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Texas National Guard

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.

So what’s up with that National Guard story?

Hell, I don’t know.

Governors can deploy troops for numerous reasons, from natural disasters to border security.

But observers found it rare to the point of extraordinary when the Texas National Guard revealed that Gov. Greg Abbott has directed troops be prepared to respond to disturbances after the Nov. 3 election in major cities across the state.

Abbott has not explained his reasons, so far.

Ben West, a security analyst at the RANE subsidiary Stratfor, a consulting firm, said he anticipates most of the forces will be sent to Houston and Austin, which saw the bulk of the state’s racial justice protests this summer. Guard officials have compared the new mission to its response in June to the unrest.

While an election-related deployment is uncommon, 2020 might be the exception, West said.

“When everything is just upside down, things that in any other year would have been extraordinary get lost in the wash,” he said.

The governor has pushed hard in recent weeks to convey to voters his allegiance to law enforcement, and has proposed new laws that would stiffen punishments for unruly protesters, including mandatory jail time.

The Guard said Monday it would send up to 1,000 troops to Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio as early as this weekend. A top guard official, retired Maj. Gen. James K. “Red” Brown, said the deployment was in case of “postelection” disturbances, to support local law enforcement and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

He said the guardsmen’s role would be similar to that during last summer’s George Floyd protests, and the troops would act “as we previously did to deter any civil disturbance at sites in various cities in Texas.”

This was the original story. Since then, Abbott has assured officials in San Antonio there will be no troops sent there after they complained, and there was a clarification that none of the troops would be sent to polling locations. On Wednesday, Abbott finally spoke about the issue.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday answered questions about the deployment of Texas National Guard troops to Texas cities on Election Day, saying they will play no role whatsoever in the election process.

“Our job is to make sure that cities are safe and along those lines, we want to make sure that in the event there are any protests after the election that we will have adequate personnel in place to make sure that we will be able to address any protests that could turn into riots,” the governor said.

When asked specifically about the assignment of troops to Houston, Abbott indicated those decisions will be made on an as-needed basis.

“It is erroneous to say we will have a presence here,” he said.

My guess is that this was a typical politics-first move by Abbott that wasn’t very well thought out and neither took into account any stakeholder input, nor anticipated their reactions. It will probably not amount to much in the end, which is also typical of Abbott. I suppose this is as good a place as any to point out that violence from far-right groups is a much greater threat than people protesting police brutality, though I know there’s a zero percent chance Abbott knows or is much interested in that. It is what it is, as they say. The Press and the Trib have more.

The state of the state’s response

I mean, it’s something.

Gov. Greg Abbott took multiple measures Sunday designed to expand hospital staffing and capacity in Texas, but declined to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order — even as calls for such an action increased as the new coronavirus continued to spread across the state.

In an effort to free up hospital beds in anticipation of an influx of patients sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Abbott ordered health care professionals to postpone “all surgeries that are not medically necessary” and suspended regulations to allow hospitals to treat more than one patient in a room.

But he did not order all Texans to shelter in place, noting that there are still many counties in the state without confirmed cases and that he wants to see the full impact of an executive order he issued Thursday. In the meantime, he welcomed local officials to take more restrictive action than he has statewide.

During an afternoon news conference at the state Capitol in Austin, Abbott also announced the formation of a “strike force” to respond to the coronavirus and that the Texas National Guard, which he activated several days ago, would be deployed this week to help hospitals deal with the outbreak.

In the lead-up to Abbott’s news conference, though, attention centered most intensely on whether he would go beyond the executive order that he issued Thursday. That order urged all Texans to limit public gatherings to 10 people, prohibited eating in at restaurants and bars and temporarily closed schools. That order went into effect midnight Friday and goes through midnight April 3.

“We need to see the level of effectiveness of the executive order,” Abbott said. “What we may be right for places like the large urban areas may not be right at this particular point of time for the more than 200 counties that have zero cases of COVID-19.”


Abbott said that his decision not to issue a statewide order should not stop local officials from issuing such orders in their jurisdictions.

“Local officials have the authority to implement more strict standards than I as governor have implemented in the state of Texas, “Abbott said. “If they choose to do so I would applaud them for doing so, but at this time it is not the appropriate approach to mandate that same strict standard across every area of the state, especially at a time when we are yet to see the results coming out of my most recent executive order.”

See here for the background. I can see the reason for Abbott’s actions, or lack thereof. It’s not clear that this is necessary for rural areas, and for the most part the localities that have needed such action have taken it themselves. (Insert reminder about Abbott’s self-serving relationship with the concept of “local control” here.) Indeed, the next story the Trib ran is about Dallas County prepping a shelter-in-place order. (Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has said she is considering such an order but has not yet announced one.) At least some hospitals have already acted to limit or suspend elective procedures as well. What all of this does is mostly make me think that Abbott is behind the curve rather than ahead of it. You know I don’t think much of our Governor, but even for him this seems kind of limp. What could he be doing that isn’t already being done? That’s what I’d like to know.

Perry’s border surge


Gov. Rick Perry, leaping again into the national spotlight on illegal immigration, announced Monday he is sending up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border, where an influx of young Central Americans has overwhelmed the federal government.

Democrats blasted the decision as a political stunt by a governor with presidential ambitions. But Perry, who has the power to call up Guard troops to deal with a broad variety of crises, said Texas had to act because the federal government has offered nothing but “lip service and empty promises” while the border is overrun with illegal activity.

“I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor,” Perry told a packed press conference at the Texas Capitol. “We are too good a country for that to occur.”

Monday’s announcement marked the second time this month that Perry, who is considering another run for the White House in 2016, has thrust himself into the center of national debate about the crisis along border. He met with President Obama in Dallas on July 9, in part, to press his demands that the feds send — and pay for — a National Guard deployment.

Absent a federal activation, Perry said he acted on his own, meaning that Texans will pick up the $12 million-a-month tab authorities say the deployment will cost. The governor and other Republican elected officials said they would ask the federal government to pay for the mobilization.

I know what my answer to that request would be. Look, we all know the reason for this. It’s one part Perry 2016, and one part a response to the fear and fear of the voters he’s trying to woo. I know what Perry hopes to accomplish by this, but I have no idea what the Guard is supposed to be doing. These are children, for Christ’s sake, not criminals. God help us all if something goes wrong. TPM, PDiddie, and Stace, who has reactions from numerous Democratic officials, have more.

Same sex couples win the right to register for benefits in the Texas National Guard

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.


The Texas National Guard said late Tuesday it will immediately let same-sex couples register for benefits, ending a highly publicized standoff with the Pentagon.

Five Texas Guard facilities, including one in Houston, that had been off limits for same-sex couples seeking benefits will begin to enroll same-sex dependent spouses in benefits programs.

“We’re going to go back to business as usual,” said Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a Texas Guard spokeswoman. “It will be full service.”

The decision means same-sex couples in the Guard can now obtain services ranging from access to base commissaries to medical care and housing allowances – all benefits granted to married heterosexual couples.


The Defense Department said it would issue benefits to same-sex spouses of the military as well as civilian workers after the Supreme Court ruled that part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

Gov. Rick Perry defied the Pentagon, saying Texas defines marriage as between a man and a woman. But [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel made it clear Oct. 31 that the Defense Department expected all 54 guard organizations to comply.

Texas cited its state constitution and Family Code in refusing Hagel’s demands. It told same-sex couples to file their paperwork at more than 20 active-duty installations and refused to let them to apply for benefits at guard facilities in Abilene, Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and the Rio Grande Valley.

Those facilities will handle the paperwork, including marriages certificates, starting Wednesday, said MacGregor.

The governor, who has led challenges to Washington over redistricting, abortion and its new voter ID law, insisted the state wouldn’t give in, and the phrasing of a news release Tuesday on the guard’s website didn’t suggest that Texas backed down.

“The Department of Defense has approved a new procedure for enrolling National Guard members and their dependents in benefits programs,” it stated. “The new procedure essentially recognizes the conflict between the Texas Constitution and DOD policy mandating the enrollment of same-gender dependent spouses in benefits programs.”

About damn time. It’s beyond shameful that this was even in question. It’s still somewhat unclear to me what led to this change – I’ve searched the Texas Military Forces and Texas Army National Guard webpages but can’t find the news release cited in the story. Either Rick Perry backed down, in which case I am not too proud to say that I would like to gloat about that, or Texas Military Forces decided on their own that they answered to the federal government ahead of the state government, in which case it seems to me that the potential for conflict has not been resolved.

