Gov. Greg Abbott energizes supporters with vows to focus on education and the border as his third term begins

Attendees cheer and photograph Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick after he takes the oath of office at the state Capitol in Austin on Jan. 17, 2023. (Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune, Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune)

For Meg Ramirez, the beginning of Gov. Greg Abbott’s third term was reason enough to take a day off work and drive several hours from San Benito to watch him get sworn in at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday.

She and her daughter, Marina Herrera, were among hundreds outside the pink-domed Capitol building in Austin as Abbott took the oath of office for the third time, putting him on track to be the second-longest-running governor in state history. They spent much of the day walking around the Capitol grounds and cheering through the inaugural speeches.

“Everybody was excited,” Herrera said. “We got to talk to new people and everyone just had a good attitude about it all — they’re very optimistic.”

Abbott easily sailed to reelection in November after handily beating Democratic firebrand Beto O’Rourke despite a tumultuous second term marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, a statewide blackout, controversial new voting restrictions, a near-total abortion ban and the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.

Hundreds of spectators were welcomed Tuesday morning to the sunny north lawn of the Texas Capitol by the fanfare of marching bands playing “Texas, our Texas.” Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was also sworn in for a third term. Lawmakers and their families sat on stage under a Texas flag as attendees cheered, took videos and fanned themselves in the 80-degree weather.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick delivers his Inaugural address after taking the Oath of Office at the state Capitol in Austin on Jan. 17, 2023.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick delivers his inaugural address after taking the oath of office at the state Capitol in Austin on Jan. 17, 2023 Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

For conservatives and Abbott supporters — even those who don’t agree with the governor on every issue — attending the inauguration was a chance to hear for themselves what Texas’ leaders have planned for the legislative session that began last week and runs through May 29.

In his inaugural address, Abbott focused on “parental rights” in schools, public safety and the stability of the main Texas power grid, which failed spectacularly during a winter storm two years ago.

“I thought it was very promising,” said Herrera, a self-described staunch independent.

Karen Clark, an avid Abbott and Republican supporter, hoped to attend a Catholic Mass that was part of the inaugural events Monday night. But Saint Mary Cathedral reached capacity before the event began. She still prayed earlier in the day for the upcoming legislative session. She said God gave her five words for lawmakers: wisdom, strength, knowledge, courage and guidance.

Members of the clergy accompany Bishop Michael Fors Olson, bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth, down the aisle to begin a mass service, hosted by the 2023 Texas Inaugural Committee, on Jan. 16, 2023. The mass was part of a series of events in honor of Gov. Greg Abbott's 2023 inauguration.

Members of the clergy accompany Bishop Michael Fors Olson, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, down the aisle to begin a Mass service, hosted by the 2023 Texas Inaugural Committee, on Jan. 16, 2023. The Mass was part of a series of events in honor of Gov. Greg Abbott’s 2023 inauguration. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Clark said she frequently writes the governor — and has even been critical, saying he hasn’t done enough about a surge of migrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border. So Clark was excited to receive an invitation to the week’s events in the mail.

“Maybe they appreciated what I had to say. I’ve donated to the Republican Party, although at one point I told him I couldn’t support him. Then he sent me this invitation, so I think he’s trying to woo me back,” Clark joked.

Tuesday morning, supporters gathered in the University Avenue Church of Christ for a prayer service. The church again filled up before the service started, and patrons stood lining the rows to pray for lawmakers and hear from several pastors, including Pastor Todd Stewman of Providence Church in Austin. Stewman led a prayer in which he urged lawmakers to serve the people of Texas with humility and dependence upon God. Raymond Benjamin Barlass, a retired real estate investor, attended Monday’s prayer service.

Barlass said the service reassured him how many Texans support prayer and conservative values.

Raymond Benjamin Barlass and Nancy Barlass stand outside the University Ave Church of Christ after attending a morning prayer that was part of the Inauguration Day ceremonies in Austin on Jan. 17, 2023.

Raymond Benjamin Barlass and Nancy Barlass stand outside the University Avenue Church of Christ after attending a morning prayer that was part of the inauguration day ceremonies in Austin on Jan. 17, 2023. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

“Sometimes when you listen to the media you don’t see that,” Barlass said. “When you see people come together it just energizes you.”

Mark Dunham, a lieutenant colonel with the Texas State Guard, made the drive from his home in El Paso to show support at Abbott’s inauguration Tuesday. He also came to hear about the governor’s plans to secure the border.

Dunham has been working with Operation Lone Star since 2022, serving on the border in Laredo with the National Guard and the Department of Public Safety.

He said border security is his biggest concern this legislative session. Abbott and Patrick reinforced their commitment to securing the border in their inaugural addresses. The crowd cheered when Patrick mentioned Abbott’s busing of undocumented migrants to predominantly Democrat-led cities like New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., since last year.

The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band warms up before the Oath of Office ceremony at the state Capitol in Austin on Jan. 17, 2023.

The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band warms up before the oath of office ceremony at the state Capitol in Austin on Jan. 17, 2023. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

Abbott received national attention when a bus of more than 100 men, women and children arrived at Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in Washington, D.C., in 18-degree weather on Christmas Eve.

Dunham said he supports the governor’s decision because it brought national attention to the border.

“Cities like Eagle Pass and Del Rio get overwhelmed with thousands of people crossing into their towns everyday, and what are they supposed to do with them?” Dunham said. “The governor decided to bus them up. They’re just getting a fraction of what cities like Eagle Pass and Del Rio get every day.”

Many supporters came to Austin in hopes of hearing about the governor’s plan to protect what he’s dubbed “parents’ rights” in public schools. Before Patrick and Abbott took their oath of office, Pastor Randy Weaver from Lone Star Cowboy Church in Montgomery delivered a speech in which he warned about the “Trojan horse of immorality” in Texas schools.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calls attention to a man holding a sign labeled

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calls attention to a man holding a sign reading “Jesus is king,” and praised the man for putting his faith first, as he delivers his inaugural address after taking the oath of office at the state Capitol in Austin on Jan. 17, 2023. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

Many supporters, including Dunham, echoed this sentiment. He said he worries about education in the state.

“I’m concerned with a lot of this wokeness and everything trying to replace family values and religious morality,” he said.

Texas’ Republican leaders have limited how the country’s history of racism is taught in public schools. Some, including Patrick, are now pushing to restrict when schoolchildren can learn about sexuality and gender identity. Proponents say there is an appropriate age to discuss such matters. Critics say such legislation would further marginalize LGBTQ people.

Nicole Earls of McKinney said the biggest issue on her mind heading into the legislative session is parents rights and the ability to make medical and educational decisions for her children without mandates.

“I really believe it’s so important for the government to see that parents deserve to raise their kids the way they think is best,” she said.

Abbott faced heat from all sides during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, fielding criticism both for shutting down businesses and then overriding local mask mandates.

Herrera, who attended the inauguration with her mother who drove in from San Benito, said while she supports Abbott on most things, she doesn’t like the state’s current ban on abortions. Growing up, Herrera said she saw a lot of people in her high school that were parents despite not being ready for the role.

Members of the Mariachi Pumas perform at the Taste of Texas event on the state Capitol grounds in Austin on Jan 17, 2023.

Members of the Mariachi Pumas perform at the Taste of Texas inauguration event on the Capitol grounds in Austin on Jan. 17, 2023. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

“It’s one of those tough decisions that I believe should be made by the individual,” Herrera said.

But Herrera and her mother still support Abbott on other decisions he has made as governor.

“I’m not going to turn against a person because of that specific topic,” Herrera said.

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