Right-wing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hopes his Operation Lone Star border scheme pays off for him in November. But for others, like the troops deployed to the region under the state’s order, the multibillion dollar political operation continues to be a train wreck. That’s all the fault of the state, too.
Because of a payroll mistake by state officials, Texas National Guard troops may owe “hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unexpected federal taxes,” The Texas Tribune and Military Times say in a joint report. The outlets said that soldiers had previously voiced their worries “when the mission was experiencing other pay problems.” Other reports had also previously described lack of proper equipment and sleeping facilities.
“We questioned about it at the time and they said ‘Oh, everything’s all right,’” one soldier told The Texas Tribune and Military Times. “They told us everything was good.”
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“In the email, officials explained that the payroll system was set up to pay service members twice a month, rather than once a month, to mirror federal pay periods,” The Texas Tribune and Military Times report. “Doing so led to the tax withholding error, which may affect 96% of service members on the mission who are paid twice a month, according to documents obtained by the Tribune and Army Times.”
Abbott’s office (along with the Texas Military Department) was silent when asked for comment by the outlets, and that’s because he’s a coward who can’t resist the cameras when he’s in the mood for trashing migrants (which is all the time) or promoting his xenophobic stunts treating children and adults like human props. But when faced with a swath of internal issues and discontent by soldiers, he’s tried to pin his failures on others, this past spring replacing the Texas Military Department head. Many of the issues seen during this deployment were apparently seen in the past too, yet Abbott still deployed them.
“You can switch Generals, but we all know where the buck stops,” Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke told Army Times and The Texas Tribune at the time. The former congressman said Abbott “has treated them with incredible disrespect as he has delayed their pay, cut their tuition benefits in half, and used them as political pawns in his re-election campaign. It’s time to bring them back home.”
In the meantime, while they’re being forced to be unofficial campaign staffers for Abbott’s reelection, soldiers are being told they’re on their own when it comes to the state’s tax error.
“[We] basically got told it’s on the individual soldier to figure it out and that's moreso what the frustrating part was,” one soldier told The Texas Tribune and Military Times. “Because that’s the typical answer that we’ve gotten from the Texas Army National Guard, like ‘hey, we need help’ and they basically just say, ‘well, you just are going to have to figure it out.’”
But there has also been an immense human cost. Abbott’s Operation Lone Star stunt has resulted in the deaths of at least 30 people, civil rights organizations said in a complaint filed with the Justice Department this past summer. The groups said state officers have racially profiled drivers under the scheme, with some of this harassment turning into unnecessary high-speed chases. They said at least 30 people have been killed as a result, including five bystanders who had nothing to do with the stops.
The scheme has also been tied to a number of soldier deaths as recently as this month. Several have been by self-inflicted gunshot wounds. “If ruled a suicide, the death would be the first suspected suicide linked to the mission since December of last year and the fifth suspected suicide overall,” The Texas Tribune reported.
“I’m so sorry to hear that a tenth Texas National Guard member has lost their life while deployed under Operation Lone Star,” O’Rourke commented in the report. “My thoughts are with his family, community, and the members of the Guard who served all of us alongside him. They should never be used as political pawns.” During the recent gubernatorial debate, O’Rourke also called the stunts “incredibly dangerous for Texas.”
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After an eruption of even more scandals among Republican Senate candidates, FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich returns to The Downballot this week to discuss the effect these sorts of scandals can have on competitive races; whether Democrats stand a chance to keep the House; and the different ways pollsters create likely voter models.