Steve Adler KP George Lina Hidalgo Rowdy Rhoades Sylvester Turner Nelson Wolff


Locals Shine in Lone Star Virus Fight
that Sparks Slacking Like Never Before

“The man or woman or child who will not wear a mask now is
a dangerous slacker.” American Red Cross, October 1918

Texas Congress Republican Suggests Street Violence

Capitol Inside
January 1, 2021

The coronavirus crisis has been a stage for monumental heroics and histrionics in the Lone Star State where the pandemic appears to be reaching a crescendo on the final day of the most incredible year.

The Texas Corona Stars & Slackers is a tribute to those who've done the most to protect the public health and safety from a disease that's killed more than 28,000 people out of almost 1.8 million who tested positive around the state in the past 10 months.

But the project that Capitol Inside is unveiling on New Year's Day is giving due recognition to some of the so-called Texans who were scratched from Santa's list for bad behavior at a time when role models had been desperately needed. These are the sorest of the swollen thumbs - the politicos who sought to milk the contagion for attention and the peddling of agendas they'd been unable to sell when times were good.

These are the folks who've always seemed highly inconvenienced and offended by the thought of sacrifice for the public good. They've reveled in their defiance of government restrictions with their opposition to masks as the signature common thread. They've flouted common sense protocols as affronts to their freedom without regard for the pain and suffering that their selfish stupidity has caused.

The Texas covid all stars have understood the value of a united team effort as the key to true liberty and a full-scale economic recovery. The Texas corona stars were much more pro-life with their words and actions in 2020 than anti-abortion conservatives who worshipped President Donald Trump like a god and played the death toll down. Texas has confirmed what the Spanish Flu taught the country 102 years ago - that pandemics have a way of bringing the dangerous slackers out.

With the virus on a record-crushing tear in new cases in Texas where 12,481 people are spending New Year's Day in the hospital, the worst of the COVID-19 experience here could be a week or two around the corner as 2021 gets under way. Hope glimmers, however, beyond the sick bays and mortuaries with the debut of a vaccine that front-line workers, sick and old people and politicians have been among the first to get.

More than 28,000 people have died with covid infections in Texas during the past 10 months when nearly 1.8 million here tested positive for the disease. Despite a deadly summer as the U.S. epicenter, Texas has been par for the course as a state that accounts for 8.9 percent of the country's population and 8.6 percent of the coronavirus cases that have been recorded here since the virus surfaced here in March. That's nothing to brag about, though, in a state with relatively low population density and residents spread out much more than in other major states.

The coronavirus death and damage tolls would be dramatically higher if the Houston area hadn't proven to be the model for the nation that President Donald Trump incorrectly told Governor Greg Abbott that Texas would be back when both were clueless at a White House meeting in May.

Houston was the most vulnerable Texas location at the outset of the pandemic as the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area that features a port where tourists brought the first known covid cases here back home on cruise ships from China. But the Austin area is the only Texas metro that's had a fewer number of infections and fatalities per capita than Houston and Harris County.

Forget about all the political spin you've been hearing lately about Democrats defunding the police in cities that are controlled by Democrats. While Houston erupted into one of the nation's hottest spots during the summer, there have been no safer places in Texas with Austin's lone exception than the state's largest city during the fall and winter wave that's terrorized the entire state.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner deserve a massive amount of the credit for the way the gargantuan area they lead has kept the virus under control and minimizing the suffering compared to other major Texas locations during the worst public health emergency since the Spanish Flu rampage in 1918.

Turner and Hidalgo are the runaway choice for co-Most Valuable Player in Capitol Inside's first and last Texas Corona Stars & Slackers list that we are unveiling here tonight.

A Colombia native who moved to Houston from Mexico City as a teenager, Hidalgo is a first-term Democrat who ousted a popular Republican opponent in 2018 amid comparisons to maverick U.S. Rep. Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez of New York. Hidalgo won't turn 30 until February. But she has performed like a seasoned veteran during a crisis that was more than the Republican governor could handle while trying to stay on the good side of donors and a president who ran like a frightened bully from the biggest fight of his life.

As a young Latina in her first term on the job, Hidalgo was an easy target for mega-macho white Republicans like Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Houston. The Texas Senate president who's the Trump state campaign chair screamed tyranny when Hidalgo imposed a mask order in the midst of the initial outbreak in April when Abbott was fiddling back in Austin.

