'Casting a vision'

Published on Thursday, 4 September 2014 21:10 - Written by Adam Russell arussell@tylerpaper.com

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said he would set a vision and course as governor to make Texas tops in the nation over the next decade.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate outlined his top priorities — public education, transportation, water and security — during a Thursday meeting with the Tyler Morning Telegraph Editorial Board.

Abbott, 57, has been the state’s top lawyer since 2002. He recalled his past playing football for Judson Middle School in Longview and “growing up” in East Texas. He also touched on the accident that left him confined to a wheelchair. Abbott was 27 and jogging in his Houston neighborhood when a tree fell and crushed his spine leaving him permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

Abbott said his story is about a person who dealt with a traumatic injury, faced and overcame challenges to become the state’s attorney general.

The experience gave him perspective, empathy and understanding toward people from diverse backgrounds he said.

“Part of it is personal and part of it is about casting a vision for what I will do for Texas,” he said. “Texans face their own challenges, and they need a leader who will help them rise to the top and help Texas rise to the top.”

Abbott said reaching his goal of making Texas tops in education and innovation, and maintaining its top spot as a job generator, would depend on bettering the lives of every Texan.

He presented a 169-page comprehensive policy plan, his “Bicentennial Blueprint,” covering various topics, such as transparency, the state’s Sunset review of agencies, higher education and water.

On public education, Abbott said school choice, rather than vouchers, is an equitable way to give parents options but also create competition among area schools. He said it’s wrong to force children to stay enrolled in failing schools because of their zip code.

Abbott wants public education to evolve with technology and believes the change would save money, add efficiencies and allow individual students to learn at their own pace. Engaging students in that way has proved to push the pace on learning, he said.

“They’re not only learning the basics — reading and math — they’re also learning about technology,” he said.

Abbott also said the focus on education for the past 30 years has been “money, money, money without considering the product.” He said each campus should be graded and that efficiencies should mean more money for teachers, more principals and more options for students and parents.

On transportation, Abbott said he has a plan to infuse $4 billion into state projects without additional taxes. Abbott’s plan would rely on passage of Proposition 1 in November, which would add about $1 billion by diverting a percentage of revenue dedicated to the Economic Stabilization Fund, ending fuel tax diversions and directing sales taxes from vehicle purchases toward roads.

The state’s water woes could be addressed with technology as Wichita Falls has implemented, including reuse projects and surface water treatments to slow evaporation and expediting permitting processes for major water infrastructure projects.

Abbott called the federal immigration system “broken” and without structure. While Washington, D.C., debates how to address the problem, Texas can maintain its own security along the border, he said.

He proposed a $300 million program to send 500 additional Department of Public Safety officers, 20 Texas Rangers and more funding for local agencies to crack down on cartel drug and human trafficking. Abbott said the surge would be funded by cartel cash seizures.

Abbott said he would focus on policy and elevate the discussion above partisan rhetoric and in-party feuds that have stymied progress in critical areas such as border security, education, water and roads.

If elected, Abbott said his job would be to set a vision and a course for Texas with an end goal of being the best performing state. He said it’s not his style to micromanage but that he would expect legislators and appointees to fit personal agendas within his office’s policy parameters.

“You can give the latitude that is important for legislators to try to achieve things for their constituents while setting certain guidelines and aspirations,” he said.

Abbott said new revenue does not fit within his policy.

“Texas doesn’t have a revenue problem,” he said. “What Texas must do is what every family does, and that’s set priorities, fund those priorities and then live within our means.”

Abbott will face state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Libertarian Party candidate Kathy Glass in the Nov. 4 election.

Sen. Davis’ campaign has not yet responded to invitations to meet with the paper’s Editorial Board. Her campaign stumped in College Station at the Texas A&M University Thursday.

She has been critical of Abbott’s defense of $5 billion in funding cuts to public education during the 2011 session and his stance on equal-pay-for-women legislation Gov. Rick Perry vetoed.

Abbott said he spends most of his time away from work with family, especially his 17-year-old daughter who will be leaving home for college next year. He spent opening day of dove season hunting with her.