Tag Archives: Greg Abbott

Texting and driving? It’s illegal in Texas, man!

I want to present a portion of an editorial that appeared in today’s Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, where I used to work before I gravitated in early 1995 way up yonder to the Texas Panhandle.

It comes from a regular Saturday feature called “Bouquets and Brickbats.” The Enterprise tossed a Brickbat thusly at: Southeast Texans who continue to text and drive even though that has been illegal since Sept. 1. Most local police and sheriff’s deputies have not been writing tickets for this offense because of Harvey duties and to give residents time to become familiar with the new law, but they say that will change soon. Statewide, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers issued four citations and 46 warnings for texting in the first 12 days. Texas Department of Transportation officials blame texting while driving for more than 3,000 vehicle crashes in Texas last year. The new law prohibits drivers from using their phones to “read, write, or send an electronic messages while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.” Violations can lead to a fine up to $99 for a first offense, with costs rising for subsequent offense.

I want to call your attention to this pearl of wisdom because it could apply at this end of Texas as well. Motorists seem to be ignoring the state law that took effect at the beginning of September.

I cannot stress enough the importance of this statewide ban. It took some guts for the Legislature to approve it, given that a previous Texas governor, Rick Perry, vetoed a nearly identical bill in 2011. Gov. Greg Abbott saw the wisdom of signing this bill into law.

Are Texas Panhandle drivers any more obedient than our fellow Texans way downstate? Hardly. A day doesn’t go by without my being able to spot someone yapping on a handheld device while driving a motor vehicle. Just the other day I watched a young man doing that very thing while driving past Windsor Elementary School in Amarillo; I should note that Amarillo enacted an ordinance years ago banning such activity in school zones.

I want to make a request of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which does a good job stopping drug traffickers moving along Interstate 40.

How about turning your sights with equal intensity on the yahoos and morons who ignore state law by texting and gabbing on handheld cell phones while exceeding the posted speed limit on I-40?

Still looking for cell phone ban sign at border

I was hoping to see something the other day next to the “Welcome to Texas” sign that greeted us on our way back from a long-weekend trip to Colorado.

It would be a “No cell phone use while driving” sign.

I didn’t see it when we re-entered Texas from New Mexico along Interstate 40. Dammit, anyway! Where is the warning to motorists coming here from elsewhere that they need to put their cell phones away while they’re driving on Texas highways?

The Texas Legislature this year approved a cell phone ban while driving bill. Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law, which took effect Sept. 1.

Most states have laws that ban cell phone usage while driving; even more of them ban texting while driving. New Mexico has a “local jurisdiction” ban, by the way; Colorado bans cell phone use if the driver is operating on a learner’s permit. Colorado also bans texting while driving; New Mexico has no such statewide ban.

My point is that states that ban this act of sheer stupidity should be sure to let motorists know it when they enter those states.

I’m proud of our Legislature for agreeing to implement a statewide ban; I also am proud of Gov. Abbott for signing the bill into law, doing something his predecessor as governor, Rick Perry, declined to do in 2011, citing a ridiculous notion that such a bill was too “intrusive” on drivers’ private lives.

The state needs to take the next step and erect those signs at all its entry points that warn motorists: Keep your cell phones put away while you “Drive Friendly, the Texas Way.”

Houses of worship deserve FEMA assistance

I can almost hear the grumbling now: The U.S. Constitution prohibits any relationship between government and religious organization, which means churches shouldn’t be eligible for federal emergency relief assistance.

I’ll respond this way: As Col. Sherman T. Potter would say: Mule muffins!

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have asked for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help houses of worship ravaged by the wrath of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey.

Abbott and Paxton wrote in their letter to FEMA: “When Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas, wreaking devastation over a huge swath of the Texas Gulf Coast, scores of churches and houses of worship jumped into action to serve thousands of Americans in their time of need.”

Indeed, those houses of worship also suffered grievously from Harvey’s savagery, just as every other inhabitant along the Texas Gulf Coast.

I get what the U.S. Constitution says about the prohibition against making laws that establish a state religion. This is different. FEMA stands as an agency committed to helping all Americans.

Harvey delivered a killer punch to Texas. It brought substantial misery all along the coast from Corpus Christi to the Golden Triangle — and many miles inland.

Everyone affected by the horrific storm — including houses of worship — deserve assistance from the federal government that aims to serve them.

A word of praise is due two beleaguered governors

I believe it’s time to offer a good word — or three — to two men who’ve been literally and figuratively in the eyes of two monstrous storms.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, both Republicans, have done the jobs they were elected to do, which is to lead their states as they cope with Mother Nature’s unfathomable wrath.

First up was Abbott, who watched along with the rest of us as Hurricane Harvey battered the Coastal Bend region in late August. Harvey wasn’t done with just ripping Corpus Christi and Rockport to shreds; the storm backed out over the Gulf of Mexico and made a second landfall in the Golden Triangle and Houston, flooding that region with a continental U.S. record amount of rain: 50 inches of it, man!

