The unnecessary incident not only rekindled the old Branch Davidian-related "Wacko" stereotypes for an increasingly prosperous Central Texas city, but it also played into the Texas stereotype of a violent, lawless, backward state, a hang-'em-high kind of place that relishes the death penalty, that's obsessed with guns, that's anti-education, anti-science, anti-immigrant, anti-environment. The stereotype would suggest that Texas is a desolate place, literally and figuratively. In the words of Stephen Klineberg, it suggests a place that's "reluctant to give up the imagery, romance and nostalgia of the 19th century."
Klineberg, the Rice University sociologist who's been conducting surveys of how Houstonians feel about things for more than 30 years, is well aware that the myth doesn't define 21st-century Houston — or 21st-century Texas, for that matter — but too often the rest of the world doesn't know that. They hear our elected officials saying stupid things, they watch our governor giving credence to absurd conspiracy theorists and they see a gang of biker misfits being allowed to brandish guns in public and they can't help but wonder why a big, prosperous, powerful state like Texas has to be so disagreeable.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett reports that on his recent trip to Germany he woke up one morning to TV news reporting that the Texas governor felt the need to monitor the American military conducting exercises in the state. "I wanted to pull the sheets back over my head," he said. That's Texas, the world concludes.
Granted, the state is growing faster than any other state. Last week's U.S. Census Bureau estimate found that five of the 10 fastest growing cities in the country are Texas cities, including San Marcos, the fastest-growing city in the nation. We would suggest, however, that folks are moving here in spite of the image. They're coming for jobs and a more affordable way of life, not to wear their guns in public or vote for tough-talking politicians playing to people's fears.
We should celebrate the new Texas and at the same time work to build a new myth, one that celebrates not only our bigness, but our expansiveness — an expansiveness of spirit that welcomes new people, new ideas, new perspectives on the world. This big, expansive place should take a cue from its largest city, a place that exults in its diversity and openness, in its aura of opportunity for all.
Klineberg contends that the ordinary Texan is way ahead of the politicians, whose crabbed and straitened view of Texas belies the wealth of possibility that exists within our borders. The danger, Klineberg added, is that obsolete public policy and narrow perspectives will retard the kind of investments we need to make in a 21-century Texas, including investments in new energy sources — Texas as the Saudi Arabia of wind energy, for example — education and environmental protection.
"The myths about Texas die so hard, because Texans love them so," ''Big Rich" author Bryan Burrough has written. No doubt, he's right, but even though we cherish that myth and the past to which it alludes, it's time for the well-loved myth to expand. It's time for the straight-shooting, straight-talking Texas cowboy to ride into the 21st century, time to show the world a new brand.
Beaumont Enterprise. May 25, 2015.
Tea party gripes misread Texas realities
If Texans needed any further proof that tea party hardliners are out of touch with mainstream voters, it was provided last week. A letter signed by 28 leaders from a coalition of tea party groups complained that many of their top priorities for the current legislative session may not pass by adjournment on June 1.
The letter singled out three leaders - Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus - for insufficient fervor. It mentioned issues like securing the border, tightening up immigration policies and abortion rules and boosting school vouchers.
Where to start on this wish list?
Lawmakers did pump more money and manpower into the bottomless pit known as "border security," more than doubling current spending to $800 million. Yet that hasn't satisfied the tea partiers, even though illegal crossings are down and the border is patrolled by thousands of police officers, sheriff's deputies and U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Immigration? Isn't that a federal responsibility?
The Legislature has already done a lot to hamper abortion with burdensome regulations for clinics that are clearly designed to hamper them instead of improving safety. The practice is legal, by the way.
School choice? The House and Senate simply do not have enough backing for voucher programs. Yet they did boost the charter schools that many Texans of all beliefs support. That should be sufficient.
And on and on. On these issues and others, the tea party talking points do not reflect the beliefs of most Texans, and sometimes not even those of conservative Republicans. For some, however, enough is never enough, and compromise is a dirty word.
Patrick is hopelessly aligned with these groups, but Abbott and Straus have a little more sense. They should not be intimidated by tea partiers. They should do what is right for the entire state, not the far left or far right, in the closing days of this session.
Galveston County Daily News. May 23, 2015.
Law on banning fracking fractures local control
A newly signed state law will prevent local governments from banning hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. House Bill 40 prohibits cities from enacting any ordinance "that bans, limits, or otherwise regulates an oil and gas operation within its boundaries or extraterritorial jurisdiction."
What hypocrisy from a party that touts its commitment to local control and cries foul when the federal government infringes on the state's authority.
With the stroke of a pen, Abbott stripped local governing bodies of home rule authority, which gives those entities the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, moral and welfare, among other things.
That's just what Denton voters thought they did in November when the city became the first in Texas to place an outright ban on fracking inside the city limits.
According to a news release from Gov. Abbott, this legislation was necessary to protect the oil and gas industry from "the heavy hand of local regulation and to ensure that Texas avoids a patchwork quilt of regulations that differ from region to region, differ from county to county or city to city."
The governor and the state's former Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who is now the president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, claim Denton's move stepped on the property rights of the oil and gas industry, by essentially taking their property's value without compensation.
According to the Texas Municipal League, 60 cities and towns in the Lone Star State have some sort of local laws regulating various aspects of the oil and gas industry. What other ordinances will the state decide to render null and void?
Our objection to this law has little to do with fracking. We know having a domestic supply of oil and natural gas is good for the state's economy. We firmly believe, however, that the people who call this great state home should have the ability to decide what is best for their communities. And until now, we thought the state's Republicans strongly held the same beliefs.
Stripping voters of their ability to limit oil and gas activities in their own backyards is disappointing in a state where local government and local control have long been held as king.
