Dave Montgomery Austin Corrrespondent
SAN ANTONIO – Attorney General Greg Abbott on Sunday unveiled his long-anticipated plans to run for Texas governor as he told of “piecing my life back together” from a devastating injury and vowed to use the same “spine of steel” perseverance to fight for every Texan.
Hundreds of sweltering, casually dressed supporters gathered for the outdoor announcement ceremony at La Vallita Historic Arts Village near San Antonio’s storied River Walk. “Abbott for governor” signs that sprouted at the downtown plaza hours before the event erased any lingering doubt of Abbott’s intentions. Abbott, who uses a wheelchair, chose the announcement date to commemorate the anniversary of he what said was the beginning of the “greatest fight” of his life. While jogging on a “steamy summer day like this” on July 14, 1984, Abbott recalled, he was struck by an oak tree that crushed his spine and left him permanently unable to walk.
“Piecing my life back together began with doctors piecing my vertebrae back together,” he said. “Those doctors inserted two steel rods up and down my vertebrae that will remain in my back for the rest of my life. “You hear politicians talk about having a spine of steel. I actually have one.”
His announcement came less than a week after Gov. Rick Perry said he would not seek re-election to a fourth term, a decision that cleared the way for Abbott’s run for the state’s top job. The 55-year-old Republican attorney general has long been portrayed as a strong favorite to replace Perry and build on the current governor’s record of social conservatism and pro-business economic policies. At this stage of the election season, Abbott is considered well-positioned to succeed Perry but many Democrats believe they have a shot at breaking Republicans’ 18-year-old hold on the governor’s office if state Sen. Wendy Davis enters the race. The Fort Worth Democrat, who vaulted to national media stardom after filibustering against a Republican abortion bill, initially indicated that she would seek re-election to her Tarrant County Senate district but has since acknowledged that she is considering a statewide race. Abbott faces opposition in the March 4 Republican primary from former Texas Republican Party chairman Tom Pauken of Dallas, who has cast himself as an alternative to what he describes as big-monied Republican insiders who he says dominate the political system in Austin. “This battle is for the soul of the Republican Party in Texas,” Pauken said on his Website Sunday. The state’s top legal officer has long harbored gubernatorial ambitions but his plans appeared uncertain for a while this year after Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, expressed an interest in another term before announcing on Monday that he would not seek re-election.
As Perry’s heir-apparent for the 2013 Republican nomination, Abbott shares the governor’s conservative views, including opposition to abortion and a strong adherence to a limited government, low-tax economic policy. He also shares Perry’s contempt of what they consider federal overreach under the Obama Administration, exemplified by more than 20 lawsuits challenging the administration on a variety of fronts from environmental regulation to health care. Abbott had a formidable $18 million in donations as of January, and has raised an additional $4.7 million-plus during the last two weeks of June, according to his campaign.
Highlighting what will likely be a central theme of his campaign, Abbott said he shared a “common bond” with millions of Texans trying to confront the obstacles of everyday life. “Texans may get knocked down, but we always get back up,” he said. “And we always take on the tough fights.” Abbott said he would seek to build “an even stronger economy” and increase water supplies, improve transportation and strengthen education “We will solve those problems not by raising taxes, but by right-sizing government and setting real sending limits.” He also took a swipe at the Democratic administration in Washington, saying he would Texans achieve success “not with Obama-style mandates and handouts, but with a level playing field that gets government out of the business of picking winners and losers and by reducing taxes on employers. “Government is supposed to be on your side – not riding your back,” he said. Abbott was joined by his wife, Cecilia, and their 16-year-old daughter, Audrey. The Abbott’s marriage in San Antonio 31 years ago, Abbott said, was “the uniting of cultures” – the candidate’s Anglo heritage and his wife’s Irish and Hispanic roots. Supporters said Abbott’s years-long rebound from his injury presents a compelling story of person triumph. . “We admire fighters. We admire people who overcome adversity.” said former State Rep. Aaron Pena of Edinburg, who described the Attorney General as the top Republican vote-getter in his region of South Texas.
Abbott planned to pivot off his San Antonio visit with stops on Monday in Houston and McAllen. Democrats plan to portray Abbott as an extension of Republican policies that they say have short-changed low- and middle-class Texans through cuts in education, social services and health care. “Everything Perry stands for, Gregg Abbott stands for,” said Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, asserting that Abbott has supported “every decision Perry has made” and spent “millions” in taxpayer dollars on redistricting litigation and lawsuits against Obama policies.
“There is no difference philosophically between Rick Perry and Greg Abbott,” said Hinjosa. “In fact, I think Greg Abbott is more conservative and more right wing than Rick Perry and more irresponsible with taxpayer dollars than Rick Perry.” Abbott grew up in Wichita Falls and in Duncanvile in Dallas County. He earned a BBA in finance from the University of Texas at Austin in 1981 and graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville. After a stint at private practice, Abbott served three years as state district judge in Houston. He then went on to become a Texas Supreme Court Justice before elected to replace current U.S. Sen. John Cornyn as attorney general in 2002.