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In 2021, Texas politics took a sharp right turn – Houston Chronicle

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A Texas House aide cordons off the Texas House Floor after the second special session called by Governor Greg Abbott was quickly adjourned due to a lack of a quorum on Saturday, August 7, 2021 in Austin, Tx., U.S. The Texas House of Representatives did not have a quorum due to a number of Texas House Democrats being absent and adjourned quickly after opening the session on Saturday afternoon.
Gov. Greg Abbott listens as senator Paul Bettencourt talks during a press conference about a package of election reforms, at Senator Paul Bettencourt’s District Office on Monday, March 15, 2021, in Houston.
The Texas Speaker of the House of Representatives Dade Phelan speaks to other legislators after quickly adjourning the first day of the second special session called by Governor Greg Abbott on Saturday, August 7, 2021 in Austin, Tx., U.S. The Texas House of Representatives did not have a quorum due to a number of Texas House Democrats being absent and adjourned quickly after opening the session on Saturday afternoon.
The Texas Senate led by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick opens the second special session called by Governor Greg Abbott on Saturday, August 7, 2021 in Austin, Tx., U.S. The Texas Senate conducted their business of the day while the Texas House of Representatives did not have a quorum due to a number of Texas House Democrats being absent and adjourned quickly after opening their session on Saturday afternoon.
Democratic State Reps. Cheryl Cole, D-Austin, Rhetta Bowers, D-Rowlett, Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, and Re. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, listen to the press conference on the first day of the special session on July 8, 2021.
Marcel McClinton, 20, marches with others as they rally at the Texas State Capitol in Austin to advocate for voting rights on the final day of a 27-mile, four-day voting rights march to the Capitol on Saturday, July 31, 2021. The Republican-controlled Texas legislature, now in a special session, is poised to pass a number of bills that opponents say would limit access to voting for millions of Texans across the state.
Maya Stanton, 10, practices K-pop group Blackpink’s dance moves following a sitting demonstration at the House Gallery at the Texas Capitol Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Austin. The Stanton family went to the Capitol and joined a group of transgender families to demonstrate and speak against bills in the legislature that will affect their lives.
Students protest at the Texas Capitol against Texas?•s new law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks in Austin, Tx., U.S. on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. Texas Senate Bill 8, SB8, that effectively bans abortions after six weeks in the state of Texas went into effect on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. The Austin Students for a Democratic Society along with the Feminist Action Project organized and held a protest against the implementation of the new law outside the Texas Capitol.
People participating in the Houston Women’s March against Texas abortion ban listen to speakers at City Hall Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 in Houston.
Former President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speak near a section of the border wall on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, in Pharr, Texas. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP)
Democrats hope O’Rourke can rekindle the energy from his 2018 race as he challenges Abbott for governor in November
The uprising of Texas Democrats over the last few years spurred a Republican reaction in 2021 that resulted in some of the most extreme state GOP legislation in decades.
Abortions were essentially banned.
Gun rights greatly expanded, even over the objections of many in law enforcement.
And the state enacted new restrictions on how teachers can talk about race in classrooms.
It all came as Democrats continue to become more competitive — solidifying their hold on the biggest cities in Texas and coming closer to winning Texas in a presidential election than any time since the 1970s.
But when Democrats made an all-out push to win the Texas House of Representatives in 2020 and fell short, some Republicans saw it as a green light from voters to push for the party’s top priorities.
“The door was opened by the voters,” state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said earlier in 2021. “We tried to walk as many of those priorities through that door as we could.”
And then there was former President Donald Trump, who jumped into Texas politics, making three trips to the state in 2021, firing off frequent emails to Texas reporters pushing the Legislature to pass more conservative legislation and doling out endorsements to Republicans who know his backing is almost make-or-break in the state’s March 1 primary.
Count Gov. Greg Abbott among those who have picked up endorsements from Trump thanks to the ultra-conservative agenda in Texas this year.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done together to secure our border, bring more jobs to Texas, & protect the freedoms that make America & Texas great — & we are just getting started,” Abbott said of Trump.
Some Democrats are convinced that as the state’s election trends continue to veer more in their direction, Republicans are underestimating how their far-right turn will provoke a backlash from a changing electorate in 2022.
But Republicans are plowing ahead, convinced 2020 showed the blue wave that Democrats have been riding has stopped short of putting the GOP in real danger. They are promising more of the same.
“The blue wave evaporated on the red rocks of Texas,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.
It’s clear Republicans are still more concerned with primary elections in March than they are with the general election, even with Democrat Beto O’Rourke at the top of the ticket, said Mark P. Jones, professor in the Department of Political Science at Rice University.
