As of today, Texas has a new governor and lieutenant governor for the first time this century in Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick respectively. Thus far, Abbott’s administration can be described as efficient and punctual: the inauguration ceremony proceeded smoothly and took just an hour, despite two longish speeches from both men. 

No one who followed the campaign trail would have been surprised by either. Patrick’s, which came first, felt like a sermon, perhaps because he began with a profession of faith. (Actually, technically speaking, he began with a selfie, but then moved on to church business.) “I respect all faiths and religions, but I am a Christian first, a conservative second and a Republican third,” said Patrick; that was a variation on a line he often used on the campaign trail, and he proceeded in campaign mode. There was no acknowledgement of his predecessors; instead, Patrick said, exhorting the audience to a little call-and-response, it was “a new day” in Texas. His goal, as he put it, is to be “the best lieutenant governor in the history of Texas,” and re-upped his campaign pledges to secure the border, lower property and business taxes, and advance educational reforms such as school choice, among other things.

The overt religiosity of Patrick’s speech was probably the most outlying thing about it; although most Texas Republicans are Christians (sparing a thought for Joe Straus, the speaker of the House, who was stoically on the dais) and although the state GOP has a reputation for religious-right fervor, we don’t actually hear that kind of rhetoric that often, or at least, we haven’t in the past. I’d like to highlight a different part of Patrick’s speech, though, in his discussion of school choice:

It is immoral to tell parents they must send their children to a perennially failing school. Parents deserve the right to pick the best school for their child. Some in Austin tell me school choice will never pass, but [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr] is not the only one who can dream, I dream of the day when every parent has the choice to send their child to the school they pick because they believe it’s best for their child.

There’s nothing wrong with supporting school choice and Patrick, I think, is sincere in his commitment and honorable in his intentions here. However, “parents deserve the right to pick the best school for their child”? That’s not true, at least not in the sense that Patrick implies. Per the Texas constitution, the state is obligated to support a system of public free schools. Children have a right to be educated in those schools. Parents have the right to send their children to a public school, or to opt out of the public system in lieu of a private alternative. There is, as yet, no established right for parents to pick their preferred public (i.e., state-funded) school for their children. If Patrick wants to establish such a right—“to pick the best school for [one’s] child”, with the standard of “best” being nothing more than the parent’s belief, which is in some sense subjective–he’s welcome to try. In the meantime, though, the assertion is based on the same kind of reasoning as Obamacare (under which the president declared a whole suite of new “rights,” including the right to keep your preferred doctor). Dr. King, incidentally, dreamed of a day when civil rights, i.e. the actual civil rights of African Americans, would be recognized; his speech is powerful in part because those rights were real and had been deliberately and systematically abridged, violated, and ignored. 

Abbott’s speech, meanwhile, was more temperate, more gracious, and more centrist in its tone. More centrist in some of his concerns, too. His theme was that Texas is the land where the improbable becomes possible, invoking his own life story as a key example, and he took the time to note, fairly, that as successful as the state has been, there are millions of Texans on the fringes of opportunity who can “take no solace” in the number-one rankings that don’t affect their daily lives. Perhaps the best grace note to his speech, though, was his office’s announcement that immediately after the ceremony he’d head back into the Capitol for a meeting of the HHSC strike force. 

There’s a lot more to come from both of these men, obviously, but if anyone’s in suspense, take a moment to reread our recent profiles: From October 2013, my colleague Brian Sweany’s profile of Abbott; and from December 2014, my profile of Patrick

(AP Photo / Eric Gay )