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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

November 6, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Waco Tribune-Herald. Nov. 3, 2018.

Revising the 14th Amendment: Campaign tactic for the midterms or earnest policy? With this president and his preference for playing to crowds rather than studied governance, who can tell? This much we know: Republicans and conservatives repeatedly howled that President Obama was constitutionally wrong to use a 2012 executive order to delay deportation of certain individuals brought to the United States illegally as children. If that was indeed a lawless undertaking, then by simple logic President Trump’s vow to use another executive order to overturn a constitutional amendment must also be illegal. Or are the president and his supporters guilty of double standards?

Along with the 13th and 15th, the 14th Amendment is one of the great legacies of the Republican Party, at least when it pursued the policies of Lincoln in the 1860s and early 1870s. Ratified in 1868, the 14th was meant to combat “black codes” enacted across the South to relegate newly freed African Americans to secondary status and prevent them from doing everything from voting to owning firearms. The amendment stated that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” automatically became citizens of the United States as well as residents of the state in which they lived. While the South continued to resist this great rebirth of freedom, the 14th Amendment allowed the courts to increasingly safeguard all minority rights.

We’re not surprised some dedicated conservatives express grave reservations about any president using an executive order to negate or revise a constitutional amendment. After all, if one president can legally negate or revise a constitutional amendment — the law of the land — and the high court backs this up, you set up a legal precedent for negating or revising other constitutional amendments. Say, the Second Amendment.

Of course, court rulings have repeatedly made clear not even the most fundamental constitutional amendments are absolute, which is why you can’t incite a mob under the First Amendment right to free speech — and why background checks and certain weapon bans are permissible despite the Second Amendment. But the Founding Fathers intended the business of revising the Constitution to involve plenty of stakeholder engagement — not the sweep of a pen in the Oval Office on the impulse of any president.

At the least, reinterpreting provisions of the 14th Amendment should require thoughtful congressional consideration and approval; at best, the matter should go to the people, as the Founders intended. (This constitutional principle seems to escape State Attorney General Ken Paxton; champions of the Constitution should keep this in mind when voting on Tuesday.) Of threats to tweak or revise or tinker with the 14th Amendment, however accomplished, one should also keep in mind that it could set a precedent in which the powerful and the entitled begin consigning fellow citizens and their progeny to sub-citizen status for all sorts of wrong-headed or questionable reasons. And thereby our great republic perishes.

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Victoria Advocate. Nov. 3, 2018.

City of Victoria officials need to open their eyes to the role they can play in the affordable housing crisis plaguing our community.

This is by no means a simple problem that anyone should expect government alone to fix. But city leaders can take the lead in, first, acknowledging the problem exists and, next, accepting they have a job to do in addressing it.

One simple, key step the city needs to take immediately is to form a quasi-governmental committee to work with nonprofit and business leaders to identify ways to boost housing that people can afford. This is a move that would cost zero tax dollars but would provide some of the leadership needed to address the city’s critical housing shortage.

The need ought to be painfully apparent to anyone looking at what’s “Hidden in Plain Sight” — the title of this newspaper’s ongoing special series about economic inequality intensified by Hurricane Harvey. About half of the community’s renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The 30 percent figure is a widely accepted percentage for a household to be financially stable.

When households are financially vulnerable, whether to hurricanes or medical catastrophes, the community suffers greatly. For example, one of the first expenses people cut is health insurance. Along with leaving families vulnerable, the lack of health insurance hits Victoria County taxpayers hard. Last year, the county-owned Citizens Medical Center saw its charity care costs soar 33 percent.

Many other compelling fiscal arguments abound. Prevention is much cheaper than law enforcement and other public costs incurred when families and individuals suffer. For example, a commission in Central Florida estimated that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person because of the costs of law enforcement, jail stays, hospitalization and emergency room visits. By comparison, it costs $10,000 to put that same person experiencing homelessness into a house and give him or her a caseworker.

Some City Council members have argued the government has no place in providing housing. This is highly selective reasoning. The same council members have no qualms about spending millions of dollars to build a new road — Placido Benavides Drive — because they think it will spur retail sales. Since it was founded in 1982, the public-private partnership known as the Victoria Economic Development Corp. has received up to several hundred thousands of tax dollars each year because the city and county hope this investment will generate new jobs.

During the past decade, council members have spent about $1 million supporting the Texas Zoo because they think the educational and entertainment opportunities it provides are important to Victoria’s quality of life. Shortly before Hurricane Harvey hit, council members also decided to take on the operation of the financially struggling Riverside Golf Course because this is considered an essential city amenity. Another significant public expense each year is the annual street party known as Bootfest.

The list of choices for spending goes on and on. All of the items listed above come with strong arguments supporting the public investment. Not one is stronger than the argument for a city investing in the basic need of adequate shelter for its residents.

The good news is many of the steps the city can take don’t have to cost money. For one, the city could examine ways to boost the number of affordable rental units by removing barriers to construction, such as offering incentives for development through density bonuses, tax abatements or fee waivers. The Washington Area Housing Partnership is one of many examples of a public-private partnership promoting affordable housing. The city, county and the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission should study the toolkit offered by the Washington partnership and look around the country for other best practices.

Considered creatively, this effort could coincide with other city priorities, such as revitalizing downtown. Affordable housing doesn’t have to mean only subsidized or big apartment buildings. Instead, the city could offer incentives for the development of duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes in existing single-family neighborhoods such as downtown, where experts agree a higher population density is needed to support more businesses there.

