Corpus Christi — Nueces County Commissioners Court held a meeting on Monday, where county managers discussed the possibility of making face masks mandatory when in a public setting.
County Judge Barbara Canales told reporters at a press briefing on Monday that she will not make the use of face masks mandatory, in large part due to the fact that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made it very clear that such rules would not be enforced.
Judge Canales did say that she is considering requiring people to wear face masks at places where there could be persons of a vulnerable population living such as nursing homes, assisted living centers where concern has been targeted.
“The Governor made it perfectly clear today that he was drawing a line in the sand politically,” said Southside Light Publisher and political analyst Matt Pierce-Briscoe. “There is battle brewing at the state level about the control that we give local leadership and Abbott drew that line today.”
Other political observers in Austin, like Kenneth Harmon say that face mask rules just increased lawmaker awareness.
“We have already seen a political showdown brewing over this local control/state control thing,” said Harmon. “I think it is going to be a topic of discussion here in the coming year.”
Pierce-Briscoe, who first reported weeks ago that Texas Democrats were mounting a fight over local control points out what he says is obvious.
“The cities and counties with mandatory mask orders are Bastrop County, Edinburg, Elsa, Fort Bliss, Hidalgo County, Laredo, Mission, Palmview, Travis County and now Harris County,” he says. “With the lone exceptions of Judge Pape in Bastrop and Fort Bliss we have 8 heavily Democrat areas that have attempted to mandate face masks in public. Like I said long ago, this is not coming from local leadership but coming from Democrat party managers. We know that from our previous investigative reporting.”
Pierce-Briscoe notes how he sees how Judge Canales finds herself in a bit of a pickle on the issue.
“I think Judge Canales has her heart in the right place,” he says. “But, you have to understand that like Judge Hidalgo in Harris County and the young guns coming up in the Democrat Party from Deep South Texas, she has political ambition and is eyeing a state level office in her mind. Maybe not now, maybe not until Senator Hinojosa retires or whatever but she has political ambition.”
Pierce-Briscoe says he hears it, sees it and recognizes the spot she is in.
“Pusley could have beaten her and in almost any other election cycle that would have been the reality,” he says. “And this face mask strategy put her between Democrat strategists and a non-polarized political community.”
“Senator Hinojosa will likely win in November and so will Rep. Hunter, so she will likely have to wait her turn,” Pierce-Briscoe said. “Do something stupid here and get thrown out next election cycle and you look foolish and there goes your state office hopes. But keep in mind, to win next time around she needs those local republican votes. They are not going to buy into an autocratic Democrat. She needs to build those bridges, stop reminding people of the power and authority that is given with the damn job and get onto building bridges and stop being autocratic or its going to cost her her future political career.”
He’s also says that she can’t let state level Democrats think that she can’t lead either.
“Those strategists up there decided weeks ago that local control was going to be their battlefield and it's no secret,” he says. “She has got to convince them that she is on board and being a County Judge is a chance to prove that. Her and Hidalgo are two up and comers and those strategists have their eyes on them watching how this plays out.”
But how are they doing? MPB says it’s too soon to tell.
“I think Hidalgo has shot herself in the foot already because she reacted too soon. Judge Canales might have taken the safe route and waited too late and this has already played itself out with Abbott’s firm, authoritative message today,” he says. “Unless she wants to challenge Abbott and ensure a loss in next election cycle, she has all but one choice and that's to play nice with local Republicans.”
While today was largely about face masks, the big picture was state level politics. Something MPB has cautioned for weeks.
“Judge Canales could be a very, very, very good asset for Nueces County and the Coastal Bend and she is between a rock and a hard place,” MPB says. “She’s a South Texan and I want to see a South Texan do good. But she needs to watch and learn from these experienced elder Statespeople. This has nothing to do with face masks, but everything to do with long term political strategy.”