Abbott-O’Rourke debate centers on school safety, border, reproductive rights

Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O'Rourke debated Friday night ahead of the Texas gubernatorial election. Left photo by Eric Gay | AP Photo, Right photo by Katy Mae Turner | Photographer

By Caitlyn Meisner | Staff Writer

The only debate between the main candidates for Texas governor, incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Beto O’Rourke (D), took place Friday. The two debated reproductive rights, immigration and school safety.

The 7 p.m. debate was hosted by NEXSTAR media group and was held at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley without a live audience. Local television stations across the state broadcast the live debate.

KXAN news anchor Britt Moreno hosted the debate alongside a panel of journalists, including Steve Spriester of KSAT San Antonio, Sally Hernandez of KXAN and Gromer Jeffers of the Dallas Morning News.

Candidates had 60 seconds to respond to a question asked by the panel, 30 seconds to make an initial rebuttal against a statement made by the other and 15 seconds to make a second rebuttal.

The one-hour debate started off strong with questions about the Texas border.

A poll conducted by The Baylor Lariat through Instagram on Sept. 30 asked readers for the qualities they look for in a candidate when deciding who to vote for. The answers varied, including legal immigration, human rights, reproductive rights, moral character and “how they will take care of Texas.”

Border issues, Operation Lone Star and busing

Hernandez began by asking Abbott what he would do to alleviate the financial burdens placed on communities close to the Texas border, where there is an influx of migrants.

“We’ve been working to respond to the disaster caused by the Biden administration,” Abbott said. “Just two years ago, we had the safest border in decades. Texas has responded by having the National Guard and DPS respond [and] by busing them to sanctuary cities.”

O’Rourke responded by criticizing Abbott’s answer:

“What we just heard from the governor is likely to hear over the course of this debate,” O’Rourke said. “He’s going to blame President Biden. He’s going to try to lie about my record and distract from his failures.”

O’Rourke continued by explaining a legislative response to the border crisis:

“What we need is a safe, legal, orderly path for anyone who wants to come here to work, to join family or to seek asylum,” O’Rourke said. “If you come to this country, we expect you to follow the law.”

Abbott said the funds allocated to Operation Lone Star should not have to be allocated because of “Joe Biden’s failure to do the president’s job.”

“The job of governor is have to deal with the chaos caused by the Biden administration and his open-border policies,” Abbott said.

The panel then asked Abbott why migrants are being bused to Democratic-led cities as opposed to Republican-led cities.

“The cities of New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago are so large and have the capability of accommodating the number of migrants that are being sent there,” Abbott said.

Gun control and Uvalde

The panel played a video of a Robb Elementary student questioning the current law in Texas. The student asked how people can buy a gun at the age of 18 but cannot legally buy beer until they are 21.

Abbott made a constitutional argument, saying the reason why Texas has had to maintain the age requirement to buy a gun. He said he would be making false promises by suggesting a law can be passed to raise the age requirement. Abbott pivoted to blame mental health as the reason for school shootings.

O’Rourke said Uvalde families drove five hours to be at the debate, even though they were not let inside.

“It’s been 18 weeks since their kids have been killed, and not a thing has changed,” O’Rourke said. “All we need is action, and the only person standing in our way is [Abbott].”


Emergency contraceptives was the first topic the panel presented to Abbott and O’Rourke.

Abbott was asked to clarify his position regarding Plan B and whether it is the alternative in cases of rape and incest.

“It depends on what you mean by alternative,” Abbott said. “Our alternatives to abortion provide living assistance [and] baby supplies, and we’ve increased funding for prenatal and postpartum care.”

O’Rourke was asked to clarify his position on abortion — specifically if he supports any limit on when a woman can receive one — but he did not provide an answer.

He pivoted to the subject of untested rape kits in the state of Texas. O’Rourke answered the original question after Abbott claimed his opponent supports abortions of a “fully developed child to the very last second before birth.”

“He’s saying this because he signed the most extreme abortion ban in America,” O’Rourke said.

Defunding the police

Abbott claimed that O’Rourke supports defunding the police, to which O’Rourke said he does not support this initiative.

“I raised police salaries 12% in the six years that I served here,” O’Rourke said. “In Congress, I funded $11 billion to local and state law enforcement across the country. I want to fund law enforcement training so that everyone is treated equally under the law.”

Abbott said initiatives to defund the police have not helped, especially in Harris County. He said the easy bail policy has increased murder rates.

Energy and the power grid

Abbott said the power grid was very reliable and competent.

“No Texan has lost power because of the Texas power grid,” Abbott said.

O’Rourke said the governor was warned about potential power grid failures but did not do anything about it.

“When the blackout [in February 2021] started, he ordered the price of electricity pegged at its highest allowable rate,” O’Rourke said. “Gas started trading at 200 times what it had sold for the day before.”

The candidates squabbled over electricity prices; O’Rourke claimed Abbott is the “highest driver of inflation in the state of Texas right now,” while Abbott maintained electricity prices in Texas are the lowest in America.

Both candidates were asked to make closing statements.

O’Rourke’s closing statement said:

“I don’t think Greg Abbott wakes up wanting to see children being shot in their schools or for the grid to fail, but it’s clear that he’s incapable or unwilling to make the changes necessary to prioritize the lives of our fellow Texans.”

Abbott’s closing statement said:

“I’m running for reelection to keep Texas No. 1, to cut your property taxes, to secure the border, to keep dangerous criminals behind bars and to keep deadly fentanyl off our streets. Together, we will keep Texas No. 1.”

Early voting begins Oct. 24 and lasts until Nov. 4. Election Day is Nov. 8, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.