This dumpster fire of a year had everything: a pandemic, an economic crisis, even political violence. But there were also some heroes along the way that helped us get through it.
As we get ready to kick 2020 to the curb, here’s our annual look back on the best and worst it had to offer.
5 Best Texans of 2020
1. Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Judge
As the chief executive of the state’s largest county, Lina Hidalgo has had to steer Harris County through a pandemic while also steering clear from attacks by the governor. She’s proven to be one of the most effective local officials in the state and, at 29 years old, also serves as one of the youngest.
Hidalgo was one of the first Texas officials to follow medical advice and issue a mask mandate back in April. She worked with businesses and organizations to find solutions to equipment shortages, and worked to pull off an election in the midst of a pandemic that had the highest turnout rate Harris County has seen since 1992. Gov. Abbott later took away Hidalgo’s power to enforce the mandate, but went on to issue his own mask mandate in July when COVID was officially out of control in Texas. Hidalgo also worked to pass a package of criminal justice reform measures in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. A lot of this took place in the midst of a record-setting hurricane season during which time Hidalgo had to issue a disaster declaration for Harris County, which is notorious for bad flooding and hurricanes.
In addition to Hidalgo, we also have to give a shoutout to progressive county judges like Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and other local officials across the state, who have fought for Texans while dealing with attacks from the governor and other Republicans lawmakers.
2. Frontline Workers
Typically we only include politicians or Texans who work in politics on these lists, but this year, we’re making an exception for these exceptional workers. Frontline workers, including health care workers, custodial staff, teachers, grocery store employees, and so many more, were the ones who got us through 2020 and Texans are forever in their debt.
As we look ahead to 2021, we need to remember who sacrificed to help our nation when we were in need. Frontline workers not only deserve credit and praise, but they deserve fair compensation, paid sick leave, affordable health care, and so much more. They were on the front line of this fight against COVID, and we must continue to fight for them until they are treated how they deserve to be treated.
3. Texas Legislative Black Caucus
The Black Lives Matter protests around the country in response to police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, is an unforgettable social justice movement of 2020. We must continue to act to hold police accountable and fight for racial justice in our country. And to facilitate that accountability, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus has already laid the groundwork to make change in the upcoming session.
The Caucus has introduced the George Floyd Act, a sweeping police reform that would ban chokeholds, and require law enforcement officers to intervene or render aid if another officer is using excessive force while on the job. The bill also addresses qualified immunity by allowing Texans to file civil lawsuits at the state level “for deprivation of rights under color of law.” We have also seen the reemergence of the Texas Black Caucus Foundation, to provide research, policy analysis, and advocate for bills on important issues impacting Black Texans.
4. Veronica Escobar, U.S. Representative
She’s just finishing up her first term in Congress, but even so, Escobar has emerged as a leader within Texas’ Democratic congressional delegation. As one of the first two Latinas elected to represent Texas in the U.S. House, Escobar has been vocal about her criticisms of the Trump administration and Gov. Abbott’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Early on, she advocated for more robust testing and tracing. She’s been clear about how the Latino community in Texas is disproportionately impacted by this virus. And she’s consistently called on our leaders to do more, even urging both Trump and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to come up with a binational strategy to tackle the pandemic on both sides of the border.
Rep. Escobar has also risen to become one of the most impactful national voices on the border and immigration policy. When Progress Texas interviewed her in October, right after a presidential debate between Biden and Trump, Escobar spoke about the 545 migrant children who were separated from their parents by the administration and whose parents could not be found. Escobar was reelected this year and will be serving another term in the U.S. House. We’re excited to see her continuing to fight for Texans in Congress.
5. The Castro Brothers
As the only Latino candidate for the 2020 presidential race, and one of the more progressive candidates in the bunch, Julián Castro’s departure from the field was heavily felt. He opened up important conversations about immigration policy and poverty, raised issues like the importance of universal child care, and continued to push candidates in a more progressive direction. His presence as a candidate had an impact on the race even after he dropped out, and he continued to fight to get progressives elected. He’s been a strong voice for Texans on the national stage and has helped to uplift issues important to Texas progressives. Back in January, he posted on Twitter: “I'm going home to Texas, but I'll keep using my voice to ensure opportunity for all.” And that’s exactly what he’s done ever since.
Meanwhile, Rep. Joaquin Castro has continued to serve in Congress. As the chair of the Hispanic Caucus, Vice-Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, he’s an important voice for Texans in Congress, especially on issues of immigration and foreign policy. As COVID cases surged in Texas back in June, Joaquin joined Rep. Sylvia Garcia in calling on ICE to release detainees at risk of catching the new coronavirus and to increase testing at its facilities. He also pressed for COVID aid for Latinos who were denied March stimulus checks, called for $65 billion to aid minority-owned small businesses, and led calls to extend immigrant work authorizations. Throughout the pandemic, he’s advocated on behalf of Texans in Congress, and we’re lucky to have him representing us.
