AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke officially announced his bid for governor on Monday, making him the only major Democrat to challenge Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott to date.
O’Rourke previously came within two percentage points of the incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. He then jumped into the crowded Democratic presidential primary in March 2019, before suspending his campaign eight months later.
O’Rourke sat down with Nexstar’s Maggie Glynn for his first TV interview to discuss his bid before the announcement Monday.
Maggie: We’ve heard rumors about you possibly throwing your hat into the ring for Governor for quite, quite some time now. And when you and I spoke back in early summer, you said that you were just focused on Texas voting rights. So tell me a little bit about why you’re choosing now to throw your hat into the ring.
Beto: I’m running to try to help bring this state together to focus on the really big things that most Texans want us to do, like make sure that we have world-class public schools, and that the best jobs that are being created in America are being created right here in Texas, and that we make progress on things that most of us agree on, like expanding Medicaid, so that Texans can see a doctor fill a prescription be well enough to go to work or to finish their education or to start a business. But what we have right now instead of in Texas, under Greg Abbott, is this very divisive kind of politics that has kept us apart, and fighting over things like abortion, or the permitless carry gun laws, or which middle school girls can play which sports, I want this state to get back to doing the big things, the big, bold vision of Texas that used to define this state. That’s what’s so important to so many of us, regardless of political party, or any other differences. So I hope that as a candidate, hope as governor, I can serve everyone and help to bring us together bridge some of these divisions and get the big things done that most Texans want us to work on.
Maggie: You mentioned Gov. Greg Abbott, kind of going back to the beginning of the summer, when he was facing some pretty tough criticism, even from within his own party. Why not jump into the race back then?
Beto: You know, I think there’s no shortage of reasons for people to fire Greg Abbott as governor. In fact, they grow by the day and when we could look at 72,000 lives lost in Texas by his failure to meet the challenges of this COVID pandemic, or the hundreds who were killed in a winter storm, not because of mother nature, but because of Greg Abbott and his failure to make sure that the power grid was working for all Texans. Or how about this, seven out of 10 kids in the average Texas fourth grade classroom cannot read at grade level, Greg Abbott is failing the people of Texas. And so we got to make sure that everyone understands the consequence of Greg Abbott to our future into our success into the opportunities in Texas. And we also understand that we have an alternative. As Governor, I’m going to focus on making sure that we create great jobs in Texas that we have the best public schools, and that we ensure people are well enough because they can see a doctor to be able to fulfill their own personal potential. And then as a state, we can live up to our promise.
Maggie: After the tragic shooting that happened in your own hometown of El Paso, you came out with some pretty strong words, you said that you were ready to confiscate people’s, AR-15s and AK- 47s. And Governor Abbott, while you still hadn’t officially announced, already launched a campaign ad, specifically quoting you on that. Have you changed how you feel about gun rights since then? Do you plan to change the rhetoric at all to appeal to some more moderate voters, especially considering that the state just passed permitless carry?
Beto: Like most Texans, I grew up in a household with guns and I also grew up learning the responsibility of owning and using a firearm. It was my uncle who was a sheriff’s deputy who first taught me how to shoot I think most of us in this state agree that we shouldn’t allow weapons of war, to be on our streets and to see our fellow Texans shot up in Walmart’s and movie theaters, in schools. And in churches. I think most of us also agree that Greg Abbott’s permitless carry law, which law enforcement in Texas asked him not to sign which allows any Texan to carry a loaded gun in public will make us less safe than the number one responsibility of our Governor and my number one focus will be keeping the people of Texas safe. We can protect the Second Amendment and protect the lives of our fellow Texans. And we should be focused on doing that.
Maggie: With losing your bid for Senate back in 2018, and then again for your presidential bid in 2019 … Why do you think you are the right candidate for Democrats for this specific office in Texas this time around?
Beto: Look, I trust the people of Texas, when it really counts, we put our differences behind us and we get the job done. We saw that during the power grid failure when people knocked on their neighbor’s doors helped him to get water or food or heat, or transportation. Given the challenges we have before us right now, I believe that if we go everywhere, listen to everyone, right? Nobody off and take no one for granted. Not only can we win this election, but together we can work as a state, not as Democrats not as Republicans, but as Texans to ensure that we create better jobs, focus on world-class public schools, and do things that most of us already agree on, like expand Medicaid so that all of us can see a doctor. I think those are the basic common values that we have as Texans. I’m going to speak to that campaign on that and work with my fellow Texans to make sure that we get that done.
Maggie: One of the governor’s biggest talking points this past year, he even had a rally with former President Trump down at the border, is the current crisis that we’re seeing along our southern border. Obviously, you being from El Paso, you are in a border town. How would you tackle the current crisis that we’re seeing differently than Gov. Abbott? And do you think that the Biden administration is doing enough to respond right now?
Beto: Like my neighbors here in El Paso on the border. And like my fellow Texans, we want to make sure that we follow the law, and that there’s order and predictability and safety at our border with Mexico, and we can be doing a better job. And I look forward to partnering with the administration to make sure that we do a better job and that we listen to the people who actually live on the border and have the experience and the solutions to provide to ensure that as we rewrite our country’s immigration laws, that we reflect the priorities of Texas. But what we don’t need is a governor who’s more interested in photo opportunities and grandstanding at the border, and who actually incites the kind of fear and anxiety that leads to the attacks that we saw in El Paso in 2019 where someone echoed the rhetoric of Greg Abbott about invasions and defending Texas and taking matters into your own hands, and did just that and killed 23 people in this community. There is a responsible way to do this, and there’s a Texas way to make sure that we have a secure border that honors the best traditions of this country, and I want to make sure that we pursue that as Governor.
Maggie: And the last question for you, obviously, Texas, is a traditionally red state, what’s your message to voters to flip one of the highest if not the highest office in our state blue?
Beto: You know, in the 2020 election, arguably the most important in American history, at least in our lifetimes, 7 million eligible Texans didn’t cast a ballot. So I wouldn’t say we’re a red state, we’re certainly not a blue state. I think it’s more accurate to describe us as a nonvoting state. We’ve got to make sure that we reach out to every single one of our fellow Texans and give them a reason to participate in a vote. And I know that we focus on the things that really matter most to all of us, like the kind of job that we can look forward to the quality of school that our child attends, or our ability to see a doctor and be well enough to do the things that we want to do in our lives. We give people a reason to vote and participate. That’s how we win. That’s how we work together and serve everyone here in the state of Texas.
Gov. Abbott’s campaign issued the following statement shortly after O’Rourke made his announcement:
“From Beto O’Rourke’s reckless calls to defund the police to his dangerous support of the Biden Administration’s pro-open border policies, which have resulted in thousands of fentanyl deaths, Beto O’Rourke has demonstrated he has more in common with President Biden than he does with Texans. Governor Abbott proudly supports the men and women of law enforcement, has deployed Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety personnel and resources to secure the border, and has created a business climate that has made Texas the economic engine of America. The last thing Texans need is President Biden’s radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O’Rourke. The contrast for the direction of Texas couldn’t be clearer.”
At an event in Floresville, Gov. Abbott also said O’Rourke “stands for these open border policies that have led to nothing but chaos.”