With each day that passes, it becomes more and more likely that Greg Abbott will be allowed to stroll into the governor’s office without ever undergoing any scrutiny of how he would govern the state. At an event on Sunday in San Antonio, he is widely expected to announce that he is running for governor, but we have no clue about what his priorities are, although we can be pretty sure that they will lie on the right side of the political spectrum. About all that is known about his job performance as attorney general is that he (1) revels in suing the Obama administration and (2) rarely showed up at CPRIT for meetings of the oversight committee, of which he was a member, even after it was obvious that the cancer institute was a mess.
I remember getting to know Abbott back in 2002/2003, when, for a few months, a medical lobbyist arranged for reporters to have some lunches with him. I was one of several reporters who was invited to these events. My memory of them is that Abbott loved to talk about political intrigue and personalities (who doesn’t?), but policy issues were a non-starter. But before long, the lunches ended, never to resume. Later Abbott was invited to a Texas Monthly editorial meeting, at which we had the opportunity to ask questions. Someone asked him a question about what he would do about school finance, and the answer was that he had a “secret plan” to fix it. That did not go over well.
One lingering question is whether Perry and Abbott had a deal. The answer, I believe, is yes. But I also think Abbott drove Perry out of the race. After Perry’s run for president, Abbott knew Perry was too weak to run for reelection, and that is when he ramped up his fundraising and beat Perry to the really big donors.
A point of contention that could arise between Abbott and Perry is the Bill Powers saga. Abbott is said to be a UT guy–he earned his bachelor’s degree there, and it is also where he met his wife, Cecilia–and if the regents’ issue continues to simmer, it’s conceivable that Abbott might say, “I want to replace some of your regents.” This has come up before. When a Perry appointee on the Texas Tech board gave a party for Hutchison, Perry forced him off the board. Both Abbott and Perry are pretty set in their ways and their wants, and I would not be surprised if the relationship between two such strong-willed people did not go well.
Another problem for Abbott, I suspect, will be the Legislature. There was no love lost between Abbott and Straus during the redistricting battles of 2011-2012. I think Abbott will have a hard time getting along with the lawmakers. He’s become used to getting his way. That is not how the Legislature works. He’s going to be a stranger in a strange land, and it will take time to understand how the office works. If Abbott is looking for a confrontation, Straus will give it to him.
Abbott has never had to learn the issues that determine the course of state government. He is going to have to deal with a school finance lawsuit. He’s going to have to deal with Medicaid. He’s going to have to deal with privatization of education. He’s going to have to decide whether to keep the Enterprise and Emerging Technology slush funds or wipe that stain on state government off the books. There are dozens of such decisions he’ll have to make. He’s going to have to protect the $2 billion of funding for water from the weak governance structure that Troy Fraser established. In most of these situations, he has no background on how these programs work. Abbott is a bright fellow, and he can hire the right folks, but he is going to have a steep learning curve.
It would serve Abbott well if he began to show his cards, if for no other reason than to establish that he understands how state government works. Until that happens–perhaps starting on Sunday–Abbott will be the “Cipher Governor,” someone who is a blank slate.
AP Photo | Eric Gay