Texas Gov. Greg Abbott participated in a statewide Town Hall Thursday, hosted by Nexstar Media Group, Inc. News anchors Neal Barton of KETK-TV and Sally Hernandez of KXAN-TV, as well as political reporter Phil Prazan of KXAN-TV, are moderating the event at the University of Texas at Tyler. Abbott addressed topics such as gun policies, especially in the wake of the El Paso shooting; immigration; and school safety, among others.
The Abbott Town Hall closed with Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro delivering the Democratic response, saying: “Texas is at a crossroads. Either we succumb to the politics of hate and grievance or we embrace our growth and full potential – and the diversity and opportunity that comes with it.”
Castro pointed to issues like gun reform/red flag laws and Medicaid expansion as ones that Texas can work with the federal government over.
“Today, Democrats and Republicans could put a plan on the table that enacts red flag laws, so law enforcement has the tools to stop tragedy before it strikes; we could require universal background checks on all firearm purchases; and we could keep weapons of war off our streets,” said Castro.
Castro also pointed to issues like health care, investing to combat climate change and ensuring disaster preparedness.
Governor Abbott wished his wife a happy 38th anniversary, saying he wouldn’t be where he is today without her. Abott explained that his wife helped “piece” him back together after the accident that resulted in the loss of his ability to walk.
“She is the first Hispanic First Lady in the history of Texas. She shows unity and support and love for everybody in this state.”
An audience member asked about voter registration and how lawmakers will empower the Secretary of State to be certain that the registration process is guarded.
Abbott says he knows that voter fraud and cheating occurs and that he’s committed to punishing it whenever and wherever it occurs. “We need to make sure that only those who are eligible to vote are voting.”
“This is a complex process.”
When asked on laws to close gap on students of color not meeting education requirements and success. Abbott pointed to Dallas’ schools — where he says that through funding strategies provided through his school finance plan — which he says turned around results for students of color.
Abbott explained his intention to keep prioritizing education and educators in Texas, saying “A key component of our democracy is our educators…we thank every teacher who has ever served.”
“We’ve provided teacher pay raises across the entire state of Texas this session.”
Abbott explained that Texas is not only investing money into schools, but investing time to make sure that graduates go on and become prepared. “Investing in results.”
On helping those who have been incarcerated to be able to find work once they’ve paid their debt:
“We want to help and promote them into being productive citizens of the state of Texas.” Abbott explained that recent legislation aimed to address this issue exactly.
“It doesn’t matter if you have an arrest record, we want you to have a job.”
When asked about what his plans are to help mental health support for the black community, Abbott said that people need to know what he did this session.
“We’ve never addressed it as profoundly as we did this last session.”
Abbott says after the Santa Fe shootings, that lawmakers spoke to experts on mass shootings and that all agreed mental health support needed to be worked on. The Governor pointed to Texas’ Mental Health Consortium, which addresses mental health needs in Texas and which, the Governor says received a great deal of funding this past session.
In response to a question from a Boy Scout about what in his life prepared him for his future, Abbott explained that the accident that caused the loss of his ability to walk that led him to become the leader that he is today.
“For me, I had a very transformative event — one that left me in a wheelchair. Overcoming a challenge of an accident that breaks your life in half, and then realizing that even though you had that accident, you can still move on. It was after the accident that put me in the wheelchair that I went on to become a Supreme Court Justice, the longest-serving Attorney General, and now Governor of the great state of Texas.”
A Hawkins resident asked the Governor about what lawmakers would do to bring resources like internet to places like Hawkins, Abbott explained that everyone needs internet access, saying: “We passed rural broadband funding to make sure that all corners of the state of Texas will have equal access to Internet. This is hugely important, because the way the world works today is if one group of people have access to the Internet and one group of people only have access to hard documents like books and papers, it’ll be a divided state.
Abbott explained that during the past session, the state is working with Internet providers to roll out 5G, which will be coming to homes very soon. “It will completely change the world in which you live,” said Abbott.
When asked about his attempt to raise sales taxes last legislative session, Abbott explained that higher sales taxes could help the state cut property taxes by “30%, 50%, even get rid of property taxes altogether.”
The Governor says in order to cut property taxes, another revenue stream has to be coming in and that the one that seems to be the most agreeable is a consumption tax.
An audience member from Smith County asked the Governor what he’s done to reduce his property taxes.
