AUSTIN, Texas – Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas is on a comeback from a pandemic that has killed more than 36,000 people here — third-most in the U.S. — and steered America’s biggest red state Monday night into a thicket of battles over voting, policing and immigration that are likely to deepen political divides in the months ahead.
In his final State of the State address before he is on the ballot for a third term in 2022, Abbott called for outlawing the cutting of police budgets and ordered the GOP majority in the Texas Capitol to prioritize “election integrity,” while making no mention that there was no evidence of widespread fraud during the 2020 elections.
He also demanded more gun protection on the books at a time when the NRA is newly looking to reincorporate in Texas, and more anti-abortion laws in a state that already has some of the most restrictive measures in the country.
Democrats used their rebuttal to narrowly tear into Abbott’s handling of the pandemic and paint a bleaker picture than his upbeat assessments, saying an uneven response continues letting cases spread and leaves cities powerless to manage outbreaks.
“Our comeback is already materializing,” Abbott said. “Texans are returning to work. Students are returning to school. Families are re-establishing routines. With each passing day of more vaccinations and increased immunity, normalcy is returning to Texas.”
Abbott, who has not ruled out a 2024 presidential run, delivered his State of the State for the on primetime television in Texas for the first time — rather than in front of lawmakers in the state Capitol, where COVID-19 worries continues to restrict gatherings.
But that gave Abbott an even larger audience than usual to defend his pandemic response — which has come under attack from members of his own party — at a moment when Texas, like most of the U.S., is finally seeing hospitalizations and cases fall after reaching record highs in recent weeks.
He praised frontline hospital workers for their resilience and declared expanding broadband access a priority in the aftermath of a pandemic that forced millions to work and go to school from home. There was no mention of direct relief for Texans put of work but a demand for legislation that would protect businesses from pandemic-related lawsuits.