Beto O’Rourke, who announced on Nov. 15 that he’s running against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, spoke to reporters briefly at La Plaza at Brownsville Terminal during a Thursday campaign stop in Brownsville.
Asked how he could win back some of the support that slipped away from Democrats in the Rio Grande Valley during the last presidential election, support that could help buoy his candidacy, O’Rourke said it’s all about being present and not taking voters for granted.
“As you know I’m from El Paso, and I started this campaign in my hometown literally at my kitchen counter on Monday, right on the border,” he said. “Day two I was in Laredo, Texas, right on the border. Day three, I was in McAllen, Texas, right on the border. Day four, I’m here in Brownsville.
“If the great sin committed by Republicans in the past was to try to disenfranchise voters in communities like ours, then the sin committed by Democrats was to take those same voters for granted and say if you live on the border you’re going to vote for a Democrat.”
Although national news outlets are describing it as a long-shot candidacy, O’Rourke, who nearly succeeded in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 but bowed out of the 2020 presidential race early after failing to generate much support, said he would not be running for governor if he didn’t think he had a shot.
“The question on my mind is does Texas have a shot, at a time that we are so divided on these culture issues that the governor has prioritized — the women’s reproductive healthcare ban, the permit-less carry law, the which-transgender-student-is-playing-which-sports kind of stuff — instead of (being) focused on jobs and schools and health care and infrastructure, and the future that Brownsville is so firmly focused on,” he said.
O’Rourke said he worries that without better leadership the state will lose opportunities made possible by “hard-working Texans.”
“That’s why I’m centering this campaign on the things that are most important to those that I want to serve. … And I will make sure this campaign is not about me or even my political party, but instead about the people of this state who are making this moment possible,” he said. “When I look at it in those terms I feel really good about our chances, and even better after having spent so many days at the beginning of this campaign on the border, where there’s been so much support and excitement and folks signing up to be part of this campaign.”
When it comes to immigration and challenges at the border, O’Rourke said Brownsville should serve as an example of what to do, and that ultimately Texas should play a key role in revamping the nation’s immigration policy, which he said hasn’t seen substantial changes since the Reagan administration.
“In the short term let’s build upon the Brownsville model,” O’Rourke said. “This community is leveraging federal funds to make sure that every person who comes into the community is tested. If anyone is COVID-positive they are quarantined and as soon as possible, within 24 hours in most instances, they are on a bus into another part of the country, where they have a court date assigned to them, so they follow our rule of law.”
“In the long term Texas should be the lead partner with the federal government in rewriting this country’s outdated immigration laws, to make sure that we’re meeting the demands and the reality that we see in Brownsville, with legislation that is written at a federal level in Washington D.C.”
Border communities like Brownsville “live this and understand it better than anyone else,” he said.
O’Rourke criticized Abbott and Republican legislators in Austin saying they did nothing to prepare the state’s electrical grid for the kind of weather emergency the state endured last February, despite warnings in 2011 and 2014 about the potential for grid failure. Likewise, regular and special sessions of the Legislature since the devastating winter storm failed to produce any solutions, he said.
“They’ve done nothing to prepare us for the next winter storm that’s going to come,” O’Rourke said.
Asked how he would be able to solve this and other issues as a Democratic governor in what is very likely to continue to be a Republican-controlled Legislature, O’Rourke replied, “We’ve got to get back to working together and seeing each other not as Republicans or Democrats but Texans, and focused on Texas priorities.”
The only way he was able to get legislation passed during his six years in Congress in the minority party was to find common ground with Republicans, he said, expressing confidence that he could do the same with Republicans in Austin if elected governor.
“Texas used to be able to get that done,” O’Rourke said. “I think Texas can do that again, but we need to have leadership that is not focused on dividing people but instead bringing them together. That’s what we’re trying to do in this campaign.”