“Kill ’em.” Houston GOP powerbroker Steve Hotze left Greg Abbott a voicemail requesting National Guard “shoot to kill” rioters

Patrick Svitek, Texas Tribune

In the days after George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis last month, as massive protests against police brutality spread across Texas and other states, conservative power broker Steve Hotze of Houston called Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff to pass along a message.

“I want you to give a message to the governor,” Hotze told Abbott’s chief of staff, Luis Saenz, in a voicemail. “I want to make sure that he has National Guard down here and they have the order to shoot to kill if any of these son-of-a-bitch people start rioting like they have in Dallas, start tearing down businesses — shoot to kill the son of a bitches. That’s the only way you restore order. Kill ‘em. Thank you.”

The voicemail, which The Texas Tribune obtained Friday via a public information request, came on the weekend of June 6, several days after Abbott activated the Texas National Guard as some of the protests became violent. It is unclear whether Saenz responded, and Abbott’s office declined to comment on the voicemail.

A Hotze spokesperson said he was not immediately available for comment. However, several hours after the publication of this story, Hotze shared it on his personal Facebook page and another Facebook page affiliated with him.

“It’s not about race but has everything to do with the future of America — the freest and most progressive country in the world,” Hotze wrote on the second Facebook page. “It’s about those who burn homes and businesses, including those owned by African-Americans, and attack law enforcement. Enough is enough.”

Hotze’s voicemail brought a sharp rebuke Saturday from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who called it “absolutely disgusting and reprehensible” via Twitter.

The voicemail brings into sharp relief the incendiary views of Hotze, a staunch critic of Abbott’s response to the coronavirus pandemic who has repeatedly challenged the governor’s emergency orders in court. The latest lawsuit came Friday, taking aim at Abbott’s statewide mask mandate announced a day earlier.

“This draconian order is contrary to the Texas spirit and invades the liberties the people of Texas protected in the constitution,” the lawsuit says.

In a Facebook post early Saturday morning, Hotze continued to take aim at Abbott, saying the governor’s “mask is starving his brain of oxygen.”

Hotze is one of most prolific culture warriors on the right in Texas. He is a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage and was a key figure in the 2015 defeat of Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance — and then in the unsuccessful push for the 2017 “bathroom bill” in the Texas Legislature.

More recently, Hotze and his allies have been in the headlines for the lawsuits he has been filing amid the pandemic. Hotze sued Abbott over his stay-at-home order in April. In late May, Hotze asked the Texas Supreme Court to strike down the law that gives Abbott broad executive power to respond to disasters. And earlier this month, Hotze sued over the state’s contact tracing program.

The lawsuit over Abbott’s mask order was filed Friday in Travis County District Court.

In his home county, Hotze also suedHarris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in late April over her mask order for county residents. Abbott later gutted that order by prohibiting local officials from fining people who do not wear masks.

Gov. Abbott issues harsh executive order as coronavirus continues to spread

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued a statewide mask mandate in Texas and is allowing local authorities to limit groups of 10 or more.

Abbott’s executive order will face blowback from some more conservative members of the Republican party in Texas who have said the governor needs to do more to support the economy.

But Texas is setting daily records for new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Abbott’s statewide mask order is effective 12:01 p.m. tomorrow.

Enforcement includes a verbal or written warning for first violation, followed by $250 fines for repeated offenses.

The order requires “all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with few exceptions.”

This is a developing story

If You Drive Padre Island Drive You Might See A New Billboard With A Recognizable Face

Last month former Nueces Country Sheriff and current Republican Party Chairman Jim Kaelin stirred up a firestorm when he shared a post that many people felt was blatantly racist. Even Gov. Greg Abbott took notice and called for Kaelin to resign. He survived a ”confidence vote” from his party and then rushed to hold a press conference where he maintained his innocence. Now LULAC Para Todos is punching back trying to do something that not even the Governor could do–get Kaelin to resign.

”LULAC PARA TODOS joins in Gov. Abbott’s call to have Jim Kaelin resign from his post as Chair of the Nueces County Republican Party, because racism has no home here in the Coastal Bend, in the state of Texas, or across the country. We will not tolerate racism in our community any longer”, said Eric Holguin, President of LULAC PARA TODOS. “This isn’t about party politics – it’s about doing the right thing so our community can come together. Racism and racists shouldn’t belong to any political party or party platform.” he added.

