State of Texas: Beto O’Rourke’s record ‘a blessing and a curse’ in race for Governor

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke officially announced his bid for governor on Monday, making him the only major Democrat to challenge Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott to date.

O’Rourke previously came within two percentage points of the incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. He then jumped into the crowded Democratic presidential primary in March 2019, before suspending his campaign eight months later.

St. Edward’s University political professor Brian W. Smith told KXAN O’Rourke’s high name recognition is both a blessing and a curse.

“He’s not going to have to spend a lot of time introducing himself to the public, running ads, trying to say, ‘Here’s who I am,” Smith said. “But the curse on that means lots of people have already made up their opinions.”

Smith said O’Rourke has a lot riding on this gubernatorial run, saying, “This may be his last chance at the brass ring, trying to become a statewide elected official.”

James Henson, director of UT Austin’s Texas Politics Project, said political records aside, any Democrat looking to run for statewide office starts “from a deficit.” Texas has not elected a Democratic governor since 1990.

“It’s not unreasonable to think that some people are going to run several times and lose before they break through,” he told KXAN, adding, “If there’s anything that we’ve learned over the last two or three election cycles, it’s that a lot can happen.”

O’Rourke sat down with Nexstar’s Maggie Glynn for his first TV interview to discuss his bid before the announcement Monday.

Maggie: We’ve heard rumors about you possibly throwing your hat into the ring for Governor for quite, quite some time now. And when you and I spoke back in early summer, you said that you were just focused on Texas voting rights. So tell me a little bit about why you’re choosing now to throw your hat into the ring.

Beto: I’m running to try to help bring this state together to focus on the really big things that most Texans want us to do, like make sure that we have world-class public schools, and that the best jobs that are being created in America are being created right here in Texas, and that we make progress on things that most of us agree on, like expanding Medicaid, so that Texans can see a doctor, fill a prescription, be well enough to go to work or to finish their education or to start a business. But what we have right now instead in Texas, under Greg Abbott, is this very divisive kind of politics that has kept us apart, and fighting over things like abortion, or the permitless carry gun laws, or which middle school girls can play which sports. I want this state to get back to doing the big things, the big, bold vision of Texas that used to define this state. That’s what’s so important to so many of us, regardless of political party, or any other differences. So I hope that as a candidate, I hope as governor, I can serve everyone and help to bring us together bridge some of these divisions and get the big things done that most Texans want us to work on.

Maggie: You mentioned Gov. Greg Abbott, kind of going back to the beginning of the summer, when he was facing some pretty tough criticism, even from within his own party. Why not jump into the race back then?

Beto: You know, I think there’s no shortage of reasons for people to fire Greg Abbott as governor. In fact, they grow by the day and when we could look at 72,000 lives lost in Texas by his failure to meet the challenges of this COVID pandemic, or the hundreds who were killed in a winter storm, not because of mother nature, but because of Greg Abbott and his failure to make sure that the power grid was working for all Texans. Or how about this, seven out of 10 kids in the average Texas fourth grade classroom cannot read at grade level. Greg Abbott is failing the people of Texas and so we got to make sure that everyone understands the consequence of Greg Abbott to our future into our success into the opportunities in Texas. And we also understand that we have an alternative. As Governor, I’m going to focus on making sure that we create great jobs in Texas, that we have the best public schools, and that we ensure people are well enough because they can see a doctor to be able to fulfill their own personal potential. And then as a state, we can live up to our promise.

Maggie: After the tragic shooting that happened in your own hometown of El Paso, you came out with some pretty strong words, you said that you were ready to confiscate people’s, AR-15s and AK- 47s. And Governor Abbott, while you still hadn’t officially announced, already launched a campaign ad, specifically quoting you on that. Have you changed how you feel about gun rights since then? Do you plan to change the rhetoric at all to appeal to some more moderate voters, especially considering that the state just passed permitless carry?

