Abbott assails government's reach
WASHINGTON ó On the eve of Texas primaries, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was in Washington firing away at the federal government over issues close to many conservative Texansí hearts: statesí rights, individual liberties, gun rights and perceived federal government power grabs in health care and environmental regulation.

Abbott, a native Wichitan, invoked the names of former President Ronald Reagan and Thomas Jefferson during an outline of his conservative agenda Monday, speaking to a packed room at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington bastion of conservatism.

"We, the people, are tired of federal government intruding too deeply into our lives, trampling the liberties that have been guaranteed to us by the United States Constitution," said Abbott, who is unopposed in the Republican primary but possibly harbors aspirations for higher office.

While in town, he also discussed Texas government actions against polygamist sect members at the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado. But first, he took aim at an "individual mandate" in a health-care reform bill being floated in Congress.

"This mandate is unprecedented in American history," Abbott told an audience of like-minded folks such as a representative from the Institute for Limited Government.

The proposal calls for Americans to have or to buy health-care coverage. Otherwise, they might face tax penalties.

The proposal oversteps constitutional limits on the federal government, Abbott said. Congress is on notice that legal challenges are in the offing if the individual mandate isnít dropped.

Abbott agreed the health-care system doesnít work as well as it should, but changes should be constitutional, he said during a question-and-answer session with the audience later.

The Texas law requiring motorists to buy automobile liability insurance is different from the health-care proposal, he said after the speech. States have the right to regulate auto insurance. Also, the individual mandate would require Americans to buy something they might never use.

Abbott has already issued a legal challenge to the Environmental Protection Agencyís push to regulate greenhouse gases by filing a lawsuit recently in Washington.

"The EPA is required to base its decisions on real science, not political science," Abbott told the crowd at the Heritage Foundation.

Abbott said the EPA used "bad science" in the process of making a finding that certain greenhouse gases threaten the public welfare.

His reason for being in the nationís capital this week is the action Tuesday in a gun rightsí case at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Heíll observe but wonít take part in oral arguments in the case. Abbott authored a brief for 38 state attorneys general, weighing in on the side of individual gun ownership.

The Texas AGís Office has also been deeply involved in hot-button issues closer to home: goings on at the YFZ Ranch, occupied by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Did the AGís Office protect the individual liberties of children seized in an April 2008 raid on the YFZ Ranch and their parents?

"We strongly believe in individual liberties of all kinds, which would include religious liberties," Abbott said during an interview after his speech.

"What we donít believe in is sexual assault of minors, and what we have proved in court and what we have convictions for are felony sexual assault of minors," he said.

Three FLDS men have been convicted in Schleicher County and sentenced to prison. Twelve FLDS men in all were charged with various offenses based on evidence seized in the historic raid on the ranch. State authorities took more than 430 children into custody, to assure they werenít being victimized, after obtaining a search warrant. It was based on a tip that turned out later to be a hoax. Nearly all the children were returned to their parents by order of an appeals court.

Abbott said the AGís Office has no plan to release an interim report on the legal costs to the state associated with the charges against the FLDS men.

"If you had the information right now and quizzed me about it, my answer would be that whatever the cost, itís worth every penny to make sure that we prosecute a man who sexually assaults a young girl," Abbott said.

AG spokesman Jerry Strickland said the state couldnít produce the complete cost of even the first FLDS case tried in Schleicher County last year.

Unlike most state employees who submit travel costs after a trip, experts for the state havenít submitted all their costs yet, Strickland said.

Texas regional reporter Trish Choate can be reached at 202-408-2709 or
Originally published March 2, 2010