Texas board rejects posthumous pardon for George Floyd — after recommending one to Greg Abbott

By William Melhado, The Texas Tribune

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has unanimously denied a posthumous pardon of George Floyd for a minor 2004 drug conviction in Houston. The decision comes 11 months after the agency initially recommended a pardon before reversing course and rescinding that recommendation, citing a procedural error.

In a letter Thursday, the board did not explain its reasoning for rejecting the requested pardon. The letter does not include Floyd’s name, but his attorney, Allison Mathis, confirmed to The Texas Tribune that his application was the only pardon she applied for. The letter said Mathis can reapply for the posthumous pardon in two years.

“This was a chance for Texas to do a small, good thing: to take an apolitical stance that no matter who a person is, their rights need to be respected and an accurate record of their life is important. Last year the board unanimously recommended that Mr. Floyd be granted a pardon, acknowledging that what happened to him was wrong. I have given no other facts or evidence for the board to consider and it is unclear to me what happened to completely reverse their decision,” Mathis said in a statement to the Tribune.

The Marshall Project first reported the board’s decision.

Floyd’s 2020 murder at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis set off a wave of protests against police violence that disproportionally impacts people of color.

Floyd was arrested by embattled former Houston police officer Gerald Goines in 2004 after he was found to have less than half a gram of crack cocaine. Goines said at the time that Floyd had given the drugs to an unnamed person. Floyd ultimately pleaded guilty and received a 10-month sentence in state jail. But Goines has since been accused of repeatedly lying or making up confidential informants to bolster his word against defendants, which was revealed after a botched, deadly raid in 2019 led to murder charges against the officer.

After the board suggested Gov. Greg Abbott pardon Floyd last October, the governor largely remained silent on whether he would take the step to issue the second posthumous pardon in Texas history. Roughly two months after making the recommendation, the board changed its original recommendation, explaining the original decision lacked compliance with board rules.

In effect, the board enabled Abbott to avoid the decision to pardon Floyd, which likely would have had political fallout for the Republican governor who touted supporting law enforcement as he backed GOP lawmakers who were up for election in 2020. Abbott is currently seeking a third term and faces Democrat Beto O’Rourke in November.

Abbott’s office did not return a request for comment Thursday evening.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/09/15/george-floyd-texas-pardon/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Two constables, four police chiefs and over 3,000 other Texans were members of the Oath Keepers, report says

More than 3,000 Texans — including four police chiefs, two county sheriffs, two constables and two county commissioners — have been members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right extremist group that played a prominent role in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, according to an analysis of leaked membership rolls.

The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism published a report Tuesday after reviewing more than 38,000 names on a massive cache of documents from the Oath Keepers that was leaked to transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets and released last year. The documents included chat logs, emails and membership rolls from 2020 and 2021. It’s unclear when the membership lists were last updated.

The ADL’s report analyzed where the members lived and worked and found that Texas had more people listed in the Oath Keepers’ membership rolls than any other state. Texas is the country’s second-most populous state.

Texas also had the most people who were either elected officials, law enforcement officers, military members or first responders, the report found. Of the Texas signups, 33 were law enforcement officers, 10 were members of the military, eight were elected officials and seven were first responders. No federal officials were listed in the membership documents.

At least six law enforcement officers who have been affiliated with the far-right group at some point are currently at the helm of their departments: Howe Police Department Chief Carl Hudman; Tom Bean Police Department Chief Timothy Green; Idalou Police Department Chief Eric Williams; Amarillo ISD Police Department Chief Paul Bourquin; Nueces County Sheriff John Chris Hooper; and Clay County Sheriff Jeff Lyde.

Other people in the Oath Keepers’ membership rolls who currently serve as elected officials in Texas include Ellis County Commissioner Paul D. Perry; Galveston County Commissioner Joseph Thomas Giusti; Collin County Constable Joe Wright; and Faulkey Gully Municipal Utility District board member Mark H. Syzman. Syzman is also a retired U.S. Army Military Police Master Sergeant.

The Oath Keepers asks its members to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The group, fueled by baseless conspiracy theories, claims that the government poses a threat to civil liberties. In reality, former Oath Keepers spokesperson Jason Van Tatenhove — who has since left the group and speaks publicly about its dangers — has said the group is actually “selling the revolution.”

On Jan. 6, 2021, the Oath Keepers descended on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to lead the siege challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election. At least 26 members of the group have since been arrested in connection with the attack.

With the exception of Hood County Constable John D. Shirley and Steven Glenn, an alderman in the North Texas town of Quitman, none of the Texans named by the ADL responded to calls or emails from The Texas Tribune seeking comment Wednesday.

Glenn, who was sworn in as alderman in November 2020 and is seeking reelection this year, said in an email statement that he was with members of the Oath Keepers during a hurricane in Houston helping deliver supplies to residents hit by the floods. He said he has “zero idea of any of (the Oath Keepers’) involvements” since then.

“Shortly after that, I saw exactly what the founder was all about. I cut ties with them immediately,” Glenn wrote in a statement to the Tribune.

Shirley said he publicly resigned from the group in November 2020. Shirley was a member for more than a decade and served as the Oath Keepers’ Texas chapter president, national peace officer liaison and on the group’s board of directors. In February 2020, Shirley submitted a letter to Hood Country Today defending the organization’s mission.

The Oath Keepers’ membership list does not reflect the extent of the members’ involvement in the group. The ADL report said that some may have been introduced to a watered-down version of the group’s mission and many have since left the group. Hundreds tried to cancel their memberships after the Jan. 6 riot, BuzzFeed News reported. But the ADL also points out that the Oath Keepers have always been vocal about its extremist far-right views since its inception in 2009.

“Even for those who claimed to have left the organization when it began to employ more aggressive tactics in 2014, it is important to remember that the Oath Keepers have espoused extremism since their founding, and this fact was not enough to deter these individuals from signing up,” the report notes.

The fringe group has focused on recruiting current and former military, police and first responders. The ADL report says that in written comments provided to the Oath Keepers, some people who joined the group offered to use their positions of power to aid the Oath Keepers in a variety of ways. One member of the Idalou Police Department, outside of Lubbock, said he would use his position to introduce other law enforcement officers to the Oath Keepers’ ideology through presentations, according to the report.

The ADL report does not identify the person or their position in the department. Williams, the Idalou police chief, told PBS Newshour that it had been over a decade since he had been a member or had interaction with the Oath Keepers. Williams denounced the riot of Jan. 6 as “terrible in every way.”

The city of Idalou declined to comment on whether the police department has policies regarding staff’s membership in extremist groups.

Wright, the constable in Collin County, signed up for the organization before he took office for the first time. The ADL noted that he shared his government position during sign up: “Constable elect for Collin County Pct. 4 Constable’s office. Currently a Collin County deputy sheriff.”

When the Oath Keepers’ documents were first leaked in October 2021, Wright told USA Today that he didn’t know much about the group when he joined.

“To be honest, I felt pressured to join it in this county for political support,” Wright said at the time. “The Oath Keepers, if you didn’t support them, you were going to get bad reviews.”

Wright said he did not support the group and had not engaged since.

“I’m not into radical. I’m into doing my job,” he said.

Lyde, the sheriff of Clay County, was also identified as a former member of the Oath Keepers last November. He was indicted by a Clay County grand jury that same month for two charges of official oppression, according to court documents filed last year. Lyde is also facing questions about why he left the Department of Public Safety over a decade ago, in part, for submitting false information on performance reviews.

Hooper, the sheriff of Nueces County, was reported to be a former member of the Oath Keepers last November. He told the Corpus Christi Caller Times that he had not been a member since 2009 and had distanced himself from the organization.

Members of the Oath Keepers listed in the documents also included Texans in other occupations. An attorney with a law firm based in East Texas told the group that he “may be able to assist in legal matters,” the report said.

The ADL did not identify the attorney and declined to share the names of individual law enforcement officers or military personnel identified through their analysis, citing concerns that the report could be used to dox rank-and-file personnel.

Among those arrested in connection with the attack on the Capitol Jan. 6 is Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes, a Texan who was arrested in January and is accused of conspiring to oppose the transfer of presidential power by force.

More than 70 Texans have been charged for their roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to a USA Today database. They include Guy Reffitt who was sentenced to 7 1/4 years in prison last month after prosecutors said he “lit the match” for the riot.

North Texas has been a focal area for the investigation into the riot, with more than a dozen area residents having been charged in the federal investigation into the attack, including Kellye SoRelle, a lawyer for Oath Keepers based in Granbury.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/09/07/texas-oath-keepers-adl/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Gov. Greg Abbott said rape victims can take Plan B. But emergency contraception isn’t widely available for the state’s poorest people.

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott told The Dallas Morning News that rape victims can take emergency contraception, like Plan B, to prevent a pregnancy. With abortion now banned in Texas, even in instances of incest or rape, the governor recommended the use of emergency contraception to ensure a victim of rape does not become pregnant.

But for the lowest-income people in Texas, emergency contraception isn’t widely accessible, advocates said — a consequence of the significant number of people of childbearing age who are uninsured and the state’s lack of programs that provide access to treatment like Plan B.

During a pre-recorded segment of Lone Star Politics, Abbott said of rape victims, “By accessing health care immediately, they can get the Plan B pill that can prevent a pregnancy from occurring in the first place. With regard to reporting it to law enforcement, that will ensure that the rapist will be arrested and prosecuted.”

Emergency contraception primarily works by stopping fertilization. The treatment can prevent someone from becoming pregnant if taken up to five days after sex, with varying effectiveness.

In instances of rape, Abbott said, “We want to support those victims, but also those victims can access health care immediately, as well as to report it.”