Abbott was seemingly everywhere at once. He called for calm. He received words of encouragement from Donald J. Trump as the president made two trips to Texas to assess the damage, hug some storm victims and pledge the federal government’s full assistance and support.

I also should point out that Houston is Abbott’s hometown, so he’s got some serious skin in the game of restoring the huge city’s infrastructure.

The governor then appointed a “Harvey Czar,” Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, to coordinate the rebuilding of the state. Sharp, a former Democratic state senator from Victoria — one of the cities hammered during Harvey’s first landfall — has taken on a huge task. I happen to believe he is up to the job.

Next up was Gov. Scott.

Hurricane Irma brought its own form of misery, mayhem and madness to Florida. It struck the southwest coast of that state and them essentially covered the entire state under its storm bands.

Just as Abbott did in Texas, Scott was the voice of calm assurance. He told Floridians to flee the storm, warning them they won’t survive the wind and the storm surge.

From Key West to Jacksonville, south to north, the state was pummeled. Imagine trying to escape Key West, at the westernmost point along the Florida Keys island chain, along the single highway toward the mainland. Where, then, does one go from there, given the mammoth swath of destruction brought by Irma?

Irma has now headed north. It is dissipating, much as Harvey has done. The worst of it remains for the stricken victims. My guess is that Gov. Scott will follow Gov. Abbott’s lead and find an “Irma Czar” to lead the Florida cleanup effort.

This is where political executives earn their pay. This form of leadership isn’t written down anywhere, although they do take oaths that bind them to pledges to protect the constituents they serve.

These men are fulfilling that pledge at this very moment.

A tiny sliver of good news from Harvey

It occurs to me that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey has produced a tiny, minuscule sliver of good news for Texans.

The monstrous storm that drowned the Gulf Coast has diverted Texas legislators’ attention away from idiotic notions, such as mandating that people use public restrooms in accordance with the gender designated on their birth certificate.

Yes, the Legislature gathered in special session to consider 20 items put before it by Gov. Greg Abbott. One of them was that goofy Bathroom Bill. The Legislature adjourned its special session with the Bathroom Bill going nowhere. Then came Hurricane Harvey, which turned into Tropical Storm Harvey, which then tore the coast apart from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle.

The storm’s wrath riveted Gov. Abbott’s attention away from nutty notions such as the Bathroom Bill and focused him tightly on his role as chief disaster relief coordinator — a job he has done skillfully; he has exhibited tremendous leadership during this time of crisis.

The Legislature, meanwhile, has gone home across the state. Some of them have returned to flood-ravaged communities along the coast. They all have more urgent matters to which they must attend.

A&M chancellor takes on a huge new rebuilding task

Hurricane Harvey’s devastation along the Texas Gulf Coast has delivered an important political metaphor.

It is that human misery crosses party lines. To that end — and this appointment likely isn’t being done to illustrate that point expressly — Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has tapped a leading Texas Democrat to lead the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, who’s got a most-demanding full-time job already, is going to lead that rebuilding.

Indeed, Chancellor Sharp has serious skin in this game. He served in the Texas Legislature — in the House and then the Senate — while living in Victoria, a community that was rocked by Harvey’s first landfall on the Texas coast. So, he feels the pain of the folks suffering the ongoing misery that Harvey left behind.

Sharp also is the latest Democrat elected to statewide office in Texas. He served as comptroller of public accounts from 1991 until 1999. I have no particular reason for mentioning that, other than to note that Sharp’s partisan affiliation is well-known; it speaks well, too, of Abbott’s willingness to reach across the political aisle to find someone to lead this massive effort.

I join the rest of the state in wishing the chancellor well and Godspeed as he takes on this huge task. He surely knows what awaits him as he takes charge of the governor’s new task force.

It’s big, John Sharp. Real big.

Oh, by the way, Texas cell phone ban takes effect

Texans have been fixated on news from the Gulf Coast of late.

Flooding. Heavy wind. Thousands of people displaced. Some tragic deaths. Injuries. Devastation from the deluge.

While we were praying for our friends and loved ones, and while some of us were looking toward Washington and the “Russia thing,” a big day arrived in Texas.

On Friday, the state’s ban on use of cell phones while driving motor vehicles took effect. Texas joined many other states in enacting a statewide ban. It’s not entirely clear if the ban supersedes local ordinances — such as in Amarillo — but the statewide ban does accomplish an important mission. It brings continuity to how the state expects motorists to behave while they are traveling on Texas streets, roads and highways.

I’m proud of our Panhandle legislative delegation. They were strongly in favor of the ban. Indeed, so was Republican state Rep. (and former Texas House Speaker) Tom Craddick, who authored cell phone ban bills in several legislative sessions.

Then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a cell phone ban bill in 2011, calling it an undue intrusion from the government into the behavior of citizens. What a crock!

Perry’s successor, Greg Abbott, signed the 2017 bill into law. Which makes a lot of Texans quite happy. Count me as one of them.

This law enables the state to post signage at highway entrances at all corners of the state. It puts motorists coming into the state on notice that they need to keep their cell phones quiet — or use their hands-free communication systems inside their vehicles.

