As Greg Abbott was being sworn in for his third term as Texas Governor earlier this week, some observers noted that he has repeatedly won elections without achieving any notable accomplishments that define his service. Charitable commentary gives him credit for dealing with crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, Winter Storm Uri, horrible mass shootings, and the border immigration surge. Less charitable observers make fair points that in each of these tragedies Abbott’s indecision, inaction, and poor decision-making made serious problems worse.
So how is it that Greg Abbott does so well politically while doing so little substantively?
Because in one area Abbott’s intent and actions have been notable, far-reaching, and deeply impactful: his aggressive, unyielding, and successful attack on voting rights and access to the ballot. It is a stark reminder that some politicians personally benefit a great deal by actions that do great harm. The facts and history are clear:
- Abbott pioneered the false claim of widespread voter fraud. Way back in 2003 when he became Texas Attorney General, Abbott diverted federal funds to set up a so-called voter fraud unit that never found any widespread fraud.
- Also, as AG, Abbott used millions in state funding and legal resources to back the lawsuit that gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act.
- As both AG and Governor, Abbott has engaged in continued efforts to purge Latinos and other minority citizens from Texas voting rolls.
- Abbott led the effort to impose racially gerrymandered redistricting maps beginning with his defense of Tom DeLay’s infamous discriminatory congressional map to the most recent racially gerrymandered congressional and legislative maps that systematically undermine minority voting strength.
- And Abbott embraced, promoted, and signed the new Jim Crow-style voter suppression laws that especially target Texas’ large majority-minority urban counties.
No doubt, Greg Abbott is a successful politician. But it is equally fair and correct to identify him as the point in the spear on racially discriminatory actions in Texas. He has quietly created a legacy based on dividing one Texan against another and rolling over rather than expanding or lifting the aspirations of those he has been elected to serve.
Even among some Democrats, Abbott’s flat personality, passive nature, and usually low-key rhetoric help shield him from criticism over his attacks on minority and voting rights. He shrewdly pays lips service to Hispanic outreach and regularly points to his Latina spouse. Both are effective in diverting attention away from the damage of his discriminatory actions. The media also seems reluctant to characterize even Abbott’s most overt attacks on minorities as racist or intentionally discriminatory.
When a politician is as successful as Greg Abbott, it is natural to think he must be doing something right. It is harsh to say and perhaps harder to accept that Greg Abbott’s signature accomplishment is doing something very wrong.
Matt Angle, founder and director of the Lone Star Project