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Abbott begins third term as Texas governor

The Republican governor championed Texas as a conservative haven for freedom in his inaugural address, as political observers speculate he is preparing for a presidential campaign.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott was sworn in Tuesday for a third term as the highest public official in the Lone Star State, pledging to keep the state a promised land for conservatives fleeing liberal states. 

“Our state is so grand, we now have more than 30 million people who call Texas home,” Abbott said in his inaugural speech. “People from across America that are fleeing the oppression of high taxes, red tape and burdensome regulations in other states and coming to Texas where freedom and fortune are found around every corner.”

It was an optimistic speech and one that seemed geared toward a national audience. Observers have speculated about whether Abbott might be positioning himself for a presidential run in 2024, though the governor himself has not given an indication of his future political plans.

If he does end up campaigning for the White House, Abbott faces tougher headwinds than he did just two years ago, as growing partisanship in Texas and beyond has often put him in an awkward position.

From his handling of the coronavirus pandemic to social issues like abortion, Abbott during his last term was frequently forced to choose between placating his base and appealing to more moderate or left-leaning Texans. Other factors, including the deadly winter blackouts of February 2021, contributed to these choppy political waters.

Speaking for over 20 minutes at the Texas Capitol in Austin on Tuesday, Abbott laid out his plan for the current legislative session and his next four years as governor to a crowd of lawmakers and supporters. Parts of that plan include continuing his efforts to address the surge of migrants crossing over the southern border into the state. 

The governor applauded the thousands of Texas Department of Public Safety officers as well as both Texas and National Guard troops he has deployed as a part of his border security initiative, Operation Lone Star.

In addition, Abbott has been using taxpayer dollars to bus migrants awaiting their day in court from Texas border communities to liberal cities including New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. All told, Abbott has spent more than $4 billion on border-related projects. 

During his address, Abbott placed blame for the surge in migrants at the feet of President Joe Biden and his administration.  

“With the Biden administration missing in action, Texas is using every tool to protect our state, ” he said.

Just last week, Abbott met with Biden in El Paso to tour the border. While talking to reporters, Abbott said the federal government should reimburse the state of Texas for its border security initiatives.

Culture war issues also surfaced during Abbott’s remarks Tuesday. While applauding the work of Texas educators, the governor raised the issue of indoctrination in classrooms.

“Texas is the knowledge capital of America, but we must remember this: our schools are for education, not indoctrination,” he said to much applause. 

While running for reelection, Abbott campaigned on establishing a “parental bill of rights” to give parents more influence over their child's education and what they are exposed to. Several lawmakers have introduced legislation that would prohibit discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten up to the eighth grade.

“I was really honed in on [the governor’s] comments regarding parental rights,” said Carisa Lopez, senior political director at the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBTQ, religious and reproductive freedom.

Lopez said that the governor’s commitment to giving parents more freedom in the classroom is hypocritical because it “only applies to those who agree with him.” If the reforms Abbott has thrown his support behind are enacted, Lopez believes they would do more to further alienate LGBTQ Texans, especially the parents of children who are transgender.


“This type of rhetoric has deep consequences. We know that suicide rates among LGBTQ Texans… are so much higher… and that is the result of the state not being open and welcoming,” Lopez said in an interview.

Abbott has not indicated support for any particular piece of legislation and aside from promises he made during his reelection campaign, has not been specific about how he would like to see school curriculums reformed. However, he did offer a glimpse of his expectations in his address.

“Schools should not be pushing social agendas. We must reform curriculums to get kids back to learning the basics and empower parents with the tools to challenge that curriculum when it falls short of expectations,” Abbott said.

Should Abbott choose to seek national office, he faces what might be called a Goldilocks problem. Many Texas Republicans view him as insufficiently conservative on issues like the border, with several candidates — including former state senator Don Huffines and Texas Republican Party chair Allen West — challenging him from the right in last year’s primary election.

Meanwhile, many Texas Democrats see him as too far-right. It’s a problem perhaps best captured by Abbott’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in which he was forced to balance public health concerns with the anti-lockdown and anti-mask sentiments of his base.

The result was confusing and ever-changing guidance that Texas Monthly likened to a "riddle." Abbott’s state approval rating steadily fell throughout much of the pandemic, from a high of 56% in April 2020 to a low of 41% in mid-2021, when his approval went underwater for the first time ever.

On social issues, Abbott presided over a total abortion ban and child abuse investigations into the families of transgender children, both of which enraged liberal Texans.

Abortion patients have had to leave the state to seek care, and abortion clinics have shuttered — a “direct result of Greg Abbott’s extremist policies,” said Drucilla Tigner, a deputy director with the group Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. A vast majority of Texans support some level of abortion access, she noted — though an array of competing concerns prevented the issue from costing Abbott the election.

Remington Johnson, a transgender reverend and a board member with Texas Impact, an interfaith organization with around 5 million members, described Abbott as an “autocrat.” The prospect of another term with Abbott in charge was “ominous” and “stomach-turning,” she said.

Abbott last year ordered CPS to investigate the families of transgender children, going against the guidance of groups like the Texas Medical Association. These actions showed he “doesn’t respect expertise” and is willing to “weaponize the powers of the state” for his own political ambitions, Johnson said.

“These are really big moments that show the heart of this man and what he’s willing to do,” she said. “I really question his heart as a leader. He’s shown us who he is.”

On the other side of the spectrum, many Texas Republicans see Abbott as too centrist or even liberal. Abbott won the primaries with only around 66% of the vote, far below his 90% share in the 2018 primary.

At a Donald Trump rally near Houston last year, Abbott was booed by members of his own party.

“He's not getting things done that he promised he would,” one voter complained to the Texas Tribune. “He's not an effective leader of this state.”

Monica McBride, a GOP county chair in rural Brewster County in the Texas borderlands, likes Abbott, describing him as “smart” and “nice.” As a Republican official, she stressed she supported her party’s choice for governor.

Even still, McBride said she hoped Abbott would take “more of a leadership role” on issues like border security, including by following through on his plans to finish a border wall.

"There’s got to be some kind of control” on the border, McBride said. “it’s completely crazy the amount of people that have come across.” Just last year, her stepfather, who lives on a nearby ranch, found a dead migrant on his property.

McBride blamed much of this on the Biden administration. Even still, she wished Abbott would take a more proactive role on this and other issues that matter to his base.

Looking ahead to the presidential elections in 2024, “I personally like Trump,” McBride said. Asked about a possible primary matchup between Trump, Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is also viewed as a possible contender, McBride was equally unequivocal. DeSantis would win, she said.

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