Governor Wasted No Time with Compromise
on Big Money Republicans School Demands
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
September 10, 2020
Governor Greg Abbott moved without haste to block cities and counties from keeping schools from reopening this month for classes in person after an improbable collection of major GOP donors from the party establishment and the hard right teamed up in a formal request for him to do so.
But the Republican governor only appeared to meet the big-giving Texans halfway - rejecting their push for a coronavirus executive order that would have forced all school districts in the state to resume classes no later than Tuesday this week with virtual learning as an option for families.
More than 100 people signed a letter that they sent to Abbott on July 30 with a call for him to order the leaders of the Department of State Health Services and Texas Education Agency to implement and to enforce the proposals that they strongly urged the governor adopt.
Abbott ruled the following day that no local elected officials could decide when students could return to school with the exception of school board members. But the governor spurned the pitch for a September 8 deadline for opening all of the public schools in the state.
The group that appealed to Abbott featured a marquee list of major political players including hard-line conservatives such as Farris Wilks of Cisco, Kyle Stallings of Midland and Wendi Grimes of Houston. The tea party trio has been associated with Empower Texans and other far-right groups that have been attacking the governor relentlessly in recent months for restrictions that he's issued during the COVID-19 crisis including a statewide mask mandate that's been in effect for more than two months.
But the conservatives appeared to be outnumbered substantially by prominent establishment figures like Texans for Lawsuit Reform founder Richard Weekley of Houston, former Republican National Committee member Ernest Angelo of Midland and Dallas-area investors Harlan Crow and Robert Rowling.
Some of President Donald Trump's most lucrative Texas contributors like Doug and Darwin Deason and Ray Washburne penned their names to the letter to Abbott as well.
The staunch conservatives on the list have been at war for more than a decade with the business establishment on the Texas primary battlefield. But the prospects for Texas going blue in November has given the competing factions a common weapon to use against Democrats who could be poised to carry the state in the presidential race this fall with the recapturing of a state House majority as the ultimate icing on the cake.
"We can choose to stay in that state of inertia – as the Left and their allies in the media wish, during this election season – or we can choose the better path of returning Texas to some semblance of normalcy," according to the letter to Abbott on schools. "That must happen immediately or we will see a deepening of the devastating economic and social consequences that may well permanently alter Texas as we know it."
The plea for gubernatorial intervention at the schoolhouse appeared to be a direct response to an order that a pair of Democrats - Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo - had issued a week earlier in a move that barred schools from conducting classes in-person before September 8. Hidalgo accused Abbott of risking the health of students and teachers with political maneuvering.
Abbott actually had been following the lead of the local elected Democrats in Houston and the state's other largest cities when he ordered the wearing of masks statewide on July 2. The governor had overturned local face-covering mandates in May in a move that helped clear the way for the second surge.
The governor's office apparently kept the letter under wraps until it was obtained this week by the legal journal the Southeast Texas Record.