Point Austin: On the Border and Elsewhere, Gov. Abbott Suffers the Little Children

Best governor in the nation? Depends on who you ask.

From 2005-2020, now-retired Austin Chronicle News Editor Michael King wrote about city and state politics from a progressive perspective in his weekly column, “Point Austin.” We’re pleased to bring back his column whenever he’s inspired to tackle the state we’re in.

In his online bio, Gov. Greg Abbott begins, “Named ‘Best Governor in the Nation in 2020.’” That year was not exactly a banner one for governors – nor for anybody, if you recall – but the governor also shyly omits the source of his honorific. The National Governors Association? The Council of State Governments? Maybe the National Rifle Association?

We’ll get to that. Meanwhile, Abbott’s in the news again this week, as the Houston Chronicle and others reported that his Rio Grande buoy-and-razor-wire blockade is causing serious injuries and deaths among migrants, including children. A trooper wrote to his superiors, saying Border Patrol officers had been ordered to turn people back at the river and to deny them water. At least some troopers were balking at the orders, to no avail. “We made contact with command again and expressed our concerns,” wrote one trooper, “and we were given the order to tell them to go to Mexico.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety said it is “investigating” the trooper’s allegations, but denied there is any such directive. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Abbott’s latest border stunt has achieved its primary goal: national headlines for the “Best Governor of 2020.” Those drowned children will not have died in vain.

For the record, Abbott received his 2020 pat on the head from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate bill-mill that churns out reactionary templates for state legislatures to rubber-stamp. His “Best of 2020” award was roughly the equivalent of Colonel Sanders getting a nod from the National Chicken-Pluckers Association. ALEC says it based Abbott’s recognition on a study performed by Laffer Associates, the consulting firm run by Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore. Laffer and Moore’s central contribution to Western economic thought derives from the bedrock trickle-down principle, “If you cut the taxes of billionaires … you will be handsomely rewarded by billionaires.” It’s certainly worked out well for Laffer and Moore.

The gov’s bio drones on about similar accomplishments, and his commitment to carry on the tradition of the “brave pioneers who first settled the Wild West.” You won’t be surprised that Abbott fails to mention that the “Wild West” had long been settled by other folks who had lived here for thousands of years – an historical inconvenience presumably rendered unmentionable under the proscription of “critical race theory.” Abbott does note that one of his current political priorities concerns “securing the southern border in the face of federal inaction.” In the governor’s world, only certain people arriving in Texas in search of a better life qualify as “brave pioneers.”

Beyond the bio, Abbott is trumpeting his most recent legislative accomplishment, the hard-fought compromise with his fellow Republicans that produced “the largest property tax cut in history.” Tax cuts never go out of style (see Laffer and Moore), but property taxes in Texas remain so high in part because our state leadership refuses to consider an income tax, a much fairer way for all of us to share necessary expenses. A lesser-noticed detail of the tax cut deal is that it deleted an early provision for schoolteacher pay raises – because Abbott and his GOP colleagues intend to hold teacher pay hostage against their determination to impose a private school voucher system, promised for yet another special session in the fall.

Abbott and company will call the plan “Education Savings Accounts” or some other euphemism, but such voucher plans – enthusiastically promoted by ALEC & Co. – essentially work by transferring funds that should be going to public schools to families already paying tuition for their children in private schools. In other words, it’s another tax cut scam for the rich. Vouchers also represent one more step in the GOP’s long-running campaign to undermine the Texas Constitutional guarantee “for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” (It’s true that those brave pioneers had in mind only a certain complexion of public school student; nevertheless, their less enlightened successors continue twisting the law in knots to evade their constitutional obligation.)

The voucher scam has been foiled thus far not by the Democratic minority, but by rural Republican legislators who know that their district public schools are indispensable local institutions, and that voucher funds will largely transfer to private schools elsewhere. Meanwhile, school districts across the state, abandoned by the Legislature, are employing deficit budgets in order to pay their teachers, or risk losing them. Abbott might well succeed in forcing those legislators to choose between paying teachers or rejecting private-school vouchers. It’s a classic Mafia protection gambit.

What will become of Gov. “Best in the Nation” Abbott’s eventual political legacy? It’s unlikely to be tax cuts or his headline-grabbing border militarization. Despite his denunciation of “federal inaction,” it turns out the Biden Administration’s recent immigration policy changes have resulted in a steep decline in border crossings, meaning fewer people to trap in razor wire or drown in the Rio Grande. When the big orange buoys deliver diminishing PR returns, what’s next? Trumpian moats and alligators?

Well, should anti-immigrant hysteria become insufficient to move the political needle, perhaps steely-eyed gun promotion can sustain the governor’s reputation for preserving his retrograde version of “Texas values.” Either policy generates a certain amount of blowback, but politics ain’t patty-cake. Sometimes when a governor makes tough decisions, there can be distressing or even fatal consequences, especially for children – whether along the Rio Grande or in Texas schoolrooms. Becoming “Best in the Nation” has its costs, and somebody has to pay them.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Michael King
Point Austin: The Abbott and GOP Project Is an Exercise in Brute Political Cynicism
Point Austin: The Abbott and GOP Project Is an Exercise in Brute Political Cynicism
What’s at stake in Texas

June 12, 2024

Point Austin: Everything Old Is New Again
Point Austin: Everything Old Is New Again
The long, honorable history of students “disturbing the war”

May 4, 2024


Greg Abbott, immigration, border, DPS, Border Patrol, ALEC

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle