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More GOP lawmakers enlist in Trump effort to undo Biden win
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — A growing number of Republican lawmakers are joining President Donald Trump’s extraordinary effort to overturn the election, pledging to reject the results when Congress meets next week to count the Electoral College votes and certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Saturday announced a coalition of 11 senators and senators-elect who have been enlisted for Trump’s effort to subvert the will of American voters.

This follows the declaration from Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who was the first to buck Senate leadership by saying he would join with House Republicans in objecting to the state tallies during Wednesday’s joint session of Congress.

Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat is tearing the party apart as Republicans are forced to make consequential choices that will set the contours of the post-Trump era. Hawley and Cruz are both among potential 2024 presidential contenders.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had urged his party not to try to overturn what nonpartisan election officials have concluded was a free and fair vote.

The 11 senators largely acknowledged Saturday they will not succeed in preventing Biden from being inaugurated on Jan. 20 after he won the Electoral College 306-232. But their challenges, and those from House Republicans, represent the most sweeping effort to undo a presidential election outcome since the Civil War.

“We do not take this action lightly,” Cruz and the other senators said in a joint statement.

They vowed to vote against certain state electors on Wednesday unless Congress appoints an electoral commission to immediately conduct an audit of the election results. They are zeroing in on the states where Trump has raised unfounded claims of voter fraud. Congress is unlikely to agree to their demand.

The group, which presented no new evidence of election problems, includes Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Mike Braun of Indiana, and Sens.-elect Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

Biden’s transition spokesman, Mike Gwin, dismissed the effort as a “stunt” that won’t change the fact that Biden will be sworn in Jan. 20.

Trump, the first president to lose a reelection bid in almost 30 years, has attributed his defeat to widespread voter fraud, despite the consensus of nonpartisan election officials and even Trump’s attorney general that there was none. Of the roughly 50 lawsuits the president and his allies have filed challenging election results, nearly all have been dismissed or dropped. He’s also lost twice at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The days ahead are expected to do little to change the outcome.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the panel overseeing the Electoral College count. said the Republican effort to create a federal commission “to supersede state certifications” is wrong.

“It is undemocratic. It is un-American. And fortunately it will be unsuccessful. In the end, democracy will prevail,” she said in a statement.

The convening of the joint session to count the Electoral College votes is usually routine. While objections have surfaced before — in 2017, several House Democrats challenged Trump’s win — few have approached this level of intensity.

On the other side of the Republican divide, several senators spoke out Saturday against Cruz and Hawley’s effort.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in a statement that she will vote to affirm the election and urged colleagues in both parties to join her in “maintaining confidence” in elections “so that we ensure we have the continued trust of the American people.”

Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said a “fundamental, defining feature of a democratic republic is the right of the people to elect their own leaders.” He said the effort by Hawley, Cruz and others “to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in swing states like Pennsylvania directly undermines this right.”

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah called the Cruz-led effort an “ill-conceived endeavor” and said Trump’s call for supporters to converge on the Capitol had “the predictable potential to lead to disruption, and worse.” He added: “I could never have imagined seeing these things in the greatest democracy in the world. Has ambition so eclipsed principle?”

Earlier this week, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, another possible 2024 contender, urged his colleagues to “reject this dangerous ploy,” which he said threatens the nation’s civic norms.

Caught in the middle is Vice President Mike Pence, who faces growing pressure from Trump’s allies over his ceremonial role in presiding over the session Wednesday. His chief of staff, Marc Short, said in a statement Saturday that Pence “welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections.”

Several Republicans have indicated they are under pressure from constituents back home to show they are fighting for Trump in his baseless campaign to stay in office.

Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking Republican, told reporters at the Capitol that leadership was allowing senators to “vote their conscience.”

Thune’s remarks as the GOP whip in charge of rounding up votes show that Republican leadership is not putting its muscle behind Trump’s demands, but allowing senators to choose their course. He noted the gravity of questioning the election outcome.

“This is an issue that’s incredibly consequential, incredibly rare historically and very precedent-setting,” he said. “This is a big vote.”

Pence will be carefully watched as he presides over what is typically a routine vote count in Congress but is now heading toward a prolonged showdown that could extend into Wednesday night, depending on how many challenges are mounted.

The latest failed effort to upend the election came from Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and a group of Arizona electors, who filed suit to try to force Pence to step outside mere ceremony and shape the outcome of the vote. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle, a Trump appointee, dismissed their suit late Friday. In another blow, Gohmert’s appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was rejected Saturday night, the panel of judges agreeing with Kernodle’s ruling that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the suit.

To ward off a dramatic unraveling, McConnell convened a conference call with Republican senators Thursday specifically to address the coming joint session and logistics of tallying the vote, according to several Republicans granted anonymity to discuss the private call.

