Exclusive — American Counterpunch: Governor Greg Abbott Touts His State as the Land of Freedom and Opportunity

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    AUSTIN, Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) is a fighter. Whether it's surviving a near-fatal accident that left him paralyzed or leading his state through the coronavirus pandemic, Abbott isn't afraid of adversity, and he has faced plenty of it from the “Brandon” administration. In spite of President Joe Biden's open-border policies, anti-drilling agenda, and vaccine authoritarianism, Abbott told Breitbart News that Texas is and remains America's “Opportunity State.”

    On a windy afternoon in mid-October at the University of Texas's football stadium, Abbott – the 48th and current governor of Texas – sat at the fifty-yard line for a broad exclusive interview with Breitbart News' On the Hill video series. During the interview, Abbott pitched himself as the counterbalance to President Biden's “disastrous policies” and federal overreach — things so often seen when the Democrats hold power. It's a role with which he is very familiar. As Texas attorney general, Abbott sued the Obama administration 27 times. Since Biden took office, Abbott has continued to push back against Democrats, including being one of the first governors to fully re-open his state for business and terminate mask mandates. Abbott also is leading the way against Biden's vaccine mandate for American businesses, issuing an executive order banning any entity in Texas — including those privately owned — from mandating coronavirus vaccines.

    Up for re-election next year, the two-term governor navigates a noticeable political tightrope between the demands of conservative and moderate Texans. The past 19 months have delivered some of his biggest challenges in office to date. But, overcoming challenges is Greg Abbott's brand, so to speak.

    In 1984, at the age of 26, the former track star was nearly killed in a horrific accident while jogging with a friend in Houston. An afternoon run — a break from studying for the bar exam — left the recent law school graduate paralyzed from the waist down. As described in a 2013 Texas Monthly profile:

    Abbott heard what he describes as a “loud explosion, like a bomb going off.” He had been running a few yards ahead of Frost [his friend], and the next thing he knew, he was down on the ground, having been struck by an oak tree that had snapped near its base. “It hit me in the back and knocked me down,” Abbott says. “It broke bones in my vertebrae, which pierced my spinal cord. I had fractured ribs, which poked into some of my organs. The pain was incomprehensible.”

    Abbott told Breitbart News, “I was left with a broken back, a paraplegic never able to walk again.”

    “I could have given up on life,” he continued, “but I chose not to do that. I chose to respond to it in ways that would put me on a pathway to go on and become governor of this great state.”

    After vowing to never allow his disability to hold him back, Abbott went on to be a successful attorney, district judge, and justice on the Texas Supreme Court. Prior to becoming governor, his tenure as Texas attorney general was the longest in state history.

    This determination has defined Abbott's career – with the word “perseverance” often used in crafting his political image.

    When asked if his own life lessons could be applied to Texas and its challenges today, Abbott answered, “What happened in my life, it is a lesson that everybody either does, or should apply every day, a lesson that even football teams on this field should apply. And that is: our lives are not defined by our challenges, but the way that we respond to our challenges.”

    “Just because you have a challenge in life,” he said, “just because something goes wrong — even if it's a catastrophic injury — do not let it be a setback for you. Find a way to move forward.”

    The Number One Issue

    While Americans are facing challenges on almost all fronts, Abbott freely admits that the Southern Border crisis is “the number one issue” for his constituents.

    Shortly before this interview, the humanitarian crisis in Del Rio, Texas, was taking place, which, at its height, saw roughly 15,000 Haitian migrants camped under and around a bridge near the U.S. border. Many of Abbott's critics were sounding off, concluding that he wasn't doing enough to seal the border. “Why isn't he using the National Guard?” and “Why wasn't he detaining illegal aliens as they crossed the border?” were oft-heard questions.

    Well, it turns out Abbott was doing both — perhaps not to the extent his critics would have liked or outside legal constraints — but, make no mistake, Texas, not the Biden Administration, is now doing the lion's share of work at the Southern Border to address the “catastrophe,” as Abbott calls it, “caused by Joe Biden's open border policies.”

