Bud Kennedy

Governor’s race has gone messy, and it’s only January

(NOTE: The Lone Star Project PAC, not a campaign organization, emailed hidden audio of a Republican consultant. This column has been updated.)

By November, maybe Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis will tell us how they’d govern Texas.

Right now, we mostly hear playground taunts.

The political outrage echo chamber turned in Abbott’s favor Thursday, when a video surfaced of an unidentified Austin Democratic activist cackling heartlessly over the Republican candidate’s looks and disability.

Abbott, 56, the state attorney general, has used a wheelchair for nearly 30 years.

He was jogging in Houston when a storm-damaged oak tree fell. It crushed his legs.

For Democrats, the less said about that the better.

Abbott’s wheelchair is eyewitness proof of his triumph over adversity, Matthew Wilson, a SMU political science professor, wrote by email.

“It makes it harder to sell a narrative of him as callous and unconcerned,” Wilson wrote.

Davis’ campaign called the comment “abhorrent” and said Abbott deserves respect.

But her allies at the Lone Star Project PAC also followed with their own hidden audio of a Republican consultant saying glibly that Abbott has a campaign edge because he’s a “dude in a wheelchair.”

In a week that began with a Dallas newspaper quoting only men in a report about Davis’ divorce and parenting, both campaigns have been all but drowned out by rancor over gender and disability.

“Davis and Abbott are accomplished people with a lot to offer,” wrote SMU professor Cal Jillson.

“But we’re having a difficult time tuning out the noise so we can hear them.”

The wheelchair comments were particularly disappointing to Fort Worth City Council member Danny Scarth.

A college football injury in 1979 left him partially paralyzed.

“Frankly, it’s a lot like talking about race — I’m ready for it to not matter,” he said by phone.

“Whether Greg Abbott’s in a wheelchair or not is irrelevant. It’s like saying he’s got bad hair or goofy shoes. Don’t judge me or anyone else by what you see.”

When he first ran in 2006, Scarth remembers critics who said he couldn’t do the job.

He’s done it, missing only public events in a restaurant or historic building with no ramp or elevator.

“You know, if women face discrimination, that’s no longer allowed,” he said.

“We don’t allow discrimination against anyone who’s African-American or Hispanic. That’s never OK. But if I still have to go in the back door, somehow that’s OK.”

Changing that will take more than a governor.