It is a strange choice. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, not exactly known for a positive record on civil or minority rights, is going to be the honorary grand marshal of Arlington's new, Toyota-sponsored, Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade next Monday, leaving many DFW civil rights organizations wondering what the organizers of the parade are thinking.
During his time as governor, Abbott has shepherded some of the strictest voter ID legislation in the country, helped pass Texas' sweeping anti-sanctuary cities bill and refused to push for fixing a school finance system that's helped leave the state's urban school districts in the dust.
"It is the firm opinion of the Arlington NAACP that the selection of Governor Greg Abbott as Honorary Grand Marshal of any event honoring Dr. King stings with hypocrisy," a statement issued by the Arlington NAACP reads. "As we review his career and public service, it is fair to say that Greg Abbott has done more to damage and undermine African-American and Latino civil and voter rights, educational opportunities and economic empowerment than any other modern-day Texas governor."
Chris Turner, the state representative for most of East Arlington, called the NAACP's statement, "tough, but very fair," before saying that he wouldn't be participating in the parade. Sharen Wilson, the Tarrant County district attorney, distanced herself from the parade Monday morning, saying that she never agreed to participate, despite organizers initially including her in promotional materials.
"The first I heard about this event was in news reports that stated — to my surprise — that I would be participating," Wilson said. "That was misinformation circulated by the promoter."
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa joined with the NAACP Monday afternoon.
“Republican Governor Greg Abbott has done everything he can to hold back the advancement of African Americans and people of color in Texas. In fact, Greg Abbott built his Republican bona fides by destroying the Voting Rights Act and attacking President Barack Obama, our nation’s first African American president," Hinojosa said in a statement. “From racist voter ID laws and illegal gerrymandering that silences voters at the ballot box, to SB4, the Arizona-style show me your papers law that instills fear in our immigrant communities, Abbott has actively stripped away the civil, human and voting rights of Texans."
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Deborah Cohen, the Arlington parade's director, did not return a phone call seeking a comment.
In a statement, Abbott's office called out those who've questioned his participation in the parade for playing politics with an apolitical event.
"Events like the one being hosted in Arlington are designed to celebrate and honor the life and legacy of Dr. King," the statement said. "It’s a shame that some are politicizing what should be a unifying event. Governor Abbott’s participation will be focused on the remembrance of a man who made an important mark on history, and he looks forward to attending this event."
The 2018 Arlington Martin Luther King Jr. day parade is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., Monday, Jan. 15. It will begin on on AT&T Way between Cowboys Way and Randol Mill Road, travel east on Randol Mill Road to Ballpark Way, north on Ballpark Way and will end on Road to Six Flags, near the Texas Live! entertainment complex that's being built near Globe Life Park.