Betting an election in Texas on a weather


Editor’s Note: If you’d like to receive an email notification whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here.

If you’d like to listen to the column, just click the play button below.

(Audio not available. Click here listen on texatribune.org.)

Despite the confident assurances from Texan officials, there is still a risk that your electricity will fail in the face of a big winter storm in the next few months.

Of course, this is politics. The problem, as Austin energy consultant Doug Lewin told Texas Tribune’s Mitchell Ferman, is not linked to technology, or even to the way power stations work. It’s regulatory. This is exactly the kind of problem that politics and government were created for – a problem that can be solved in Austin.

A d

It’s about who the state government is working for at any given time. Was it the electric utilities? The natural gas producers who power so many power plants? Commercial and industrial electricity customers willing to withstand a few blackouts here and there if that means cheaper electricity rates? Were they residential customers who wanted light, heat and water, even (or especially) when it was freezing cold?

Lobbyists are in power when the legislature makes laws, the governor appoints regulators, and state agencies write rules. Voters are in power during election years.

Winter is approaching, and an election year too. It doesn’t matter if someone is a great fundraiser, incumbent, movie star, or someone who uses a skateboard in a Whataburger parking lot late at night. The work these people seek begins with keeping Texans safe.

Texas failed to do so in February. The Legislative Assembly has adopted bills on the subject. Some think they have failed. The governor said that everything that can be done has been done, that there is nothing to see here, that the risks are gone.

A d

“I can guarantee the lights will stay on,” he said said Austin’s Fox 7 News Last weekend. He said he was “very confident” and said he signed “almost a dozen laws that make the electricity grid more efficient”.

I hope he is right. Its many supporters and donors too, not to mention the Texans who suffered from the last storm.

These laws include prepare power plants for winter. The natural gas suppliers that power many of these plants are not yet required to winterize; the Texas Railroad Commission will not have these formalized requirements until after this winter. There is still a lot to do.

The risk for Abbott and the rest of the elected class is that voters, who expect and demand results from Texas power grid problems, have the right to reject anyone who doesn’t deliver.

A d

Voters have the power to be as tough as the state itself was earlier this year, when dumped people at the top of the ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission.

The reasons are different. Elected officials brought out the nominees as a sort of political sacrifice, feeding regulators an angry public before those voters blamed the elected class.

So far this has been enough. Republicans are betting voters will stay warm this winter, and that will be it.

Meanwhile, Democrats rehash the risks of yet another catastrophe do so in their own best interests. The popularity of President Joe Biden is waning. National issues – immigration, withdrawal from Afghanistan, etc. – play the Republicans’ game. Republican lawmakers drew the electoral maps during the redistribution of this year.

A d

It will take something big to reverse the Republican advantage in the state this year. Like a blackout or a bad reaction to the Texas legislature very conservative work this year. Without something surprising that moves voters, Texas Democrats begin the electoral cycle at the bottom of a steep hill.

And voters might not be thinking about all of that when the general election takes place in November. It probably won’t be that cold then. It’s a good distance from February to the election, and voters could make their decisions based on other questions.

But the electricity network remains a sensitive point, even after the bills adopted by the legislature and then signed and praised by the governor. In one University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll in October, 60% of voters said they disapproved of lawmakers’ response to the February blackouts – including 78% of self-identified Democrats, 46% of Republicans and 61% of independents.

A d

Ballot holders are moving forward, monitoring political polls and weather forecasts, and hoping the governor’s confidence will be rewarded.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a suit list of them here.


Dale D. Schrum