Austin at Large – Texas: Still Broken, Still Sad

Abbott stays one step ahead of the mob amid Lone Star and Uvalde fallout


At the "What Happened in Uvalde" panel at TribFest Sept. 22: (l-r) Eva Guzman, former Justice of the Texas Supreme Court; Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock; and Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Some filmmaker – David O. Russell, Adam McKay, one of our local guys – should already be thinking about how to tell the story of Operation Lone Star, Gov. Greg Abbott's MAGA megastunt to ensure his reelection by fomenting chaos, uncertainty, and fear along the Texas-Mexico border. The panel of solid pros from The Texas Tribune, ProPublica, and Military Times who laid out the Lone Star story so far at last weekend's Texas Tribune Festival could not themselves break character and the fourth wall and say, "Can you believe this sh*t?" or draw too many underlines under the clear evidence that Abbott is running a huge scam and lying about it, and that Texas' state-level militarization of the border is not making anything better, and that the only reason for any of it is Abbott pandering to Fox News Nation and poking at his frenemy Ron DeSantis (whose life is about to change dramatically thanks to Hurricane Ian, so hold your tickets, please). If real people were not being immiserated and oppressed, it would be darkly comic.

The goods, in summary, as presented by journalists Perla Trevizo, Lomi Kriel, Jolie McCullough, James Bar­ra­gán, and Davis Winkie: Yes, there is a major ongoing surge in migration across the U.S. southern border. This is primarily a humanitarian crisis, but the high-voltage racism of the Fox News voter and the GOP's 60-year embrace of the neofascist conspiracist right mean that Abbott must pretend that it is a security crisis, and that it's Joe Biden's fault even though it began before his election, and that Texas can solve it. So he whipped up a scheme with the Dept. of Public Safety, the Texas National and State Guard, and local sheriffs in desolate rural counties, just in time to show his steel in the March primary against wing nuts Don Huffines and Allen West. Lots of big numbers and milestones have been quoted since, most of them inaccurate (e.g., reported fentanyl seizures are statewide, not just at unauthorized points of entry). Achieving big round-number targets – like deploying "10,000 troops to the border" (in reality no more than 6,500) – became its own reward.

This has all gone pear-shaped in multiple ways. The bright idea to prosecute unauthorized border crossers for criminal trespass has completely overwhelmed small-town courts and jails with thousands of (misdemeanor) cases for defendants who often were deported months ago, or who are now being detained in state prisons that had to be completely emptied of inmates to house border crossers. The National Guard deployment was so mishandled as to get West and Beto O'Rourke on the same page reading Abbott for filth, and to get media-shy soldiers running to fill in reporters about the failures of their chains of command. (Winkie, of Military Times, noted that the entire leadership of the Texas Military Department has been quietly replaced since the stories of starving, suicidal Guard members trapped at the border got out.) Once Abbott realized he could get Fox News' attention just by putting folks on buses to New York, he lost interest in Lone Star, and it's trying to quietly wind itself down, which is difficult since it has cost the state close to $5 billion.

Acute and Chronic Diseases

Everything in Texas is broken and nothing works, and for some reason this has not prevented Abbott from solidifying an above-50% lead over O'Rourke in multiple polls. The failures of Lone Star are par for the course around here now, all reflections of the endemic and systemic decay that's rotting state government down to the foundations. For a while, it looked like the Uvalde catastrophe was the exception that proved the rule – people obviously disagree about the underlying events on principle but they're united in seeking accountability and meaningful change. Right? Maybe.

The TribFest session with the three-member Texas House panel investigating the massacre – Reps. Dustin Burrows, R-Lub­bock, and Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman – did not bring much sunshine. The 78-minute wait between the first and last shots fired at Robb Elementary, during which hundreds of cops were caught on tape doing squat while dismembered children died in front of them, needs to be replayed every time cops start popping off about how essential they are and how unsafe we'd be without them. But all the victims would likely still be dead. Raising the legal age to own an AR-15 to 21 is the instant response desired by Dems and Uvalde families, but the courts just told Texas it couldn't deny its new permitless carry rights ("constitutional carry") to 18-year-olds, so any age limit may be on shaky ground. The biggest and most useful fix would have been to have a way people could report concerns about troubled young men who've embraced violence to mental health authorities; even if we can't have red-flag laws that get their guns lifted, they could be, you know, given the help they need. But Texas ranks 51st out of 50 in providing mental health care access to young people. Oy.

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