After signing Senate Bill 8 into law last September, which banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and didn’t provide exceptions for rape or incest, Abbott said the state’s goal was to eliminate rape. Abbott’s office did not return a request for comment on Saturday.

In 2020, Texas ranked 16th in the nation for total number of forcible rape cases per capita.

Emilee Whitehurst, the CEO of Houston Area Women's Center, said a significant number of rapes aren’t reported, and the actual number of victims is higher than those that seek treatment at a hospital.

Whitehurst added that emergency contraception is not a substitute for abortion access in any way, but those responsible for the abortion ban in Texas have left victims of sexual assault with few options. She said it was insulting to hear that Plan B should be relied on to prevent pregnancies given the dangers victims of sexual assault already face.

“To presume Plan B could be a substitute for abortion care represents such a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality of women's lives and our biology,” Whitehurst said.

While emergency contraception is available for purchase over the counter, it can cost $50 at a pharmacy. Some insurance plans cover the cost of emergency contraception, but those who are uninsured have to pick up that additional expense.

For women of childbearing age in Texas, more than a quarter had no health insurance in 2017 — the highest rate in the nation. This is caused, in part, because Texas has not expanded Medicaid and has one of the lowest eligibility standards in the country. A single parent with three children would have to earn less than $400 a month to qualify for Medicaid.

In addition to the lack of coverage, the state’s programs that target women’s healthcare don’t provide emergency contraception. Neither the Family Planning Program nor the Healthy Texas Women Program provide emergency contraception.

Title X clinics remain one of the few options for low-income people to access emergency contraception at an affordable cost. However, these federally-funded reproductive health clinics don’t operate in every community in the state.

Whitehurst said that guaranteed access to emergency contraception is “fairytale thinking.” She said young victims of sexual assault, in particular, will struggle to access that form of contraception.

“It is not easily available, it is not easily affordable, and it is an untenable resolution to the terrible situation women now find themselves in with no access to abortion,” Whitehurst said.

In the instance of victims of rape, the immediate need to seek out emergency contraception compounds the trauma a survivor is already facing, said Chau Nguyen, a trauma therapist with JEM Wellness & Counseling in Houston. Nguyen said in a statement to The Texas Tribune that low-income Texans and women of color already face barriers to healthcare access, which includes emergency contraception.

“The sad truth is, women will choose putting food on the table to feed their kids over their own health care. And that can greatly put their own lives at risk,” Nguyen said.

The full program is now LIVE for the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 22-24 in Austin. Explore the schedule of 100+ mind-expanding conversations coming to TribFest, including the inside track on the 2022 elections and the 2023 legislative session, the state of public and higher ed at this stage in the pandemic, why Texas suburbs are booming, why broadband access matters, the legacy of slavery, what really happened in Uvalde and so much more. See the program.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/09/03/emergency-contraception-access-rape-victim-abbott/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Greg Abbott's inaction on Texas gun law reform denounced by families of Uvalde massacre victims

The solemn succession of families took turns walking from the steps of the Texas Capitol to a lone microphone placed in the bright, Saturday sun. There, they shared sacred details of loved ones, who were among the 21 people gunned down in Texas’ deadliest school shooting May 24.

Maite Yuleana Rodriguez’s favorite color was green.

Eliahna Torres was excited about the final softball game of the season.

Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio would have become a lawyer.

In the midday heat, relatives of the 19 students and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary in Uvalde — and survivors of other mass shootings — demanded action from Texas leaders on gun reform.

“I didn’t choose to be here, I was kind of thrown into here,” Jasmine Cazares told The Texas Tribune in the shade of the Capitol, after the rally.

Since the shooting Jasmine Cazares has been advocating for gun reform on behalf of her sister, Jackie.

Gov. Greg Abbott was the focus of many family members’ anger during the Saturday rally on the Capitol steps, organized in part by the student-led gun safety advocacy group March For Our Lives. Abbott has made a vocal enemy in the parents of the Uvalde shooting victims, drawing criticism over his inaction to address one of the families’ primary concerns: limiting access to firearms and making it more difficult for another massacre to occur.

Aware of Republicans’ tight grip over the state’s lax gun laws, advocates called for compromise with GOP leaders, asking for a special legislative session to increase the age to purchase an automatic rifle in the state from 18 to 21 years old — not a outright ban on the style of weapon that was used at Robb Elementary, just a three-year increase to the age limit to purchase one.

The 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde bought two AR-15-style rifles immediately after turning the legal purchasing age in May.

Only Abbott can call a special legislative session, but has so far resisted all requests to do so in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting. He has been criticized for attending — rather than canceling — a fundraising event for his reelection campaign the night of the shooting. He is being challenged by Democrat Beto O’Rourke, a former U.S. congressman from El Paso who previously unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate and president.

Uvalde residents traveled the three hours to Austin to advocate for action. Their pleas came on the heels of a federal judge in Fort Worth ruling that a Texas prohibition barring adults under 21 from carrying handguns was unconstitutional, though he let the law stand pending an appeal. And despite Texas experiencing eight mass shootings in the past 13 years, the state’s gun laws have only loosened.