No attorney general’s opinion has been issued on the matter, but the [Washington, D.C.-based American Military Partner Association] told [AG Greg] Abbott in a letter that Texas and other noncompliant states were undermining force readiness, and even precluding same-sex couples from involvement with Family Readiness Groups that are a link to troops in the war zone.

“This is undoubtedly damaging to morale, good order and discipline,” the group said.

Here’s the American Military Partner Association’s website. Abbott asked them for their view on this. It may be the case that he concluded the state’s position was a loser and that this helped tilt the scales. If that’s the case then kudos to him, but it doesn’t change my opinion that Wendy Davis needs to make an issue out of this. She can quite reasonably point out that she would not pick this kind of stupid and harmful fight as Governor but will instead do the right thing from the beginning. She ought to be running against Rick Perry as much as she is against Greg Abbott anyway. The fact that the state appears to have backed down is a point in her favor, if she would just claim it. Texas Leftist and Texpatriate have more.

Wendy Davis needs to push back on Texas’ refusal to comply with the law on military same-sex benefits

The sooner the better. This is a no-brainer, and a win all around.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Texas Gov. Rick Perry stood his ground [last] Friday in a showdown with the Pentagon over processing benefits for same-sex couples at National Guard offices, possibly setting the stage for yet another court battle with the federal government.

A spokesman for the governor insisted that the Texas National Guard would not process marriage certificates for same-sex couples, despite an order this week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to do so.

The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, met Friday via teleconference with the leaders of nine state Guard organizations that have refused to process paperwork for same-sex benefits. Officials in Texas and Washington weren’t disclosing their next moves, but neither side appeared to budge.

“I guess I couldn’t be surprised that someone from the Obama administration is trying to force their will onto the states and bypass the state’s constitutional authority to govern itself,” Perry spokesman Josh Havens said, adding the governor had “every intent to uphold the Texas Constitution and state law.”


The Texas Guard’s adjutant general, Air Force Maj. Gen. John Nichols, was among leaders from the nine states to talk with Grass. But Army Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a spokeswoman for the Texas Guard, said she did not know the outcome of their conference.

She stressed that no one in the 22,000-strong organization had been denied benefits. However, Guard personnel on five state-operated facilities are barred from uploading a copy of the same-sex marriage certificate into a computer database, a key step required for issuing benefits as health care or housing allowances. The Texas Family Code forbids the acceptance of same-sex marriage certificates on state facilities.

Let’s go over the reasons why Wendy Davis needs to make an issue of this, shall we?

1. First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. That’s not always good politics, though in this case I believe it clearly is. But doing the right thing, and fighting for the right thing, is the way to build trust with your base supporters for those times when you need to convince them that something they’re not so crazy about is also the right thing to do.

2. Perry’s typical macho preening on this tries to cast the issue as another state-versus-federal argument, but it very conspicuously omits any mention of the active duty military members and their families that are directly affected by it. Making this be about the military personnel and their families is Politics 101. Rick Perry is saying that the state of Texas has the right to deny active duty military members access to federal benefits that they have earned. Do you think he wants to talk about it in those terms? We can’t let him go on as if it were just another abstract debate about federalism. He’s hurting soldiers, he’s disrespecting the people that we’ve tasked with protecting our freedoms. If we let him get away with that, we deserve to lose. The one person in Texas that can change the dynamic of this conversation in a way that the media and other politicians will be forced to notice, is Wendy Davis.

3. Of course, Wendy Davis is running against Greg Abbott, not Rick Perry. But taking on this fight puts Abbott in a tight spot. For one thing, he doesn’t want to make this about actual people – soldiers and their families – any more than Perry does. But he also can’t let himself be seen as soft on gay rights or fighting against the federal government, since he’s built most of his identity on that and he got burned by siding with the Obama Justice Department against the American Airlines merger. So that puts him in the position of having to defend the denial of benefits to soldiers, which I know is going to make a lot of nominal Republicans – likely a lot of Republican women, since this fight will adversely affect children, too – uncomfortable. And let’s not forget, Abbott the incumbent Attorney General still has to offer an opinion on this. Anything that Abbott the candidate for Governor has to say will cast doubt on that opinion he has to render.

4. It shifts the conversation away from abortion. That’s turf Davis will need and want to defend, but this is a chance to go on the offensive. it will also reinforce the idea that Davis has been a fighter on a range of subjects and that she isn’t afraid to take it to the Republicans.

