Greg Abbott’s State of the State and the state of his governorship

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick at their inauguration (Photo by Ralph Barrera)

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick at their inauguration (Photo by Ralph Barrera)

Good morning Austin:

At 11, Gov. Greg Abbott will deliver his first State of the State address to the a joint session of the Texas House and Senate, the first State of the State address delivered by anyone other than Rick Perry in the 21st Century.

Yesterday, the governor’s office released a short video on what ordinary Texans want to hear about from the governor and so, spoiler alert, watch the video and you will get a good idea that Abbott is going to emphasize improving education, fostering job creation and removing burdensome regulations on small business, unclogging the state’s transportation arteries and making sure money raised for roads goes to roads, and helping veterans.

Meanwhile, Perry’s political committee, RickPAC,  just released its own video. Having had his way with Texas, Perry is now off romancing New Hampshire, his new favorite state, with the possible exception of Iowa and South Carolina, which, like New Hampshire, have the first contests on the Republican presidential nominating schedule next year.

“We’re in beautiful New Hampshire, the Granite State,” Perry says in the video. “Granite’s tough, it’s hard, just like the people who live in this fiercely independent state.”

“It’s snowin’, it’s cold, but I’m fired up.  Live free or die. Amen,” says Perry. “New Hampshire is about livin’ free or dyin’. Are you ready for that?”

For future reference, South Carolina has two state mottos. One is, “Animis Opibusque Parati,” which is Latin for “Prepared in Mind and Resources,” and sort of what Perry has pledged his campaign will be this time around. The other is  “Dum Spiro Spero,” which sounds like what Nixon might have blurted out when Vice President Agnew pleaded nolo contendere – Latin for “no contest” – to corruption charges in 1973, but actually is Latin for,  “While I Breathe, I Hope.”

And the Iowa motto is, “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain,” which is kind of a Midwestern fuddy-duddy way of saying “Live Free or Die,” or  “Come and Take It.”

Perry remains a decided long shot in fulfilling his ambition to become the most powerful man on the planet. But, I think it is fair to say that his record-long tenure as governor, and his leadership style, managed to make the governor the most powerful elected position in the state of Texas, which has not always been clearly the case.

Here is  Dave McNeely, writing in the Texas Observer in 2010, on the question of Who Runs Texas:

 A long-standing argument is that the lieutenant governor of Texas is more powerful than the governor. It’s that way by design. During the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, Texas had to endure the concentration of power in the governor: who removed local, elected officials that had been part of the Confederacy; appointed district judges, district attorneys, county treasurers, mayors and aldermen; and imposed martial law on counties. After Reconstruction, writers of the new Texas Constitution vowed to disperse power among the lieutenant governor, the speaker and the governor. The revised constitution also made numerous other positions elected instead of appointed by the governor. Several other former Confederate states did likewise.

This means the most visible politician in the state can have trouble moving an agenda. “When you couldn’t dominate the Legislature,” observed Mary Beth Rogers, who was chief of staff to the late Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, “you were limited in your ability to get anything done. That became a problem. It’s a structural flaw in Texas government.”

Her statement is in former state Rep. Brian McCall’s book, The Power of the Texas Governor: Connally to Bush. McCall, a Plano Republican who is now chancellor of the Texas State University System, combines meticulous historical research with knowledge gleaned from almost 20 years in the House. This book, like another recent title on the history of the speaker of the House, The House Will Come to Order, shows how individuals have the potential to shape these positions. Over time there have been powerful Texas governors and weak Texas governors, depending on their persuasive abilities. And over the past 50 years, the speaker of the House has become a power center as speakers have learned to control the state’s budget.

And there’s this from the ninth edition of Texas Politics, by Kraemer, Newell and Prindle:

Twenty-seven other states use the lieutenant governor as the presiding officer of the upper house. But these states (usually) also look to the governor for policy recommendations; their chamber rules are such that the lieutenant governor,  far from exercising any real power, is generally in a position similar to that of the vice president of the United States – neither an important executive or legislative force. Such is not the case in Texas, where the lieutenant governor is a force in state politics and the dominant figure during legislative sessions. The lieutenant governor orchestrates the flow of legislation in the upper house.

Now, with Perry haven given way to Abbott, and David Dewhurst to Dan Patrick, the State of the State arrives at a moment of testing and uncertainty in the relationship between the governor, the lieutenant governor and, the third of the Big Three – House Speaker Joe Straus – a testing and uncertainty that was on vivid display last week on the question of whether to extend the National Guard’s stay at the border.

Patrick, like Perry – who deployed the Guard to the border – before him, wants them to stay, and said publicly that Abbott is with him on this.  Straus said Patrick is overstepping and this is Abbott’s call. Abbott, who during the campaign called for a big increase in the state presence at the border – not dependent on the Guard – remained silent.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick at their inauguration (Photo by Ralph Barrera)

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick at their inauguration (Photo by Ralph Barrera)

Here from the report in the Statesman last week from Chuck Lindell and Tim Eaton:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick committed Tuesday to spending tens of millions of dollars to keep Texas National Guard troops deployed along the border with Mexico.

