While Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is still intent on fighting the good fight to keep the borders secure with expensive National Guard troops, it looks like Patrick might have to wage this particular battle alone.
Patrick held a press conference on Tuesday declaring his unwavering determination to keep National Guard troops camped out at motels along the Texas border in perpetuity (or at least until 2017). However, Patrick seems to be lacking in support on this one from pretty much everyone, including, at least for now, the guy holding the top office, Gov. Greg Abbott.
For those with short memories, last year then-Gov. Rick Perry deployed the National Guard to secure the border as a way of dealing with waves of minors from Central America that were arriving in Texas. At the height of the border surge about 1,000 troops were camped out along our admittedly porous border. They were armed and everything, despite the fact that they were basically only there to watch the border and that was it.
The entire Texas-funded endeavor was intended to be a short one -- National Guard troops are really only intended to be serving for intense and brief periods of time -- to the point that the state legislature only funded the surge through March. However, Patrick and Abbott both campaigned on the idea that they would take an even tougher line on border security.
On Tuesday Patrick trumpeted the success of the border surge, attributing a decrease in apprehensions along the Rio Grande Valley section of the border to those fancy National Guard troops (though the Texas Observer pointed out that the decrease in the numbers of unaccompanied minors could be accounted for by a variety of factors, and none of those factors is named Patrick). But what looked like a move toward keeping up that Abbott/Patrick campaign promise quickly devolved after state House Speaker Joe Straus weighed in. Straus issued this statement shortly after Patrick's press conference:
"I appreciate Governor Patrick's remarks, but Governor Abbott is the Commander in Chief and he will decide whether to extend the National Guard's deployment."
And then on Wednesday state House budget writers members did some dogged questioning of officials from the Legislative Budget Board, the Department of Public Safety and the National Guard about how well the deployment is actually working.
"When do we know that we've won?" asked state Rep. Armando Walle, of Houston, according to the Austin American-Statesman. "With respect, that's a policy question for you and your colleagues to mull over," budget board Senior Analyst John Wielmaker said.
Then National Guard officials pointed out that the deployment -- a setup that is starting to have an uncomfortably Vietnam-esque "no end in sight" feel -- is starting to have an effect on the troops. While getting deployed is a part of the whole National Guard gig, at this point the 200 troops left on the border are having to stay in motels and be separated from their families without any idea of when they'll be going home. It's not the sort of thing that can be maintained indefinitely. Besides, DPS officials pointed out that most of what the National Guard is actually doing right now -- you know, watching the border -- could be done using technology.
In short, Patrick may be making his Tea Party supporters a little happier by touting this one issue around like a flag, but he isn't getting much backing from any of the other people who will be involved in making the actual decision about whether to continue to spend taxpayer money -- Patrick wants to commit $12 million to keep the National Guard on the border through May -- on Patrick's idea of border security. Texas has spent more than $1 billion on border security since 2008, and keeping the remaining National Guard troops on the border will cost about $2.5 million per month, according to the Associated Press.
And the thing is, while Patrick's press conference implied that Abbott was 100 percent behind Patrick on this issue, Abbott's office has yet to actually comment on Patrick's plan. It's a conspicuous silence.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.