Editorial: Guide to the Governor Election

Texas Sees Closest Gubernatorial Race in Decades


graphic by Amelia Coleman

Beck Williams and Norah Hussaini

With the 2022 midterm elections less than a month away, Texas is now gripped by one of the most competitive gubernatorial races in the state’s recent history. With incumbent Republican Greg Abbott leading Democrat Beto O’Rourke by only five percentage points according to a University of Texas poll conducted in August, many Texans hope to see the state’s first Democratic governor since Anne Richards left office more than two decades ago. 

The two main contenders in the gubernatorial race are Governor Abbott, a conservative Republican who has served as governor since 2015, and Mr. O’Rourke, a liberal Democrat who has positioned himself as an outsider and a man of the people. Abbott’s campaign has described him as a “strong conservative leader who fights to preserve Texas values,” focused on addressing issues of education, the economy, and border security. O’Rourke has committed to working against gun violence, poverty, and climate change, as well as opposing restrictions on abortion and immigration. While O’Rourke’s platform has been popular with some Texans, including Black, Hispanic, and urban voters, it has also drawn criticism for its liberalism in the traditionally conservative state – including from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who called O’Rourke “looney” and “a radical left-winger” in a campaign email.

The most important issue to Texas voters by a 13 percentage point margin, according to the aforementioned University of Texas poll, is immigration and border security. As the state which shares the longest border with Mexico, immigration from Latin America has long been a focal point of Texas politics. The debate over immigration has only intensified since Donald Trump made border security a major component of his 2016 campaign for the United States presidency. 

While Donald Trump and other Republicans have continued to call for the construction of a wall along the United States’ border with Mexico, some Republican governors, including Abbott, have begun a program of bussing undocumented immigrants to Democratic strongholds, including New York and the District of Columbia. In September, Florida governor Ron Desantis drew criticism for flying 50 Venezuelan migrants to the traditionally wealthy and white Massachusetts vacation destination Martha’s Vineyard, with the White House calling the flights “a political stunt” and inhumane. While the flights were arranged by the Florida governor, their origin was San Antonio, Texas. 

With more than 40% of the Texas’ population identifying as Hispanic or Latino, according to the United States Census Bureau, and a record number of immigration arrests along the southern border –more than two million for fiscal year 2022, most of which were made in Texas– immigration and the border will likely grow in importance in Texas elections. Though Abbott has praised legal immigration, he has consistently supported heightened security at the border, including a wall, and has called for the deportation of illegal immigrants. O’Rourke, while agreeing with the necessity of certain security measures to reduce human trafficking and smuggling, has called for a simplification of the immigration process and a pathway to citizenship for migrants currently in the United States.

Though it has long been a point of contention in Texas politics, abortion has, in recent months, become another especially relevant issue. In June, the Supreme Court of the United States overruled the landmark Roe v. Wade in its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, nullifying the court’s earlier assertion of a constitutional right to abortion. Despite consistent criticism from the legal community and an active pro-life movement, many had viewed Roe and the right to abortion as settled law. While Texas had implemented a law allowing civil action to be taken against those who performed or aided an abortion after a fetal heartbeat could be detected in 2021, the state began to enforce a near-total abortion ban in late August following the ruling in Dobbs

Although the Texas abortion ban does include an exception for the life of the mother, critics such as the American Civil Liberies Union have claimed that the law prevents women from obtaining medical treatment for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and other complicating conditions. While these claims have been disputed, O’Rourke has criticised the law over them as well as the lack of exceptions for cases involving rape and incest. O’Rourke has articulated staunch opposition to abortion restrictions, and promised to “veto any future legislation that seeks to further control women.” Abbott, on the other hand, has maintained his support for the near-total ban on abortions in Texas, promising to “defend the culture of life in Texas.”

After the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that killed 21, many Texans renewed calls for stricter gun laws. The firearm used in the shooting, an AR-15 style rifle, was purchased legally along with multiple other guns and ammunition. The shooting came only weeks after a racially motivated shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and was in the mold of other school shootings such as those at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Marjory Stoneman-Douglass High School. Entities such as March for Our Lives have reiterated demands that new restrictions be implemented to prevent future shootings, and have organized protests at the Texas Capitol. 

Beto O’Rourke has made gun control a central facet of his campaign, going viral during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary for stating his intent to “take your AR-15s.” While O’Rourke has softened his message for the gubernatorial race, stating he is “proud of Texas’ long tradition of responsible gun ownership,” he maintains his support for a ban on AR-15s, AK-47s, and similar weapons. Abbott has opposed most restrictions on firearms, in 2021 signing into law the removal of a permit requirement to carry a gun in public. Abbott has instead emphasized increased security and better mental health services as ways to prevent future shootings.

There can be no doubt that the upcoming Texas gubernatorial election will be of great consequence. While immigration, abortion, and gun control are some of the most contentious issues, many others, including the state economy and climate change, will be dramatically affected by the outcome of the election. With many LASA students eligible to vote, it is imperative that young people make their voices heard. The decisions made now will impact today’s students for the rest of their lives, and the LASA Liberator strongly encourages all who can to be active in Texas politics and vote when eligible.