The billboard will be running for at least one month, or until Jim Kaelin resigns from his post. LULAC PARA TODOS (#22399) is a local civil rights chapter of League of United Latin American Citizens.

*Disclosure: Eric Holguin is also running for Texas House District 32.

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Testing Has Not Stopped In Nueces County And State Officials Informed The County That Some Of Their Requested Supplies Will Arrive Wednesday Morning

Last week public health officials were conducting COVID-19 testing at breakneck speed. Tests were being administered in large numbers at public testing locations daily and those results were being shipped out to be analyzed. Some local media reports are suggesting that testing has been “halted” and even that “extraordinary” measures were being undertaken to get supplies rushed into Nueces County.

On Tuesday evening, KRIS SIX News reported that that Nueces County had requested supplies from the state at least 21 times. State officials say that the request for supplies had actually been only received over the weekend. The report also stated that Judge Canales said that she had no timetable as to when the requested supplied would arrive here in Nueces County. The state had advised the county that they would be getting their request and most of it would be arriving on Wednesday morning.

The Texas Department of State Health Services notified local officials on Tuesday prior to the 5:00 pm press briefing that the requested viral transport medium (VTM) and swabs that are needed for the test would arrive on Thursday morning in Nueces County.

The request for items such as test tubes, lab coats, and other medical supplies DSHS says they do not have those supplies on hand and they would have to order them.

Rachel Hendrickson, Government Affairs for the Department of State Health Services advised officials that the agency’s operations center would be reaching out to the requestor (Nueces County/Corpus Christi Public Health) to “understand their barriers to ordering” those supplies.

There has been plenty of talk about reagents. The specific reagents requested by local public health officials are manufactured by pharmaceutical manufacture Roche. Hendrickson said in the email that “locals” are using the Roche brand reagent to support drive-thru testing until the Panther Brand reagent (suitable for the Canadian manufactured Hologic testing system) can get shipped.

Hendrickson went onto explain to the officials that the Roche brand reagents come directly from Roche Pharma directly to the local labs that have requested them. The state does not have access to the Roche Brand.

“We are talking to the lab more about what options might be available to assist,” Hendrickson told the officials in the email. “I know TDEM (Texas Department of Emergency Management) has been in contact with the judge (Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales) to try to assist with any specimens already collected using their contracted lab.”

Another news report from ABC affiliate Kiii in Corpus Christi claimed that testing had been “halted.”

On Tuesday, the Texas National Guard tested hundreds of area residents at the Waves Resort facility out on North Padre. Nueces County Commissioner Brent Chesney said on Wednesday that there were already 400 people on site to be tested. Exact numbers have yet to returned, but visual estimates appear that at least that many were tested.

While testing was being conducted out on North Padre, other tests were being conducted in area nursing homes and long-term care facilities. So testing has far from stopped.

On the surface it appears that public health officials may have simply waited too long to send in the request for supplies. We have reached out to the City of Corpus Christi and Public Health officials for an answer to that question. On Monday, officials from Nueces County admitted that the request had been sent in over the weekend.

This story has been updated throughout.

*This story has been updated to correct an error indicating today (June 30, 2020) as being Wednesday. The original article contained the error twice and has been corrected. We regret this error.

Breaking: Nueces County Commissioner To Announce Candidacy For Corpus Christi Mayor

Nueces County Commissioner Carolyn Vaughn will announce Wednesday morning that she will be stepping down from her duties as commissioner to run for mayor of Corpus Christi.

Vaughn confirmed on Tursday that she will be holding a press conference Wednesday morning to formally announce her intent. Vaughn filed her campaign paperwork on Tuesday

The announcement comes as many Corpus Christi residents question sitting Mayor Joe McComb and his often absence from city/county press conferences and the current direction of the Corpus Christi city council.

Vaughn, a former city councilmember herself was appointed to the Commissioner’s Court on March 14, 2018. The vacancy will allow for County Judge Barbara Canales to appoint a replacement for Vaughn’s seat.

Officials In Nueces County Order Beach Restrictions Ahead Of Holiday Weekend

Officials in Nueces County are finalizing an order that would restrict access to public beaches over the course of the upcoming Independence Day weekend. This moves comes as the city and region are experiencing increased cases of coronavirus.

The order will go into effect July 1 and remain in place until July 7, 2020.

This order is similar to the orders that were put into place over the Easter Holiday that were intended to keep residents and holiday seekers off of area beaches and slow the spread of COVID-19.