To get started, the city needs to understand that thoughtful and reasonable governmental policies are a hand up, not a handout, to those in need. The middle class is the backbone of every community, and Victoria’s working class is being strained beyond its limits. If the city doesn’t act soon and smartly, the crisis will only deepen.

If that happens, what’s hidden in plain sight will become impossible to ignore.

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San Antonio Express-News. Nov. 5, 2018.

Sending 5,200 troops to the border — up to 15,000 ultimately, says President Donald Trump — represents an escalation intended to convey a war footing. And the president’s own words reinforce this. The approaching caravan (actually, more than one) represents an “invasion.” And without proof, the president has claimed that among the Central American migrants are “unknown Middle Easterners,” gang members and other criminals.

Got it? Armed federal troops — not just National Guard members — are needed because dangerous invaders approach. We are at war!!!

But if these migrants are armed, this has escaped notice despite extensive news coverage and scrutiny by Mexican authorities. The travelers are mostly destitute families, with children, seeking better lives and fleeing violence in their own countries. They are traveling together because there is strength in numbers, protection against the traditional predators arrayed against them on journeys through Mexico.

And, yes, one group of them recently stormed the Mexico-Guatemala border. And Hondurans clashed with Mexican police. That signals the desperate straits from which they are fleeing. And none of this warrants the largest peacetime deployment of U.S. troops at the border since Pancho Villa led a violent incursion into Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916.

The United States has an obligation to safeguard its borders. It has the largest law enforcement entity in the federal government — the Border Patrol — to do that, already aided by the National Guard. And that’s the point. This is a law enforcement duty, not a military one.

There will be rules of engagement. The troops, less bellicose elements in the administration than the president himself insists, will be there only in supportive roles — not to engage or administer the migrants.

But using such a blunt instrument as the military to, essentially, enforce civilian law carries a risk. With blunt instruments, things have the potential to get hammered, exacerbated now that the president has essentially said troops should fire on rock-throwers.

The fact is that, with some 50,000 apprehensions at the border monthly, these traveling migrants represent only a fraction. Moreover, while apprehensions have been up lately, they are still part of a downward trend since 2000. And walking up to the border to seek asylum is legal, though the president says he will make it harder for immigrants to apply for asylum and erect huge tent cities to house those detained.

Stay tuned for all the legal challenges. It is not at all clear that the asylum limitation in particular is legal.

Mr. President: We are not at war. With this fearmongering, you are playing with fire.

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The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 5, 2018.

Over the weekend, The Washington Post tried to give the game away to the hometown team, with a story announcing that ... shhhh ... Amazon had settled on Crystal City, Virginia (read D.C. suburb) for its new headquarters.

But hold on. As our Maria Halkias tells us, Dallas is still in this thing. The Wall Street Journal adds that a third town, best known for the manufacture of bad salsa, is also still being considered.

Well, Amazon, we’re your huckleberry. So here are 10 reasons why we think Dallas is better than D.C. — or Zirconium Town or whatever.

1. No one has ever accused us of being any kind of swamp.

2. In Dallas, lobby means the bottom floor of a hotel.

3. Our worst conspiracy was half a century ago. As far as we can tell, it wasn’t an actual conspiracy.

4. Whatever you’ve heard about the Cowboys, shopping is Dallas’ favorite sport.

5. 1,328 miles from Congress.

6. 0 miles from Deep Ellum.

7. Being inside the I-635 loop is actually a good thing.

8. Do you like tacos?

9. Your employees will enjoy being able to afford both a home and furniture to put in it.

10. Dallas is in the state of Texas.

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The Monitor. Nov. 5, 2018.

Gov. Greg Abbott recently sent a letter to U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson requesting nearly $371 million to “jumpstart a strong recovery” from June floods that imparted heavy damage throughout the Rio Grande Valley. We hope Carson sees fit to allocate the funds, taking to heart the governor’s statement that ”(t)his is a community of limited resources that would greatly benefit” from the help.

Any HUD funding sent here could be used to repair infrastructure damaged by the rains and subsequent flooding. It certainly would help; although President Trump issued a disaster declaration for Cameron, Hidalgo and Jim Wells counties following the floods, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied requests from local city and county governments for funding to make such repairs, although the agency did issue about $30 million to individual homeowners and businesses.

Without infrastructure improvements to reduce the risk of future flooding, however, any repairs funded by those individual grants could last only until the next major storm.

Any recovery from such major events — in fact, all utilization of taxpayers’ money — should strive to be as efficient as possible, and reduce the need for future allocations. Thus, improvements to drainage systems and other infrastructure can be a one-time expense that can reduce the need for repeated homeowner claims from storm damage to personal property that might have been reduced if not eliminated by the infrastructure improvements.

Not to mention the incidental and indirect costs that potholes and other defects from storms and floods inevitably create. In addition to the hazards of hitting such obstacles unexpectedly, studies have shown that damaged roads create millions of dollars in hidden costs by damaging cars and other vehicles, in addition to the obvious safety hazards. Alignment problems, damaged suspensions and cracked windshields are just some of the costs drivers must endure, and that are hard to prove are directly related to road hazards created or worsened by storms.

Gov. Abbott noted in his letter that he understands that the state must compete with claims from other areas for limited funds, and some events, such as the recent hurricane damage to northern Florida or similar flooding in Central Texas, received more national attention. But the needs in the Valley are just as real as they are in those areas. Thus, we hope along with local and state officials that HUD will see fit to recognize those needs in all areas and make its allocations accordingly.

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