Governor Greg Abbott appears to be focused only on winning re-election and not on helping Texans, and he’s going about that task in a catastrophic way.
To understand Abbott’s plan, you have to understand the state of Texas midterm politics. All major statewide offices in Texas happen in the midterms, and with one recent exception the midterms always see less voter participation. The last four presidential election cycles saw an average voter turnout of 8.95 million, but the last four midterms had only an average of 5.4 million. Plus, if you leave off 2018, which saw an incredible turnout of 8.3 million for the contest between Senator Ted Cruz and former Representative Beto O’Rourke, the average drops to 4.5 million voters.
That matters because high voter turnout tends to favor good outcomes for the Democratic Party and low turnouts tend to favor Republicans. It’s not a hard rule, as Not-Senator O’Rourke can show you, but it’s not an insignificant data point either.
“Most often, higher turnout favors Democrats,” Michael P. McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida, told FactCheck.org in 2016.
Abbott is almost certainly counting on sliding through another election on the strength of his highly engaged conservative base during a year when there is no prominent nationwide Democrat to bring more people out. His priorities over the last year show he is catering almost exclusively to that base even to the detriment of the state.
His most recent action is an executive order banning all vaccine mandates in private businesses, a clear retaliation to President Joe Biden’s use of OSHA to force more employees to receive inoculations. He is also asking the legislature to pass a law with similar effect during the special session. Abbott himself acknowledges that vaccines work and are the most effective tool to fight the ongoing COVID pandemic that has killed 700,000 Americans but is adamant that their use should always be voluntary.
As Erica Grieder writes in the Houston Chronicle, it’s clear that Abbott is positioning himself as the anti-Biden even if his actions will kill more Texans. Why? Because vaccination has long-since become a political issue instead of a scientific one.
“It’s pretty clear that Abbott is more focused on winning a GOP primary next year than doing everything in his power to defeat COVID-19,” says Grieder.
His other major priorities beyond prolonging the plague are similarly disastrous. After a long fight that saw Texas Democrats flee the state in order to try and stop it, his draconian voter rights and access restriction bill passed into law. The bulk of it is focused on limiting the ways people can vote, including penalizing officials and advocacy groups for trying to help voters send ballots like mail. The entire plan was supposedly to counteract voter fraud that the governor has never been able to prove exists, and in doing so put more Texans at risk of infection when they exercise their franchise. If the pandemic is still happening next November, and with Abbott’s stance on vaccination there is little reason to think it won’t – then voting turnout is likely to be quite low as the concerned stay home.
Abbott’s push to ban abortion in Texas is also having monstrous consequences that he appears to care little about. Doctors are already reporting that pregnant people who find out their fetuses have conditions incompatible with life outside the womb are being forced to make difficult and possible illegal decisions. Because the law is incredibly, and some would argue intentionally, vague when it comes to medical exemptions for abortion, many lives are stuck in hellish limbo thanks to the state’s medical overreach.
These cases always fall outside conservative regard because abortion remains one of the Republican Party’s best battle cries. The fact that the new law is making people carry fetuses with conditions like anencephaly to term despite there being no hope for continued existence after birth is insignificant compared to the number of votes “saving babies” can deliver.
As for fixing the electrical grid that claimed more than twenty lives and left millions without power in a freeze, Abbott appears to have abandoned that cause entirely. The reason appears to be electoral as well. Power companies poured tons of cash into the pockets of Republican candidates when they failed to further regulate after Winter Storm Uri, including Abbott. With another winter bearing down on us and the grid in no better shape than it was a year ago, who knows how many more will be affected in the name of the governor’s quest for re-election?