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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

December 3, 2014

Longview News-Journal. Nov. 30, 2014.

As governor, Abbott must move from lawsuits to leadership

Much has been said about our nation’s broken immigration system, and we certainly agree it is in tatters. But much more serious is our broken system of government.

We offer as the example President Obama’s executive order that would give temporary amnesty to about 5 million illegal immigrants, mostly those who have worked in the United States for at least five years and have no criminal record. It also expands the president’s 2012 relief program allowing more people who were brought here as children to avoid deportation.

The order is not a radical idea, and it offers no path to citizenship. It simply begins moving those millions from an illegal shadow economy to one that’s more honest.

But government by fiat is not what the United States is all about. If it were, a Revolutionary War need never have been fought. No matter how right the president’s action, he simply is doing it the wrong way.

But while it would be simple to lay all the fault for this at Obama’s feet, it also would be wrong.

Government can’t work when the chief purpose of many in the majority party is to prevent problems from being solved. That’s the situation we have.

Unfortunately, the response to Obama’s executive order — which will take effect if Congress doesn’t pass a bill — is not to take action, not to take control. Rather, it is to continue to gum up the works.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott — our state’s governor-elect — said immediately after the order was announced that he planned to sue Obama.

Forgive us if we yawn. Abbott has sued Obama dozens of times and gotten good publicity but few, if any, results. This suit would seem to have less merit than some of his others.

We suppose it is natural that, as a lawyer, Abbott’s first tendency is to sue anything that moves, but he needs to get past that reaction.

In just a few weeks, Abbott will no longer be attorney general. He will be governor and, as such, needs to be providing leadership toward solutions to problems too long ignored in our state and nation.

Lawsuits rarely solve a problem. Abbott needs to begin thinking about changing the equation, perhaps making suggestions to Texas’ congressional delegation about what should be done. At the least, he could convince them to do something instead of working to keep things from getting done. Frankly, we believe our governor-elect is smart and savvy enough to do more than that, that he’s uniquely positioned to lead for true immigration reform.

Our immigration problem is not just going to go away. People from across the globe are clamoring to get into the United States, much as they always have. We must find ways to deal with that reality while maintaining order at the border.

As governor of Texas, Abbott must be a leader in this effort, and we believe he can be. However, it will take a conscious mental move from years as attorney general to being the leader of our great state.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Nov. 27, 2014.

Obama provides relief to millions trapped in immigration reform stalemate

President Barack Obama took the legal, humane and courageous step when he issued the executive order last month that will remove the threat of deportation from millions of undocumented immigrants.

Infuriated Republicans say the order, in the wake of their fresh election victory that will give them control of both houses of Congress in January, trashes any chance that the White House and the GOP can work together. This is a lost opportunity that, quite frankly, never was. A party that openly speaks of impeachment cannot credibly speak of cooperation in the same breath.

Yet the order also worries many, including this Editorial Board, that the order has set a new presidential precedent. A future president may follow and even expand that executive prerogative, choosing which parts of a law to enforce, in a way that threatens the constitutional separation of powers.

That reservation, however, does not offset our belief that the president acted rightly and within his constitutional powers in bringing immense relief to the estimated five million undocumented immigrants who the order will affect. These are mostly parents of U.S.-born children, who won’t have to live in the shadows, who can live in the open, free of the fear of being snatched from their daily lives of working, raising families and making a productive future in the United States.

These are people such as Martina Martinez, a Corpus Christi resident who has lived in the United States for 12 years without legal documents. She told Caller-Times reporter Nadia Tamez-Robledo that she lives in constant terror, afraid that she will be taken from her three small children. She and millions like her — hardworking, law-abiding, family-oriented and bound to their church — are the kind of immigrants that America has historically welcomed.

Yet the failure of Congress to come to an agreement on immigration reform left Obama no recourse but to act by executive order to make government work to bring an entire demographic slice of America into the open. Immigrants, by applying for deferred action on deportation, will be able to gain temporary legal status — not amnesty — and offer their talents under the protections of wage and hour laws that all Americans enjoy.

