A Democratic judge in Texas apologized Friday for saying the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, ‘hates trees because one fell on him,’ a reference to an accident 35 years ago which left Abbott paralyzed.
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt made the quip during a discussion at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin about the Texas Legislature overriding local ordinances such one in the state capital regarding the cutting down of trees.. Eckhardt’s comment drew laughs from the panel’s audience.
At #TribFest19 panel on progressive activism, @JudgeEckhardt, talking about #txlege overriding local ordinances like Austin’s tree ordinance, says Gov. Abbott “hates trees because one fell on him.” The crowd laughs.
— John Daniel Davidson (@johnddavidson) September 27, 2019
The comment was first reported in a tweet by The Federalist political editor John Daniel Davidson.
“In my panel today at the Texas Tribune Festival on ‘Public Enragement’ I spoke about the importance of being able to disagree without being disagreeable. Then I said something disagreeable,” Eckhardt said in a statement, according to The Texas Tribune. “I want to apologize to Governor Abbott. I made a flippant comment that was inappropriate. The comment did nothing to further the debate I was participating in, much less further the political discourse in our community, state, and nation. While the Governor and I disagree on a number of issues, that is no excuse to be disagreeable.”
Abbott, 61, was left paralyzed from the waist down since 1984 when an oak tree fell on him while he was jogging in Houston. He has used a wheelchair ever since.
Travis County Republican Party chairman Matt Mackowiak said Eckhardt’s remark showed a “profound lack of compassion” towards someone with a disability.
“Judge Eckhardt apparently believes that his disability is open to ridicule if it helps her make a political argument. This joke represents a profound lack of compassion from Judge Eckhardt,” he said in a statement. “There is no place for insulting Americans with disabilities and Judge Eckhardt should know better.”
Today I made a mistake and I sincerely apologize to @GregAbbott_TX. I have personally reached out to the Governor to apologize because my comment was inappropriate and wrong. pic.twitter.com/rgOEM9EQd6
— Judge Sarah Eckhardt (@JudgeEckhardt) September 28, 2019
Abbott’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
After his injury, Abbott sued the homeowner whose tree fell on him, along with the tree service company that had inspected the tree before it fell on him. Abbott received a multi-million dollar settlement in 1986, which he has said he would gladly give back to regain the use of his legs.
“Money doesn’t heal anything. Money doesn’t allow me to walk. It doesn’t allow me to dance with my wife. It doesn’t allow me to pick up my daughter. It doesn’t allow me to walk my daughter down the aisle when she gets married,” Abbott told The Texas Tribune in 2013, during his first campaign for governor. “If you could name the person I could write the check to, I’d send all this money right back if I could walk again.”