Beto: Like most Texans, I grew up in a household with guns and I also grew up learning the responsibility of owning and using a firearm. It was my uncle who was a sheriff’s deputy who first taught me how to shoot I think most of us in this state agree that we shouldn’t allow weapons of war, to be on our streets and to see our fellow Texans shot up in Walmart’s and movie theaters, in schools and in churches. I think most of us also agree that Greg Abbott’s permitless carry law, which law enforcement in Texas asked him not to sign — which allows any Texan to carry a loaded gun in public — will make us less safe is the number one responsibility of our Governor and my number one focus will be keeping the people of Texas safe. We can protect the Second Amendment and protect the lives of our fellow Texans. And we should be focused on doing that.

Maggie: With losing your bid for Senate back in 2018, and then again for your presidential bid in 2019 … Why do you think you are the right candidate for Democrats for this specific office in Texas this time around?

Beto: Look, I trust the people of Texas, when it really counts, we put our differences behind us and we get the job done. We saw that during the power grid failure when people knocked on their neighbor’s doors helped them to get water, or food, or heat or transportation. Given the challenges we have before us right now, I believe that if we go everywhere, listen to everyone, right? Nobody off and take no one for granted. Not only can we win this election, but together we can work as a state, not as Democrats not as Republicans, but as Texans to ensure that we create better jobs, focus on world-class public schools, and do things that most of us already agree on, like expand Medicaid so that all of us can see a doctor. I think those are the basic common values that we have as Texans. I’m going to speak to campaign on that and work with my fellow Texans to make sure that we get that done.

Maggie: One of the governor’s biggest talking points this past year, he even had a rally with former President Trump down at the border, is the current crisis that we’re seeing along our southern border. Obviously, you being from El Paso, you are in a border town. How would you tackle the current crisis that we’re seeing differently than Gov. Abbott? And do you think that the Biden administration is doing enough to respond right now?

Beto: Like my neighbors here in El Paso, on the border and like my fellow Texans, we want to make sure that we follow the law, and that there’s order and predictability and safety at our border with Mexico, and we can be doing a better job. And I look forward to partnering with the administration to make sure that we do a better job and that we listen to the people who actually live on the border and have the experience and the solutions to provide to ensure that as we rewrite our country’s immigration laws, that we reflect the priorities of Texas. But what we don’t need is a governor who’s more interested in photo opportunities and grandstanding at the border, and who actually incites the kind of fear and anxiety that leads to the attacks that we saw in El Paso in 2019 where someone echoed the rhetoric of Greg Abbott about invasions and defending Texas and taking matters into your own hands, and did just that and killed 23 people in this community. There is a responsible way to do this, and there’s a Texas way to make sure that we have a secure border that honors the best traditions of this country, and I want to make sure that we pursue that as Governor.

Maggie: And the last question for you, obviously, Texas, is a traditionally red state, what’s your message to voters to flip one of the highest if not the highest office in our state blue?

Beto: You know, in the 2020 election, arguably the most important in American history, at least in our lifetimes, 7 million eligible Texans didn’t cast a ballot. So I wouldn’t say we’re a red state, we’re certainly not a blue state. I think it’s more accurate to describe us as a nonvoting state. We’ve got to make sure that we reach out to every single one of our fellow Texans and give them a reason to participate in a vote. And I know that we focus on the things that really matter most to all of us, like the kind of job that we can look forward to, the quality of school that our child attends, or our ability to see a doctor and be well enough to do the things that we want to do in our lives. We give people a reason to vote and participate. That’s how we win. That’s how we work together and serve everyone here in the state of Texas.

Gov. Abbott’s campaign issued the following statement shortly after O’Rourke made his announcement:

“From Beto O’Rourke’s reckless calls to defund the police to his dangerous support of the Biden Administration’s pro-open border policies, which have resulted in thousands of fentanyl deaths, Beto O’Rourke has demonstrated he has more in common with President Biden than he does with Texans. Governor Abbott proudly supports the men and women of law enforcement, has deployed Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety personnel and resources to secure the border, and has created a business climate that has made Texas the economic engine of America. The last thing Texans need is President Biden’s radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O’Rourke. The contrast for the direction of Texas couldn’t be clearer.” 

At an event in Floresville, Gov. Abbott also said O’Rourke “stands for these open border policies that have led to nothing but chaos.”

