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Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Expected To Sue Barack Obama, Then Meet Him

By Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman (TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas — On Wednesday, Greg Abbott, Texas’ attorney general, is expected to announce that for the 31st time he will be suing the Obama administration on behalf of his state, this time trying to block the president’s executive order on immigration. On Friday, Greg Abbott, governor-elect, will be President Barack Obama’s guest at the White House, one of a half-dozen new governors the president wants to talk with on job creation.

“The president will meet with newly elected governors from across the country to discuss the ways in which the administration can partner with states in promoting economic opportunity and expanding security for middle-class Americans,” a White House spokesman said Tuesday. “The president and the incoming governors will discuss how we can build on our growing economy by creating more jobs and ensuring that every American who works hard has an opportunity to succeed.”

Abbott and newly elected governors of Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Alaska and Pennsylvania also will visit with Vice President Joe Biden.

Abbott’s top priorities include border security and continuing to promote job creation in Texas.

More than any of the other new governors who will be at the White House on Friday, Abbott has made Obama his political foil, both as Texas attorney general and as a candidate for governor against Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis.

Abbott’s campaign leaned heavily on an ad that began with a shot of a desk with a nameplate suggesting that Obama was governor of Texas. “Barack Obama as the governor of Texas?” asked the narrator. “He may as well be on the ballot because Wendy Davis is just like Obama.”

Throughout his run for governor, Abbott’s sturdiest campaign line was his simple explanation of his job as attorney general: “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.”

By his staff’s count, that accurately describes 30 days of his service as attorney general, and Wednesday might make it 31.

He has called an afternoon news conference in Austin at which he is expected to announce a lawsuit he has promised to file to thwart Obama’s effort to protect from deportation as many as 5 million immigrants who are in the country illegally.

In an interview Monday on Fox News, Abbott said Texas will be especially harmed by the president’s executive action, which the governor-elect predicted would lead to another mass wave of border crossings into the state by Central Americans. He said the president’s order was an abuse of prosecutorial discretion.

“If a president can do this, then a president could also say, ‘You know what? For the next four years of my presidency, I’m not going to prosecute anyone who does not pay their income taxes.’ That would be a way to give a writ large tax break to all Americans, and, of course, that would lead to chaos with regard to our system,” Abbott said. “So you cannot have an at-large decision to not prosecute an entire class of people.”

The politics are a bit complicated because Obama’s order is especially popular with Hispanics, whom Abbott has been courting, but also especially unpopular with tea party Republicans, on whose continued support he is counting.

“Efficient,” tweeted Matt Angle, head of the Democratic Lone Star Project, noting that with his prospective lawsuit, Abbott can “throw red meat to T-Party Rs while disguising hostility to Latinos as an attack on Obama.”

In addition to Abbott, the other newly elected governors in attendance will be Bill Walker, who was just sworn in as governor of Alaska, and Govs.-elect Bruce Rauner of Illinois, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.

Walker was a Republican, but he ran for governor as an independent and defeated Republican Gov. Sean Parnell as part of a unity ticket in which the Democratic candidate for governor stepped aside and instead ran for lieutenant governor with Walker. The Parnell campaign derided the fusion ticket as “Alaska’s Team Obama.”

Rauner, a Republican who upset Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn to become governor of the president’s home state, has a long personal and business relationship with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is among Obama’s closest confidants and his first White House chief of staff.

Hogan in Maryland and Baker in Massachusetts are both Republican winners in predominantly Democratic states, though Massachusetts also produced Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama’s 2012 Republican rival.

Obama campaigned for Wolf, a Democrat who upended Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

Photo: The Texas Tribune via Flickr

National Guard To Leave Texas Border By Spring, Earlier Than Thought

By Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman (TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas National Guard units will leave the Rio Grande Valley by early spring, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday, entrusting the extension of the so-called law enforcement surge along the border to state police and game wardens.

At a Capitol news conference, Dewhurst offered a more complete and accurate explanation of the agreement reached by him, Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Joe Straus on extending the surge through the end of August, than what was contained in a joint communique issued Tuesday by the Big Three of Texas government.

That statement left the impression that the Texas National Guard, deployed by Perry in July, would continue to be an integral part of the enhanced border enforcement effort through the end of the fiscal year. The Guard deployment has been Perry’s calling card as he travels to early presidential primary states ahead of a possible 2016 run, appealing to conservative audiences by saying that he’s doing what President Barack Obama has failed to do — secure the border.

Tuesday’s announcement that $86.1 million in state funding would be redirected to the mission, pending approval by the Legislative Budget Board at its Dec. 1 meeting, stated that, “Effective Dec. 1 through August 2015, the funding agreement would transfer FY15 funding to extend the presence of personnel from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Military Forces and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department along the border.” Texas Military Forces refers to the Guard.

But, according to a copy of the budget execution proposal signed by Perry, Dewhurst and Straus and released by Dewhurst’s office after his news conference Wednesday, only $17.5 million of the redirected funding would underwrite the Guard deployment, which costs about $10 million a month. Guard funding will run out at the end of March.

