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In 2021, Texas politics took a sharp right turn – Houston Chronicle

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A Texas House aide cordons off the Texas House Floor after the second special session called by Governor Greg Abbott was quickly adjourned due to a lack of a quorum on Saturday, August 7, 2021 in Austin, Tx., U.S. The Texas House of Representatives did not have a quorum due to a number of Texas House Democrats being absent and adjourned quickly after opening the session on Saturday afternoon.
Gov. Greg Abbott listens as senator Paul Bettencourt talks during a press conference about a package of election reforms, at Senator Paul Bettencourt’s District Office on Monday, March 15, 2021, in Houston.
The Texas Speaker of the House of Representatives Dade Phelan speaks to other legislators after quickly adjourning the first day of the second special session called by Governor Greg Abbott on Saturday, August 7, 2021 in Austin, Tx., U.S. The Texas House of Representatives did not have a quorum due to a number of Texas House Democrats being absent and adjourned quickly after opening the session on Saturday afternoon.
The Texas Senate led by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick opens the second special session called by Governor Greg Abbott on Saturday, August 7, 2021 in Austin, Tx., U.S. The Texas Senate conducted their business of the day while the Texas House of Representatives did not have a quorum due to a number of Texas House Democrats being absent and adjourned quickly after opening their session on Saturday afternoon.
Democratic State Reps. Cheryl Cole, D-Austin, Rhetta Bowers, D-Rowlett, Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, and Re. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, listen to the press conference on the first day of the special session on July 8, 2021.
Marcel McClinton, 20, marches with others as they rally at the Texas State Capitol in Austin to advocate for voting rights on the final day of a 27-mile, four-day voting rights march to the Capitol on Saturday, July 31, 2021. The Republican-controlled Texas legislature, now in a special session, is poised to pass a number of bills that opponents say would limit access to voting for millions of Texans across the state.
Maya Stanton, 10, practices K-pop group Blackpink’s dance moves following a sitting demonstration at the House Gallery at the Texas Capitol Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Austin. The Stanton family went to the Capitol and joined a group of transgender families to demonstrate and speak against bills in the legislature that will affect their lives.
Students protest at the Texas Capitol against Texas?•s new law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks in Austin, Tx., U.S. on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. Texas Senate Bill 8, SB8, that effectively bans abortions after six weeks in the state of Texas went into effect on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. The Austin Students for a Democratic Society along with the Feminist Action Project organized and held a protest against the implementation of the new law outside the Texas Capitol.
People participating in the Houston Women’s March against Texas abortion ban listen to speakers at City Hall Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 in Houston.
Former President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speak near a section of the border wall on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, in Pharr, Texas. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP)
Democrats hope O’Rourke can rekindle the energy from his 2018 race as he challenges Abbott for governor in November
The uprising of Texas Democrats over the last few years spurred a Republican reaction in 2021 that resulted in some of the most extreme state GOP legislation in decades.
Abortions were essentially banned.
Gun rights greatly expanded, even over the objections of many in law enforcement.
And the state enacted new restrictions on how teachers can talk about race in classrooms.
It all came as Democrats continue to become more competitive — solidifying their hold on the biggest cities in Texas and coming closer to winning Texas in a presidential election than any time since the 1970s.
But when Democrats made an all-out push to win the Texas House of Representatives in 2020 and fell short, some Republicans saw it as a green light from voters to push for the party’s top priorities.
“The door was opened by the voters,” state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said earlier in 2021. “We tried to walk as many of those priorities through that door as we could.”
And then there was former President Donald Trump, who jumped into Texas politics, making three trips to the state in 2021, firing off frequent emails to Texas reporters pushing the Legislature to pass more conservative legislation and doling out endorsements to Republicans who know his backing is almost make-or-break in the state’s March 1 primary.
Count Gov. Greg Abbott among those who have picked up endorsements from Trump thanks to the ultra-conservative agenda in Texas this year.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done together to secure our border, bring more jobs to Texas, & protect the freedoms that make America & Texas great — & we are just getting started,” Abbott said of Trump.
Some Democrats are convinced that as the state’s election trends continue to veer more in their direction, Republicans are underestimating how their far-right turn will provoke a backlash from a changing electorate in 2022.
But Republicans are plowing ahead, convinced 2020 showed the blue wave that Democrats have been riding has stopped short of putting the GOP in real danger. They are promising more of the same.
“The blue wave evaporated on the red rocks of Texas,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.
It’s clear Republicans are still more concerned with primary elections in March than they are with the general election, even with Democrat Beto O’Rourke at the top of the ticket, said Mark P. Jones, professor in the Department of Political Science at Rice University.
