Without a change in policy, the study projects that costs for hospitals and physicians who provide unsubsidized and uncompensated care will rise from $3.5 billion in 2016 to $12.4 billion in 2040, while the impact of lost earnings and poor health will rise from $57 billion in 2016 to $178.5 billion in 2040.”
As is the case with all Kings, the time has come for this one to be deposed, and it is hard to believe Texans will continue to let this impudent man destroy their state, burden them with onerous taxes, increase the risk of ruination of the environment, and stomp on constitutional rights. Because if we do, we deserve the approaching catastrophe Abbott is creating.
Four more years of him will guarantee even greater damage to a once great state.