This one is especially worth the read.
At some point, a tragedy is more than an isolated mishap.
With this week's stunning report of negligence and neglect leading up to the fire at the Governor's Mansion, the time has passed to ask serious questions about competence in running state government.
To start, let's reject the notion that this was an isolated, unpreventable act. Let's not allow claims that the Texas Department of Public Safety – and, more than that, the leadership of the State of Texas – is nothing more than a victim.
No, for once, let's look at things more broadly. Here's a short, sobering list of only the scandal and incompetence that's made headlines recently:
-- The Texas Youth Commission, the agency charged with rehabilitating young Texans who break the law, is under receivership like some bankrupt Savings & Loan because some state employees, who were supposed to protect these kids, are instead accused of physically and even sexually abusing them. Just this week, we learned in the Dallas Morning News that after more than a year of the strongest reform the leadership could muster, many of these kids are receiving "poor schooling from overwhelmed teachers plagued by badly designed programs."
-- The Texas Department of Transportation – once an agency so effective that we bragged about it to the world – has become a rogue element in state government: "losing" a billion dollars, enraging citizens and legislators regardless of party or constituency, and drawing its own recommendations for receivership.
-- The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the state's meager efforts to ensure its citizens stay healthy, turned vital operations over to a private vendor that wasn't nearly up to handling them. In the process, tens of millions of dollars have been wasted and dedicated state employees are scrambling to pick up the pieces.
It goes on and on. Stroll among the committee rooms during a legislative session, and the conversations weave a dreary tapestry of the failures by Texas' leaders to protect, serve, and meet the needs of the People of Texas.
At some point, leaders must take responsibility. And if they won't, the people of Texas have to take a long look at what's wrong.
We remain the state with the most uninsured, yet the legislative leadership refuses to pursue all available federal dollars for children's health care.
Our universities can't keep up with our state's growth, yet the leadership cuts funding levels, cynically decries tuition increases, and vetoes increases for community college budgets.
Our small businesses fret about huge tax increases and homeowners can't find their promised property tax relief, yet the leadership can't find a way to seek out solutions or even basic information in a timely manner.
And there's the Department of Public Safety, the umbrella over the Texas Rangers and the one-time ideal for Texas law and order.
But now, according to its state reviewers, we have an agency that has a phobia for technology, doesn't look at all of its own data, and would sooner ship its people across the state than modify its habits to be more effective.
And, according to this week's report on the Mansion fire, we have an agency that forces good officers to beg for adequate protection of the state's treasures; that doesn't check or repair its security equipment; that employs senior officers who won't even ask for needed resources; and that fails to prepare its people for potential emergencies.
Taken together, it all resembles a fantasy of someone looking to drown the people's government in a bathtub – or, if you will, burn it to the ground.
But the Mansion fire isn't only a symbol. It's a symptom of the self-interested neglect and mismanagement that have come to define those who purport to lead this state. While Texas is blessed with dedicated, hard working, public service-oriented employees, they have been denied the tools and leadership they need.
Texas, and every Texan, deserves better. It's time to demand a government that works.