| Texas Hot Spot Counties
COVID-19 Per 100,000 Population
Ranked on Confirmed Cases
May 24, 2020
Local Leaders from Different Worlds and Rival Parties
on Same Page Across Ring from Anti-Mask Partisans
Trump Texas Ally Pair Save
Fire for Dems While Turning
Cheek on Same GOP Actions
President Donald Trump's two most prominent Texas mouthpieces went ballistic a month ago when Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo put a mask order in effect to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick decried the local mask mandate as “the ultimate government overreach” while U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw voiced shock and outrage that the emergency edict included the threat of punishment including up to six months behind bars for offenses.
“These punishments are NOT just. They are not reasonable. Small-minded ‘leaders’ across the country have become drunk with power. This must end,” Crenshaw declared.
Crenshaw and Patrick had been mum - however - when Governor Greg Abbott had implemented an executive order that contained the same basic potential penalties for violators if not more than the Harris measure.
Neither Patrick or the rookie Republican representative from Houston had said nothing publicly about a mask order that Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades imposed last month in the midst of an outbreak at a massive meat packing plant that's the area's only major employer.
Rhoades - a former county sheriff who's also a Republican - had warned that people who failed to cover their faces in public could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor and fined as much as $1,000.
Crenshaw didn't mention the local rural leader or the mask mandate that he'd put in place in the Panhandle hot spot where he's based in the county seat of Dumas. But Crenshaw was livid the following day when the Democratic county judge from clear across the state made the same basic move for the official purpose of protecting the people from the coronavirus.
“Should guidelines for masks in confined spaces be emphatically promoted? Absolutely,” Crenshaw tweeted. “But we will NEVER support 180 days in jail or $1,000 fine for not wearing a mask.”
Crenshaw said that the Hidalgo mask order would be tantamount to “unjust tyranny.”
Hidalgo's office sought to clarify the congressional critic's assertion by saying that the face-covering requirement in Houston did not include possible jail time like the Moore mandate that Rhoades had implemented the previous day.
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Bexar County GOP Chair Cynthia Brehm and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo are both female human beings who are deeply involved in politics in two of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. The similarities end there abruptly.
Moore County Judge Johnnie D. "Rowdy" Rhoades is a white male who's lived in the Texas Panhandle city of Dumas all of his life and used to be the sheriff there. While Rhoades and Brehm both represent the GOP, the local rural leader doesn't seem to have a lot in common politically with the big-city party boss beyond the R by their names.
Brehm is a self-styled Army wife whose first two years on the job have been tumultuous with a personal scandal involving her husband and an office brawl with an assistant as major distractions after unsuccessful races for mayor and city council. But Brehm was in top form at a coronavirus lockdown protest late last week in San Antonio where she called on fellow dissidents to ditch the masks in the name of freedom and liberty.
Hidalgo and Rhoades are more like kindred spirits with a very timely tie that binds as two of the few elected Texas officials who'd had mask orders in effect before Governor Greg Abbott overturned them late last month when he started relaxing restrictions that the pandemic had prompted.
While Hidalgo had more than 210 times as many constituents as Rhoades, the face-covering mandates that the local leaders had imposed in places that are 700 miles apart is a classic example of the way the coronavirus has been the ultimate common denominator for an entire world that's been locked down for months.
Rhoades was the only Texas Republican official to order the wearing of masks in public after the COVID-19 crisis put Moore County on the map as the state's hottest spot with a massive outbreak at a leviathan meat packing operation in a town called Cactus. Hidalgo - a first-term Democratic official who'd unseated a popular Republican incumbent in 2018 - followed her Moore County counterpart's lead the following day with the implementation of a mask order like those that were already in place in the Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin areas.
Brehm can be found at the other end of the stick as a partisan official who sees masks through a separate lens - a symbol of a dangerous shift to the left that's perpetuated the appearance of a public health emergency in a scheme designed to undermine President Donald Trump's re-election bid this fall.
"All of this has been promulgated by the Democrats to undo all the good President Trump has done for our country," the Bexar Republican chair declared Friday at the rally. "So take off your masks, exercise your constitutional rights, stand up, speak up and vote Republican."
An unmasked group of men who'd been standing behind Brehm made a point of shaking hands and trading hugs with each other before they filed off the stage. One of the Alamo City dissidents who's a GOP precinct chairman and election judge reminded the crowd that the pandemic had its roots in China and that it's threat had been drastically exaggerated by fear-mongering officials like a pair of Democrats in San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and County Judge Nelson Wolff. Brehm has been no fan of Nirenberg who she accused of conspiring with county cronies to steal elections.
