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Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick Take Oath of Office

In a moment he called "highly improbable," Greg Abbott officially became the 48th governor of Texas in a ceremony on the south steps of the Texas Capitol on Tuesday. His wife, Cecilia Abbott, became the first Latina first lady of Texas.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht swears in Greg Abbott as the 48th governor of Texas.

* Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

In a moment he called "highly improbable," Greg Abbott became the 48th governor of Texas in a ceremony on the south steps of the Texas Capitol on Tuesday. His wife, Cecilia Abbott, became the first Latina first lady of Texas.

"I am living proof that we live in a state where a young man's life can literally be broken in half and yet he can still rise up and be governor of this great state," Abbott, the first governor in the state's history to use a wheelchair, told a crowd of lawmakers and supporters after taking the oath of office. Three decades ago, when he was 26, an oak tree fell on Abbott as he was jogging, paralyzing him from the waist down. 

Abbott — who decisively trounced Democrat Wendy Davis in November to earn the job held since 2000 by fellow Republican Rick Perry — was sworn in by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht as cannon fire signaled Abbott's ascent to power.

Abbott and Republican Dan Patrick, who was sworn in as the state’s 42nd lieutenant governor, both took the opportunity to foreshadow a legislative agenda with an emphasis on education reform and transportation funding.

The new governor pledged to build more roads, secure the border and "speed up our needed water projects." Abbott also said he will "ensure that we keep Texas No. 1 in the nation for job creation," which he said will require improving the state's education system.

As the state's longest-serving attorney general, Abbott developed a reputation for taking on the federal government, against which he filed more than 30 lawsuits. He indicated that he does not intend to alter his approach to dealing with Washington, D.C.

"We Texans aren't spoiling for a fight, but we won't shrink from one if the cause is right," he said.

A relatively modest crowd watched the inauguration under a perfectly blue sky, many shielding their eyes from sunshine so warm that at least one attendee passed out. 

Just before Abbott's swearing in, which came at the end of a ceremony that also featured an F-16 flyover and performances by the University of Texas at Austin band and the Marian Choristers from San Antonio's Providence Catholic School, Patrick took the oath of office.

Patrick's oath was administered by his son, Ryan Patrick, a state district judge in Houston. 

In his speech, Patrick declared — and repeatedly asked the assembled crowd to shout, as well — "It's a new day in Texas."

As for what that entails, Patrick harkened back to his campaign promises to secure the border, lower property and business taxes, reform education, build the state's infrastructure, and "protect life, family and the Second Amendment." Many of these, he said, would be accomplished in the current legislative session.

"That is what I pledged to do as a candidate and what I will do as lieutenant governor," Patrick said. "My goal is to be the best lieutenant governor in the history of this state."

As he emphasized his desire to pass legislation giving students vouchers for private schools, Patrick invoked Martin Luther King Jr. and his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

"I don't think he could have dreamed that 52 years later, that many of our inner-city schools would still be failing out children," Patrick said. 

The new lieutenant governor also emphasized his desire to end the gas tax, keep the Common Core curriculum out of the state's schools, and to fund border security at the highest levels in the state's history.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin, noted Patrick’s more dynamic tone.

“It’s hard not to watch both of those speeches and not notice just how energetically Patrick is already asserting himself as lieutenant governor,” said Henson, a Texas Tribune pollster. “It’s not that Gov. Abbott was somehow especially passive, but Lt. Gov. Patrick was very aggressive in both tone and content.”

This could signal more than a difference in style. Traditionally, the lieutenant governor’s office has been considered, in many ways, the more powerful of the two, though that model has not held up under Perry and outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

“Patrick appears poised to re-assert the position of lieutenant governor that we have not seen in the last decade,” Henson said.

Many events were scheduled for the rest of the day following the ceremony, including a barbecue lunch, a parade on Congress Avenue, and a black tie ball featuring country music stars Pat Green and Lady Antebellum.

Not all observers were excited by the inauguration day festivities. Matt Angle, a Democratic consultant who was a top adviser to Davis, said Abbott "enters office with a record of attacking and dividing Texans while looking out for himself and his donors."

"We’ll find out over the next several weeks whether Governor Abbott’s inclusive words today are matched with inclusive and constructive actions," Angle said in a statement. "He hasn't yet earned any benefit of doubt."

Emily Ramshaw contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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State government Dan Patrick Governor's Office Greg Abbott