It’s refreshing some times when veteran politicians show they are still capable of naïveté and even hopeless optimism. That thought came to mind when watching a March 23 joint Austin City Council-Travis County Commissioners Court briefing on local coronavirus efforts. Commissioner Brigid Shea expressed wonderment at a statement from Interim Health Authority and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Escott, that Travis County’s COVID-19 fatality rate is less than half that of the state of Texas. Shea checked to make sure she heard that right. “I do think it’s remarkable that our fatality rate is less than half of the state’s,” said the Commissioner. “Is that cumulative over time or is that more recent numbers because it strikes me we’ve been really careful and we have worked very hard, including our insistence on people remaining masked, and I think people need to understand, we have a fatality rate that is less than half the state average. So people should pay attention to that if they don’t want more people in their community to die.”

That is classic Brigid Shea bluntness right there, but it must also contain a little sarcasm as well. I mean Commissioner Shea has been in Texas for three decades. So she must know by now that most leaders in other parts of the state would rather risk their constituents dying than knowingly copy anything that Austin does. But, dream on Commissioner. Maybe somebody out there will pick up the signal.

“I think people need to understand, we have a fatality rate that is less than half the state average. So people should pay attention to that if they don’t want more people in their community to die.” County Commissioner Brigid Shea

Shea concluded by asking Dr. Escott, “I’m assuming that a great deal of this is because of the extra efforts and the lengths that we’ve gone to — to try to keep people safe, but I would like your medical or professional opinion on it.”

Dr. Mark Escott
Dr. Mark Escott

Dr. Escott said Shea had heard correctly. “Yes, commissioner,” said Dr. Escott, “we are less than half of the Texas average, we are less than half the U.S. Average, and as Mayor (Steve) Adler said, we’re amongst the bottom three in terms of the number for metro areas in the United States. I think it’s got a lot to do with the policies that we’ve implemented, with our timing of action, not waiting until the surge hits, taking action before the surge hits, to insulate and protect our community. And I think ultimately it is about a community coming together. It’s city and county government. It’s about our health care systems who are not natural partners coming together. It’s about our public safety. It’s about our community activists and the groups who have really rallied around this cause that I think has led us to saving more than 1100 people in our community. I say these things because it’s important for us to remember this. And to remember what we can accomplish together. This is not just a Covid thing. This is something we can do all the time. And it’s certainly something we need to continue forward as we look to solve the other problems that have eluded us over the many years previous to this.”

Well said Doctor. He also emphasized that the pandemic isn’t over yet. So keep staying safe out there everybody.

Thinking about elected officials who don’t mind seeing their constituents suffer reminds me of former Governor Rick Perry. Folks may recall that during the February Texas Deep Freeze and power outages, Perry said, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.” When Perry said that, or reportedly posted it on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s blog, some four million Texans were freezing in their powerless homes and the disaster was moving into a water crisis where half of Texans went under boiled water orders and millions had no water service at all. 

Perry also borrowed from Governor Greg Abbott’s talking points which sought to falsely blame renewable energy for the crisis. “If wind and solar is where we’re headed,” said Perry, “the last 48 hours ought to give everybody a real pause and go wait a minute.” He added, “We need to have a baseload. And the only way you can get a baseload in this country is [with] natural gas, coal, and nuclear.” Perry failed to mention that coal, gas and nuclear all went down during the storm. As Will Englund reported in the Washington Post shortly after the remarks by Abbott and Perry, “Some (wind) turbines did in fact freeze — though Greenland and other northern outposts are able to keep theirs going through the winter. . . Wind accounts for just 10 percent of the power in Texas generated during the winter. And the loss of power to the grid caused by shutdowns of thermal power plants, primarily those relying on natural gas, dwarfed the dent caused by frozen wind turbines, by a factor of five or six.” The South Texas Nuclear Plant also went down during the freeze as did many coal plants.

It’s particularly sad to hear Perry be misleading about wind power because as Governor he had a pretty good record on that. Texas took off as a leader in wind power during his time in office. That was not necessarily Perry’s doing, but he was an enthusiastic backer of wind power at the time. For instance in 2002 Perry spoke at the opening of the Desert Sky Wind Farm near Iraan, Texas — a little over 50 miles east of Fort Stockton. According to Perry’s prepared remarks (The Independent was unable to locate video or audio) he said, “This is a great day. Once again Texas is demonstrating no state is more committed to developing renewable sources of energy.” 

Perry waxed on, “It strikes me as ironic that just over 75 years ago the first oil field west of the Pecos River was discovered by Marathon – the Yates Oil Field. Today, just a few miles down the road, the community of Iraan is once again taking the lead with a different form of energy from a source we have known about as long as people have lived in these parts – wind energy.”

Perry continued, sounding like a presenter on climate change, “By harnessing the energy potential of wind, we can provide Texans a form of energy that is green, clean and easily renewable. Consider the alternative to this form of clean energy. To generate the same amount of electricity with oil, we would have to burn 866,000 barrels. These wind turbines save the atmosphere from being exposed to 790 million pounds of carbon dioxide, and 4.2 million pounds of sulfur dioxide.”

It’s just another example of how today’s Republicans will debase themselves and run from their own accomplishments, just to pander to the far right and stay on message with the talking points of the day. 


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