Posted: Nov 27, 2012 11:01 AM
Updated: Nov 27, 2012 11:02 AM
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Nov. 23, 2012.
Perry's decision is bad for Texans' health, wallets
Texas appears uniquely capable of helping its uninsured find health insurance and proving it can do a better job of it than the federal government.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, for example, is Texas' way of saying Texas knows better than the Environmental Protection Agency how to regulate Texas' environment. Any number of environmental groups would argue otherwise. But the point is: Texas made the effort to take responsibility and control of how it complies with federal environmental regulations. That's right, we said federal.
The Public Utility Commission of Texas' powertochoose.org website, for another example, is the state's way of helping electric customers find the best deals in its deregulated electricity market.
It stands to reason that the state which, oh, by the way, already has a Department of Insurance could accomplish something similar to Power to Choose in the health insurance market.
It also stands to reason that Texas would want to help the 25 percent of its population that isn't insured become insured.
But mostly, we'd have thought that Texas would rather take a bull by its horns than leave it to tinhorns from Washington, D.C., who probably have no concept that Corpus Christi and San Antonio are about as many miles apart as Washington and Philadelphia (we Google-mapped it).
Not Gov. Rick Perry. Our Obamacare-opposing secession whisperer-in-chief informed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week that Texas will not implement a state exchange for health insurance. This is his way of showing defiance letting the federal government do for Texas what Texas can do for itself. He's asserting Texas' independence by choosing the most extreme form of dependence under the new federal health care law.
In making this decision for Texans, Perry also is rejecting an untold fortune in federal funding known otherwise as dollars confiscated from Texans' earnings.
Perry sent the letter a day before the deadline, nine days after the re-election of President Barack Obama, arguably a statement by the American people that they approve of his health care law. Or, as Perry put it in his letter to Sebelius, "bad public policy."
In words we wish we had written, Dallas Morning News columnist Mitchell Schnurman posed the question: "How much money and opportunity will Texas squander to make a political point?"
Schnurman also made the Power to Choose analogy in his column. And he noted one other important point about the state exchanges that shouldn't be overlooked that they are supposed to "level the playing field by pooling people without employer-sponsored insurance."
Philosophically, we don't necessarily disagree with the far right that people should have the right to choose whether to be insured and by whom. Practically, we refuse to ignore that most people can't afford this entirely theoretical right to choose. They have insurance because their employer provides it or subsidizes it and gets a discount the insurance companies wouldn't offer to individuals. And most insured people's choice of insurer is made by their employer, not them not that they'd dare complain.
The upshot is that, even after the primary in which Perry established himself to be not even remotely of presidential timber, and after the re-election of the champion of the federal health care law, Perry rejects the best interest of 6.2 million uninsured Texans and gives Texas taxpayers the least bang for their federal buck just to make a political statement rejected by most Americans.
He couldn't look any less childish wielding a toy pistol and putting plastic spurs to Marvel the Mustang ("he's almost for real").
The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 26, 2012.
Straus rightly wants Austin tackling core needs
House Speaker Joe Straus already has a mantra for the 2013 Texas Legislature: Get serious.
The San Antonio Republican believes he and fellow lawmakers must focus on the state's core needs so Texas is equipped for the year 2030. By then, our population likely will have grown to 33 million, up from 26 million today. Straus told this newspaper recently that he wants to concentrate on the big challenges so those 33 million Texans in 2030 can enjoy decent lives.
Straus has his sights on public education, higher education, water supplies and transportation. He also wants to emphasize greater transparency in government and improvements to the state's manufacturing base. The first four are the essentials that the next session must tackle rather than getting swept up in side dramas.
The demands don't all mean more spending. For instance, Austin must find a way to maintain a strong school accountability system while accommodating districts' uproar about the growing demands of that system.
Yet revenues must be part of the mix as the Legislature looks ahead. Here's one example:
The state has a solid water plan for the next 50 years, but there is no devoted source for financing the projects. Legislators have tried, but failed, to create a funding stream in recent sessions. They can't let that happen again, not with Texas' projected population growth.
Gov. Rick Perry, in particular, needs to recognize that the state can't meet its water needs on a wing and a prayer. The conventional wisdom in Austin is that he previously blocked funding ideas so he could run for higher office. Here's his chance to show that Republicans can govern.
In fact, "showing that Republicans can govern" is one of the underlying themes of Straus' message. This matters not only for his party but for the entire state since Republicans control all aspects of Texas government. If GOP politicians can't get the core functions right, Texas will suffer.
