Greg Abbott’s newest executive order against COVID-19 vaccine mandates, banning any entity including a private business from issuing the health and safety protocol, is the latest sign that he is running an unabashedly ultra right-wing campaign. Abbott is on a mission to outflank his primary opponents who are Republicans to his right, and one of those challengers has seemingly cornered the governor and is shaping him to his will.
Allen West may capture headlines, especially after being hospitalized for COVID-19 while unvaccinated and bragging about a regimen of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, but Don Huffines has been far more effective at pushing Abbott to the right on a plethora of issues including vaccine mandates. While most legal analysts will note the executive order is likely toothless against a federal vaccine requirement, Abbott’s latest move is an illustration of the lengths he will go to appease Huffines, who called for banning any vaccine mandate in Texas.
Huffines is a former Republican state senator who represented North Texas for six years, but was defeated by Democrat Nathan Johnson in 2018. As a legislator, Huffines was one of the most conservative members of the Republican delegation. He authored several bills against immigration and abortion. In 2020, he was sharply critical of Abbott’s handling of COVID-19, and said Abbott was “too slow” in allowing businesses to reopen.
In May, Huffines announced he was running for governor, as a direct challenge to Abbott. Under the issues page of his campaign website he lists a number of priorities including border security (“we will shut down the border”), election integrity (“we will expose voter fraud and enforce the law. People are going to jail”), critical race theory (“critical race theory destroys our children”), and abortion (“I will fight to end abortion in Texas”).
After Abbott issued a nonsensical claim about a rape victim having adequate time to obtain an abortion in the wake of Senate Bill 8, Huffines took him to task for even saying abortions could still happen in the state. “We must end abortion entirely and prosecute those who participate in it,” said Huffines in a statement. “Texans deserve an actual pro-life governor who is committed to this mission, not a coward who encourages abortion.”
Huffines is also strongly against LGBTQ protections. He seemingly influenced a decision by the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) to remove a webpage meant to help LGBTQ youth. Huffines had posted a video on Twitter referencing the webpage, saying “these are not Texas values.”
After the webpage was gone, Huffines took a victory lap claiming credit for the move. Still, his work isn’t finished. He has also called for the firing of anyone at Texas DFPS pushing a “perverted LGBTQ agenda.”
While Huffines is still a longshot in various polls to defeat Abbott in the Republican primary, his influence is hard to ignore. On almost every issue, as Abbott lunges farther to the right, Huffines is even farther along and a reminder that this state could become even more conservative. For now, even if Huffines loses the primary, in some aspects, he’s already won.