Many at the rally on Saturday said they just want some sort of compromise on gun reform. They said they did anticipate taking a prominent role in an ongoing movement.

“I didn’t plan on doing this, no one plans on doing this,” Jasmine Cazares said of her advocacy.

She said pushing for gun restrictions in a state that holds dear the constitutional right to firearms is exhausting but uplifting.

Her father, Javier Cazares, said that in his first meeting with Abbott, just a day after the tragedy, the governor seemed genuine in his concern. But months later, when Abbott returned to Uvalde, he said the governor’s presence felt more like a campaign stop.

“He had no emotions or anything, just his overall demeanor was, ‘I have to be here because I have to be here,’” Javier Cazares told the Tribune.

Abbott also drew ire shortly after the shooting for providing false information in press conferences. The governor initially praised the law enforcement response to the shooting, at one point saying, “it could have been worse.” Nearly 400 law enforcement officers waited more than an hour to confront the gunam at Robb Elementary in a response that has been widely and fiercely criticized, including in a report by a Texas House committee that investigated the matter. Abbott later said he was misled about the response before he made those public comments.

Abbott’s office didn’t return a request for comment Saturday. According to his social media pages, he spent Saturday campaigning, knocking on voters' doors in Fort Bend County.

When Javier Cazares asked Abbott to increase the minimum age to buy an automatic rifle, he said the governor evaded the question. Other Uvalde families shared stories of Abbott offering his help, asking what he could do for them, only to be disappointed by his lack of action on the issue of gun reform — the one concession families drove to Austin to demand in the hope that future Texas families wouldn’t share their fate.

When Maggie Mireles Thomas and her family met Abbott following the death of her sister, Eva Mireles, one of the Robb Elementary teachers, he asked her, “What can I do, please?”

“I told him to his face, you can change these laws, that’s what you can do. And he said he would be hard at work to do that and that has not happened,” Mireles Thomas told the crowd. “He has not kept his word to my family and to any of these families.”

Abbott’s response was familiar to the families of other Texas mass shooting victims. Those survivors spoke in support, and solidarity, of the Uvalde families. Rosie Stone recalled Abbott’s similar inaction after her son, Chris, was killed in the 2018 Santa Fe school shooting.

“We were at his house, right over there, we were promised a lot of things, we asked for a lot of change, and nothing ever changed,” Stone told the roughly 300 gathered for the rally, pointing to the governor’s mansion, which stands only 1000 feet away from the Capitol steps. “I’m a conservative Republican, I’m a gun owner myself, but I can stand amongst Democrats and see the changes that need to be made.”

With Republicans in charge of all levels of state government, Stone said the power to be able to do something is in their hands. Limiting access to guns, though, has long been a non-starter for the GOP.

After the Robb Elementary shooting, Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn earlier this year helped shepherd through Congress the first major federal gun legislation in nearly three decades. Among other things, the law enhances background checks for gun purchasers younger than 21 and makes it easier to remove firearms from people threatening to kill themselves or others. But it largely does not restrict any rights of existing gun owners — and Cornyn faced backlash from his own party after ushering the law through the Senate.

Families from Uvalde are hoping they won’t have to stand with future parents of school shooting victims to demand action. But they’re willing to continue fighting and advocating for changes to gun policies in Texas.

Vincent Salazar told the Tribune he didn’t see himself as an advocate prior to May 24, but in the three months since the tragedy, in which he lost his 11-year-old daughter, Layla Salazar, he hasn’t seen any progress on the issue of gun reform from Abbott. So he came to Austin to fight for his daughter.

“Being out here feels like the right thing to do,” Salazar said.

Texas anti-abortion protesters set sights on New Mexico, where the procedure is still protected

By William Melhado, The Texas Tribune

For New Mexico state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, the arrival of a new abortion clinic in Las Cruces, the city she represents, is surreal. Over the years, there hasn’t been consistent access to the procedure as providers came and went.

[After losing battle to preserve Roe v. Wade, Mississippi’s last abortion clinic is moving to New Mexico]

But now — weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court revoked the constitutional right to an abortion — the clinic at the heart of that decision has relocated from Mississippi to the city just across the Texas border of El Paso. It’s one of several clinics to announce its move to New Mexico in recent weeks.

It has quickly become Texas’ only neighboring state to protect abortion access and one of the few “haven” states in the southwest. People there have been preparing for a deluge of abortion-seekers — and those who want to stop the state from offering the procedure at all.

“Now people are coming from across the country — at great stress, great exhaustion, great trauma — to arrive in our community, where likely they will be met by a handful of angry protesters, so that they can access health care,” Lara Cadena told The Texas Tribune.