The Republican leader pointedly called on Hawley to answer questions about his challenge to Biden’s victory, according to two of the Republicans.

But there was no response because Hawley was a no-show, the Republicans said.

Hawley’s office said he sent an email afterward to his colleagues explaining his views. In the email, Hawley said constituents back home are “angry and disillusioned” with the outcome of the election.

McConnell had previously warned GOP senators not to participate in raising objections, saying it would be a terrible vote for colleagues. In essence, lawmakers would be forced to choose between the will of the outgoing president and that of the voters.


Local
centerpiece
Longview makes progress on bond projects in 2020

A new police department, new and improved fire stations, park upgrades and wider thoroughfares are on the horizon for Longview.

In 2020, the city laid a lot of groundwork on projects approved in a 2018 bond election. In 2021, residents can expect to see much more progress as construction begins to soar vertically on many projects.

“We continue to work on these projects in the same diligent manner that we’ve worked on bond issuances in the past, and we will get it done,” Director of Public Works Rolin McPhee said.

Longview voters in November 2018 overwhelmingly gave their approval to borrowing more than $104 million in bonds to upgrade public safety facilities, parks and streets.

Proposition A called for issuing $52.4 million in bonds for constructing, renovating and equipping police and fire stations and relocating the fire and police training center and emergency operations center.

Proposition B called for issuing $27 million in bonds for street and road improvements and other related improvements.

And Proposition C called for issuing $24.7 million in bonds for improvements and additions to city parks including trails, playing fields and other sports and recreational facilities.

Public Safety Projects

Construction on Longview’s new police department is slated to begin soon. In 2020, the city demolished three houses on the property of the new police station, which will be on West South Street near the existing police department, and awarded the construction project to WRL General Contractors of Flint. McPhee said a pre-construction meeting is scheduled for early January.

“That’s when they’ll discuss the schedule and we’ll get a notice to proceed. We expect to break ground early on in the year,” he said.

The construction is estimated to take 18 to 24 months, he said. In the beginning, residents will see a lot of dirt work and foundation work, followed by construction beginning to move vertically with the new building taking shape.

When completed, the new police department will be a three-story, 74,300-square-foot facility. Larger than the current police station’s 31,000 square feet, the new facility is being designed to accommodate growth for the next 35 years.

In terms of fire improvements, the city broke ground in 2020 on an addition and renovation at Fire Station No. 5 and hired an architect to design the new Fire Station No. 8.

At Fire Station No. 5, plans call for renovating and expanding the existing structure, including the kitchen, bathrooms and mixed-gender living spaces, as well as adding special operations equipment, such as for water rescues. The expansion will allow the city to increase staff at the fire station from eight to at least 12, according to the city.

The expansion also will include constructing three new bays, bringing the facility to a total of six, and increasing overall space from 6,300 square feet to more than 16,000 square feet.

McPhee said the city is on schedule for construction at Fire Station No. 5. Construction is estimated to be completed in the fall of 2021, he said.

Meanwhile, at Fire Station No. 8 the city contracted with Architects Design Group of Dallas for architectural plans. The city intends to relocate the existing Fire Station No. 8 from 4508 McCann Road to George Richey Road to provide better response time for the station’s coverage area.

With regard to the Fire and Police Training Center, the city removed tank cars from Stamper Park in 2020. The fire department uses the tank cars to train for how to respond to train derailments. The new Fire and Police Training Center will be moved to about 90 acres that the Longview Economic Development Corp. provided in the Longview Business Park off Eastman Road.

McPhee said the city is preparing to begin accepting bids for the project. When construction begins on the new Fire and Police Training Center, it is expected to take about one year to complete. After the new facility is constructed, an existing building at Stamper Park will be removed, he said.

Other public safety projects include plans for Fire Station No. 7 and renovations to the existing police station. Those projects are tentatively planned for construction in 2023.

Streets

With regard to streets, McPhee said the city made progress in 2020 on all of the planned projects; however, not much has been visible to residents yet.

The bond calls for the city to reconstruct Fairmont Street, widen Reel Road, improve the Cotton Street streetscape, turn Mobberly Avenue into a “complete street” with sidewalks and bike lanes, and to reconfigure the intersection of Mobberly Avenue, High Street and Estes Parkway.

With regard to Fairmont Street, McPhee said the city is currently working to relocate utilities so the project can go out for construction bids. On Reel Road, he said, design work is nearly finished and the city is working to acquire necessary rights of way.

On Cotton Street, which isn’t scheduled for construction for a couple of years, the city is working on design plans and working to determine whether it will need to acquire any rights of way, he said. Meanwhile, on the Mobberly Avenue Complete Street project, the city has selected a consultant for the project and started a traffic study.

