WASHINGTON–President Barack Obama will visit Texas on Tuesday, with stops in El Paso and a fundraiser in Austin, but he won’t feel the love — at least not from unhappy Republican lawmakers who see the administration’s refusal to designate the wildfire-battered state a disaster area as the latest s
lap in the face to the very Republican Lone Star State.
The refusal by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to give Texas disaster status, and the federal aid that goes with it, is the latest of the state’s fights with the administration. The state and the Environmental Protection Agency have been battling over permitting under the Clean Air Act — the federal agency even took over some state functions — and NASA’s decision not to give Houston, home to the Johnson Space Center, a retired space shuttle, sending them instead to California, Florida, New York and Washington, D.C.
“You can almost make the case the administration has a vendetta against Texas,” said Republican Rep. Michael Burgess.
Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn wrote Obama on Friday, inviting him to tour north Texas, hard hit by wildfires. “We are hopeful that after seeing this devastation firsthand, you will reconsider your recent denial and provide the state and localities with the vital resources and funding required to fully support their work,” they wrote.
The administration has denied shortchanging Texas on disaster assistance, saying the state has received 25 federal fire assistance grants for the wildfires.
Gov. Rick Perry, who in April 2009 suggested that Texas might secede from the union, last week urged federal action to help the state fight wildfires.
“It is not only the obligation of the federal government, but its responsibility under law to help its citizens in times of emergency,” he said.
Texas last voted Democratic in a presidential election in 1976, and Democrats have not won statewide office since the 1990s.
Asked if there was a Democratic vendetta against Texas, former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost laughed and said, “They love Texas. They want to raise money in Texas.
“Texas has not been a political priority for Democratic candidates,” he said. “Texas has been an outlier among major states as far as Democratic politics and presidents are concerned. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that a Democratic president doesn’t pay much attention to Texas.”
Nonetheless, like many Democrats as well as Republicans in the state, Frost was surprised by the decision on the space shuttle.
“Everyone knows that Houston has played an important role in the space program,” he said. Texas, he said, deserves to have a shuttle.
“It’s a colossal mistake to a) ignore Texas and b) incite Texas,” said Allan J. Lichtman, an expert on the presidency at American University in Washington. “With the growth in Hispanic population, Texas is a land of opportunity for Democrats.”
“I don’t blame Texans for being upset,” he said.
But Cal Jillson, a professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said the reaction to the seemingly backhanded treatment was strictly partisan.
“Even in Texas, the Democrats are still receptive to (Obama’s) message,” said Jillson. “The Republicans in Texas don’t like the president, have never liked the president, so what they say is of little consequence.”
“Perry’s been bashing Washington for years and he expects his calls to be cheerfully received?” Jillson said. “The big problem Perry has now is that Washington has caller ID.”