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Wednesday , October 17 2018
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In Harvey Response, Gov. Greg Abbott Finds a Hospitable Spotlight

Just three weeks ago, Gov. Greg Abbott was making the rounds in the media, faulting state House Republican leaders for the failure of half his agenda in a summer special session and planting the seeds for a bruising 2018 primary season.

Then Harvey hit.

The hurricane, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 25 near Corpus Christi, has cast a decisively new kind of spotlight on Abbott after a summer of political battles under the pink dome — that of Texas’ crisis-commander-in-chief. By all appearances, Abbott is embracing the role, using the trappings of his office to project the image of a governor in charge during a potentially unprecedented crisis — and winning positive reviews in the process.

That was on full display Thursday, when Abbott held a news conference at the state Capitol to unveil a the newly formed Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas. Abbott named John Sharp, the chancellor of Texas A&M University, to lead the commission, elevating a longtime moderate Democrat to effectively serve as Texas’ Harvey recovery czar.

Speaking with reporters after the news conference, Sharp said he was “minding my own business” when Abbott called him roughly a week ago to discuss the new job.

Did Sharp have any hesitation in accepting the job, a likely years-long commitment?

“I don’t think he asked,” Sharp said of Abbott.

That no-nonsense assertiveness is among the reasons Abbott has won plaudits for his leading role in the Harvey response. There was an early dustup with Houston officials over whether the city should evacuate, but since then, Abbott’s received generally high marks for being measured, engaged and visible. 

“Abbott has performed flawlessly in the wake of what appears to be the worst natural disaster in U.S. history,” said Ray Sullivan, a former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Rick Perry. “It really is not as easy as it looks. He struck the exact right balance of being very visible, very much in command, and someone offering comfort and support for the victims of the storm.” 

Officials who have worked with Abbott in Harvey’s aftermath have been particularly struck by how hands-on the governor has been. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican whose district was directly in Harvey’s path when it made landfall, recalled in an interview how she recently texted Abbott’s chief of staff and immediately got a call back — from the governor himself.

“He’s 24/7,” said Nim Kidd, Texas’ top emergency management official. “I like to think I’m a 24/7 guy. He’s up before I am, and I think he’s awake while I’m trying to get rest. He’s always present.”

Abbott’s been particularly visible at the State Operations Center, where he’s made near-daily appearances for briefings and news conferences since the storm struck. He even created a video offering words of encouragement to members of the night shift, which goes from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., Kidd said.

Abbott has also basked in praise from President Donald Trump, who has visited Texas twice since the storm struck — each time with Abbott by his side throughout the trip. Trump has taken to calling Abbott by his first name, and during the president’s trip to Houston on Saturday, he delivered a seemingly endless stream of compliments to Abbott.

“The cameras are blazing, I have to say it,” the optics-obsessed Trump said, addressing a crowd of volunteers at a Pearland church. “You have a great, great governor.”

Abbott’s time in the post-Harvey spotlight has not been without a few less flattering moments, though. His suggestion before the storm that Houstonians should consider evacuating riled some leaders there who had been urging residents to stay put. Abbott’s message “was a mistake, there’s no way around it,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a fellow Republican, said at the time.

Then there were the explosions at a Crosby chemical plant following the storm, which have renewed a debate over safety and transparency in Texas’ petrochemical industry. In 2014, when Abbott was attorney general, he ruled that the state no longer has to give citizens data about dangerous chemical locations — the same kind of information the company that operates the Crosby plant declined to provide after the explosions began.

Some Democrats have pounced on Abbott in the wake of the explosions for the 2014 ruling, which was a big issue in the governor’s race that year. “Harvey Cleanup Hampered by Abbott’s Chemical Negligence,” read one news release issued Thursday by the Lone Star Project, a Democratic political research group.

Democrats have yet to find a serious candidate to run next year against Abbott, who is sitting on a massive $41 million war chest. Before Harvey, Abbott had made clear he planned to devote some of his time in the 2018 election cycle to helping legislative incumbents who were supportive of his special session agenda, potentially getting involved in primaries.

In Abbott’s world, the Harvey response has been an all-hands-on-deck effort, putting on hold what was expected to be a transition to campaign mode after the special session that ended in mid-August. Staffers who were thought to be stepping away from the office are sticking around for the time being to see through the storm response.

Abbott’s has shown little tolerance for some of the more politically charged issues that have arisen in Harvey’s wake. Asked at a news conference last week if he was worried politics would get in the way of Congress passing Harvey aid, Abbott offered a two-word response: “I don’t.” And on Thursday, Abbott swatted away a question from a reporter asking him to square his vocal aversion to some local regulations — a major theme of the special session — with the storm response in Houston.

“I think it’s pretty clear that tree ordinances don’t have anything to do with what happened” with Harvey, Abbott said at the news conference with Sharp.

To many, the launch of Sharp’s commission Thursday morning marked the beginning of a second, much longer stage of the Harvey recovery. In a way, the new chapter provides bigger challenges for a governor, Sullivan and others agreed, pointing to undertaking of a longer-term aid package in Congress, the short- and middle-term impact on the Texas economy and the growing impatience of displaced citizens. There are also thorny questions of whether the state’s largest city should restrict or temper development in some areas to reduce future flooding events.

Also on the horizon is increased debate over what kind of financial assistance the state can provide. The Legislature is not scheduled to meet again until 2019. Abbott has said the storm will not require his calling a special session but some lawmakers have raised the possibility of doing so so in order to tap some of the roughly $10 billion in the state’s savings account, officially called the Texas Economic Stabilization Fund but better known as the Rainy Day Fund.

On Tuesday, Abbott expressed openness to dipping into the Rainy Day Fund — only once the state completes an assessment of the storm’s impact and what other funding sources can be used to address it.