But it is important to remember that Obama’s executive immigration order, however welcome it is, is not the same as immigration legislation, which would be permanent, not be as limited and be far more durable. Republicans will have the power to write the immigration reform they want and which is still so desperately needed. But that takes a kind of political courage that they have not yet found.

Republicans can pass immigration reform that negates Obama’s executive order. That would be the productive step. Or they can feed the party’s more visceral base by suing the president. They can try to defund parts of the government to squeeze his executive order. They can try to impeach him. Those are steps by a party, however, that is out for political retaliation and not intent on governing.

Obama’s executive order deferring prosecution on the undocumented parents of U.S.-born children and others was a courageous move because it promised nothing but political headaches. It was a given that Republicans would be angered, but even some congressional Democrats, especially those who had hopes for passage of key bills, are perplexed. Immigration advocates, while thankful for what was done, rightly point out that deportations continue at a high rate and that the order is very limited for a undocumented population estimated at 12 million.

But Obama, acting with the powers that other presidents have used, brought relief where he could. He has given, even if temporarily, millions of families the opportunity to come into the sunlight. That is reason enough to justify his action.

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Houston Chronicle. Nov. 29, 2014.

Low, low oil prices: OPEC’s Thanksgiving Day decision puts the Houston economy in a tight spot.

If you’re looking for some slick deals and price cuts this holiday shopping season, Wal-Mart and The Galleria have nothing on the oil market. Crude prices have plummeted across the globe. Benchmarks for the U.S. and global markets, comfortably above $100 per barrel just a few months ago, now hover below $70. These low prices aren’t some one-day, Cyber Monday special. With OPEC’s Thanksgiving Day decision not to cut petroleum production, expect crude to stay below its peak for a while.

For most of the world — and American foreign policy — this is good news. Cheaper petroleum means less expensive imports, and every dollar not spent on foreign oil is a dollar — or Yuan, Yen, Rupee and Euro — that can be spent on goods at home. This should mean an economic boost for United States allies, such as Japan and the European Union, which still suffer from sluggish economies.

The drop in prices will also undercut rogue nations like Venezuela, Iran and Russia, which have relied on high-priced oil exports to keep their budgets balanced. Those financial problems will only be compounded for Iran and Russia by international sanctions that make it difficult to borrow funds.

Here at home, however, the impact of low petroleum prices isn’t so clear cut. The American economy contains multitudes, and we’re simultaneously the world’s biggest consumer, importer and producer of oil. On one hand, lower prices mean that American consumers will save at the pump. And the petroleum-based industries that line Houston Ship Channel, such as chemical, plastics and fertilizer manufacturers, should see a windfall, too.

But Texans might as well stand alongside OPEC when it comes to relying on oil markets to power our economy. Analysts are comparing the plunging market to the 1980s — not exactly a period of time that Houstonians should want to repeat.

American oil wells won’t be the first to succumb to lower prices. Oil from the Arctic and Canadian tar sands is still more expensive to produce, but Texas fracking and shale plays aren’t much further down the list. While it costs only $30 to get a barrel of oil in the Middle East, according to Norwegian firm Rystad Energy, it costs on average $62 in American shale. Oil companies that fill Houston’s downtown skyscrapers and Energy Corridor complexes are already starting to slash their budgets after years on a spending spree.

This economic dynamic hints at OPEC’s long-term strategy. American petroleum has flooded global markets and traditional oil powerhouses aren’t going to risk losing their share of the pie by cutting production to boost prices. Instead, nations like Saudi Arabia have saved up a healthy financial reserve from the oil boom and are willing to burn through cash as cheap prices put competitors out of business.

So what can Texas do? Unlike OPEC nations, the federal government doesn’t hold much control over national oil production. Our policy is one of free markets, and we should keep doing what we’ve been doing: Drill, baby, drill.

If we’re going to have a trade war, folks might as well get a cheap tank of gas from it.

