guest column.jpg

Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, both Republicans, would be better off politically if Texas hadn't frozen over for several days in February. 

Abbott tops the chain of people responsible for managing the state's electric power grid to prevent it from freezing. 

The governor appoints the three-member Public Utility Commission (PUC), which oversees the Energy Reliability Commission of Texas, which is charged with assessing the state's power systems to keep the lights on.

Both Gov. Abbott and Sen. Cruz are presumed up for election – Abbott in 2022, for a third four-year term; and Cruz in 2024, for either president or another six years in the Senate -- or both. 

It's legal in Texas to have your name on the ballot for president or vice-president while also running for another office. 

During two busy days of emergency Senate and House committee hearings last week about the power outages, legislators sought to find out what the heck happened, and why. 

They pressed ERCOT's CEO Bill Magness and the council's members with tough questions, and also PUC members.

Magness said while ERCOT tries to educate the power generators and transmission companies about "best practices" for winterizing, it has been given no authority by lawmakers to force them to.

As legislators searched for answers to what went wrong, and who to blame, longtime State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said "some of the blame lies right here in this building" – the Capitol.

After a milder freeze in February of 2011 also caused power outages, legislative efforts for stronger remedial action failed.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin,  said "I hope we're finally at the point now where we're going to be making these requirements" – on things like the mandating winterization of power generating and transmission facilities.

Northern states, accustomed to severe winters, seem to absorb winter without devastating problems.

They are part of the eastern or western power grids, which allow much broader and deeper ability to back up each other with reserve power when shortages threaten.

In go-it-alone free-market Texas, the Lone Star State dodges oversight by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). But it also dodges the back-up support from other states that FERC regulation provides.

Gov. Abbott may hope to deflect many of the fingers pointing at him as in charge. 

But he's at least getting some sympathy from legislators like Geren, who is suggesting fellow lawmakers looking for places to point their fingers of blame, please include their bathroom mirror.

Abbott's re-election bid in 2022 is already drawing interest in the GOP primary from the new chairman of the Texas Republican Party, former one-term Florida Congressman Allen West.

And Democratic former El Paso congressman Beto O'Rourke, who came within 2.6 percent of unseating Sen. Cruz in 2018, seems to be ramping up to run for governor in 2022.

After a 2020 run for president fizzled, O'Rourke has kept his volunteer force, "Powered By People," operational, including helping in phone banks to find and provide help to people in need all over Texas during the freeze.

Cruz's political problem is different. 

Cruz has spent years trying to get people's attention, including running for president in 2016, and becoming the last Republican standing before the GOP nomination went to Donald Trump. 

His decision to escape the cold during The Big Freeze was to fly with his wife and kids to Cancun, Mexico. 

He began to realize that it might have been "a mistake," he later admitted. 

He noticed in the Houston airport, and the airport in Mexico, that people were snapping his picture with their cell phones. 

He changed his schedule and flew    back from Cancun after just one night. 

Attention-seeker Cruz's getaway trip, while millions in Texas were freezing, earned the ambitious senator an enormous amount of national publicity – all of it bad.

That came on the heels of his failed attempt Jan. 6, amid the armed insurrection, to halt the congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over Republican President Donald Trump.

Cruz spoke Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, FL. 

Trying to make light of his trip debacle, Cruz said "Orlando is awesome. It's not as nice as Cancun. But it's nice."

We'll see if Abbott can survive 2022, and maybe get on the national presidential ticket in 2024 – which Cruz also hopes to do.

That the ambitions of Cruz could collide with those of Abbott, who as attorney general hired Cruz years ago as solicitor general, and mentored Cruz, is unlikely to contemplate.

But as the late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen often said, "In Texas, we consider politics a combat sport."

        

Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail.com

Trending Video

Recommended for you