Greg Abbott was sworn in Tuesday as Texas' first new governor in 14 years and promised that the state will stay as defiantly conservative as ever -- vowing to battle Washington on spending, regulation and any federal initiative "that uses the guise of fairness to rob us of our freedom."
Fighter jets streaked through sunny skies, ceremonial cannons boomed, the University of Texas marching band blared and the smell of four tons of beef brisket prepared for the inaugural barbeque hung over the steps of the state Capitol, where Abbott and new lieutenant governor Dan Patrick formally took office.
Abbott, who was previously state attorney general, sued the Obama administration around 30 times, mostly for what Texas claimed was overreach on federal environmental regulations. He promised more of the same as governor: "I will continue my legacy of pushing back against Washington if they spend too much, regulate too much, or violate our state sovereignty."
"Any government that uses the guise of fairness to rob us of our freedom will get a uniquely Texan response: `come and take it,"' Abbott said, a reference to a famous battle from the Texas revolution. "We Texans aren't spoiling for a fight, but we won't shrink from one if the cause is right."
That resonated with Teresa Ward, a retiree visiting from Tyler in East Texas, who said, "The federal government has gone too far."
"They have limited freedoms of Americans. It's our right to be free," said Ward, 57. "What the federal government is trying to do is be a police government."
Organizers raised more than $4.5 million for the inaugural festivities, which also include a parade, a ball and a concert featuring Lady Antebellum. About 3,000 people attended, many wearing red, white and blue and waving Texas flags -- but some bailed on the speeches to beat the line for a plate of barbeque at $10 a head.
A souvenir stand sold items ranging from $5 beer "koozies" to $100 cufflinks.
Joe Gaston, a 61-year-old lay minister from Pearland in suburban Houston, arrived early, lugging a 12-foot, 45-pound cross -- hoping to bring a spiritual message to the event. Taking inspiration from the biblical story of Joshua at Jericho, he said he'd walk around the Capitol for three days, "praying for leadership."
The 57-year-old Abbott succeeds Rick Perry, who took office in December 2000 and says he'll announce an expected second presidential run perhaps as early as May. Perry, who succeeded George W. Bush when he was elected president, was the longest-serving governor in Texas history.
Abbott called Perry "a man I am humbled to succeed," but his predecessor wasn't around to hear it. Abbott aides said Perry skipped the swearing-in per Texas tradition, pointing to Democrat Ann Richards avoiding Bush's 1995 inauguration. However, many previous gubernatorial predecessors attended their successor's swearing-in.
Asked about Perry's whereabouts Tuesday, spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said only, "he's in Austin."
Unlike Perry and his political cowboy persona, Abbott has a judicial mentality. He nearly choked up Tuesday when thanking his wife and daughter and God.
Patrick, a tea party favorite who will oversee the state Senate, snapped selfies from the podium, then promised to take Texas conservatism "to the next level."
Abbott and Patrick vowed to secure the Texas-Mexico border. Both also promised to continue the economic growth that has made Texas America's top job-creating state -- even in the face of plummeting oil prices that could hurt areas that rely on oil and natural gas production.
Abbott, who lost the use of his legs in 1984, when a falling tree crushed him while he was jogging in Houston, is the nation's first governor who uses a wheelchair since Alabama's George Wallace left office in 1987.
"Let's face it, for me this moment was highly improbable," Abbott told the crowd.
He has made his personal story a centerpiece of his rise to political prominence, often joking that while many politicians boast about having a "spine of steel," he actually has one.
"I am living proof that we live in a state where a young man's life can literally be broken in half," Abbott added, "and yet he can still rise up and be governor of this great state."