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Texas government is broken. We deserve one that works.

John Bridges
Austin American-Statesman

“The government you elect is the government you deserve,” Thomas Jefferson famously said. Tom must've never made it to Texas.

Texans deserve better government.

For too long, Texans have elected people more interested in dismantling government than actually running one. As we painfully learned this week, small government sounds good right up until the power goes out and the faucet runs dry.

Texans deserve a government that puts the people, the governed, first.

For too long, our elected leaders have put their own political interests first, their cronies second and business interests third. 

Texans deserve a government that actually does the hard work to build and safeguard the critical systems on which we all depend.

For too long, our politicians have been more interested in wedge issues to win party primaries increasingly dominated by extremists.

How much time did our Legislature spend debating transgender bathrooms? How many new ways can we find to restrict access to abortion and promote out-of-control gun culture? How many times can we sue the federal government for political sport? ("I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home," Greg Abbott boasted when he was attorney general, starting a tradition his successor has been proud to continue, even when it means trying to disenfranchise millions of voters.)  

Our government has dismantled the social safety net and outsourced what's left.

Our regulatory agencies work to protect the businesses they regulate, not the people they serve.

Our state officials repeatedly undermine local governments. The last Legislature restricted local taxing authority, much of which is spent on public safety. Now the governor wants to forbid cities from controlling their own police budgets. 

This all might have seemed liked good political theater until we take stock of what it has wrought.

This week, Texas could not keep the lights on. Texas could not keep the water flowing. Texas could not keep the roads open. 

And our leaders struggled to tell us why. They gave us no warning that power failure could be coming. When it did, they disappeared for the critical first day and have since offered precious little explanation or guidance.

In Texas, the buck doesn't stop here — it just gets on a plane to Mexico.

Rather than face up to the fact that they've been warned about Texas power grid vulnerabilities for a decade, numerous Texas officials sought to shift blame to other agencies or to frozen wind turbines, because renewable energy is somehow a liberal conceit. Gov. Abbott spent more time talking about the Green New Deal than the old raw deal he and others have dealt this state.

Abbott's predecessor, Rick Perry, said Texans would rather endure a few days of blackouts than have the feds (the department he recently and ironically ran as U.S. energy secretary) involved in our energy grid. Speak for yourself, Rick, not for the Texans shivering in their own homes, burning candles for warmth and harvesting snow to flush toilets.

If Texas wants its own power grid and to run it the Texas way, its government must tirelessly regulate, inspect and enforce to ensure that Texans have life-sustaining electricity in the brutal heat of summer and killer cold of winter. Our leaders must be open, forthright and transparent with us about the system's failures and the costs to fix it.

To use an already-overused cliché, the failures we've seen in Texas this week are a feature, not a bug, of the style of government and the character of people that we have elected.

Before the storm, Texas failed in its response to the coronavirus. When local officials tried to establish or enforce capacity limits and mask wearing, state officials stepped in to object because, like windmills, masks must be liberal. Given months to plan for the vaccine rollout, both state and local governments failed to develop and communicate a workable plan. More than 41,000 Texans are dead.

Texans don't ask much of our government. But is it too much to ask that government not try to kill us?

Texans deserve better. Let's remember these frozen, powerless, waterless nights on Election Day.

Bridges is executive editor of the Austin American-Statesman.