Gregory Wayne Abbott (born November 13, 1957) is an American attorney and politician who has served as the 48th governor of Texas since January 20, 2015. A Republican, Abbott previously served as the 50th attorney general of Texas from 2002 to 2015. He is the first governor of any U.S. state since George Wallace to permanently use a wheelchair.
|48th Governor of Texas|
|Assumed office |
January 20, 2015
|Preceded by||Rick Perry|
|50th Attorney General of Texas|
December 2, 2002 – January 5, 2015
|Preceded by||John Cornyn|
|Succeeded by||Ken Paxton|
|Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas|
January 2, 1996 – June 6, 2001
|Preceded by||Jack Hightower|
|Succeeded by||Xavier Rodriguez|
Gregory Wayne Abbott
November 13, 1957
Wichita Falls, Texas, U.S.
Cecilia Phalen (m. 1981)
|Residence||Texas Governor's Mansion|
|Education||University of Texas at Austin (BBA)|
Vanderbilt University (JD)
Abbott was the second Republican to serve as Attorney General of Texas since Reconstruction. Prior to assuming the office of attorney general, he was a justice of the Texas Supreme Court, a position to which he was initially appointed in 1995 by then-Governor George W. Bush. He is known outside of Texas for successfully advocating for the right of the state of Texas to display the Ten Commandments in front of the Texas State Capitol in Austin, in a 2005 United States Supreme Court case known as Van Orden v. Perry.
Early life, education, and early law careerEdit
Abbott was born on November 13, 1957, in Wichita Falls, of English descent. His mother, Doris Lechristia Jacks Abbott, was a homemaker and his father, Calvin Roger Abbott, was a stockbroker and insurance agent. When he was six years old, they moved to Longview, and the family lived in the East Texas city for six years.
At the beginning of junior high school, Abbott's family moved to Duncanville. In his sophomore year in high school, his father died of a heart attack, and his mother went to work in a real estate office. He graduated from Duncanville High School. He was on the track team in high school and asserts that he won every meet he entered his senior year. He was in the National Honor Society and was voted "Most Likely to Succeed."
In 1981, he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and the Young Republicans Club. He met his wife, Cecilia Phelan, while attending UT Austin. In 1984, he earned his Juris Doctor degree from the Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, Tennessee.
On July 14, 1984, at age 26, Abbott was paralyzed below waist-level when an oak tree fell on him while he was jogging following a storm. He had two steel rods implanted in his spine, underwent extensive rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, and has used a wheelchair ever since. He sued the homeowner and a tree service company, resulting in an insurance settlement that provides him with lump sum payments every three years until 2022 along with monthly payments for life; both are adjusted "to keep up with the rising cost of living". As of August 2013, the monthly payment amount was US$14,000. Prior to becoming governor, Abbott subsequently backed legislation in Texas that limits "punitive damages stemming from noneconomic losses" and "noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases", at $750,000 and $250,000, respectively. While the settlement in Abbott's case was a "nonmedical liability lawsuit", which remains uncapped, Abbott has faced criticism for "tilt[ing] the judicial scales toward civil defendants."
Abbott's judicial career began in Houston, where he served as a state trial judge in the 129th District Court for three years. Then-Governor George W. Bush appointed Abbott to the Texas Supreme Court, and he was then twice elected to the state's highest civil court — in 1996 (two-year term) and in 1998 (six-year term). In 1996, Abbott had no Democratic opponent but was challenged by Libertarian John B. Hawley of Dallas. Abbott defeated Hawley by a margin of 84% to 16%. In 1998, Abbott defeated Democrat David Van Os by 60% to 40%.
In 2001, after resigning from the Supreme Court, Abbott went back to private practice and worked for Bracewell & Giuliani LLC. He was also an adjunct professor at University of Texas School of Law.