[Key Texas abortion opponent sees Supreme Court decision as validation to keep fighting]

Close behind those traveling to Las Cruces for care are activists like prominent anti-abortion advocate Mark Lee Dickson, who helped Texas towns ban abortion before Roe. v Wade was overturned. The ordinances he championed served as the model for Texas legislation that severely limited when an abortion could be performed, which the Supreme Court declined to block.

Now, Dickson hopes to eliminate some of the next closest options as he tries to expand city abortion bans to conservative-leaning New Mexico towns.

“Southeast New Mexico feels a lot like Texas,” Dickson told the Tribune.

Aware of the looming threat, local leaders and abortion clinics opening in New Mexico remain confident that protections in the state constitution will prevent Dickson from gaining ground.

“We don’t need any outsiders coming here to try to mess with our autonomy and our capacity to shape our own families,” Lara Cadena said. “So when I hear all these activists coming over, I say, ‘Bring it.’”

Dickson isn’t oblivious to the legal and political barriers he’ll face in a state that leans Democratic.

“No matter what state we’re looking at, there’s a way to do this. And sometimes it’s a matter of challenging laws. I mean, that’s how we’ve gotten where we’re at today,” he said.

Las Cruces, New Mexico as seen from 1-10

Las Cruces, New Mexico, the city that state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena represents, is about 25 miles from the Texas border, making it a likely destination for Texans seeking abortions. Credit: Emily Kinskey for The Texas Tribune

A history of interference

Lara Cadena said this isn’t the first time out-of-state interests have come to New Mexico to shape policy. Texas’ history of trying to impose itself on its western neighbor stretches back to at least 1841, when Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, the Republic of Texas’ second president, unsuccessfully tried to persuade the people of Santa Fe to join his country.

Even on the issue of abortion, New Mexico has seen previous external attempts to influence policy.

After the murder of George Tiller, a Kansas physician who provided late-term abortions, in 2009, some of his colleagues relocated to Albuquerque to continue providing care. But it wasn’t long before anti-abortion groups based in Kansas followed them and continued a campaign to impede physicians’ work by filing complaints against them with the New Mexico medical board.

In 2013, anti-abortion groups attempted to outlaw late-term abortions in Albuquerque through a ballot initiative. The measure failed by over 10 points. And today, New Mexico again finds itself on the receiving end of these out-of-state influences, this time from an anti-abortion activist who has a proven track record.

Dickson’s previous efforts have had an outsized impact on the reproductive rights of Texans. In small towns across the state, he lobbied local leaders and voters to ban abortions within their municipalities, establishing “sanctuary cities for the unborn.” Those ordinances included private enforcement mechanisms, empowering individual citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone who helps someone get an abortion. That made it very hard to challenge the ordinances on the grounds that a government entity was violating the constitutional protection for abortion that existed at the time.

A similar enforcement mechanism was at the heart of Texas Senate Bill 8, which enabled lawsuits for abortions performed after around six weeks of pregnancy. Months before overturning Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to strike down SB 8 and its private enforcement mechanism.

Dickson concedes that convincing New Mexico towns like Hobbs, Eunice, Jal, Lovington and Clovis — all less than 20 miles from Texas — to try and ban the procedure could take time, but he’s patient.

“We believe it’s possible see all these cities pass ordinances that outlaw abortion that can survive court challenges,” Dickson said.

Abortion rights advocates disagree. Many working to improve access to reproductive care see New Mexico as a stronghold state where people can seek an abortion. Laura Schauer Ives, a New Mexico civil rights attorney, attributes that to two components of the state’s constitution.

The equal rights amendment of the New Mexico constitution extends medical care protections to all residents regardless of gender. She said that includes abortions, since the Legislature and governor last year repealed a 1969 abortion ban that previously criminalized the procedure.

Schauer Ives also noted New Mexico’s constitution is structured in such a way that neither counties nor municipalities can pass ordinances that are inconsistent with state laws. This preemption, Schauer Ives said, prohibits cities from passing ordinances about health care, which falls under the state’s jurisdiction.

“Our laws in New Mexico would undoubtedly protect and respect a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own body with her doctor,” said Schauer Ives.

She added that Texans traveling to her state for reproductive care can be confident that no effort by out-of-state influences will change that.

Still, local officials in some parts of the state have started to voice opposition to abortion. Otero County, on the southern border of New Mexico, passed a nonbinding resolution in July declaring the county as a “sanctuary for life.” Alamogordo, the largest city in Otero County, approved a similar resolution last week.

Ellie Rushforth, a reproductive rights attorney with American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, sent letters to both governing bodies reminding them that resolutions have no force of law and “any attempt to enforce it would be a violation of the New Mexico Constitution and state law.”

Any enforcement attempts would almost certainly result in litigation, Rushforth said. She estimated that any local entity trying to enforce a ban on abortion would have to spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend their attempt.

“We will never abandon our communities and loved ones in Texas who are stranded in a place that has turned their back on them,” Rushforth said.

