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Editorial Roundup: Texas

Editorial Roundup: Texas

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Dallas Morning News. Jan. 7, 2022.

Editorial: Texas should be more aggressive in offering booster shots for COVID-19

The omicron variant keeps surging at an eye-popping rate, but the number of Texans getting a booster shot hasn’t surged with it.

We can do better, and our state and county governments need to take some specific steps to help us.

In Texas, 61% of eligible Texans have received the initial two- or one-dose vaccines, but only about a fifth of Texans age 16 and older are boosted. This week, federal officials approved boosters for 12- to 15-year-olds, so the pool of Texans who are eligible for a booster just grew.

There is a significant gulf between the number of Texans who were willing to get the first set of doses and those who’ve been boosted. As people in this state waiver or delay the date to get the booster, the seemingly milder but highly contagious omicron variant will continue to upend our lives. It’s already shutting down some schools, exacerbating staffing shortages and filling COVID-19 wards.

We urge public health authorities to be more aggressive in rolling out boosters. Early research shows that while the initial set of shots is still effective at protecting people from hospitalization with omicron, their effectiveness at preventing infection is only about 30%. A study found boosters can raise protection from omicron infection up to 75%.

Texas needs an approach closer to what we saw last spring, when officials began taking the shots from megahubs to pop-up events closer to families.

Anyone can get an initial dose or a booster at local pharmacies, which require appointments. That’s reasonable, but appointments are sometimes not immediately available, and that can be a barrier to caregivers and others with little schedule flexibility.

Some of us are too distracted to think about making an appointment to get a booster. Out of sight, out of mind.

Last year, pop-up events at schools, rec centers and other community sites allowed people to walk up, join a line and get a shot after a relatively short wait. Some events were scheduled on a Saturday to make it that much more convenient. Messages and materials urging people to vaccinate were ubiquitous.

Dallas County officials said they are continuing this approach, scheduling recent events at schools, churches and grocery stores. A county health department spokesman told us about 600 people showed up for a vaccine event on Dec. 29 at a Walmart in west Oak Cliff. County staff are block-walking ahead of the events to promote the vaccine. The shots are also available at county clinics, the Dallas College Eastfield campus and Fair Park on certain days of the week.

We need more pop-ups, and we hope other counties are taking note. The more we advertise boosters to fellow Texans and the easier we make it to get one, the faster we can tamp down this surge.

Houston Chronicle. Jan. 10 2022.

Editorial: Ken Paxton’s eager to be the tough guy on election fraud. Too eager, says the Texas Supreme Court.

If, God forbid, our intrepid Texas attorney general stays in office beyond this fall, he’ll need to update his cultural references. Fulminating a few weeks ago about a Texas high court ruling that went against him, Ken Paxton warned his fellow Texans that the ruling was likely to unleash George Soros against them.

Soros, the Hungarian-born American billionaire investor and reliable supporter of liberal and progressive causes, has long been a handy bete noire for the far right, but the man is 91 years old. At some point — unless he really is “Satan’s seed,” as his enemies have labeled him — Soros will be as dated as bell-bottom jeans and beehive hairdos. No one will know who the man is, or was. Those late and unlamented fashion trends may come back; George Soros will not.

Paxton evoked Soros in response to a Dec. 15 Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that the attorney general cannot unilaterally prosecute election fraud cases. The all-Republican court ruled 8-1 that the AG can only get involved in a case when a district or county attorney requests his assistance. If he barges in uninvited, the court ruled, he’s violating the separation of powers clause in the Texas Constitution. The court got it right.

In response, Paxton took to Twitter, warning that “Soros-funded district attorneys will have sole power to decide whether election fraud has occurred in Texas.”

Last week Paxton urged the high court to reconsider. He didn’t mention that he had just wasted $2.2 million of taxpayers’ money on a fruitless hunt for election fraud. And he certainly didn’t admit that election fraud is about as common as a field of bluebonnets in January.

The court ruling was something of a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Once upon a time, traditional conservatives believed in local control, but that was before Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and our state’s indicted attorney general assumed total control, principle be damned. They will override local officials whenever they please.