5. As Daily Kos and Americablog point out, while the National Guard is generally considered part of the state, it gets the vast majority of its funding from the federal government. Are Rick Perry and Greg Abbott willing to forego that in the name of maintaining state control?

6. On a broader and more philosophical note, it also pushes back on the deeply cynical “states rights” and “federal overreach” argument that Perry and Abbott and the rest of them love to make. It’s a reminder that the federal government is there to ensure that people in all 50 states have the same rights and freedoms.

7. Have I mentioned that this is just 100% the right thing to do? I can’t stress that enough.

Now obviously it can’t be just Wendy Davis making this argument. Every Democrat in the state needs to be making it as well. But as noted in point #2, Wendy Davis is the only Democrat that’s guaranteed to be noticed by the press when she makes it. She’s the leader of the party, she’s the one in the spotlight, she’s where this has to start. We need you on this, Wendy.

The states that are making life harder for their National Guard members

It’s not just Texas.


While a majority of states ban same-sex marriages, most are not fighting the new policy. But Pentagon officials say that in addition to Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia have balked. Each has cited a conflict with state laws that do not recognize same-sex marriages. (A West Virginia official said, however, that the state intended to follow the directive.) While the president has the power to call National Guard units into federal service — and nearly all Guard funding comes from the federal government — the states say the units are state agencies that must abide by state laws.

Requiring same-sex Guard spouses to go to federally owned bases “protects the integrity of our state Constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people,” Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma said last week.

But the six states are violating federal law, Mr. Hagel told an audience recently. “It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice,” he said. Mr. Hagel has demanded full compliance, but Pentagon officials have not said what steps they would take with states that do not fall in line.

Though the government does not keep official figures on same-sex marriages in the military, the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for gay service members, estimates that the number could be 1,000 or more of the nearly half-million National Guard members nationwide, said Chris Rowzee, a spokeswoman for the group.

The military grants a range of significant benefits to the spouses of active-duty guardsmen, including the right to enroll in the military’s health insurance program and to obtain a higher monthly housing allowance. Spouse IDs allow unescorted access to bases with their lower-priced commissaries.

Officials in the six states say they are not preventing same-sex spouses from getting benefits, because those couples can register and receive IDs through federal bases. But those officials conceded that many couples would have to travel hours round trip to the nearest federal installation. Advocates for gay service members, though, fear that some benefits offered on bases, like support services for relatives of deployed service members, could still be blocked.

Moreover, gay spouses say that in an age that saw the scrapping of the military’s ban on openly gay service members, it is discriminatory — and humiliating — to have to jump through extra hoops to receive benefits.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m still waiting for the threatened lawsuit to be filed. Note that even among the states that banned same-sex marriage, Texas and these others are a minority. There’s no public policy purpose being served here, just disrespect for people who have done nothing to deserve it. One way or another, these states need to be made to do the right thing and do right by their National Guard members.

Hagel tells Texas National Guard to obey the law



Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel late Thursday rebuked Texas and eight other states whose National Guard organizations have refused to process federal benefits given to same-sex couples.

In a speech before the Anti-Defamation League in New York, Hagel revealed that he had ordered the head of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, “to take immediate action to remedy this situation.”

Hagel said commanders “will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and (Pentagon) policy” as 45 other states and jurisdictions now do.

“Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to,” Hagel said in a prepared text of his remarks provided by the Pentagon.

“This is wrong. It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DoD has fought to extinguish,” he continued. “At my direction, (Grass) will meet with the adjutants general from the states where these ID cards are being denied.”

See here for the background. Texas Military Forces has asked the Attorney General for an opinion on this, which is still pending, and Lambda Legal threatened a lawsuit if they did not comply. As far as I can tell, despite Lambda Legal giving Texas Military Forces ten days to respond to them, no further action has been taken.

The Texas National Guard’s adjutant general, Air Force Maj. Gen. John Nichols, said in an Aug. 30 policy memo his organization’s Camp Mabry headquarters in Austin and other facilities around the state could not enroll same-sex families “until we receive clarification.”

Neither he nor others at Camp Mabry could be reached Thursday night. Josh Havens, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the Guard is a state agency and “as such is obligated to adhere to the Texas Constitution and the laws of this state, which clearly define marriage as between one man and one woman.”