Attorney General of TexasEdit
Abbott resigned from the Texas Supreme Court in 2001 to seek the position of Lieutenant Governor of Texas. His campaign for Lieutenant Governor had been running for several months when the previous attorney general, John Cornyn, vacated the post to run for the U.S. Senate. He then switched his campaign to the open attorney general's position in 2002. Abbott defeated the Democratic nominee, former Austin mayor and current state senator Kirk Watson, 57% to 41%. Abbott was sworn in on December 2, 2002, following fellow Republican Cornyn's election to the Senate.
Abbott expanded the attorney general's office's law enforcement division from about thirty people to more than one hundred. He also created a new division called the Fugitive Unit to track down convicted sex offenders in violation of their paroles or probations.
In 2003, Abbott supported the Texas Legislature's move to cap non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases at $250,000, with no built-in increases for rising cost of living. The statute allows nuances for higher awards in cases of wrongful death or when more than one health care institution is involved.
Abbott has spoken out against concerns such as voter fraud, infringement on the right to bear arms, and President Barack Obama's health care reform. When asked what his job entails, Abbott says: "I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home." Abbott has filed suit against various U.S. agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (including challenges to Obamacare), and the Department of Education, among many others.
Abbott filed thirty one lawsuits against the Obama administration. According to The Wall Street Journal, from Abbott's tenure as Attorney General through his first term as Governor, Texas sued the Obama administration at least forty-four times, more than any other state over the same period; court challenges included carbon-emission standards, health-care reform, transgender rights, and others. The Dallas Morning News compared Abbott to Scott Pruitt, noting that both Attorneys General had repeatedly sued the federal government over its environmental regulations. The Houston Chronicle noted that Abbott "led the charge against Obama-era climate regulations."
Abbott has said that the state must not release Tier II Chemical Inventory Reports for security reasons, but that Texans "can ask every facility whether they have chemicals or not." Koch Industries has denied that their contributions to Abbott's campaign had anything to do with his ruling against releasing the safety information.
In March 2014, Abbott filed a motion to intervene with three separate Federal Court suits against Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - Plano, in which patients alleged that the hospital allowed Christopher Duntsch to perform neurosurgery despite knowing that he was a dangerous physician. Abbott cited the Texas Legislature's cap on malpractice cases, along with the statute's removal of the term "gross negligence" from the definition of legal malice, as reasons for defending Baylor.
Lawsuit against Sony BMGEdit
On November 21, 2005, Abbott sued Sony BMG. Texas was the first state in the nation to bring legal action against Sony BMG for illegal spyware. The suit is also the first filed under the state's spyware law of 2005. It alleges the company surreptitiously installed the spyware on millions of compact music discs (CDs) that consumers inserted into their computers when they played the CDs, which can compromise the systems. On December 21, 2005, Abbott added new allegations to his lawsuit against Sony-BMG. Abbott says the MediaMax copy protection technology violates the state's spyware and deceptive trade practices laws. He says Sony-BMG offered consumers a licensing agreement when they bought CDs and played them on their computers. However, Abbott alleges in the lawsuit that even if consumers reject that agreement, spyware is secretly installed on their computers, posing security risks for music buyers. Abbott said, "We keep discovering additional methods Sony used to deceive Texas consumers who thought they were simply buying music," and "[T]housands of Texans are now potential victims of this deceptive game Sony played with consumers for its own purposes." In addition to violations of the Consumer Protection Against Computer Spyware Act of 2005, which allows for civil penalties of $100,000 for each violation of the law, the alleged violations added in the updated lawsuit, on December 21, 2005, carry maximum penalties of $20,000 per violation.
Separation of Church and stateEdit
On March 2, 2005, Abbott appeared before the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., where he defended a Ten Commandments monument on grounds of the Texas State Capitol. Thousands of similar monuments were donated to cities and towns across the nation by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, who were inspired by the Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments (1956) in following years. In his deposition, Abbott said that "The Ten Commandments are a historically recognized system of law." The Supreme Court held in a 5–4 decision that the Texas display did not violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and was constitutional.