That’s why Paxton ended up in court. As Donald Trump’s loyal lap dog, he hops down from his master’s expanse long enough to trot after alleged cases of voter fraud, desperately seeking to validate the former president’s outlandish claims. When the Jefferson County district attorney declined to prosecute newly elected sheriff Zena Stephens over campaign-finance allegations stemming from the 2016 election, Paxton rushed in to bring his own case. Except, knowing he was unlikely to get an indictment in Jefferson County, Paxton went shopping for a more favorable forum. He landed next door in Chambers County, a more conservative venue he assumed would be amenable to his allegations. In 2018, a grand jury accommodated the AG with an indictment on three counts.

Four years later, Sheriff Stephens is still in office, and the AG has had his hand slapped by the high court. “The attorney general, a member of the executive department, (may not engage in) the prosecution of election-law violations in district and inferior courts,” the court held. That power, it continued, is “more properly assigned to the judicial department.”

The Texas statute that Paxton had relied on for his over-zealous prosecution is unconstitutional, the continued concluded.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee welcomed the ruling. “This is a big win for local government and Texans who are tired of state officials exaggerating voter fraud claims to undermine elections,” he tweeted.

Of course, Trumpian-style exaggeration is Paxton’s specialty - that, and ruining people’s lives.

Consider Hervis Rogers, the 62-year-old Houston man who attracted national media attention when he waited six hours to vote during the 2020 Super Tuesday primaries. When he finally got to cast his ballot - the very last person in line to do so - he allegedly broke a Texas law forbidding people with felony convictions from voting until they’ve completed every part of their sentence. Rogers had a few weeks left on parole after serving nine years of a 25-year prison sentence for a 1995 burglary.

Rogers’ lawyers said he didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to vote until his parole was completed. Texas law at the time made it a crime to knowingly cast a fraudulent vote, but appellate courts had interpreted that to mean only that the voter knew of their status — in Rogers’ case, that he had not yet completed his parole — and not that they had to know it was illegal for them to vote.

The Legislature tried to address criticism over the harshness of that interpretation in September, when it updated the language of the voter fraud statute to make it a crime only when a voter knowingly “or intentionally” votes while ineligible.

Meanwhile, those legal niceties never matter to a tough guy like Paxton (unless they involve his own indictments for securities fraud). He went after Rogers like a hound on a hare.

“Hervis is a felon rightly barred from voting under TX law,” Paxton tweeted. “Rogers voted before his parole was scheduled to end, he was likely ineligible to cast a ballot on Election Day. I prosecute voter fraud everywhere we find it!”

The Rogers prosecution came a few years after Crystal Mason of Tarrant County was sentenced to five years for voting illegally. Her crime was casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election - as she had been advised to do -- while on federally supervised release. Her vote wasn’t counted. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to review her conviction, which also turned on the question of what was required to prove she knowingly voted illegally.

Mason is Black, as are Sheriff Stephens and Rogers.

With Rogers, as with the sheriff, Paxton had to find another venue to get the indictment he wanted. He chose Montgomery County. The fact that our fervid-red neighbor to the north is predominantly white was, of course, coincidental. Paxton also pushed for bail to be set at $100,000.

Yessir, that man’s tough! The hapless fellow in his sights could have spent the rest of his life in prison. Fortunately, the high court’s ruling may come to the aid of “Hervis,” as Paxton called Rogers in his tweet.

Meanwhile, we have another problem to stew about. No, not George Soros, but Briscoe Cain, the Republican state representative from Deer Park.

The young man whose over-sized cowboy hat covers a brain bursting with legal acumen - as we learned when he stumbled through an embarrassing effort to shepherd the GOP’s voter-restriction package through the Legislature last session — has vowed to file a bill that would allow prosecutors to nose around in neighboring counties, hoping to catch the scent of election fraud and go after it.

“If the attorney general can’t, and a county won’t, then prosecutors from an adjacent county should be able to do it,” Cain tweeted.

Of course, those prosecutors might have better things to do in the jurisdictions they were elected to serve. Or, you never know, they might be addled by George Soros. Whoever he was.

San Antonio Express-News. Jan. 6, 2022.

Editorial: This is hard to say, but CPS needs that rate hike

We don’t want to support a rate increase for CPS Energy.

Several members of the Editorial Board lived through CPS Energy’s botched rolling brownouts during Winter Storm Uri last year. What’s worse than having no power for days in frigid temperatures? Hearing little from the utility about it, and then paying a monthly fee to cover the cost of the power you didn’t receive.