It wasn’t clear if Hagel’s action would force the Guard to immediately process same-sex couples’ benefits, but his action was hailed by Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, and Eric Alva, a local gay-rights activist.

“Guard members and their families serve this country every day, and it is unacceptable that any state would make it unreasonably difficult for these heroes to access the benefits they are entitled to,” Griffin said.

“If the states had it their way, they would be the ones who still say gay individuals are not allowed to serve in the National Guard,” said Alva, a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant who was the first American GI wounded in the Iraq invasion. “So I think it’s one last defense of the states to try to prevent same-sex couples from getting any benefits, and it’s going to fall. They’re going to lose.”

You would think so, but they won’t go quietly and they won’t go quickly. One way or another this will wind up in court. We ought to tell the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to go ahead and start writing its opinion striking down any injunctions or orders against the state, since we know that’s what they’ll eventually do anyway. May as well save some time and cut right to the chase. BOR has more.

Another reason why marriage equality matters

This was bad.


A graduate anthropology student, the wife of an active duty Air Force captain, said the University of Texas at San Antonio denied her an in-state tuition waiver — a decision she thinks came about because she’s married to another woman.

The student said she applied for the cheaper tuition by filling out a form that refers to the active duty member as either a spouse or a parent, and had it signed by her wife’s commander.

There was a problem with it, she was told a few weeks later. Then came a Sept. 27 email from a UTSA admissions supervisor, she said.

A copy she provided said simply, “We regret to inform you that per our Legal Department we are unable to process your in-state tuition waiver. Your tuition will remain out-state.”

The issue is complex and still under review, UTSA spokesman Joe Izbrand said in an email Thursday.

On Friday, UTSA reversed its decision. That’s good, but it’s not adequate.

State and federal laws grant in-state tuition at public institutions to the spouses and dependents of military personnel. But federal law now defines spouses differently from the Texas Constitution in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that rejected parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The student, 28, has asked not to be identified for fear that publicity would affect her work as a midwife and the career of her wife, 29, stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

“After carefully reviewing this matter, it has been determined that the student will be charged resident tuition,” UTSA spokesman Joe Izbrand said in an email. “Our university is enriched through inclusiveness and diversity. We honor the service of our military personnel and recognize the sacrifices made by their families.”

The student said Friday that the university awarded her a $1,000 merit-based graduate anthropology scholarship, which qualified her for resident tuition.


While Friday’s reversal “fixed my problem,” she said, “it didn’t fix the problem” with the policy.

“I get to be excited that I don’t have a financial burden, but the policy hasn’t changed,” the student said. “If anybody else applies in the future, they are not necessarily protected.”

Legal experts said this week the conflict between state and federal definitions of marriage would likely produce more such cases, likely unable to be resolved except by eventual litigation.

Izbrand’s statement said, “Because of the complexities involved and the potential conflict between the federal statute and state law, the university will seek additional legal guidance on this issue.”

I’m sure we can all guess what an opinion from AG Greg Abbott will look like. Kudos to UTSA for solving this one student’s problem, but she is quite correct to say that it is not an actual solution since it does nothing for the next person in her shoes. The underlying problem is the disconnect between federal law and our unjust, backward, discriminatory state law. This disconnect is causing an increasing number of problems with divorce cases and benefits for military spouses, and I’m sure that list will keep growing. The state’s response, as articulated by Greg Abbott, is that all these people should just leave their marriage licenses at the border and forget about all the rights and economic benefits that come with them because the state of Texas has closed its eyes and stuck its fingers in its ears and is busy chanting “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU”. The possibility that this well-thought out legal strategy might cause actual harm to real people is of no concern to Greg Abbott.

Well, that’s what needs to change first, and the person in the best position to make that happen in Wendy Davis. Put Greg Abbott on the spot and make him explain why he favors harming military families like this. Point out, over and over again, that he is responsible for harming them. Then tie it to his smug utterance about how all he does every day is “wake up, sue the Obama administration, and go home” and hammer home the fact that every one of his self-indulgent exercises in litigation has been about pursuing narrow partisan interests at the expense of everyday, hard-working, tax-paying Texans. Press on from there to showcase how increasingly out of touch the state and Greg Abbott are with public opinion – even ExxonMobil, in response to the change in federal policy, will now offer domestic partner benefits to its employees, for crying out loud – and how being out of touch like this will cost Texas in the long run as people and businesses will stop wanting to locate here. Just as the moment was right for Davis to run for Governor in the first place, the time is right to turn the old culture war arguments around and take the fight to turf we used to run away from. It’s on Wendy Davis and anyone who joins her on the ticket to recognize this opportunity and grab it. This is a good start, but we’ll need more than that. It’s there for the taking if we want it.