    “Texas is having to shoulder the responsibility that typically is the federal government's responsibility to secure our border and to secure our sovereignty,” Abbott explained.

    “Ever since I've been governor, every legislative session we've had, we put in close to a billion dollars to deploy resources and personnel to the border to help secure the border,” he continued. “We're doing more than all the other states have ever done combined.”

    The governor went on to explain in detail many of the actions he has taken:

    I just signed two bills that provide $3 billion of Texas funds to secure the border. We have thousands of National Guard, well over a thousand Texas Department of Public Safety Officers, [and] Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens and officials down there, because part of the region is water and they help secure the water portion of the border.

    On top of all that, we came up with a new plan to arrest and jail people coming across the border for violations of trespass laws, which have accelerated crimes now — or penalties now. And then, Texas is building our own wall on the border, and we've already begun that process.

    On top of that, I've signed laws such as making it easier to prosecute smuggling… I signed nine laws, cracking down on the heinous crime of human trafficking.

    We created a new crime in the state of Texas that goes directly after the drug cartels. It's a new law for this deadly drug fentanyl, where it's now a crime to manufacturer or distribute fentanyl in the state of Texas.

    And then, on top of all of that, we've been in court challenging the Biden administration. We got a federal court ruling here in the state of Texas from a federal judge mandating that the Biden administration reinstate the Remain in Mexico policy. It was announced earlier today that the Biden administration is going to go along with that federal judge order and begin the process of re-emphasizing the Remain in Mexico policy.

    “The fact is, Texas is stepping up and doing what needs to be done to secure the border,” he said, “[We're] pretty much the only force responding to the people coming across the border.”

    Abbott confirmed at the end of October that he deployed 6,500 National Guardsmen to the border. Some of his detractors, though, continue to insist that more must be done.

    Don Huffines, who is a long shot to defeat Abbott in the primary, vows that he would secure the state's border by putting economic pressure on Mexico and deploying the entire Texas National Guard, some 20,000 members.

    “Counterbalance”

    In addition to his actions to secure the border where Biden has failed, Abbott's resolute stance against the Democrat's agenda has made recurring headlines.

    Other actions drawing ire from the Establishment Media include banning critical race theory in classrooms, requiring sports teams receiving state funds to play the national anthem, instituting permitless carry, and banning abortion after six weeks.

    Abbott has also defied the so-called experts and Anthony Fauci.

    One of the first governors to lift his state's coronavirus lockdown (May 1, 2020), Abbott, like all politicians, has had to straddle the line between public safety and authoritarianism.

    In one of his most recent moves to push back against what he sees as federal overreach, Abbott, who is vaccinated, issued an executive order last month banning any entity, including private businesses, from mandating a coronavirus shot.

    “I talked to too many Texans around the entire state, who were literally crying because they faced either losing their job or compromising their own values and safety by getting the vaccine,” he explained to Breitbart News. “One of the catalysts behind my action was to ensure that people would not be losing their jobs.”

    Immediately after Abbott issued his executive order, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and Fort Worth-based American Airlines both said they would be ignoring the governor's ruling, but Abbott revealed to Breitbart News that “the day after Southwest said they would not comply, they did issue a [statement] saying that no one at Southwest will be terminated … and we have received similar information from American Airlines that may not have been published yet.”

    Just days after our interview, Southwest Airlines announced it would be scrapping its plan to place unvaccinated employees with pending exemptions on unpaid leave after a December deadline.

    The Texas Republican said he wanted to “set the counterbalance against the Biden administration to say that no one can be compelled to take a vaccine.”