The leader of the Texas House, however, shrugged off Patrick’s call with a notable lack of enthusiasm

And Gov. Greg Abbott, portrayed by Patrick as standing “shoulder to shoulder” with him on border security funding, was silent on the issue, with his office declining to respond to requests for additional information from reporters across Texas.

And this from analysis of the new tripartite tension in the Texas Tribune by Ross Ramsey:

Abbott has not said anything about the arm-wrestling, at least in public.

This tension is not just about the border thing.

In an interview with James Henson, a Texas Tribune pollster and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, Straus added to the list that starts with border security. He said there are questions to resolve about blocking colleges’ bans on concealed handguns and opposes the repeal of in-state tuition for certain children of undocumented immigrants. That puts him at odds with Patrick on those issues. During the weeks ahead, we all get to find out whether the House and the Senate are taking the same positions as their leaders on those issues.

But it’s not just about issues, either.

Asked about advocates for “constitutional carry” — which would repeal any state laws that prevent Texans from carrying guns as they wish, with no permits required — Straus said the tactics of advocates had hurt their chances by trying to threaten and intimidate legislators.

And he talked about conservative groups and activists threatening to recruit primary opponents for Republicans they find insufficiently conservative. “Texas House members aren’t going to be bullied,” he said.

 You can watch Henson’s full interview with Straus here:
 
This is all very interesting. Greg Abbott hasn’t even delivered his first State of the State address and the state of his governorship seems to be on the line.
From Jim Henson last night:
I think the governor’s communication team has done a pretty good job of telegraphing what we’re likely to hear policy wise. The more interesting thing will be the specific of how he inserts his agenda into the increasing divergence between the leadership of the House and Senate– particularly the areas where the middle ground seems hard to define, like in-state tuition for undocumented students and the role of the National Guard in future border security policy.

 The governor was relatively quiet last week as tensions flared between the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House.  This is part of a new political landscape in the state, given that there was much less public disagreement among the state’s main leaders during the last half of the Perry governorship.  The last couple of weeks suggest that we’re seeing a much more precarious balance of power since the inauguration of Patrick and Abbott. Since his election, Patrick has sent clear signals that he means to revive the Lieutenant Governorship after the office’s years in eclipse behind a powerful governor, using the most conservative elements of the Texas GOP as a base for that effort.  Yet the Speaker directly suggested last week that he’s had enough of the political tactics used by at least some of those very same elements.  I think everyone will be looking for signs of how the Governor inserts himself in this conflict, which taps into a major fault line in the party all three of them belong to.

 Abbott’s great virtue as a the party’s standard-bearer is that he is an all-purpose, one-size-fits-all Republican. He has rarely given the party’s tea party base any cause for concern.

Here yesterday from Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan:

“Gov. Abbott has presented a positive, reform-minded vision for Texas, and I expect he will continue that trend in his State of the State Address. Texans are more engaged than ever and are expecting this legislature to make good on the promises and commitments made in 2014.”

But now, with the question of extending the National Guard deployment in the name of border security, Patrick seems to be putting Abbott on the spot. The lurking politics here, it has been suggested, is that Patrick might challenge Abbott for governor in four years and may be looking for ways to demonstrate that he is a truer believer.. But if he can reassert the lieutenant governor’s primacy among the big three, who needs to be governor.

 Meanwhile, Abbott is also a business/establishment Republican and, every indication is that the priorities he will outline today will be more mainstream fare, focused on making investments in education and infrastructure while cutting taxes and reducing regulation, all embellished with rhetorical flourishes to maintain his right-wing bona fides.
“I think he’ll serve up vanilla pudding and make it look like grits and gravy,” said Matt Angle, when I talked to him yesterday. Angle heads the Democratic Lone Start Project, so his view of Abbott is expectedly negative. But he remains an acute observer.

“He’s been governor barely a month and already he needs to reassert his authority,” Angle said.

Angle believes Abbott is risk averse. “He plays it tough, sometimes that means talking tough to his base, but when a real fight breaks out, nothing.”

Maybe, I suggest,  Greg Abbott is a Gary Cooper kind of leader, the strong silent type.

“No,” said Angle.  “He’s just silent.”

“It’s a passive approach that’s really unsettling in a Texas governor. That is not something that would have ever occurred with George W. Bush, Rick Perry or Ann Richards,” Angle said. “Make no mistake about it. Dan Patrick will remember that when he took a shot at Greg Abbott, Abbott didn’t shoot back. Joe Straus had to respond for him. Dan Patrick knows that. He was asserting authority held by the governor’s office.”

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said today’s speech represents a “very important” opportunity for Abbott to define his governorship and the relationship of the Big Three.

“This will kind of be an indication of where he wants to go,” Murray said. Heretofore, he said, “It seems he has sent some conflicting but interesting mixed signals.”

