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Government/Politics

Coming In After Winds Of Change, Abbott Has Chance To Build A Legacy

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Ryan Poppe | Texas Public Radio
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The last time a new Texas governor was sworn in, 9/11 hadn’t happened. We hadn’t been swept into the War on Terror. Fort Hood was just a military base, not a symbol. Ike was a casual reference to a popular former President, not a marauding tropical cyclone.

Same-sex marriage wasn’t a hot button issue in Texas, and in fact, was still illegal around the world — the Netherlands would become the first country to legalize it exactly 100 days after Rick Perry’s Dec. 21, 2000, gubernatorial inauguration. The Tea Party, or its modern-day version, hadn’t risen from the proverbial ashes of the events of 1773.

Apple's iTunes wasn’t around [being an early SoundJam user doesn't count] and there was no iPad or iPhone. We didn't have the Android operating system. Nor Facebook. Or Twitter. Even Wikipedia went online almost a month after Perry took over as the state’s 47th governor. Life, in fact, was remarkably different.

In a few hours, the state of Texas will welcome its 48th governor and 42nd lieutenant-governor in a big, splashy inauguration. There have been reports about how this is already a historic occasion on two counts. First, because Gov. Greg Abbott takes over after Gov. Perry retires as Texas’ longest-serving governor and second, because Abbott’s wife of 33 years, Cecilia Phalen Abbott, will take over as the state’s first Latina First Lady.

It is that, but not just because she will be the first woman of Hispanic descent or the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants to stay in the governor’s mansion. It’s also because she and her husband are so quietly representative of this new Texas, one where almost 45 percent of Texans reportedly have Hispanic ancestry of some sort, a Texas where mixed-race families should soon be the norm.

In the 10 years after Perry took office, a period through which Abbott was Attorney General for the most (from 2002), the Hispanic population of Texas has grown rapidly. In 2000, there were about 20.85 million Texans, of which roughly 6.67 million were Hispanic, making up 32 percent of the population.

By 2010, Hispanics accounted for 9.46 million or 37.6 percent of 25.14 million Texans. There’s been an overall increase of 20.6 percent in Texas residents during this period, but a 41.8 percent increase in Hispanic Texas residents. That’s pretty significant.

Against this backdrop of Greg and Cecilia Abbott and the Hispanic growth story, you also have the Texas legislature’s overwhelmingly conservative look, the border surge, and the new Lt.-Gov. Dan Patrick’s focus on the repeal of the Texas DREAM Act, all of which make for an interesting, if potentially explosive situation in the weeks ahead.

On a final, significant note, when he takes oath as governor, Abbott will also represent the most vulnerable 18.7 percent of Americans, people with disability, those who often have the least opportunities and the least confidence to make something of their lives. Abbott has been around for many years as Texas attorney general but as governor, his profile changes dramatically.

They might or might not agree with his politics, but everyone dealing with people with disability — from advocates and parents of children with special needs to the vast number of U.S. veterans returning from war — has got to agree that watching a man in a wheelchair move into the chair of the governor of the second most populous state in the nation, does symbolize hope, the hope that tomorrow does hold something better.