Both Greg Abbott and former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke have declared that the “future of Texas” is at stake in their race for governor. But the two have not once shared a stage this election season to make the case for their very different political visions. That might change Friday night in Edinburg, near McAllen, where Abbott has agreed to debate O’Rourke at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in the lone head-to-head event the notoriously scripted governor has accepted. (You can find out where you’ll be able to watch the debate, which starts at 7 p.m., here.)
Britt Moreno, news anchor for KXAN-TV in Austin, will host the event, featuring questions from a few reporters around the state. Here is what the Texas Monthly news and politics team would ask the candidates on some of the most pressing issues for Texans.
For Abbott: According to a June poll conducted by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, 80 percent of Texans (and 71 percent of Republicans) support access to abortion in cases of rape. Seventy-eight percent (and 72 percent of Republicans) support the procedure if she becomes pregnant as a result of incest, and 69 percent (and 57 percent of Republicans) if there is a strong chance of a serious birth defect. Yet you signed a law banning abortion under all of those circumstances. Do the opinions of large majorities of Texans matter to you on this issue?
For O’Rourke: According to an August poll, Texans also favor some restrictions on abortion. Only 19 percent of Texans support abortions at any time during pregnancies that aren’t the result of rape or incest or don’t have a strong chance of serious birth defects. Up to what point in a pregnancy, and under what circumstances, do you think abortion should be legal?
On election administration:
For Abbott: Nearly a year after the 2020 election, you called for an audit of the results in Texas at former president Donald Trump’s behest. Do you have faith in the state’s 2020 election results? Do you believe Joe Biden won that election nationally? Win or lose, will you accept the outcome of your race this November?
For O’Rourke: In the past, both the Democratic and Republican parties of Texas have gerrymandered districts to expand their partisan advantage and protect incumbents. If you become governor, would you support creating an independent redistricting committee to draw electoral maps?
On energy and the electric grid:
For Abbott: Texans’ power and gas bills have risen significantly since the 2021 blackout, during which hundreds of Texas died and gas pipeline companies made multibillion-dollar profits. There has been no state investigation into whether those profits were ill-gotten. Why didn’t you support one? Did it have anything to do with Kelcy Warren, the chairman of Energy Transfer Partners, donating $1 million to you on June 23, 2021, months after his company made $2.4 billion during the blackout and mere days after the legislative session ended?
For Abbott: You have accused O’Rourke of wanting to “California-ize the Texas grid,” in part over his plan to connect our grid to the national one, and have argued that doing so would threaten electric reliability in our state. But since 2000, Texas has had more weather-related outages than any other state. And while the winter storm in 2021 hit dozens of states in the middle of the country, none suffered the widespread outages we did, in large part because all of those other states require winterization of gas and power facilities. Why would connecting to the national grid be bad for our state, and why does Texas still not require winterization of such facilities?
For O’Rourke: Texas has become a massive exporter of natural gas to Europe, helping U.S. allies during an energy crisis and weaning the continent off dependence on Russian gas. In the past you’ve lent support to New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, which has called for the phasing out of fossil fuels. What would you do to support the oil and gas industry of Texas, particularly as U.S. reserves have become essential to international diplomacy?
On extreme weather:
For both Abbott and O’Rourke: Texas weather has always been extreme, with annual droughts, hurricanes, and heat waves. But it is getting more extreme, according to Texas’s official state climatologist and other experts. What will you do to prepare Texas for the future of this weather?
On governing Texas:
For Abbott: Your political adviser Dave Carney said in May that ordering state employees to investigate the parents of transgender children for child abuse was a “seventy-five to eighty percent winner” for you, politically speaking. Was Carney correct to imply that you base your policy decisions, including ones that could result in children being separated from their parents, on polling?