This order will not prohibit pedestrian traffic on area beaches. Area piers such as Bob Hall Pier will remain open along with RV Parks.

Padre Island National Seashore and Mustang Island State Park, which fall under other jurisdictions, will set their own limitations.

The order also includes Klebreg County beaches.

The order also comes on the heels of an announcement on Monday from city and county leaders that the beaches would remain open for the holiday, hinting that there would be no such limitations but that County Judge Barbara Canales did have options available to her that would allow her to put orders such as this into place.

While there is no doubt that some will argue that the move is not needed, just as many will agree that the restrictions are needed.

Many holiday seekers from places such as the Texas Hill Country and the San Antonio area have already made plans by booking the popular short-term vacation rentals through internet sites. So far, there is no restriction in-place that prevents that action. Corpus Christi Mayor removed that limitation back in April as part of localized reopening.

This is a developing story.

Hundreds Gather At Waves Resort As Testing For COVID-19 Continues

Testing for COVID-19 is continuing around the coastal bend region and some of that testing is underway out on North Padre Island.

On Tuesday morning Nueces County Commissioner Brent Chesney said that 400 people were on-site waiting to be tested.

Lines of cars and parents with children were waiting to be screened as the virus continues to rapidly spread through the community that once appeared to have it under control.

Cars line up at Waves Resort on North Padre Tuesday for COVID-19 testing. (Flour Bluff News)

Another testing event that was planned for today over at Concrete Street Amphitheater was postponed due to what Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni said were “outbreaks” at area nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

“People want to get tested,” said Arron Mitchell, an area resident. “I think more people want to get tested and to do their part. But a few people who are against everything are some of the loudest voices in the room.”

Mitchell says that he is not among that crowd.

“I take this very seriously,” he said. “But there are plenty of people who aren’t.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that Nueces County was among a growing list of Texas counties that he is instituting a “pause” in elective and non-medically necessary procedures in order to address increasing concerns over hospital capacity.

The Texas National Guard is conducting the testing.

COVID-19 Testing Slows Down For Multiple Reasons In Nueces County

Local public health officials confirmed on Monday that some testing for Coronavirus has fallen a little off because of a lack of testing supplies. But that isn’t the only reason. At least one other factor is in play—ten area nursing homes with Coronavirus outbreaks that by state order will now require complete testing.

While a lack of testing supplies is complicated matter of filing paperwork and asking—along with maybe seeking the help of local state officials, that problem could be handled rather easily. Even with the amount of testing that is being done, Texas Department of Emergency Management logistics managers say that crews are working around the clock to rapidly distribute testing supplies. Each night, cargo planes land at Air Force Bases and larger airports bringing in more federal resources. The bigger problem lies with the nursing homes.

When an outbreak occurs at a nursing home or similar long-term care facility, rules require that testing be conducted on staff and residents. Over the course of the next few days more than 2,000 staff and residents will have to be mass tested. That takes two things: testing supplies and people.

At least a few times Monday evening cargo shipments of supplies arrived in Nueces County. Officials with the Department of State Health Services says that surge teams are on the way to help. Sunday afternoon, federal and state resources began arriving at area airports and warehouses. By Monday evening, some of those resources had already been deployed to area nursing homes and hospitals.

City Manager Peter Zanoni made an announcement on Monday saying that the previously planned testing at the Concrete Street Amphitheater was canceled due to the nursing home sure and the outbreak at the Corpus Christi State Living Center.

Testing has not completely stopped in Nueces County and it is actually still going strong, despite some local reports.

DSHS and The Texas Department of Emergency Management both confirm that resources are available and that supplies are being dispatched and distributed on a regular basis—even to Nueces County. The only hiccup is the long-term care facilities each time they have a breakout. That in itself will somewhat slow public testing, but protecting the most vulnerable is what’s most important.

Are We Making A Big Mistake By Keeping The Beaches Open? Locals Will Go Regardless and Out-of-Towners Are Coming

Matt Pierce Briscoe

It was pretty much made clear at a joint city of Corpus Christi/Nueces Country press conference on Monday that Nueces Country beaches would remain open for the upcoming holiday weekend despite the ongoing and increasingly concerning rise in COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, not far to our south, Cameron County announced Monday that effective at 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 30, all County Parks and County Beach access area will be closed.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. ordered the closure of county parks and beach access areas until 12:01 a.m. on July 13.

