A Comprehensive Guide to Texas’ Gubernatorial Election
For better or worse, Texas has found itself in the national spotlight more than normal over the past year. February of 2021 brought a devastating winter storm and power blackouts, September of 2021 brought an influx of bills passed by the Republican state legislature, and 2022 brings with it a loaded midterm election in November in which Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) will be up for reelection against previous Congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke (D-TX). This article will provide a breakdown of what each candidate would bring to the state if elected as well as a brief history of their political careers and areas of criticism.
Governor Abbott was born on November 13, 1957, and graduated from Duncanville High School. He pursued a bachelor's degree in business administration in finance at the University of Texas at Austin and graduated in 1981, before completing a JD from Vanderbilt Law in 1984. Soon after graduating from law school, Abbott was hired to work at the law firm, Butler & Binion, in Houston until 1992.
Abbott’s political career launched in 1993 when he served as a state trial judge in the 129th District Court in Houston for three years. Then, Governor George W. Bush appointed Abbott to the Texas Supreme Court in 1996. Despite briefly going back into the practice of law at Butler & Binion, he came back into politics quickly. In 2002, Abbott ran for Attorney General of Texas and won, serving from 2002 to 2014— when he decided to run for governor. Up against Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, Abbot won with a 20% point advantage. He maintains the record for longest-serving attorney general of Texas along with securing the first criminal conviction of a public official under the Public Information Act and as well as the first criminal indictment under the Open Meetings Act.
During his time as governor of Texas, Abbott has been an avid Trump supporter, encouraging voting restrictions and overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election as well as continuing border wall efforts. He has also led a large pro-life movement including the passing of a bill stating that abortion remains need to be cremated or buried which was enacted in December 2016. In terms of the second amendment, campus carry and open carry became legal in 2016 after previously being outlawed thanks to Abbott, as well as the Pastor Protection Act which claims that pastors in Texas do not have to marry a gay couple if they believe it is an infringement on their beliefs, passed in 2015, shortly after Obergfell V. Hodges was passed legalizing gay marriage nationally. Abbott has described himself as a governor who fights for religious freedom.
Texas lies on the southern border of the US and is a heavy site for immigrants from Mexico, Central, and South America. To combat this, Abbott hopes to secure the border heavily, limit sanctuary cities in Texas, decline opportunities for refugee resettlement, and increase funding for the border wall to complete it if re-elected. As governor, he routinely visits the border and emphasizes the importance of heightened security through a disaster declaration.
Texas is also home to a large portion of the oil and gas industry, making it a pivotal state in terms of climate change legislation. Abbott does not believe that climate change is impacted by human activity and supports dismantling current climate change regulations, claiming that it limits the economy and hurts employees in the oil and gas industry.
As a result of the 2020 election and Trump’s loss, Abbott hopes to continue to pass laws that will ensure election integrity by limiting access to mail-in voting, shortening early voting times, and keeping the state’s photo ID requirements. To facilitate this, Abbott appointed John Scott as Texas’ secretary of state, who has created votetexas.gov and prioritizes election security.
Overall, Abbott’s healthcare plan for the state is to expand access. In his upcoming term, he would like to expand COVID vaccine access, expand telemedicine and healthcare for those who do not have local access, expand mental health support, and extend coverage to pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid until six months post-pregnancy.
Lastly, the LGBTQ+ community: Abbott does not support gay marriage and believes Obergfell V. Hodges should be overturned. He also is opposed to transgender affirming care, especially for minors, and LGBTQ+ informative sex education in public schools.
The North American winter storm that swept the country in February of 2021 alienated Texans from Abbott. Due to Texas’s separation from the national power grid, residents were left without power for up to five days in freezing conditions with icy roads and no resources. According to a survey taken after the disaster, 60% of Texans disapproved of how state leadership handled the electrical issues. Since then, there has been no change to the power grid and Abbott claims that the blame falls solely on ERCOT, but this has not necessarily eased the frustration of those who were once loyal to him.
In 2020, Abbott came under fire nationally for his response, or lack thereof, to the pandemic. Texas had a month-long stay-at-home order which was not extended and led to a COVID spike, a delay in a statewide mask mandate that went into effect in July of 2020 and was lifted in March of 2021, followed by a ban on individual cities to issue any sort of mask mandate for their jurisdictions. Abbott also blocked public schools from mandating masks and publicly-funded corporations from mandating the COVID vaccine. This resulted in more Texan voters (50%) disapproving of the handling of the pandemic than those who approved (46%).