Do “not concede any small thing”

In addition to the opening of Pink House West — the new iteration of the now-closed Jackson Women’s Health Organization — New Mexico communities along the Texas border likely will see another health care clinic providing abortions with the arrival of Whole Woman’s Health. The provider recently closed the doors to its four clinics in Texas. Whole Woman’s Health plans to open somewhere just across the border to serve Texans traveling for abortions.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, the organization’s president and CEO, told The Texas Tribune that the continued efforts to curtail abortion rights have provided her team with lots of experience on how to best combat anti-abortion regulations.

And she has some advice for New Mexicans who can anticipate the full force of Texas’ anti-abortion advocates: Do “not concede any small thing.”

She pointed to Texas’ previous six-week ban and 24-hour waiting period that Republican legislators once presented as compromises.

“It’s a strategy to make the next restriction they decide to introduce sound reasonable,” Hagstrom Miller said.

Such efforts, she said, are out of step with what the public wants. Last Tuesday, Kansans — who consistently support conservative presidential candidates — voted to maintain the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution, offering one of the first electoral indicators about the public’s reaction to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

While Texans have been left without access to the procedure, Schauer Ives said New Mexicans — and those who travel to the state — still have that choice available to them. She and others are ready to protect it.

“It’s what really defines our freedom, it’s what defines our humanity,” she said. “What decisions do we get to make for ourselves versus what decisions can the legislature make, what decisions can the populace make for us?”

The full program is now LIVE for the 2022 The Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 22-24 in Austin. Explore the schedule of 100+ mind-expanding conversations coming to TribFest, including the inside track on the 2022 elections and the 2023 legislative session, the state of public and higher ed at this stage in the pandemic, why Texas suburbs are booming, why broadband access matters, the legacy of slavery, what really happened in Uvalde and so much more. See the program.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/08/10/texas-abortion-sanctuary-city-new-mexico/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas activists show Trump loyalty at CPAC — and support for 2024 presidential run: report

In the corner of the brightly lit, heavily bannered conference hall for this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, an empty jail cell sets the scene of a Make America Great Again performance art piece. A sign fixed to the exterior of the cell warns “#younext.” The would-be prisoner is an actor playing the part of a Jan. 6 insurrectionist.

The diorama painted a sympathetic portrait of the rioters arrested for their roles attacking the nation’s Capitol in protest of an election that saw the defeat of former President Donald Trump.

The display was emblematic of the overall attitude of the annual event for the nation’s most die-hard conservatives. There was virtually no acknowledgement by attendees of the conference of Trump’s role in instigating the attack, which has been the focus of testimony presented by the U.S. House committee investigating the insurrection in recents months. Trump, who closed out the event, was welcomed with open arms by Texans and those who traveled to the state to see him, as he has been teasing a 2024 presidential run.

“I’m over the moon, I’ve been trying to see him for years,” said Therese Boehnlein, who drove from Waco to see Trump.

Trump spent his time on stage handing out endorsements ahead of the November midterms, naming a number of Texans, including Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Irving, and his former White House doctor Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Amarillo.

Trump stuck to a familiar script and repeated the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen from him, even as those claims have repeatedly been debunked by even his own former aides. He painted cities run by Democratic leadership as hellscapes awash in crime and lamented what he described as an open southern border with Mexico.

“We created the safest border in U.S. history by far, by far. And now it’s the worst border ever in history,” said Trump of President Joe Biden’s administration.

Trump also derided what he described as the indoctrination of students by liberals intent on destroying traditional family values, touching on battles in public schools over the content of library books, what sports teams transgender students are allowed to play on, and how teachers are allowed to talk about race and history.

Trump received some of his most thunderous applause of the night with his suggestion to “abolish the Department of Education.”

For Anna Zimmerman of Dallas, Trump’s focus on education resonated most with her.

“I liked his plans for the future,” Zimmerman told The Texas Tribune as attendees filed out of the conference room. “We’ve got to do something about our educational system. We won’t be successful if we teach them about transgenderism.”

Zimmerman said she expects and looks forward to an announcement from Trump that he’ll run again for president. “Everything is timing and he is a man of perfect timing,” Zimmerman said of Trump.

A straw poll conducted at the conference found that Trump is still a favorite among attendees. Trump received 69% of the vote to be the 2024 Republican nominee for president. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came in second with 24%. Texas’s own Sen. Ted Cruz, who spoke at the conference on Friday, came in third with 2%.

Though he’d hoped to see Trump announce his 2024 run at the convention, Ariel Kohane said he expects Trump will announce after the midterm elections, so he can focus on endorsements. “Trump will have the greatest impact ever on the midterms, he selects winners,” said Kohane, who traveled from New York to see Trump.

Jen Loh Salinas of San Antonio, the vice president of Latinos United for America, said Trump — and his border wall — are the key to America's success. Born and raised in Laredo, Salinas said that border communities are scared of the violence that she attributed to migrants crossing the border.

She doesn’t just blame Biden. Salinas also criticized Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of the border, she called his busing of migrants to D.C “human trafficking.” On Friday, Abbott announced Texas is now busing migrants from Texas to New York City.

