Candidates Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke took part in the only gubernatorial debate for the Texas general election Sept. 30. The televised debate, which took place at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, set the stage for the candidates to present their stances on issues like immigration, gun control and abortion rights.
To Abbott and O’Rourke: “What would you do to alleviate the financial burden placed on border town communities that directly deal with incoming immigrants from the southern border?”
Abbott accused the Biden administration of allowing the increasing number of immigrants to cross the border through Texas.
“Texas has responded by making sure that we have the National Guard and DPS deployed where they’re making arrests and turning in illegal immigrants,” Abbott said.
He said he was helping border towns by busing immigrants from the areas where Border Patrol is dropping them off to sanctuary cities in the northeastern part of the country.
“This is completely different than the way that things would be under Beto,” Abbott said.
O’Rourke said Abbott was trying to distract voters from his failures as governor.
“What we need is a safe, legal, orderly path for anyone who wants to come here to work, to join their family or to seek asylum,” O’Rourke said.
If elected, O’Rourke said he would work with local leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, to establish a Texas-based guest worker program. This program would alleviate labor demand shortages and reduce inflation in the state, O’Rourke said.
To Abbott: “Is busing immigrants to sanctuary cities on the East Coast a political stunt, and has there been coordination with the states and cities these migrants are being taken to? If not, why?”
Some Republican governors, including Abbott, have taken to busing migrants to eastern and northern sanctuary cities such as New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Abbott said the busing operation began after meeting with local officials from the small communities near the border. Abbott received feedback that these small towns were overrun with migrants and did not have the infrastructure or resources necessary to support them.
“They needed relief, and busing was one of the ways of providing the relief,” Abbott said.
O’Rourke called the act of busing migrants a “political stunt.” He described Abbott’s rhetoric surrounding the issue of immigration as hateful and reprimanded the usage of people as “political pawns.”
“That’s how people get killed at the Walmart in El Paso,” O’Rourke said, referring to the 2019 mass shooting that has been classified as an act of domestic terrorism.
To Abbott and O’Rourke: “Explain your positions on raising the age limit to buy a gun from 18 to 21.”
“It’s a false promise to suggest that we can pass a law that will be upheld by the constitution to raise the age limit,” Abbott said.
Abbott referenced a federal court ruling from August which struck down a Texas law barring adults under 21 from purchasing and carrying handguns to explain that any attempt to raise the age limit would only be overturned.
Abbott said the true problem lies within mental health, or lack thereof.
O’Rourke pointed out that in states where the age limit has been raised, mass shootings have decreased 80%.
To Abbott: “Are you open to implementing red flag laws today?”
Red flag laws are gun-control laws that would allow law enforcement to ask state courts to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person they believe is unstable. During the 2018 governor’s race, Abbott said he was completely against implementing red flag laws in Texas.
In response to the same issue, Abbott made a clear distinction between what he did and didn’t support.
Abbott said he did support making lying on a background check a felony.
“I signed that into law last year,” he said.
The governor also said he supported expanding background checks to include juvenile records and making it a crime for criminal gangs to buy or possess guns.
“I’m still against red flaw lags for the reason that it would deny a lawful Texas gun-owner their constitutional right to due process,” Abbott said.
To O’Rourke: “Are you for confiscating AR-15 style weapons or not?”
During his run for senator in 2018, O’Rourke made threats to confiscate and ban automatic-style weapons. O’Rourke has become less drastic in his stance since then.
“As governor of the state of Texas, I need to be focused on what we can get done,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said raising the minimum age of purchase, passing red flag laws and instituting universal background checks is more achievable than fully banning and confiscating automatic-style weapons.
“I’m for making sure we make progress.”
To Abbott: “Is emergency contraception a viable alternative to abortion for victims of rape or incest?”
After the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, Texas passed one of the strictest abortion bans in the United States. Backed by Abbott, the ban prohibits abortion at all stages, except in the case of a medical emergency, and does not make exception for victims of rape or incest.
Abbott did not directly answer the question but assured viewers that in the case of rape or incest, emergency contraception would be readily available to victims and paid for by the state.
“The state through our alternative to abortion program provides living assistance, baby supplies; all kinds of things that can help them,” Abbott said.
To O’Rourke: “Do you support any limit on when a woman can have an abortion?”
“I will fight to make sure that every woman in Texas can make her own decisions about her own body, her own future and her own healthcare,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said he wants to return to the standard that was set by Roe v. Wade.
“It’s arguable that rapists enjoy more rights under Greg Abbott than the victims do, because they can sue the families of their victims if they help their victim get an abortion,” O’Rourke said, referencing the Texas ‘bounty’ law which empowers private citizens to sue anyone who aids or abets an abortion. If successful, the private citizen can collect a $10,000 reward.
Abbott responded to O’Rourke’s statement by pointing out that he signed a law that eliminated the rapekit test backlog at the Texas Department of Public Safety. He continued by saying that O’Rourke’s position on abortion was actually the most extreme because O’Rourke is for “unlimited abortion at taxpayer expense.”
To Abbott and O’Rourke: “How are you going to keep qualified teachers in the classroom?”
O’Rourke made several assurances to teachers on pay and quality of education to students. He assured that he would pay teachers enough for them to not have to work a second or third job, noting that Texas teachers are underpaid, on average, $7,500 a year.
He also said that teachers would have more valuable classroom time by putting an end to the STAAR test. This would allow teachers to focus on “drawing forth that life-long love of learning from every child.”
Moreover, O’Rourke promised that retired teachers would have a cost-of-living adjustment every year going forward. Retired teachers have not received a cost-of-living adjustment since 2004.
Abbott referenced his campaign push for school choice, which, if implemented, he said would provide six-figure salaries to teachers in the state. School choice would force the state to fund private schools as a way to emphasize parental rights within the education system.
“If teachers will dedicate themselves to be these master teachers they will be able to earn a six figure salary,” Abbott said.
To Abbott and O’Rourke: “Do you support giving teachers a pay raise, and if so, how are you going to pay for that?”
“Absolutely, I want to give them a pay raise,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke proposed raising the state’s share of school funding. In doing so, he suggests the state could reduce property taxes, provide more funding for schools and increase teacher pay.
In response to O’Rourke, Abbot said, “I’ve provided more funding for education than any governor in Texas history.”
Abbott said that just as he has given teachers pay raises in the past, he would continue those pay raises going forward.
The deadline to register to vote in the general election is Oct. 11. Early voting runs from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4 and Election Day is Nov. 8.
Texas A&M University-San Antonio will be a polling site for registered voters in Bexar County.