Grumpy Republicans await Obama in visit to Texas

McClatchy NewspapersMay 9, 2011 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama may be visiting Texas on Tuesday, with stops in El Paso and a fundraiser in Austin, but he won't be feeling the love — at least not from a growing chorus of unhappy GOP lawmakers who see the administration's refusal to designate the wildfire-battered state a disaster area the latest slap 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, follows on the state's ongoing 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 surprising decision not to give Houston, home to the Johnson Space Center, a retired space shuttle, opting instead to send them to California, Florida and New York.

"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," wrote the senators.

The administration has hotly denied shortchanging Texas on disaster assistance, saying the state has received 25 federal fire assistance grants for the wildfires.

A Texas Democrat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity in the state over the issue, says that with Gov. Rick Perry and every other GOP lawmaker slamming Obama at every turn, the state should not be surprised if it's losing out. "We've done everything we possibly could to be offensive to the Obama administration," said the Democrat, a former Texas elected official.

Perry, who in April 2009 famously suggested Texas might secede from the union, last week was urging 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 NASA orbiter.

"Everyone knows that Houston has played an important role in the space program," he said. Texas, he said, deserves to have an orbiter.

American University presidential expert Allan J. Lichtman said "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."

The administration's response to the wildfires, he said, based on Perry's request for firefighter assistance and not individual assistance, was correct.

"Perry's been bashing Washington for years and he expects his calls to be cheerfully received?" said Jillson. "The big problem Perry has now is that Washington has caller ID."

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