Winter Storm Uri hit Texas hard. While covering our state in snow and ice, it ironically uncovered the incompetency in our governmental leadership. Make no mistake, what happened this week was not a failure of “unreliable energy.” This was a failure of leadership. This was a failure of preparation and accountability. If you listen to the independent experts, not the politicians, you’ll learn they all agree every source of power Texas has (wind, solar, fossil fuels, nuclear, etc.) failed. None of them were adequately protected to withstand this storm. They should have been. Ten years ago, Texas had a similar problem (on a smaller scale) and the experts warned winterization of the equipment and facilities would be needed. Our leadership didn’t listen; instead, they played political games, and left us the people out in the literal cold.
But this op-ed isn’t about the failure of our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle, who in the midst of crisis, would rather play point the finger or catch flights to Mexico; this op-ed is to illustrate what real leadership means, and what it looks like. Because we cannot look to those in power to be the example, we have to look amongst ourselves to find real heroes and leaders who emerged during this crisis. That’s the subject of this op-ed.
One of the greatest leaders our country has ever had, General Patton, said “do everything you ask of those you command.” Some call it leading by example; I call it leading from the front. One story of someone who I know led from the front during this disaster was the executive director at The Hamptons Senior Living in Tyler — Cody Campbell. You can argue I’m biased about the quality of his leadership because he’s my brother, but when you learn of how he led his team during this crisis, you can’t argue I’m wrong.
When it was reported this storm was in the forecast, Cody and his team started preparing. They developed action plans and coordinated with local utilities providers to do what could be done to ensure the safety of the 225 senior residents living at his facility. But as heavyweight champ Mike Tyson says, “everybody has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.”
Our state, and this senior community, got punched hard in the mouth losing power, losing water, generators failing, backup generators struggling, treacherous roads, and minimal heat. In overcoming these blows, and leading from the front, Cody and many on his team did not sleep for over 72 hours. They did not go home. They stayed. They worked. They saved lives. The only times Cody left the facility was to hunt down gasoline for the generators or transport employees to/from work in his four-wheel drive car so those exhausted heroes could safely get to and from home for some much-needed rest. As pipes burst, he worked hand-in-hand with the maintenance crew to minimize the damage and keep his residents safe. When there was no water to flush the toilets, he joined in scooping snow into buckets to melt for the toilet tanks. He and his team were doing all of this while continuing to communicate with the state and local authorities in an effort to restore his community back to its optimal operations for his residents, but just as important, also communicating updates to worried families through social media posts.
This is what leadership is. It’s problem solving and crisis management from the front and inspiring a team by example. It’s being willing to also do himself everything he asked of those he manages. It’s knowing that in the midst of a crisis, there is always more to be done. Even though he has only been at this facility six weeks (thanks to a recent promotion), he didn’t throw his hands up and say “don’t blame me, I just got here.” He didn’t tell his team “those things aren’t my job” and delegate the duties out. He didn’t care about blame; he didn’t care about hierarchy. He got into the battle with them and they fought back for those people who are in their trust. No task was too big or too small for his team, and together, they overcame every obstacle and kept his residents safe, warm and fed. Leadership means doing the thankless work, be it driving exhausted employees home for rest, or ensuring power plants are properly prepared for weather. The root of effective leadership lies in actions taken outside of the spotlight.
As a Republican, who still adamantly believes in my conservative principles, it pains me to see how our party leadership failed us — both in preparation for this crisis and response to it. Ours is the party of self-responsibility and accountability. At least, that’s what I have grown up believing. Texas wants to be free from federal energy regulation by maintaining its own grid; I did, and still do, support this idea. In fact, federalism demands it, and as the energy center of our country, we shouldn’t need federal oversight to adequately power our state. But that independence requires our state government to competently manage our infrastructure. That independence requires our elected officials to abide by our foundational principles of self-responsibility and accountability. The fact we were warned of this over a decade ago, and yet it was still allowed to happen, is not accountability — it’s an embarrassment. If your elected official has been in office since 2011 or earlier, call him or her and demand to know exactly what they did to heed the decade old warning to protect our critical infrastructure. If they cannot give you solid examples of actions they have taken to ensure the most basic of governmental service — infrastructure assurance — then it’s time to vote them out in favor of someone who will. There’s a difference between politicians and leaders, and this week has shown we have too many politicians in our capital failing to fight back for the people in their trust.
Cody’s story is not an isolated one. Just as we did after Hurricane Harvey, we saw time-and-time again this week everyday Texans taking care of their fellow Texans. It’s what we do. It’s part of our Lone Star culture. So, if you have young kids and you’re looking for examples for who they can emulate as they grow up, you don’t have to point to Austin or Washington, D.C.; look just down the street at the heroes tasked with protecting the most vulnerable amongst us and examine the leadership within them. That’s where you’ll find a command General Patton would praise. That’s where you’ll find my brother and his heroic team.
Casey C. Campbell is a licensed and practicing lawyer from Rockwall, and former Republican congressional candidate for the 4th Congressional District of Texas.