Abbott said that lawmakers have used over $5 billion to reduce property tax rates, an average of 7% reduction first year, with an increased reduction in the second year.
“Bottom line is this: you deserve to own your home as opposed to paying rent to the government.”
Question: Does the president need to change his tone [to bridge racial divides and ensure the GOP’s continued operation]?
Abbott explained that the administration’s success in decreasing unemployment among people of color is what matters to them, in his experience. He continued to touch upon 2020’s presidential election as it relates to the GOP, explaining that he feels unconcerned.
Abbott: “This is a dangerous year for the Democrats. They’re pushing Socialism. When you compare Capitalism vs. Socialism…I tell you what, I think the election’s going to look pretty good for the Republicans. Because I will tell you this: the United States of America has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system in the history of the world. America is gonna rise and remain strong after this election!”
When announced about whether he saw a political shift happening in Texas, Abbott said he doesn’t see any big dynamic changing. “Texas is a red state and it will stay a red state in the next election.”
Abbott pointed to his “freedom agenda,” which he says aims to protect people from unfair laws like red light cameras, which have been banned, and laws that may infringe upon freedom of speech.
Abbott also urged audience members to vote in the next election to “prohibit an income tax in Texas!”
Abbott says Border Patrol needs better funding but that in the meanttime Texas will do what it has to do. “In Texas, we fully embrace legal immigration. Our focus is illegal immigration.”
An audience member asked about Texas’ role in immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border and Abbott said that Texas was having to spend money on immigration because the federal government isn’t doing its job.
When asked why he deployed 1,000 members of the National Guard to the border, he explained that during that time 45,000 people came in from different countries. “When Border Patrol is making arrests, they’re not at the border, doing their jobs.” He said that National Guard deployment allowed Texas to have more boots on the ground at the border.
When asked about the current controversy regarding an alleged backdoor deal involving Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen and whether it validated calls for his resignation, Abbott said he wasn’t sure and that Texans need to know what happened.
Abbott was asked about Red Flag Laws in Texas and he offered a measured response, elaborating on their benefit but also asking, “Would a red flag law worked to have prevent the shooting in El Paso? The answer is no.”
“The shooter in El Paso had demonstrated no red flags at all that would have triggered any type of mechanism that would have prevented him from getting a gun in the first place. So when you start talking about passing laws, it’s important that you have laws that are going to be able to prevent the crimes you are trying to prevent.”
Abbott said that in the long-run, Texas will take a balanced and measured stance that respects gun owners’ Second Amendment rights.
When asked whether he would call for a special session to address domestic terrorism, he said that lawmakers won’t rush to push laws through. He explained the importance of making sure laws are created that will pass and will work. “We will all work together on the best ideas and strategies and vet them the way they need to be vetted to make sure we will come up with laws that are going to pass and work.”
An El Pasoan asked Abbott what can be done to bridge the gap between difference of opinion on gun control laws. Abbott turned to his bracelet, which reads “#ElPasoStrong.”
Abbott then replied, “This is the greatest travesty that’s ever happened in El Paso…but to see the way the people came together that day. There was a line around the block to give blood.”
He further explained that more needs to be done to make sure that what happens in El Paso doesn’t happen anywhere again. “What led someone who drove 600 miles over to El Paso to do this? And you don’t have to wonder because the person who did this, the killer, wrote it in a manifesto. He said in that manifesto that the reason that he made this attack is because of racism, because of hate, because of his desire to eliminate people from the face of the Earth,” he said, when discussing the alleged shooter’s racist manifesto posted online.
Abbott said the new Domestic Terrorism Taskforce will be working year-round to address possible incidents head-on.
“We need to call this [domestic terrorism] what it is, and approach it for what it is. Root out racist, domestic terrorism, whether it be in El Paso or any other part of the state of Texas and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The Governor pointed to the laws he got passed after the Santa Fe shootings and said that he will do the same to address domestic terrorism concerns after El Paso.
Abbott started the event by addressing the audience and the city of El Paso: “It’s great to be back in east Texas. But it’s important to know: even though I’m in Tyler tonight, my heart is in El Paso…my heart remains with you and my work to help you is just starting.”
Abbott then gave moderator Sally Hernandez, a native of El Paso, an #ElPasoStrong bracelet, which can be seen below: