Texas' new governor not the same kind of cowboy
PAUL J. WEBER
Nov. 05, 2014
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The election of a new Texas governor usually means the arrival of another Lone Star archetype — boots-wearing, backslapping and big on swagger about the state's outsized importance.
But hold your horses: Greg Abbott is a different brand of top Texan.
Gov. Rick Perry shot a coyote, George W. Bush cleared brush in Wranglers and Ann Richards drawled zesty zingers without mussing her white bouffant. But the first new Texas governor in 14 years is something of a city slicker: an articulate lawyer from Houston who talks without a twang and campaigned with careful political discipline.
"He's going to come across a little less cowboy to people in other states. That's not necessarily a bad thing," Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri said.
Paralyzed from the waist down since being crushed by a tree in 1984, Abbott, a Republican, has a low-key persona that may not supply much fodder for television talk shows but that evinces a conservativism as deep as any of his predecessors. Right up to his decisive 20-point win over Democrat Wendy Davis on Tuesday — the biggest in a Texas governor's race since Bush coasted to re-election in 1998 — Abbott vowed to add to the 30 lawsuits he filed against the Obama administration as attorney general. He also suggested he might take a tougher line on immigration, on which Perry and some other Texas Republicans have had more temperate views.
The change in style could make the state Legislature take his ideas more seriously. Whereas Perry often opted to govern from lecterns at press conferences, Abbott's reputation is to dig into the details behind the scenes.
"You're going to see sentences and paragraphs from Abbott. It's not just a story concept, an arc, like Perry paints," said Bill Miller, a powerful Texas lobbyist and longtime friend to Perry. "Abbott is prepared and he is aggressive."
Outgoing state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson — who wears a gun in his boot to the office every day — said that not being in the national spotlight as much as Perry, who toured the country boasting about the "Texas Miracle" economy, could help Abbott implement his agenda under less scrutiny.
"I don't think that's inherent in Greg Abbott," Patterson said of Perry's ability to command attention. "What he does isn't going to be measured under a national lens, it's going to be measured under a state lens. And maybe that's a good thing."
Abbott sometimes campaigned more like he was running for city manager than governor, promoting an agenda heavy on infrastructure and policy. On education, he has called for a limited expansion of pre-K and reviving an early reading initiative that Bush implemented in Texas but that ended under Perry. He wants to divert more money to roads and likely less for the pet economic development programs that Perry trumpeted in his visits to other states.
"A message was sent by Americans last night, and it was a message focused on policy priorities. Americans want people in office to address their priorities," Abbott said Wednesday.
Perry liked to hurl insults at the national Democrats and throw down challenges to the White House over partisan issues from border control to health insurance.
Democrats say they hope Abbott is less interested in divisive battles, while some Republicans say they hope he is less likely to turn off certain voters, particularly Hispanics.
"Perry likes a good fight. Perry still shows signs of coming out of Paint Creek," said Democrat John Whitmire, dean of the Texas Senate, referring to Perry's small hometown. "I doubt if Abbott knows where Paint Creek is. Abbott is very urban."
Unlike Perry's rural roots — his high school graduation class was 13 people — Abbott's family settled in a Dallas suburb, where his father was a stockbroker and insurance man. His first job was at a silk-stocking law firm in Houston before he started his political career as an elected judge. In 1995, Bush appointed him to the Texas Supreme Court.
He owns two cowboys hats but admits he doesn't wear either often. He likes hunting and says his household is proof he's Texan enough: Abbott's wife, Cecilia, will become the first Hispanic first lady in a state where Hispanics are forecast to make up a plurality as soon as 2020.
"It is quintessential Texas, because that's the way Texas has been since before Texas was established," Abbott said of his family.
Abbott will have few roadblocks in a Legislature dominated by a like-minded tea party.
Shaking hands with Abbott in San Antonio recently, supporter Ken Brownlee said that Abbott's feet show he's ready to walk the walk as governor even if his manner doesn't broadcast it.
"He wears cowboy boots, doesn't he?" Brownlee said.
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