By David Saleh Rauf
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s plan to beef up security along the Mexico border has hit a snag: House Speaker Joe Straus. Dewhurst, with the support of Gov. Rick Perry, is pushing for a three-month “surge operation” that calls for ramping up the number of boots, aircraft and boats on the border to crack down on smuggling and drug cartel crimes.
A May 2 letter signed by Dewhurst and Perry directs Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw to start gearing up for a new operation starting Sept. 1 targeting border counties.
Aside from Perry, Dewhurst also needs Straus, R-San Antonio, to sign off on the directive, which calls for the DPS to use funds allocated for fiscal 2015 to accomplish the mission and then wait to see if the Legislature replenishes the money next session. Straus, however, has yet to commit.
“We’ve reached out to the speaker to see if there are any wrinkles we need to help iron out,” Dewhurst said in an interview. Straus spokesman Jason Embry said talks between the speaker and Dewhurst about enhancing border security are ongoing “but they have not reached an agreement.” Embry also noted that state police can put more boots on the ground along the border without approval from the state’s top three lawmakers.
“DPS also has the authority to send more troopers and equipment to the border immediately if the director deems necessary, as he has in the past,” Embry said, emphasizing that the current state budget invests $343 million in border security over two years, “illustrating that this issue is a priority for the Texas House.”
Dewhurst already has gone on television and pledged to Texans that a new short-term surge is “imminent.” During a televised debate in Dallas against state Sen. Dan Patrick earlier this month, Dewhurst said he had locked down agreements with Perry and Straus.
However, Dewhurst also acknowledged that he overplayed his hand during the debate. “I was told that I had an agreement with the speaker’s office by the speaker’s personnel,” Dewhurst said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have said it.” He added: “I would expect you would see something happening along the border shortly.”
Border security has been a hot topic in the lieutenant governor’s race, and Patrick, R-Houston, has charged that Dewhurst’s border surge plan is politically motivated since the idea was rolled out in the middle of the campaign.
Last crackdown in fall Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, said Straus will not use his position of power to cater to a “campaign stunt.”
“Unlike the lieutenant governor in this case, Straus does not want to get drawn into what is, effectively, a campaign stunt to pend money on a short-term deal that when it’s over will have yielded very little,” Jones said.
In December, Dewhurst proposed a continuing border operation, asking Perry and Straus to give their approval to fund a $60 million annual “permanent surge” on the border. Since that idea has yet to come to fruition, Dewhurst is selling the short-term border mission as a way to prove to lawmakers that his “permanent surge” is a good idea.
The last border initiative launched by DPS played out in the Rio Grande Valley in October over a three-week period. That initiative, dubbed “Operation Strong Safety,” included a beefed-up presence of boots on the ground and patrols in the air and water, helping to decrease crime in the area, according state police data released during a Capitol press conference in
At the time, officials said the operation resulted in significant decreases in criminal activity, and Dewhurst has lauded the results as proof the state can “shut down the border.”
Traffic stop controversy
That operation became marred in controversy, however, after DPS set up traffic checkpoints, prompting intense backlash from residents, lawmakers and civil rights groups who suggested the roadside stops were racially motivated. The DPS responded by saying it would refrain from setting up checkpoints in the future without the Legislature’s approval.
That operation was focused along the border, from the “Gulf of Mexico to Laredo,” Dewhurst said. The three-month surge that’s still in limbo would encompass “the whole border, from the Gulf of Mexico to as close to El Paso as we can get,” he said.
The lieutenant governor declined to release more details, but the letter signed by him and Perry directs the DPS’ McCraw to draw up an operational plan with a detailed cost estimate within 15 days of the start of the surge.
It also would require the DPS to report to the Legislature and governor on costs and effectiveness by March 15, 2015, which would be used to help lawmakers determine whether to replenish the funding.
“In the face of evolving threats of drug and human trafficking and other transnational and cartel-related violence and crime,” the letter reads, “the State of Texas stands ready to build on Operation Strong Safety and take additional steps to further protect its citizens.”