    When asked about the legal strategy for keeping his vaccine mandate ban alive given the inevitable challenge from the federal government, Abbott admitted that “this is headed toward a legal showdown,” but he felt “very confident” Texas will win, explaining:

    Neither the president of the united states, nor the federal government have any legal authority — any constitutional authority — to issue their vaccine mandate. … [T]hroughout the history of the United States of America, it has been governors in states that have been in charge of health and safety of the people who are residents of those states, not the federal government. So, from the legal side, I feel like we're on solid ground. Also, from the constitutional side in this regard, and that is part of the governor's job is to ensure that the freedoms that are guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of our positions are going to be protected.

    Although the U.S. Supreme Court has not considered the issue, so far, Abbott's intuitions have been correct. The fifth circuit issued a stay on Saturday, essentially freezing the mandate, citing “grave statutory and constitutional” issues with the rule.

    Abbott's reference to the lack of constitutional authority for Biden's mandate is based on long-settled Supreme Court precent that reserves to the individual states the “police power” concerning public health, public safety, personal responsibility, and social welfare, instead of the federal government.

    White House press secretary Jen Psaki, however, regarded Abbott's counter to Biden's mandate a purely political move. To this charge, Abbott replied that the mandate itself was “politics by the Biden administration.”

    “Clearly, they're acting completely contrary to the Constitution,” the governor continued. “One thing that Biden has failed to do [is] work in collaboration with the states. He had every opportunity to.” Referencing comments from the CEO of Delta Airlines, Abbott said, “A vaccine mandate is a blunt tool that is not needed because there are other effective ways to address this.”

    The Texas Dream: “Opportunity and Freedom”

    Despite the pandemic, Texas has remained the number one state in the U.S. for economic development. The pandemic lockdowns and their downstream economic consequences have put a bigger spotlight on Texas, the ninth-largest economy in the world if the state were its own country. Abbott often refers to Texas as “the economic engine of America.”

    This has led to a massive relocation of Americans in recent years (Texas is, in fact, the only state gaining two congressional seats based on the 2020 Census).

    “There are so many people moving to Texas, and most people move to Texas for opportunity and for freedom,” Abbott explained when asked what it meant to be a Texan. “That's what it means to be a Texan: opportunity and freedom.”

    “Maybe the same reason you moved here is the same reason that Elon Musk moved here personally, but also his business,” he continued, adding:

    I talked to Elon Musk multiple times before he made that decision, and he talked about those two concepts of freedom and opportunity. You talk to any average Texan about what Texas stands for and its freedom and opportunity, and that is what attracts entrepreneurs here. That could be entrepreneurs that have started businesses, or the entrepreneurs who run these massive, large Fortune 500 companies. It's the same principle that applies. Texans, from the time that we were in our own country until today, this has been the location of freedom and opportunity.

    “Pollsters” and pundits repeatedly assert that any day now, Texas will be blue. While some shifts to the left have occurred (Trump, for instance, only carried the state by 5.5-percentage points in 2020, down from 9-percentage points in 2016), Abbott is “very confident that the people moving here will keep Texas very red.”

    “This is something that, as governor, you might imagine I've studied very closely,” he said, flashing a big smile. “And the great news is that people who are moving to Texas are making Texas more conservative.” They are leaving states, like California and New York, he explained, where they “cannot stand” the “socialistic policies” anymore.

    “They remember why they fled those states, and they want to make sure they do not repeat in Texas what they saw in California or these other crazy leftist states… Every event I go to, there are Californias at those conservative events […] and I know that the people moving from California are making Texas even more red.”

    America's Economic Engine

    It's not just Californians and their companies fleeing to Texas. Abbott wants their cargo ships too.

    “Texas ports are open & ready to help fix America's supply chain backlog,” the governor tweeted last week encouraging log jammed ships to “escape California” and “[c]hoose Texas.”

    “We can get goods out faster & at a lower cost than California due to our centralized location,” the tweet continues:

    In recent weeks, problems with America's supply chain have led to empty shelves across America. The hashtags #EmptyShelvesJoe and #BareShelvesBiden have trended online as Americans face shortages and inflation.

