March 20, 2020

Catch Up

Abbott Follows the Lead of Local Leaders that GOP Sought to Disarm
as Texas Democrats Decry Deliberate Strategy that Has State Lagging

MIKE HAILEY

Governor Greg Abbott is scrambling furiously to make up for lost time after apparently deciding that Texas wasn't sufficiently prepared for the invisible coronavirus tsunami as a result of the decentralization approach on which the state had relied initially.

While Abbott has taken the worst health crisis in more than a century more seriously than President Donald Trump did in its early stages, the Republican governor took a dramatic turn on Thursday with a sweeping set of executive orders designed to minimize COVID-19 exposure through an escalation of social distancing here.

"The State of Texas is at a pivotal moment in our response to COVID-19, and it is imperative that we act now on preemptive measures to slow the spread of this virus," Abbott declared with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen at his side in the order's unveiling.

The gubernatorial decree that's in effect for the next two weeks puts teeth in actions that local officials had initiated in cities and counties across Texas without the enforcement powers that are afforded to the state.

Abbott ordered the closing of schools, gyms and massage parlors while banning gatherings that more than 10 people would attend. The governor prohibited dining and drinking at bars and restaurants that he's allowing and encouraging to stay in business for pickup and delivery and drive-thru for those that have that option available. Abbott also banned visitation at places where elderly people are housed like nursing homes, retirement centers and other facilities that provide long-term care.

The "executive orders are precautionary measures that are in line with guidelines from the CDC and they will strengthen Texas’ ability to safeguard our communities and respond to COVID-19. As Texans, we must continue to work collaboratively to slow the spread of this virus and protect public health."

But Abbott also appeared to be making a proactive attempt to minimize the potential for political backlash from skeptics on the hard right when he stressed that the moves that he ordered were consistent with recommendations from the White House and the Centers for Disease Control.

Abbott announced the edicts after coming under intense fire from Democrats accused earlier Thursday of wasting critical time with a relatively passive initial game plan that didn't culminate in an emergency disaster declaration until a week or more after the coronavirus had been deemed to be a worldwide pandemic.

Texas has found itself under increasing media scrutiny in recent days for lagging significantly behind other major states in the mounting of a defense against COVID-19 as a result of Abbott's deference to cities and counties as the state has done in the face of major disasters in the past.

Abbott critics across the aisle are contending that the actions that he's taking now with the executive orders and commitment of state resources should have been taken weeks ago.

Veteran Democratic strategist Matt Angle, who heads the group the Lone Star Project, suggested that Abbott has been blatantly hypocritical by leaving local leaders to bear the initial burden of the coronavirus response after repeated attempts by the governor and GOP lawmakers to weaken their authority.

"Now, with a crisis threatening the lives of thousands of Texans and the livelihoods of millions more, Greg Abbott is happy to lay low and let local officials provide the courage and resolve he can’t seem to muster," Angle asserted.

Mike Hailey's column appears on a regular basis in Capitol Inside

CONSIDER THE SOURCE

Mike Hailey presents state politics with a personal touch. He's the only Texas Capitol journalist who's been to the dark side and back - having worked for two major newspaper bureaus before signing on as press secretary for Bob Bullock - the most powerful and legendary political leader of his time in the state. Hailey's Comment, which is published in Capitol Inside on a regular basis, is a direct reflection of that experience.

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