After Abbott's oral arguments in Van Orden v. Perry, Justice John Paul Stevens commented upon Abbott's performance while in a wheelchair, "I want to thank you [...] for demonstrating that it's not necessary to stand at the lectern in order to do a fine job."
In January 2013, following the approval by New York governor Andrew Cuomo of the further strengthening of the state's gun laws, Abbott advertised on news sites to internet users with Albany, NY, and Manhattan ZIP codes suggesting gun owners should migrate to Texas. His political campaign provided the funding. The two messages read: "Is Gov. Cuomo looking to take your guns?" while the other said: "Wanted: Law abiding New York gun owners looking for lower taxes and greater opportunity." The adverts linked to a letter on Facebook in which Abbott stated such a move would enable citizens "to keep more of what you earn and use some of that extra money to buy more ammo."
In February 2014, Abbott argued against a lawsuit brought by the National Rifle Association to allow more people access to concealed carry of firearms, as Abbott felt this would disrupt public safety.
Support for ban on sex toysEdit
As Attorney General, Abbott defended Texas' ban on sex toys. He said Texas had a legitimate interest in "discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex and the pursuit of sexual gratification unrelated to procreation."
Opposition to same-sex marriageEdit
As Attorney General, Abbott fought to prevent courts from legalizing same-sex marriage. In 2014, he argued in court that Texas should be allowed to prohibit same-sex marriage because LGBT individuals purportedly cannot procreate. He said that as "same-sex relationships do not naturally produce children, recognizing same-sex marriage does not further these goals to the same extent that recognizing opposite-sex marriage does." He also argued that gay individuals can marry individuals of the opposite sex, thus there is no discrimination against LGBT individuals. He suggested that same-sex marriage was a slippery slope where "any conduct that has been traditionally prohibited can become a constitutional right simply by redefining it at a higher level of abstraction."
In the November 7, 2006, general election, Abbott was challenged by civil rights attorney David Van Os, who had been his Democratic opponent in the 1998 election for state Supreme Court. He won re-election to a second term by a margin of 60% to 37%.
Abbott ran for a third term in 2010. He defeated the Democratic attorney Barbara Ann Radnofsky of Houston and the Libertarian Jon Roland once again. Radnofsky was also the unsuccessful Democratic candidate opposing U. S. senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2006 general election. Abbott defeated Radnofsky by a margin of 64% to 34%. He was the longest-serving Texas attorney general in Texas history.
In July 2013, the Houston Chronicle alleged improper ties and oversight between many of Abbott's largest donors and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, of which he was a director.
Governor of TexasEdit
On July 14, 2013, speaking near the Alamo on the 29th anniversary of the accident that left him a paraplegic, Abbott formally announced his intention to run for Governor of Texas in the 2014 Texas gubernatorial election. In the first six months of 2011, he raised more funds for his campaign than any other Texas politician, reaching $1.6 million. The next highest fundraiser among state officeholders was Texas comptroller Susan Combs with $611,700.
In February 2014, while speaking on the dangers of corruption in law enforcement, Abbott compared the South Texas area to a Third World country that "erodes the social fabric of our communities and destroys Texans' trust and confidence in government." Abbott further said that he does not consider corruption "limited to one region of Texas [...] My plan is to add more resources to eliminate corruption so people can have confidence in their government."
Abbott criticized Ted Nugent's "subhuman mongrel" comment directed at President Barack Obama by saying "This is not the kind of language I would use or endorse in any way. It's time to move beyond this, and I will continue to focus on the issues that matter to Texans."
Abbott won the Republican primary on March 4, 2014, with 1,219,903, or 91.5% of the ballots cast. The remaining approximately 103,000 votes were divided among three minor candidates. He faced state senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who polled 432,065 votes (79.1%) in her Democratic primary contest against a lone opponent.
