President Obama’s visit to Texas became fodder in the governor’s race Thursday, with Democrat Wendy Davis suggesting he should visit the U.S-Mexico border in person and Republican Greg Abbott challenging him to adopt the “Texas model” in Washington.
During a news conference at a downtown Austin coffee shop, Abbott highlighted the growth of women-owned businesses in the state and said Texas was thriving despite a heavy-handed federal government.
The Texas attorney general called Obama “all hat and no cattle” and said he hoped that while the president was in the state, he would “learn why Texas is the best state in the nation for creating jobs.”
“The Texas model promotes opportunity and rewards ingenuity by having less government, low taxes, predictable regulations and the right-to-work laws that have prevented disasters like what we’ve seen in Detroit, Michigan,” Abbott said.
Davis, who spoke Thursday at the Austin Convention Center to an Association of Texas Professional Educators summit, was asked by reporters afterward about Republican demands that Obama travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to see firsthand the unfolding crisis caused by a wave of children migrants.
“I think it’s important to do that," Davis said. "I hope at some point in time he will make time in order to do it, because I think it’s one thing to hear the number. It’s another thing to see for yourself the people, thousands, who are coming across, many children contained in pens as they first come into the control of Border Patrol,” she said. “We can hear it about it in the abstract, but to see it for ourselves provides real meaning behind what’s going on."
The Democratic senator was also asked if she was distancing herself from Obama, whose approval ratings are particularly low in conservative Texas. She spoke to reporters about an hour before Obama’s speech, which was just a few blocks away.
Davis said she was “absolutely not” distancing herself from the president, noting that she met with him a few weeks ago when he delivered a speech on civil rights in Austin. She told reporters she had to be in Dallas later Thursday to continue speaking out about her opponent’s effort to “hide the location of dangerous chemicals from Texas families.”
Davis was referring to Abbott’s controversial ruling in May preventing the disclosure of data that reveals where chemical plants are storing hazardous chemicals.
The “Tier II” reports had been available for years under the federal Community Right to Know law, but Abbott’s office ruled that a 2003 state homeland security law — passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — prevented public dissemination of the reports on the grounds that evil-doers could use the information in them to make a bomb.
The decision provoked a furor from critics, including Davis, who said average citizens would no longer be able to find out what dangerous chemicals might be stored in their neighborhoods.
Abbott told reporters last week that Texans could just “drive around” their neighborhoods to locate chemical facilities themselves. Then, using a state law providing direct access to the reports, he said they could ask the plants for the Tier II reports.
After several reporters tested the theory and were shown the door at various chemical facilities, Abbott acknowledged that citizens did not have easy access to the information and has since proposed a new law that would require fire departments to make the data available during normal business hours.
Although his campaign had earlier suggested that local fire departments already could give out that information, Abbott told The Texas Tribune in an interview Thursday that they were not allowed to disseminate the information.
“Right now they can’t,” he said. “That’s why my proposal is to make this information more conveniently accessible, is to allow people to seek and obtain the information from the fire marshals who already have this information.”
Abbott was asked what might prevent a terrorist from gaining access to the information through the fire marshals or the departments they work for. He said it would be up to those local officials to determine whether the people asking for it were up to no good.
“If this information can be obtained from a fire marshal, it can be done in a way where they’re going to know who it is seeking the information and they can make assessments about whether or not the people acquiring the information can pose any type of terroristic threat.”