State Politics

Abbott, Patrick take reins of Texas government, promising opportunity for all

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Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott arrives for his inauguration with his wife, Cecilia, right, and daughter Audrey on Tuesday as the Ross Volunteers of Texas A&M University form a saber arch.
Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott arrives for his inauguration with his wife, Cecilia, right, and daughter Audrey on Tuesday as the Ross Volunteers of Texas A&M University form a saber arch. AP

Their inaugurations behind them, the state’s top two office-holders are shifting from pomp to policy as they get down to work, pushing an ambitious legislative agenda that includes education, the economy, border security, infrastructure repair and other conservative priorities.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took their oaths of office Tuesday before thousands of Texans at the south steps of the State Capitol, then paraded down Congress Avenue before ending the festivities with an inaugural ball at the Austin Convention Center.

On Wednesday, the order of the day is to “get to business” as Abbott arrives at the Capitol for his first day in the governor’s office, said Abbott’s communications director, Matt Hirsch.

Among the items on the 48th governor’s agenda this week are a Thursday briefing on an upcoming execution and a meeting with a strike force Abbott empaneled to investigate a scandal over health contracts.

Patrick will step into his role as the presiding officer of the Senate, with the chamber expected to consider a controversial rules change that will have the effect of tightening the Republican leadership’s control over the flow of legislation.

The debate centers on the so-called two-thirds rule that requires 21 votes before the Senate can bring up a bill for debate. Patrick, who began pushing for eliminating the rule when he became a state senator in 2007, has said he will let senators decide the rule’s fate, but members of both parties said Patrick’s stand on the rule is a strong indication that its days are numbered.

“It looks like they have the votes,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, “That’ll be a sad day for the Senate.”

The new governor and lieutenant governor join House Speaker Joe Straus, who has led the House since 2009, in a leadership triumvirate strongly committed to continuing the conservative, business-friendly economic climate that has made the nation’s second-largest state its leading job creator.

Abbott and Patrick both used their inaugural addresses to spell out their priorities for the state, putting a strong emphasis on education as the key to continued job creation and economic growth. They also called for toughening border security, and Abbott took a trademark swipe at Washington, vowing to push back against the federal government “if they spend too much, regulate too much or violate our state sovereignty.”

The new governor also laced his address with a strong personal message, using the story of his struggle to overcome an accident that left him partly paralyzed three decades ago to illustrate the potential and opportunity that he said lies within reach of all Texans.

Overcoming the odds

“Texas is the place where the improbable becomes the possible,” said Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since being permanently injured in a 1984 jogging accident. “I am living proof that we live in a state where a young man’s life can literally be broken in half and yet he can still rise up and be governor of this great state.

“The journey from that Houston hospital to the Texas governorship was possible because of two powerful forces,” he said. “First is the grace of God. The Book of Matthew reminds us that with God all things are possible.”

The other, he said, was that “I had the good fortune to live in the great State of Texas. Texas is the place where the improbable becomes the possible.”

Abbott replaces Gov. Rick Perry, who took office in December of 2000, to extend a continuum of Republican power in the governor’s office that has stretched over two decades.

Patrick, a former state senator and conservative talk show host from Houston, coaxed spectators to chant along with him as he declared “it’s a new day in Texas” and outlined a litany of conservative themes that include lowering taxes, reforming and improving education and shoring up Texas' infrastructure.

“My goal is to be the best lieutenant governor in the history of Texas,” he declared. “It’s not about my legacy. It’s about you, your family, and the future of Texas.”

Unlike some past inaugurations, the weather was a cooperative participant in the historic festivities, bathing the capitol grounds in brilliant sunlight. Crowds estimated into the thousands attended the noon-time ceremonies in the opening splash of an inaugural day that would continue with a $10-a-ticket barbecue on the Capitol grounds, a parade down Congress Avenue and a night-time inaugural ball at the Austin Convention Center.

The inaugural organizing committee raised more than $4 million to underwrite the festivities.

As the sun beamed on the Capitol grounds, warming the thousands of Texans who wanted to see Abbott and Patrick take office, many North Texans were among the early arrivals who showed up in time to get good standing-room only spots on the south side of the Capitol grounds. Some arrived two or three hours before the inauguration began.

North Texans on hand

For many — such as Tristan Hunt of Southlake and his wife, Dr. Judy Hunt, pastor of White’s Chapel United Methodist Church — this was the first inauguration they have ever even thought about attending. “We got an invitation in the mail,” Tristan Hunt said. “How could we pass it up? This was an opportunity that opened its doors and I wasn’t going to miss it.”

The Hunts both grew up in Texas and said their roots run deep. “This is very impressive,” Judy Hunt said.

Many others agreed. This was also the first inauguration for Katherine Aaron, and her husband, Gary, from Irving.

“He’s from Duncanville,” Katherine Aaron said of the state’s new governor. “That’s not far from home. “He had this disability and he overcame it. That’s why I know he’s going to be a strong leader.”

Kenneth Austin, a Lewisville man who teaches high school U.S. history in Irving, said he couldn’t miss watching the changing of the guard in Austin.“This is an incredible moment,” he said. “It’s beautiful weather and a beautiful opportunity.”

Rich traditions

While rich with inauguration traditions that have been in place for decades, Texas Inauguration 2015 was noteworthy as the first transfer of power between governors in 14 years.

Long before transferring the reins of power to a fellow Republican often considered his heir apparent, Perry, 64, made history as Texas’ longest serving governor. Although he exits the Texas political stage, the outgoing governor is also pondering a possible second run for president in 2016 after a disastrous first presidential bid in 2012.

Abbott and Patrick were propelled into the state’s top two offices by a fierce Republican sweep in the November elections. Abbott trounced then-State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth by 20 points while Patrick easily defeated State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who is now running for mayor of San Antonio. Patrick became the Republican nominee with a Tea Party-infused upset of incumbent David Dewhurst in the GOP run-off.

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