Abbott promised to "tie outcomes to funding" for pre-K programs if elected governor, but he said he would not require government standardized testing for 4-year olds, as Davis has accused him of advancing. When defending his education plan, Abbott cited Charles Murray: "Family background has the most decisive effect on student achievement, contributing to a large performance gap between children from economically disadvantaged families and those from middle class homes." A spokesman for Abbott's campaign pointed out that the biggest difference in spending is that Davis has proposed universal pre-K education while Abbott wants to limit state funding to only programs that meet certain standards. Davis' plan could reach 750 million in costs and Abbott has said that Davis' plan is a "budget buster" whereas Abbott's education plan would cost no more than 118 million. Overall, Abbott said the reforms that he envisioned would "level the playing field for all students [and] target schools which don't have access to the best resources." He has called for increased accessibility to technology in the classroom and mathematics instruction for kindergarten pupils.
Abbott received 1.4 million in campaign contributions from recipients of the Texas Enterprise Fund, some of whose members submitted the proper paperwork for grants. Elliot Nagin of the Union of Concerned Scientists observed that Abbott was the recipient of large support from the fossil fuels industries, such as NuStar Energy, Koch Industries, Valero Energy, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. Abbott received the endorsement of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Morning News, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Abbott, and his lieutenant governor running mate, Dan Patrick, gained an endorsement from the National Rifle Association and received their 'A' rating.
In January 2017, Abbott was reportedly raising funds for a 2018 re-election bid as governor; as of December 2016[update], he had $34.4 million on hand for his campaign, of which he raised $9 million during the second half of 2016. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick had been mentioned as a potential challenger for governor but confirmed he would run for a second term as lieutenant governor. During the weekend of January 21, 2017, Abbott stated he was intending on running for re-election. He confirmed this on March 28, 2017.
Abbott formally announced his re-election campaign on July 14, 2017. He chose the Amtrak depot at historic Sunset Station in San Antonio for his formal announcement of candidacy: "I've proven that I'm willing to take on the liberals, I'm willing to take on Washington, D.C., and I'm counting on you to have my back." Several protesters were led out of the hall before Abbott began speaking. The formal announcement came four days before the beginning of a special legislative session that could split the Republican Party into factions favoring Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick, on one hand, and House speaker Joe Straus, a Moderate Republican who opposes much of the Abbott-Patrick social conservative agenda.
Abbott declared February 2, 2015, as "Chris Kyle Day" in honor of the deceased United States Navy SEAL who was the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history (portrayed in the film American Sniper). This came exactly two years after Kyle was shot and killed. Abbott held his first meeting as governor with a foreign prime minister when he met with the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny on March 15, 2015, to discuss trade and economic relations.
During the 2015 legislative session, initiated by officials at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Legislature placed a rider in the Texas budget to cut $150 million from its budget by ending payments and coverage for various developmental therapies for children on Medicaid. A lawsuit has been filed against the state on behalf of affected families and therapy providers, claiming it can cause irreparable damage to the affected children's development. The litigation obtained a temporary injunction order on September 25, 2015, barring THHSC from implementing therapy rate cuts.
His 2016 book, Broken But Unbowed is a reflection on his personal story and views on politics.
In October 2016, explosive packages were mailed to Abbott, President Obama, and the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. The governor's package did not explode when he opened it as he opened the package incorrectly.
On June 6, 2017, Abbott called for a special legislative session in order to pass several legislative priorities for Abbott, something supported by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. Abbott vetoed 50 bills in the regular 2017 session, the most vetoed in a session since 2007.
In late November 2016, the State of Texas, at Abbott's request, approved new rules that require facilities that perform abortions either to bury or cremate the aborted, rather than dispose of the remains in a sanitary landfill. The rules were intended to go into effect on December 19, but on December 15 a federal judge blocked the rules from going into effect for at least one month after the Center for Reproductive Rights and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit. On January 27, 2017, a federal judge ruled against the law, but the State of Texas vowed to appeal the ruling.