Why is that you say? Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni had an answer to the question. 

“They said they’re not going close the beaches,” Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni said. “We can’t close them if they don’t let us close them.” 

But that statement seems to pass the blame towards the state, even though Governor Abbott maintained that beaches were not the primary cause of the problem. Many disagree and while there are die-hard beach goers who would argue that closing the beaches for public health and safety is violating their rights, the rules of government do seem to allow plenty of flexibility for city and county officials to make that tough call. 

Local officials say that they can’t stop people from coming to the beach. Even though Independence Day weekend crowds mirror Memorial Day, the city and county seem to favoring business profits and tax revenue over public health. They can encourage people to be safe, they say.

But beyond that local officials do in fact have a way to limit both local and out-of-town beach traffic at restaurants, grocery stores and others places that holiday seekers tend to frequent—they can close the beaches and parks.

The Texas General Land Office has insisted that the agency is giving local government officials the flexibility to do what they need to do in order to keep their communities safe. Sources at the General Land Office Monday night confirmed that.

Cameron County, which instituted a beach and park closure on Monday tallied 2,281 cumulative cases on Monday. That’s only 161 cases more than right here in Nueces County, which is seeing the highest per capita increase in COVID-19 cases anywhere in the state. 

Like Nueces County, Galveston County is risking lives for money and keeping their beaches open even though the Texas General Land Office is working with local officials to give them the flexibility that they need. That doesn’t sit well with some folks. 

“They know damn good and well if you keep the beaches open people from San Antonio and the Hill Country will come,” says Corpus Christi resident Michael Cantu. “I mean you have enough people here willing to ignore the rules and go out there.” 

Cantu isn’t wrong. Robert and Patricia Curnow who live in the Boerne area say that they plan on coming to Corpus Christi because so much of the river activity in the Hill Country is restricted or shutdown due to COVID-19. 

“We will be there,” Patricia said on Monday. “If you ain’t scared then we ain’t either.” 

They aren’t alone. Blake Collins is a San Antonio College student who studies at UTSA. He said that originally he and a group of about 18 friends had planned to go tubing the Frio near Concan, but with the closure of tubing operators and heavy restriction and closures on many county parks in the Hill Country, they are coming to the last bastion of recreation—Nueces County.

“You people got balls,” Collins said. “Don’t close the beaches! We have a chance for Spring Break Part Two. This thing doesn’t scare me or anybody that I know.” 

They already have an Air BnB booked for 6 days on North Padre. 

The popular internet site that Collins and his friends booked their short-term rental through actually showed limited short term availability for the days of July 2-5. So did the alternative site VRBO. As it is currently, there is no restriction on short-term rentals or hotels in place like there once had been.

The city of Corpus Christi began lifting restrictions on short-term rentals that had once been in place to help initially slow the spread. However on April 28, short-term rentals were once again allowed to take reservations from out-of-town visitors—and they still are. 

But there lies the part of the problem. Local officials trusted in the community as Governor Abbott reopened the state. What seems like to be “back in the day,” County Judge Barbara Canales had this stern warning and wishful thinking.

“We are going to have to take on more personal responsibility,” she said. “I know we can do it. We know how important it is for our economy to survive. It is incumbent for us to take this seriously.” 

That didn’t happen. 

At that very same press conference Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb said this: 

“If the numbers don’t make an upturn, we will expand to fifty percent capacity in two weeks,” he said. “If the numbers go in the wrong direction, well, we don’t want to get back into another order. You’ve been wonderful so far. We continue to request your participation in staying safe.”

Again, that didn’t happen and many area residents just carried on like everything was just like it was before—safe, sound and healthy. And there was another part of the problem. 

Corpus Christi and Nueces County have found themselves in more than just a political and social pickle. People without a doubt do not want to be restricted, but just like a hurricane or tropical storm, it sometimes just has to be done for public health and safety. On Monday it seemed like local government officials were still hanging onto the Governor’s philosophy of “as we do more testing the number will increase.” But just like Gov. Abbott recently admitted on television stations across the state—he made a mistake and he recognizes it.

There isn’t much doubt that locals and holiday seekers alike will be crowding Corpus Christi area beaches over the upcoming holiday weekend. Beyond that the number of COVID-19 cases will very likely rise again along with the death rate—just like it did before. Then, the ultimate question will remain: who will bear that burden of knowing that more may could have been done and they chose not to do it?

That might end up falling on all of us one way or another.

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