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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

June 4, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Longview News-Journal. June 2, 2019.

It’s good to see the Longview City Council taking strong first steps toward seeing that our city has a full and accurate count for the 2020 Census.

“Every segment needs to be counted,” Mayor Andy Mack rightly said, and called on each member of the council to bring forth names for a Complete Count Committee that will work at ground level to make certain all in our city are recorded.

Excellent move.

Now, we hope the enthusiasm lasts for the entire length of the counting.

Conducting a census is a basic requirement of the U.S. Constitution. When that founding document was written, the census was to be taken once every 10 years for the purpose of deciding representation from the various states to the U.S. House of Representatives.

It is easy to see why a correct count matters here: The higher the population, the more representation in Congress we deserve and should claim. Texas does not want to let other states take representation that belongs to Texans. That’s exactly what could happen with an incomplete count.

But the census numbers are also used to determine how state Senate and House districts are drawn. For Gregg County to have full representation during sessions of the Legislature, that complete count is necessary.

In this case, an undercount could mean shifting more legislative power toward nearby districts in East Texas, or even toward the urban centers of Dallas or Houston. The closer we can have legislative districts centered near Longview, the better off we will be.

Nor does the need for a full count end with those important matters. Over the years, the census also has been used as the primary tool for deciding how to divvy up money from federal and state grants.

Gregg County sends a great amount of tax money toward Austin and Washington, and our state has long been one of the states that sends much more to the federal government than it gets in return benefits.

It is only fair to taxpayers that we get as much back as possible. The only way that is going to happen is for everyone to be counted.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Some people, for various reasons, do not want to be counted. Single mothers who often work multiple jobs or long hours are among the groups typically undercounted. The same is true for those who are renters, immigrants, either legal or illegal, and young adults between the ages of 18 to 24.

That represents a lot of problem areas in Gregg County’s population and in East Texas generally. It also represents those who could be helped by the state and federal grants that might be forthcoming with a full count.

The beginning plan by the city is good, but the work of convincing all to participate should really be the job of everyone who wants to see Gregg County continue to prosper. Watch for more of what the city has planned and begin talking up the census now.

The work cannot begin too soon.

___

Houston Chronicle. June 3, 2019.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke raised a few eyebrows recently by claiming that, “Race is the No. 1 indicator for where toxic and polluting facilities are today.”

Politifact Texas rated the claim “mostly true,” citing several studies that say race is a stronger indicator than income or property value in determining who is more likely to live near hazardous waste facilities and plants coughing out pollution.

In too many Houston neighborhoods, residents don’t need a study to tell them they fit O’Rourke’s description. They know their health is at risk because they can smell it in the air they breathe. That includes residents of the Harrisburg/Manchester community, just south of the Houston Ship Channel, where 97% of residents are people of color and 37% live in poverty.

The Environmental Protection Agency says 90% of Harris/Manchester residents live within a mile of a facility considered at high risk for a “catastrophic” industrial accident.

The advocacy group Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, or TEJAS, includes Harrisburg/Manchester in its “environmental racism” tours of Houston. Julianne Crawford, a Stanford student who took the tour, described the small neighborhood of about 55 homes as “desolate, wrought by pollution and poverty.”

Twenty years ago, labor organizer Steve Lerner coined the term “sacrifice zones” to describe communities such as Harrisburg/Manchester, where residents of low-income and typically brown and black communities are disproportionately affected by pollution, contamination, toxic waste and heavy industry.

A connection between race and environmental hazards was further confirmed by research published in March by the National Academy of Sciences, which concluded that on average, non-Hispanic whites encounter far less air pollution, relative to their consumption of goods and services, than blacks and Hispanics, respectively.

The recent fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company storage facility in Deer Park illustrated the danger to largely minority communities nearby. A smoky, black cloud lingered for three days. Complaints of headaches, dizziness, confusion and vomiting gave way to fears of cancer, nervous system deterioration, memory loss and brain damage.