One of O’Rourke’s strong points has been his ability to raise campaign donations. On Tuesday, O’Rourke’s campaign said he had raised more than $2 million in donations in the 24-hour period after his announcement.

For perspective, that’s just a few thousand dollars less than the amount Lupe Valdez, the last Democratic nominee for Texas Governor, raised in the entire 2018 campaign cycle.

But O’Rourke still has a long way to go to catch Gov. Abbott’s fundraising totals.

At the end of June, Abbott’s campaign reported having $55 million on hand. On Thursday, the campaign reported raising nearly $5 million in a six week period between September and October.

‘It’s time for a change’ – Meet the other Democrat running for Texas Governor

Beto O’Rourke is bringing in donations and getting the spotlight, but he’s not the party’s only candidate running for the state’s top elected position.

Deirdre Gilbert, who lives in Fort Bend County, launched her own campaign this summer for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, an announcement met with far less fanfare than O’Rourke’s. The Houston native has never held elected office nor possesses the statewide name recognition or fundraising firepower that the former El Paso congressman has upon entering the race. However, she’d like to defy what some might see as a long-shot bid to become the first Black woman to serve as governor of Texas — or any other state in the U.S.

“I’m not running because I’m a Black woman,” Gilbert said. “I’m running because I believe it’s time for a change, and I believe I can give Texas something they need, and I’m talking about the human side of politics.”

During an interview Monday with KXAN, Gilbert discussed how she has a more independent streak when it comes to politics and some of her views. She said her daughter’s death in 2011 made her start more closely considering a candidate’s character, qualifications and ability to follow through on promises before she’d vote for them. She suggested that may not necessarily mean always voting for the Democrat on the ballot.

“Everybody was a Democrat in the family. That’s all we talked, and I’m going to say that was like a bandwagon effect,” Gilbert said. “Now, I make my choices not based on whether or not you’re a Republican or a Democrat, but based on your qualifications, whether or not you’re going to be ethical and whether or not you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do.”

Gilbert expressed skepticism about mandating the COVID-19 vaccine and shared concern that people refusing to get the shot may lose their jobs, which may in turn harm their mental health.

“We as a government can find those other options, that we can find legal remedies that are not so punitive,” Gilbert said. “Give the community a chance to heal. Give the community a chance to thrive because we have all been sitting in the house for almost two years, and that’s very rough on a person mentally. Then to say, I’m going to do this, or I’m going to take this, and I’m not going to let you do this — it can really start a mass destruction. I think that we ought to come up with options. We’ve got to come up with plans, and I think that our government in the very beginning did not do what they should have done. That was to plan and to plan everything appropriately.”

When asked further about the COVID-19 vaccine, Gilbert would not share if she’s vaccinated, saying that information is too private to divulge. She also said it’s “a question that I don’t like to answer.”

“Right now, I think asking people that [question] really starts something between two people. You know, it’s a fight, and I’ve seen it where somebody might say they do or somebody may say they don’t, and that’s a dangerous situation to put somebody in,” Gilbert said.

“Either I’m going to be attacked because I didn’t say something, or I’m going to be attacked because I did say something,” she added. “What we have to understand, as the governor of the state of Texas, that I work for all people, not just people that have been, what, vaccinated or not vaccinated, but as a governor, we should be trying to figure out how to treat and help both sides of the fence, not just one.”

Before announcing her candidacy for governor, Gilbert had experience owning her own business and running a nonprofit. She owned a janitorial services business before she had a daughter with special needs. Gilbert said she then spent 26 years as a teacher. She later created the National Medical Malpractice Advocacy Association after her daughter died from what she called “medical error.” That tragedy coupled with the inability to hold a doctor accountable, she said, also made her realize how important it is to have the right people in positions of power.

“We have some laws; we have some bills; we have rules; we have regulations that seemed to change for those that are in power, at that whim. It’s sort of like we change them when we feel like it to suit us, but it’s not anything that’s going to help and protect people. I think that this is what the governor does,” Gilbert said. “The governor has the power of the pen. The governor can make you or break you, and it’s time for people, for us, to look at those bills and make sure that those laws and bills are conducive and that they’re not going to hurt or harm people of Texas.”

