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Why is Greg Abbott doing so little to help Texas recover from the freeze?

If this Politico story doesn’t make you mad, then either you’re a Greg Abbott shill or you really need to check your priors.

Assessing the effectiveness of disaster response is a famously fraught political game. What looks like a master class in bureaucratic crisis management from inside an emergency operations center can seem laughably insufficient to the people bundled in blankets outside an overwhelmed food bank. But all sorts of Texans, from shivering private citizens to frustrated public officials, say that Texas’ state leaders failed them.

In the face of a monstrous storm Abbott’s response was tepid, at best. He didn’t deploy the National Guard in any sizable numbers before, during or after the storm. There are no state aid facilities handing out water or food. In his Feb. 13 letter to Biden, Abbott asked for direct financial assistance and help with emergency services. Normally, governors, including Abbott, request military help, money for local governments and hazard mitigation to make sure properties are habitable, and even social services. But not not this time. His request was comparatively minuscule. His office in Austin did not respond to a request for comment.

The storm revealed an uncomfortable power-play between GOP leaders in Austin and their mostly Democratic counterparts in the state’s big cities. In Texas, examples of local autonomy routinely run afoul of a governor who jealously guards his prerogatives to override everything from plastic bag bans to mandatory mask orders. But when the cities are in crisis, the sense is that it’s their problem to sort out, not his. Millions of Texans have nearly frozen in the dark and have been on a boil-water notice, without running water in days.

“The state government must provide emergency assistance to repair water infrastructure, or we risk millions being without water for a week,” Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and housing secretary, pleaded on Twitter. Abbott “failed to prepare for this storm, was too slow to respond, and now blames everyone but himself for this mess.”

[…]

In his Feb. 13 letter to Biden, it was what the governor didn’t ask for that stuck out. He asked for no military help with logistics or aid distribution. He didn’t ask for disaster unemployment insurance, money for local governments, not even hazard mitigation for damaged homes, not even food or water. He asked for no military assistance. Abbott asked only for direct financial assistance for individuals and help keeping emergency services going until the storm passed.

In sharp contrast, Abbott asked for and got massive federal help before Hurricane Harvey even came ashore in August 2017. At his request, FEMA pre-positioned people and supplies, linking up with the Texas Emergency Management Agency, bringing in over 1 million meals, 3 million bottles of water, blankets and cots, and providing medical services to more than 5,000 Texans. The federal government even brought in 210,000 pounds of hay for livestock, according to FEMA’s 2017 after-action report. The Air Force flew 30 missions, mostly ferrying supplies. Abbott activated all 30,000 members of the Texas National Guard. But none of that happened this time.

Abbott was in a different political situation. On the one hand there was a Democratic president in office, not his old ally Donald Trump. On the other hand, Abbott’s biggest threat, as he prepares to run for reelection in 2022 and possibly the presidency in 2024, isn’t to his left but to his right. Florida transplant Allen West chairs the Texas GOP and is even calling for secession.

“My sense is that Abbott is calibrating his relationship with a Democratic president,” said James Henson, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. Despite the human toll, Abbott, say, doesn’t want ads in 2022 portraying him as hat-in-hand to Biden. “The Republicans just want to do the bare essential here, and they don’t want to do too much. Plus, Abbott doesn’t want this storm to be the focus of another news cycle.”

“Federal assistance is needed to lessen the threat of disaster, save lives, and protect property, public health and safety,” he wrote to Biden without mentioning the long tail of the storm, prolonged lack of water, and the likelihood of continuing financial turmoil about how to pay bills as simple as essential as next month’s rent. And potentially worse: the rising specter of hunger in the poor parts of San Antonio and all of South Texas.

With little help from the state, the aid task has fallen on the local government, private citizens and local charities. Bexar County here was one of dozens forced to issue boil-water notices. Now, the city is still distributing water bottles for 14 days straight. Firefighters and fire department cadets loaded 31 pallets in cars at the parking lot of Our Lady of the Lake University on Sunday, Feb. 21.

“We still have lots of people without water,” said the firefighter in charge, who would only identify herself as Bertha. “As long as I’ve been alive, I’ve seen nothing like this.”

[…]

So, FEMA has shipped generators, for example, but there is little need for them now that the power is back on. The usual National Guard and active military response is almost completely absent. At FEMA’s direction, the Air Force has been ferrying water from Joint Base Charleston, S.C. and Joint Base Travis, Calif., aboard C-17s to Texas, according to military officials. Marines in Fort Worth and Army troops here in San Antonio have handed out water on the order of local commanders. But that’s it. That’s all the military help there is.

