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The Office of the Texas Governor has been a recent flurry of press releases.
Among other things, Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to send Department of Public Safety troopers to Houston to combat road-rage shootings, and he’s trumpeted tech company Oracle’s relocation to the state.
But with the exception of logistical announcements about the arrival of new vaccines and the reveal for a rapid testing pilot program only available in a handful of cities — El Paso being the largest — his office has been suspiciously silent about this winter’s terrible resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
That surge has pushed the state’s coronavirus death toll just shy of 24,000. As of Monday, 9,230 Texans were hospitalized for COVID-19, and the number of cases reported in the state since the start of the pandemic has topped 1.3 million.
That qualifies as a crisis. True leaders are out front during crises, not silent.
Sadly, though, Abbott has shown that he’s more eager to engage in political maneuvers than being a leader. The latter would require courage, and it’s increasingly clear that Abbott lacks the spine for anything but vying to remain in power.
Here’s the issue: the Republican governor’s biggest 2022 reelection fear isn’t the Democrats but an attack from within his own party. Figures to Abbott’s right — new Republican Party Chairman Allen West, for example — continue to bash him for the mask mandate he ordered this summer. They demand that he quit caving to socialist notions and “reopen the state,” health consequences be damned.
The Democrats’ inability to land a single statewide seat in the November election suggests Abbott’s calculus may be right. In the absence of a marquee candidate with the stature of Beto O’Rourke, the party is likely to come up short in 2022.
Abbott’s betting that if he can stave off an attack from West, who could be angling for a run, or from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, he’ll be safe.
But at what cost?
Texas hospitals are already straining from the aftermath of Thanksgiving gatherings, and the cold weather and the Christmas holiday will only worsen the situation, public health experts warn.
The distribution of vaccines, which started this week, will remove some peril for frontline workers, but it will be months before they’re available on a widespread basis.
Hospitalizations will continue to rise. So will deaths. Before those grim tolls worsen, along with the strain on health care workers and the economic devastation faced by average Texans, Abbott should cast aside his personal ambitions for once and think of the people he was elected to serve.
After all, their lives depend on it.
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