Texas Democrats hope power grid wrath will burn GOP in 2022
It was the first day of the 2021 winter storm in Texas when Sarah Williams’ family closed their new home in Harker Heights, about an hour’s drive from Austin. She recalls salt being sprinkled at the entrance outside the title company she visited as the city braced for snow and freezing temperatures.
Williams, her husband and their two young children, one newborn and the other still in childbirth, were living with their family in the area when the electricity went out due to a power grid outage in the State. They huddled indoors as the weather outside turned deadly, sweeping the state and leaving at least 246 people dead.
“We were at one of the most vulnerable times in our lives,” she told The Daily Beast.
A year later, Williams says she is now constantly thinking about emergency preparedness and stocking up on supplies for her family in case the grid goes down again, worrying about her children and their grandparents. later. She is not convinced that the changes made by the state have truly repaired the resilience of the electricity network, calling it “sad and frustrating”.
And she’s not alone in her enduring resentment of power grid outages. Texas Democrats see it as an opportunity.
While the 2021 Texas legislative session imposed a 6-week abortion ban and a new set of voting restrictions, state lawmakers did little to address the faulty network infrastructure. Cynthia, a 79-year-old woman from Houston, told The Daily Beast that it was frustrating to see these policies being enacted as the network continues unanswered.
Cynthia says she’s “lucky” to only have lost power for 25 hours during the 2021 winter storm, which she endured at home. “It was all negative,” she said of policies passed by state lawmakers last year, adding that the grid “is definitely an issue” for her this election cycle. Williams also said the grid would be “a priority” in November.
Democrats vying for statewide office in Texas pin the grid on their list of priorities for 2022, calling for investments in critical state infrastructure and accountability for the collapse of the system in 2021. The issue intersects with two of the party’s top legislative priorities from last year – climate and infrastructure – in a way they bet will resonate with voters in November.
Texas Democratic Governor candidate Beto O’Rourke visited the state earlier this year to speak with voters about the grid outage, campaigning on a message to fully weather the grid and connect it to the one of the two national electricity networks.
The state currently survives on its own power grid in an effort to avoid dealing with the federal government, according to the Texas Tribune. El Paso, Texas, for example, which is individually connected to the western portion of the national power grid, managed to not lose power during the winter storm of 2021.
“It was not an act of God or mother nature. It was a failure of the person in the highest position of power and public trust in the state,” O’Rourke said. said during a campaign stop in February, alluding to incumbent Governor Greg Abbott (R), who led the state through the storm.
Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general are also hammering on the grid, hoping the issue can help them succeed. Mike Collier, a Democratic lieutenant governor candidate who has worked in the energy industry, frequently jokes that it’s time to “fix this fucking grid,” while others, like the Democratic nominee for Attorney General Joe Jaworksi, released an advertisement criticizing incumbent AG Ken Paxton for traveling to Utah during the 2021 storm.
A poll of Texans between Feb. 21 and 22 showed there is bipartisan concern for the network, with about 82 percent of respondents being “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the network. More than half of survey respondents identified as Republicans.
A separate University of Texas and Texas Tribune poll conducted in October found that only 18% of respondents approve of how state leaders have handled network outages. “Our poll shows that despite the high-profile attention given to the issue by Republican incumbents who must take political ownership of the response due to their dominance of state government, most Texans have consistently shown little confidence in the fact that the answer will prevent future problems,” Jim Henson said. , co-director of the UT poll and director of the Texas Politics Project told The Daily Beast in a statement.
Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project, also told The Daily Beast in a phone interview that he thinks Democrats heading to the grid could be part of a larger strategy to push voters to process 2022. like a referendum on Abbott.
“The grid right now is just a reference,” he said, adding that “it activates negative attitudes toward Abbott.” And once those negative sentiments sink, voters might be persuaded to gauge their opinion on the past four years of the governor’s administration. This winter, Abbott sought to bolster public confidence in the electrical system, promising Texas’ lights will stay on, highlighting improvements since the outage. Last year, Texas lawmakers implemented structural changes to the leadership of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the Texas power grid, and enacted legislation primarily targeting power plants that require resources. to be weatherized.
The bill was much more relaxed regarding natural gas installations, which were the source of much of the 2021 network outages.
Abbott’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
But state-level candidates aren’t the only ones trying to play in 2022 grid politics. Some Texas federal candidates are trying to bring a national approach to the issue.
Democrat Greg Casar, a former Austin City Councilman who is running for Congress, told The Daily Beast he wants increased federal oversight of the network and supports finding a way for Texas to join the system. national power grid. He also wants to encourage a switch to renewable energy in the state as part of a broader attempt to tackle climate change, which scientists predict will increase the frequency of extreme weather events in the coming decades.
“When we talk about addressing the climate crisis during this campaign, it’s not just a theoretical conversation about future generations. It’s a conversation about what’s going to happen in the next few years,” Casar said.
But with winter waning and the Texas grid having avoided any major hits this season, the question remains whether voters will still be angry enough to turn their backs on Republicans in November. “Absent another comparably catastrophic failure, the issue is highly unlikely to convert Republican votes in favor of the Democrats. Republican discontent on the issue is neither very high nor very intense,” Henson said. .
Douglas Bruster, a literature professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said the storm for him was “miserable” and “rough as hell”. Bruster says he had a working gas stove, which his wife used to help prepare meals for their neighbors.
“It was so bad that I was just sure it would make a difference down the road,” Bruster said. But a year later, he’s not convinced it will have an impact on how people vote.
“It is appalling that a huge governance failure has no repercussions at the ballot box,” he said.