Broken But Unbowed – A Book Review

On July 14, 1984 Greg Abbott’s life was changed forever. His wife of three years, Cecilia, remembers the day vividly listening to the sounds of an  afternoon thunderstorm at the shop in Houston where she worked. Not far away Greg had gone for a jog. Ten minutes into his run, within an instant, a large oak tree snapped at its base and landed on top of him.

He remained conscious but the pain was “immediate, excruciating, and unrelenting,” he relates in his autobiography, “Broken But Unbowed. The Fight to Fix A Broken America” published in 2016. The events of the traumatic spinal cord injury and resulting paralysis that left him in a wheelchair for life and his long rehabilitation are recounted in the first brief chapter. He was twenty-six years old at the time. He doesn’t dwell on the subject but he gets it out there at the start because, as he guides us through the course of his career,  the life-changing event was critical to shaping his future and his character.

Greg Abbott didn’t dwell on feeling sorry for himself nor did he retreat and alter his ambitions. Having earned his law degree the year of the accident, he went on to take and pass the Texas Bar exam the year after his crippling injury. After a successful decade in law practice, he ran and won a seat as a  trial court judge in Harris County, as one of the youngest lawyers elected as a judge at 34. Just a few years later, Gov. George W. Bush appointed him to an open seat on the Texas Supreme Court. In 2001 he succeeded John Cornyn as  the Attorney General of Texas. In 2014 he was elected Governor of Texas winning the election with a 20 point advantage over his Democratic Party opponent.

“Broken But Unbowed” is a very personal book about the sitting governor of Texas which goes into great detail about the legal and socio-political philosophy Greg Abbott has consistently embraced and acted upon throughout his professional career. Throughout the book, he speaks of his  family, wife Cecilia and daughter Audrey, and their profound influence on his life and about his role as a father always being his top priority during his years as a lawyer and public official.

One can detect similarities between Governor Greg Abbott and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Beyond the obvious disabilities that relegated them to wheelchairs, forcing both men to come to terms with their physical handicaps,  they share an indomitable will and driving ambition ready to confront major challenges while serving in high office. There the similarities end.

Governor Abbott points out our country profoundly “got off track” during FDR’s new deal. The economic crisis of the great Depression played a major role in the usurpation of legislative and judicial powers by the Executive branch under FDR. In the 1930s Congress gave Roosevelt legislative powers through the National Industrial Recovery Act  to combat the Depression. While the Supreme Court then checked the powers of the Executive and Legislative branches, the President threatened to pack the Supreme Court by increasing their number and since then the Supreme Court has increasingly stepped into the shoes of the Legislative and Executive branches (and states) without reasonable restraint and respect for the constitution.

Governor Abbott frequently refers to President Ronald Reagan and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in his book. Repeatedly isolated from the liberal and moderate wing of the Supreme Court, Abbott quotes Justice Scalia in his dissenting opinion (Board of County Commissioners, Wabaunsee County, Kan. v Umbehr):

“The Court must be living in another world. Day by day, case by case, it is busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize.”

It’s quite evident by the time the reader finishes the book (light reading with 275 pages), that Abbott’s political philosophy is clearly recognizable as an exemplification of traditional American conservatism following in the footsteps of Russell Kirk, reputedly the father of modern American conservatism, Barry Goldwater, William Buckley, and Ronald Reagan.

Abbott succinctly states the problem with enforcing the 10th amendment: “First, all three branches … have emasculated the Tenth Amendment as a way to consolidate power in Washington and to weaken state autonomy an authority …there is no enforcement component to the Tenth Amendment.”

The Governor who spent many years defending Texas’ state rights as a constitutional lawyer does not shy away from diving into the legal details to make his case for a constitutional amendment to fix a broken America. He calls out the National League of Cities v Usery case (1976) which clearly upheld states’ constitutional rights. The High Court later reconsidered the very same law in less than ten years overruling the 1976 decision in the 1985 ruling in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority.

As Texas’ Attorney General, Abbott sued the Obama administration in over thirty cases, including addressing the violations of the rule of law inherent in Obama Care, Texas forced to foot the bill for health care covering illegal immigrants, the federal government’s failure to uphold the constitution and immigration laws in controlling “illegal immigration and by failing to reimburse Texas for educational, medical, and criminal justice expenditures on undocumented aliens”. According to Abbott, those expenditures were close to $1.34 billion in 1993 alone.

Another pet peeve of the Governor is the pervasive end runs of the Executive branch into legislative territory as spelled out in Article One of the Constitution which states that all legislative powers granted are vested in the Congress of the United States. He calls out the alphabet soup of federal agencies, boards, bureaus, and commissions that have arrogated to themselves legislative powers in regulating every aspect of the lives of Americans:  BATFE, BLM, CFPD, DHS, DOE, DOL, EEOC, EPA, FAA, FEMA, FDA, FHA, FTC, HHS, HUD, IRS, NLRB, SEC, etc.

I would venture to guess that readers would easily recognize most of these federal agencies which too often intrude into our daily lives or are in the news over controversies between the government and property rights or individual liberties.  (The Obama Care mandate and federal non-discrimination laws are often on the front page.)

Abbott is a leading proponent for invoking Article V of the constitution calling for a convention of states to amend the constitution to correct the serious usurpation of powers that belong to the States by the Executive and legislative branches and to check judicial activism by allowing a 3/4ths majority of states to override Supreme Court decisions and require a “seven-justice supermajority vote by the Supreme Court justices for decisions that amend the constitution or invalidate a democratically enacted law.”

Governor Abbott has a lot to offer the state of Texas and the nation in the way of practical and necessary prescriptions for what ails the governance of our state and our nation. His book should be read by every freedom loving Texan and American throughout the nation. In 275 pages you will learn what you need to know why the fight to fix a broken America starts here with Governor Abbott and the freedom loving people of Texas.  A companion piece to this book to explain in detail his “Texas Plan” is Governor Abbott’s (2016) monograph, Restoring the Rule of Law.

the end