This January, the state of Texas will inaugurate a new Governor for the first time since I was in the first grade. To put that in perspective, the current freshmen had not started school yet and some kids currently in high school had yet to be born. On Tuesday night, we found out that Texans had chosen — rather decisively — the incumbent Attorney General, Greg Abbott, to be that individual, our state's 48th Governor.
Governor-elect Abbott received a mandate from Texans; to argue otherwise is just plain silly. He won Tuesday's election by a higher margin than Governor Rick Perry ever won by, in all three of his gubernatorial races. Abbott won more total votes than any other person who has ever run for governor. Accordingly, even though voter turnout was down, it is just naïve to claim the new governor will be riding into office with anything short of the backing of a majority of Texans.
Concurrent with Abbott's election as governor was Dan Patrick's election as lieutenant governor, a powerful position with almost despotic powers over the state Senate. Lieutenant governor-elect Patrick, a bombastic and tea party state senator, has already suggested he would bring up a plethora of conservative pipe dreams in the upcoming session, including a controversial proposal to allow students at public universities to bring their concealed handguns onto campus. While a Senate run by Patrick and packed with his friends would likely pass these measures, they could easily find themselves slowed in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Joe Straus, a comparatively moderate Republican, still reigns supreme.
Straus, left to his own devices, is not much for divisive social issues. A policy wonk and a pragmatist, he would instead focus on the real issues facing the state such as education and infrastructure. The type that requires the real dedication and seriousness that demagogues like Patrick loathe. Abbott is somewhere in the middle of those two philosophies.
This is why Abbott's leadership style will be so very important. If there is anything that Straus' record has shown us, it is that he will fold like a card table when pressured by the governor. When Perry pushed the omnibus anti-abortion legislation in the summer of 2013, Straus heralded it through the chamber to passage with alacrity. Left to his own devices, he would not wade into those uneasy waters, but he is more than willing to be pushed in.
Brian Sweany at Texas Monthly inquired on Wednesday as to how Abbott would lead once in office. Whether he would attempt to personally run the state like the incumbent or be more content to lurk in the shadows like predecessors. Those are important questions, but I think the most important one is if he will be more amenable to the ideology-based concerns of his Lieutenant Governor, or the pragmatism-based ones of his speaker of the House.
I hope it is the latter.
Horwitz is an associate editor.