Column: Texas vs. California: Mean tweets, migrant dumping and the ‘race to the bottom’

Members of the Texas National Guard speak to a group of migrants.
Members of the Texas National Guard speak to a group of migrants in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The migrants had hoped to turn themselves in to seek asylum in the United States.
(Danielle Villasana / Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Name-calling. Mean tweets. A governor’s quick-draw veto pen.

What does any of that have to do with the latest batch of migrants swept up in a red state and deposited in California?

The shipment arrived last week courtesy of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Forty-two people — and let’s not forget they’re people — arrived in downtown Los Angeles, presumably famished as well as frightened after a 23-hour bus ride with starvation rations.

It’s all politics, of course.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spent Monday in California hustling cash for his presidential bid, advanced his visit by dumping two planeloads of asylum-seekers earlier this month in Sacramento.


They were lied to — promised jobs and attorneys to hasten their bid for legal status — but at least DeSantis got what he wanted: Several days of national news coverage to boost his enervated campaign and a chance to stick it to his blood enemy, Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Abbott isn’t running for president.

At least not in 2024.

But he is caught up in an increasingly nasty feud with fellow Republicans in Texas, most prominent among them the state’s lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who’s turned an uneasy relationship with the state’s chief executive into all-out war.

So how better to remind folks who’s in charge than for Abbott to stoke the immigration issue and pick on some helpless, unwitting victims, packing them off to that most hated of liberal quarters.

“Immigration is the great unifier among Republicans, especially in Texas,” said Jim Henson, who leads the Texas Politics Project at the state’s flagship university in Austin. “At a time Republicans in the state are at each others’ throat, it’s a sure score with the broadest swath of the base.”

What’s more, he added: “In Texas, you can never go wrong bashing California.”

Migrants from Venezuela, Colombia and Guatemala were sent to Sacramento by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and say they feel duped.

June 17, 2023

If you want to know what ails our political system, look no further than the immigration issue. The broad outlines of a political compromise are not difficult to see.

One side wants tougher border enforcement. The other seeks accommodation for people already in the country without legal sanction. They meet somewhere in, or around, the middle.



But a solution, and compromise, has vexed Congress for decades in large part because of the growing chasm between the parties and the two sides’ most fervent supporters. (Immigration is an issue that has to be addressed at the federal level, as we’ve seen from the tension among states.)

Worsening the conflict are partisan media and the pernicious practice of gerrymandering.

The drawing of district lines to ensure that one party or the other prevails has diminished competition for congressional seats; the greatest fear many lawmakers have is losing a primary to someone considered more ideologically “pure.”

In that environment, compromise is not a virtue, but a “sellout” to the other side.

And many Republicans, especially, find great gain in playing to partisan animosities, proving their “toughness” through stunts such as shipping hapless migrants from red state to blue.

“It’s a race to the bottom,” said Jeronimo Cortina, who teaches political science at the University of Houston. “Instead of competing for tech companies and whatnot, here now we have a competition among governors that want to appeal to a very particular part of the Republican Party.”

No wonder Abbott’s political team was upset last summer when DeSantis arranged to ship a group of asylum-seekers from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard.


It wasn’t the inhumanity. It was the stolen thunder.

More than 21,600 migrants have been transported across the country from Texas, under a plan hastily instituted by Gov. Greg Abbott last year. Forty-two arrived in L.A. last week.

June 20, 2023

A few things to know about Texas politics:

— It is, for all intents, a one-party Republican state.

— The lieutenant governor is elected separately from the governor, not as his or her running mate.

— The position is a powerful one. The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and wields considerable influence, not least over the state budget.

Patrick and Abbott — fellow Republicans — differ in temperament, Patrick being a former talk-radio host and Abbott having served on the state Supreme Court.

They have also disagreed on policy, with Patrick being the more pugnaciously conservative — or Trumpier, if you will — of the two.

Despite that, the governor and lieutenant governor worked together and got along reasonably well until the most recent legislative session, when a fight broke out over how best to cut the state’s soaring property taxes.

On one side is Patrick. On the other is Abbott and the GOP House speaker, Dade Phelan — or “California Dade,” as Patrick called the Beaumont-born Texan. (That was not meant as a compliment.)


As tensions escalated, Abbott and Patrick began openly feuding.

Patrick fired off a series of taunting tweets.

Abbott spent the weekend vetoing scores of bills, most of which originated in the Senate, saying lawmakers needed to first resolve the fight over property taxes and do it his way.

Patrick responded with a tweet saying the “Abbott/House Property Tax Relief Plan” was “Lies Masquerading as the Truth.”

The migrant-dumping stunt in Sacramento is just the latest sign of the Florida governor’s win-at-any-cost presidential strategy. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is happy to engage.

June 7, 2023

It’s been quite the spectacle, say longtime Texas political observers, who have never seen anything quite like it.

So with his authority being challenged within the GOP and his political standing under attack, Abbott grasped for a familiar playbook, the one targeting California and attacking border policy under the Biden administration.

Stuffing migrants on a bus and shipping them out of state is a way to remind people, Henson said, that the governor wields preeminent power in Texas.

It’s also reassuring to the base of the state Republican Party, Henson suggested, “like tuning to a classic rock station” to catch an old familiar song.


“The governor,” he said, “knows what people want to hear.”

Never mind the voices of those 42 people being played as political pawns.