Billionaires make very good villains. But we may have found one in Texas who is likely to become an inadvertent hero. Energy tycoon Kelcy Warren did a solid for Beto O’Rourke and filed a specious lawsuit against him for defamation. The case will keep alive the public discourse surrounding Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s incompetence in protecting his state from a failed electrical grid while accepting millions in donations from the energy companies he enriched.
And it may deliver unto Texans a new governor.
This gift that Warren has given to Beto is counterintuitive to his normal philanthropic inclinations. According to Forbes, among its top 500 billionaires world-wide, Warren ranks as a “one” on their grading scale for charitable contributions. Their analysis means he has donated less than one percent of his vast wealth, which is estimated by Forbes to be $4.1 billion in 2022 dollars. Not such a generous rich fella.
But he did manage to get Abbott a quick million after the grid crashed. Warren had to consider the money a fine investment. His company was the biggest profiteer of the suffering and freezing to death of Texans with a windfall of $2.4 billion dollars. And Warren wrote the check as soon as it was legal, too. Political donations are not allowed while the Texas legislature is in session, which meant he had to put up the dough and get it delivered right after lawmakers ended their gathering to pass laws making life more difficult in Texas.
Warren had given multiple $250,000 checks to Abbott previously but the million was his largest political donation he had ever made to any politician, and it makes his total an immodest $2.25 million to Abbott since the governor was elected. I’m sure it was just coincidence that the money came along right after the legislature adjourned and Warren’s company, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) raked in obscene cash for overpriced natural gas. Just to be clear, Warren loves Republicans and donated large amounts of cash to Donald Trump and Rick Perry for their presidential campaigns. Perry is on ETP’s board, and Abbott has given sweet appointments to Warren and his wife on the University of Texas Board of Regents and Texas Parks and Wildlife. (Really, is there anyone better to protect our parks and wildlife than an energy company mogul?)
Warren got even more embarrassingly wealthy because of Texas’ immoral governor. According to testimony from Bill Magness, a CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), Abbott told him to hold natural gas prices at $9000 per megawatt hour for three days longer than were what Magness said was necessary. A study by the Vistra Corporation said the rate was $6578 too high, but it did put $11 billion in profit into the coffers of the energy industry, Abbott’s historic financial backers in his political career.
This seems like a pretty easy field for a political opponent of Abbott’s to plow, and that’s what Beto O’Rourke has been doing with consistency. Who wouldn’t? The grid fails, four million Texans lose electrical power, 250 die, Abbott orders the cost of electricity to be held artificially high to benefit his benefactors, the energy companies make $11 billion profit, and Abbott lands a million-dollar donation from one of the biggest profiteers.
The injustice hasn’t ended, however. The electric generating companies that paid the exorbitant prices for natural gas now get to place a surcharge on consumer bills to recover their losses. Everybody wins except for the electric customer. The average homeowner in Texas is facing a monthly increase in their bills of 14 percent, which is likely to go up because they will also be forced to pay for upgrades in the failed electrical grid managed by ERCOT. Predictions are that those costs won’t be retired by homeowners for about 20 years.
O’Rourke has been crisscrossing Texas and calling these rate increases an “Abbott Tax,” which is clever branding. He reminds crowds why their bills are going up and how Abbott got a million dollars out of the crisis, and he also mentions ETP’s Kelcy Warren, a lot, a fact which Warren clearly dislikes. The billionaire filed a defamation lawsuit against the El Paso Democrat, and it is almost certain to die from legal stupidity. O’Rourke appears to have been careful about not accusing Warren of anything illegal or unethical. The candidate knows that there are no restrictions on political donations in Texas and Warren was within his rights to drop some cash on his rate-protecting pal. But he probably wasn’t moral.
O’Rourke simply lets the facts speak for themselves on the Abbott Tax, and, as President John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things.” Yep, they don’t change; they just are, whether you like them or not. If Warren’s reputation is taking a hit, it is simply because he was a major beneficiary of the grid collapse and his love of the conservative governor. O’Rourke telling that true story is not libelous nor defamatory, no matter how much Warren’s pricey attorneys might want the public and a court to believe there is malice on Beto’s part.
If Warren is one of your smart billionaires, he will figure out a way to drop this lawsuit. Every day it sits waiting for a docket, is a day that Beto can talk about being sued by a billionaire who gave the governor a million dollars. Plus, if the case ever goes to discovery, reporters might get a firsthand look at how Texas politics work. Not that they don’t already know but having the documents and communications will sure prove embarrassing for Warren and his billionaire boys club. I wouldn’t expect Beto to file a motion to dismiss. He probably doesn’t want the case to go away any time soon, and even non-lawyers can discern Warren has no claim. The ETP CEO defamed himself with his public actions.
Beto would be well served to ride this Abbott Tax issue all the way into November. Exactly 40 years ago in the 1982 gubernatorial election, Mark White defeated the incumbent Republican Bill Clements on a utility bill issue of far less consequence. Electricity companies, complaining about the volatility of energy costs, were able to invoke what was called a “pass-through clause,” which meant they could pass through the increased costs of natural gas, coal, and oil to consumers without having a rate hearing before the Public Utility Commission. Democrat White, who was trailing double digits in the last ten days, spent the final week of the campaign talking about the unfairness of the pass-through clause enabled by Governor Clements, and he won the election.
