Governor Greg Abbott’s stunning ten-day haul of $10 million into his re-election campaign account included one even more stunning figure: $1 million from a single donor. The money came from Michael and Mary Porter of the Cross Creek Ranch in Doss, a tiny Gillespie County town northwest of Fredericksburg.
The Porters are not known as politically active. Other than $5,000 donated to Abbott in 2014, their only other contribution was $50,000 to state Representative Doug Miller in 2016, during his unsuccessful Republican primary re-election campaign. Information available online shows the Porters as cattle ranchers, donors to the Doss Volunteer Fire Department and supporters of the military, giving out limited numbers of hunts to active duty personnel on their ranch. They started buying their land around 2009, and it is held in a family trust, with property appraisals of several million dollars.
I contacted the Porters by email and phone and received a reply from Michael: “My wife Mary and I care deeply about the future of Texas. We believe Governor Abbott has put forth a vision to keep Texas exceptional, and we wanted to do our part in supporting that effort. While we understand the interest this has drawn, we would respectfully decline to comment on further questions.”
Texas donors in the past have put multiple millions of dollars into various campaigns during an election cycle. In 2002, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and millionaire Tony Sanchez used $62 million of his own money during an unsuccessful campaign against incumbent Governor Rick Perry. But, to the best of my memory, this is the largest donation given to a single candidate in our state’s history. (ADDITION: The 2014 governor’s race is the only campaign I have not covered since 1983, so I didn’t have a memory of the $1 million donation that Wendy Davis received. Thanks to those who pointed this out to me.)
Abbott’s campaign report was filled with extraordinary top donors. In fact, I quit looking at the names of anyone who had given Abbott less than $100,000. Five families gave Abbott $250,000 each, while sixteen had given him $100,000 or more. State law prohibited Abbott from raising money from January 1 to June 19, the last day for him to sign or veto bills. So while his money drag was less than two weeks long, it left his campaign with cash on hand of almost $41 million.
So far, Abbott has no opponent in the Republican primary, and no major political opponent has emerged among the Democrats. A Dallas businessman and LGBT rights advocate, Jeffrey Payne, has announced as a Democrat and said he will loan his campaign $2.5 million, but Payne is far from a top-of-the-ticket standard bearer.
Perhaps this sudden infusion of money has energized Abbott, who seemed lethargic earlier this year. After months of looking like the do-nothing governor to friends and foes alike, he is now doing what he does best: running for office. Even the special session that began Tuesday has the feel of a campaign event for Abbott, designed to eliminate that do-nothing label.
Only the governor has the power to call a special legislative session, and Abbott has promised to load the session up with twenty priorities, half of which come from the Republican Party of Texas platform. He’s also promised to bend lawmakers to his will. “I’m going to be establishing a list. You and other organizations may be establishing a list. We all need to establish lists that we publish on a daily basis and call people out — who is for this, who is against this, who has not taken a position yet.”
Two years ago, Abbott promised legislators that if they voted for his proposed pre-K education program over tea party objections he would protect them in their re-election campaigns. But many this year groused that Abbott abandoned them in the election, which is why the House was reluctant to give the governor much of what he wanted in his budget until the very end of negotiations.
For those of us old enough to remember, Abbott’s naughty and nice list of legislators sounds a lot like President Richard Nixon’s enemies list. His was mean and petty and not less than a little bit paranoid.
But Abbott doesn’t really need to keep a list, because Empower Texans will do it for him. That group, along with Houston anti-LGBT activist Steve Hotze, has been high on the “Oust Straus” movement to get rid of House Speaker Joe Straus – which so far has failed. In no small part, it has failed because Straus has protected House Republicans from taking the kind of hard votes that might get them onto Abbott’s list. If you don’t vote, you don’t get on the list.
So while his donors seem to be doing just fine, more than a few Republicans are frustrated with Abbott and his push for private school vouchers and efforts to force bathroom policies on local school districts. Representative Ken King, a Republican from Canadian, spoke openly with his hometown newspaper:
“I don’t know why the governor would put [the bathroom bill] on the call,” King told The Canadian Record, “other than he has to prove he can be as far right as Dan Patrick.”