January 10, 2019
Texas Governor Fuels Speculation on Eye on Higher Prize with Line in Sand
on Refugee Settlement in Move that Could Be Poison for Re-Election Race
Governor Greg Abbott appeared to be laying the framework for a presidential campaign on Friday when he slammed the door on the relocation of new refugees in Texas in a move that set him up to be branded as a racist by Democrats.
The Republican governor ignited a furor when he informed the White House in a letter that Texas would be the first state to capitalize on an executive order that made it possible to opt out of a resettlement program for people who'd fled to America to escape political unrest and poverty in their homelands.
Abbott suggested in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Texas had been unfairly strained by an influx of illegal immigrants and homeless people after allowing more refugees to make their homes here in the past 10 years than any other state.
While Abbott's announcement sparked outrage among Democrats and immigration advocates, the governor might have run the risk of offending the Trump administration by asserting that the federal government had failed to resolve a problem that the president had vowed to cure as a candidate.
“In addition to accepting refugees all these years, Texas has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system,” the governor said.
The development created the impression on both sides of the aisle that Abbott probably won't be running for a third term in 2022 in a state that's on the verge of going blue in the face of explosive Hispanic population growth.
Abbott's decision on refugee resettlement appears to be more a page from the playbook that Trump used in 2016 to build a base on the hard right by appealing to voters who are opposed to the immigration of people from Latin countries.
While Abbott's wife is Hispanic, the attempt to block the movement of additional immigrants into the Lone Star State will be viewed by Democrats and some Republicans as a move that smacks of racism despite the governor's bid to blame it on limited resources.
The bailing of Texas from the refugee program will give the Democrats another potent arsenal to use against the Republicans here in a quest to carry the state in a White House election in 2020 for the first time in 44 years. Democrats have a good shot at the recapturing of a Texas House majority as well this year on a battlefield where they could take the lower chamber back with a net gain of eight or nine seats in November.
But Abbott appears to be willing to gamble Republican rule in Texas on the potential political dividends that the refugee snub could pay in the chase for the GOP presidential nomination that will be up for grabs in four years in an open race with Trump out of the picture by then.
Abbott could expect to be a formidable contender in the 2024 presidential primaries as a Republican who's been the state's most popular major leader since he won a promotion from Texas attorney general to his current post five years ago.
But hard-line conservatives in Texas have always regarded the governor with a measure of suspicion in light of relatively moderate positions that he's taken on major issues like a record-shattering school finance package in the 2019 regular session.
Abbott for months has been ignoring pleas from the right for a special session to resurrect a conservative agenda that flopped at the statehouse last year.
Mike Hailey's column appears on a regular basis in Capitol Inside