On June 6, 2017, Abbott signed a bill into law banning dismemberment and partial-birth abortions and requiring either the cremation or burial of the aborted. The law was also blocked by a federal judge; the state said it would appeal.
Convention of States proposalEdit
On January 8, 2016, Abbott called for a national constitutional convention to address what he sees as abuses by justices of the United States Supreme Court in "abandoning the Constitution." Abbott proposed passing nine new amendments to the Constitution, intended to limit the power of the federal government and expand states' rights. Speaking to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Abbott said, "We the people have to take the lead to restore the rule of law in the United States."
In 2016, Abbott spoke to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, calling for a Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution. In his speech, he released a plan that includes nine proposed amendments to "unravel the federal government's decades-long power grab "to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government and limit the federal government's power and jurisdiction." Abbott elaborated on his proposal in a public seminar at the Hoover Institute on May 17, 2016.
On June 13, 2015, Abbott signed the campus carry (SB 11) and the open carry (HB 910) bills into law. The campus carry law came into effect on August 1, 2015 and allows the licensed carrying of a concealed handgun on public college campuses, with private colleges being able to opt out. The open carry bill went into effect on January 1, 2016 and allows the licensed carrying of handguns openly in all locations that allow concealed carry. Texas is the 45th state to have open carry. In November 2015, Abbott tweeted: "I'm EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let's pick up the pace Texans", an apparently inaccurate assertion which did not entirely reflect the situation as figures are only collected concerning requests for gun licenses.
On May 26, 2017, Abbott signed a bill into law lowering handgun carry license fees.
Following the Sutherland Springs church shooting on November 5, 2017, during an interview with Fox News, Abbott urged historical reflection and the consideration that evil had been present in earlier "horrific events" during the Nazi era, the Middle Ages and biblical times. Southwest Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Dayan Gross, said Abbott's comparison of the mass shooting "to the victims of the Holocaust" were both "deeply offensive" and "insensitive".
After the Santa Fe High School shooting on May 18, 2018, Abbott said that he would consult across Texas in an attempt to prevent gun violence in schools and a series of round-table discussions followed at the state capitol. In a speech to a NRA convention in Dallas nearly a fortnight later, Abbott said: "The problem is not guns, it’s hearts without God". In June 2019, he signed a bill allowing for more armed teachers with school districts being unrestricted as to the number they allow. The creation of "threat assessment teams", passed into law by the bill, are intended to identify potentially violent students. Although the state legislature passed measures for students services to deal with related mental health issues, so called red flag laws were defeated. "Right now it’s not necessary in the state of Texas", Abbott said.
In comments to CNN after the 2019 El Paso shooting on August 3, 2019, Abbott said the state authorities would "prosecute it as capital murder" and "also as a hate crime". Referring to the round-table discussions in May 2018, he said the participants "did not, as far as I know, evaluate for and plan for an incident like this."
Jade Helm 15Edit
Abbott on April 28, 2015, asked the State Guard to monitor the training exercise Jade Helm 15 amid Internet-fueled suspicions that the war simulation was really a hostile military takeover. In 2018 former director of the CIA and NSA Michael Hayden said that the conspiracy theory had been propagated by Russian intelligence organizations and that Gov. Abbott's response convinced them of the power such a misinformation campaign could have in the United States.
On June 11, 2015, Abbott signed the "Pastor Protection Act," which allows pastors to refuse to marry couples if they feel doing so violates their beliefs.
On May 21, 2017, Abbott signed Senate Bill 24 into law, preventing state or local governments from subpoenaing pastors' sermons. This bill was inspired by an anti-discrimination ordinance in Houston, where hundreds of sermons from five pastors were subpoenaed.