Gilbert also explained the other issues she’ll champion in her campaign include expanding health care, addressing the state’s education system and simply vying for visibility for her candidacy. She said she will keep reminding people that O’Rourke is not the only Democratic candidate in the race even though he’s garnered much more attention than she has at this point.

“Put me out there to say we got another candidate, and that’s all I’m looking for. We have another candidate that’s running for governor of the state of Texas, and her name is Deirdre Gilbert,” she said.

“You probably would have probably told me to go home and just shut the door and say, ‘No, no, no, I’m not running for office.’ But I opened the door. I see a peek, and I believe that the state of Texas is looking for something different. That’s why I’m going to continue this race.”

Texas father tries to reconnect with son whose mom took him to Mexico

Flipping through a scrapbook with photos of his son, Andrew Miura is quick to point out how few pictures it contains. The Cedar Park man admits he wasn’t always around to be a good father to the little boy.

“Of course, I missed out on the first few years of his life,” he said.

In 2015, Miura discovered a woman he had an affair with months earlier was pregnant. According to Travis County family court records, his contentious relationship with her kept him away from the child for several years. Eventually, he decided he wanted to get involved, and in 2018 he began what the court refers to as “reunification therapy,” to gradually establish a relationship with his son through supervised visits.

“I would just sit and try to figure out what he was interested in. He loved trucks, so we would always try to get him things with trucks,” he said. “And the sad — very sad — part about this is: all I wanted was to see my son on a normal visitation schedule — like every other parent that is co-parenting.”

Andrew Miura was fighting  for custody of his son. Then, he discovered the boy and his mother left for Mexico. (KXAN photo/Andrew Choat)
Andrew Miura was fighting for custody of his son. Then, he discovered the boy and his mother left for Mexico. (KXAN photo/Andrew Choat)

But several months into the process, the boy and his biological mother started missing scheduled visitations. That’s when Miura began pursuing custody of his son in the courts more seriously.

At a family hearing in December 2019, the boy’s mother didn’t show up, so a judge signed an order granting Miura sole managing conservatorship — meaning he had exclusive rights to make most decisions about the child. In the same order, the judge granted the boy’s mother scheduled visits a few times a week.

Miura was advised to come back to the courthouse just before the New Year’s holiday, with the understanding he would be able to bring his son home with him then.

The mother and son never showed.

“This is absolutely a parent’s worst nightmare,” he said through tears.

In October 2019, a woman emailed KXAN asking for help as she experienced her own worst nightmare.

The mother wrote that she was “terrified” to lose custody of the son she had raised since his birth alongside her husband, who was not the boy’s father. Andrew Miura was the father.

In the email, she detailed her fears about her son suffering “irreparable emotional damages” from the ongoing custody battle and reunification visits with the child’s biological father.

Eventually, she said she made the decision to move with her son to Mexico for their safety.

“These are sticky, ugly cases.”

Felicity Sackville Northcott, ICMEC

Federal records from the U.S. State Department reveal hundreds of parents cross international borders with children every year, leaving a parent behind here.

“They’re incredibly complicated emotionally because you have two parents who are not playing nicely with each other,” said Felicity Sackville Northcott, Director of Global Missing Children’s Issues at the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, or ICMEC. “These are sticky, ugly cases.”

Northcott noted cases involving parents are generally much different from other kinds of trafficking or kidnapping investigations procedurally, too.

There are state and federal laws in place to prevent a parent from taking a child outside their country of habitual residence or from breaching another parent or guardian’s custody rights — referred to as International Parental Kidnapping.

More often than not, Northcott said, parents go to law enforcement first when a child goes missing and they expect the other parent crossed borders.

“They are the first responder for missing kids, right? But, when a parent takes the child, even if it’s in violation of an existing custody order, the police often think ‘Well, the child is… It’s fine, you know? The child is with the mom or dad,’” she explained.  

