Of all the horror stories coming out of the Texas freeze last week, my family got off easy. Sure, there were hours without electric power. We had a couple of scary moments when a faucet or two didn’t work, but no busted pipes, no freezing household, no boil water order.
Millions of fellow citizens were not so fortunate. In San Antonio, an entire apartment building burned. Another in Dallas had busted pipes and turned into an urban iceberg, casting those residents into the streets. A group of swim schools had two of their building damaged due to burst pipes.
Above all, we should not forget the tragic deaths that have resulted from this disaster. As of Sunday, February 21st, at least 58 people had died in Texas in the past week due to the severe weather. These deaths were caused by a variety of reasons – from carbon monoxide poisoning, fires from faulty heaters, to the sheer cold – but all stemmed from the storm and poor management that followed.
Texas Gov. Abbott blames solar and wind for the blackouts in his state and says "this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America" pic.twitter.com/YfVwa3YRZQ
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) February 17, 2021
Just a few days into the crisis, the first move in the blame and shame game was pulled by Governor Greg Abbott. On Fox News with Sean Hannity, Abbott claimed that renewable energy and AOC’s Green New Deal were to blame. This claim was quickly debunked. If offense is the best defense, then that is the strategy the governor decided to take.
You want to know what caused this? Blame the ‘Texas Strong, Texas Proud, Texas Independent’ acts of machismo that too many subscribe to in this state. Instead of basic blocking and tackling, many spearheading our response are preening and strutting.
Let’s start with the Texas Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). A decade ago, there was a similar weather event when Dallas was hosting the Super Bowl. Out of that crisis, a report was issued recommending the power plants and grid be winterized. They weren’t. Despite that, ERCOT stated that Texas was ready for any winter weather event. In fact, ERCOT only met – via Zoom, not on sight inspection – with a fraction of the power providers in the state to make sure they were winterized.
A valid follow-up question is why does ERCOT even exist? It’s because Texas wants to be independent. Former Texas Governor and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry claimed that Texans would rather freeze than have the federal government regulating their energy. Really? Then why are so many members of the ERCOT board living out of state?
Regardless, this lip-service doesn’t help the families of loved ones whose ventilator and vital monitors ran out during the crisis. It doesn’t help the families who were not able to have hot meals. It doesn’t help the households burning their furniture to keep warm.
Rather than partake in the day-to-day responsibilities of local governance, our politicians and officials decided to spend their time on these issues:
Debating about non-existent voter fraud.
Filing a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn other state’s election results.
Making an issue of whether the national anthem is played at sporting events
If your business is taken care of and you are delivering essential services, then you can argue these issues as long as you wish. But, as a government, you need to attend to your basic duties and responsibilities.
Honestly, this applies to many states – both Red and Blue. In San Francisco, the board of education is more concerned about renaming schools than paying down debt and making sure students receive the proper education during a pandemic. They strut and preen to a different act.
The cherry on top of all of this was the well-documented vacation of Senator Ted Cruz to Cancun, Mexico. Cruz has mocked others for doing the same. He has regularly questioned why other states need the Federal Emergency Management Agency during a crisis. As such, his sojourn was not just pure dereliction of duty of the largest order, but also unfathomably hypercritical. Instead of keeping his chief of staff up at night making sure the district offices were in touch with local officials, staying in touch with the White House and the governor of the state to make sure essential services were being delivered, he booked travel to a warm resort for himself and his family.
Still, despite all of this, I don’t want Senator Cruz to resign. Frankly speaking, whomever the current Governor would appoint will be somebody who wants to play the role of senator in a ten-gallon hat and boots rather than do the job. A show horse, not a workhorse. Someone who is all hat and no cattle.
All of this has real costs. Insurance payouts are projected to be greater than Hurricane Harvey. According to a report in the Washington Post last week, the cost to the economic cost to the state will be $2.8 billion for each day of the crisis. February 11th was the first day schools closed, and the weather event started. The cost to Texas is almost $27 billion. On top of these state-wide costs, there are reports that Texans will have to deal with exorbitant February electric bills that could go into the thousands of dollars. Outside of Texas, many Americans will end up feeling some fallout as well. Oil refineries were shut down which means that gas prices are going up.
We as a nation are in this democracy together. It is a common cause. We need to be our neighbor’s keeper. Government is not the be-all or end-all, but it does play an essential role in keeping our society together. From public works to police, fire, and emergency services, we need to pay attention to our critical agencies. In the regulation and oversight of business – particularly those that provide power and water – government plays an essential role in making sure we are prepared.
To our elected officials: it is time for the preening and strutting to end. It is time to stop playing a character on a stage. It is time to roll up your sleeves and do the real work of executing policy and delivering for your constituents.