Lambda Legal challenges Texas Military Forces on benefits


An LGBT legal group has given the Texas National Guard 10 days to respond to its request that it begin enrolling same-sex spouses of service members into the federal Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) at its facilities. DEERS is the system used to process military benefits, including providing service members and their families with the military ID card that gives them access to military facilities and other services.

The move likely is the final step before the legal group, Lambda Legal, would go to court seeking to force the Texas National Guard to end the differential treatment.


On Friday, however, Lambda Legal — an LGBT legal advocacy group — sent a letter to Major General John F. Nichols, the man responsible for running the Texas National Guard, letting Nichols know the group is representing Alicia Butler, the wife of 1st Lt. Judith Chedville — a member of the Army National Guard — and asking that the Texas Military Forces reconsider the decision not to process Butler’s request to be entered into the DEERS system.

Specifically, the lawyer, Paul D. Castillo, wrote:

The Texas Military Forces apparently takes the position that registering the same-sex spouse of a service member in the federal Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (“DEERS”) and issuing a spousal ID, in fulfillment of the federal government’s legal obligation to provide federal spousal and family benefits to same-sex spouses, somehow would violate provisions of the Texas Constitution and Statutes that purport to deny State recognition to the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. This position is particularly dubious given that the “Federal Government provides virtually all of the funding, the material, and the leadership for the state Guard units” … including, specifically, DEERS and federal benefit administration for commissioned officers located in Texas.

Citing the Supreme Court’s June decision striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, he noted, “When voluntarily implementing federally-funded benefits programs on behalf of the U.S. Army National Guard, Texas may not violate the federal civil rights of eligible spouses of military personnel. The discriminatory treatment of lesbian and gay spouses of service members, including those in the Army National Guard in Texas, is illegal.”

See here and here for the background. Lambda Legal’s press release is here, and I think this sums it all up:

“This is just so silly and demeaning,” Butler said. “What they’re saying in effect is, ‘well, we don’t want to give you these benefits, but we have to, so we’re going to make it as inconvenient as possible.’ It’s incredibly petty, and does impose a real hardship that other couples don’t have to bear.”

“This stigmatizing and punitive policy conflicts with DoD policy to treat all military spouses equally and also seems to contradict the governing philosophy of Texas Military Forces to act in the best interests of all service members and families,” Castillo added. “We urge General Nichols to instruct his staff to stop this discriminatory behavior and enroll all eligible spouses of service members for federal benefits.”

Given that nearly every other state, including quite a few that also ban gay marriage, have complied with this directive, it’s hard to see how this could be legal. But then TXMF is taking its cues from Greg Abbott and his see-no-gays strategy, so it’s not exactly a surprise. I’m kind of hoping Lambda has to take TXMF to court – I figure every time Abbott loses a case, an angel gets his wings. But hey, as long as the good guys win in the end, I’ll be happy. See the full letter from Lambda Legal for more.

Texas Military Forces asks for Abbott’s opinion on same-sex benefits

Like we don’t know what he’s going to say.

Still not Greg Abbott

Here’s the dilemma: The Department of Defense, based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, has ordered certain benefits be extended to same-sex, legally married couples in the military.

But the Texas Military Forces — aka TXFM and the Texas national guard — is a state agency and the Texas Constitution has a provision that same-sex marriages cannot be recognized.

So the adjutant general’s office has asked the attorney general to help sort out whether this is a military chain-of-command order, or is a state office obligated to follow Texas law?

“Texas law specifically prohibits a state agency or political subdivision from recognizing or validating a same-sex marriage,” the request for a legal opinion states. But the national guard personnel are under state control only until they are called up for active duty, and then they answer to the federal government.

“What action, if any, can the TXMF take in order to fulfill the DoD policy of extending spousal and dependant benefits to same-sex spouses without violating the Texas Constitution or Texas state law?” the request for opinion asks.

