Gov. Greg Abbott and other top Texas Republicans have taken aim at Democrat-run cities for even considering cutting budgets for local police.
The governor has chosen his favorite municipal target – Austin – over its city council’s decision to cut $21.5 million from the police budget – about 5 percent -- mostly by canceling three cadet classes.
The council is also possibly shifting another $129 million from the police to social service and other city departments, to deal with issues like mental health, addiction, systemic racism, and others that may be better handled by trained civilians and treatment than by armed police and jail.
The council was responding to calls to “defund the police” after “Black Lives Matter” protests in some cities, including Austin, deteriorated into violent clashes with police.
Abbott first proposed to freeze the property taxes a city could raise if it trimmed its police budget.
He later added having the state take over Austin’s police operations — at the city’s expense.
“It is particularly offensive that some cities are disrespecting and even defunding our law enforcement agencies in communities across the state,” Abbott said at a news conference Thursday held at Austin Police Association headquarters.
Abbott also announced yet another proposal, to permanently cut annexation power from cities that cut police spending, and allowing residents of areas that city had previously annexed to be again separated from the city.
All the proposals would require legislative approval.
Abbott’s news conference came a day after he had called on political candidates of all parties to sign his “Texas Back the Blue” pledge, “to oppose any efforts to defund the police and to show my support for the brave law enforcement officers who risk their lives to protect and serve.
“Defunding our police departments would invite crime into our communities and put people in danger ... I pledge to support any measure that discourages or stops efforts to defund police departments in Texas.
“Our law enforcement officers have our backs every single day, and we need to show them that Texans have their backs.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler called the pledge “political theater intended to scare and distract us from important public safety conversations.”
“To be clear — Austin City leaders have neither defunded the police department nor support doing so,” Adler said in a statement.
“Austin is the safest big city in Texas and among the few safest in the country,” Adler said. “We’ll continue to make an already safe city even safer and, importantly, safer for everyone.”
Democrats say Abbott’s approach resembles President Donald Trump’s suggesting that Democrat-run cities that have had protests that deteriorated to violent clashes with police could have their federal funds cut.
Democrats say the GOP “law and order” push in this hot election year is an effort to shift the spotlight away from their fumbled responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
After Abbott’s call Wednesday to sign his “Texas Backs The Blue” pledge, the Texas Democratic Party issued its own pledge Thursday.
“I sign this Texans First Pledge to put an end to the political bull____ and put Texans first.”
It lists priorities like defending people with pre-existing conditions; condemning efforts to take that away during a pandemic; listening to scientists on pandemic response; help small businesses recover; and expand unemployment relief.
“Greg Abbott knows Texans are fed up with his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, so he tries a tired old trick to change the subject and manufacture fear,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.
“[Texans] know that we must dismantle systemic racism, and they know peaceful protest against police violence should not be met with more violence, yet that’s exactly what Donald Trump has advocated for.”
Gilberto Hinojosa, Texas Democratic Party chair, said “We want leaders who will protect and preserve the Affordable Care Act, expand Medicaid, and ensure that Texans everywhere are getting the coverage they need.
“We want leaders who understand that America’s promise is not fulfilled until we all are safe, secure, and have the opportunity to prosper,” Hinojosa said.
Although Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick aren’t on the ballot this year, the “law and order” theme is partly an effort to help Republicans keep control of the Texas House of Representatives.
Democrats in 2018 made a net gain of 12 seats in the 150-member House, bringing them to 67 against the GOP’s 83.
That’s just nine seats short of Democrats taking control of the House in an all-important year, including redistricting legislative and congressional districts for the next 10 years.
Oct. 5 is the deadline to register to vote.
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