ATLANTA — Speaking before a crowd of hundreds of conservative activists, Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday that government bureaucracy has broken Washington, D.C. – but that the spirit of American independence is alive and well in red states like Texas.
“Texas has become ground zero for the Tea Party movement because we cherish our independence … our Constitution and the foundational principals of this country as much as any people that live on the face of this earth,” Abbott said.
The speech was among Abbott’s highest-profile appearances outside of Texas since the end of the most recent legislative session. He wasted no time bragging about what lawmakers accomplished under his watch, including increased spending on border security, millions of dollars in tax cuts and open carry of handguns.
The governor received two standing ovations accompanied by thunderous applause during his speech at the RedState Gathering, a conservative grassroots political conference being held over two days in Atlanta.
“He was so enthusiastic about the law. He’s willing to take on the feds,” said Bob Heurich, an attendee from Marietta, Georgia.
Abbott seemed to connect with voters on a political and personal level. The governor, who uses a wheelchair since breaking his back decades ago, joked about his disability and wore it like armor, poking fun at politicians in Washington who claim to have “spines made of steel.”
Brad Bowne, an Atlanta resident who listened to the speech, said Abbott’s take on what he called government intrusion especially resonated with him.
“I like Texas’ general independence and how they believe in the person over the system,” Bowne said. “It works in Texas.”
In his remarks, Abbott lambasted President Obama for engaging in what he described as a consistent overreach of federal power.
“I have set a record in the U.S .that will never be broken,” Abbott said to cheers from the crowd. “I have sued Barack Obama 31 times.”
First-time Abbott listener Bill Schaude, also from Atlanta, said he found the governor “inspiring.”
“I think he reached out and touched the hearts of everyone in that room,” Schaude said. “He articulated what conservatism is. He hit the points right on the head and told us why Texas is distinctive.”
After his remarks, Abbott answered questions from the audience, one of which centered on the controversy over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups. Abbott used the topic to bring up a recent report that former IRS official Lois Lerner disparaged the South in emails related to the scandal.
"I got news for Lois Lerner: Lois Lerner needs to be wearing pinstripes," Abbott said. "You know what they say — orange is the new black."
Reporter Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.