We’ve been shocked by some of the executive turnover at CPS Energy — which culminated with the recent departure of President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams — and see a city-owned utility that must ingratiate itself with the public it serves.

We see a utility that can’t seem to chart a clear way forward with the coal-fired Spruce 2 power unit, and we see a utility that is in a precarious financial position, fighting over some $580 million in Uri-related debt and weighed down by about $140 million in unpaid bills due to the pandemic.

So, no, we don’t want to support the proposed 3.85 percent rate increase for CPS Energy. Because like many ratepayers, we have had enough. But here is why we strongly support the rate increase even though we don’t want to: Rejecting the rate increase will only make these challenges worse. It would be a short-term political move with long-term negative consequences.

We wonder what it would signal to potential executives to have City Council balk at a modest rate increase. CPS Energy desperately needs a visionary change agent at its helm, but rejecting a rate increase would point to a fickle council that is afraid to invest in the present, let alone the future.

Beyond this, it would cost ratepayers. As Express-News staff writer Diego Mendoza-Moyers outlined in November, credit agencies are threatening a downgrade if CPS Energy doesn’t move forward with a rate increase. A credit downgrade would mean higher borrowing costs, which would only deepen CPS Energy’s financial pain.

Finally, CPS Energy interim CEO Rudy Garza, who has been a welcome breath of fresh air, has made a strong case in regard to need. It’s been eight years since CPS Energy last had a rate increase. This proposed rate increase of 3.85 percent would raise monthly bills about $5 on average and generate about $73 million a year in revenue.

These funds could be used to update information technology, hire staff and meet the needs of a growing city. And, of course, it should help avoid the dreaded credit downgrade.

Ideally, City Council would approve this rate increase and then hire a new CEO, who would then make the case for a series of gradual rate increases over the next five years. This would be similar to what we have seen with the San Antonio Water System and a way to avoid rate shock while ensuring financial strength.

But such a case can only be made with strong public trust, and CPS Energy has a long way to go on that front. This would be a welcome opportunity to earn back the public’s trust.

While we think the vote should be unanimous (it won’t be), there is one member of City Council who should sit this one out. We’re looking at you, District 9 City Councilman John Courage.

As Express-News Metro columnist Gilbert Garcia reported, Courage’s wife, Zada True-Courage, works as a financial analyst with CPS Energy. City officials have said there is no conflict as the rate increase does not have a direct impact on Courage’s wife.

“If council, for example, had to approve pay raises for (CPS) employees at a certain level, that would clearly be a direct conflict,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said.

Point taken. But seriously? This is how the public loses faith in government. Courage should recuse himself on this vote, and the council should pass the rate increase, even if many members don’t want to.

Abilene Reporter News. Jan. 1, 2022.

Editorial: Despite challenges, it will be a building block year for Abilene

How bold can our predictions be for 2022?

Is a Cowboys’ Super Bowl win any riskier than saying the pandemic will be over and done with this year?

Who will be elected our next governor?

Will there be a bond issue to pour money into our streets to fill the cracks and crevices?

Will the national divide widen or somehow, in the Christmas spirit of goodwill toward men, will we commit to becoming more united?

Will prices that went up go down?

Will supply chain issues be resolved?

It’s a hard hat season in Abilene, with construction underway on projects small and big. 2022 will set the tone for a celebratory year in 2023, and for the years ahead.

Can anyone get back to 100% staffing without cheating? That is, cutting staff.

As we look ahead, 2023 will be a big year in Abilene. We will be hitting milestones that will cause us to reflect on up to 100 years and look ahead. And there’s the arrival sometime this decade of the B-21 Raider.

That makes 2022 important.

It’s like the middle movie in a trilogy. It builds off the first movie while setting up the finale.

This past year brought the opportunities but also the challenges of coming off a pandemic-driven 2020. We still were reeling at year’s end with a surge in COVID cases, and simply turning to January on our calendars wasn’t going to solve anything.

It was, at best, a chance to inhale. And exhale. Repeat.

To allow those who were enclosed by racism and fear and anxiety to breathe.

To see folks struck by COVID breathe more easily.

For everyone else under pressure to keep a job, find a job or lift life’s many burdens in addition to a job catch their collective breath.