But Beto has much more to work with than Mark White. O’Rourke made major Democrat progress when he ran against Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate. He won every one of the major metro counties including knocking off Tarrant County, the last conservative fortress with a major city inside its borders. The rural areas of Texas kept Cruz in office, and that region of the state that is suffering greatly under Abbott’s failure to lead.
During the Republican administrations of Rick Perry and Abbott, 26 rural hospitals have closed. The causes are directly related to their policies, too. Abbott has continued to refuse expanding Medicaid in Texas and that has made it nearly impossible for small town hospitals to pay their bills. Many were forced to close because of bankruptcy. The absurdity of this choice is difficult to characterize. Refusing to accept Medicaid does not save money for Texas taxpayers. Our dollars are still paid into the federal system but instead of the money returning to Texas it ends up in other states.
Most estimates are that Texas will lose about $10 billion annually in federal health care funding by refusing Medicaid between 2021 and 2030, and one economist estimates a total of $247 billion in economic stimulation will be lost. Instead, one out of every five Texans is uninsured, and we have the most uninsured children, almost a million. While he is running around the state, Beto might consider standing in front of every one of those closed hospitals and explain to reporters how Abbott’s failure has hurt the economy and health care.
O’Rourke has already been cutting into Abbott’s rural support by attacking a veto of the governor’s that undercut support for rural broadband to a million Texans. The Texas Universal Service Fund facilitates broadband for rural residents by subsidizing the operations of providers who would lose money building infrastructure to small populations. Beto argued in an editorial that monthly Internet and phone bills could go up from $25 to $175 because of Abbott’s refusal to add money to the fund, even after the legislature had approved the expenditure.
The litany of failures in policy and philosophy by the Abbott administration make it seem unlikely he can be reelected if voters simply pay attention to his wrongs. Start with demonizing children and families dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity. Abbott is trying to use state government to turn gender-affirming medical care into what he classifies as child abuse. The largest provider of those services in Texas, under pressure from the governor and an opinion from the indicted attorney general, was forced to stop taking new patients. Abbott ordered state agencies to begin investigating families seeking treatment for their children, which was halted when a court issued an injunction against his policies.
Is it worth even asking what’s wrong with this man? Is he evil? How did he end up like this? He’s literally targeted trans gender youth by passing laws banning them from playing in sports and we assume as soon as the legislature convenes next year one of his agenda priorities will be a “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Dozens of the largest companies operating in the U.S. paid for a full-page ad in Texas newspapers and online calling Abbott’s policies “bad for business” while discriminating against trans youth and their families seeking age-appropriate care. Money usually affects Abbott’s thinking so maybe this will fade the heat from his righteous indignation. More likely, he will simply keep issuing executive orders. There is a danger that young people, already fraught with emotional peril because of their physical identity, will commit suicide because of this kind of scrutiny, and Abbott will take no notice.
And on that topic of child abuse.
Abbott’s privatization of foster care by the state, and lack of attention to child protective services by the government, has also become a crisis. In Bastrop, the location of an operation called The Refuge, young girls being cared for after sexual abuse have been victimized again with sex trafficking by staffers at the shelter. Abbott signed a declaration praising the facility and made sure it was one of dozens that received state funding. There have been numerous reports through the years of foster children in state care who have been forced to sleep in government offices or crowded motel rooms, and the conservative answer to this problem has been to give money to private operations, which clearly lack appropriate inspections or government oversight.
Abbott has ordered the Texas Rangers to investigate but it is hard to take seriously a state that empowers these private shelters but does not spend the money on regular inspections. Given the various laws passed under the Abbott administration, we are now confronting a system where young girls can be sexually abused, placed into a private foster care system, be re-victimized with sexual trafficking by the people hired to care for them, impregnated, and forced to give birth to a child under Texas abortion law, and that child is then at high risk to end up in similar circumstances of abuse that cause her to be placed into the same failed process. This is a monstrosity.
Texas, our Texas, all hail the mighty state.
Governor Abscess is presently also pretending to be concerned about the state’s teacher shortage, which prompted him to have the Texas Education Agency create a committee to study the problem. (Everybody loves a good committee! Don’t they get a blue ribbon?) The agency, filled with Abbott’s toadies in administration, managed to create a 28-member group with only two teachers. We can be certain there will be ideas for private sector solutions that make businesses more cash.
I can save the TEA time and money. The reasons teachers are leaving their profession are profoundly simple. Let’s consider the causes, which are book bans, threats for teaching accurate history, (see also: CRT), low pay, long hours, screaming right wing parents, oppressive boards of education, no mask mandates allowed in schools, which increases the risk of Covid, lack of support from administrators, hopelessly understaffed and over-populated classrooms, increasing stress due to not having help with special needs students, lockdown drills for guns, (see also: Texas constitutional carry law), and regimented teaching to reach testing standards mandated by politician’s goals.
A one-paragraph report is all that is needed. You’re welcome.
Is there any point in talking about Abbott’s other idiocies like wasting billions in taxpayer money for a worthless blockade at the border. He claims President Biden is doing nothing to stop illegal immigration and he builds a short section of wall that also does nothing. Abbott brags Texas is doing Washington’s job of protecting the border but then he claims Border Patrol apprehensions are at record levels. Doesn’t this mean what Abbott is doing also isn’t working? We do know one of the results, though. National Guard troops have died from suicide and accidents and morale is low over a mission that has no foreseeable end and no real duties assigned to make an impact.
I’ll stop here. I’m getting depressed. Get this soulless bastard out of office, Texas.