The most recent and largest controversy that has occured during Abbott’s term is the recent “Heartbeat Bill” which was signed into law in September 2021. This bill allows no exceptions for rape or incest and makes it illegal to have an abortion, perform an abortion, or knowingly aid in the process of a pregnancy termination in any way. Uniquely, this bill allows for individual citizens to sue others for their actions, making it controversial not only in stance but also in legislative precedent, leading to countless court challenges with none striking down the bill officially, as well as major protests both on the state and national level. In Texas alone, 55% of residents oppose the bill, and ⅔ disapprove of the language and strategy of enforcement.
Robert “Beto” O’Rourke is a fourth-generation Texan born and raised in El Paso, Texas. He studied at Woodberry Forest School as well as Columbia University in New York. As a young adult, O’Rourke co-founded a small business, Stanton Street Technology Group, in 1999, and ran it for over ten years.
In 2005, O’Rourke believed he could better serve his community by representing them on the El Paso city council, winning a seat from then until 2011. He then went on to pursue a run for the U.S. House of Representatives to represent El Paso’s 16th Congressional District on a national level, defeating the Democratic incumbent Silvestre Reyes in the primaries, and ultimately winning the seat against Republican Barbara Carrasco in November 2012 with 65% of the vote. He held this position for six years until he decided not to run for re-election in 2018 and instead challenged Republican Ted Cruz for his seat in the U.S. Senate. That election ended in a narrow loss for O’Rourke–winning only 48.3% of the votes but it didn’t stop him.
The momentum of setting a record for the most votes ever cast for a Democratic candidate in a midterm election in Texas fueled his motivation to continue pursuing politics and landed him a spot on the national stage. In 2019, he announced his campaign for the 2020 U.S. presidential election, which was cut short in November of 2019 due to a lack of funding. In an attempt to continue to make strides in politics, he founded Powered by People, an organization looking to improve direct voter engagement.
As a native of a border city, O’Rourke offers a different perspective on the immigration debate in Texas. He would like to bring Texas to the lead on immigration in terms of economic growth and safety while also developing security strategies for legal immigration and asylum laws that would uplift the economy by growing the workforce in Texas and allowing for business expansion.
While O’Rourke has more liberal ideas on the oil and gas industry, he plans on keeping the industry intact. There is a proposed plan to expand energy jobs while simultaneously removing emissions from the industry, enforce and expand pollution laws in the state to protect air quality, and continue the Texas climate jobs project.
O’Rourke plans on rolling back the recent voting-related legislation passed in September of 2021 to expand voting access to all who are eligible. This will include introducing online voter registration options, expansion of photo ID laws, expansion of mail-in voting, and a commission to conduct nonpartisan redistricting every census to prevent gerrymandering in the state.
The healthcare plan O’Rourke has shared is minimal, but is strong: expand Medicaid.
Lastly, O’Rourke is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and believes everyone should be treated equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. He hopes Texas will see a decline in transgender hate crimes, and also supports the Equality Act that has been struggling to pass the U.S. Senate.
Like Abbott, there has been criticism surrounding O’Rourke since he stepped into the national spotlight in 2018. In the 1990’s, O’Rourke accumulated a criminal record consisting of a burglary charge and a DUI which he was transparent about and explained willingly once they came to light. He claims that the burglary was not serious and charges were never pressed and took full responsibility for the DUI that occurred when he was 26 saying that it was inexcusable, the lesson was learned, and it would never occur again. Republicans in Texas have used this to take away from his credibility as a candidate and did not believe he could be trusted due to past mistakes.
In a state like Texas, there is also fear that a Democrat like O’Rourke has views too extremist for the conservative culture. While on the presidential campaign trail in 2019, he made comments about banning assault-style weapons like AR-15s and AK-47s. This sparked massive outrage from the right, especially in Texas where almost 46% of residents own a gun. O’Rourke also wants to legalize recreational marijuana in Texas, which is far more liberal than the state’s current marijuana laws which do not allow medical or recreational use apart from very few medical exemptions, maintaining the offense as a Class B Misdemeanor. While 60% of Texans support legalization, this worries some Texans who believe it could lead to a spike in crime and underage drug use as a gateway drug.
Abbott and O’Rourke are two candidates with long political histories and platforms that fall on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Due to the events that occurred during the 2021 winter storm, even Abbott’s supporters felt betrayed. To combat this, Abbott has ensured that Texas passed laws like restrictive abortion bills and limitations on transgender healthcare in hopes of winning back the Texans that were previously on the side. O’Rourke’s campaign began and has continued to ride on the idea that he will not abandon the state in a time of need the way Abbott did. The most recent Lyceum Poll taken in March 2022 showed the candidates only two points apart- the narrowest margin since O’Rourke announced his candidacy. Taking that into consideration as well as how Texas has been becoming less and less politically divided in past elections with increasing youth voter turnout and growing cities, it is likely that O’Rourke could catch Texas by storm and be the state’s first Democratic governor since 1995.