“As it concerns needing to tap into the ESF, the right approach is for us to take in all the information that we need to gather, to find out what the needs are, what needs are not yet satisfied, to what extent does the governor’s disaster fund provide resources to cover that and if we’re short, then consider the necessity to tap into the ESF,” Abbott told reporters while visiting Wharton to meet with local official about the Harvey response. “But you don’t dip into it without knowing exactly what your needs are, so we need to first determine what your needs are.”

Officials like Kolhorst say they have faith in Abbott to make the right decision when the time comes.

“For now I think it’s a wise decision to realize what the impact is, what the federal government is going to and not going to pay for,” Kolkhorst said. As for any final decisions, she added, “I’m going to leave that up to him.”

Disclosure: Texas A&M University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has chosen John Sharp, chancellor of Texas A&M University and a former longtime Democratic elected official, to lead the rebuilding effort in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. [Full story]
  • In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, an exploding chemical plant has highlighted how little the public knows about potential dangers from the oil and chemical industries. Critics say one reason for the darkness: tons of campaign money. [Full story]
  • The 38 Texans in Congress aim to take advantage of their delegation’s size and seniority to usher large amounts of federal aid and resources to the state following Hurricane Harvey. The Senate approved $15.25 billion in short-term relief Thursday. [Full story]

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Joint Hurricane Harvey Military Operations Enter New Phase of Relief Efforts

AUSTIN –The Texas Military Department, alongside National Guard personnel from across the country and our active duty military partners, is transitioning to the critical life support and logistics support phase of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

“As search and rescue operations slow, the Texas Military Department will continue to assist local, state and federal agencies in this new phase of operations,” said Texas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols. “Along with our National Guard and active duty partners, we’re bringing in new resources to bear for the critical life support and logistics support mission.”

The Texas National Guard has set up approximately 30 points of distribution (PODs) for food, water and other vital commodities between Beaumont and Corpus Christi, with many more opening in the days ahead. Additionally, 35 active Texas State Guard Shelter Teams are sheltering more than 8,000 evacuees at 13 shelters across the state and the Texas National Guard has three evacuation hubs. Our National Guard partners from other states are also playing a central role in this new mission.

“The array of military forces on the ground demonstrates the joint nature of this relief effort,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, the Dual Status Commander of the Hurricane Harvey relief effort. “We are working closely with our DoD partners to ensure we have the National Guard and active duty resources we need in every phase of the operation.”

Some of the active duty resources on the ground in direct support of the mission include approximately 200 Army high water vehicles who are supporting the Red Cross and moving personnel and patients. The Air Force is providing strategic airlift, fixed-wing airlift, medical evacuation and helicopters to transport people and supplies.

The Defense Logistics Agency has provided fuel, sandbags, generators and incident support bases and is delivering meals to dislocated citizens.

Finally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deployed experts to the state and FEMA response nodes to help with power restoration, as well as the monitoring for flood controls of dams and levees.

At this time, approximately 16,000 military personnel are currently on the ground. Search and rescue operations continue to be ongoing with the Texas National Guard performing more than 16,000 rescues and evacuating more than 7,400 people and 1,000 animals, since Hurricane Harvey made landfall last month. Our partners have performed thousands of additional evacuations and rescue operations.

UTEP Men’s Golf Set to Compete in Border Olympics

Fresh off its highest finish in the spring, the UTEP men’s golf team will lace up their spikes again when they travel to Laredo, Texas, to compete in the Border Olympics March 10-11.
Participants will play 36 holes on Friday and the remaining 18 holes Saturday at the Laredo Country Club (Par 72/7,125 yards). 
 
Last year’s Border Olympics was shortened to two rounds due to rain. Baylor took home the team title after shooting 20-under-par 556 (277-279) and Haraldur Magnus of Louisiana won the individual title at 10-under-par 134 (66-68). The Miners, who tied for 11th with ULM, shot 4-over-par 580 (300-280), with Nicklas Pihl finishing at the top of the Miners’ scorecard in a tie for 8th at 4-under 140 (74-66).
 
UTEP finished in fourth place in the National Invitational Tournament last week in Tucson, Ariz., Pihl was also UTEP’s top finisher in a share of 11th place. 

The Miners will compete in a 19-team field that includes Houston, Bowling Green, Campbell, Houston Baptist, Lamar, Little Rock, Louisiana-Lafayette, McNesse State, Nebraska, New Mexico State, Oral Roberts, Rice, Sacramento State, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Texas State, ULM and UTSA. 

Now in the meat of their spring schedule, the Miners will send Frederik Dreier (73 avg.), Aaron Terrazas (71.6 avg.), Pihl (73.3 avg.), Andreas Sorensen (74.5 avg.), Charles Corner (74.6 avg.), and Prescott Mann (73.6 avg.) to the links.   

Live scoring will be available at golfstat.com.

Border Olympics quick facts:

Date: Friday, March 10 – Saturday, March 11, 2017

Site: Laredo Country Club • Laredo, Texas (Par 72 / 7,125 Yards)

Format: 54-Hole Tournament • Two Days Friday, March 10 • 36 holes Saturday, March 11 • 18 holes

Live Scoring:Golfstat.com

http://www.golfstatresults.com/public/leaderboards/gsnav.cfm?pg=participants&tid=12037

Teams: 19-Team Field • Golfstat rankings as of March 8 listed
Houston, Bowling Green, Campbell, Houston Baptist, Lamar, Little Rock, Louisiana-Lafayette, McNeese State, Nebraska,

New Mexico State, Oral Roberts, Rice, Sacramento State, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Texas State, ULM, UTEP, UTSA

MARCHFEST 728X90