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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

Last Updated Jan 16, 2018 at 1:21 pm PDT

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Denton Record-Chronicle. Jan. 12, 2018.

Regular readers of our editorial page know the Denton Record-Chronicle strongly believes Gov. Greg Abbott should appoint at least one Denton resident to each of the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University boards of regents.

It is obvious why a Denton voice should be in the room when regents are making important decisions that can affect the city. So we won’t repeat our case here. Suffice it to say that business and community leaders should work overtime to rectify this glaring oversight.

But that is not all. Gov. Abbott’s view of Denton appears to resemble how Superman feels about kryptonite.

A Texas governor possesses a lot of political power, including the ability to appoint people to a vast array of state regulatory boards and commissions; everything from the Funeral Service Commission to the Texas Commission on the Arts to the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

We reviewed all of the governor’s appointments going back to December 2016. Obviously the big cities were well represented. And so were many small towns — appointments of people from the likes of Paradise, Magnolia, Athens, Joshua, Hereford, Rio Media, Driftwood and Pottsboro.

We did not find one resident of Denton, population 130,000, appointed to any state board or commission since December 2016. And we are fairly certain that none exist at all.

We understand politics. A governor dances with them that brung him into office. And that means appointees who have a strong Republican pedigree or who have strong connections to a lawmaker or power broker in the GOP camp.

Denton’s lowly status in Austin is important. Members of state boards and commissions hear things.

They learn, for example, that a private company or a state agency is contemplating an expansion into North Texas. The appointee carries the news back to community leaders and they jump on the opportunity for economic development.

Denton needs to be in those influential rooms in Austin.

If you have a professional expertise that dovetails with a state board or commission’s mission, and you have an inclination to serve, go to https://gov.texas.gov/organization/appointments to learn more about the appointment process.

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Longview News-Journal. Jan. 13, 2018.

We can’t say what prompted a Hallsville teen to step onto the running board of his truck while it was in motion on a county road east of Marshall.

Maybe he had successfully done it before and wanted to show off the trick for his buddy who was in the truck.

Maybe they had seen an online video of someone else performing the silly stunt and decided to give it a go.

Whatever the cause, it ended in tragedy when 18-year-old Wyatt Edwards lost his footing and tumbled off the running board, suffering a fatal blow to his head as he fell to the roadway. He was declared dead at the scene.

By all accounts Wyatt was a fine young man. That became clear to us as he was remembered by his classmates, teachers and others as a valued and trustworthy friend, a skilled hunting and fishing companion, a good student with a dazzling smile and a fine sense of humour.

What a tragic loss for his family, his friends and our community.

If Wyatt’s death is to have any meaning, it must be in the warning it sends to other teenagers: You are not invincible, you are not stunt drivers, and being safe is more important than impressing your friends.

So we have been pleased as the community mourns his loss to hear some saying that, indeed, is the message being received.

As his friends met one recent afternoon to remember him, Anthony Alicea told us Wyatt’s death was a “sad lesson.”

“It’s crazy that someone that close is gone all of a sudden,” he said. “I believe it’s going to stop a lot of people from doing crazy stuff like that. It shouldn’t have taken him this young.”

We agree on all counts, Anthony, and hope you are right. Stopping others from “doing crazy stuff” would be a good outcome, one that could save lives. We hope the lesson is heard and heeded.

It is a timely one, too, as the spring semester begins.

Just about every spring, as area high school seniors celebrate the end of their days in the classroom, jubilation often outruns judgment and the ensuing tragedies take promising young lives.

We pray Wyatt’s death will be a reminder to all young people in East Texas to stop and think about the dangers before taking risks. That may mean refusing to get behind the wheel if the celebration included alcohol, understanding that vehicles are not toys, or saying no to a dare to try something you know is a bad idea.

Let’s learn the lesson Wyatt is teaching us and have a safer spring in East Texas.

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Victoria Advocate. Jan. 14, 2018.

The federal government is overspending on mobile homes and waiting too late to get the ball rolling in helping the victims.

A recent news article by The Associated Press reports the Federal Emergency Management Agency spends up to $150,000 apiece on trailers it leases to disaster victims and then auctions at cut-rate prices after 18 months of use or the first sign of minor damage.

FEMA has missed its opportunity to help the thousands of people left homeless by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and other natural disaster that have struck the nation this year.

The government is spending too much on trailers that typically costs $50,000 to $70,000 to build.

But most unsettling is the agency could refurbish the used trailers it auctions to create an inventory of relief homes to be used as soon as disasters occur.

The agency is selling these perfectly good used trailers for a fraction of what it is paying for them — up to $10,000 — at auction, according to the story.

The cost of refurbishing, estimated to be $5,000 per trailer, could save the government millions of dollars and, most importantly, would get the homes to people who desperately need them.

