The Mind of a Big-government Texan
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the man who would be Texas' next governor, continues donning the cloak of conservatism when necessary to rationalize his brand of big government Republicanism.
The basis of this assertion is contained in an eight-minute interview Abbott gave to north Texas talk show host Mark Davis on October 2. (Listen here starting at about 18 minutes through the podcast.)
Abbott was on the show for the express purpose of explaining how his office had withdrawn the day before from his lawsuit, with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, blocking the merger of Fort Worth-based American Airlines with U.S. Airways.
For conservatives concerned with the heavy-handed intervention of government in the affairs of business, Abbott started the interview in a disconcerting manner. He began by explaining that his office had become involved about 9 or 10 months ago, "working with" the airline since before the merger was announced.
Listen to the podcast and tune into his words "working with." It's not a stretch to interpret "working with" as a way of saying "using the power of my office to get involved with the affairs of this business transaction."
He confirms that underlying meaning in his next set of sentences, choppy as they are:
"The thing that we harped on with them from the very beginning -- we had several issues -- one was ensuring that these routes, there are 22 locations in the state of Texas that American and American Eagle and their affiliates fly to, we wanted to make sure that daily service, not just service, but daily service in and out of those locations, was not going to be cut back.... We could not allow what traditionally happens in airline merger situations, to happen to these rural routes. And so we sat down with American Airlines officials and we told them, listen, 'We've had this one demand, primary demand from the very beginning. We want to make sure this primary demand is going to get met (sic).'"
Listen to the language: "The thing we harped on..." "We wanted to make sure..." "We could not allow..." "We have this one demand, primary demand..."
For those already concerned about the reach of government into your everyday lives, Greg Abbott's word choices are those of a person very comfortable with officials making demands on private business to achieve a governmental goal he thinks in the best interest of the state.
But are they?
Think of it this way. Greg Abbott has "demanded" that American Airlines continue its investments in daily flight from 22 cities on its current route list no matter their profitability and viability to the company. But is it possible that American Airlines was thinking of establishing new service from Houston to Kenedy or Dallas to Beeville, cities at the heart of the Eagle Ford drilling zones south of San Antonio? If 10 other cities with declining or marginal profitability must be maintained, will American Airlines be able to make the investments needed to offer service to those involved in the burgeoning Eagle Ford shale area?
Maybe. Maybe not. That's their concern.
We do know now that the airline must continue daily service to cities which may or may not have the same traffic demands as those booming south central Texas cities. We don't know American Airlines' business like they do, but apparently Abbott does, somehow. And, by the way, smaller airlines or charter services could have taken up business upon the departure of American Airlines from some of those 22 routes. Not now.
As his interview with Davis continues, Abbott goes on to say Texas had to sue in order to be at the bargaining table with Holder, to get the documents needed to secure a legal agreement from the airline to retain its HQ in Fort Worth. He had "to use the legal tools to protect the people of Texas." He said President Ronald Reagan would have agreed with his anti-trust concern about the merger, "just Google Ronald Reagan and anti-trust." It doesn't even dawn on him that his previously stated "primary demand" is outside the scope of anti-trust concerns.
The interview is relatively short and, for Texans, worth listening to because it demonstrates a great deal about Abbott beyond his staged, rah-rah campaign speeches.
For non-Texans it's a worth a listen as well because there's already talk in some political circles that Abbott is being groomed for a presidential run. His triumph over a personal tragedy, having been paralyzed by a falling tree at age 26 and confined to a wheel-chair, is FDR-esque and could play well at the national level, some supporters say.
But at each step of Abbott's campaign it is becoming clear that he is not grounded in the principles of free markets and limited government.
Abbott's own words demonstrate that he views government as an active force that should shape the conduct of commerce and private enterprise. Government, to Abbott, functions for the purpose of horse trading with big business to achieve the aims of the masterminds who run government.
The question remains whether Abbott will win the GOP's nomination in March 2014, and then the general election in November 2014 against Fort Worth-area Democratic senator Wendy Davis. His opponents for the GOP nomination have a long row to hoe in terms of catching up to his $25 million campaign war chest, but anything is possible given the charge Ted Cruz mounted in 2012 with only about $2 million.
The most viable competitor right now is Tom Pauken, the Governor Rick Perry-appointed former Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission from 2008-2013 and the elected chairman of the Republican Party of Texas from 1994-97. Pauken is focusing on education reform by ending Texas' teach-to-the-test curriculum, dismantling the "Robin Hood" state property tax financing scheme, and balancing the goals of admission to 4-year colleges with vocational and technical training at the high school levels. He's raised $400,000 in contributions and commitments, well ahead of where Cruz was at the same time in his campaign.
Other candidates are joining the fray as well. Fox commentator and radio show host Lisa Fritsch recently threw her hat in the ring a few weeks back. Perennial candidate and Texas secessionist Larry Kilgore announced much earlier in the year, along with Univision personality Miriam Martinez. All three will have significant fundraising challenges as none have the policy development or campaign building experience needed. Right now, only Pauken stands a chance of realistically challenging Abbott.
Skip Reynolds is an attorney in Fort Worth, Texas, and a close observer of Texas politics. Prior to and during law school, he was a college-level teacher of both Texas and American government.