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The Center Square

Legislature to evaluate response to Beryl as millions still without power | Texas

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Bethany Blankley | contributor – 2024-07-10 10:03:00

(The Center Square) – Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the legislature would perform a post-analysis of the response to Hurricane Beryl, including investigating the efforts of the largest energy provider in the Houston region, as millions remain without power.

Patrick is taking on the role of acting governor while Gov. Greg Abbott is in Asia on an economic development tour.

At a conference in County, Patrick discussed the devastation caused by the Category 1 hurricane, including seven people now confirmed dead.

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He also addressed the millions of Texans struggling without power as temperatures surpass 100 degrees.

“It's tough to be in the heat. It's tough not to be able to get food. It's tough not to be able to cook it,” he said.

Reporters asked Patrick if he was happy with the efforts to restore power by CenterPoint, the largest energy utility provider in the Houston region.

“CenterPoint will have to answer for themselves if they were prepared and positioned,” he said. “The state was positioned and prepared. I'll tell you whether I'm satisfied or not when I have a full report of where their crews were when they were asked to come in, and how quickly they get power back.

“Any thought that people were surprised that the storm might come to Houston is shocking to me. I still have my text that I sent on the Fourth of July when the track was Mexico and the Rio Grande. In my text, I said ‘I'm not comfortable with this track, I'm not comfortable with this storm.'”

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Patrick said he signed multiple waivers to allow crews to come into Houston faster and the state had crews available in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Houston.

In response to additional questions, he said, “If they made mistakes, we don't know if they did or not, if they made mistakes beforehand, then that will be addressed by the PUC [Public Utility Commission of Texas], that's their job, and by the state legislature.”

Unlike in previous hurricanes, CenterPoint reportedly didn't have additional workers stationed in Houston before Beryl made landfall.

On Tuesday, the immediate focus was getting power back up as soon as possible, Patrick said. “I'm not looking at what they didn't do, or should have done on Thursday or Friday or Saturday, I'm looking at what they're going to do now and how fast are they going to get their crews out. Because now we're in the lifesaving business.”

“Heat index values are expected to get as high as around 106 degrees, and these values could become dangerous in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl,” the National Weather Service's Houston forecast office said.

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A CenterPoint spokesperson told KHOU 11 News as the storm hit that while it didn't have the crews it requested “staged in Houston, we did have them in nearby locations.”

KHOU 11 News notes that in “separate news conferences and in writing, the company gave three conflicting numbers – 5,300 mutual aid workers, 7,500 and the full 12,000 it requested.”

CenterPoint officials gave additional numbers, according to an analysis by The Center Square. On Sunday, CenterPoint's attorney said it had “started the process to bring in 2,500 additional personnel, taking our total employee and contractor force up to 4,500 to respond to this storm. Our assessment work will start as soon as the storm passes, and we will immediately get to work.”

Also on Sunday, a spokesperson said there were 2,500 mutual assistance crews on standby. “After the assessment phase if we determine more, we will get more crews,” he said, noting that more than 4,000 crews responded to the last flooding event in May.

On Monday, CenterPoint issued a statement saying, “In the first afternoon since the powerful and destructive Hurricane Beryl moved out of its service territory, CenterPoint Energy had mobilized its internal and mutual assistance crews to begin the restoration process to the total 2.265 million customers that lost power during the storm. As of 8 p.m. CT, CenterPoint has restored power to nearly 285,000 customers. Based on current progress with its damage assessment and initial restoration, CenterPoint now expects to have 1 million impacted customers restored by the end of the day on Wednesday, July 10.”

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“While we tracked the projected path, intensity and timing for Hurricane Beryl closely for many days, this storm proved the unpredictability of hurricanes as it delivered a powerful blow across our service territory and impacted a lot of lives,” Lynnae Wilson, senior vice president of CenterPoint Energy, said.

CenterPoint has published a color coded outage and restoration map resource for the Houston area. It also listed how many customers are without power by county, with the majority in Harris County of more than 1.2 million as of Tuesday afternoon.

As of Wednesday morning, CenterPoint said more than 1.3 million customers are affected by a power outage in multiple counties and there are 11,228 active outages. Within the last 24 hours, it says power was restored to more than 617,000 customers and 638 outages were restored.

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The Center Square

Some Democrats turn focus to gun restrictions after Trump assassination attempt | National

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Bethany Blankley | contributor – 2024-07-23 15:18:00

(The Center Square) – Some U.S. House Democrats are calling for federal gun restrictions after the July 13 assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump.

Throughout a U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing on Monday, Republicans and Democrats called for Secret Service director Kimberly Cheatle to resign, which she did Tuesday.

She did so after the committee's chairman, Rep. James Comer, R-Kentucky, and Ranking Member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, formerly called for her resignation saying it was needed to allow “new leadership to swiftly address this crisis and rebuild the trust of a truly concerned Congress and the American people.”

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After she resigned, Raskin said Tuesday the hearing “identified two urgent priorities in the wake of the assassination attempt against former President Donald Trump and the accompanying mass shooting.” The first was her resignation. The second “was to ban assault weapons to protect the rest of us from mass shootings like the one that took place in Butler. As I made clear during yesterday's hearing, a weapon that can be used to commit a mass shooting at an event under the full protection of the Secret Service and state and local police is a danger to schoolchildren, Walmart shoppers and congregants in church, synagogue and mosque services.”

Raskin also called on Congress to ban the AR-15 from public use, referring to it as “a weapon of war,” saying it “has no legitimate place in our society.”

Unlike Raskin, other Democrats referred to Trump's assassination attempt as “political violence,” including Texas Democrats who also suggested “assault weapons” should be banned.

Among them was U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas, who at the hearing referred to the assassination attempt as an “incident.”

Crockett was one of nine House Democrats who sought to strip Trump of Secret Service protection if he is sentenced to prison, The Center Square reported.

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Crockett, a Black woman from Dallas, asked Cheatle questions about Secret Service training as it relates to race and gender. “Was the July 13 incident due to DEI,” she asked, referring to diversity, equity and inclusion policies Cheatle championed to hire more female agents. Cheatle replied the “July 13 incident had nothing to do with DEI.”

Crockett next asked, “if you have any bias training that your officers undergo” because “I've learned so many times in having to deal with law enforcement that there usually is not a perception of a threat when it is a young white male even if they are carrying a long gun. Yet a lot of times, at least in this country, when it comes to law enforcement, there is a perceived threat just by somebody having a little bit more melanin in their skin.”

“A lot of times, one of the things that we have consistently pushed for on my side of things … is once we are looking at a tragedy in which law enforcement made an error is the bias training and whether or not our officers are getting it,” she said, referring to her being a civil rights and criminal defense attorney before running for the Texas House and Congress.

Bias training is part of Secret Service training, Cheatle said.

Crockett then proceeded to talk about the need to ban open carry and her opposition to Texas gun laws, saying Congress needed to come up with a solution to gun violence.

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“In this space in which this event took place, it was an open carry space, is that correct?” Crockett asked.

“That is correct,” Cheatle replied.

Crockett was a state representative when a mentally ill man opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in August 2019. The Texas legislature “had an opportunity to do right by our citizens in Texas but we did not,” she said.

“Instead, they passed permitless carry,” she said, referring to the Texas legislature advancing Second Amendment protections that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in June 2021, including legalizing permitless carry, The Center Square reported.

Right after the law was passed, “we ended up with Uvalde,” she said, referring to a teenager who entered an elementary school and killed 21 people, mostly children, due to extensive police security failures. Since then, two former Uvalde school police officers were indicted on charges of child endangerment; lawsuits are ongoing. Crockett said the “officers were scared to go in” the school “because of the firearm.”

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A Department of Justice report found widespread problems with law enforcement officers' response and a state investigation identified systemic failures at the school, The Center Square reported.

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The Center Square

Texas Democrats praise Biden, some endorse Harris, others don’t | Texas

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Bethany Blankley | contributor – 2024-07-22 11:01:00

(The Center Square) – The Democratic Party of Texas praised President Joe Biden after he announced on Sunday he was no longer running for reelection. The statement stops short of endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris as the party's nominee.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said the president's announcement “affirms the Democratic Party's commitment to the fundamental American idea that no one man nor any one party comes before the interests of our nation and the people of the United States.”

He also said it “does not discredit the momentous contributions that President Joe Biden delivered over the last four years and through decades of service. The path forward is clear: Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike must unite, mobilize and vote to once again reject Donald Trump, whose extreme defining principles are in opposition to the values of the middle class.”

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Chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, Trey Martinez Fischer, said the president's announcement represented “a monumental day in the history of our country, in the history of our party. President Biden has been a generational leader, transformational president … We must rally behind whomever our Democratic nominee will be. Our mission is clear: to secure a future where our children can thrive, where the rights of women are protected, where LGBTQI+ individuals can live freely and openly, and wherever Americans can pursue their dreams without fear of discrimination.”

Both statements stop short of endorsing Harris as the Democratic nominee, whom Biden endorsed.

Democrats will hold an open convention in August to elect their nominee. Many presume it will be Harris because over 14 million Democrats voted for her and Biden in the primary.

While some Texas delegates have endorsed her, others haven't. Texas has 273 delegates, the third largest behind California and New York.

“The Democratic Party's 2024 Delegate Selection Rules do not provide specific guidance for how delegates should vote if their candidate withdraws,” according to a Ballotpedia analysis of the nomination process. It also notes that 14 states have laws that require presidential convention delegates “to vote according to how they were allocated after the state's primary;” 12 states allow delegates “to be released when a candidate withdraws or after a specific number of rounds of voting at the national convention,” The Center Square reported.

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According to Texas Election Code, if a presidential nominee withdraws by at least 74 days before Election Day, August 23, the Texas secretary of state can certify the replacement in time to be on the ballot. It also requires the Texas Democratic Party chair to submit the replacement nominee by the 71st day before Election Day, or August 26.

The Democratic National Convention is being held in Chicago between August 19-22.

