AUSTIN -- In announcing his campaign for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-Texas) selected historic downtown San Antonio as his starting point.
The city has become a key power center for Texas' growing Hispanic community, a community which Abbott has been quick to embrace in interviews across Texas since declaring his gubernatorial ambitions on Sunday.
"I'm married to a Latina, and I've been connected to the Hispanic community for more than 30 years now," Abbott told KVUE Thursday. "I'm going to bring the perspective of reaching out and connecting with all of the racial diversity in this state, and my wife could be the first Latina First Lady in the State of Texas."
As attorney general, Abbott defended voting maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature which federal judges found intentionally discriminated against Hispanic voters. Asked about his defense of the maps, Abbott suggested Republicans aren't the political party doing the discriminating.
"Democrats use redistricting laws against Hispanics," said Abbott, arguing temporary replacement maps drawn by a separate panel of federal judges resulted in several Hispanic Republicans losing their seats in the most recent election. Abbott points to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act used to block the Texas maps as a vindication.
"The State of Texas has shown that the connection that the Republican party has made with the Hispanic community by drawing the lines that elect Hispanic Republicans has been the right decision," Abbott said.
"To say that we somehow drew these lines that discriminate against Hispanics just doesn't make any sense. They drew the maps," state Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) told KVUE Friday. Chairman of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus, Uresti argues the high court's decision doesn't mean the original maps weren't discriminatory.
"In fact the courts were very clear last year that those maps intentionally discriminated against the Hispanic community," said Uresti. Along with Abbott's defense of a voter ID law which was similarly deemed by the courts to be discriminatory towards poor and minority voters, Uresti says the gubernatorial candidate will have to do more to win over Hispanic voters.
"Actions speak louder than words, and we've seen the actions by the Attorney General and they have not been favorable to the Hispanic community," said Uresti. "Simply because you can say a few words in Spanish doesn't mean all of a sudden that you care about the Hispanic community."
Abbott has also defended anti-abortion laws supported by many Hispanic Catholics like state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), the lone Senate Democrat to vote in favor of the controversial anti-abortion omnibus House Bill 2. On that particular issue, Lucio says Abbott could potentially gain traction among many Hispanic voters.
"It can't hurt him, that's for sure," said Lucio. "But as a candidate for governor there are other issues that are pro-life issues: Issues dealing with feeding hungry children, making sure that he addresses the housing needs of the poor, the working class poor that don't qualify for state services but need assistance. So it's going to go beyond the pro-life issue."
"It will be interesting to see how Hispanic voters react overall to his candidacy," said Lucio, noting Abbott's defense of the recent voting laws could raise questions. "His candidacy is going to be looked at very closely. Like Governor Perry and Governor George W. Bush and others, they will get a significant part of the Hispanic voting community -- if they address the issues that are important to them overall."