For example, Abbott backs open carry and campus carry gun legislation that, Murray said, is a lot more popular with the base than the broader public. On the other hand, Murray said, “His UT board appointments look like he is going in a very different direction than Gov. Perry with establishment, Kay Bailey Hutchison types of appointments. It looked like he was very clearly signaling he was going in a very different direction than Gov. Perry.”

Today’s speech, Murray said, may signal whether Abbott intends to move toward Patrick or toward Straus or continue to straddle the space between them.

Sherri Greenberg, a former state representative who is a professor of state and local government at UT, said that Abbott “appears to be trying to set a different tone, perhaps less combative, more collaborative,” than his predecessor. But, Greenberg was quick to point out, his “less combative” approach does not extend to relations with the federal government, which remains very combative.

Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the Federal District Court in Brownsville, appears to have handed Abbott a gift late yesterday, with a ruling that halted, at least temporarily, President Obama’s executive actions on immigration in the face of a lawsuit, brought by Abbott as attorney general on behalf of Texas and 25 other states that joined the suit.The timing of this victory will enable Abbott to crow about it in his State of the State, and may enable him to thereby allude to border and immigration issues without getting into the more nettlesome issue of the guard deployment.

 Greenberg does not think that Abbott’s staying out of the Patrick-Straus spat is necessarily a sign of weakness.

“It may just be an indication that he doesn’t’ want to step in at this point, there are other things he wants to focus on with the State of the State,” she said. Ultimately, she said, he knows the power over the Guard rests with him.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones offered a similar take.

“I would suspect that Abbott will by and large avoid the topic of the Texas National Guard on the border, if for no reason other than needlessly inserting himself into the current debate on the issue between Speaker Straus and Lt. Gov. Patrick,” Jones said. ” It would be tough to say much of anything about the Guard’s current mission on the border without being seen as siding with either the Speaker against the Lt. Gov. or vice versa, and I would assume that is not the topic that Abbott wants to dominate the media cycle following his state of the state address.”

“This does not mean that he will not discuss the importance of a secure border, just that he will likely avoid any detailed discussion of the future role of the Texas National Guard on the border on Tuesday,” Jones said. “In the end though, I have to imagine that Abbott will in relatively short order bring most or all of the Texas National Guard troops back home while simultaneously supporting an extension of funding for a continued DPS presence on the border, with perhaps some additional funds to allow border sheriffs to hire more deputies. The reality is that this extended deployment by the Guard along the border provides a relatively limited benefit in border security while representing a substantial cost to Texas taxpayers and causing a dramatic disruption in the lives of the members of the Texas National Guard and of their families.”

Meanwhile, Jones said:

Three principal things to watch for in Gov. Abbott’s state of the state speech will be:
1).  Which legislative topics, if any, he gives immediate priority to by declaring them to be emergency items,
2).  Which big ticket (e.g.,property tax relief, business tax relief, K-12 education funding, pre-k expansion, transportation, higher education funding, Medicaid expansion, pension reform) and hot button (e.g., open carry, border security, campus carry, ban on sanctuary cities, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, opposition to same-sex marriage) legislative issues he discusses and which ones he either does not discuss or only mentions in passing, and
 3).  How he evaluates the current state of the Texas economy in the aftermath of the decline in the price of oil, in particular if his message is that Texans need to temper their expectations for increased spending and for tax relief or if be believes that the economy is still robust enough to shoulder both tax relief and increased spending in priority areas such as education and transportation.
 
In regard to the issue of emergency items, one possibility is that Gov. Abbott opts to not give any piece of legislation priority over any other piece by declaring no emergency items.
If Abbott does however opt to list some emergency items, I would expect enhanced transportation funding to be one of them, going perhaps so far as to implicitly recommend something along the lines of Sen. Robert Nichol’s SB-5 and SJR-5.  Another item that could possibly be included would be an outcomes-based expansion in funding for pre-kindergarten programs.
 
In addition to his designation of any legislation as an emergency item, Gov. Abbott will have an opportunity through his speech to publicly signal to the members of the Texas House and Senate which issues he believes should receive the highest priority this session, and either explicitly, or more likely implicitly through a lack or limited mention, signal which issues he considers to be of a lower or limited priority for this year.
 
I would expect to hear strong support in the speech for enhanced transportation funding and for a gradual move forward in terms of reform efforts (in particular) and some limited funding increase related to pre-K,  K-12 and higher education.  It will be interesting and informative to hear to what extent Abbott discusses property tax relief for homeowners and franchise tax relief for businesses within an economic and revenue context which while still positive, is not nearly as rosy as it was six months ago due to the drop in the price of oil.

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Antonious
Antonious

@Hardcore_Conservative  Now you know why you are on the outside looking in.  The voters got tired of folks who use politics to promote their hate, such as you.  You should of been listening to the voters, instead of again displaying your bigotry.


John quoted a lot of Democrats on what they expect Abbott to do, with their Democrat spin.  Not sure of the purpose of that.  We know they hope Abbott won't rule as a conservative but they will probably be proven wrong.