But Hidalgo rose above the rhetoric - using intelligence, science and a caring heart as her guides without being lured into the mud by the Republicans who said she didn't have what it would take to be a prime time leader. While Trump did everything in his power to divide the nation at a time when it desperately needed to rally around the flag, Hidalgo did an amazing job of uniting the community in the face of unfathomable adversity.

The Harris County judge had some serious help - however - with Turner as her partner in the local response. A Houston native who served more than two dozen years in the Texas House, Turner saved countless lives in their mutual home base when he cancelled the GOP state convention when party officials didn't have the courage or good sense to do so themselves.

The GOP has a monopoly on the six-pack of slackers known here as the Texas Freedom Crashers Caucus. That will come as no surprise to anyone here. The Republicans after all haven't had a year this bad since the Great Depression. But GOP leaders like Abbott found it all but impossible to lead without a hint of help at the federal level with Trump backing down from the virus until his ouster by Democratic President-elect Joe Biden at the polls in November.

The Texas covid all-star team - in sharp contrast - is a bipartisan group that contains local elected leaders exclusively including a handful of Democrats in Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Fort Bend County Judge KP George, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Hidalgo and Turner.

The lone Republican on the honor roll is Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades - a former sheriff who issued a mask order the day before Hidalgo when the area that he represents in the Panhandle had been the original Texas hot spot as a consequence of an outbreak at a meat packing plant there.

Texas had the benefit of a heads up from New York and California in the early going in terms of the hospital horror show potential and how to go about trying to prevent such a nightmare in advance. But Texas delivered a mediocre performance nonetheless at best with Abbott attempting an impossible juggling act with the public health, the economy and keeping President Donald Trump out of his hair as the guiding priorities.

Whenever Abbott did the right thing after seizing sole control of the state response, he always seemed to be acting a few weeks too late and cleaning up his own mess. The statewide mask mandate is the most critical example of the governor's better-late-than-never approach to crisis management. Abbott and the state are waving the white flag now amid visions of vaccinations as the pandemic panacea.

Abbott probably did about as well as anyone should expect from a Republican in a big southern state in the scary shadow of a president obsessed with power and revenge.


Dan Patrick
Lieutenant Governor

Trump Texas chair relegated to Fox News expert who undermined state fight with misinformation, pitched seniors as sacrifice for good times, trashed Fauci and flouted protocols before historic publicity stunt with $1 million voter fraud bounty fund that's in debt now to Democrats.



Louie Gohmert
GOP U.S. Representative

Liberty was an excuse for laziness with East Texan who complained about masks, blamed one for catching covid, prompted Pelosi rules tightening and put colleagues, staff and countless others in danger with angry face exposed before no-shot lawsuit to overturn democracy.



Allen West
Texas GOP Chairman
Texas newcomer who seized on state convention chaos to score the job that he's redefined as staging ground for attacks on governor's covid orders and new House speaker he refuses to recognize amid secession denial, Davy Crockett chats and visions of suburban anarchists.



James Dickey
Ex-Texas GOP Chairman
Old party chair that the new one unseated was classic nuts and bolts yes man who promised to make the state convention a model for Trump's own coronation before pre-event meetings without promised protocols before local Democratic leaders in Houston shut the circus down.



Briscoe Cain
GOP State Representative

Tea party renegade turned team player made a pitch for anarchy from the right with call for open defiance of emergency health laws before lawyer roles in Shelley Luther and state convention court fiascos and ride to Trump rescue as crack legal team mercenary in bid to reverse the vote.



Tony Tinderholt
GOP State Representative
Tea party legislator used near death experience to suggest masks didn't work for him and his family who he claimed had worn them religiously even though he'd been seen at events without a covering over his face while ripping the governor's minimal attempts to protect the public health.



