A new MAGA: Mothers Against Greg Abbott mobilizes against the incumbent governor seeking a third term
Mothers Against Greg Abbott has grown into a potent political force in the governor’s race, with a membership of over 50,000 on Facebook. The group recently caught more attention after releasing ads that have gone viral on social media.
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Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language.
A little over a year ago, Nancy Thompson, an Austin mother of three kids, stood alone for two and half hours in front of the Texas Capitol with a sign that said “Mothers Against Greg Abbott.”
She was most upset about the governor’s ban on mask mandates, worried about her son who was medically vulnerable to COVID-19 after being hospitalized for another virus that had “infected all his organs,” she said.
FAQ about Democrats leaving Texas
Why did Democrats leave the state during the special legislative session?
Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives left the state July 12 for Washington D.C. so there wouldn’t be enough members in the chamber for a quorum. The House must maintain a quorum to pass legislation, so by leaving the state Democrats can effectively block the passage of new voting restrictions, which they say would create new barriers for marginalized voters. The Democrats made this move because they don’t have enough votes to kill the legislation as the minority party.
What do these voting bills do?
There are some differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation, but they both would ban drive-thru voting, limit early voting hours, enhance access for partisan poll watchers and prohibit the unsolicited distribution of mail-in voting applications. In what appears to be a concession to Democrats, the bills also create a new correction process for mail-in ballots that are ordinarily rejected.
How have Republican lawmakers responded?
The Texas House voted for a “call of the House”, which allows for law enforcement to track down and arrest Democrats who left the House chamber. But it’s not clear what impact that would have since Democrats are in D.C., where Texas law enforcement does not have jurisdiction. Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to continue to bring lawmakers back for more special sessions until they vote on his priority voting and bail bills.
What does it mean to break quorum?
A quorum is the minimum number of members required for a governing body to conduct official business. In the Texas Legislature, two-thirds of the elected members constitute a quorum in each chamber. That means 100 members of the 150-seat House must be present in the lower chamber and 21 members of the 31-seat Senate must be present in the upper chamber. With at least 51 of the 67 House Democrats vowing to remain out of the state until the special legislative session ends on Aug. 6, there are not enough members present to pass bills.
Has this happened before?
What does this mean for the rest of the special legislative session?
In the attempt to block the passage of voting legislation,
What else was on the agenda?
Other issues included changes to the bail systems, limiting how race is taught in schools and barring transgender athletes from playing on the team matching their gender identity. The Democrats’ walkout also leaves in jeopardy more widely-supported measures like giving more money to retired teachers and restoring funding for more than 2,100 legislative employees. See the full agenda here.
“Honestly, I just didn’t give a shit anymore,” Thompson said. “I was just done. I was so done.”
Now, her protests are not so lonely. Her “Mothers Against Greg Abbott” effort has grown into a potent political force in the governor’s race, with a membership of over 50,000 on Facebook. The group has recently caught more attention after releasing professionally made ads that have gone viral on social media.
They have earned the backing of Abbott’s Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, who told the group Monday their work is “the talk of the town” no matter where he is.
“It’s absolutely transforming what’s possible in Texas right now, and there’s literally not a day that goes by that Amy or I or someone on our team do not get asked, ‘Have you seen that great Mothers Against Greg Abbott ad?’” O’Rourke said, addressing the group virtually along with his wife, Amy.
O’Rourke has long had an advantage with women in his uphill battle against Abbott, leading the governor by 6 percentage points among likely female voters in the latest public survey. But Thompson is working to rally a more specific group: mothers like herself, a onetime Republican who did not get deeply involved in politics until recent years. The group has naturally drawn many Democrats, but Thompson wants it to be as inclusive as possible, and its website calls it “a mix of Democrats, Moderate Republicans and Independents who are ready to work together for change for Texas.”
“We’re just trying to organize the army and make it super accessible to everyday Texans like me, who may not be super involved in politics — until you’re super involved in politics,” Thompson said.
Now Thompson is trying to take the group to the next level for the final three months of the race, organizing chapters throughout the state and endeavoring to put ads on TV. On Monday, it announced it had put up five billboards across the state criticizing Abbott over his response to the Uvalde school shooting.
Abbott’s campaign declined to comment on the group.
Campaign finance records show the group raised $170,000 through June 30, garnering over 2,400 mostly small donations. Thompson said the group has raised at least $200,000 more since then, as its ads blew up online in July. That is a notable amount for such an upstart group, though it still pales in comparison to the eight-figure campaign accounts that both Abbott and O’Rourke have to spread their messages.
