Town Square

Beto O’Rourke says he wants to bridge the political divide as Texas governor

Texas Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Beto O’Rourke joined Friday’s episode of Town Square to discuss his motivation to run and his want to bridge the gap between Texans.

Democrat Beto O'Rourke speak to the media during a campaign stop, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in San Antonio.

Texas Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Beto O'Rourke announced this week that he would be running for governor.

He joined Friday’s episode of Town Square with Ernie Manouse to discuss his motivation to run and the importance of bridging the political divide among Texans.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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I’m curious what went into you deciding that now was the time to announce, and what were the elements that you considered in making this decision?

It’s where Texas is and where we want Texas to be. Right now, we’re really struggling through some basic issues of competence in our government. Whether or not the electricity grid will work this winter and during the next winter storm after losing power to more than 5 million in February. Losing the lives of hundreds of our fellow Texans, including an 11-year-old boy who unfortunately froze to death, because we could not keep the power running in the energy capital of North America.

The 72,000 who died of COVID so far, and just all these divisive culture war issues that the governor is promoting, whether it’s the women’s reproductive health care ban that has set a bounty on those who choose to make their own decisions about their own health care, or the permitless carry law that members of law enforcement urged the governor not to sign.

I think most people in Texas, as we look towards the future, want us focused on the big things that bring us together. Jobs, world class public schools, and moving forward on common sense things like expanding Medicaid, so more Texans in the least-insured state in the country, can actually afford to see a doctor. So, all of those things together make me so excited to run, because I know that if we can help pull this state together, we can do anything we set our minds to.

I’m curious, on a very personal level, when you were contemplating doing this run, can you explain the process of thinking to say, “yes, I’m going to enter this race.”

A decision this important, in addition to what I think I could help do for the state of Texas and the people who live here, can only be made when you think about those who are closest to you. And so, for me, that’s our kids that Amy and I are raising in El Paso, Texas, and thinking about the kind of state that they’re growing up in, and the one that they’ll hopefully raise their kids some day.

Are we going to be defined by the smallness of this moment, and the hyperpolarized and divided Texas that we find ourselves in? Where we no longer trust one another and are increasingly unable to work with one another, and aren’t able to depend on some of the things that we have always taken for granted, like our government working or the lights turning on, or being able to trust those in positions of power to give us the truth?

And you know, you can’t just complain about it, you can’t just worry about it. And you know what, some day you’re going to have to face your kids and answer for it. And anticipating all of that and thinking through it I thought, you know, we’ve got this extraordinary opportunity to do something here. We know this state so well. I’ve campaigned with and worked with literally tens-of-thousands of people across the state of Texas, so many of whom I’m still in touch with. All of whom said, "we have a chance to do something, now let’s get out there and do it."

And there was no way to say no to all that, again, starting with and especially my kids and my responsibility to them and my responsibility to do something with the opportunity that we have. And I just know that we can do better and I think Texans know that we can do better. And that folds into your other questions about, you know, can we win this thing, actually? And, you know, are the issues compelling? I mean, the answer to all of that is "yes" as well, but it begins with what you have to know inside and who ultimately you are doing this for, and it’s got to be for the future of the state.

So, I feel very good about this. And you know, when it comes to the polling and the prospects and our chances, I mean, who the hell knows, right? At the end of the day, this is the hardest thing to predict in the world. But if you only did it when it was safe to do it, if you only did it when the pollster told you it was OK, you could probably never get anything done. No one would ever do the things that are hard and worth doing. So there couldn’t be anything more worth doing than running right now. So I feel very grateful to be able to do this.

Are there lessons you take from previous campaigns that you’ve learned that you think you can adjust for this race to get to the governor’s mansion?

It has to be about the people of this state, and it can not be about the candidate. Can’t be about the candidate’s political party, it’s got to be about the people of Texas. And when we do that, we transcend so many of those divisions that are in place right now. And so when you hear me talk about the issues that are most important to me, it’s because they’re the issues that are most important to those that I’m listening to.

I just left the city of Brownsville where we met with Mayor (Trey) Mendez. They’re investing $20 million to build out broadband infrastructure in what is the least connected city in the United States of America, and are going to transform it into one of the most connected cities in the United States of America. None of that has anything to do with a political party and everything to do with his ability to attract employers, build on the success of SpaceX, ensure that the kids who go to his schools can actually learn online when they need to, and even allows his constituents to access telemedicine, which was a luxury they could never afford because they couldn’t get online.

So I want to make sure that I stay really focused on what I’m hearing from people in their communities, and how I can most help them. So that’s something that I definitely learned and picked up on in 2018, when we traveled the entire state. It’s something that was a lot harder to do, frankly, on a national level where you’re literally always on a national stage. And you don’t have that chance, at a community or even individual level, to listen to people where they are, and meet them where they’re at.

You can do that in a race like this one. And that’s why, just over the last four days I’ve been in Jim Hogg County, I’ve been in the Laredo, I’ve been in McAllen, I’ve been in San Antonio. I was in Pecos County, in Fort Stockton talking to the county judge there about expanding Medicaid. And that’s the county that Donald Trump won by 69%.

So you better believe they weren’t listening to me because I’m a Democrat. They were listening to me because I showed up and I was listening to them. So I think that’s the best lesson of the moment. We got to listen to each other again, trust one another, and bridge the divides by coming together and getting the big stuff done.

Speaking a little of the divides, is there such a thing as a "Texan" anymore? Or is there urban Texans and rural Texans? Do you find that there are similarities across the state of all the people?

There’s a profoundly deep pride in this state. When we talk about being a Texan, we do so with extraordinary pride. And it’s tough right now, because so much of the rest of the country is hearing about the reproductive health care ban and these vigilante bounties are being paid out, $10,000 any American who can catch a woman in Texas trying to make her own health care decisions. This permitless carry law that allows anyone to carry a loaded gun, even though 35,000 licenses to carry a firearm were denied over the last five years. Now anyone is able to carry one of those and ask the parents in Santa Fe High School and the folks in El Paso, Texas, or those in Midland, Odessa, or Sutherland Springs — four of the worst mass shooting in American history have taken place in the state just in the last five years.

Instead of being gun safe and gun responsible, we have these reckless extremist policies trying to decide which middle school girls can play which athletics. All of this stuff instead of focusing on the big things that we care about, that’s unreflective of the pride that we feel as Texans.

Let’s get back to those things that bring us all together, not Red vs. Blue, not rural versus big city, not Mountain Time Zone along with my friends in El Paso versus the rest of you in the Central Time Zone. But all of us together all the time. It’s the only way the state gets on the right track. The only way we’ll actually achieve these big things that we want to do.

Play a little fantasy here with me: You are now governor. What’s the first thing you’re going to do to ensure our power grid stays strong?

We’re going to force the gas companies to weatherize gas production. As you know from the report that was just released yesterday by ERCOT, the gas CEOs — the biggest contributors to Greg Abbott — have been left off the hook. And for the measly price of $150, they can opt out of weatherization, which I guarantee you will produce another tragedy like the one that we experienced this past February, where 5 million were sent into the dark and hundreds lost their lives, because we didn’t hold those with the power to keep the power on accountable.

So let’s make sure that we weatherize, let’s interconnect with the rest of the country’s grid so we can draw down power when we need it, and let’s start creating more jobs in Texas. Weatherizing, not just the grid, but our homes, our offices, our industrial buildings. That energy efficiency will draw less power down from the grid, it will reduce our energy and electricity bills, and it will produce more jobs in Texas. Those are very simple, non-partisan solutions, that I think most people in Texas apart from the gas company CEOs can probably agree with. So let’s pursue that.

Infrastructure — a big, big deal earlier this week getting passed into law — how would you see this money being distributed throughout the state?

I’m so excited about this. It’s $100 million coming to Texas, just for broadband internet. Half of rural Texas cannot reliably get online right now. So maybe taking a page out of Congressman LBJ who in 1936, working with FDR, implemented the Rural Electrification Administration, so we could light up rural communities across Texas — let’s do the same thing with the internet in 2021.

Tens of billions of dollars in road, bridge, and transit money coming into the state. I know the city of Houston can use that money, my hometown of El Paso could as well. That’s good news. And then lastly — and perhaps most importantly, because in many communities, it’s literally a matter of life or death — there are tens of millions coming to clean up our water supply system, to replace old pipes like the ones I heard about just now in Jim Hogg County from County Judge Juan Carlos Guerra that have arsenic in those pipes that makes drinking the tap water dangerous.

This is all good news. It’s going to improve our quality of life and public safety. And it’s also going to translate into more jobs as that money gets distributed and those projects begin being implemented. We’re going to have to start hiring people in Texas to do those jobs, and that’s a very good thing.

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