The primary vehicle for the return of children under the age of 16 is actually an international treaty between countries, called the Hague Convention.

Under the agreement, the U.S. Department of State partners with Foreign Central Authorities, or FCA, to locate a child when a Hague application has been filed. Then, the FCA in the receiving country is tasked with encouraging amicable solutions to these cases and facilitating the safe return of children, as appropriate.  

The text of the Hague Convention states it’s purpose as protecting children from “the harmful effects of wrongful removal” by providing a framework to bring about the child’s “prompt return.”

Northcott explained, “There are courts in the foreign country that say, ‘OK, we’re going to have a hearing, and we’re going to determine whether there’s been a violation of Hague, then whether it’s in the best interest of the child to return or whether the child should stay here.”

A spokesperson for the State Department said preventing and resolving these kinds of cases is one of its “top priorities.”

Its latest report reveals the department investigated 664 outgoing abduction cases in 2020 — 246 cases of those were opened that year; others were ongoing.

Eighty-three of the cases that were opened in 2020 involved children taken to Mexico.

“It’s one of the most common countries for kids to be taken to,” from the United States, Northcutt said.

She called it a “table-turner” compared to the usual conversation about immigration, since many of the children taken there do not have Mexican citizenship.

The data listed in the State Department’s annual federal reports also show Texas and California continually topping the list for states involved in these cases.

Tap on the map to see the number of International Parental Child Abduction (IPCA) cases from each U.S. State in 2020. Source: KXAN, Department of State Annual Report on International Child Abduction 2021

Despite heightened attention on people entering the U.S. at the Mexico border, attorneys with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aide, or TRLA, say they often see the “taking parent” simply driving out of the country with the child.

“I would say that it’s pretty easy considering that we don’t have exit controls,” said Maria Vallejo, Director of their Bi-National Project on Family Violence.

Getting a custody or access order is the first prevention method against parental abduction that TRLA’s attorneys suggest. However, things become complicated when two different countries are involved. For instance, U.S. court orders may not be recognized in other countries, and generally sovereign nations cannot interfere with each other’s legal systems, judiciaries, or law enforcement – which is why Vallejo said family court orders are not the only deciding factors in a Hague case.

 “They recognize that this obligation of the treaty should not be treated as: let’s return the child at all costs, but that the return always has to be, like, what’s best for the child,” she said.

Under the Convention, a court may deny return of an abducted child if one of the following defenses apply:

  • There is a grave risk that the child’s return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation
  • The child objects to being returned and has attained an age and degree of maturity at which the court can take account of the child’s views
  • More than one year has passed since the wrongful removal or retention occurred and the child has become settled in his or her new environment
  • The party seeking return consented to or subsequently acquiesced to the child’s removal or retention
  • The return would violate the fundamental principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country where the child is being held
  • The party seeking return was not actually exercising rights of custody at the time of the wrongful removal or retention

TRLA attorneys represent left-behind parents in their pursuit to get their kids back, but they also defend parents on the other side of the equation: those who take their children, often fleeing some kind of domestic violence or abusive situation.

Over the last decade, Vallejo said she has seen a shift in the number of parents using the “grave risk” exception to prevent the return of a child – and judges agreeing.

She explained that when International Parental Abduction laws were crafted in the 1980s, the “vision” of the abductor was the parent without primary custody, often a male. A study published in 2017 revealed more than 70% of the taking parents were women, and 80% of them were the primary caretaker to the child.

Even earlier, a 2010 report showed the vast majority of parents in these cases were claiming they were victims of domestic violence or some kind of abuse, which could be used as a defense to returning the child.

“Even if the child did not witness it, or even if the child was not directly exposed to it and if the child wasn’t abused, him or herself — it might be a reason to deny the return on the ‘grave risk’ exception,” Vallejo explained.

Chart illustrating the countries were U.S. children were removed to and the count of International Parental Child Abduction (IPCA) cases for each country in 2019 and 2020. Source: KXAN, Department of State Annual Report on International Child Abduction 2021

In Vallejo’s experience with the Mexican judicial system in particular, the second exception – involving the testimony of the child – also heavily impacts the outcome of a case.

