Last month, as yet another scandal exploded in Austin — this one about a large number of deaths at state facilities for the mentally and physically handicapped — Governor Rick Perry had the audacity to tell the state’s citizens to “take a deep breath” before jumping to conclusions. (The conclusion being, presumably, that the Governor’s administration has been asleep at the wheel for the last several years.)
Take a deep breath, indeed.
The current scandal de jour involves a Department of Justice (the Feds!) report that details a pattern of neglect and terrible conditions at the Lubbock State School. It speculates similar situations exist at other Mental Health and Mental Retardation facilities under the control of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services.
Perry has said this one won’t be as big as the Texas Youth Commission scandal broken by the Austin-based Texas Observer*. While that may be true, comparing a bunch of dead disabled folks to a bunch of young boys who have been raped by prison guards is like comparing rotten apples to rotten oranges: they both smell awful.
The common thread in both scandals, however, is that Perry’s office knew about the problems, had access to reports about the situations, and did nothing until Perry saw them in the paper while having his morning coffee.
Yet, Perry, through spokes-lapdogs like Robert Black, stands by his staff like Tammy Wynette stands by her man. Only in this administration could a staffer who deleted an email containing a damning report without saving a copy be defended as actually following office policy and protocol. Perry’s administration appears more incompetent than FEMA in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.
Perhaps we should take that “deep breath” the Governor recommended, though. After all, if the Texas Youth Commission and the state’s MHMR residential-care facilities have become such a disaster under his watch, heaven only knows what could be on the front page of your paper tomorrow. Improprieties at the Department of Insurance? A reel mess at the Texas Film Commission? What will burst out of the Board of Plumbing Examiners?
Scratch that deep breath. Make it a big, fat, long — sigh — .
*State Representative Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, was grateful for the Observer’s February piece, he told Current staffers Dave Maass and Keli Dailey, at a recent trip to the Capitol, not only because it exposed the troubling allegations about the TYC, but it documented that he wasn’t one of the officials turning a blind eye. “When I first went to the Evins unit, thank god they reported that I went,” said Peña, who didn’t know about the sexual abuse at the time, only the other institutional problems of neglect and physical abuse.
“Most of these kids … they’re poor and they’re from urban areas and they’re locked up. Literally they don’t have a mother or a father, they’ve got health issues,” said Peña.
“I hate to overgeneralize … but the system do`es`n’t care about them … And if `the media` do`es`n’t care then nobody’s going to care.”