For O’Rourke: When seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2019, you said that Joe Biden offered only a “return to the past,” that the Obama administration “wasn’t good enough,” and that the former vice president could not be the party’s standard-bearer in 2020. Then, a few months later, after you ended your bid, you endorsed Biden over many other Democratic challengers still in the race. How would you respond to critics who say your politics are primarily motivated by political expediency?
For O’Rourke: As a member of Congress you introduced only three bills that were passed into law, one of them naming a federal courthouse in El Paso. You’ve never served in an executive role. What experience has prepared you to be governor of a state of nearly 30 million people?
For Abbott: In September you said that a hypothetical law raising the minimum age to purchase an assault-style weapon from 18 to 21—a policy 71 percent of Texans support—would be unconstitutional, pointing to three recent court rulings on firearm restrictions. Independent legal analysts dispute that any of those rulings make clear that such a law is “unconstitutional,” however, and you’ve been comfortable signing controversial laws in the past that might break existing Supreme Court precedent—particularly those restricting abortion access. Do you personally support raising the minimum age to purchase semiautomatic weapons, and is there a reason you wouldn’t sign a bill that does so and let the Supreme Court rule on it?
For O’Rourke: When running for president in 2019, you supported mandatory gun buybacks, and famously declared at a debate, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15.” You’ve been more cautious on the campaign trail this year, saying you support “modest red flag laws” restricting certain individuals from owning firearms and increased background checks for those purchasing guns. Do you stand by your 2019 declaration, and if not, why have you changed your stance?
On housing costs and property tax:
For Abbott: You have campaigned on the slogan “Don’t California My Texas,” while trying to entice California businesses to move here with grants from the taxpayer-funded Texas Enterprise Fund, along with various tax breaks, and welcoming them when they do. Rents and the cost of living are exploding across the state, in part because of those newcomers. Do you want more newcomers to move to Texas? And why should Texas taxpayers subsidize the recruitment of newcomers who drive up the cost of living for established Texans?
For O’Rourke: Governor Abbott has promised to use half of the state’s projected $27 billion surplus to reduce property taxes, which have skyrocketed across Texas in recent years. You have said that you’ll bring down property taxes by making corporations “pay their fair share.” Which corporations would pay more under a Governor O’Rourke, and how much revenue would those tax increases generate?
On immigration and the border:
For Abbott: In announcing and defending your plan to bus asylum-seekers to liberal cities, you’ve talked about the need for other states besides Texas to shoulder the processing burden for the record numbers of migrants crossing the border. But many of your buses have arrived in Washington, D.C. ,and New York City without any heads-up for local authorities or aid groups. If you really want these other cities and states to help, why haven’t you worked collaboratively with their leaders?
For O’Rourke: You’ve criticized Governor Abbott’s border policies, such as Operation Lone Star and his migrant busing program. But communities on the Texas border are struggling to house and shelter record numbers of asylum-seekers, and a plurality of Texans say we need to spend more on border security. What is your plan to aid these communities and to address the concerns of Texans across the state who feel we’re admitting more migrants than we can handle?
For Abbott: Is there any issue on which you disagree with former president Donald Trump? If so, what is it?
For O’Rourke: On what issues is the national Democratic party, and the Biden administration, too far left?
On the social safety net:
For Abbott: Texas has the twelfth-highest poverty rate of among states. Your party has controlled all the levers of government in Texas for nearly two decades. Why does our state continue to have so many poor citizens?
For Abbott: Texas is the least-insured state in the country. Since becoming governor in 2015, you have rejected Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act, which would insure an additional 1.4 million Texas adults and let the state access an estimated $5.4 billion annually from the federal government. Why have you continued to reject Medicaid expansion?
For O’Rourke: If you were elected governor, you’d almost certainly be working with a Legislature overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans. You’ve promised to enact multiple progressive policies, including accepting Medicaid expansion and increasing the minimum wage. How would you possibly get those priorities—not to mention others such as protecting abortion access—through the Legislature?
What would you ask the candidates? Tweet us @TexasMonthly with your questions.