“In Mexico, you will always have to listen to the child,” Vallejo said.

Both Vallejo and Northcott said this highlights one of the most complicated aspects of the treaty: each country can determine how they interpret these exceptions and the terms of the child’s return.

The mother of Andrew’s son told KXAN in a 2021 email she hoped the Mexican government would continue protecting them, given the facts of the case.

“I as the mother have spent 54,624 hours, minus the 30 non-consecutive hours Andrew had of Reunification Therapy, with my son. 30 non-consecutive hours was enough justification for Andrew to file a change to my sons custody order and make final such an order without I as the mother ever been properly served… We are all he has ever known.”

She declined to do an on-camera interview for the safety of her child and the rest of her family but provided court documents showing Miura declined to agree to alternative means of conflict resolution. She gave KXAN a statement, which reads in part:

“[My son] would end up traumatized beyond repair.  Andrew has never spend any amount of time to make any kind of impression (and I insist, this was by his own choice.) I have no history of violence. My children are happy. … I have never broken the law, I have always been a good citizen and a good mother.”

Miura contacted Travis County law enforcement, but he was eventually told his case was a “civil matter.” He submitted a Missing Child flier to a national database of missing kids and filed his case with the Hague Convention.

But, then, he took matters into his own hands, hiring a private investigator named John Poblete.

Poblete is the Founder and President of Global Child Rescue Group, but said he has worked for different independent groups of investigators for years. Miura’s case was the longest case he had ever worked on, he told KXAN.

“Unfortunately, with the pandemic and everything at the latest — especially because of flights and everything — this has been the longest one right now that we haven’t been able to reunite him with his son,” he said.

They flew to Mexico and worked with law enforcement there to to locate his son and the boy’s biological mother. After several days, though, they were told he needed to get an attorney there to help him work the issue out in the Mexican courts.

Pictures from Andrew Miura's trip to Mexico in March of 2021 to try and bring his son back to Travis County (Courtesy Andrew Miura)
Pictures from Andrew Miura’s trip to Mexico in March of 2021 to try and bring his son back to Travis County (Courtesy Andrew Miura)

Through tears, Miura recounted the moment he boarded the plane alone. “I’m still not recovered. I feel like I failed him.”

In 2013, KXAN Investigators were on the road to Laredo, following the story of another Central Texas father who was making a trip to try and bring his kids back from Mexico.

In this case, an investigator with the Williamson County District Attorney’s office had found legal grounds to issue felony kidnapping warrants for the mother of the two boys and some of her families members in Texas, accusing them of helping her flee.

  • A 2013 KXAN investigation followed a Central Texas father as he fought to reunite with his sons. (Screengrab from KXAN News)
  • Screengrab of a "We Missed You Dad sign on the wall, from a 2013 KXAN News investigation.
  • Screengrab of a 2013 KXAN investigation followed a Central Texas father as he fought to reunite with his sons.

But this is not a route taken often by law enforcement officials or prosecutors, on the local or federal level.

For instance, local law enforcement can investigate and bring a case to a District Attorney, but there are certain legal criteria a case needs to meet, in order to be considered. After KXAN started asking questions, the Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza confirmed his office was reviewing the facts of Miura’s case.

On the federal level, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and even International Police (INTERPOL) can get involved.

Customs and Border Patrol established a program to prevent the removal of a child across international borders, and they work with the State Department — particularly on cases where there is a court order in place prohibiting the child from traveling internationally with the parent. INTERPOL can publish a Yellow Notice that will notify them when a child crosses a border connected to the their system.

Meanwhile, the FBI can assist local law enforcement or open their own criminal investigation to be forwarded on to U.S. Attorneys for prosecution, but a spokesperson for the FBI office covering San Antonio and Austin told KXAN they have to prioritize certain cases.

“Given our limited resources and mission priorities, we must focus our efforts on the most egregious cases, where there is the greatest need for FBI involvement. Factors which may warrant the initiation of a federal investigation include allegations of harm to a child, or the existence of other federal violations,” FBI spokesperson Michelle Lee said.