While the group has been in existence since last year, it has garnered the most attention yet for the ads it has released this summer. One of them, titled “Whose Choice,” depicts a fictitious scence in which a doctor is counseling a woman about a pregnancy she may need to terminate due to a “catastrophic brain abnormality.” The doctor tells her there is “only one person who can make this choice” — before abruptly picking up a phone and calling Abbott. The ad has gotten over 7 million views on Twitter since it was posted July 25.
O’Rourke called the ads “amazingly effective” Monday.
Thompson is a mother of three from Austin whose professional career has mostly been in marketing. She said she considered herself a Republican — serving as a delegate to the 1988 national convention, for example — until President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. She began to vote Democratic going forward but did not get more actively involved in politics until more recently.
It was not until after Thompson made her initial protest sign last year that she realized it had carried the same acronym as former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan: Make America Great Again. But she laughed it off to herself and stuck with it.
Someone took a picture of Thompson’s protest that day, and it started spreading on social media. Noticing how many people seemed to relate, Thompson created a private Facebook group a few days later using the same name, and by December, it had over 20,000 members.
Thompson noticed membership spiked around major news events involving Abbott, like when the state’s six-week abortion ban went into effect in September. Another jump in membership came in February, when Abbott ordered state agencies to investigate gender-affirming care for transgender kids as child abuse.
“It just seemed like every single time Greg Abbott opened up his mouth, we gained thousands of followers every single time,” Thompson said. “He just spent the last year making enemies of so many Texans.”
The next year, as the group continued to swell and Thompson was looking for volunteers, she met the filmmaker Michelle Mower. Mower offered to help — and to connect Thompson with fellow filmmakers — and before long, they were all holding weekly meetings.
The group’s first ad, “Breaking Bread,” came out April 15, and it depicted three pairs of women who had been driven apart by politics agreeing to reconcile and hash out their differences. Everyone donated their time for the ad, which cost only $600, covering meals and equipment rentals, Thompson said. It would largely remain that way going forward.
Thompson continued to work with Mower and Chelsea Aldrich, an actress and writer. But she also realized she had a valuable resource next door — literally — in her neighbors, David Wolfson and Lauren Sheppard, co-founders of Spoon Films. The company had worked for a political action committee in 2018 that opposed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz when O’Rourke was challenging him — Fuck Ted Cruz PAC — and had leftover footage they were willing to share. Spoon Films ultimately produced ads for Mothers Against Greg Abbott featuring Cecile Richards, O’Rourke’s national finance chair and the daughter of former Gov. Ann Richards.
Along the way, Thompson also met fellow likeminded mothers like Cheryl Richard, a retired oil and gas executive from Austin. Richard said she first started talking to Thompson last year when Richard was thinking about challenging Abbott herself.
Richard ultimately provided $3,000 in seed funding to help make an ad called “Nothing Changes,” in which several mothers speak to the camera about overcoming political apathy in Texas. Richard also lent her horse, Ivan, who has a cameo in the ad.
Richard, 66, has twin sons and five grandchildren, with another on the way. Four of her grandchildren are girls. She said she identified as Republican her whole life until “around 2016,” when Trump was elected president and she realized how much the GOP had drifted away from her on some issues. She supports abortion rights and “reasonable” gun control, she said, like raising the age to buy an assault rifle to 21.
“I don’t feel like I left the Republican Party as much as it left me,” Richard said. “I’ve always been a moderate. I’m still a moderate. … And I think there are a lot of moderates out there, particularly women, who feel left behind and for the same reasons I felt left behind.”
Richard acknowledged that beating Abbott is “not just about putting out ads.” The “much tougher” mission, she said, is turning out more voters.
After all, the ads produced by the anti-Cruz PAC garnered plenty of clicks and media coverage, but O’Rourke still lost to Cruz by 3 percentage points.
Thompson appears aware of the challenge. She is working to expand the group’s advertising, filming more ads for the web, hoping to eventually air them on TV, and putting up the billboards, which spotlight Abbott’s statement after theUvalde shooting that it “could’ve been worse.” But she is also helping establish MAGA chapters across the state, including places as far-flung as Alpine in far West Texas and Palestine in East Texas.
The group has grown so much that she recently had to bring on two part-time employees, an accountant and a fundraiser.
While O’Rourke addressed the group for the first time Monday, Thompson has made sure to operate it independently of his campaign, mindful of campaign finance regulations. In fact, Thompson said, it was not until the last week of July that O’Rourke started following her on Twitter.
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