The (McAllen) Monitor. May 24, 2015.
A 'unified command' ready for immigrant surge in South Texas
There was a news conference held last week regarding local preparedness for any immigration surge this summer, that was significant for not so much what was said but for who was there.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez, Chief Border Patrol Agent Kevin Oaks of the Rio Grande Valley Sector, dignitaries from the consulates of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, Salvation Army representatives, and Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, were all on hand to unequivocally say they were working together in case there was another massive influx of illegal immigrants through South Texas.
That wasn't at all the case last summer when thousands of mostly women and children suddenly flooded our region. Local officials said then they knew nothing about the surge — which catapulted our region to the top of international and national newscasts — until weeks, possibly months, after it had begun.
A video played by Border Patrol officials at the news conference last week, held at the McAllen Convention Center, touted how Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson was concerned about this issue in early May 2014, as were some congressmen from our region. And Chief Oaks said at this time last year the Border Patrol was processing 1,200 to 1,500 people per day.
Yet our local officials admitted they had no idea this was happening.
Judge Garcia said he learned about it "by watching CNN."
Sister Norma has repeatedly said her organization learned about the influx last June after two women noticed a sudden uptick in dazed and dirty immigrants wandering around the McAllen bus station — most in a state of confusion. They were so disoriented that the women called Sister Norma and it was soon learned that all had been dropped off at the bus station by U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement officials. They were hungry, tired and unaware of how to navigate our American transportation system, yet they were headed for parts unknown.
Sister Norma set up a refugee assistance center inside the nearby Sacred Heart Catholic Church, assisted by the City of McAllen and Hidalgo County and several nonprofit groups, like the Salvation Army, to feed, clothe and allow immigrants to shower and take a brief respite before moving on.
The church's facilities are now famous and they have established quite a routine. But that evolved with practice and when it first opened last summer, Sister Norma said they didn't know what they were doing and had no warning from federal officials of this humanitarian crisis.
And so we praise Oaks and federal officials for now joining hands with local officials in what he called a "unified command."
Last year, "part of the breakdown was our inability to deal with so many family and juveniles and we learned so many lessons over the past year, in terms of working with the community we serve and working with local officials," Oaks said.
This simple statement of humility shows a readiness and openness to include local leaders. It's proof that our federal officials value their input and insight, and undoubtedly this will prove beneficial should a massive influx of immigrants again occur.
Mayor Darling called it "an informal partnership." But it's much more than that politically. It signifies that local leaders are at the table, and as such, we expect will have a say in matters concerning our Rio Grande Valley.
Oaks says currently apprehensions of unaccompanied juveniles are down 60 percent, and arrests of families have dropped 58 percent from this time last year. There are 400 to 500 arrests per day, he said. And intelligence gathered in the field suggests that they won't see the high numbers of last year when 60,000 unaccompanied youth came through here.
Currently, Sister Norma says they are assisting about 80 immigrants per day — some now showing up with ankle monitoring devices placed on them by federal officials to ensure they appear for their mandated court hearings.
And 80 immigrants per day means 80 pairs of shoes out the door each day. "These people have walked a long way, it's sad to see them leave in the same, dirty shoes they came in with," she told us. Unfortunately, lately she says, they've struggled to meet this demand for shoes. They also lack new undergarments for the women and children.
They need volunteers, she says, and she is hoping that this summer church groups from throughout our state and nation, as well as local volunteers, will again trek to that little downtown parish to help these immigrants.
We put the request out on her behalf and we know with confidence that our community will generously respond, as we have always done, in unity.
San Antonio Express-News May 21, 2015.
Build an Alamo with a 'there, there'
You might know David Zucker as the producer/director of the "Airplane," ''Naked Gun" and "Scary Movie" franchises.
You could soon know him as guy who donated valuable Davy Crockett and Alamo artifacts to an Alamo museum. But he wants these housed in a "world-class Alamo museum" that would be part of a site restored as much as possible to 1836 authenticity.
In a letter to the Legislature, Zucker urged legislators, considering bills to finance Alamo improvements, to "be bold and invest the highest level possible in this effort to save, preserve, and to create a world-class historic site and destination."
And his definition of what this entails is indeed bold. We share it. In a telephone interview, he told the Express-News Editorial Board that he envisions a site that more resembles the 1836 footprint.
He imagines "clearing out" buildings now sitting on the site to help in this re-creation. He sees a converted Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse that would house that world-class museum.
Zucker got the Crockett and Alamo bug from watching the Walt Disney series. He remembers his first visit to the Alamo about 20 years ago.
"After a lifetime of waiting to see the Alamo, I was staying at the Hyatt on the River Walk," he said. "The bellboy took me to my room, and I told him how excited I was to see the Alamo. And he said, 'Don't be too disappointed.'"
Though he knew precisely what he would see from years of enthusiasm and study, he could see then, and sees now, that it just could be so much more.
"Most people want to see what they imagine to be the fort," he said. It needs to be rebuilt "so there's a there, there."
We agree. The Legislature has been considering bills that would ensure more funding — one paves the way for a constitutional amendment that would do this and provide a unified governing structure for the site. This session shouldn't end without some commitment to preserve and build up this shrine to Texas independence.
Zucker's collection, he said, includes the last letter written by Crockett — the one saying he's going to Texas — "Crockett Almanacs" and valuable lithographs. Zucker said the value of the Crockett letter alone is likely $500,000. He has a William Travis letter and a Santa Ana document as well.
The Crockett letter, he said, is now "sitting in a box in a Beverly Hills bank."
He wants his collection seen and enjoyed. We agree — in a world-class museum that sits in an Alamo site restored to 1836 authenticity. The Legislature should help make this so.