Prevention Tips from Federal Law Enforcement

If you are concerned that your child is at risk of being abducted internationally by a parent, legal guardian, or someone acting on their behalf, do the following:

  • Obtain a U.S. court order that includes prevention provisions, such as restrictions on removing the child from the U.S.
  • Contact U.S. Department of State (DOS) Office of Children’s Issues for 24/7 assistance at 1-888-407-4747 (U.S. or Canada) or +1-202-501-4444 (International) or
  • Notify local or airport police
  • Request your child be entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database
  • Consult an attorney
  • Be aware of warning signs and sudden changes in the other parent’s life (quitting a job, selling a home)
  • Contact country’s foreign embassy or consulate if your child is a dual national

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice reveal less than 20 cases of International Parental Kidnapping were filed in federal court each year going back to 2010.

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) sent two letters to the DOJ, in May and October 2021, asking what more they could do to prevent international parental abductions.

“What steps will you personally take as Attorney General to engage directly with left behind parents and their advocacy organizations?” they asked in one of the letters. “Will you commit to directing U.S. Attorneys and DOJ staff to aggressively prosecute cases of international parental child abduction? If not, why not?”

The letters come after a larger group of senators passed a resolution marking April 2021 as Countering International Parental Child Abduction Month.

“The number of children abducted by a parent and taken to a foreign country is unacceptable, and unfortunately, very few Americans are aware of this issue,” Senator Tillis said.

Texas Senator John Cornyn was the co-sponsors of the April 2021 resolution. KXAN reached out to his office several times for comment on the issue, but we have yet to receive a response.

Retirements and resignations add up at the Texas Legislature

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, announced Thursday he will officially be retiring after serving for three decades, citing health issues and a polarizing year of session.

“I’ve enjoyed all 30 years. But it’s very difficult in the environment that we’re in to get much fulfillment out of serving,” Coleman said Thursday.

He joins a growing list of lawmakers deciding not to seek re-election, including Austin Democrat Rep. Celia Israel, who will instead run for mayor of Austin.

She also points to the polarization lawmakers faced this year, after the passage of a controversial elections bill, restrictive abortion law and a ban on critical race theory in classrooms.

“It’s no secret that this session has been the most polarizing, difficult sessions that anybody can remember,” Israel said Thursday. “I decided to look at serving the city of Austin, where I can find collaborative opportunities to do things that will help. We all want to help.”

But Republicans are stepping down, too, including State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, the chairman of the House GOP Caucus, pointing to more than just policy concerns.

“Technically, we have a citizen legislature that’s only supposed to meet for 140 days, every other year, whereas this year, they were in session for almost 10 months,” Josh Blank with the Texas Politics Project said.

“Their businesses and their families missed them. And in some cases, it cost them a lot of money, because they will lose money in their private business,” Scott Braddock with Quorum Report said.

“People don’t always realize as a part-time legislature, I’m a realtor, we have to find ways to make money, because we’re paid $600 a month. And we have a full-time staff is here to help every day. But it is a strain on the family. And this was a most extraordinary year where we had redistricting, we had pandemic, we had a winter storm. And we had a lot of social issues that were tearing us apart,” Israel said.

Blank said the growing number of lawmakers not seeking re-election is higher than what the state would typically see after a single regular session.

“It seems that it is on an uptick,” Blank said.

“We should hit, I think my educated guess is, about 30 members of the Texas House and maybe one more Texas senator as well,” Braddock said.

Both Braddock and Blank said the larger number of departures, especially those with years of institutional knowledge, could lead to some instability in the next session, beginning January 2023.

“Chairman Garnet Coleman, one of the best minds when it comes to local government issues. Dan Huberty, who was a former public education chairman, one of the best minds on public education. Senator Jane Nelson, a master of the Texas budget,” Braddock pointed out.

“When you lose that kind of institutional memory, and we lose that kind of experience, it definitely makes it harder to cram as much into the 140 day legislative session in a state as big as Texas,” Blank said.

Israel, however, is more optimistic.

“It’s an opportunity for new people to come in, not only learn the job but learn the district,” Israel said.

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