The government used to have two refurbishing warehouses in the country – one was in Texas – where mobile homes were sent after use to be repaired and cleaned up. The repaired trailers would then be kept as inventory, ready to be used again when needed. That program ended during President Bill Clinton’s administration.

In this era of budget cuts and increasing disasters, FEMA needs to look at this program again.

Creating an inventory of readily available and usable homes would be more cost-effective and publicly useful than overspending to have new units built and delivered many months after the need arises.

People who lost their homes in Harvey would not mind living in refurbished trailers. Having a place to call home, even temporarily, beats living in tents, in a cramped hotel room or with friends or neighbours.

Five months after the storm, some residents are starting to receive mobile homes from FEMA. This delay is unacceptable.

Having the inventory would have been more useful than what residents faced this summer when the government had no trailers available and had to contract with manufacturers to begin building, creating the delay in assistance.

For this to work, the federal government would have to plan ahead for the often disastrous hurricane season to make sure trailers are available.

For example, the federal government was auctioning surplus trailers earlier in the summer, knowing the busiest part of hurricane season was yet to happen. It did stop the auctions as the storms occurred, but that was too little, too late.

Again, this is where a refurbishing program would have made sense.

The federal government could enlist the help of the states’ General Land Offices to help prepare the inventory. The GLO has stepped in to help with the hurricane recovery; it would only make sense that they help with the preparations as well.

The GLO is local to its state and has more contacts with local businesses to help create an inventory of mobile homes.

With planning, the government could save millions of taxpayers dollars on disaster relief. It is time for the planning to begin before the next disaster hits.

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Beaumont Enterprise. Jan. 15, 2018.

The ongoing battle in Texas to keep basic governmental information available to the public recently got an important victory. The attorney general’s office properly ruled that the city of Austin cannot withhold records about applicants for its city manager’s job by claiming that the information would harm the city competitively.

This means that Austin residents — and by extension residents of other Texas cities — will have more information about who applies for an important position.

They will then be able to judge for themselves if their local officials made a good choice — or hired some crony with political connections.

This victory was especially welcome because it partially closed a loophole to public information laws that has been getting larger in recent months.

That would be the infamous Boeing vs. Paxton case, the 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling that lease provisions between Boeing and the San Antonio Port Authority could be kept confidential because they could hurt the aerospace company competitively.

In reality, the San Antonio Port Authority (a taxpayer-funded facility) was using a creative legal gambit to restrict the kind of public information that had been routinely released for years with no harm.

That case was bad enough, but some Texas cities have since used that ruling an excuse to withhold information on basic taxpayer spending on entertainment or contracts to feed students.

In this case, the Austin City Council and its search firm were trying to claim that revealing information about the applicants would expose “trade secrets.” That’s nonsense, because the information in question includes basic qualifications like each applicant’s experience and education.

Ethical members of a city council or a school board don’t hide behind gimmicks like this. They realize that taxpayers deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

If there is some kind of spending that public officials want to hide from you, feel free to suspect that something sketchy is going on.

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Houston Chronicle. Jan. 15, 2018.

Sometimes you look at an abstract painting in an art museum and wonder what in the world the artist was thinking.

Take a look at the map of Texas congressional districts and you could ask the same question. The squiggly lines, weird shapes and awkward elongations can make a casual observer wonder why anybody would create something that looks so crazy.

Those bizarre figures scrawled over the tapestry of Texas reflect not creative zeal, but the madness behind gerrymandering. Now the nation’s highest court has agreed to decide whether those zany abstract artists in our Legislature were inspired by an ulterior motive. The Supreme Court recently announced that it will review whether district maps for both the U.S. and the Texas House of Representatives were racially gerrymandered.

The Republicans running our state government have argued for decades that their gerrymandering is partisan, not racial. But anybody who’s watched the redistricting process in the capitol knows that alibi is a fraud. The line between partisan and racial gerrymandering has become indistinguishable in the Texas Legislature. One of the main techniques Republicans in Austin have used to maximize their partisan advantage is packing African-American voters, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, into as few districts as possible. If you doubt that partisan gerrymandering has a racial component, look at the declining number of white Democrats in the Legislature.

However the Supreme Court rules in the Texas controversy, it has already heard arguments in a separate dispute with even broader implications. In a case out of Wisconsin, the Supreme Court will decide whether partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. The high court has repeatedly ruled against district lines that discriminate based on race, but never before has it struck down the idea of drawing district lines for partisan advantage.

Computer-aided gerrymandering has turned what once was an act of political mischief into an almost foolproof mechanism to rig the outcome of elections. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, have pushed legislation that would establish an independent bipartisan commission to draw district boundaries in Texas, rather than leaving this crucial process in the hands of the Legislature. That system is already in place in at least 21 other states. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly preferable to our current system of rigged elections.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t strike down partisan gerrymandering, state lawmakers should have the courage to change the way we draw those districts. Our bizarre legislative maps don’t belong in an art gallery, they belong in a history museum.