Perry had ordered the deployment of as many as 1,000 troops, and Dewhurst said Wednesday the National Guard presence along the Mexican border would be drawn down by March or April. But, because the Guard costs more than the DPS to deploy, Dewhurst said that even as the Guard withdraws, the state will be able to have more “boots on the ground” through the use of DPS and Texas Parks and Wildlife personnel.

“What he said is consistent with the leadership’s agreement,” Perry spokesman Lucy Nashed said Wednesday of Dewhurst’s explanation of the phasing out of the Guard’s role.

Asked by email Tuesday how many Guard units were currently deployed along the border and how many will be there through August, Nashed replied, “The intent of the National Guard deployment was to provide a robust force multiplier to DPS’s efforts with Operation Strong Safety. As the operation evolves, leadership will continue to ensure we use the appropriate combination of personnel, technology and other resources to meet the changing security needs of the border region, and we expect that to be discussed at the (Legislative Budget Board) meeting.”

Perry discussed immigration and border policy Wednesday in an appearance at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., saying that Texas is spending $12 million a month to secure the border because Washington won’t.

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott also attended the governors meeting. His staff did not respond to questions about the plan to draw down the Guard presence, but his border security plan, which would cost $299 million over two years, hinges on a big increase in DPS spending and not on the Guard, whose presence on the border has been viewed by critics as an expensive and unnecessary political flourish that made the border region appear more dangerous than it actually is.

But Dewhurst said, “The surge is working; it’s important that we keep it working.”

He said that in June 2014 — the month the additional DPS troopers were dispatched to the border — there were 6,600 apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley sector, but, “the last week in October, that number’s down to 1,600; that’s a 77 percent drop.”

State Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat who serves on the House Appropriations Committee and on the state’s Select Committee on the Fiscal Impact of Texas Border Support Operations, said there are no firm metrics of success.

She also said that the additional funding to extend the border operation could have waited until the new legislative session and that repurposing funds were a bugaboo for many legislators.

Photo: Bill & Heather Jones via Flickr

Greg Abbott Easily Defeats Wendy Davis In Race For Texas Governor

By Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman (MCT)

AUSTIN, Texas — Republican Greg Abbott has defeated Democrat Wendy Davis in the race for governor. Shortly after 8 p.m., when the polls closed in El Paso, The Associated Press called the race for Abbott.

With about 40 percent of the vote counted, almost entirely early ballots, Attorney General Abbott held a commanding lead over state Sen. Davis.

With more than 2 million votes tallied, Abbott was leading Davis 58 percent to 41 percent, according to figures posted by the Texas Secretary of State’s office. Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said that the total turnout will probably end up between 5 million and 5.5 million voters. Republicans tend to do better with early voters, but Jones said Davis still appears headed to a double-digit defeat.

Victory would be the culmination of Abbott’s personal climb following a 1984 accident that left him a paraplegic to what has been an unbroken run of political success, from his appointment by Gov. George W. Bush and ultimate election and re-election to the State Supreme Court to three terms as attorney general, where he methodically laid the groundwork to succeed Gov. Rick Perry and extend Republican control of the governor’s office into its third decade.

From Day One of the campaign, it was Abbott’s to lose, and he didn’t lose it.

“She never stood a chance,” said Jones. “The fundamental of Texas identity is that it’s a red state and that absent Greg Abbott making a monumental error or serial gaffes, Wendy Davis was never going to win.”

In the most practiced parlance of the Davis campaign, Abbott was an Austin “insider” protecting the interests of his rich and powerful friends at the expense of “hard-working Texans.”

But, what virtually any Texan with a television set learned as a consequence of Abbott’s saturation television advertising was that Abbott had persevered despite being in a wheelchair, that his mother-in-law was a Mexican-American who thought very highly of him, and that Wendy Davis was politically a Barack Obama clone, in a state where the president is as unpopular as anywhere in the country.

Battleground Texas, the creation of veterans of the Obama presidential campaigns, planted its flag in Texas in February 2013 with what they said was a long and patient time horizon for laying the groundwork for Democrats to become competitive in Texas. But that timetable was dramatically accelerated when Davis entered the race as a candidate who, thanks to the Texas Senate filibuster seen round the world, generated an all-bets-are-off excitement that had the political world atwitter.

But, said political scientist Joshua Blank, who manages both the University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll and the Texas Lyceum poll, that very excitement also loosed many Democrats, in Texas and around the country, from a more sober appreciation of the enormity of the task at hand.

“Wendy Davis and Battleground Texas created a set of expectations that were wildly unrealistic and probably helped the Republicans re-energize their coalition in ways they might have had trouble with after a grueling primary and runoff and fissures within the party over just how conservative to be,” Blank said.

Abbott did not appear at all hindered by a statewide ticket that bore the imprint of Tea Party voters who held sway in the party’s contentious primary and runoffs, particularly in the contest for lieutenant governor and attorney general, where Tea Party favorites state Sens. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton prevailed over more establishment candidates, incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Rep. Dan Branch

“Davis showed some promise early but that promise was somewhat illusory,” Blank said.