The project that residents likely saw the most work on in 2020 was the reconfiguration of the Mobberly Avenue, High Street and Estes Parkway intersection. The city held public meetings and worked to acquire rights of way for the project. McPhee said right of way acquisition is expected to be completed in January and the city plans to begin bidding the project in the spring.

Parks

In 2020, the city began work on a slew of parks related bond projects with much of the work expected to be completed in 2021 and 2022.

At Lear Park, the bond calls for the city to add two new softball fields with lights, two new baseball fields with lights, convert two soccer fields to artificial turf and install lights on two soccer fields. In 2019, the city also added play features to Jack Mann Splash Pad. McPhee said at Lear Park ground work is underway and the city is working on the utilities for the baseball, softball and soccer fields.

At Broughton Recreation Center, the city has finished design work and is preparing to begin advertising bids for construction. Broughton Recreation Center is slated to see the construction of two additional gyms, more parking and a renovated entryway. Meanwhile, Broughton Park will see new playground equipment and pavilions, an extended trail, more play features at its splash pad and an improved field.

Upgrades to Lear Park and Broughton Recreation Center and Park are tentatively scheduled for completion in spring of 2022.

Bond work for the cities’ other parks is being split into two phases. In 2020, the city began work on the first phase which includes upgrades at Lois Jackson, McWhorter, Spring Creek, Patterson and Stamper/Womack parks. Those improvements are tentatively planned to be completed in late 2021.

Work started in 2020 at McWhorter Park, Lois Jackson Park and at Stamper Park. Improvements at Spring Creek and Patterson will begin later.

At McWhorter Park on Toler Road, the existing playground will be replaced, a new playground will be added, a new basketball court will be added and a sand volleyball court will be installed

At Lois Jackson Park on Bill Owens Parkway, the existing pavilion and playground will be replaced, an additional pavilion and playground will be added and a restroom will be installed.

And at Stamper Park on Fair Street, the existing playground and pavilion will be replaced, the basketball courts will be moved and reconstructed, a new pavilion installed and the parking lot improved. Womack Field at Stamper Park will be reconfigured with two new flag football fields, a new football field, ticket booth and concession stand.

The planned improvements at Patterson Park include replacing the existing playground, resurfacing the existing basketball court and improving the parking lot. At Spring Creek, the existing playground will be replaced, basketball court updated and a pavilion and restroom installed.


Local
COVID-19 vaccine requirements for students not a local call
  • Updated

COVID-19 vaccines are available in limited quantities, but as accessibility for the vaccine grows, East Texas parents could be left wondering if at some point their children will be required to get one to attend school.

That call, however, is out of the hands of local education leaders. Spring Hill ISD Superintendent Wayne Guidry recently said vaccine requirements are decided by the state.

The Texas Legislature is set to begin session on Jan. 12. Guidry said requirements about the COVID-19 vaccine is something schools are looking to lawmakers to decide.

“There are multiple vaccines students already have to have; this wouldn’t be the first vaccine requirement,” he said. “But those were 10-year trials.”

Pine Tree ISD Superintendent Steve Clugston said the district has contracted with a company to get vaccines for the staff, which could be available Feb. 21-22 if the company’s supply chain is not disrupted.

Clugston said staff will not be required to get the vaccine, but they can sign up to receive it.

“Staff will have to sign up, and I foresee a vast majority of staff signing up,” he said. “It’s just like the flu vaccine or anything else, we’re going to make it available to our staff, and we’ll do our best to make it available to our students.”

Districts also are keeping an eye on COVID-19 cases during the holiday break.

White Oak ISD Superintendent Brian Gray said all the district’s COVID-19 mitigation policies still will be in effect.

He said the district has asked parents to report any cases to them and he and the campus principals are staying up to date on COVID-19 numbers in the district.

Clugston said Pine Tree is providing some testing for families of the district over the break thanks to a partnership with Diagnostic Clinic of Longview.

District nurses administer the tests that have a 24-hour turnaround time for results, he said. If someone’s insurance does not cover the test, the district pays for it.

“We’re only testing people with symptoms,” Clugston said. “It also helps us when a staff member has a sore throat or a headache but no fever. They can get the test, and they can come back to work if it is negative.”

The testing prevents teachers from having to miss more days to quarantine while waiting for results, he said.

When students return to Spring Hill ISD, there will be some changes. Last semester, the district decided it would end virtual learning when students return for the spring semester.

After students and staff returned from Thanksgiving, Guidry said there were some heightened safety protocols that will be put in place again after Christmas.

There will be no in-person meetings, all will be done virtually and staff are encouraged to eat lunch by themselves or at least 8-feet apart, he said. Only half of the kids will go into a locker room at a time.

Gray said districts will still do what they can to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re obviously going to continue with our mitigation policies and do what we can to keep kids safe and in the classroom and our staff safe,” he said. “We’re going to continue on and do the best we can.”


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