The coronavirus has given hard-line conservatives a massive platform at a time when the tea party had been fizzling in Texas - and it's spawned new stars on the far right like Shelley Luther - the Dallas beauty shop operator that got herself thrown in jail after violating and taunting the emergency restrictions that Abbott had ordered with the threat of incarceration for offenders. The Luther liberation tour has featured appearances in Laredo, Michigan and Austin where she fired up 100 protestors at a demonstration at the state Capitol on Saturday.
But the worst public health crisis in more than a century also has showcased how establishment Republicans like Rhoades are much more in tune with the Democrats than the conservative wing of the GOP in the Lone Star State and across the nation in general. Hidalgo and Rhoades are an improbable and amazing case in point.
The Moore and Harris county judges who are simpatico on masks appear about as different on paper as any two politicians could possibly be. Hidalgo at the age of 29 is 30 years younger than Rhoades and didn't live in the United States until she was 15 after growing up in Bogota as a native Colombian. She has a resume that reads more like a Rhodes scholar as a Stanford undergrad who earned a masters at Harvard en route to law school at NYU. Hidalgo seemed to come out of nowhere two years ago when she ousted Ed Emmett almost exclusively as a result of her being the opposing party nominee in a state where Trump has had a disastrous effect on down-ballot Republicans like the ex-Harris County judge who'd been a moderate with respect on both sides of the aisle..
Hidalgo has performed like a seasoned political pro, however, taking charge in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the pandemic offered with decisive actions and a steel resolve that's made her a target of scorching criticism from anti-restriction rebels like Brehm. The Bexar County party chief views masks as an emblematic deep state propaganda ploy. Hidalgo wears them in public at press briefings where she extended the Harris stay-at-home rule last week and urged residents to keep sheltering in place at home and donning masks when they go out despite the Abbott order that made her own emergency policies unenforceable.
Hidalgo has appeared to thrive on the howling with the luxury of having the numbers on her side in the Houston area where the county that she leads had epicenter potential at the outset and has a better record three months later than any of the other major population centers in the state.
Thirty-five counties have had higher rates of coronavirus infections than Harris has recorded with a fewer amount of fatalities per capita than the statewide count in Texas where the disease had killed 1,506 people by mid-afternoon on Saturday. Hidalgo has made testing a high priority and Harris has one of the highest rates in the state in that regard.
Abbott and other high-ranking GOP leaders here had argued in the early stages of the surge that the rural areas didn't need to be as restricted as the cities where they said the virus would concentrate. Rhoades can testify to the fallacy in that line of reasoning as the top official in a county that's had a higher percentage of the population infected with the coronavirus that the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.
Moore has been the hottest spot in Texas by far as a result of a massive outbreak at the JBS beef and pork packing plant that employs a workforce that's made up of immigrants including a sizeable number who are refugees from Guatemala. The rate of coronavirus infections has been almost 12 times as high in Moore County as it's been in Harris up to now.
While Hidalgo and other local Democratic leaders in the biggest Texas cities moved in proactive fashion in a state where the coronavirus has taken a relatively low toll so far, the GOP county judge in the county north of the virus-ravaged Amarillo area was forced to play catch up when the spread was racing like wildfire through the area that he represents and the surrounding counties. But Rhoades put his training and experience in law enforcement to use - persuading the commissioners court to invoke a mask order and curfew for teenagers with a promise to issue fines and put folks in jail if they failed to play by the new rules. Laredo had been the first city in the nation to institute a mask requirement and the only place in Texas that had such a policy in place before Rhoades ordered people in Moore County to cover faces in public about the same time local officials in the DFW and Austin areas were taking the same unprecedented action.
Rhoades had learned the art of social adaptation despite an indelible small-town persona as a local law enforcement officer and administrator in a county that used to be a white redneck haven before the Latino population tripled in the past 20 years with the assembly-line in Cactus as the main magnet. Rhoades sought to accommodate the change in culture that he couldn't stop - raising the specter at a commissioners meeting last year of a county plan to subsidize an expansion of affordable housing in the community with the cost of rent based on the ability to pay.
A proposal like that would be branded as blatant socialism if Hidalgo had floated it as a local leader who conservative critics have portrayed as a Lone Star version of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. But the times have been changing faster in the Lone Star State in the coronavirus era than they ever had in such a short span of time here and across a globe where the disease has infected almost 5.4 million people including nearly 344,000 who it's killed.