WASHINGTON — President Obama may be visiting Texas on Tuesday, but he won't be feeling the love — at least not from unhappy GOP lawmakers who see the administration's refusal to designate the wildfire-battered state a disaster area as the latest slap in the face to the very Republican state.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's refusal to give Texas disaster status, and the federal aid that goes with it, follows on the state's ongoing fights with the administration. The state and the Environmental Protection Agency have been battling over permitting under the Clean Air Act — the federal agency even took over some state functions — and NASA decided not to give Houston, home to the Johnson Space Center, a retired space shuttle, opting instead to send them to California, Florida and New York.
"You can almost make the case the administration has a vendetta against Texas," said Republican Rep. Michael Burgess.
The administration has hotly denied shortchanging Texas on disaster assistance, saying the state has received 25 federal fire assistance grants for the wildfires.
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Gov. Rick Perry, who in April 2009 famously suggested Texas might secede from the union, last week was urging federal action to help the state fight wildfires.
"It is not only the obligation of the federal government, but its responsibility under law to help its citizens in times of emergency," he said.
Texas last voted Democratic in a presidential election in 1976, and Democrats have not won statewide office since the 1990s.
Asked if there was a Democratic vendetta against Texas, former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost laughed and said, "They love Texas. They want to raise money in Texas."
"Texas has not been a political priority for Democratic candidates," Frost said. "Texas has been an outlier among major states as far as Democratic politics and presidents are concerned. It shouldn't come as any surprise that a Democratic president doesn't pay much attention to Texas."
Nonetheless, like many Democrats as well as Republicans in the state, Frost was surprised by the decision on the NASA orbiter.
"Everyone knows that Houston has played an important role in the space program," he said. Texas, he said, deserves to have an orbiter.