5 Worst Texans of 2020
1. The Worst: Greg Abbott, aka Governor COVID
When the pandemic was declared, Abbott was slow and reluctant to issue a stay-at-home order, so much so that he refused to say it thus leading to confusion among the public. When local leaders began mandating masks in public, he issued executive orders overruling them, only to reverse course and issue a mask mandate himself months later after the virus spread to then-record highs.
You could give him the benefit of the doubt, it was early in the pandemic and perhaps he was just figuring things out. But you’d be wrong, because he knew exactly what he was doing - we know this because we got it on tape when he admitted that opening the state too soon would lead to the spread of the virus. He went on to leverage the pandemic as an excuse to attack abortion care, refused to expand access to mail-in voting, and when he reopened bars, he blamed the increase in spread on young Texans. He’s been slow to allocate CARES Act funding, meanwhile Texans are going hungry and struggling to pay rent.
In August, we named Greg Abbott as Gov. COVID, and he’s proved worthy of the title every step of the way. By the way, it’s not the first time he’s been named “first worst” on our list, having won the honor in our initial list back in 2013.
2. Ken Paxton, Indicted Texas Attorney General
Let’s be honest, Ken Paxton made a big push to earn the first worst spot. We’re all familiar with his laughable lawsuit to challenge the presidential election, one which was swiftly dismissed by the Supreme Court. But for Paxton, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
He used the pandemic as an excuse to attack abortion care, and when Texans fought to expand access to the ballot box he fought back at every turn. Paxton also waged a legal battle to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which would take away health care from millions. His case ended up going all the way to the Supreme Court, and we’re still awaiting a decision.
But while Ken Paxton spent this year fighting any ounce of progress our state was making in court, he’s been avoiding court for himself. He’s been under felony indictment for five years, has recently crossed a few other ethical and legal lines, and this year his own aides accused him of bribery and abuse of office. There was also an alleged extramarital affair wrapped into the drama. After the news broke, five of the whistleblowers were fired, raising questions about illegal retaliation from Paxton. Multiple lawmakers and publications have called on Paxton to resign due to these allegations, and now the FBI is investigating him.
Sadly, all of this only gets him to second on our list.
3. John Cornyn & Ted Cruz, U.S. Senators
Though Cruz may be a little more obvious about his extremism, Cornyn tries to pass himself off as a moderate. The fact is, the two senators have voted together 95% of the time. And this year, as Texans struggled through this pandemic, they did little to help. Instead, they posted pictures of Corona beer, downplayed the virus, and used racist dog whistles.
When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, both senators also flip-flopped on their views from just four years ago when they refused to even consider Obama’s Supreme Court nominee because it was an election year. Cruz and Cornyn both supported the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, and were fine with the rushed confirmation process, even though our country was in the midst of an election. They’re beholden to corporations and Big Pharma, and have served as Trump’s lap dogs even while he belittles them and works against the best interests of our state. It’s unfortunate that Cornyn won his reelection this year, but we’re gearing up to kick Cruz out of office in 2024 and we’ll be ready to fire up the Humans Against Ted Cruz effort once again.
When it became clear that wearing a mask was necessary to help protect our fellow Texans (as well as ourselves) from COVID-19, there were many Texans who recognized it as their duty to help save lives and slow the spread of this disease. And then there were others who decided that their “freedom” to not wear a mask was more important than the lives of those around them, so they opted out.
We’re listing anti-maskers as some of the worst Texans of 2020 because their selfishness endangers others. The decision to wear a mask should have never been made political yet even now, more than 9 months into this pandemic, there are people choosing to put others’ health at risk by not wearing masks.
5. The Dans (Dan Crenshaw & Dan Patrick)
Okay we’ll admit, it might be cheating to rope in both Crenshaw and Patrick together, but we really wanted to include them both and didn’t have enough numbers.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who represents one of Texas’ most gerrymandered congressional districts, was one of 14 Texas Republican members of congress to sign onto an amicus brief supporting Ken Paxton’s lawsuit attempting to overturn the results of the election. He’s also been accused of participating in a smear campaign against a female veteran who said she was sexually assaulted last year at a VA facility. And if that all wasn’t bad enough, Crenshaw has downplayed the impact of COVID-19, and has been critical restrictions - going so far as to attend a political fundraising event that is under investigation for violating COVID restrictions.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chaired the Trump campaign in Texas, went on national television to suggest that grandparents would be willing to sacrifice their lives to fix the economy. Not only was the statement heartless, but it ignored the millions of younger Americans who are vulnerable to COVID-19, and was completely at odds with the values of everyday Texans. We could go on, but that moment alone is enough to land him here.
Quick Note: Each year we’re asked why Rep. Louie Gohmert is not on our “worst” list, it’s because we think he’s irrelevant as to not be worthy of the time. Hope this clears things up!
While many of the campaigns that defined 2020 have come and gone, Progress Texas is here to fight alongside you all year round. In 2021, we’ll continue to lift up the voices of the very best and hold the worst accountable. Join us in the fight by helping us build a more progressive Texas in the coming year—we can’t do it without you.
Here’s a list of our Best and Worst pieces from previous years:
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