Texas' Democratic delegates are divided into four categories.

There are 159 “district level” delegates who were elected in congressional districts at the Texas Democratic Convention held in El Paso last month. They represent Democratic voters in their district. Their total was determined by the number of Democrats who voted in the 2020 presidential election allocated by how many voted in a district.

There are 53 “at large” delegates who represent voters statewide and were selected at the TDC last month. Another 32 delegates are comprised of party leaders and elected officials, like mayors, state lawmakers among others, and 29 are “super delegates” who are members of the Democratic National Committee and Texas' Democratic congressional delegation.

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Some “super delegates” have already endorsed Harris: U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar (El Paso), Jasmine Crockett (Dallas) and Joaquin Castro (San Antonio).

Crockett was among nine House Democrats who cosponsored a bill to remove former President Donald Trump's Secret Service detail. She and other Texas Democrats referred to Trump's assassination attempt as “political violence.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin was the first Democrat in Congress to call for Biden to step aside. He has not endorsed Harris, instead saying delegates “should be open to all talented individuals who wish to be considered.”

While many in the media reported he was the first elected Democrat to call for Biden to suspend his campaign, he was the second, and the second in Texas to do so.

The first elected Democrat who appears to have called for Biden to step down was Ron Reynolds, a Houston Democrat and DNC delegate. He published a statement on Instagram on June 28, after the first, and now only presidential debate, after on national television Biden couldn't complete sentences and appeared to be disoriented.

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“I'm a Biden DNC National Delegate that is going to the DNC in Chicago and I FIRMLY believe WE need to REPLACE Biden at the Convention or Earlier and nominate Vice President Kamala Harris,” Reynolds said. “I want to defeat Trump and MAGA! #ReplaceBiden #EnoughIsEnough.”

Reynolds was also the first Texas Democrat and delegate to call for replacing Biden with Harris.

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The Center Square

Texas Congressional candidates have different visions for economy | Texas

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Christopher Gerlacher | contributor – 2024-07-20 09:05:00

(The Center Square) – The economy is a complicated issue with many moving parts. Consequently, Texas' 15th Congressional District candidates have different views about how to manage it.

Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Monica De La Cruz, offers four bullets on her campaign website regarding her plans for the economy:

  • Cut wasteful Washington spending that is driving inflation
  • Lower taxes on working families and small businesses
  • Making energy affordable and “Made in the USA”
  • Hold Communist China accountable for undermining American workers

The De La Cruz campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Economists have found that stimulus payments under Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden caused inflationary pressures. The large increase in inflation from 1.4% in January 2021, when Biden first took office, to 9.1% in June 2022 was caused increased government spending and printing of money, federal government bowrrowing, oil and gas disruption following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and lingering supply chain issues following COVID's disruptions.

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Democratic challenger Michelle Vallejo supports addressing supply chain issues by creating new manufacturing jobs in the United States. Her campaign website states:

“In addition, Michelle knows we need to strengthen our supply chain by bringing manufacturing jobs back to America. We can lower costs and put Americans to work by keeping those jobs here instead of in other countries. Wages must also keep up with inflation. Therefore, Michelle supports raising the minimum wage and tying it to inflation so Americans' incomes aren't slashed by inflation.”

Vallejo's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

De La Cruz' position on China is tied to her position on synthetic drug smuggling across the U.S./Mexico border.

The precursors of fentanyl are produced in China and shipped to Mexican ports, where Mexican cartels manufacture fake prescription pills to look like real ones and lace them and other drugs with fentanyl, The Center Square has reported. Mexican cartels, their operatives and gang affiliates then smuggle the illicit drugs across the US-Mexico border, fueling the opioid crisis.

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In a February 2023 hearing, De La Cruz questioned Treasury Department officials about the ties between Mexican drug cartels and Chinese money laundering. A June 2024 indictment accused the Sinola Cartel in Mexico and Chinese money launderers of exchanging over $50 million in drug proceeds.

Additionally, the Biden administration raised tariffs on Chinese goods in response to unfair trade practices in May 2024. The unfair practices included China's theft of American companies' intellectual property and “flooding the global markets with artificially low-priced exports,” according to the White House.

Vallejo is focused on unfair trade agreements that she says resulted in jobs moving from her South Texas district to Mexico, as she states on her campaign website:

“Unfair trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) shifted good paying, union jobs south of the border for sweatshop wages, including South Texas and the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone. We will fight for trade deals that protect workers, the environment, and human rights while ensuring bad actors are held accountable when violating labor and environmental laws.”

Both candidates have supported lowering taxes on small businesses. De La Cruz made it one of the bullets on her campaign site. In an interview with KRGV, Vallejo said she supported lowering taxes on small business and property owners. To make up the shortfall, she would support tax increases on the wealthiest 1% of earners in the United States. Her campaign website states:

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“Michelle strongly opposes Republican budget cuts to our schools, veterans' care and Medicare and Social Security, and believes that we shouldn't reduce the deficit on the backs of working families when the most privileged in our society aren't pulling their weight.”

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