By GROMER JEFFERS JR., Dallas News
For the past decade, Texas has been at war with Washington.
Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott have fought the federal government on health care, voting rights and environmental regulations. On spending, new programs and regulations, federal officials have been hard-pressed to find friendly ears in the Lone Star State.
Now, with Perry fading from the state’s political scene, the 2014 contest for governor could determine whether Texas takes a different approach to the White House and the federal government.
Abbott, the likely Republican contender for governor, promises much of the same, saying he would make sure Texas isn’t “sucked into a California-style form of government.”
“I’m going to be going from the general on the battlefield to the commander in chief of these operations,” said Abbott, who often jokes that his job consists almost entirely of suing the federal government. “I will continue the efforts to ensure that we get government out of ruining the lives of people and out of their pockets and pocketbooks.”
Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, says she would view the federal government as more friend than foe. And she criticized the glee that Abbott seems to take in tackling the Obama administration.
“It’s part and parcel of what’s wrong in politics today, the idea that we brag about the fact that we sue, that we create an adversary, when we could be working together to show that we are big enough, to show that we are wise enough and thoughtful enough to sit down at the table with people that we disagree with and find a way to help the communities that we serve,” she said. “Most people understand in Texas that that’s not working for us.”
It’s one of the biggest disagreements between the two. And it’s sure to be a major focus for many voters, partly because it reflects the national political debate over the Affordable Care Act and the polarized reaction to President Barack Obama, whose unpopularity in Texas could be a major drag on Davis’ efforts.
The health care law remains the biggest source of contention between the Obama administration and Texas leaders. Perry and Abbott are against the law. Abbott was among the attorneys general who unsuccessfully challenged the law last year, and Perry has steadfastly refused to have state government participate in its implementation.
Abbott said recently that his administration would never support spending Texas resources to help implement the program. He opposes the expansion of Medicaid to cover more of the working poor, even though the federal government has offered to pay most of the cost of the added benefit.
“We have seen the disaster of how the federal government operates being captured by the disastrous Obamacare law,” Abbott said. “We know that people, family and businesses know far better how to run their lives than government.”
Davis says that stance hurts Texans who need help. She said the new health care law would not only provide health care for the uninsured but boost jobs in the medical industry.
“This will be a very distinct difference going forward in the general election, whether we take $100 billion of Medicaid expansion in Texas,” she said. “Our tax dollars that we’ve paid in that will go elsewhere if we don’t reclaim it, that’s going to be a key issue.”
Davis said that Texas, at the least, should “get our tax dollars back to Texas.”
Abbott says that too much federal interference will lead to bigger state budgets that aren’t sustainable in the long term.
“I will continue to ensure that Texas doesn’t get sucked into a California-style form of government that has too close of a relationship to the big government programs coming out of D.C.,” he said.
Both candidates expect to raise tens of millions of dollars and cruise in their primaries, though each faces opposition. At least four other Republicans are seeking the nomination, including former state party chairman Tom Pauken. Davis has one opponent so far. The deadline for candidates to join the race is Dec. 9, and the primaries are in March.
Abbott has also been active in defending the state’s voter identification law and its redistricting plan, both of which the Obama administration has challenged in court.
Davis supports federal efforts to declare the voter ID law unconstitutional, arguing that it disproportionately harms minority voters. And she has fought Abbott on the state’s approach to redistricting, including an original Senate redistricting plan that tore apart Davis’ Senate district to make it more Republican.
Davis won that fight, but last year, Abbott won a Supreme Court ruling that spared Texas Republicans from implementing federally drawn maps that would have been favorable to Democrats.
Various redistricting issues are still pending in court, but next year’s elections will be held with congressional and legislative districts largely similar to the current ones.
Abbott defends the voter ID law, which requires voters to show photo identification at the polls. He argues it’s a good step to secure elections but allows ample ways for voters to obtain the proper ID.
Davis said that with the lawsuits, Abbott is wasting taxpayer money to “pad his political résumé.”
“We’re paying for both sides of that equation,” she said.