Texans proudly tout their “Lone Star” status in the U.S., a reference to the time they stood independent of the U.S. and Mexico for almost a decade in the mid 1800s. The “Lone Star” represented Texans’ willingness to stand alone with tales of heroism from their fight for independence from Mexico resounding to this day. Kudos for their bravery and determination.
However, political leaders in modern Texas seem to be following a different “Lone Star” than the courageous leaders of the past — enacting laws that are likely to impact other states. Many of today’s Texas politicians seem to want to stand apart from science and social responsibility. Led by Governor Greg Abbott, who refuses to allow schools or businesses to mandate masks or vaccinations, the Texas legislature responded weakly to the power crisis last winter and has passed a series of bills that will negatively impact many of their constituents, particularly those living in poverty, or those of color.
It’s as if the “Lone Star” state has its vision fixed on 1836, blinding them to all the other stars of the sky they could use to help them navigate successfully into the 21st century. They cannot even see the other 49 stars on the U.S. flag that have and continue to provide help and guidance in times of trouble.
Texas politicians have developed tunnel vision at the worst possible moment. Gov. Abbott has signed bills passed easily by the Texas Legislature restricting access to the ballot and women’s reproductive services, while working against health experts at the state and national level to combat the Covid-19 crisis.
The Texas Legislature took a novel approach to denying women their Constitutional right to reproductive decisions by enabling citizens to sue anyone involved in a medically indicated and performed abortion, including drivers to the clinic, patient registration clerks, and the doctor. By abdicating their law enforcement role to the public, Texas has found a new way to return the state to its 1836 gunslinger vision.
The same can be said for its approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed over 700,000 Americans, including over 60,000 Texans. Despite clear science calling for vaccine and mask mandates, Gov. Abbott signed SB 968 in June that prohibits governmental agencies (including municipalities) from issuing vaccine mandates and keeps private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination to gain admittance or engage in business. Over 4 million Texans have suffered from Covid-19.
This follows the failure of Texas to protect families from bitter cold last winter when their short-sighted “Lone Star” separation from the national power grid left millions without power and water for days causing many to turn to unsafe kerosene space heaters for warmth. And how did the Texas Legislature respond to this deadly event caused by its own policies? It responded by passing legislation requiring Texas energy providers to winterize their systems but provided no timeline or parameters for them to follow, provided only weak punishment for failure to comply, and provided no financial aid to those Texans devastated by the crisis.
Texas’ energy providers’ most immediate action following the close of the Texas Legislature’s regular 2021 session was to enrich Republican politicians with overly generous campaign contributions, with Gov. Abbott earning the most. Perhaps these providers felt their money was better spent on legislators than on customers like they might have in 1836.
Kansas and Missouri are two of the 49 other stars that provide input for our diverse national political experience. Both states have Republican-led legislatures like Texas, and, like Texas, have pushed against science and for individual liberties even when such policies put members of all ages in their community at risk of death, and pushed to deny women control over their own medical decisions (a contradiction that has yet to be explained despite the number of vaccine protesters carrying “My Body My Choice” signs).
Local governmental meetings in both Kansas and Missouri have become flash points for political resistance backed by the Koch brothers (through the Independent Women’s Forum, as noted by a recent article in The Washington Post) to public health orders designed to protect the population and shorten the time our economy must suffer at the hands of this pandemic. And both state legislatures continue to work on bills designed to limit women’s control over their own medical care.
Gov. Abbott has made it clear he intends to run for President in 2024, making his descent into darkness a credible threat to all Americans, including Kansans and Missourians. The thought of another try at “America First” policies that reject our alliances and treaties that have kept us safe and prosperous since the end of WWII in favor of a bullying foreign policy and more trickle-down economics with a heaping helping of misogyny frightens both of us.
It should frighten you too.
Jim Calvert is a retired English teacher and Bob Grover is Professor Emeritus at Emporia State University.