March 29, 2020

Roads Not Taken

Governor Slams Door on Highway Travelers from Neighbor State
in Move that Could Inspire Boater Bypass and Arkansas Reroute


Governor Greg Abbott closed the Texas border with Louisiana on Sunday when he ordered the mandatory isolation of anyone traveling here from the neighboring state for a two-week period with the latest in a series of executive decrees aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus here.

Abbott also expanded the same dramatic restrictions to people who are flying into Texas from the Pelican State and the states of California and Washington as well after ordering 14-day quarantines of air travelers from New Orleans and New York City last week. The executive order that Abbott announced at a Capitol press conference in Austin today imposes the same limitations on people who travel to the Lone Star State on airplanes from Chicago, Detroit, Miami and Atlanta.

Abbott is following the lead of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who drew a line in the sand three days ago on highway travel into his state's panhandle for cars and trucks with Louisiana license plates.

Louisiana residents are persona non grata in Texas and Florida now in light of New Orleans' distinction as one of the largest breeding grounds for COVID-19 since countless numbers of revelers were exposed to the deadly disease at the Mardi Gras celebration three weeks ago.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who's a Democrat, has contended that she would have cancelled the annual festival that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Crescent City if President Donald Trump hadn't been downplaying the threat of the coronavirus spread. Mardi Gras took place during the last week of February when Trump was portraying the coronavirus crisis as a conspiracy between Democrats and the establishment media to wreck his re-election bid by crippling the economy.

While Trump has accused Cantrell and other Democrats of hiding behind partisan politics to escape the blame of their own inaction, the president has showered the Republican governors in Texas and Florida with praise with the moves that they've made amid the escalation of COVID-19 cases in the major states that they lead.

The quarantine demands that Abbott issued on air travel into Texas should be relatively easy to enforce with Department of Public Safety troopers posted at public airports in cities on commercial airline routes. But the roadblock on ground travel here from Louisiana could have substantial holes despite Texas' ability to set up check points on highways that connect the two southern states including two interstate freeways.

Anyone who's determine to drive here from Louisiana could bypass the Abbott directive by simply swinging through Arkansas on the trip to Texas. Shreveport is about 70 miles from Texarkana on the Arkansas border in northeast Texas.

Shreveport is only 40 miles from the northeast Texas city of Marshall. The drive from Shreveport to Marshall would take about two and a half hours for travelers who want to avoid the new Abbott quarantine edict by routing their trip through Texarkana.

But folks who have access to fishing boats can get around the Abbott order without having to go that far out of their way with the massive reservoir Toledo Bend separating Texas from Louisiana along a stretch of the Sabine River that covers almost 70 miles.

Abbott could attempt to have the Texas Parks & Wildlife patrol the shores on the western edge of Toledo Bend to help keep the potential flow of unwelcomed travelers from Louisiana from slipping through the net in water crafts. Toledo Bend is one of the world's most popular destinations for fishermen in pursuit of largemouth bath.

While the executive order on ground travel here from Louisiana has inherent loopholes, the governor raised eyebrows with a separate mandate that's designed to prevent the release of people who've been incarcerated for violent crimes. This could be ripe for a legal challenge if it keeps convicts behind bars longer than they would have been under normal circumstances.

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


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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