Straus has been meeting with members of both parties as the session nears. If he is re-elected speaker and we hope that is the case his challenge will be bringing along all parts of his party, including a more conservative Senate, led by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
During Dewhurst's decade as lieutenant governor, he's mostly governed as a moderate conservative. But after losing to Ted Cruz in the GOP Senate primary, the businessman sounds like he's been born again as a hard-right conservative.
We certainly hope Straus succeeds in preparing Texas for 2030. The state and all its residents will be in a bad place if Austin doesn't get serious about our core challenges.
"To say no to everything is not a solution. We have to show some real leadership."
San Angelo Standard-Times. Nov. 18, 2012.
Secession petition embarrassing to most real Texans
We all have a right to an occasional snit, but most of us don't throw our tantrums in public and embarrass our neighbors in the process.
That can't be said about the Texans, and people from other states, who have signed petitions on the White House "We the People" website asking to secede from the United States.
As of Friday, a week after it was posted, nearly 115,000 people far more than those from any other state had signed the petition to allow Texas to "peacefully" leave the United States. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it was prompted by President Barack Obama's re-election.
It's probably safe to say that the signers are greatly outnumbered by people who are appalled by the effort, including many who vigorously opposed Obama in the Nov. 6 election.
The authors of the petition boast that Texas would be the 15th largest economy in the world if it were independent. They either ignore or aren't aware that's due in large part to Texas being part of the USA.
As an example, how many tens of billions of dollars do the 15 major military bases and 10 Coast Guard installations pour into the state's economy? San Angelo hasn't fought valiantly to keep Goodfellow Air Force Base open only because of residents' devotion to the military. It's also because the base's annual economic impact is more than $400 million, and the intangible contributions in volunteerism and otherwise are incalculable.
Go through the U.S. government listings in the phone book to get a sense of other jobs that would be lost if Texas were to go it alone, and then add the jobs at businesses that serve all those federal folks.
Perhaps most bizarre about the petition is that the people who support it probably regard themselves as among the most patriotic Americans.
They would answer that they are patriotic, but the America they know and love is disappearing. It's an immature attitude that not only discounts all who disagree with them politically but also fails to recognize that, except for the Civil War period, Americans for more than two centuries have put their faith in a simple compact: We choose our leaders in democratic elections, accept the outcome and move on.
Will the petitioners want to rejoin the U.S. if in four years a president more to their liking moves into the White House?
The Texas mystique is enormous and recognized worldwide, and we should cherish that. The grit and independent spirit that built the Republic of Texas, and then the great state of Texas, remain a part of our DNA.
It's fun to brag at barbecues and parties about how great we'd be as an independent nation, but most of us have the good sense to know it would be disastrous if it actually happened.
Happily, Gov. Rick Perry, whose glib remark three years ago hinting at secession gave a boost to the goofy notion, has said Texas belongs in the United States, albeit with the obligatory jab at Washington. He knows his earlier comments hurt him in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination this year and that he won't be taken seriously as long as he is associated with the secession silliness.
Keep talking, Governor, and encourage others in Austin to do the same.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Nov. 25, 2012.
State report on Alamo's keepers is disturbing
The state Office of the Attorney General has issued a disturbing report on its 16-month investigation of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the organization's 107-year-old stewardship of the Alamo, the most revered historic site in Texas.
In the words of the report, the investigation found that "the DRT did not properly preserve and maintain the Alamo, misused state funds for the organization's own benefit, failed to recognize or address conflicts of interest, and allowed its own organizational prerogatives to interfere with its duty to act in the best interests of the State of Texas and the Alamo."
Equally distressing, the report says that in legislative hearings on DRT's operations last year, "testimony by the DRT's representatives was less than forthright and failed to disclose material information to the Texas Legislature."
Those hearings led the Legislature to transfer master responsibility for the Alamo's preservation and operations to the General Land Office, which has since corrected or at least addressed most of the immediate maintenance issues at the San Antonio landmark. The DRT continues to operate the Alamo under direct General Land Office supervision.
That resolution seemed appropriate last year when the Legislature acted. But in light of the findings of the Office of the Attorney General investigation, it seems at least worthy of reconsideration now.
The report outlines more than simple bumbling by volunteers who for decades have devoted their time to keeping the Alamo open and helping it to become the most visited tourist site in the state. The report asserts what appears to have been outright deception by some DRT officers in reporting to the organization's own board. It also lays out a timeline of misleading statements made by the organization's general counsel to the Legislature and the OAG investigators.
Karen Thompson, DRT's current president-general, said in a statement Tuesday that she was "shocked at the outrageously inaccurate conclusions with the report."
