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Texas Matters: How electric co-ops energized rural Texas and recovery after the wildfires

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Image by Egor Shitikov from Pixabay

The largest wildfire in Texas history has ripped across the Panhandle. At least two people have been killed, and countless homes have been destroyed or damaged. Agriculture livelihoods could also be lost in the wake of the Smokehouse Creek fire and other wildfires.

The damage from the Smokehouse Creek fire is being assessed. Heather Helms came back home to Canadian, Texas from Oklahoma to help her parents and was overwhelmed by what she saw.

“It was heartbreaking. It was very heartbreaking to see that everything that everybody has worked so hard for over the years is ... I mean, you just don't even realize that in a split of a second it can all be gone,” Helms said.

Her father helped people evacuate Canadian earlier this week.

“Right now, I'm just waiting for my dad to get out of the hospital because he held too much smoke. So they're keeping him for another day to just do some observation and then, go pick him up, and then just make sure they're good before I have to go home,” she added.

There are other active wildfires, and the National Weather Service warns that heat and high winds are likely to cause "critical fire weather conditions again" over the weekend.

As the recovery begins, many in the state are asking how they can help their fellow Texans who lost so much.

Blair Fannin, the public information officer for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service - Disaster Assessment and Recovery, said there are multiple ways people can donate livestock feed, fencing materials and cash to help the recovery.

Texas Electric Co-Ops

During the Great Depression, rural Americans needed the power of electricity that had been established in urban areas. Unfortunately, providing electricity to rural places was cost prohibitive and up to 90% of farmers were not able to access electricity because existing distributors would not build lines to their farms.

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to create the Rural Electrification Administration, which authorized $410 million to provide loans for rural electrification. Following a successful model of electrification through rural electric cooperatives in Texas, these loans were targeted towards cooperatives whose missions as non-profit organizations made them farmer-focused rather than profit-focused.

The story of how rural Texas was electrified is told in the new book by Joe Holley called “Power: How the Electric Co-op Movement Energized the Lone Star State.”

Joe Holley has been the “Native Texan” columnist for the Houston Chronicle since 2013. He’s the author of “Power: How the Electric Co-op Movement Energized the Lone Star State.”

Primary Purge

This Tuesday is primary day in Texas – and we will see if Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton will be successful in their efforts to purge the Republican Party. Abbott is looking to weed out Republican lawmakers who didn’t go along with his school voucher scheme that many saw as an assault on Texas public schools. Paxton is also out for revenge. He wants to punish Republican lawmakers who impeached him.

Also border security is tracking as a top issue for voters, according to the Texas Politics Project. And border protection is the top issue for the candidates running for the Republican nomination to represent the congressional district with the most border miles. CD23 covers over 800 miles of the Texas Mexico border. Republican incumbent Tony Gonzales is being accused by four primary challengers of not being tough enough on protecting the border.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi