Tree issue causes governor to forget his roots

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Aug. 2, 2017 at 4:36 p.m.

Unwanted trees on his property have made Gov. Greg Abbott a little squirrelly. Before becoming governor, Abbott struggled to get the city of Austin to allow him to cut down two trees to clear the way for a swimming pool installation. The city, however, has regulation in place to protect trees of a certain size for myriad reasons - shade, drought reduction, pollution control and historic resonance, just to name a few.

Now, most of us can identify with the frustration of unwanted yardwork, and especially with the battle against what seems like needless red tape. But few would react the way Abbott did - by championing statewide legislation to override local tree ordinances.

We fear the governor is missing the metaphorical forest through his focus on the trees. Conservative philosophy rejects the theory that we can be best governed through a centralized seat of government. It embraces the notion that the ones who know what is best for each community are the people who live in that community, not remote politicians at the capital.

Through his overenthusiastic crusade to remove trees from his land, the governor appears to have forgotten his core principles and those of his constituency.

The city of Cuero, for example, has long defended aging trees, even those in the middle of the road. Several massive trunks sprout through the pavement of North Hunt Street. Residents deal with the disruption in their driving patterns because they believe the benefits the trees provide, both to the environment and the history of their area, are worth the hassle.

Such a situation would be unrealistic in the heavy traffic of Austin, but in Cuero it works just fine. The trees on North Hunt Street highlight the fact that the diverse populations of Texas do not always need identical legislation.

As the Texas Municipal League said, "74 percent of Texans live in our 1,215 towns and cities, and the decisions they have made at the local level have put Texas cities at the top of the nation in success. Stifling their voices through an all-powerful, overreaching state government is a recipe for disaster."

Moreover, the tree issue is part of a disturbing trend during this special legislative session of pushing solutions for problems that do not exist. Even in Austin, the origin of Abbott's fight against city government, tree ordinances have caused little fuss since the early '80s. Michael Embesi, community tree preservation division manager, said these regulations apply to only about 2 percent of the trees in Austin, and it's unusual for someone to appeal them.

We urge the governor to remember his conservative roots and focus instead on issues that actually matter to voters. Continuing to push pet projects through the legislature will only cause his base to splinter.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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