AUSTIN, Texas — In a press conference at the Capitol Monday, Texas Governor-elect Greg Abbott announced key staff hires and outline his top priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Now that the elections are over, Abbott called this a time for unity and said that his agenda would improve the lives of all Texans.
“On Election Night, I made a promise to the people of Texas to begin work immediately to keep Texas the beacon of opportunity and the best state in the nation. A promise is worth little without the right plan and the right people to turn that plan into action,” said Abbott. “I have outlined a Blueprint for an even better Texas of tomorrow, and I am proud to have an experienced leadership team with the proven skills and the deep commitment needed to make my promises a reality. We are ready to get to work on Day One to ensure greater opportunity for all Texans.”
In forming his senior staff, Abbott drew heavily from his campaign and from his staff at the Attorney General’s office. As Breitbart Texas reported, Abbott had already announced that he had selected Cameron County Judge Carlos to be Secretary of State as his first official appointment, as well as selecting Daniel Hodge, the First Assistant Attorney General, to head his transition team. Monday, it was officially announced that Hodge would be his chief of staff, as many had expected. Abbott’s two Deputy Chiefs of Staff, Julia Rathgeber and Robert Allen, come from the Department of Insurance and Attorney General’s Office, respectively. Also moving over from the Attorney General’s Office were Jimmy Blacklock, General Counsel, and several other policy advisors.
Other noteworthy hires include Matt Hirsch as Communications Director and Amelia Chassé as Press Secretary, both of whom were part of the communications team for Abbott’s campaign, and Kim Snyder, who was his Deputy Campaign Manager, as Director of Scheduling and Advance.
Looking forward to the upcoming Legislative Session, Abbott described education as his first priority, mentioning that he was disturbed that five out of ten of the top public universities were in California and none were in Texas. He also wanted to work on improving the state’s pre-kindergarten programs. Other top priorities included improving border security, infrastructure improvements, and finding ways to “elevate economic development” and reduce taxes. Abbott said that his transportation plan would direct an additional $4 billion for roads without raising taxes or imposing tolls, which have become more widespread on Texas roads in recent years but also the subject of growing criticism.
When asked about whether he would be willing to consider Medicaid expansion, Abbott declined, but said that he would be looking at a “variety” of options to improve health care in Texas.
Abbott had generally positive comments about his recent meetings last Friday in Washington, D.C., saying that he was able to meet with not only President Barack Obama, but also Vice President Joe Biden and a number of key Cabinet members. He praised them all as being “focused on reducing redundant regulations,” and for saying that “they wanted to create an open door for states, governors, and businesses.” A significant part of their discussions focused on infrastructure and transportation improvements, like the expansions to the ports in Houston and other Texas cities as a result of the expanded Panama Canal.
Abbott also said that he had brought up “on three separate occasions” the issue of the federal government reimbursing Texas for its border security costs, but “none of them had any answers” for him.
He was also asked about his plans for reducing the tax burden. Abbott replied that the two main areas he was considering for reform were the franchise, or margins, tax and property taxes. He was looking for a solution that the “greatest number of legislators will agree with,” and had not yet made a final decision on what type of tax relief he would support.
Abbott was also asked about the recent court decision overturning Texas’ ban on gay marriage, and what he anticipated would happen now that the case had been sent back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Abbott replied that he “trust[ed] all the judges on the Fifth Circuit to apply the law,” and noted that the United States Supreme Court had made it clear that “the marriage issue is one that has been assigned to the states, and I anticipate that [the court] would uphold both the tenor and the words” of the Supreme Court’s opinion and allow the Texas law to stand.
Full list of Governor-elect Greg Abbott’s senior staff:
Judge Carlos Cascos, Secretary of State*
Daniel Hodge, Chief of Staff
Julia Rathgeber, Deputy Chief of Staff
Robert Allen, Deputy Chief of Staff
Kara Belew, Budget Director
Jimmy Blacklock, General Counsel
Amelia Chassé, Press Secretary
Lauren Clay, Senior Advisor to the Governor for the Office of First Lady
Reed Clay, Senior Advisor
Drew DeBerry, Policy Director
Jay Dyer, Deputy Legislative Director
Randy Erben, Legislative Director
Matt Hirsch, Communications Director
Erin Hodges, Special Assistant to the Governor
Chelsea Holden, Senior Advisor to the First Lady
Tracye McDaniel, President of the Texas Economic Development Corp.
Stacey Napier, Director of Administration
Luis Saenz, Appointments Director
Kim Snyder, Director of Scheduling and Advance
Jerry Strickland, Executive Director of Office of State and Federal Relations*
*Appointment subject to Senate confirmation.
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