Analysis: Gov. Greg Abbott's bunkered State of the State speech a sign of weakness, not strength

Despite the governor's tough talk, his carefully controlled event shows he's terrified of discussion and debate.

click to enlarge Gov. Greg Abbott's speech on Thursday included his priorities for the current legislative session, along with familiar right-wing grievances. - Screen Capture / KUT Live Feed
Screen Capture / KUT Live Feed
Gov. Greg Abbott's speech on Thursday included his priorities for the current legislative session, along with familiar right-wing grievances.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday delivered his State of the State address, checking off a list of right-wing talking points while laying out his priorities for the current session of the Texas Legislature.

The content of the Republican governor's speech was predictable: he wants lawmakers to cut property taxes, approve school vouchers, get tough on bail and halt illegal border crossings. And, in case you hadn't heard, fentanyl is bad news and Texans don't like Joe Biden's "open border policies."

Despite the speech's by-the-numbers content, Abbott went to extraordinary lengths to sequester himself from scrutiny during its presentation.

While typically delivered before a joint legislative session at the Texas Capitol, Abbott for the second time in a row delivered his State of the State address to an invitation-only audience outside of Austin.

This time, the venue was Noveon Magnetics in San Marcos, a private business. Not that you heard that from the governor's office, though. Abbott's handlers never publicly disclosed the location. And while video of the speech was available via TV feed, reporters were barred from covering it in person.

The governor even required that his hand-picked guests sign a nondisclosure agreement and leave their cellphones outside the venue, according to a report by the USA Today Network. Eventually, his office dropped the NDA demand but kept the cellphone ban in place.

Abbott's bunker mentality may come down to his carefully orchestrated efforts to emerge as a national political figure. His Operation Lone Star border spectacle, which has now cost taxpayers more than $4 billion, and busing of asylum seekers to Democrat-controlled cities are clearly attempts to play on that stage.

He's also viewed as possible 2024 Republican presidential contender. As such, he's embraced the same book banning, trans-bashing, anti-diversity posture as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of his key rivals in that theoretical bid. 

Fitting of his efforts to one-up DeSantis, Abbott did his share of bashing “woke agendas” during Thursday's speech. He demanded that the Lege strip municipalities of their ability to require masks and vaccinations to fight COVID-19 or future pandemics — more rhetoric ripped from the Florida governor's playbook.

Beyond that, Abbott's speech was also noteworthy for what it didn't include or simply glossed over.

Absent, for example, was any mention of the Uvalde school shooting, which catapulted Texas to the fore of yet another national debate on gun control. Instead of a direct mention of the tragedy, which claimed 21 lives, the governor promised hand-wavy efforts to ensure the “safest standards” for schools and to hire more mental health professionals.

Never mind that Abbott last year slashed $211 million from the budget of the the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the state's mental health services. That money was funneled into Operation Lone Star, naturally.

What about new gun laws to prevent future school shootings or acts of violence such as Wednesday's mall shootout in El Paso, which left one person dead and three injured?

“Some want more gun laws,” the governor acknowledged in his speech before lashing out at "local officials" who didn't enforce the ones already on the books. We'll have to guess which officials and laws he was talking about since he provided no example.

In an allusion to the 2021 collapse of Texas' power grid, which left hundreds dead, Abbott repeated his pledge to build an electrical system that will serve the state well into the future.

The speech was sparse on details on how he plans to make that a reality, though. Not to mention, fixing the grid apparently isn't important enough to rate as one of the emergency priorities he laid out for the Texas Legislature during his address.

Abbott's dismal record speaks for itself, as should his extraordinary efforts to insulate his ideas from discussion and debate. As much as he'd like his chest beating about "wokeness," border crossings and mandatory jail sentences to present the opposite appearance, he's  governing from a position of weakness, not strength.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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