Sometimes, environmental complaints are countered with the argument that the industrial sites arrived in a neighborhood first, before the suffering residents made it their home. Even when that’s true, it’s not as important as asking how or if they should continue to be neighbors. Now that they do have human neighbors, the industries need to operate safely, no matter how long they’ve existed. It’s the job of government regulators to make sure they do. Unfortunately, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality too often has failed to adequately regulate the petrochemical industry and at times has impeded local efforts to protect public health.

O’Rourke was right to remind us that the fruit of TCEQ’s languor, intended or not, has been racist, given that minorities have suffered from the pollution disproportionately. Fortunately, correcting the problem does not require a race-based remedy. It requires a stronger commitment by TCEQ to police dangerous facilities anywhere that break environmental rules. It requires local governments’ continued insistence that they help protect residents everywhere from environmental lawbreakers when the TCEQ won’t.

If we can’t count on TCEQ or other regulators to keep neighborhoods safe, regardless of residents’ race or proximity to industry, then America will have to reassess its continued reliance on those chemicals and fuels whose production puts the health and lives of too many people at an unreasonable risk.

___

San Antonio Express-News. June 3, 2019.

Secretary of State David Whitley’s face-saving resignation in the waning hours of the 86th Texas Legislature was inevitable, but it was tendered too late to benefit Texas taxpayers.

Whitley should have resigned months ago in the best interest of the state and allowed the agency responsible for overseeing elections to operate without distraction. In fact, the governor should have asked for Whitley’s resignation. Gov. Greg Abbott and Whitley go back a long time. The former secretary of state immediately found himself back at his old job on the governor’s payroll after he resigned.

Whitley’s appointment went sidewise in his first six weeks in office with an attempt to purge 100,000 people suspected of being noncitizens from state voter rolls. His defenders say the list was already in the making when the gubernatorial appointee stepped in. That may be, but as head of this agency, it was his responsibility to ensure that the list had been properly vetted before it was publicly released.

Instead, he shamelessly pointed fingers at the Texas Department of Public Safety, where the list originated. His office should have known the information was dated and that the immigration status of some of those holding the driver’s licenses on that list might have changed.

Within days of releasing the list to election administrators across the state, Whitley’s office started to backtrack. It did not take long to find that many on this list had become naturalized citizens. That was information that should have been tapped before the list went out.

The intimidation factor that came with the release of the purge list was no minor matter. The impact on newly naturalized American citizens will never be known and could adversely affect their participation in future elections. It did not help that several high-profile Republicans, including the commander in chief, used the release of the list as an excuse to take to social media to make unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in Texas.

Whitley’s actions incurred the wrath of the Democrats in the state Senate, who joined forces to block his confirmation. He needed a two-thirds vote in the Senate to ratify his appointment; without that supermajority, his appointment would have come to an end with the legislative session. Whitley delivered his resignation to Gov. Greg Abbott midafternoon on the last day of the session.

It should have come earlier to allow a replacement to be named and allow the Texas Senate an opportunity to hold a confirmation hearing. Whitley’s replacement will now get to serve until the end of the 87th Legislature in May 2021 — without Senate confirmation. We urge the governor to make a reasonable choice.

Whitley’s short-lived tenure as secretary of state cast Texas in a negative national light and left taxpayers with a $450,000 tab for the legal expenses incurred defending three lawsuits filed by voting rights groups in federal court. The one good thing to come from this fiasco was a federal judge’s finding that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas. That’s significant in a political climate in which it does not take much to find an excuse to enact voter restrictions for partisan political gain.

In six months, Texas will start the monumental task of preparing for the spring 2020 primaries in anticipation of the fall presidential general election. The Texas secretary of state’s office is the lead agency in laying out that game plan and is the place that elections administrators across the state will look to for guidance.

The person appointed to that position cannot afford to carry any partisan baggage.

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