Take the hot topic of the summer in Austin: Abortion. Wrote veteran Houston Chronicle capitol columnist Peggy Fikac on July 15: “[T]he Texas Capitol became a powder keg of emotion after Perry put proposed abortion restrictions before lawmakers in two special sessions. [Texans] want to know how the issue will be handled by the governor who succeeds Perry.” Fikac, despite good efforts, could not pin Abbott down on how he might handle the issue—which she acknowledged in her column’s lede:
The language of abortion is usually clear-cut. Then you talk to someone like Attorney General Greg Abbott.
It’s clear that Abbott, aiming to be Texas’ next governor, opposes abortion. But when you ask the standard question—whether he would allow exceptions—he doesn’t give the standard answer.
In Houston, KHOU’s Doug Miller buttonholed Abbott during a July 15 campaign stop and pushed Abbott to say where he really stands on the issue. Reported Miller:
Abbott—a disciplined, on-message campaigner—dodges questions about just how far his opposition to abortion goes.
Questioned about whether he would support or oppose legislation banning abortions for rape or incest victims, Abbott avoids the question…
When pressed again to directly answer the question, he dodged it.
This is just one example of the difference between running for—and, being—attorney general versus governor. It is one thing to, say, select and build a case for trial. It is another to declare with precision a policy in a messy debate that will meet with the approval of the public and their representatives. Reporters should keep pressing.
On the eve of Abbott’s announcement, the Dallas Morning News’s Christy Hoppe had a detailed profile of Abbott—from his “early life,” to his time as an “optimistic” civil litigator, a judge, and, since 2003, the state’s attorney general, when “he became much more conservative, some observers said.” Among the interesting nuggets Hoppe offered: that, for all the headlines Abbott has reaped in suing the federal government, he has actually lost far more times than he has won, prevailing in just five cases and losing or having cases dismissed in 12 instances. Hoppe also described “at a glance” a handful of recent cases brought by Attorney General Abbott, noting, for example, how he “pushed to have the state’s ‘voter ID’ law implemented,” and he argued that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.
High up in her piece, Hoppe noted that Abbott and Perry “fish in the same pond” for campaign contributions. “An analysis of the last reports they filed with the state showed that Perry and Abbott tapped 140 of the same donors who gave more than $200,” Hoppe wrote. This is another thread for reporters to follow—look into (rather than merely mentioning) Abbott’s overflowing campaign coffers. The New York Times picked up another interesting thread this week, exploring how Abbott has “draw[n] support and critics for talk of [his] disability,” and noting the stand Abbott took against the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Despite the “race is already over” tone pervading early coverage, there’s still plenty of time for reporters to push and dig to paint a fuller picture of Greg Abbott for Texas voters—you know, the folks who ultimately decide who is electable.
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