Politics

Winter storm prompts campaign sparring between O’Rourke, Abbott over grid readiness

O’Rourke said despite the power staying on this week, Texans shouldn’t forget last year’s disaster. Abbott’s campaign said that was just talk from a struggling candidate.

Beto O’Rourke and Greg Abbott.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke said Friday that the week's winter weather wasn't a true test of the state's energy grid capabilities and said Gov. Greg Abbott still needs to be held accountable for last winter's storm that was responsible for hundreds of deaths in Texas.

"It was, by every measure, far milder than what we saw last February. And we are all grateful for it and we all prayed that it would be because it's not me or anyone else outside of the power infrastructure saying this," O'Rourke said, referencing a November report by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

O'Rourke, a former U.S. Congressman from El Paso who lost a close 2018 race against Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spoke with reporters Friday morning before embarking on a 12-day "Keep the Lights On" tour where he is scheduled to meet with supporters in Odessa and Abilene this weekend before continuing to other parts of the state.

"The fact is the lights didn't stay on for 10 million customers across the state of Texas (last year). And that's going to be our future unless we change course right now. We are so grateful that yesterday was relatively mild when compared to last February and we didn't have the kind of outages that so many people feared," he said.

"There is a reason that so many people had a traumatic reaction to seeing the weather reports that the temperature was going to plunge across the state of Texas," O'Rourke added.

Abbott's campaign quickly fired back and said O'Rourke was instead hoping the power failed.

"He's using this storm to shamelessly advance his lackluster campaign," Mark Miner, the Abbott campaign's communications director, told The Texas Newsroom. "The truth of the matter is that Texas faced a storm (and) the grid is stronger than it ever has been. He's running a campaign based on fear mongering and the people of Texas deserve better than that."

Miner followed up with a campaign email further mocking O'Rourke's statewide trip.

"Today extreme liberal and credibility-challenged Beto O'Rourke starts his ‘Praying the Lights Go Out' tour with more whining and no solutions," wrote Miner. "As Texas continues to face extreme cold weather, Beto O'Rourke is using this crisis to shamelessly hide from his support for open borders, defunding the police and the Green New Deal, which will kill hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs."

When asked if the campaign is confident that Texas would have avoided a major blackout had this week's storm lasted for several days, the way last February's storm did, Miner responded "Let's not play a game of ‘ifs' or hypotheticals."

"The governor is dealing with the current situation and the grid has been resilient in getting through this," said Miner.

O'Rourke on Friday also went after the contributions made to Abbott's campaign by energy moguls. The Dallas Morning News reported donations exceeding $3 million from industry officials were made after the governor held meetings with them in December. O'Rourke specifically mentioned a $1 million donation from Energy Transfer executive chairman Kelcy Warren. O'Rourke said the consequence of the donations was Abbott not forcing the energy executives to weatherize their facilities.

"We all run the risk of seeing more death, more power outages and more billions of dollars of costs to the people of Texas," O'Rourke said.

When asked about the donation from Warren, Miner said: "It shows nothing. The governor reports to the people of Texas, that's who he is accountable to."

A poll of 1,400 registered voters conducted last week found that a majority of Texans think the state Legislature adequately addressed the issue last year.

Of those surveyed, 53% believe and 47% do not believe laws passed during the 2021 legislative session improved grid reliability.

Mark P. Jones, a senior research fellow at the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs, told Houston Public Media that the gap between those who approve and those who don't falls along party lines.

"Half of Texans believe that we have nothing to worry about, that the state government took care of everything that needed to be done during 2021," Jones told the station. "Half don't believe that."

Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

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