Texas state lawmaker Gary Gates lost power at his Fort Bend County home on Tuesday evening, and on Wednesday morning he hopped on his private jet to the magical land of Orlando, Florida.
His ill-timed escape came on the same day Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his family flew to Cancun, just as the extreme winter storm was unfolding into a once-in-a-generation crisis in Texas. Millions were left without power or running water as temperatures dipped below freezing, killing at least 30 people.
Gates, a Republican, said he made the decision after his pipes burst, 30 percent of his home flooded and he began to see mold.
“My wife is still recovering from an illness she has been battling for two weeks, and the room of my adult daughter, who is mentally handicapped and still lives with us, flooded,” Gates said.
Gates told local TV station KPRC 2 Houston in an interview that he needed to get to a place where he would have “dependable power, dependable internet and dependable phone service” in order to continue his professional duties.
He couldn’t go stay with his other daughter, he said, who had also lost power. Apparently Florida was the next best solution.
But adding confusion to an already baffling decision, a reporter from the Fort Bend Star tweeted that Gates’ chief of staff told him Gates flew to Orlando for a business meeting.
The lawmaker said he did attend a meeting with a vendor for his property management business while in Florida, but denied that it was pre-planned. He also said the Fort Bend Star’s source was not his actual chief of staff.
“So many of the constituents were in the same predicament and they did not have the chance to take a flight and leave town,” Cynthia Ginyard, chairwoman of the Fort Bend County Democrats, told KPRC 2.
“No, you can’t raise the temperature. No, you can’t bring back the water. But you can be there,” she said.
Constituents were also enraged when they found out about their representative’s flight.
“It really would have been nice to have a state representative helping on the ground, working at a warming center, packing food, etc. rather than immediately (flying) off on a private plane when the going got tough,” Brian Walz a constituent of Gates’ told The Houston Chronicle. “My neighbors didn’t get to do that when her pipe burst.”
“I guess Gates took Senator Cruz’s lead,” the Chronicle reported that one person wrote on Facebook.
The lawmaker returned home on Friday.
Cruz and Gates aren’t the only Republican leaders coming under fire during the winter storm.
Democrats went nuclear on Friday, accusing Republican state leaders of leaving Texas vulnerable to a disaster by years of neglect and corporate fealty.
“Republicans... have walked out on the state of Texas either through their incompetence or literally, like Ted Cruz flying to the beaches of Mexico when everybody here is freezing without power and without water,” Rep. Julián Castro (D-TX), the former mayor of San Antonio, told MSNBC.
Republicans in Texas adopted a market-driven approach to utilities, resulting in a uniquely isolated power grid that is unconnected to other state grids and not beholden to federal regulations. GOP state lawmakers have previously opposed mandatory winterizing of grids.
Conservative governor Greg Abbott also hand-picked appointees to the Public Utility Commission, which regulates the state’s energy grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Those appointees promptly ditched a multi-year contract with a non-profit watchdog that independently monitored the commission’s work and helped enforce state protocols, like weatherization guidelines, The Houston Chronicle reported.
Abbott walked back his initial accusation that the crisis was sparked by a breakdown in renewal energy sources but he has continued to blamed ERCOT for the crisis.
Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX) said Republicans like Abbott were “almost cartoonishly blaming the Green New Deal”—referring to proposed climate legislation that is not yet law.