Gov. Greg Abbott's first State of the State on Tuesday was pretty much the dog and pony show everyone expected it to be, but we couldn't help thinking that something was missing. He sat up there in his first address to the Texas Legislature and we couldn't help pondering how his hair was a little less than perfect and how his rhetoric simply wasn't the inflammatory swaggering we'd grown accustomed to during the past decade.
Abbott kicked things off by painting an aggressively sunny picture of the state of the Lone Star State. "As the sun arises on 2015 the state of Texas is strong and together we are about to make it even stronger," Abbott said, mentioning all of the job creation and the January sales tax numbers without ever acknowledging the potential mess that is the current low oil prices.
He followed that up with a little gloating about the federal judge in Brownsville that halted President Barack Obama's executive order on immigration just hours before Abbott's big speech. "In Texas, we will not sit idly by while the President ignores the law and fails to secure the border," Abbott said. He went on to outline his plans for Texas in the next two years.Specifically, Abbott had five emergency items that he highlighted during the speech - early education, higher education research initiatives, transportation, border security and ethics.
While a lot of this is the same sort of stuff Abbott campaigned on last year, his support of improvements to education was encouraging. Abbott told a joint session of the Lege that he wants to both bolster the state's pre-kindergarten program and to start pulling Nobel laureate-types into Texas universities. (We were hoping he'd cackle and rub his hands together in an evil looking manner when he mentioned this plan, but alas, no such luck). "Our journey begins with striving to create the best education system in America," he said. From his tone of voice -- and the proposed budget that accompanied the speech -- it's just possible that he meant it.
Abbott campaigned on the whole ethics bit so it wasn't a shock that the issue came up in his speech. Still he really pushed for some changes. It was downright adorable, really. "Let's dedicate this session to ethics reform," Abbott said. "I want to work with you so that we can together strengthen the faith and the trust Texans deserve from us. It's a reminder of who we really work for -- and that is the citizens of Texas." The audience response was decidedly tepid, the Texas Tribune noted. We're curious to see how this one plays out in the Lege.
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After staying conspicuously silent on the question of keeping National Guard troops on the Texas border for more than a week - Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced last week that Patrick intended to push to keep the National Guard out there until 2017 - Abbott declared himself in favor of border security on Tuesday, announcing that he'd already ordered the National Guard troops to stay on the border until Abbott's own border security plan is in place. It's worth noting, however, that he didn't actually say what said plan is.
Abbott did manage to score some points -- at least with us -- when he got funny about Texas roads. We all know that the roads themselves and the crumbling infrastructure beneath the roads is no laughing matter, but Abbott dug into that issue in the best way possible -- with a wheelchair joke. "It's a sad day in Texas when a guy in a wheelchair can go faster than some Texans can travel on our congested roads," he said. His audience wasn't rolling in the aisles over that one, but we thought it was funny. He said he wants to send $4 billion to help repair state roads, and that's not the only budgetary change he's hoping to make.
In addition to the road funding, Abbott has some ambitious budgetary goals. His intentions about increasing pre-K funding were vague -- he wants to give more funding to schools to encourage outstanding pre-K programs but he didn't get into dollar amounts -- but he said he wants to dedicate $500 million to recruiting Nobel laureates and other fancy researchers to the state universities. Meanwhile, the new governor has intentions on the tax front. Specifically, he is looking to cut property taxes by $2.2 billion and franchise taxes by $2 billion. At the same time he wants Texas to start really working on paying down its debt, so we're curious to see how this one will actually work in real life.
Abbott's predecessor, former Gov. Rick Perry, was never mentioned in the speech. While Abbott did a perfectly acceptable job, we admit we found ourselves actually missing the best head of political hair in professional politics. Abbott stayed focused, remained calm and never once got off message. While this is probably great for the governor, it doesn't exactly translate to pure comedy for those watching. However, the Associated Press noted at the top of the text of Abbott's speech that Abbott diverges from the text a ton. That and the wheelchair bit left us feeling hopeful. A governor that doesn't always stay on prompter is bound to get a little more fun to watch or sooner or later. We're crossing our fingers it's sooner.