On June 15, 2017, Abbott signed House Bill 3859 which allows faith-based groups working with the Texas child welfare system to deny services "under circumstances that conflict with the provider's sincerely held religious beliefs." Democrats and civil rights advocates said the adoption bill could allow such groups to discriminate against those who practice a different religion or who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and LGBT rights groups said they would challenge the bill in court. In response, California added Texas to a list of states in which it banned official government travel.
On February 1, 2017, Abbott blocked funding to Travis County, Texas, due to its recently implemented sanctuary city policy. On May 7, 2017, Abbott signed Texas Senate Bill 4 into law, targeting sanctuary cities by charging county or city officials who refuse to work with federal officials and by allowing police officers to check the immigration status of those they detain if they choose.
In early 2014, Abbott participated in strategy sessions held at the headquarters of the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., devising a legal strategy for dismantling climate change regulations.
Abbott was implicated in the purging of nearly 100,000 registered voters from voter rolls. The voters were purged under allegations that they were not American citizens, however the Texas secretary of state later publicly stated that tens of thousands of legitimate voters had been wrongly removed. Abbott claimed that he played no role in the voter purge, but emails released in June 2019 showed that Abbott pressed officials at the Department of Public Safety about the purge before it was implemented.
Abbott condemned the Supreme Court ruling which found prohibitions on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. He said, "the Supreme Court has abandoned its role as an impartial judicial arbiter." Shortly thereafter, Abbott filed a lawsuit to stop same-sex spouses of city employees to be covered by benefit policies.
In a letter dated May 27, 2017, the CEOs of 14 large technology companies, including Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, urged Abbott not to pass discriminatory legislation. At issue was the so-called "bathroom bill," which would require transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificates, not the one of their choice. The bill was revived by Abbott and supported by Republican lieutenant governor Dan Patrick. In March 2018, Byron Cook, the chairman of the House State Affairs committee who blocked the bill, claimed that Abbott privately opposed the bill. The bill was never signed; Abbott later stated that "it's not on my agenda," in a debate with Lupe Valdez, the Democratic candidate for governor in 2018.
In 2017, Abbott signed legislation to allow taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to refuse same-sex families from adopting children.
On November 4, 2014, Abbott defeated Wendy Davis by 21 points. According to exit polls he received 44 percent of the Hispanic vote and 50 percent of Hispanic men, a majority (54 percent) of women voters, and 62 percent of the votes of married women (75% of women in Texas are married).
A week after his election, Abbott announced that Carlos Cascos, of Brownsville, the county judge since 2007 of Cameron County in far South Texas, will become the secretary of state of Texas. In the same election in which Abbott defeated Wendy Davis, Cascos, a Republican, won a third term as county judge but resigned in January 2015 upon confirmation by the Texas Senate, to become secretary of state.
Abbott, a Roman Catholic, is married to Mexican-American Cecilia Phalen Abbott, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. His election as governor of Texas makes her the first Latina to be the first lady of Texas since Texas joined the union. They have one adopted daughter, Audrey. They were married in San Antonio in 1981. Cecilia is a former school teacher and principal. He is the first elected governor of a U.S. state to use a wheelchair since George Wallace of Alabama, 1983–87.
Abbott suffered second- and third-degree burns on his legs after coming in contact with scalding water while on vacation in Wyoming in July 2016, which caused him to miss the 2016 Republican National Convention.
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'In spite of the Democrats increasing their election turnout, we were able to grow our turnout as well, and do so enough that for the 12th election in a row, every single statewide office was retained by Republicans,' James Dickey said. He added that Latino voters, 42% of whom voted for Abbott, will continue playing a key role for the Texas GOP.
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According to the NBC exit poll, Abbott and Davis split the 18- to 29-year-old cohort evenly, while married women went 62 percent for Abbott (he received 54 percent from all female voters), and a near-record 44 percent of Hispanics cast their ballots for the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
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The exit polls showed Greg Abbott won 54 percent of women, 50 percent of Hispanic men and won 44 percent of Hispanics overall—all of which are traditionally strong Democratic groups.
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