Texas lawmakers liked their last governor about as much as he liked coyotes.
In 2004, when Gov. Rick Perry actually sent them his own school finance plan instead of lying in wait to veto theirs, they sent his back with a bruising 126-0 rejection vote.
That was when state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, paraphrased cowboy humorist Will Rogers: “If you’re going to ride point, look behind every once in a while and make sure the herd’s behind you.”
Just as Perry is on the verge of another presidential campaign, Abbott is getting credit for solid results from a Legislature plagued by meanness and fussing.
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After asserting alpha dominance at an April 22 breakfast with other state leaders, Abbott won praise for roping the Senate and House back into sync to pass a new preschool education plan, settle spiteful disputes over which taxes to cut and write a thrift-minded budget that left $6 billion unspent.
Had his staff not issued an embarrassing letter warning that Texas’ safety or property might be at risk from a simple U.S. military training exercise, we’d be hearing how Abbott is a new Austin star.
Abbott “had a good session,” judged veteran Texas political science professor Jerry Polinard, who’s seen 21 sessions and seven governors in his years at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.
Polinard said Abbott came through on his promises of a residential property tax cut, pre-K education and more law enforcement at the border.
“He’ll put icing on the cake if he avoids having to call a special session,” Polinard wrote by email, agreeing that Abbott’s most obvious mistake was “pandering” to public suspicion of the Jade Helm military exercise.
Abbott started the session as something of an unknown, taking office as an executive for the first time after 22 years as a judge, Supreme Court justice and attorney general.
From the moment both were sworn in, Abbott was upstaged by new Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a preening peacock with a fondness for smartphone selfies.
Patrick started the session grabbing headlines by naming official Tea Party “grassroots advisors” and making them his guests at the inaugural ball.
But he became their target by session’s end over lawmakers’ failure to punish illegal immigration, gay marriage, Shariah contracts or various other imaginary threats.
“Abbott wrestled Patrick and [House Speaker Joe] Straus to a budget agreement,” wrote Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson, “but did little on education, healthcare or social services.
“It’s smart politics to set low expectations, meet them, and take a victory lap.”
Texas Christian University political science professor Emily M. Farris wrote by email that Abbott hasn’t left an impression either way yet but said to watch how he handles the recent disastrous floods.
“After 14 years of Perry, we knew what to expect,” Farris wrote: “With Abbott, it’s still a question.”
Fellow TCU professor Adam Schiffer gave Abbott more credit.
“He set clear priorities, fought for them, and was successful at holding the more extreme elements of his party at bay,” Schiffer said.
“On the other hand,” Schiffer wrote, “much of the session’s oxygen was sucked into ideologically charged legislation of minor import.”
That’s our Lege.
Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538