Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday night he would not call the Legislature into special session in response to the shooting in El Paso that left 22 dead, and instead use other methods.
Abbot outlined a dual strategy to address the shooting — his recent creation of a task force to address domestic terrorism and three days of roundtable discussions with El Paso leaders, similar to what he did after the school shooting in Santa Fe.
“You don’t have to wonder because the person who did it, the killer, wrote a manifesto,” Abbot said. “The reason why he made this attack is because of racism, because of hate, because of his desire to eliminate people from the face of the planet.”
Abbott made the comments during a town hall at the UT Tyler Cowan Center, which he did in partnership with NBC stations across the state. He took questions from the audience in Tyler and from cities such as Allen, Austin, El Paso and Lubbock.
Jose Reza, of El Paso, asked through a video what he could do about the shooting. “Even though we may have differing opinions on the Second Amendment, we need to find something that works for both sides,” Reza said.
“Our goal is not to go to Austin, Texas, and for people to fight with each other,” Abbott said. “Our goal is to make sure that we find strategies of laws we can pass so that people can feel safe.
“Remember this: Government doesn’t require the Legislature to be in session in order for it to work,” he said. “There are so many levers that the governor has. … It doesn’t require a special session for Texas to act because we can act right now.”
Abbott also addressed issues such as immigration, the future of the Republican Party and local property taxes.
“Illegal immigration is a federal issue,” said Wood County Sheriff Thomas Castloo. “Yet, the state of Texas is spending resources —we’re sending DPS troopers, we’re sending down the National Guard — but they lack the arrest authority to do anything with these.”
Abbott laid the blame on Congress for not giving enough funding to federal border patrol. Control in Congress is currently split between parties, with Democrats in the majority in the U.S. House and Republicans in the majority in the U.S. Senate.
“If Congress would stop failing us, we could save this money,” Abbott said. He pointed to $800 million that the Texas Legislature passed to add 500 officers to the Texas Department of Public Safety. He said the troopers can make arrests.
Asked how he would measure success, Abbott said it’s difficult to come up with a metric. He said if there were no enforcement on the Texas-Mexico border, it would be “open border season.”
Daniel Clecker, an incoming UT Tyler freshman, pointed to the resignations of four Republican members of Congress who have recently announced their retirements or resignations.
“People can’t stay in office forever,” Abbott said. “But let me answer the other key part — is there any big dynamic change going on in the state of Texas? Texas is a red state and is going to stay a red state.”
The moderator asked Abbot about U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, the only black Republican in the U.S. House, and whether President Donald Trump needs to change his tone to secure the health of the Republican Party.
“What I find voters really look at is results,” Abbott said. He pointed to low unemployment rates for people in the black and Hispanic communities.
“This is a very dangerous year for the Democrats,” he added. “The leaders they have running for president, they’re expressing socialism.”
On property taxes, he said the Legislature was able to use $5 billion to buy down property tax rates for the next two years, and lower the amount schools can increase their property tax levies going forward.
“They will be required to decrease their property tax rates to stay within the property tax limits,” Abbott said. “You deserve to own your home as opposed to paying rent to government, and we did more to effectuate that in the history of the state this year.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, offered a video rebuttal to Abbott’s town hall, advocating for more action in response to the El Paso shooting. Locally, Bill Brannon, a senior adviser for the Texas Democratic Party, offered his opinion.
“Texas is going to be the biggest battleground in 2020,” Brannon said. “Because one you’ve got demographic change, two you’ve got the antics of the president, three you’ve basically got failed governments on the part of the state.”
“I respect Gov. Abbott, but when he ... says ‘socialism’ and then talks about the great roads we’re working together on and the great schools we’re working together on, what does he think socialism is?” he asked.
The event at UT Tyler attracted more than 800 people, including Texas Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola; Reps. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, and Cole Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant, the Smith County judge, city councilmen and area business leaders.
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