Although they played a variety of topics, these are the three main points of the night:
Border security and immigration
The night began with immigration, an issue one of the presenters called “especially relevant here in the Rio Grande Valley” and one that is a top priority for Texas voters in polls.
Abbott’s campaign has focused on immigration and security for months after the state the legislature advocated billions of dollars increase investment for law enforcement and arrests along the border. Abbott defended the Lone Star program but said the number assigned was too high.
“Zero dollars should go to Operation Lone Star, and that would be if we had a president who would enforce the immigration laws of the United States of America,” Abbott said. O’Rourke criticized the governor’s spending of tax dollars on the show as “political theater.”
For months, the governor has been sending buses of immigrants from Texas to blue cities, a move that has been followed by other governors, such as Ron DeSantis of Florida. The two candidates clashed over the program, with Abbott responding to criticism that there had been no communication between Texas and the cities about the buses.
In response to a question about sanctuary cities receiving migrant buses, O’Rourke said, “I live on the border, no one cares more about border security than those who raise our children there.” During his time on the city council, O’Rourke added, “we were able to help make El Paso, Texas, one of the safest cities in the United States of America because we were looking for solutions instead of gimmicks.”
Gun control has been a core part of O’Rourke’s political platform following the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso in 2019. The Uvalde school shooting renewed the urgency among national Democrats and some Republicans to pass new gun safety laws, which O’Rourke adopted as part of his campaign, including an explicit answer to a troublemaker during an August town hall.
“We want to end school shootings, but we can’t do it by making false promises. It is a false promise to suggest that we can pass a law that will be supported by the Constitution to raise the age,” Abbott said, referring to a previous statement. federal appeals court decision which overturned an age bar on obtaining a firearms license. He added that his views come “purely from a legal position” based on that decision.
In the past, O’Rourke has said he supported eliminating Texans’ assault weapons, but recently backed away from that position. He said that as governor, he would focus on what was possible, including universal background checks and raising the minimum purchase age to 21.
One presenter asked why the governor hadn’t called a special session on firearms after the Uvalde shooting, considering he’s called the legislature multiple times last year. Abbott said it wasn’t necessary to call one so soon after the shooting just to take action, but the issue will come up when the chambers meet again in January.
O’Rourke responded by referencing Abbott’s infamous comments shortly after the shooting, where the governor said “as horrible as what happened [in Uvalde], it could have been worse” if the police had not been on the scene. Abbott said he had been misled about the botched situation and that he was unaware that dozens of officers were out of the school for more than an hour without confronting the shooter.
“The ball stops at your desk. You blame everyone else, you blame Joe Biden,” O’Rourke responded, before being interrupted for timeout.
The Texas state legislature was one of the leaders in enacting strict abortion laws last year before the fall of Roe vs. Wade, when Abbott signed a law that allows private parties to sue those who “aid and abet” in providing abortion services. The restrictions tightened when the Supreme Court issued its ruling ending the nation’s right to abortion earlier this year, and Texas and other states immediately enacted laws that banned the procedure entirely.
Despite the Republican legislature’s strong influence on national politics, a variety of polls show a slim majority of Texans approve of relaxing state restrictions on abortion. the Hispanic Policy Foundation of Texas found this month that about 11 percent of voters surveyed say the current laws don’t go far enough, while 37 percent believe the laws should stay as they are.
Abbott repeated his position that the Plan B pill, which is not an abortion medication, would be more available as a primary solution, even when the patient is a victim of rape and incest. Asked if he supported any limits on abortion, O’Rourke said he wanted to return to the low standard. Roe vs. Wade.
The governor also claimed that his opponent supported “abortion of a fully developed child up to the last second before birth” and “unlimited abortion at taxpayer expense.” O’Rourke said neither of those claims was accurate.
“I never said that and nobody thinks that in the state of Texas,” he replied.
O’Rourke made his comments clear: “I don’t think Greg Abbott will wake up wanting to see kids getting shot in their schools, or the network going down,” he said. “But it is clear that he is unable or unwilling to make the changes necessary to put the lives of our fellow Texans first. That is why he is up to all of us to make sure we have change at the polls.”
Abbott finished with a list of his accomplishments in categories like job creation and education: “I’m running for re-election to keep Texas number one, to lower property taxes, to secure the border, to keep criminals out.” behind bars and to keep deadly fentanyl off our streets,” Abbott said. “We will keep Texas as number one.”