Bust is a four-letter word in Houston, but this feels more like a steady leak. Low prices may squeeze some small players, but most oil and gas companies aren’t likely to plug up wells that have already been drilled.

Companies are better hedged than they were in the past. And fracking wells have a shorter lifespan than traditional wells, which makes it easier for supply to naturally shrink. Technological innovation and the right business acumen could have the Houston economy falling back to Earth, instead of suffering a tailspin. Folks on the prowl for a new home, or entrepreneurs looking for an affordable storefront, could even benefit from a calmer economy.

This time it is different. Famous last words, but we hope they prove true.

So if you find that the money you’ve saved at the pump is burning a hole in your pocket this holiday season, make sure to spend it at local businesses. The Houston economy may need it.

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San Antonio Express-News. Nov. 23, 2014.

Texas sea turtles’ future in jeopardy

The prognosis on the future of the Texas sea turtle is not good.

Once on the edge of extinction, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle showed a remarkable recovery over three decades starting in the mid-1980s. Due to efforts to protect the primary nesting grounds along the coast of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and U.S. federal legislation to protect them from fishermen, their numbers swelled.

In 1947, there were an estimated 40,000 ridley nests, by the 1980s that number had dropped to about 1,000. The protections sparked population growth of 12 to 17 per year and their numbers had grown to more than 20,000 by 2011, the Express-News reported.

A study released at the Second International Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Symposium in Brownsville this month found the turtles are in trouble again.

Traces of oil were documented in the shells of 29 sea turtles returning to feed in the area of the Deepwater-Horizon oil spill 2010. Researchers note that there is no way to definitely link the contaminants directly to the worst oil spill in U.S. history. But they have a growing concern about decreases in the number of turtle nests during the past four years.

The bad news comes as federal research dollars have been slashed, funding from the Natural Resource Damage Assessment for turtle patrols along the Texas coast is coming to an end, and turtle patrols have been cut. The Natural Marine Fisheries Service has abandoned plans to require excluder devices on shrimp boats to safeguard against turtles drowning in nets.

It would be terrible to lose these turtles after the investment of so much time, effort and funding to grow their numbers.

We urge the federal government to restore funding taken from the Mexico/U.S. Binational Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Population Restoration Program.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Dec. 2, 2014.

Report says $1.2 billion a lot of $$

The Texas Lottery generated $1.2 billion last year for public education and veterans’ programs.

A legislative committee named to study the lottery has concluded that $1.2 billion would be hard to replace in the $46.6 billion-a-year general-revenue budget, so the state should not do away with the lottery.

As the saying goes, that’s not rocket science. A billion-two is nobody’s pocket change.

The lottery was approved 2-1 by Texas voters in a 1991 election. Gov. Ann Richards bought the first scratch-off ticket on May 29, 1992.

Texans have grown pretty used to it in 22 years.

Still, there are those who argue strongly against it. The committee’s work — which included only one public meeting — probably won’t do much to change that.

Some critics say the state should not be operating a gambling enterprise, whereas others say the lottery takes its revenue primarily from poorer Texans.

Two committee members — Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land — submitted a letter suggesting that the state study licensing the lottery operation to a private contractor while continuing to regulate it.

Criticism about victimizing the poor resonated with other committee members.

The committee report suggested that the Texas Lottery Commission study its sales by ZIP Code to learn more about player demographics.

It also recommended an external study of advertising expenditures to ensure that advertising is not aimed at any particular demographic.

But the committee report was definitive on only one thing: $1.2 billion is a lot of money and would be sorely missed.

Since its inception, the lottery has contributed more than $17 billion for public schools, including more than $1 billion a year for the past decade.

There has long been debate about whether that has meant more money for education or whether lawmakers have simply used it to replace money taken for use elsewhere.

The state devotes about $17 billion a year from the General Revenue Fund toward public education, including the dedicated lottery proceeds.

Education proponents have raised loud complaints since 2011, when lawmakers cut school spending sharply in a budget crisis.

An additional $1.2 billion would be a big bite.

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