Governor Seeks to Milk Burning Suburb Visions
with Plan for State to Take Control of Austin PD
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
September 17, 2020
Governor Greg Abbott may be keeping his cards to his chest on the number of signatures that he's secured from Texas lawmakers and other candidates on the fall ballot for his pledge to fight moves to defund police in Texas.
It's hard to imagine that any Republican on the ballot in Texas or beyond in 2020 wouldn't agree with the governor on the issue of police funding. This is especially true when Abbott suggests that Democrats actually are trying to dismantle entire police departments - a monstrous exaggeration that Democrats are describing as a desperation distraction from the disaster that the coronavirus crisis has been for the Republicans in Texas this year.
Abbott could be going off a script from the top of the ticket with an attempt to tap into summer message that President Donald Trump and his team crafted with the narrative about leftist mobsters tearing the suburbs down and rebuilding them into socialist utopias. But the Texas Backs the Blue crusade that Abbott launched this week goes way beyond the fear-stoking rhetoric as a move aimed at having the state take over the Austin police department.
#TexasBacksTheBlue could be a tough sell outside of the beltway - however - with the Capital City as Abbott's only example as a result of a singular council vote to slash spending on APD by 33 percent as part of a movement in liberal cities like Austin in other states.
But Abbott has dramatically misinterpreted the local vote that he's packaging as an uprising - having failed to mention that Austin is actually reexamining the way it allocates money for public security based on principles that are similar to zero-budgeting that many GOP leaders and lawmakers have endorsed.
But Abbott's Backs the Blue initiative could have a doubled-edge for Abbott amid comparisons that it's drawn to the tactics that conservatives used to fight the desegregation of schools in the south in the 1950s.
Abbott, who oversees the Department of Public Safety, wants Texas lawmakers to have the state police seize responsibility for law enforcement in the state's fourth largest city. This would be an expensive expenditure for a state that will be broke when the Legislature convenes again in January.
The governor's pledge has major potential to backfire if it ended up forcing cities and counties to raise local taxes to prevent reductions in spending on law enforcement in compliance with the formal Abbott mandate.
Abbott could find that the warning about the people of Austin being endangered by the liberal council maneuvering doesn't resonate with reality in a state where the Capital City has been ranked among the safest in the state in the past year. A study by the University of Pennsylvania that found that overall crime in Austin had gone down significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic despite the Abbott claims to the contrary.
The Abbott campaign narrative doesn't mention how the GOP-controlled Legislature cut spending on the Texas Department of Public Safety in 2017 with a vote that culminated in plans for more than 100 layoffs at state headquarters. The governor and the Republicans in Austin have sought to reduce local taxes that are used to pay for law enforcement in Texas cities and counties.
Abbott and the Republicans ignored pleas from police chiefs in major cities to back off an open carry gun rights bill that they approved in a unanimous vote instead during his first session as governor. GOP leaders and lawmakers have poured $1.6 billion in the past four years into border security that local law enforcement authorities said their areas did not need.