Abbott’s Huge Gamble
According to Governor Abbott, Texans have “mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of Covid-19” and no longer require government restrictions. Abbott has banned mask mandates by issuing an order that forbids local officials from imposing them. Abbott’s spokeswoman, Renae Eze, has said: “Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mask mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility. Parents and guardians have the right to decide whether their child will wear a mask or not, just as with other decisions in their child’s life.” If you read my last blog about the denialist playbook, you will recognize this as Play #5, “Appeal to Personal Freedom,” with the added touch of appealing to a parent’s right to make decisions for their child.
Let me ask a simple question: If Texans have “mastered” those safe practices necessary to prevent the spread of Covid, why are our hospitals bursting at the seams with Covid patients and why does Texas have more Covid cases and more Covid deaths than any state but Florida?
More and more big city mayors and school boards are defying Abbott’s order by issuing mask mandates. The clash of power is already before courts in San Antonio and Dallas and will undoubtedly be the subject of lawsuits in Houston and Austin. Indeed, Abbott has already publicly promised legal action against all those who defy him. The key here is to remember your political map. The mayors of big cities are typically Democrats whereas Republicans dominate smaller cities and rural areas. There is no doubt that Abbott will not back down. He already has gone much too far. He has staked too much political capital on his highly risky gamble, but gamblers are always more likely to take chances with other people’s money (lives) than their own. The Covid-19 disease has not been kind to him. Abbott was betting on the disease subsiding after he issued his order and, if it had, he would have looked like a hero to the Republicans he is counting on for reelection. Instead, Covid has made him look like a stupid fool. Will the courts be kind to him? I hope for the sake of public safety and the safety of our children and grandchildren they will not, but he is counting on the 9 Republican Justices of the Texas Supreme Court to back him up. Regarding the legal actions to come, it should be remembered that the narrow legal question before the Courts will be whether Abbott has the Constitutional or statutory authority to issue the edict, not whether it was wise or unwise. While these cases wind their way through the Courts, Covid will be running rampant, the hospital system will be overwhelmed, and the dead bodies will be stacking up.
One political scientist, Professor Jeronimo Cortina of the University of Houston, told the Houston Chronicle that the best political outcome for Abbott would be for the courts to uphold the local mask mandates. “That way, the governor would simply not backtrack on his executive orders, while allowing counties and ISDs to do as they please.”
I agree with Professor Cortina, but I think the Professor underestimates the pride and hard headedness of Abbott. He’s all-in. His pride and power are much more important to him than public safety.