Gov. Abbott Opens Grassroots Tour in Rio Grande Valley

aeiby Julián Aguilar, Texas Tribune

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Gov. Greg Abbott spoke to a crowd at the Cowboy Chicken restaurant in McAllen, Texas, on Sept. 16.

When Gov. Greg Abbott spoke to supporters here Wednesday, he said he wasn’t just launching a nine-city tour of the state. He was also living up to a campaign pledge.

“I promised you from the very beginning of when I started running for governor, that I would shorten the connection between Austin, Texas, and the Rio Grande Valley,” Abbott said during an event at McAllen’s Cowboy Chicken.

Supporters battled one another for space and fought the heat inside the strip-mall restaurant to listen to Abbott list what he said were notable accomplishments of this year’s legislative session.

He noted that lawmakers left a $10 billion balance in the state’s Rainy Day Fund and passed legislation to improve veterans’ care and to fund early education and transportation.

Outside the restaurant, about 20 protesters chided the governor for filing a lawsuit as attorney general that halted President Obama’s executive action on immigration. The program would have shielded about 1.5 undocumented immigrations in Texas from deportation.

Abbott didn’t mention immigration in his speech Wednesday but told reporters afterward his suit targeted Obama’s lawlessness.

“They are protesting an illegal act by the United States president. The problem they are protesting about is the fact that the federal government, from the president to Congress all the way down, have failed their fellow Americans by failing to pass a workable immigration plan,” he said. “Until immigration is reformed they will continue to be frustrated, but we cannot allow the president to lawlessly take the law into his own hands.”

Abbott also gave a brief rundown of his recent trip to Mexico, where he said he went “to work on building a relationship that will do as much as anything else to improve the economy right here in the RGV.”

On border security, a topic he has taken some heat for after blessing an $800 million appropriation to beef up equipment and manpower in the area, Abbott said Mexico is on the same page.

“It’s contrary to the way the media talks about the issue. In every single meeting that I was in, the issue about border security came up. And it wasn’t me bringing it up,” he said.

“Mexico talked repeatedly about their necessity in securing both their southern and their northern border and working collaboratively with the United States and the state of Texas.” (Abbott’s visit to Mexico came about a year after Mexican President Peña Nieto called the deployment of the National Guard to the border reprehensible.)

Abbott made 17 visits to the area during his campaign for governor but still lost Hidalgo County to challenger Wendy Davis by more than 22,000 votes. Still, Abbott was credited with making inroads within the Hispanic community, which has traditionally lent its support to Texas’ Democrats.

Omar Quintanilla, a vice president of Frost Bank in McAllen, said Abbott was doing a good job in maintaining that momentum.

“Hispanics have conservative ideas, and I think he’s making inroads,” he said. “But I think Hispanics overall have at least social conservative ideas and so it wouldn’t be very difficult for him and conservatives to attract more Hispanics.”

Maritza Peña, a schoolteacher who took the day off to attend Abbott’s meet-and-greet, rejected the notion that the governor was part of the so-called war on women for supporting cuts to Planned Parenthood, the abortion provider that also provides cancer screenings for low-income women.

“I am in favor of anything that’s going to cut funding for abortions,” she said. “That’s one of the things that I stand for on Biblical beliefs. If it comes down to cutting funding for abortion clinics, I support that 100 percent.”

Ricardo Godinez, the chairman of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, said any visit by a governor is good for the area. But he also challenged Abbott to show he’s adamant about providing health care to low-income families in the Rio Grande.

“On one hand he says we need a VA hospital and he’s working hard to get one down here, but at the same time he won’t allow the Medicaid expansion to help those truly in need,” Godinez said.

“So, while we’re happy he’s here, until his actions start meeting his rhetoric in terms of health care for our region, I think it’s OK for us to be a little suspect about it.”

Abbott wasn’t swayed.

“For the poor, Medicaid is available,” he said. With regard to Texas doubling down and investing with a federal government that is $18 trillion in debt on a program that could leave Texans on the hook, that’s not a very wise investment.”

Abbott’s tour is also scheduled to include stops in Dallas, Abilene, Amarillo, Houston, Odessa, San Angelo, San Antonio and Waco.

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