In 1995, new Gov. George W. Bush spoke only 15 minutes at his inaugural, saying “Texans can run Texas.”
In 2003, Gov. Rick Perry marked his first full term by speaking 20 minutes, calling on Texans to “dream boldly, to act boldly, to live boldly.”
On Tuesday, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott gets his chance to write Texas history his way, reflecting on the Lone Star State’s past and defining its future as he becomes our 48th governor since statehood.
First, one point should not go overlooked.
Greg Abbott’s personal story of pain, sacrifice and determination is like few others in American history.
Paralyzed from the waist down since 1984, when at age 26 he was jogging and was hit by a falling oak tree, Abbott not only continued his Houston law career but won judgeships and eventually statewide office.
As the first American with disabilities of his generation elected to a governorship, Abbott is already an inspiration to thousands and will bring new hope to Texans every day.
Simply by serving as governor, Abbott will stir dozens of businesses statewide to build ramps, widen doorways and rearrange tables and aisles to accommodate Texans with disabilities.
Every business wants the governor to visit. Be ready.
Abbott should be expected to retell his powerful personal experience as part of his inaugural speech, but he should not stop there.
At a Capitol filled with inexperienced lawmakers and first-year officials, Abbott should summon his 20 years of experience in state office to lay out a specific mission for this term.
Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick has already declared his goals and named an advisory committee of business leaders to help him get there.
Abbott cannot afford to appear less decisive than Patrick, a Houston talk-radio executive with a knack for timing and drama.
As a state senator, Patrick instantly took a knee-jerk side on many issues. As a judge and former Supreme Court justice, Abbott concedes that he is more deliberative and wants to hear the case for all sides before passing judgment.
That is already a heartening improvement in the office.
Abbott has said he wants to know more about whether Texas might expand the number of clients covered by federal Medicaid healthcare benefits, although he is opposed to expanding the current program.
He also seems set to include current public school leaders in plans for reshaping school finance and policy, a welcome gesture at a time when most of the talk is about public charter schools or vouchers for private and parochial schools.
Although he takes conservative positions on illegal immigration and wants to continue the law-and-order “surge” of law enforcement officers and National Guard troops along the Rio Grande, Abbott also has a refreshing and welcoming approach to Hispanic culture and continues to pepper his comments with Spanish phrases from his wife Cecilia’s ancestors in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.
More Texas families every year look like Abbott’s, and he would be well-served to include Latinos prominently not only in his comments but also in his appointments to commissions and judgeships.
Abbott also will be counted on to provide leadership for Texas’ transportation needs, at a time when rainy-day fund transfers may not help as much as expected and the state needs $5 billion more per year just to maintain current road capacity.
A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Vanderbilt University’s law school, Abbott also has hinted that he wants the state’s higher education system to move on after a series of conflicts under Perry.
Abbott must do all this and more, and along the way he must inspire Texans to do the most they can with the abilities God has given them.
We don’t know much yet about how he will govern. But we know he will not give up.