On Politics: Stay at Home? States Can’t Agree

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Vice President Mike Pence wore a mask as he arrived at the White House on Wednesday.

HOUSTON — Few things define life in Texas more than red versus blue. Especially in these abnormal times.

At first, the Republicans who run Texas resisted shutting the state down over the coronavirus, while the Democrats who run the state’s major cities — Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio — took charge and put local lockdowns and other restrictions in place.

It was a story repeated often in this divided country, as Democrats took a cautious, shutdown-oriented approach and Republicans feared that the cure was worse than the disease. But in Texas, everything is more pronounced, from the blue skies to the state pride to the pandemic politics.

So the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, finally issued a stay-at-home order, but later flexed his muscle over local officials with this caveat: His statewide virus-related policies superseded their city and county orders. And how did Democratic city leaders respond? Some of them went about their business and kept their local rules in place.

But the back-and-forth heated up on Tuesday.

The Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, threatened legal action against city and county leaders in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, telling them that their local restrictions were unlawful and more strict than those issued by Abbott. Face masks in public? The governor suggests wearing them, but does not require it, Paxton reminded officials. Municipal stay-at-home orders? The governor ended the state’s order this month, so the local ones are “unenforceable,” Paxton’s office noted.

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Democrats disputed Paxton’s reading of their local orders. And some have pointed out that the attorney general who is telling them what is and what isn’t lawful is the same attorney general who was arrested on felony charges of securities fraud in 2015 after being indicted by a grand jury, in a long-running case that has dragged on.

Paxton has been battling Democratic leaders on other fronts, too. Yesterday he asked the state’s Supreme Court to prevent elections officials in at least five counties, including Dallas and El Paso, from providing mail-in ballots to voters who feared that casting their ballot in person might expose them to the virus.

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