    As the Biden Administration blames the coronavirus pandemic and, more recently, “online shopping” for the national backlog of goods, experts agree that, while myriad factors are causing the supply chain crisis, two substantially contributing areas are the skyrocketing costs of shipping and warehousing, especially for fuel and chemicals, and the rising energy prices.

    Oil recently topped $85 a barrel and is expected to keep climbing into next year. Natural gas prices recently hit their highest point in over a decade.

    The White House recently admitted it can't guarantee Americans will get certain gifts in time for the holiday season.

    “We can produce the oil, we can get the supply chain going, we can make things happen in ways that everyone will be able to get their toys by Christmas,” Abbott told Breitbart News. “All they need to do is to leave Texas alone and let us do our thing.”

    Texas is by far America's leader in oil production — producing more than a third of the nation's product.

    The Biden Administration's decision to reduce oil drilling in the United States in favor of a “green” agenda has cost the United States its energy independence achieved under President Donald Trump. “You've seen over the past week at least once, maybe twice, the Biden administration has been kind of asking, if not begging, the Middle East to produce more oil so that the price of energy will go down,” Abbott observed.

    Asked whether the Green New Deal is already impacting Americans at the pump specifically, Abbott said “if not directly, definitely indirectly.”

    “I've talked to the oil and gas producers in [my] state, and they say that one reason why they're not drilling more is because of inadequate access to capital… [T]he large capital enterprises in New York and some other places, they're not providing the capital to the drillers to drill more, to produce more,” explained the governor.

    For years, leftists have used coercive tactics to fight so-called “climate change.” Today those methods have only become more punitive and include targeting banks that lend to fossil fuel producers in an effort to shut down their money pipeline.

    “Getting lenders to choke off money to fossil fuel companies is the next needed move for the industry to address the material risks that the coal, oil and gas industry faces,” Leslie Samuelrich, president at investment advisory firm Green Century Capital Management, told CNBC in April.

    “This is simply demand and supply,” Abbott went on. “There is not as much supply as [there] would be if [drillers] were getting the financing, [and] because of that, inadequate supply is driving up the price — and that is part of another flaw in the Biden Administration. That increase in price is leading to inflation. That inflation is a tax, especially on middle class in America.”

    On Monday, the national average price for a gallon of gasoline was $3.42, 16 cents more than a month ago, and $1.31 more than a year ago, according to AAA.

    For his state specifically, Abbott believes Texans are in a good spot to ride this out: “With Texas being able to manufacture so much of what we actually use in this state, with the ports that we have — whether they be coastal ports or inland ports — we probably have the best access to goods of any state in the United States.”

    When the Engine Stops Running… and the Power Grid Nearly Collapses

    Border security, airlines, supply chain, and pump prices — these are all infrastructure. Abbott has had his own infrastructure challenges. Last February's catastrophic winter storm and near failure of the Texas power grid left 210 people dead, according to the Department of State Health Services. While “multiple deaths [were] caused by motor vehicle accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, exacerbation of chronic illness, falls, and fire,” the “majority of confirmed deaths were associated with hypothermia,” their website reads.

    “It happened because for one, the leaders at ERCOT [Electric Reliability Council of Texas] were arrogant. I talked to them in advance of the storm, and I told them this is gonna be the worst storm we have ever had,” said Abbott. “They told me repeatedly, ‘oh, we have this under control.'”

    Abbott explained “a design flaw” they operated under “where they would request more power generation only after a crisis already had occurred.”

    “What kind of model to operate is that?” he questioned. “That's chaotic.”

    “We've changed the leadership — we got rid of all the leadership of ERCOT, we've got rid of all the leadership of the Public Utilities Commission. We've installed new leaders, with new approaches that don't operate on a crisis-base mode, but instead, they plan in advance, and they plan for the worst-case scenario to always be prepared.”