Abbott is facing two significant primary challengers from the right, and because of redistricting, almost all of the incumbent Texas House or Senate members are favored to win the general election. That makes them all more worried about their primaries against other Republicans than with Democrats in November, Jones said. The result is that Republicans were more likely to advance super conservative legislation to appease the base of the GOP and reduce opposition in primaries.
“There was no reason to hold back on a very conservative agenda,” Jones said.
And hold back they didn’t.
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Texas comptroller accuses Harris County of defunding police, threatens to stymie 2023 budget
What Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan means to 3.6 million Texans with debt
In mid-May, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 8, which bars women from getting an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can be as early as six weeks, when many women don’t know they are pregnant. Later that same month, lawmakers passed legislation that allows Texans over age 21 to carry handguns in public without a license starting Sept. 1, with a few exceptions.
Then in September, at the behest of Abbott, legislators passed what became known as the “critical race theory” bill. It prohibits teaching certain concepts about race and urges educators to teach that slavery and racism are “deviations” from the founding principles of the United States. Critical race theory, an academic approach that examines how systemic racism affects society, has become a popular target among conservatives.
Also in September, Abbott signed into law voting restrictions that Democrats had argued were focused on cities where Democrats have been strongest. Specifically, the legislation ends voter expansion efforts in Harris County — the state’s most populous county, which has become a Democratic stronghold.
The state barred voting past 10 p.m., ended drive-thru voting and blocked election officials from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Harris County is the only county in Texas that did or tried all three things in 2020.
Bettencourt said all of the legislation was part of a bigger effort to assert what it means to be a Republican after the success of 2020.
“Republicans did a good job in restating what they believe in and what it means to be a Republican,” he said.
Democrats, led by O’Rourke, are out to make Republicans pay for going so far right on social issues instead of focusing on more pressing issues, such as fixing the electric grid after it failed during cold weather in February and preparing hospitals for a continuation of the pandemic. They are convinced Republicans are misreading how far right Texas voters really want to go.
While Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide since the 1990s, over the last eight years the state’s electorate has been changing fast, driven in large part to growing urban populations and more concerted voter registration efforts in cities such as Houston, San Antonio and Austin.
The result is Texas has added 3.5 million more voters to its rolls since 2014. Left-leaning groups have been a big reason for that, and it has shown up in recent election results. In 2018, O’Rourke lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz by just 2.6 percentage points. Republicans Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller all won 51 percent of the vote or less in their re-elections. Four years earlier, each of them had won at least 58 percent of the vote.
In 2020, Joe Biden used huge victories in Houston and San Antonio to come within 6 percentage points of winning Texas — the closest a Democrat has come to carrying Texas in a presidential election in more than two decades.
Democrats now have to hope O’Rourke can rekindle the energy from his 2018 race as he challenges Abbott for governor in November. As Republicans push further right, O’Rourke, if he wins the governor’s race, would be in a position to veto legislation such as the permitless handgun carry bill and the abortion legislation that on the campaign trail he has called examples of “extremism and fringe politics.”
But if he loses, Republicans will have no reason not to push further right. Jones said many of the more moderate Republicans in the Texas Legislature are retiring, opening the door to even more conservative members replacing them.
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said he doesn’t blame Republicans for going so far right. At a rally in June at the Texas Capitol, West said Democrats allowed the Republican onslaught in 2020 by not getting more people to the polls in 2020. In short, he said, elections have consequences and 2021 proved that.
“I blame us,” West said of Democrats falling short in 2020. “We need to do what is necessary to turn out the Democratic and independent base in order to order to take over this building.”
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twitter.com/jeremyswallace
Jeremy Wallace has covered politics and campaigns for more than 20 years. Before joining the Hearst Texas newspapers in 2017 he covered government and politics for the Tampa Bay Times, The Miami Herald and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Previously he covered Congress for the Boston Globe and Detroit Free-Press. Originally from San Antonio, he attended the University of North Texas and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri. You can follow him on Twitter, @JeremySWallace, or email him at [email protected].
Many residents across the Houston area are still dealing with the lingering effects of Hurricane Harvey, such as mental health issues, unsafe living conditions and financial distress.
By Dug Begley, Sam González Kelly

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Austin Local News

Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Austin Local News

Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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