I’m trying to think of some analogous questions to asking Greg Abbott if the state of Texas needs to follow federal directives on same-sex benefits for military personnel. “Should I rob this bank? I don’t know, so I’ll go ask Willie Sutton for his opinion.”

Or how about “Should I punch this guy in the face? I don’t know, so I’ll go ask Mark Trail for his opinion.”

Maybe “Should I do unspeakable things to this foam finger? I don’t know, so I’ll go ask Miley Cyrus for her opinion.”

Basically, the difference between those examples and asking Greg Abbott if you have to comply with an order to treat same-sex couples equally is how long you have to wait to get the answer you know you’re going to get. If you’re one of the people that stands to be adversely affected by Abbott’s opinion, the Atlantic Wire has a map pointing out the federal military bases in Texas, so at least you’ll know how far you’ll have to travel to claim the benefits that are rightfully and legally yours. A group of Texas legislators – all Democrats, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear – sent a letter to TXMF urging them to forget about asking Abbott for his predictable opinion and just go ahead and follow the federal directive already. The Trib has more.

No federal benefits for you, soldier!

We sure do love the troops here in Texas, don’t we?


The Texas National Guard refused to process requests from same-sex couples for benefits on Tuesday despite a Pentagon directive to do so, while Mississippi won’t issue applications from state-owned offices. Both states cited their respective bans on gay marriage.

Tuesday was the first working day that gays in the military could apply for benefits after the Pentagon announced it would recognize same-sex marriages. The Department of Defense had announced that it would recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw out parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Texas and Mississippi appeared to be the only two states limiting how and where same-sex spouses of National Guard members could register for identification cards and benefits, according to an Associated Press tally. Officials in 13 other states that also ban gay marriage — including Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan and Georgia — said Tuesday that they will follow federal law and process all couples applying for benefits the same.

Maj. Gen. John Nichols, the commanding general of Texas Military Forces, wrote to service members in a letter obtained by the AP that because the Texas Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, his state agency couldn’t process applications from gay and lesbian couples. But he said the Texas National Guard, Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guard would not deny anyone benefits.

Nichols wrote that his agency, which oversees Texas’ National Guard units, “remains committed to ensuring its military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled. As such, we encourage anyone affected by this issue to enroll for benefits at a federal installation.” He then listed 22 bases operated by the Department of Defense in Texas where service members could enroll their families.

A spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the Texas Military Forces, as a state agency, must obey state law.


Pentagon officials said Texas appeared to be the only state with a total ban on processing applications from gay and lesbian couples. Spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said federal officials will process all applications from same-sex couples with a marriage certificate from a state where it is legal.

Alicia Butler said she was turned away from the Texas Military Forces headquarters in Austin early Tuesday and advised to get her ID card at Fort Hood, an Army post 90 miles away. She married her spouse — an Iraq war veteran — in California in 2009, and they have a 5-month-old child.

“It’s so petty. It’s not like it’s going to stop us from registering or stop us from marrying. It’s a pointed way of saying, ‘We don’t like you,” Butler said.

She said she was concerned the state would withhold survivor benefits if something happened to her wife while she was activated on state duty rather than on federal deployment.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you live somewhere else?'” she said. “Well, my ancestors came here five generations ago to get away from this kind of stuff, and this is my state and I’m not going to go away.”

“We don’t like you” is one of the things that this says. Here’s more in the Chron.

The health care, housing and other benefits are retro­active to June 26, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

Texas Military Forces said same-sex spouses of members of the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard can enroll for federal benefits at 20 U.S. military sites statewide.

Brent Boller, spokesman for Joint Base San Antonio, confirmed that same-sex couples can apply at Randolph, Lackland and Fort Sam Houston. Their marriage has to have been recognized in the District of Columbia or one of 13 states that allow same-sex marriage.

“All federal installations in Texas are issuing those,” Boller said, referring to U.S. military identification cards and the federal benefits system.

Just not the state facilities, like Camp Mabry in Austin. I don’t know how many of those there are or how big an obstacle that is for affected veterans, but that’s beside the point. Other states that ban gay marriage are capable of complying with this federal directive, just not Texas. It’s petty and small-minded, but also one more piece of evidence for the lawsuit mill. I can’t help but think that the more obstructionist Texas is, the closer it is to getting its ass handed to it in federal court. That day can’t get here soon enough. The Dallas Voice and Texpatriate have more.