Beto Hits the Road for the Last Leg of His Tour

Gun Rights

After a brief hiatus to treat a bacterial infection, the Democratic nominee for governor, Beto O’Rourke, resumed the final leg of his 49-day summer campaign tour in Laredo Friday night. O’Rourke has an edge Abbott lacks: passion. While Abbott stayed put in the governor’s mansion—still shirking his responsibility to do anything about gun violence—O’Rourke showed up to talk to residents in overlooked Texas towns on the border.

Rochelle Garza, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, warmed up the O’Rourke supporters. 

“[Current Republican Attorney General] Ken Paxton has never seen a crime he doesn’t want to commit,” she said, “because he doesn’t believe the law applies to him.” 

Recent polls show Garza is within the margin of error to unseat Paxton, who has yet to stand trial after felony securities fraud charges were brought against him seven years ago. He has denied wrongdoing.

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“Let me let in you on the big news,” O’Rourke told cheering supporters. “We are going to win this election in November.”

For much of the summer, O’Rourke has been on a 70-stop tour of the state, reaching out to voters in rural, right-leaning counties and drawing sizable crowds. Democrats have not won a statewide election in nearly 30 years.

“We are going to win because we are running against the worst governor in the United States today.”

Abbott’s poor performance as governor during the 2021 electric grid failure and his “it could have been worse” shrugging off of the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde has given O’Rourke openings to attack. 

“In Abbott’s Texas, it is you or me,” he told Laredoans. “In our Texas, it is you and me.” 

He touted his support for legalized marijuana, gun regulation, higher teacher pay, the end of controversial standardized testing in primary and secondary schools, and housing for homeless veterans. 

“We are going to win because we are running against the worst governor in the United States today,” he said. 

On Saturday morning, more than 200 O’Rourke supporters cheered for the candidate as he spoke inside the Eagle Pass Multi-Purpose Center. The morning rain, much needed in this sun-drenched corner of the state, made the air humid. Sweat trickled down O’Rourke’s neck as he spoke about immigration. He acknowledged that the U.S. urgently needs immigration reform and held the Biden administration responsible for failing to make the issue a priority. Still, he said that the people fleeing their home countries and risking their lives to cross the Rio Grande do so for good reasons.

David Vielma, 23, was satisfied with O’Rourke’s solutions, namely to reform immigration, streamline the asylum process, and support law enforcement. Vielma has come across dozens of migrants near his home in Eagle Pass. A majority, he said, come from Venezuela. 

“The big point is to hold Joe Biden accountable. The federal government needs to cooperate with Venezuela and arrange safe passage,” he said. At least eight migrants died attempting to cross the Rio Grande into Texas last week. 

The governor’s solution to unlawful migration was Operation Lone Star, which flooded the borderlands with state troopers and the Texas National Guard. Vielma said the surge in law enforcement has not helped. If anything, he said, Abbott’s deployments have only further militarized border towns, bringing more pointless fencing, ugly shipping containers, and razor wire that mar the riverbank in Eagle Pass’ formerly picturesque Shelby Park.

Sergio Velasquez also took issue with the increased presence of law enforcement. 

“I feel like every 10 miles, I’m going to get pulled over,” he said, noting his skin color is no different than many of the asylum-seekers crossing from Mexico. 

He also expressed concern about private citizens taking the law into their own hands after observing a suspected “citizen’s arrest” on the highway between San Antonio and Eagle Pass. 

“I’ve got to think, if I’m walking down the road, can anyone ask me for papers?” Velasquez added.

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The second town hall of the day, at Doc Holliday’s dance hall an hour north in Del Rio, was smaller and more combative.

“Hell no, Beto. Hell no, Beto,” Mark Vasquez, a protester from Uvalde, yelled through a bullhorn across the street from the venue. A woman stopped to argue with Vasquez about abortion, but otherwise, he and four other Abbott supporters were ignored.

“I don’t know how anyone can be for Beto,” he told me. “Beto is for abortion on demand.”

It’s been 11 days since the Texas trigger law began, criminalizing all abortions.

Dr. Alma Arredondo-Lynch, who lost the Republican primary for Congressional District 23 in March, said the people demanding the governor convene a special session of the Legislature to tackle gun control are ignorant. 

“You have to go through the Legislature,” she said. “Why weren’t people out protesting when the Legislature was open?” 

In the dance hall, voters listened to pitches from cannabis lawyer Susan Hays, who is running for commissioner of agriculture, and former Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano. 

Lozano commended O’Rourke’s open communication style, which helped the young mayor navigate state and federal bureaucracies during the winter storm and the emergency migrant camp incident one year ago, when more than 15,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico and formed a makeshift camp beneath the Del Rio-Acuña International Bridge. He reminded the audience that O’Rourke grew up in El Paso, another Texas town like Del Rio that gets overlooked. It’s the connections he has established, Lozano emphasized, that will bring positive change to border towns.

Yet, as in Eagle Pass, the massacre in Uvalde—the elementary school up the road—was a recurring subject of discussion. Del Rio resident Chris Carrillo commutes to Uvalde on school days. He is a third-grade teacher and hid with his young students from the mass shooter in their Robb Elementary classroom on May 24.

“Texas has had the most school shootings of any state since 2012,” Carrillo told O’Rourke supporters before introducing the candidate. He urged Texans to vote. “We deserve better. We deserve better representation.”

At the Eagle Pass town hall, Linda Yzqulerdo, 49, said she supports O’Rourke because he supports women’s rights (she’s personally against abortion but pro-choice) and because of the government’s failures in Uvalde. Her niece’s cousin died at Robb Elementary. 

“Abbott went to the [National Rifle Association convention] in Houston and supported them instead of talking to families,” she noted, adding that the massacre changed how Texans viewed the governor. Her daughters are knocking on doors for O’Rourke in San Antonio. “Uvalde hit close to home. Most people feel that way.”

Maverick County Democrat Brandon Garcia, a volunteer registrar for Precinct 3A in Eagle Pass, described how his county has changed in recent years—for the worse if you’re not down with the GOP. In 2018, when O’Rourke ran a close statewide race to unseat Senator Ted Cruz, libertarians contacted Garcia for yard signs, which he distributed on behalf of the Democratic party. O’Rourke won the county with 71 percent of the vote. But after he ran for the Democratic nomination for president and declared that, yes, he’s going to take away Texans’ AR-15s, the mood on O’Rourke’s ideas changed. 

“A lot of Republicans called me for signs back in 2018. This year they haven’t because of the gun comment,” said Garcia, adding that, in the past, the county usually voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. In 2016, Maverick gave Hillary Clinton nearly 77 percent of the vote; President Biden only garnered 54 percent in 2020. 

“We got scared in 2020. The Democrats on the national level, at least until 2020, weren’t showing up to the border,” Garcia said. “They take Latinos for granted. Leadership prioritizes more centrist voters instead of convincing non-voters to get out” 

He pointed to the national party’s endorsement of anti-choice Congressman Henry Cuellar in his runoff election, in which progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros nearly beat him. 

“It’s hypocritical to support that candidate and then tell everyone to get out and vote for women’s choice,” Garcia said.

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