And then we launched in and 2021, in many ways, was an extension of the previous year. It seemed as if the same challenges stuck with us, like gum on a shoe or a monthly bill that always has an amount due.

In his op-ed piece for the new year, Mayor Anthony Williams noted Abilene came out better than many cities last year, and that our optimism for 2022 should be high. But tempered.

There can be fruition, and there can be a great setup for the future. How we do with 2022 can set up the Class of ’22 for their years ahead.

Visitors during the holidays were driven around town to see lights and displays, but also to see what’s new or under construction. There seems to be construction everywhere, so some have faith in the future.

One concern we should have is the dry spell that we are experiencing. The tap has been turned off. We had an unusual amount of snow, ice and rain the first half of 2021, which allowed us to hold our own. But we finished the year under the norm.

Construction indeed has been kicking up dust.

At some point, do we need to curtail our water usage to be more mindful of our supply? Or would that just be seen as yet another hindrance to progress, which for sure was hindered in 2020?

In 2023, the Abilene High School on South First Street will turn 100. McMurry University will celebrate its centennial. Across town, the World Famous Cowboy Band at Hardin-Simmons will be 100.

Those are just three things to which we can look forward. But we have to get through 2022 first.

Sometimes, those middle movies actually are really good. Bridges, rather than sequels.

Some things are out of our control. We have to roll with it. But working together, being optimistic and being Abilene Strong is not.

Let’s not only seize the day, let’s seize the year.

Victoria Advocate. Jan. 5, 2022.

Editorial: Victoria chief’s vision for a more diverse police force is vital to success

Recruiting police officers for the Victoria Police Department — like many departments in rural parts of the country — has long been challenging for many reasons.

It is a tough job requiring hours of training and experience, many licenses and certifications and, above all, a dedication to civil service strong enough to face the seedy criminal element present in all communities.

Those hiring challenges are made worse by a national reckoning with law enforcement officers sparked in 2020 by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

Considering all this, it’d be easy for police departments to give way to recruiting shortages and hire with the sole intention to fill positions, ultimately de-emphasizing diversity.

Victoria Police Chief Roberto Arredondo Jr. recognizes the benefits of diversity, and he has made known his intention to foster a police force that reflects the community.

The City of Victoria has an estimated population of just over 65,500, according to figures from the most recent 2020 U.S. Census.

For the city, 37% of respondents reported to be white alone, with 7% reporting to be Black and 53% reporting to be Hispanic or Latino. According to census data, less than a tenth of a percent reported being Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander or American Indian and Alaska Native, with 1.6% reporting to be Asian.

Going into the new year, the department employs 153 people in total, which breaks down to 132 officers and 31 civilian employees, according to city data.

In total, about 68%, or 104, of the employees are Caucasian. The second largest group is Hispanics, which comes out to about 30%, or 45, of employees. The department employs two African Americans and one Asian Pacific Islander, according to the data.

It is clear the department has a ways to go.

However, in a December interview with the Victoria Advocate, Arredondo said the Victoria Police Department is willing to go the distance to become more reflective of the community.

He said it won’t be an overnight change, but it remains necessary.

“I want anyone interested in being a police officer to be able to see themselves in our ranks ... part of that is having people who look like you on the force. People from your community,” he said.

He believes a broader range of backgrounds among officers strengthens the department’s ability to build relationships and trust with the community, which he has made a priority for this first year as chief.

Such diversity in the department leadership ranks can help the department understand and address real-world issues and concerns as Victoria’s population becomes more diverse.

Part of increasing diversity means hiring more bilingual officers, who are better able to respond and communicate in certain situations. Arredondo said this could cause delays in calls of service where someone at the scene only speaks Spanish, as a bilingual officer will need to be called to the location.

For Victoria, the second most spoken language is Spanish, which is spoken by 26.23% of the population, according to a 2019 survey by the U.S. Census. Their report does not state how many respondents only speak Spanish, but Arredondo said it is not uncommon for police to encounter those in the field.

“They are part of our community, too, so being able to communicate with them effectively would only make us better at our jobs,” he said.

The department has already taken significant steps in recruiting efforts by upping salaries. Now that the department is more marketable and a compensation study is still underway, Arredondo said increasing diversity would remain a priority.

We hope he holds to it.


Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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