Lina Hidalgo
Harris County Judge
The rookie Harris County judge confronted the crisis with the deft touch of a seasoned politico during her second year in her first public post as the top elected official in the third largest county in the United States. Hidalgo had a lot to prove to a sea of skeptics after knocking off a popular Republican incumbent in a stunning upset that a blue wave made possible in 2018. As a Hispanic female Democrat with no prior elected experience, Hidalgo made an easy target for her most stringent critics like Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick who accused her of the ultimate government overreach in April when she implemented a mask mandate that Governor Greg Abbott overturned two weeks later. Patrick for the record appeared to have no problem when Abbott followed the Hidalgo lead eventually with a statewide face-covering edict of his own in early July. Likened at times to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the 29-year-old Harris County judge had been born in Bogota, Colombia before immigrating to Texas where she attended high school in Sugar Land. Hidalgo lived up to the billing with a sterling performance that's culminated in the jurisdiction that she leads boasting one of the lowest overall and most recent new covid case counts.


Sylvester Turner
Houston Mayor

The Houston mayor made the most controversial call of a long and illustrious political career when he cancelled the Texas Republican Party's contract with the city to have its state convention in the downtown area when the state was the hottest spot in the nation in July. Turner handled the situation with grace, finesse and fairness, urging the Texas GOP to take the responsibility for a decision that was inevitable before he had to do the dirty work himself. The Republicans who were in the midst of an internal mutiny sought to portray the convention shuttering as a partisan set-up job by a known Democrat. But Turner had science, the doctors and everyone else who didn't have something directly to gain from an in-person convention solidly behind the pulling of the plug on an event that would have been a superspreader extraordinaire. Turner had never been much of a partisan during a long and highly successful career in the Texas House. The GOP's attempt to portray the convention meltdown as the target of a Democratic conspiracy was a major badge of honor for the native son who owned the high road on this one.


Steve Adler
Austin Mayor
The unapologetically partisan Democrat who leads the city of Austin saved a countless number of lives when he flipped the switch on the South By Southwest festival on March 6. The sudden shutdown of the third largest film festival in the world on the opening date was the first real public heads up in Texas on the severity of the oncoming storm in a state where no one at the time could have imagined what was about to happen. Adler - a former Texas Senate chief of staff - held his ground in a clash with Attorney General Ken Paxton in May when the state's top lawyer threatened to take the Capital City to court for instituting stronger local restrictions than the state had initiated. Adler and his fellow local leaders pushed the envelope in attempts to strengthen the pandemic rules that Governor Greg Abbott had weakened substantially during the spring by overturning local mask orders and other limitations that Austin and Travis County had in place. Adler had an embarrassing lapse that made national news when he cut a video urging constituents to stay at home on Thanksgiving when the virus was surging and he was vacationing with his family on the Mexican Pacific in Cabo San Lucas. Republicans howled with righteous indignation over the turkey day excursion while Abbott falsely portrayed Adler and the liberal Dems on the council here socialists who wanted to shut down law enforcement with a vote in August for a police reform plan.
But Adler and most everyone who lives in the nation's 11th largest city know that Austin has been as safe as it's been healthy as the least infected Texas metro in Texas in 2020.


KP George
Fort Bend County Judge
A native of India who's a classic American dream story, the first-term Fort Bend county judge was one step ahead of the experts with one of the most aggressive COVID-19 testing programs in the nation from the outset of the first outbreak in the area where he chose to raise his family after immigrating to the United States almost 30 years ago. KP George - a Democrat who's a financial planner - had served two terms on the local school board before he unseated a longtime Republican incumbent in a bid for the job he has now in 2018. Fort Bend had the highest rate of testing in Texas during the spring before Galveston County seized a paper-thin lead this summer. Galveston and Fort Bend have by far and away the two best testing records in the state during the past six months. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry - for the record - is a Republican who is a second-team coronavirus star. Galveston was highly vulnerable as an island resort with seemingly endless beachers. But Fort Bend was a prime target initially as well as a subrban community with a large minority population on the outer edge of the Houston area. The Fort Bend leader's swift and decisive response has paid off with a testing positivity rate below 2 percent - the lowest for a Texas county with 100,000 residents or more. Instead of being celebrated, George found himself during the summer to be the target of racial hatred that he confronted by calling it out in a way for which his constituents should be proud.


