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John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas.
We Texans may have a little schadenfreude coming after our homegrown power grid was overwhelmed by a polar blast. Who could resist taking pleasure in the cold comeuppance of a group of people who are always bragging about their self-reliance?
Novelist Stephen King couldn’t. In the wake of our precarious misery, he tweeted: “Hey, Texas! Keep voting for officials who don’t believe in climate change and supported privatization of the power grid! Maybe in 4 years you can vote for Trump again. He believes in the latter but not the former. Perfect.”
Thanks, Stephen. And I’ve read a couple of your novels; they aren’t that great!
Now that we’ve dispensed with that, though, I have to admit that King has a point. Texas politics has been dominated by Republicans for at least 25 years. No Democrat has won a statewide race since 1994. And many Republican leaders are unashamed climate change deniers who are eager to privatize nearly everything.
Republican governance in Texas is deeply ideological. It champions business, profits and growth and contemptuously rejects any hint of federal regulation.
This approach didn’t serve Texans well during the predictable Valentine’s Day cold snap. Despite ominous harbingers in 1989, 2011 and 2018, Texas’s leadership continued to isolate its power grid in order to avoid federal regulation. In the interest of low consumer costs and maximized profits, the market-based energy industry in Texas neglected to winterize its facilities or to maintain reserve capacity. Texas wasn’t ready for really cold weather.
The inevitable catastrophe wrought misery across the state. Many Texans were without power for more than three days. Water issues have yet to be resolved. The death toll has not been determined, but in the Austin area at least 86 deaths are being investigated for connections to the cold weather. Some froze to death. Others died from carbon monoxide poisoning or fire while trying to stay warm.
On Feb. 25, committees in both houses of the Texas legislature began hearings with the market-derived patchwork of entities involved in energy production. Nobody took responsibility; considerable finger-pointing ensued.
But the energy production companies, the transmission companies, the grid operator and the Public Utility Commission are the trees; the forest is Republican domination of Texas politics for the past quarter-century.
But the problem is bigger than that, and Democrats, as well as all Americans, bear some responsibility. Politics is driven by money, and the chief player in Texas is the oil and gas industry. Its enormous power depends on our national addiction to the fossil fuels that have made modern civilization possible. The Texas problem is a national problem.
Oil and gas will support whatever politics caters to its interests. For 25 years the Republican Party has stepped up, and it has reinforced its grip on power with redistricting and voter suppression.
Further, Republicans have exploited a narrative based on Texans as inherently rugged individualists who want to go their own way and keep the federal government out of their business at all costs. Touché, Mr. King.
But this myth is overstated. My family came to Texas in the 1840s, and I’ve lived here my whole life. I’ve never met the stereotypical, obnoxiously self-reliant Texan who thinks he can handle all of life’s problems on his own. My family consists of liberals in the tradition of Lyndon Johnson, and there are more liberals in Texas than Republicans want you to believe. We don’t think that government is inherently evil. We don’t believe that everything should be market-driven. We believe that government can do good things, such as build roads, protect voting rights and integrate schools.
And supply dependable power and water. Last month, Republican leadership failed miserably. Gov. Greg Abbott blamed green energy. Sen. Ted Cruz went to Cancun. And former Gov. Rick Perry said that Texans would willingly endure blackouts of longer than three days “to keep the federal government out of their business.”
No, Rick, we would not. And many of us hope that Perry’s laughable cluelessness will open Texans’ eyes to the fact that disastrous leadership eventually leads to disaster.