    Asked if he was confident this would never happen again, Abbott answered, “I am, for several reasons, in part because of the new leadership, in part because of the approach they take which is always assuming the worst and planning days in advance for the worst, but also because of the winterization that's been applied because we have more power generation today than we've ever had before. And because everyone is preparing, as we speak today, for the very worst winter storm. I know that we will make it through the winter with keeping the power on.”

    The Brandon Administration

    “Let's Go, Brandon,” said the governor on the football field.

    “People are angry,” Abbott said, blaming President Biden's “disastrous policies” for the “F*** Joe Biden” movement continuing to resonate with Americans.

    “People who come to these stadiums… want to gather and celebrate a great American tradition like college football, and you have Joe Biden trying to shut things down and shut people out, and you got Fauci saying you got to stay home until Christmas or whenever,” he continued.” It's just ludicrous – the policies that Joe Biden is advancing.”

    “Only part of it relates to COVID,” he explained. “Part is about the border, part of it's about inflation, part of it's about the other catastrophic policies they're implementing, so you see this rising anger across the entire United States.”

    Looking ahead, “most immediately, in 13 months,” Abbott predicts “a Republican tidal wave sweep of the United States Congress.” Ripples are already being seen with the election of Glenn Youngkin in Virginia and the close gubernatorial election in New Jersey last week.

    “There's a lot of buyer's remorse of people who voted for the Biden administration, and it looks like it will only get worse, and, Americans, they want to make sure that we are not going to lose our country forever. And the only way to do that is to have a Republican tidal wave election in 2022.”

    As for his own race for a third term, Abbott's most likely opponent in the general election — none of his primary opponents poll even remotely close enough to beat him — is former El Paso Congressman, failed Senate candidate, and failed presidential candidate, Robert Francis “Beto” O'Rourke (D). O'Rourke has yet to officially throw his hat in the race, but he is widely expected to do so in the near future. In both 2014 and 2018, Abbott won his primaries with more than 90 percent of the vote. He also won both of his general elections by double-digits.

    In a recent poll from the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Tribune, the governor has a comfortable, 9-percentage-point lead over O'Rourke, 46% to 37%.

    “Texas is the number one state in so many categories, whether it be jobs, or whatever the case may be, but candidly, the most important thing is, Texas is the land of opportunity,” said Abbott when asked for his re-election pitch and thoughts on O'Rourke. “When you look at the things that [O'Rourke] has said on the campaign trail, the promises that he has made, it is a warning sign to Texans. It is a warning sign to Americans of what socialism, and candidly Marxism, looks like.”

    “The last thing that we need is to have somebody come in and impose socialistic ideas and policies on a state that would ruin everything the state of Texas has ever stood for, and in destroying Texas, it would lead to the destruction of the United States of America.”

    Simply put, Abbott said, O'Rourke “stands for the ideas and values that are hostile to what has made Texas great.”

    Asked if he regrets anything in his administration so far, or anything he would have done differently, Abbott responded, “I'll put it this way. There are always things that you can go back and always do better. And I would say on a daily basis, I find things that I could do better, but the goal is to constantly be looking forward and imply the aggregation of information that you gain every single day to make sure that you will be doing a better job every single day.”

    “You Never Know When a Tree Is Going to Fall on You”

    Abbott remains coy, like all potential, serious candidates, on his thoughts about running for president in 2024.

    “You know, one thing that I've learned in life… I'm in a wheelchair because I was out jogging, and a tree fell on me,” he stated. “And so, my simple lesson in life is, you never know when a tree is gonna fall on you, so don't get too far ahead of yourself.”

    “I have what will be a marquee [gubernatorial] race in the United States ahead of me. My sole focus, first of all, right now, is to make sure that we get through the session, and then make sure we get through the next election.”

    In this latest edition of Breitbart News's On the Hill video series, Abbott also discusses Texas's pro-life law, his advice to his college-aged self, and for what and for whom he prays.

    Amanda House is Breitbart News's Deputy Political Editor and Director of Video. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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