In the immediate aftermath of her abortion filibuster, Davis was actually better known to voters than Abbott and, the particulars of the abortion issue aside, her introduction to the broader public had a heroic aspect to it. But, over time, the electorate settled back into its partisan corners, which in Texas is a huge advantage for a Republican, and Abbott came into the race with a $21 million advantage over Davis that he more than maintained amid strong fundraising by both campaigns, enabling him to control the airwaves right up until Tuesday.

Over time, polls found, voters came to hold a generally favorable view of Abbott and an unfavorable view of Davis.

Abbott was hoping to run up the score Tuesday, both as the source of a personal mandate, but also to dispirit efforts, both homegrown and imported, to turn Texas into a battleground state in state and national elections.

Obama appeared to be all downside for Davis. The border and immigration are top issues in Texas, especially among conservatives, and Obama’s failure to visit the border during his stop in Texas earlier this year effectively ceded the issue to Texas Republicans, even as his decision to postpone any action on immigration reform disappointed some in the Latino community whose enthusiasm Davis was depending on to make a race of it.

In other states where Latinos have propelled Democratic fortunes — such as California, Nevada and Colorado — Democrats win 70 percent to 80 percent or more of the Latino vote. Not so in Texas, where the entire electorate is more conservative, and Democratic margins with Latinos are less overwhelming.

The Abbott campaign sought to inoculate itself against the insider charge by attacking Davis in ads and billboards as ethically suspect, even corrupt, trading her influence in the Texas Senate and before that on the Fort Worth City Council for title work and legal clients.

Abbott sought to defend himself against the accusation that — on issues from border security to voter ID — he and his party are hostile to the interests of Latino Texans by playing to the hilt the fact that his wife, Cecilia, would be the first Latino first lady in Texas history, and spending more time and money than previous Republican candidates in the heavily Latino Rio Grande Valley.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Poll: Abbott Holds Double-Digit Lead Over Davis In Texas Gubernatorial Race

By Jonathan Tilove, American-Statesman Staff

AUSTIN, Texas — Attorney General Greg Abbott is holding a steady double-digit lead over state Sen. Wendy Davis in the Texas governor’s race, according to a poll conducted Thursday through Sunday by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning polling firm based in North Carolina.

The survey found that Abbott was leading Davis 51 percent to 37 percent, just about the same as Abbott’s 50 percent to 35 percent lead when they last polled in November.

Most troubling for the Davis campaign is that nearly half the electorate has an unfavorable view of the Fort Worth Democrat, who is 12 points better known than Abbott. In the first flush of national celebrity right after her Senate filibuster of abortion legislation in June, a Public Policy Polling survey found Davis had a 39 percent favorable rating, compared to 29 percent who viewed her unfavorably. That has now flipped and only 33 percent view her in a positive light, while 47 percent hold a negative view of her.

Davis is as unpopular with women as men. Just 32 percent of women viewed her favorably, compared with 46 percent of women who viewed her unfavorably. Among men, 33 percent had a positive view, while 48 percent held a negative view. However, she is still running a far stronger race with women than men. Abbott leads Davis among women, 49 percent to 41 percent, and among men, 53 percent to 32 percent.

Abbott has a 64 percent to 27 percent lead among white voters. Davis leads among Hispanics, 43 percent to 33 percent, and among African-Americans 72 percent to 11 percent.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 559 registered voters April 10-13. The margin of error for the overall survey is plus or minus 4.1 percent. Eighty percent of interviews for the poll were conducted over the phone with 20 percent interviewed over the Internet to reach respondents who don’t have land line telephones.

According to the poll, President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular in Texas — only 36 percent of voters in the state approve of the job he is doing while 58 percent disapprove.

“It looks like it’s going to be an uphill battle for Democrats in Texas this year,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Public Policy Polling found Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in worse shape than Davis no matter which Republican wins the May runoff. Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick leads her by 16 points at 51 percent to 35 percent, while incumbent David Dewhurst leads her by 18 points at 50 percent to 32 percent.

The Public Policy Polling survey also contained good news for Gov. Rick Perry, who has been attempting to repair his reputation, in Texas and nationally, as he contemplates a second run for president. The survey found 48 percent viewed him favorably, and 44 percent unfavorably. Two years ago, in the aftermath of his disastrous presidential run, Perry had a positive rating of 39 percent, and a negative rating of 53 percent.

The survey also revealed that U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the state’s senior senator, who is seeking a third term, continues be an underwhelming figure for Texas voters. He suffers a negative approval rating of 40 percent, compared to 31 percent who viewed him favorably. Only 46 percent of Republicans viewed him favorably. But he leads Dr. David Alameel in a prospective November showdown — 49 percent to 32 percent — assuming Alameel prevails in the May runoff over Kesha Rogers, a Democrat from Houston who has called for the impeachment of Obama.

Alan Kotok via Flickr.com