What is wrong with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott? A lifelong Republican, he has violated one of the founding principles of his party by centralizing power to himself, taking it from local officials.
A prime example is on the issue of requiring masks as the delta variant of COVID-19 pushes the number of cases and deaths in Texas to the highest levels seen since last spring.
Gov. Abbott has been firm: requiring masks in schools and government buildings is not allowed — even though the Centers for Disease Control and numerous doctors and scientists say that wearing masks and getting vaccinated are the best way to fight off the novel coronavirus.
Even after the governor tested positive for COVID-19, he remains adamant: no mask mandates allowed. If he did, indeed, contract the virus — and he is fully vaccinated so the infection, if it was there, most likely was mild — the exposure most likely came at a Republican Party event at which masks were not worn for the most part.
Several of the state’s larger school districts have ignored the governor’s anti-mask mandate, requiring teachers, students, administrators and support staff to mask up while in school.
Just last week, Calvert — a town fighting a particularly nasty bout of the virus — decided to mandate masks in schools, a courageous decision for school board members and administrators, one made for the health of students, faculty and staff. Waco schools also have instituted a mandatory mask policy.
School officials in College Station and Bryan, and many other districts across the Brazos Valley and the state, discussed mask mandates and chose not to impose them. Instead, they made it clear that masks are strongly encouraged for students and teachers.
Many students are wearing masks, while others — with the support of their families — have chosen not to.
On Aug. 15, the all-Republican Supreme Court of Texas temporarily backed Gov. Abbott’s decision against mask mandates — and made the decision permanent last week.
On Friday, a Florida circuit judge ruled that Gov. Ron DeSantis’s order banning mask mandates — similar to the one issued by Abbott — is unlawful.
DeSantis’s office responded, “It’s not surprising that Judge Cooper would rule against parent’s rights and their ability to make the best educational and medical decisions for their family, but instead rule in favor of elected politicians.”
How many Texas school children — and teachers and staff, and the families they go home to — will be exposed to COVID-19 because of Abbott’s reckless order?
And why is Abbott acting more like an emperor than an elected governor whose duty is to protect the health of his fellow Texans?
Shouldn’t the decision on mandating masks best be left to school boards and city councils and county commissioners?
Isn’t that what the Republican Party has believed for the past 160 years? At least in theory?
After all, parents and other interested people can address those local entities to express support or opposition to mask mandates. Then, the elected and appointed officials can decide based on the science and public input what is the best thing to do?
As House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.”
The founders of Texas created a governor with weak powers, preferring to leave most decisions to local governments.
So does Abbott even have the authority to ban mask mandates and threaten those who impose them with punishment? The state Supreme Court says yes, along with other steps involving the pandemic.
Amping up his grab for power, Gov. Abbott on Wednesday prohibited requiring vaccinations against COVID-19. Many companies are requiring all employees be vaccinated, as is the U.S. military.
There is still much confusion and concern over protections from COVID-19. Only slightly more than half of eligible Americans 12 and older have been fully vaccinated. The other half for the most part refuse to get the vaccine for whatever reason. That certainly is their right, although they are endangering themselves, their loved ones and everyone with whom they have contact.
In case you haven’t noticed. when Brazos County health authority Dr. Seth Sullivan speaks at media conferences, he always wears a mask when not speaking at the microphone. That should tell us all something.
Whether or not there are mandates in place, experts far more knowledgeable than we are advise everyone to wear masks indoors or when around crowds, to get vaccinated — including the now-recommended booster shots — to wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, and to use hand sanitizers when washing is not an option.
And, meanwhile, Gov. Abbott should let local officials decide what is best for local people.