April 17, 2020
Democrats Portray Abbott Virus Comeback Plan
as Big Business Plum Based on Shaky Premises
Governor Issues New Coronavirus Orders
Abbott Unveils Plan for Gradual Reopening
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott sparked fireworks on the left and right on Friday when he escalated the state's battle with the coronavirus with the unveiling of an economic restart plan that staunch conservatives are poised to fight in court and Democrats see as a rush job that's based on unsubstantiated data and caters to the business elite.
A group of influential Texas House Democrats suggested that Abbott had been exaggerating the availability of coronavirus testing and protective equipment supplies that are critical in the rollout of a state recovery that has the public's health and safety as the paramount priority like the governor said his plan would do.
The state's most prominent labor group echoed the Democratic lawmakers' suspicions while portraying Abbott's new Strike Force to Open Texas as a gift to big business with little regard for working families that have suffered more than the corporate leaders who the governor put in charge of the reopening effort.
"Until these matters are addressed, the Strike Force is a dream for billionaires and lobbyists, but a nightmare to anyone who works for a living," Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy declared.
A veteran Democratic strategist took a shot from a separate angle in the meantime with the claim that Abbott had used the pandemic as an opportunity to reward a crony with the appointment of a powerful lobbyist to oversee the implementation of the plan to jump-start the Texas economy that the virus has ravaged for the past six weeks.
Lone Star Project chief Matt Angle portrayed Mike Toomey - a former GOP lawmaker who left the lobby for a temporary assignment as the chief operating officer for the new Abbott task force - as a "scandal ridden influence peddler" who'd used heavy-handed tactics to secure government contracts for major corporations that he's represented at the Capitol.
Angle contended that Toomey's decision to cancel his lobby registration after signing on as the strike force staff boss was "an empty gesture" that confirms a conflict of interest that it was ostensibly designed to prevent. The longtime operative called for Toomey to step down from the special new post immediately or be replaced.
Toomey served as chief of staff for a pair of Republicans governors in Bill Clements and Rick Perry after a five-year stint in the Texas House as a representative from Houston in the 1980s. Angle said that Toomey had been implicated in 2002 in a corporate donations case that culminated in criminal charges that prompted Texan Tom DeLay to resign as the majority leader in the U.S. House before he pulled the plug abruptly on a re-election bid.
Angle didn't mention, however, that Toomey has contributed to a long list of Democratic legislators since returning to his lobby practice after leaving Perry's staff more than a dozen years ago. Texas Ethics Commission records show that Toomey contributed $5,000 to the national Democratic fundraising organization ActBlue in the past three years.
State Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Garnet Coleman - a pair of Houston Democrats who'd received relatively small donations from Toomey in the past - voiced concerns on potential dangers of the Abbott reset initiative and how it could be strengthened significantly.
Thompson argued that it would premature to allow businesses to reopen until the state had widespread testing capabilities to determine whether people might have been infected without their knowledge before they return to work.
"Without the proper testing we cannot identify nor isolate those who may have the virus," Thompson, the current Public Health Committee chair, said. "Public health experts have advised people not go back to work until they are healthy. Texas is not healthy yet. We need to stay six feet apart so we don’t end up six feet under."
State Rep. Chris Turner - a Grand Prairie lawmaker who chairs the House Democratic Caucus - shared the same concerns on the testing that the governor depicted as a lynch pin to his plan's success.
“Texas continues to be in the bottom three states when it comes to COVID-19 testing per capita, and Gov. Abbott has failed to provide a clear plan for how Texas will increase testing," Turner said. " We have heard for weeks that there are ‘encouraging signs’ more testing is coming, but it never seems to happen. We need to dramatically increase testing, right now.”
The Democrats offered the critical assessments a day after a group of conservative activists led by Houston physician Steve Hotze filed a lawsuit against the governor on the grounds that he'd crippled the Texas economy with the imposition of draconian measures that were unjustified in the midst of a health problem that had been over hyped.