Now serving his third term as attorney general, Abbott has been the state’s top lawyer longer than anyone in state history. He is only the second Republican since Reconstruction to hold the post. First elected in 2002, he has won decisively in every election since. His tenure has been marked by high profile cases, often national — and even international — in scope.
Abbott was born in Wichita Falls on Nov. 13, 1957. He was raised in the East Texas town of Longview, and graduated from high school in Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas. He received his undergraduate degree in finance from UT-Austin and his law degree from Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. He married his wife Cecilia in 1982. Their daughter Audrey was born in 1997, adopted by the Abbotts in 1998.
On July 14, 1984, Abbott, 26, was struck by a storm-weakened oak tree while jogging in the River Oaks section of Houston. The accident left him partially paralyzed, and he has used a wheelchair ever since. He sued the property owner, a prominent divorce attorney, who drew in his arborist; together, they settled. Details of the settlement later leaked to the press showed that Abbott will eventually get upwards of $10 million. In August 2013, Abbott discussed the settlement with The Texas Tribune, and his campaign turned over the court documents. Analysis by the Tribune shows that under the terms of the settlement, a combination of periodic lump-sum and monthly payments, Abbott may indeed receive as much as was speculated — if he lives long enough. As it now stands, Abbott has received roughly half of all he may eventually receive — $5.8 million by the end of 2013.
After passing the Texas Bar exam, Abbott entered private legal practice. His political career began in 1993 with a three-year term as a trial judge on the 129th District Court. In 1995, then-Gov. George W. Bush appointed him to the Texas Supreme Court. He was re-elected twice, in 1996 for a two-year term, and in 1998 for a six-year term.
In 2001, Abbott resigned from the court to seek the open state attorney general’s seat, vacated by now-U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. In the 2002 general election, he defeated former Austin mayor (and now state Sen.) Kirk Watson by almost 800,000 votes. In 2006, he beat Democratic opponent David Van Os (whom he also faced and defeated in the 1998 Supreme Court race) by almost a million votes. In 2010, he trounced Democrat Barbara Ann Radnowsky, winning by a margin of 1,495,205 votes.
As state attorney general, Abbott has built a reputation as a staunch conservative and an aggressive litigator. In March 2005, he appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Van Orden v. Perry, arguing that a monument to the Ten Commandments on the north grounds of the state Capitol should be allowed to remain in place. The justices ruled in his favor in a 5-4 vote. Later that year, Abbott sued Sony/BMG on behalf of Texas — the first state to file suit — for installing copy-protection measures on some of its compact discs, which left consumers’ computers open to spyware.
At the state level, Abbott has made the protection of children a priority, going after deadbeat parents for child support and setting up a cyber crimes unit with an emphasis on child pornography. He has also been vigorous in prosecuting businesses for deceptive practices and price-gouging. He has been an outspoken proponent of tort reform, which, in light of his own personal injury case, has raised accusations of hypocrisy. It’s a charge Abbott rejects, saying he’s against frivolous lawsuits and that he would still be able to pursue his own remedies under current law.
Abbott has shown up repeatedly on the national radar, suing the federal government 27 times since 2010 over issues ranging from Environmental Protection Agency regulations to the Women’s Health Program. Critics have accused Abbott of political posturing — he sued the U.S. only three times during the Bush administration — but he denies the charge, accusing Washington of unprecedented overreach.
As for his future ambitions, Abbott was widely considered to be a likely successor to Perry. On July 8, 2013, when Perry announced he wasn't going to seek a fourth term, Abbott, who had reported a hefty campaign war chest of $18 million at the beginning of the year, was identified as the leading contender to succeed Perry, even before he announced his candidacy.
Those ambitions were confirmed – on the 29th anniversary of his accident – when Abbott formally launched his gubernatorial campaign in downtown San Antonio. In his speech, he outlined his conservative credentials. Abbott told his audience he had sued the federal government 27 times, mentioning his stand against Obamacare. He touted his constitutional knowledge, saying the “2nd Amendment & the 10th Amendment are not suggestions: they are guaranteed rights,” going on to enumerate his accomplishments as attorney general.