To my way of thinking, that is far better than to asking motorists to risk breaking the law if they don’t know whether individual communities have bans on the books.

Texas legislators did well by approving this law. Gov. Abbott did well, too, by signing it into law.

I just wanted to remind you that the law took effect. Now, let’s turn back to worrying about the flooding victims and “the Russia thing.”

This is how Texans respond

Take a good look at this picture.

It was taken in front of a building being used to shelter victims of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey’s devastation.

Are the folks lined up around the building checking in as residents? Are they looking for help? Oh, no. They are lining up to volunteer to assist those in dire need.

I am in no mood to minimize the misery that Harvey is continuing to rain down on the Texas Gulf Coast from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle. But there’s something positive to say about the reaction of Texans who are offering their strong backs and huge hearts for their stricken neighbors.

Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted this picture and wrote: “Look who’s waiting in line in Houston. This is how you get things done in Harris County.”

Have you seen the pictures of drivers in pickup trucks hauling watercraft en route to the Golden Triangle? Flat-bottom boats, speed boats, Jet Skis, kayaks, canoes. Boats of all kinds were being towed along U.S. Highway 90 between Liberty and Beaumont. Those folks were answering the call as well.

Indeed, that’s how you “get things done” in Texas.

It warms my heart, if only for as long as my attention is diverted from the heartbreak that’s still occurring throughout the community my family and I use to call home.

The people’s response to this epic, tragic event makes me proud to live in Texas.

Harvey now hits where it hurts

Harvey has stormed ashore again. This time, the storm has savaged my old haunts, my digs. It is hurting more of my friends.

The tropical storm is hitting me where it hurts — in a visceral sort of way.

I don’t know what to do. I might start by sending money to relief agencies that are hard at work trying to lend aid, comfort and safety to the residents of the Golden Triangle.

A career opportunity lured me to the Triangle in the spring of 1984. I spent nearly 11 years working for the Beaumont Enterprise. My family came a few months after I assumed my post. We carved out a good life in a community that seemed to flourish in a universe parallel to the one we left in suburban Portland, Ore.

We made friends for life. They are former colleagues of mine who remain close to my heart. They’re hurting now.

I’ve heard conflicting reports of Beaumont being totally “under water.” The same for Port Arthur, about 20 or so miles south on U.S. Highway 69. Orange — the third city in the Golden Triangle — sits along the Sabine River and it, too, is fending off Harvey’s savagery.

We left a lovely home in Beaumont in January 1995. I got word today from one of my friends — whose home has filled with about 5 feet of water in suburban Lumberton — that my old neighborhood in north Beaumont is likely in “rough shape.” He doesn’t know that with absolute certainty, given that the flood water has limited his mobility. I’ll accept his best guess that our former house is likely inundated.

Dammit, anyway!

The president came to Texas to give his support and to pledge the federal government’s commitment to repairing the devastation brought to our state from the Gulf of Mexico. Gov. Greg Abbott has mobilized the Texas National Guard — something on the order of 12,000 troops — and deployed them to assist local first responders.

The stories I’m seeing on TV and reading on the wires are heartbreaking in the extreme.

It was heartbreaking to see the coverage from Corpus Christi, Rockport, Port Lavaca, Aransas Pass and Port Aransas. We have some friends along the Coastal Bend, too, and my heart and prayers go to them.

Ditto for what we saw in Houston, where we have more friends and former colleagues. I spoke with one of them before Harvey delivered its heaviest blow; he talked of moving into the second floor of their home. Then the flood came. I called him back, but I haven’t gotten a response. I pray for the safety of this wonderful family. We have other friends scattered throughout greater Houston who are coping and we worry about them, too.

The Golden Triangle’s suffering is a bit different for us. We know the territory well. We know our way around Beaumont. It shatters my heart to see the damage being done — and to see the grief etched on the faces of the storm’s victims.

Social media have enabled us to keep tabs on many of our friends. But not all of them. I am awaiting news that they’re all OK.

I’m on the verge of shedding tears.

Trump takes wise course, plans to stay out of the way

I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.

With that statement, the president of the United States — delivered via Twitter — has demonstrated finally an awareness of the awesome public relations power of his office.

Donald Trump, along with the rest of the pertinent federal government agencies, is standing at the ready to deliver assistance to the battered regions of Texas, which is suffering the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.

The deluge that’s inundating Houston — and only God Almighty knows where the storm is heading — has caused untold misery, heartache and grief.

I’m glad to know the president will tour the pummeled areas of South and Southeast Texas. As he noted in his tweet, a presidential visit does carry some risk. Presidents intend to do good when they show up. Their entourage, though, can create tremendous logistical problems for local authorities struggling to reassemble the lives of stricken victims.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says the storm is unpredictable in its path. There’s little certainty in trying to track its journey. To that end, the president’s emergency management response team needs to keep all eyes on the board in trying to determine when — and where — the president should go to demonstrate he has the backs of Americans in deep trouble.

Be smart about it, Mr. President. Whatever you do, sir, listen to the advice you’re getting from your storm-watch team.