Beto O’Rourke speaks at his Abilene campaign stop August 16, 2022
Democratic candidate for Texas governor Beto O’Rourke responds to reporters’ questions while campaigning in Abilene.
Ronald W. Erdrich, Abilene Reporter-News
No, he didn’t cuss. Much.
Still, gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, speaking Tuesday to large crowd in downtown Abilene, minced no words in attacking Gov. Greg Abbott for failed policies, or not having policies at all concerning power grid security and school safety.
In town just days after dropping an F-bomb on a heckler during a campaign stop in Mineral Wells, O’Rourke kept it PG.
Following Susan Hays, who grew up in Brownwood and is running for ag commissioner, he praised the candidate.
“I love Susan Hays talking about raising hell,” he said. But she said it first.
He said Abbott “chose not to do a damn thing” following a February 2021 winter storm that crippled an energy-rich state with a $2 trillion gross domestic product.
And so, those with children in the crowd – several holding homemade signs, one saying “Protect children, not guns” – didn’t have to cover little ears.
The candidate spoke “in the round,” standing in the middle of a large event room that was ringed with seats. All those were filled, with many more people standing or leaning against a brick wall.
He was accompanied by his wife, Amy, who stood with her husband to side while other spoke first.
His talk would begin with a big announcement, he said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to win this election on the night of Nov. 8,” he said, with attendees cheering loudly and rising from their seats. “It’s important that we all know that.”
O’Rourke addressed women’s rights – which perhaps drew the loudest applause in the room, Medicaid expansion, jobs in Taylor County, broadband internet and public school education. He said Taylor County teachers are paid $15,000 under the national average, and that would change with him leading in Austin.
“We will make sure every classroom teacher, every librarian, every counselor is treated with respect and dignity that they deserve,” he said.
Education led to his comments on this year’s mass school shooting and guns.
O’Rourke addressed the late May shooting in Uvalde, that killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers.
As a candidate for U.S. Senate and president, he spoke out against gun violence. He noted the three O’Rourke children will be in school this year as a sophomore, freshman and sixth-grader.
“We are excited for them and proud of them. But like you,” he said, “we are well aware that 12 weeks and counting … this state has yet to do a thing under Greg Abbott to make it less likely that any of our kids will meet the same fate.
“We are going to win because we are going to put their interests ahead of the NRA, the gun lobby or anybody else. We are going to protect their lives. I can’t think of anything more important.”
On Tuesday, he reminded the crowd that he respects the 2nd Amendment and was taught about guns growing up. Texas and the 2nd Amendment go hand and firearm grip, he said.
He offered three ways, however, to address why Texas has had five of the worst mass shootings – El Paso Walmart, Midland-Odessa spree, Sutherland Springs church, Santa Fe High and Robb Elementary in Uvalde – in the nation since Abbott was elected.
- Raising the age to buy an assault-style weapons, such as the AK-47 and AR-15, from 18 to 21.
- Institute “red flag laws” to better identify potential threats of mass violence
- Expand background checks to include to a sale by a private owner.
O’Rourke said there is no fail-safe way to eliminate gun violence, but that should not stop efforts to prevent a repeat of what Texans have experienced.
He said Texans are not inherently “murderous,” but said permitless carry is allowing people to skip the training he received and hampering background checks. He said 38,000 Texans that law enforcement identified as risks now are free to carry firearms.
Long road trip
O’Rourke is touring the state on his 49-day “A Drive for Texas” campaign effort, covering an estimated 5,600 miles. He faces incumbent Republican Greg Abbott in the Nov. 8 general election.
First elected in 2014, Abbott is seeking re-election for the second time.
July polling showed O’Rourke closing the gap on the governor, trailing by 6%. A more recent Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll shows Abbott with a lead of 7 points.
O’Rourke said Tuesday that some may wonder why he has been to Abilene and Taylor County three times since announcing for governor. After all, Taylor County glows so politically red that is can be seen from space orbit, he joked.
“I’m here in Taylor County right now because I’m fighting for you in Taylor County. I’ll never stop fighting for you. It doesn’t matter how you vote, whether your Republican or Democrat, whether you’re five generations or you got here five days ago, you’re every bit as much an American, a Texan and a human being.
“I’m going to make sure we treat other like that going forward.”:
Lively times at 201 Mesquite Event Center
O’Rourke continued his quest not to appear in Abilene at the same place.
O’Rourke has spoken at the former El Fenix outdoor courtyard, Abilene Woman’s Club, Play Faire Park miniature golf, the Paramount Theatre, Stevenson Park, a former north-side restaurant and, in late May, at People’s Plaza.
There, he spoke about assisting Texas veterans just before Memorial Day.
Tuesday’s event at 201 Mesquite Event Center had a festival feel, with country music and announcements to buy Beto merch at the back or sign up to vote. Attendees took plastic Beto signs to wave.
After speaking for about 25 minutes, O’Rourke took questions.
It was announced that those attending could meet and/or get a photo with the candidate before his road trip took him to San Angelo on Tuesday.
One of the attendees here was Jenai Johnson, who will be voting in her first election in November. She recently graduate from Wylie High School, with plans to attend the University of North Texas.
She cited O’Rourke’s progressive ideas and “addressing issues the current governor is not talking about.”
She believes candidates such O’Rourke are hearing her as a young Black woman.
Hays and Janet Dudding, who is running as a Democrat, were in attendance, along with Abilene resident Linda Goolsbee, who it taking on incumbent Republican Stan Lambert for the District 71 seat in the Texas House.
Hays was introduced as the “cowgirl lawyer” who now lives in Alpine. She said she used to “sneak up to Taylor County to see rock concerts, Night Ranger and what-not.”
Hays spoke briefly, citing hospital, transportation, economic development and water needs of West Texans, and the food needs of all Texans.
“Those programs have been rotting in the basement under the Republican administration,”she said.
She called herself a troublemaker because “I paid attention in vacation Bible school.” Lessons of promoting “love and tolerance” stuck with her, she said.
“We need to stick up for people,” she said.
She blasted Republican Ag Commissioner Sid Miller, who is from Stephenville.
“He’s so bad,” she said, “that the governor and lieutenant governor won’t speak to him.”
She cited corruption in his office.
She promoted the hemp industry in Texas, and said Texas needed to purge state government of politicians who put furthering their careers ahead of Texans.
Why did she run?
“To raise hell, have a good time and kick those guys out office,” she said. “And turn Texas around to what it can be.”
Greg Jaklewicz is editor of the Abilene Reporter-News and general columnist. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.