Abbott is facing two significant primary challengers from the right, and because of redistricting, almost all of the incumbent Texas House or Senate members are favored to win the general election. That makes them all more worried about their primaries against other Republicans than with Democrats in November, Jones said. The result is that Republicans were more likely to advance super conservative legislation to appease the base of the GOP and reduce opposition in primaries.
“There was no reason to hold back on a very conservative agenda,” Jones said.
And hold back they didn’t.
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What to know about the new Texas ‘trigger ban’ on abortion, as it goes into effect
Texas comptroller accuses Harris County of defunding police, threatens to stymie 2023 budget
What Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan means to 3.6 million Texans with debt
In mid-May, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 8, which bars women from getting an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can be as early as six weeks, when many women don’t know they are pregnant. Later that same month, lawmakers passed legislation that allows Texans over age 21 to carry handguns in public without a license starting Sept. 1, with a few exceptions.
Then in September, at the behest of Abbott, legislators passed what became known as the “critical race theory” bill. It prohibits teaching certain concepts about race and urges educators to teach that slavery and racism are “deviations” from the founding principles of the United States. Critical race theory, an academic approach that examines how systemic racism affects society, has become a popular target among conservatives.
Also in September, Abbott signed into law voting restrictions that Democrats had argued were focused on cities where Democrats have been strongest. Specifically, the legislation ends voter expansion efforts in Harris County — the state’s most populous county, which has become a Democratic stronghold.
The state barred voting past 10 p.m., ended drive-thru voting and blocked election officials from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Harris County is the only county in Texas that did or tried all three things in 2020.
Bettencourt said all of the legislation was part of a bigger effort to assert what it means to be a Republican after the success of 2020.
“Republicans did a good job in restating what they believe in and what it means to be a Republican,” he said.
Democrats, led by O’Rourke, are out to make Republicans pay for going so far right on social issues instead of focusing on more pressing issues, such as fixing the electric grid after it failed during cold weather in February and preparing hospitals for a continuation of the pandemic. They are convinced Republicans are misreading how far right Texas voters really want to go.
While Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide since the 1990s, over the last eight years the state’s electorate has been changing fast, driven in large part to growing urban populations and more concerted voter registration efforts in cities such as Houston, San Antonio and Austin.
The result is Texas has added 3.5 million more voters to its rolls since 2014. Left-leaning groups have been a big reason for that, and it has shown up in recent election results. In 2018, O’Rourke lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz by just 2.6 percentage points. Republicans Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller all won 51 percent of the vote or less in their re-elections. Four years earlier, each of them had won at least 58 percent of the vote.
In 2020, Joe Biden used huge victories in Houston and San Antonio to come within 6 percentage points of winning Texas — the closest a Democrat has come to carrying Texas in a presidential election in more than two decades.
Democrats now have to hope O’Rourke can rekindle the energy from his 2018 race as he challenges Abbott for governor in November. As Republicans push further right, O’Rourke, if he wins the governor’s race, would be in a position to veto legislation such as the permitless handgun carry bill and the abortion legislation that on the campaign trail he has called examples of “extremism and fringe politics.”
But if he loses, Republicans will have no reason not to push further right. Jones said many of the more moderate Republicans in the Texas Legislature are retiring, opening the door to even more conservative members replacing them.
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said he doesn’t blame Republicans for going so far right. At a rally in June at the Texas Capitol, West said Democrats allowed the Republican onslaught in 2020 by not getting more people to the polls in 2020. In short, he said, elections have consequences and 2021 proved that.
“I blame us,” West said of Democrats falling short in 2020. “We need to do what is necessary to turn out the Democratic and independent base in order to order to take over this building.”
jeremy.wallace@chron.com
twitter.com/jeremyswallace
Jeremy Wallace has covered politics and campaigns for more than 20 years. Before joining the Hearst Texas newspapers in 2017 he covered government and politics for the Tampa Bay Times, The Miami Herald and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Previously he covered Congress for the Boston Globe and Detroit Free-Press. Originally from San Antonio, he attended the University of North Texas and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri. You can follow him on Twitter, @JeremySWallace, or email him at Jeremy.wallace@chron.com.
Many residents across the Houston area are still dealing with the lingering effects of Hurricane Harvey, such as mental health issues, unsafe living conditions and financial distress.
By Dug Begley, Sam González Kelly

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

___

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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