Asked if the lack of military help, which was out in force during Ike and Harvey before, wasn’t coming because the governor hadn’t asked, a Defense Department official sheepishly responded: “I didn’t want to say that but yes. Usually, the governor asks for help.”

Critics of the governor see Abbott’s political ambitions at play. He is running for reelection and said to be eyeballing a presidential run. And so, the less he asks of the federal government the more he can claim in 2022 or 2024, that he doesn’t ask Washington for help. He can’t seem beholden to Washington, pressed from his right by hard-liners West, or his powerful right-wing lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick.

“Abbott doesn’t want to be seen with both hands out to the government,” said Henson, at the University of Texas. “If Republicans can get away with doing the bare minimum, they can have their cake and eat it, too.”

Absolutely infuriating. I didn’t know any of this before I read this story, and as much as I can’t stand Greg Abbott, it had never occurred to me that he wouldn’t ask the feds for all the help he could get. I still can’t quite fathom it. However angry you are at Greg Abbott, you need to be angrier, and you need to make sure everyone you know is angry at him. This cannot stand.

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8 Comments

  1. Flypusher says:

    “My sense is that Abbott is calibrating his relationship with a Democratic president,” said James Henson, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. Despite the human toll, Abbott, say, doesn’t want ads in 2022 portraying him as hat-in-hand to Biden.”

    He’s not wrong about the politics sadly. I remember all too well when Gov. Chris Christie evoked so many howls of outrage for the horrid offense of meeting with Pres Obama right after Superstorm Sandy. To his credit, Christie blew off the howlers. Abbott is made of much less sterner stuff.

    It’s clear that the GOP thinks that Texans would rather be hungry, thirsty, and freezing in the dark than accept Federal aid that is our due as citizens of the USA and that we help fund with our tax dollars. IOW that we are idiots.

  2. Manny says:

    What now calls itself the Republican party consists of primarily four groups,

    racists
    bigots
    misogynists
    religious zealots

    Could add white supremacy type, there are some that call themselves Republicans that are just greedy or ignorant.

  3. Jason Hochman says:

    Interesting, but Feb. 13 is prior to the actual event. If he sent the letter that early, he knew that the state infrastructure was in poor condition and didn’t tell the people. They all knew that the state was unprofessional and put together by amateurs. But none of them told us, so hopefully everyone will vote out the lot of them. The county and the city knew as well.

    The power didn’t go out until Feb. 15th, the water a day later.

    I had visions of spending the cold snap making hot chocolate, baking ginger men, making soup, popping corn. I scoffed at the panic mongers. But none of my plans came to pass because the entire state collapsed, and instead of fear mongering, they should’ve told me the truth.

  4. Jen says:

    It is all about the optics in many ways. Not having a massive response from Biden’s Feds lessens the seeming magnitude of the problem, makes Abbott look a little better, and makes Biden look weak. I was wondering where the Federal response was, turns out it was kneecapped by Greg Abbott, but most people will probably assume it was just bungled. The letter was Feb. 13, so before the grid collapse. It is important to note, and almost unbelievable that Abbott did not make any additional request for help after the real extent of the disaster became clear. Just more political calculus from the Abbott team, and to hell with Texas citizens.

  5. David Fagan says:

    What now calls itself the Democrat party consists of primarily four groups,

    racists
    bigots
    misogynists
    religious zealots

    Could add white supremacy type, there are some that call themselves Republicans that are just greedy or ignorant.

  6. Lobo says:

    Look what the Governor is bragging about today:

    Greg Abbott @GregAbbott_TX
    ·4h

    Texas is #1, AGAIN.

    Texas won the Governor’s Cup for 2020.
    It goes to the top state for job creation & economic development.
    This means more prosperity for Texans.
    Texas has won this award 9 years in a row.
    Thanks to local communities for their help.

    TEXAS IS COOL, U-ALL

    He forgot to mention:

    Number 1 in lack of energy disaster preparedness
    Number 1 in state-sponsored electricity price gouging during a disaster

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    LOL, Wolf,

    Move the goalposts, much? If you want to create an award for the state that loses power the most days of the year, then make that the metric and create your own award.

    Apparently the “Governor’s cup” is an award for job creation and economic development. We won. Again.

  8. Manny says:

    Lobo, I looked for the “Governor’s Cup,” which indicated that Texas was indeed top in economic development and job creations. Found that Texas was not even at the top in either one of those categories.

    David, the intellectual standard for the fire department must be extremely low. You couldn’t even copy and paste correctly by substituting the Republican with Democrat. But then again Trump lovers are known to be on the stupid side.