With her teenage daughter next to her, Salinas pointed to schools as one of the major reasons she said Latino voters were moving to the right. Salinas took her daughter out of public school because she thinks they are “sexualizing children” — a common refrain used by attendees and speakers describing public school concerns at the convention, alluding to the discussion of gender identity. She said the cost of private school is worth what she sees as the best education for her daughter.

Elizabeth Gomez-Crocker also took her children out of public school, citing among other things, Critical Race Theory, the graduate school ideology that structural racism exists in America. Working as a substitute teacher, Gomez-Crocker picked up a second job driving for Uber to pay for the cost of the private, religious school in Arlington.

“What’s wrong is right, what’s right is wrong,” Gomez-Crocker said. She’s concerned by the cultural changes she observed in schools.

To fix that she would like to see more religion in schools. Instead of supporting more school choice, which would divert money from public education to schools parents choose, Gomez-Crocker said, “Put God back in school instead of money following the child.”

The final day of the convention at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas featured a host of GOP leaders loyal to Trump. Some of the Texas officials who spoke earlier in the conference included Cruz, Abbott, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, but the thousands that gathered saved much of their energy and enthusiasm for the party’s de facto leader.

Earlier in the convention, state Democratic leaders criticized the GOP’s welcoming of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who spoke at the convention on Thursday, a week after his racist remarks on European immigration. Those comments reportedly resulted in the resignation of one of Orbán’s longtime advisers.

MAGA-branded freedom was for sale up and down the halls of the political conference in the form of alternative cell phone providers, conservative children’s books — including one written by U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston — and stilettos bejeweled with Trump’s name. And this year’s CPAC didn’t make attempts to memorialize the GOP before Trump. One booth sold a framed portrait of Ronald Reagan, but there was little reference to other former Republican presidents George W. Bush or George H. Bush, even with the conference taking place in their home state. One attendee bristled at the former president’s name, “Bush is part of the establishment.”

Between speakers lamenting Biden’s presidency and China’s influence on America, attendees on Sunday laughed at a brief satirical news segment. Jesse Kelly played the part of news anchor of the fake media outlet “Socialist News Network,” while making lewd jokes about Vice President Kamala Harris and downplaying the number of people who died from COVID-19.

“This virus has almost killed as many people as Hillary Clinton,” said Kelly. Over 1 million people in the United States have died from COVID-19.

Alex Jones' lawyer is rushing to declare bankruptcy before next Sandy Hook jury verdict: report

Alex Jones’ main company, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy on Friday, midway through a two-week trial to determine how much in damages the Texas-based conspiracy theorist will pay the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim. The filing is not expected to disrupt the trial to award damages for defamation taking place in Austin, which is set to resume Monday morning.

In the bankruptcy filing, posted by the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday, Free Speech Systems filed under a subchapter designated for small businesses, which a Sandy Hook families’ lawyer said is an effort to avoid oversight.

That lawyer, Avi Moshenberg, told The Texas Tribune the filing’s timing is significant because he believes Jones hopes to declare bankruptcy as a small business, with limited debt, prior to the culmination of the current trial. The damages awarded would drastically increase the company’s debt, and eliminate the possibility of filing for bankruptcy as a small business.

“There's all sorts of protections that are supposed to be designed for a swift, quick bankruptcy with not a lot of oversight — the kind of oversight you’d see in a normal bankruptcy — because it's designed for small businesses,” Moshenberg said. He believes that Free Speech Systems hopes to take advantage of that lack of oversight.

“They obviously filed before the end of the trial because their debt is going to exceed that level that qualifies as a small business if they waited until after trial,” Moshenberg said.

The company reported $79 million in liabilities, $54 million of which is debt owed to a company called PQPR Holdings. Jones is listed as the director of that company. Sandy Hook families suing Jones for defamation and emotional distress have alleged, in a separate lawsuit, that this significant debt to PQPR Holdings is a diversion to protect millions of dollars in assets.

Separate from his company’s bankruptcy filing, Jones is in the middle of a two-week trial in Austin to determine how much he will compensate Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of Jesse Lewis, a 6-year-old victim of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Last October, an Austin judge ordered a default judgment against Jones for defamation after he called the school shooting a hoax, leading Jones’ listeners to harass the victims’ families.

Uvalde superintendent recommends firing police Chief Pete Arredondo

Uvalde school officials will decide the fate of district police Chief Pete Arredondo during a special meeting Saturday after Superintendent Hal Harrell recommended the police chief's firing.

The meeting falls almost two months after Arredondo was among the first law enforcement officers to arrive at the scene of Texas’ worst school shooting.

Blame for the fiercely criticized response to the massacre — during which law enforcement waited more than an hour to confront the shooter — has largely fallen on Arredondo. The district placed him on administrative leave roughly one month after the shooting.

Arredondo was chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s six-person department on May 24, when an 18-year-old gunman entered Robb Elementary and killed 19 children and two teachers.