The report, Thompson said, "includes only interviews with disavowed members and former employees, is not an accurate description of DRT in 2012." She also said the DRT is preparing a formal response.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, a leader of questioning during the Legislature's DRT hearings last year, thanked the attorney general's investigators and commended DRT volunteers. She added, "Now it is time for Texas to move on."
The DRT should move quickly in preparing its response. While it is clear that much has changed in the months that the organization's Alamo operations have been under General Land Office supervision, it also is clear that the attorney general's investigative report contains extensive detail that is damaging to the DRT's reputation.
For example, the report says the Office of the Attorney General "agreed to defer to the Legislature's policy-making prerogative and is therefore not pursuing remedial legal action against the DRT."
The "remedial legal action" possibly is a reference to what the report says was misuse of state funds for the benefit of the organization rather than the state, even to the point of using state funds to pay legal fees connected with fighting the investigation and legislative action.
That such legal action might have been justified except for a polite agreement to let sleeping dogs lie should leave all Texans uncomfortable, both with the DRT for what this report says it did and with state officials for letting things get so bad in the first place.
Austin American-Statesman. Nov. 23, 2012.
Review DPS rules on use of deadly force
The death of two Guatemalan men by a Texas highway patrol trooper firing on a speeding pickup truck from a helicopter has raised questions about Department of Public Safety rules governing the use of deadly force. Those rules, which appear relatively lax compared with boundaries set by many other law enforcement agencies, may have contributed to a shooting of questionable justification.
On Oct. 25, two Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens tried to stop a red pickup near the South Texas town of La Joya about 75 miles north of the border. With the pickup speeding away down a gravel road, the wardens called the Department of Public Safety to send assistance. A DPS helicopter quickly arrived perhaps it was already in the air to pick up the chase. Patrol units also reportedly moved to intervene.
Fourteen miles into the pursuit, Trooper Miguel Avila fired from the helicopter to try to disable the pickup. DPS said Avila began shooting at the pickup because it was speeding toward an elementary school three miles away.
His shots hit the truck's tires but also killed two Guatemalan men hiding in the bed of the truck under a tarp and wounded a third. The dead men were two of nine illegal immigrants from Guatemala in the truck.
While Parks and Wildlife wardens primarily concern themselves with game laws, they can respond to other law enforcement situations. They and the DPS troopers involved in the chase suspected the pickup was carrying drugs.
It was a deadly wrong assumption. There were no drugs in the truck.
DPS has kept many details of the shooting from the public and has denied an open records request filed by the American-Statesman seeking information about the number of times troopers have fired weapons from helicopters. Attorney General Greg Abbott's office is reviewing the Statesman's request. Abbott should order DPS to release the information; doing so would not compromise agency operations, as DPS claims.
The Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating the shooting. A Hidalgo County grand jury will take up the case early next year. A few state lawmakers have talked about reviewing DPS policies regarding chases and the appropriate use of deadly force. The policies clearly are due legislative review.
Meanwhile, DPS is evaluating its policies governing shooting from aircraft. Given how difficult it is to shoot accurately from a helicopter speed, angles, flight height and wind all compromise a bullet's trajectory the agency should prohibit the practice in all but the most extreme circumstances.
As the Statesman reported Sunday, the other states that share a border with Mexico California, Arizona and New Mexico either forbid their state troopers from shooting at suspects from aircraft or don't have a policy regulating the practice because it is not one they smartly would ever consider allowing. Only Texas allows and trains its troopers to fire on suspects from the air.
The Statesman report reviewed DPS instructional materials. Records show that Avila, a 10-year DPS veteran, has received 44 hours training in aircraft operations and tactical shooting. He has been reassigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigations.
So many high-speed chases across the nation have ended tragically that many police departments have tightened their policies regarding pursuits, and will order officers to back off a chase if the risk to the public is seen to outweigh the benefit of stopping a suspect. Departments also have restricted rules that allow officers to fire at moving cars.
The Austin Police Department, for example, adopted new rules this year that bar officers from placing themselves in the paths of cars speeding toward them. Austin police officers are authorized to use deadly force only when they believe the vehicle is being used as a weapon.
"What this policy says is, 'Don't you create a problem,' " Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said, referring to his officers, when he announced the new rules in September.
Granted, there's a difference between the heavily populated urban landscapes patrolled by city police and the open highways and back roads patrolled by state troopers, but the problem with chases is similar. Does the greater danger lie with the suspected crime or with the chase?
We appreciate the challenges state troopers along the border face. But clearer, tighter rules regarding chases and the use of force not only would better protect lives, but also potentially the careers of troopers.