Nelson Wolff
Bexar County Judge
The veteran local leader who turned 80 in October saved the state from itself at the outset of the summer when he cracked the code in Governor Greg Abbott's executive orders that set the stage for a statewide mask order in early July. Nelson Wolff - a former San Antonio mayor who served in the Texas House and Senate in the 1970s - figured out that he could order businesses to require masks for employees and customers with potential fines for those who refused to cooperate. While the Texas death toll had been soaring and hospitals were running out of beds for covid patients. the governor seemed amused at the time that it had taken the local airheads so long to discover the loophole that he'd carved into his decrees without telling anyone himself. Wolff arguably carried more weight than other major local officials in the largest Texas cities as a result of his vast experience and strong support from business during 20 years on the job as the county judge in the nation's seventh largest city. Wolff had an able partner in the local coronavirus response with San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who'd been the first Texas official to declare an official disaster before the first hints of community spread. Despite its status as one of the poorest major metropolitan areas in Texas with twice as many Hispanics as white residents, Bexar has one of the lowest rates of new covid cases in the state during the fall and winter wave.


Rowdy Rhoades
Moore County Judge
It's probably safe to assume that Texas would have fared dramatically better this year if the Republican who serves as the Moore County judge had been the governor here. Rowdy Rhoades hadn't been worried about what anyone outside of the Pandhandle community that he leads would think about the mask order that he and the county commissioners court imposed in April three days before Harris County followed their lead with its first covered face requirement. With Dumas as the county seat, Moore had erupted into the hottest Texas spot that month as a result of a massive outbreak at a meat packing plant in the tiny nearby hamlet of Cactus. While the spread intensified substantially there after Governor Abbott made local mask mandates illegal at the start of May, Rhoades finally got some help from the state with emergency testing in early June and the statewide face covering rule a month later. The virus has been under control during the past two months in Moore County where Rhoades ended up posing for pictures with Black Lives Matter protesters there in June. A former state trooper who served as the sheriff before his election to the current post in 2014, Rhoades reinforced his status as one of the most beloved characters in town by having the people's backs when the state and federal governments were floundering.


Most Valuable Business
No single individual or entity in Texas wielded as much influence during the coronavirus assault than the state's largest privately held company and most caring major employer. None of the other public or private concerns here had the kind of positive impact during the covid crisis in 2020 that the homegrown grocery store chain had as the driving force behind the mask mandate that Governor Greg Abbott imposed statewide in July. While H-E-B CEO Charles Butt has been a major contributor to the Republican governor, the firm that he runs from its base in San Antonio had earned the right to have significant input in the state's response as the top corporate citizen in Texas long before the virus surfaced here in March. H-E-B has been a major tie that binds - the one and only business in the state that a majority of Texans couldn't have lived without during the early stages of the pandemic. H-E-B introduced the concept of curbside service here. H-E-B was the first major Texas firm to offer to deliver food, medication and other goods to customers who were determined to stay at home. The cost would be steep with more than 100 employees testing positive in July alone. The company posted new cases in its workforce every day on its web site for the sake of keeping its workforce and the state in general as safe a possible. But H-E-B had been planning for an emergency an epic nature long before a bat in China came down with COVID-19. H-E-B had pull with the Republican governor who'd received nearly $1 million in contributions from Butt including $350,000 in the past two years. Abbott knew that he made a major mistake when he rebuffed the grocer's quiet push for masks - and the governor had H-E-B and Butt for cover when he finally admitted the error of his ways with the statewide edict that's been the most effective weapon in the virus fight by far. The best company and employer in Texas for decades, H-E-B proved to be the ultimate example of essential in the Texas private sector in 2020.


Baylor College of Medicine
Most Valuable Institution
Doctors Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi had been laying the framework for a vaccine more than a dozen years ago when coronavirus was a foreign word in the fine print on Lysol cans. The researchers at the
National School of Tropical Medicine at BCM in Houston were able to hit the ground running during the spring with the development of a vaccine that will be among the most inexpensive and used widely in third world countries this year. Hotez hasn't been shy about sharing opinions that are based on expertise and experience - and that's made him an enemy in the eyes of hard-boiled conservatives who see science as a big government conspiracy. The BCM doc who specializes in pediatric medicine called out anti-vaxxers for spreading misinformation during the pandemic's first few months. Hotez has been critical in the past few weeks on how the abandonment of leadership at the federal level is causing substantial complications in the rollout of the vaccine. You can make the argument that all of the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals on the front lines in Texas have been our most valuable fellow citizens during the worst public health crisis in more than a century. We all owe them a massive debt of gratitude for their courage, devotion and intellect in the face of novel adversity that President Donald Trump refused to recognize and never tried to overcome as a result.


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