Much of Uvalde residents’ anger over the delayed response to the shooting has been directed toward Arredondo. In a school board meeting Monday, residents chastised school officials for not already firing Arredondo. They also criticized officials for what residents saw as slow attempts to improve campus safety.

Arredondo’s actions at the scene were also criticized in a Texas House committee report released Sunday, though the report also points to the failure of other agencies to respond appropriately. Arredondo was among 376 law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies on the scene. The responding officers, though, lacked clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman, the report states.

The consensus of those interviewed by the House committee was that either Arredondo — or no one — was in charge at the scene, which several witnesses described as chaotic.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Arredondo said he did not think he was the incident commander on the scene. Yet according to the school district’s active-shooter response plan, authored in part by Arredondo, the district chief would “become the person in control of the efforts of all law enforcement and first responders that arrive at the scene.”

Arredondo testified that he believed the shooter was a “barricaded subject” instead of an “active shooter” after seeing an empty classroom next to the one where the shooter was when the gunman had already fired off more than 100 rounds in less than three minutes.

“With the benefit of hindsight, we now know this was a terrible, tragic mistake,” the House report stated.

Despite Arredondo’s eventual understanding that there were likely injuries and fatalities in the classroom with the gunman, the barricaded-subject approach did not change throughout the incident, the report adds. In the event of an active-shooter incident, training directs law enforcement responders to prioritize the lives of innocent victims over those of officers.

The report criticized Arredondo’s focus on trying to find a key to open the door to the room the shooter was in, which “consumed his attention and wasted precious time, delaying the breach of the classrooms.” The report acknowledged that it is unclear whether Arredondo would have acted differently to respond with more urgency if he learned of surviving, injured victims.

In addition to serving as the school district’s police chief, Arredondo was elected to Uvalde’s City Council a few weeks before the shooting. But he wasn’t sworn in until after the massacre. After missing several meetings, Arredondo stepped down from his District 3 seat to “minimize further distractions.”

Texas Dems to Biden: Protect out-of-state providers who prescribe abortion-inducing medication

As the nation continues to navigate the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, several Texas Democrats and abortion advocates called on the Biden administration to take immediate and direct action to protect Texans’ access to abortion.

First on their list of requests in a letter to the White House was for President Joe Biden to declare a public health emergency to ensure telehealth providers can dispense abortion-inducing medication without interruption.

“President Biden can provide a huge amount of support by making sure that you can see a health care provider, call them by phone, talk to them by telehealth, and then have medication abortion sent by mail into the state from a state where abortion is currently not banned,” said Greg Casar, a Democratic candidate for Congress. He was part of a group that introduced the strategy in Dallas, where state Democrats were holding their convention. More than 50 state and federal lawmakers, candidates and abortion advocacy groups signed the letter to the White House.

Also included in that letter were requests to support abortion funds across the country, increase legal protections for reproductive health care providers, establish a program to increase distribution of abortion medication, and invoke the federal government’s supremacy over state laws that conflict with the Food and Drug Administration-approved regimen for medically induced abortions.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, Biden has talked about changes on the federal level to address abortion access. He has said he supports a change in the U.S. Senate’s rules on filibusters to help move legislation legalizing abortion rights. His administration has also provided guidance saying that doctors can perform abortions in emergencies — that guidance is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. On Friday, the U.S. House passed a bill that protected a person’s right to interstate travel to seek an abortion.

Texas Republican lawmakers have said that even with Roe v. Wade overturned, they still have work to do. They have cited a stronger focus on improving the state’s adoption programs and preventing pregnant Texans from leaving the state for abortions.

In asking Biden to declare a public health emergency to protect providers who distribute abortion medication via telehealth, Texas Democrats and abortion rights advocates said that Biden could override the state’s ban of these treatments after 7 weeks of pregnancy by invoking the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.

The letter also called for support of out-of-state abortion funds and telehealth organizations that can provide abortion medication to Texas residents. Democratic leaders pitched a program in which federal government employees could volunteer to dispense medication for abortions. “Because they are federal employees or federal contractors, choosing to do this work, they would actually be immune from state lawsuits,” Casar said Saturday.

The end of Roe v. Wade has left Texans in a state of uncertainty given the state’s tangled laws surrounding reproductive health care. The work of abortion funds, which help individuals pay for an abortion, has halted in and out of the state. Medical professionals have similarly expressed confusion over what care they can provide, which experts say could lead to patients being turned away or receiving delayed treatments.

Caroline Duble, the political director of Avow Texas, an abortion rights advocacy group, called on Biden’s support for medication abortion as one of the last feasible tools for those who can’t travel out of state. “The people in Texas and across this country will continue to need and seek abortions, which under this political landscape will result in the criminalization and surveillance of pregnant people," she said. "Like all increased surveillance, this will fall hardest on Black and Indigenous people, undocumented folks, low-income families, young Texans and queer and trans people.”