Gov. Greg Abbott has looked downright giddy this week.
He teased his followers with hints for days on Twitter before finally dropping the news on Tuesday afternoon that he was scrapping his statewide coronavirus rules on mask-wearing and business limitations. Since then, he’s been basking in the praise from his base while local officials and health experts across the state worry about another deadly COVID-19 spike that may soon follow.
Who knew it would be so easy to get folks to stop talking about the massive statewide catastrophe just over two weeks ago, which killed dozens of Texans and left millions more shivering and scared in their homes, due to the disastrous failure of our state’s power grid on Abbott’s watch?
It almost seems like the governor would rather talk about anything else.
Other issues Abbott chose to publicly highlight this week instead of the state power crisis include the release of COVID-positive immigrants into Texas on the border since President Joe Biden took over in January, and the alleged censorship of conservatives by social media giants Twitter and Facebook.
Abbott even held a press conference Friday to highlight his support for a bill proposed by Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes’ that would let Texans sue tech companies that limited their use of social media sites based on their political views.
“Big tech’s efforts to silence conservative viewpoints is un-American, un-Texan, and it is unacceptable. And pretty soon, it’s going to be against the law in the state of Texas,” Abbott said Friday.
Amid the hoopla over mask orders and supposedly evil tech companies, many Texans might not have heard that the board of state power grid operator ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) fired the group’s CEO Bill Magness on Wednesday after several state lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick publicly called for his ouster. But for all Abbott’s tut-tutting of ERCOT as the power crisis was unfolding last month, he’s barely mentioned the group or its bygone leader in recent public appearances or on social media in recent days.
When the Public Utility Commission — the state regulator that oversees ERCOT and whose three members are all appointed by the governor — found itself without a leader after Chair DeAnn Walker resigned on Monday, Abbott didn’t look too far for a suitable replacement. He simply opted to tap Arthur D’Andrea to fill her shoes, even though he was one of Walker’s fellow PUC members who was also criticized for not doing enough to warn Texans that disaster might be on the way ahead of the February storms that crippled the state.
Sure enough, the first question Abbott received during Friday’s press conference was about the fatal Texas power crisis, not alleged social media censorship.
“What happened in Texas is completely unacceptable,” Abbott said. “People pay their power bills; they expect to be able to get power, and for that power to be shut down is reprehensible. We’ve already identified some of the root causes for this, but more importantly, we’ve identified solutions to this.
“Let me tell you something: We are not going to end this legislative session without ensuring that the power never goes down in Texas again,” he continued.
Abbott also said he was upset by Biden’s accusation that ending Texas’ mask mandate right now was “Neanderthal thinking,” calling it “the kind of language you expect a president not to use” without a hint of irony, despite Abbott’s years-long embrace of insult-king and former president Donald Trump.
He then claimed Biden’s administration “is bringing illegal immigrants into the state of Texas and then releasing them, many of whom have COVID,” a seeming reference to a recent report from NBC and Telemundo that 108 immigrants have tested positive at the Brownsville border after entering the country since January 25.
A representative for the city of Brownsville told Telemundo that although the city doesn’t have the authority to detain COVID-positive immigrants at the border, city employees in charge of the testing program do encourage them to quarantine, and to seek out assistance from recommended nonprofits who can help them do so.
Defending his decision to lift Texas’ mask requirement and fully open businesses starting March 10, Abbott claimed it was a wholly reasonable move considering that “when we open up next Wednesday, over 50 percent of seniors will have already received a shot” of COVID-19 vaccine.
He also said that he expected an announcement about widening the eligibility rules for who can get a vaccine in Texas to come any day now, and touted the fact that all Texan K-12 school staff and childcare workers now qualify to get vaccinated (even though that only happened because of a decree from the Biden administration).
Abbott claimed Friday that “by the end of March, any senior who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get a vaccine shot.”
If that ends up happening, those freshly-vaccinated elderly Texans might be so overjoyed that they stop worrying so much about who was responsible for all those pesky power outages last month. Or not.
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