Greg Abbott and the Quiet Spot at the Top

Attorney General Greg Abbott on Jan. 31, 2011, discussing Texas' lawsuit against federal health care reform.
Attorney General Greg Abbott on Jan. 31, 2011, discussing Texas' lawsuit against federal health care reform.

Sometimes, political inactivity is what catches your attention.

The prospect of an open lieutenant governor’s seat in 2014 is attracting candidates and, in the energy-sapping heat of a Texas summer, a surprising amount of conversation. Almost no one is talking about the possibility of an open seat for governor.

The top of the organization chart in Texas politics is unstable. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has been in the United States Senate for 18 years, is leaving when her current term ends in early 2013. Rick Perry, governor since 2000 and re-elected most recently in 2010, hopes to leave office at the same time by winning the presidential election he hasn’t quite officially entered. David Dewhurst, lieutenant governor since 2002, is also after a promotion — he’s one of several candidates running for Hutchison’s seat.

Their moves have stirred up the rest of the organization chart. Since there aren’t any Democrats in statewide office in Texas, it’s the Republicans who’ve been bottled up and who are now uncorked. Comptroller Susan Combs, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples have expressed interest — strongly or very strongly — in running for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 2014. Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams resigned to run for United States Senate, then dropped that effort and began shopping for a winnable seat in Congress. (He declared for one district, before changing his mind and choosing another). His former colleague, Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, won’t seek re-election; she’s also running for United States Senate.

It’s a turbulent political environment. But there is a calm spot out there, and to find it, you need only follow the money.

 

Attorney General Greg Abbott had $10.4 million in his political account at mid-year, according to his filings with the Texas Ethics Commission. He raised $1.6 million during the past six months. That would be impressive if he had taken six months to do it, but legally state officeholders can’t raise money while the Legislature is in session; Abbott raised that money in 10 days.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Some perspective: The next highest fundraiser among state officeholders in the last six months was Combs, the comptroller, with $611,700. Perry raised only $392,546 during that period.

So the summer of 2011 finds a political hurricane in Texas with Abbott in the eye. He hasn’t hailed a camera or called a news conference or issued a press release to announce his next move. That’s one good explanation as to why the other aspirants are leaving him alone — he’s not challenging any of them. Here’s another: Who wants to start a fight with a guy who’s got that much money with which to torture his opponents?

Combs has the next biggest campaign treasury and it’s half the size of that of the attorney general, who will be even more aggressive when he is actually in a race.

Perhaps he is in a race. Abbott has been quiet, but not silent. As others set their sights on the United States Senate or the lieutenant governor’s post, Abbott has quietly made it known that he wants to run for governor in 2014.

It’s way too early, though, for him to go measuring for curtains in the Governor’s Mansion. The governorship might not be open in 2014, and even if it is, it does not come open very often. Other candidates, from all parties, will be attracted. There’s always somebody rich out there who wants the job, or someone famous, or someone rich and famous.

But three years before the election, there’s just Abbott, who isn’t looking at the Senate race, Since Dewhurst isn’t looking at the governor’s race, he and Abbott — the most prominent Republican officeholders with the means and position to seek those jobs — are at peace, for now. If Dewhurst does not win the Senate race, or if he decides that he would rather stay in Texas than move to Washington for a new job in early 2013, when he's 67, they could become antagonists. Or it could go much smoother than that.

One thing is certain: for all the activity elsewhere these days, there’s nothing to see in the governor’s race, and that’s just the way Abbott wants it.

 

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