Davis attacks Abbott over embattled cancer fund connection

AUSTIN -- Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis chose a popular East Austin breakfast spot to serve up a fresh attack on Republican gubernatorial opponent Greg Abbott.

Under his watch, his donors siphoned off millions and millions of tax dollars from cancer patients and from you, Davis told supporters gathered Tuesday morning at Juan in a Million, a Tex-Mex restaurant on East Cesar Chavez Street.

The attack follows a video released by Progress Texas, a political action committee friendly to Davis, highlighting the attorney general's oversight of the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute of Texas. Commonly referred to by the acronym CPRIT, the embattled state agency is accused of granting money intended for cancer research to companies with ties to Republican leaders. The video features scathing criticism of Abbott by cancer survivors, one of whom spoke before Davis at Tuesday's event.

When accusations of cronyism within CPRIT came to a head in 2012, Abbott's office was asked to investigate the agency. In December 2013, the Travis County Public Integrity Unit secured an indictment CPRIT executive Jerry Cobbs in connection with an allegedly improper $11 million grant to Texas biotechnology firm Peloton.

When Abbott served on the oversight board of our state's cancer research institute, he was not looking out for cancer patients, said Davis. He was looking out for his political donors. Greg Abbott should know that if he has degraded the job that he has, he shouldn't be applying for a promotion.

Abbott's campaign fired back at the CPRIT attack with a statement to KVUE Monday from Texans for Greg Abbott communications director Matt Hirsch.

Having just lost a family member to cancer, Greg Abbott thinks it offensive that the Davis campaign would knowingly use the Cancer Institute as a political ploy especially when her claims are completely false, said Hirsch. Texans deserve better.

The campaign points out Abbott initially asked lawmakers not to put him on CPRIT's oversight board, citing concerns at the time over the potential for conflicts of interest. Abbott ultimately appointed a staff member to take his place on the board, a move his campaign on Tuesday compared to Davis' vote on toll legislation in the Texas Senate shortly before her law firm began work for the North Texas Tollway Authority. Davis' relationship with NTTA was raised by a political opponent in 2012, and has resurfaced in the race for governor.

Greg Abbott did what Sen. Davis failed to do -- he removed himself from any potential conflict of interest, said Hirsch. Greg Abbott upheld the ethical standards that all elected officials should use, and he retained the independence that allowed him to investigate and help prosecute wrongdoing at CPRIT. Sen. Davis violated ethical standards by casting votes that put taxpayer money in her own bank account.

Look, the only thing that Greg Abbott recused himself from was his responsibility to cancer patients, to Texans and to taxpayers all over this state, Davis retorted Tuesday. The state senator maintains her legal work has never influenced her votes as a legislator.

During her speech, Davis referenced two bill she authored addressing CPRITduring the 83rd Texas Legislature. One of them, SB386, would have overhauled the accountability process and removed Abbott from the board, but died in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The other, SB895, required CPRITto conform to state open records laws. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in June 2013.

A handful of demonstrators showed up outside the morning event, holding signs citing ethics concerns and referencing an FBI investigation into NTTA. Asked about the investigation and the demonstrators outside, Davis accused her opponent of trying to shift the spotlight away from his own connection to CPRIT.

Greg Abbott once again is working to distract from his own record, his active failures to protect that fund, to look out, to make sure that it was going toward cancer patients, replied Davis, who said Abbott was placed on the board by the Texas Legislature to act as the watchdog for Texas families. And rather than appearing and being that watchdog, he purposefully removed himself from that table, in order instead to look the other way while his donors were benefiting to the tune of about $42 million of taxpayer funds, money that was intended to go to cancer patients and to find a cure for cancer.

After an apparent snub by the Democratic Governors Association last week, Davis told media she had yet to speak with the organization dedicated to supporting Democrats in gubernatorial races. Still recovering from neck surgery three weeks ago to remove bone spurs and degenerative discs causing pain in her arm and shoulder, Davis told media Tuesday the surgery hasn't hampered her ability to speak.

I feel pretty good, said Davis. The campaign stop featured a significantly more forceful candidate. Punctuating her words with energy, Davis followed her attack on Abbott with a call to arms, rallying supporters to join phone banks Wednesday in several Texas cities. Casting Abbott as a political insider, Davis hearkened back to the filibuster against controversial anti-abortion legislation that catapulted her to the national spotlight in 2013.

So often when I'm talking with y'all, your tears start to flow, said Davis. I think it's because you see that -- if only for a moment -- on that night of June 25 in our Texas Capitol, you'd finally gotten the upper hand on political insiders who try to buy elections.

I promise you this, Davis concluded. That when I am elected governor on November 4 of this year with your help, your voices forever more, every day that I walk into that Capitol, will be the ones that matter absolutely the very most to me.


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