McALLEN — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott officially announced his reelection campaign before a crowd of about 200 people here on Saturday afternoon.

The announcement came during the Hispanic Leadership Summit and kicked off the first of some 60 campaign stops Abbott has planned around the state in the lead up to the March 1 Republican Primary.

Abbott, who, by his own admission, has made more trips to the Rio Grande Valley than any governor before him, chose to make his announcement in McAllen for a reason — because of how the region so neatly dovetails with many of his campaign priorities.

Between its booming economy, its rapid pace of residential and commercial development, its attractiveness to big tech firms like SpaceX, and its proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, the Valley has become a microcosm for Texas politics writ large.

The crowd cheers as Cecilia Abbott introduces her husband, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during the Hispanic Leadership Forum at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

And it was something Abbott focused on as he laid out his campaign platform while speaking at the McAllen Convention Center.

That platform prioritizes economic growth, individual liberties, border security and support for law enforcement, and — perhaps most importantly — keeping Texas from making a “left turn” toward “the woke radical agenda.”

“We cannot let big government liberals redesign our state with the progressive agenda that is destroying some parts of America,” Abbott said to a fired up crowd where few wore face masks.

“We need a proven winner who will fight to secure the future of Texas. That is why today I am in the Rio Grande Valley to officially announce my reelection to run as your governor of the great state of Texas,” Abbott said to a round of raucous applause.

The governor began his campaign speech by hitting upon several traditional Republican political talking points, including promises to lower property and franchise taxes, and continuing to foster a business-friendly environment.

But beyond that, Abbott soon began to winnow in on some more salient conservative priorities — supporting law enforcement, securing the border and safeguarding individual liberties when it comes to decisions over health, education and the Second Amendment.

“Mark. My. Words. Freedom is on the ballot,” Abbott said, pausing to emphasize each word.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott officially announced his reelection campaign during the Hisapnic Leadership Summit at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

He was alluding to several controversies that captured headlines during the 87th Legislative Session last spring — controversies over COVID-19, education and immigration.

In regard to education, Abbott promised to implement a “parents’ bill of rights” if reelected.

“Parents are losing a war when it comes to their children’s education and even their health care. … That must end,” Abbott said.

That promise comes after the governor was forced to call for three special legislative sessions after the state legislature failed to pass several Republican priorities by the end of the regular session in May.

Among those revisited priorities, lawmakers ultimately passed a bill on the so-called “critical race theory” during the second special session in August.

The new law prohibits teachers from “discuss(ing) a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs,” including race and racism.

Abbott also strenuously opposed mask and vaccine mandates within schools, changing his executive orders to specifically prohibit districts from making such mandates mandatory.

Supporters of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hold up campaign signs as he announces his reelection campaign during the Hispanic Leadserhip Summit at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
(Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

Officials in Harris County, along with several school districts throughout the state — including more than half a dozen here in the Valley — filed suit against Abbott over the COVID-19 policies, citing his interference with their local control.

The lawsuits remain active.

Abbott also addressed law enforcement and border security during his campaign speech, reemphasizing his support of law enforcement after a year where popular support surged for “defunding the police.”

In Austin, for example, voters overwhelmingly voted against a referendum — Proposition A — that would have mandated the hiring of more police officers and increased the police budget by millions. Instead, Austin will be reallocating those funds toward social intervention programs.

“All Texans deserve safe communities, so when I heard radical liberals making calls to defund the police, I promised we would not let that happen in Texas,” Abbott said.

“We delivered our promise by passing a law that would defund any city that defunds their law enforcement officers,” he said.

2021 also saw the largest surge in migrant crossings along the South Texas border in over two decades. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 1.7 million migrants were apprehended by agents last year.

McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos, second from left, applauds as Texas GOv. Greg Abbott officially announces his reelection campaign in McAllen on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
(Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

The governor honed in on those numbers, calling the situation dangerous and laying the blame at the feet of the current president.

“As you all know, one of the greatest safety threats to Texas is the reckless and dangerous open border policies of President Joe Biden,” Abbott said.

Abbott vowed to continue his initiatives to secure the border, including Operation Lone Star — which saw the deployment of hundreds of DPS troopers and National Guard troops to the Valley — and his policy to charge migrants with criminal trespass.

But that policy has come under fire after hundreds of migrants were left to languish in jails without due process for weeks.

Under the policy, some 1,600 migrants were arrested on state trespassing charges in 2021, according to the Texas Tribune.

But of those, hundreds have since been released, or their charges dropped after spending as long as two months waiting to see a judge, being unable to access an attorney, or after prosecutors failed to include the necessary information in charging documents.

Abbott’s focus on law and order comes as he faces the most opposition to reelection since he became governor.

While he went into the March 2018 Primary against two other Republican candidates, this year, he’s facing off against half a dozen opponents, including former Texas GOP Chairman Allen B. West and former state Sen. Don Huffines.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott officially announced his reelection campaign during the Hisapnic Leadership Summit at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
(Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

Abbott is also facing off against Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso native who is favored to win the Democratic nomination, and who became a social media darling during his 2018 bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz.

As the governor continued to speak about border security, his fervor rose as he listed off the border security initiatives he has implemented over the last year. But his tone became more sober as he warned the audience of the dangers that lay ahead if Democrats win the election.

“There’s more than safety that’s at stake in this election. Our very freedom is on the ballot,” Abbott said.

“Texas may face a very profound question this election: do we take a left turn that leads to more government and less freedom? … Or do we maintain the course that has secured greater freedom, more jobs and safer communities?” he asked.