AUSTIN (KXAN) — Democratic candidate for Texas governor Beto O’Rourke says Gov. Greg Abbott is making a dangerous promise ahead of winter in Texas.
“Abbott is betting our lives on the weather,” O’Rourke tweeted Sunday. It comes after Abbott said last week that he could “guarantee the lights will stay on” this winter in Texas — just 10 months after failures by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which controls the majority of power in the state, left millions of Texans in the dark for days in freezing temperatures.
At least 210 Texans died from causes related to February’s winter storm, at last count in July. The Department of State Health Services said the majority of confirmed deaths were associated with hypothermia.
The power failures triggered sweeping changes to ERCOT, including the resignation of its CEO and several board members, several laws requiring weatherization of facilities for extreme conditions, and improved communication and alerts to prevent demand from exceeding supply. Abbott says these changes will be enough to prevent another disaster.
“During the winter storm, too many Texans were left without heat or power for days on end, and I immediately made reforming ERCOT and weatherizing the power system emergency items,” Abbott said previously. “We promised not to leave session until we fixed these problems, and I am proud to say that we kept that promise. These laws will improve the reliability of the electric grid and help ensure these problems never happen again.”
But O’Rourke isn’t sold on the promise.
Ahead of a campaign appearance in Austin on Saturday, he tweeted: “A day after Abbott ‘guaranteed’ he’d keep the lights on last winter, millions lost power & 700 died. Now he guarantees he fixed the grid but power operators tell us to prepare for more blackouts. His word is meaningless, dangerous & could get more killed.”
O’Rourke vs. Abbott
Abbott and O’Rourke haven’t been shy about their opinions on each other.
“I think there’s no shortage of reasons for people to fire Greg Abbott as governor,” O’Rourke said after his announcement in November. “In fact, they grow by the day, and when we could look at 72,000 lives lost in Texas by his failure to meet the challenges of this COVID pandemic, or the hundreds who were killed in a winter storm, not because of mother nature, but because of Greg Abbott and his failure to make sure that the power grid was working for all Texans.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Abbott has lobbed several of his own criticisms at O’Rourke — specifically honing in on what he sees as corollaries between O’Rourke and the president.
“Beto O’Rourke has demonstrated he has more in common with President Biden than he does with Texans….,” Abbott said last month. “The last thing Texans need is President Biden’s radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O’Rourke. The contrast for the direction of Texas couldn’t be clearer.”
A recent poll by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation found 43% of registered voters said they’d vote for Abbott and 42% said they’d vote for O’Rourke.
While Democrat O’Rourke hasn’t held public office since 2019, he’s remained among Texas’ biggest political stars.
O’Rourke’s 2018 run to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was a historically narrow loss and for many, represented a shifting electorate in the Lone Star State. The 49-year-old also campaigned for president in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election but suspended his campaign in November 2019.
Among Texans who voted in 2020, 44% said Abbott would get their 2022 vote. Forty-three percent said O’Rourke would get theirs.
Follow KXAN’s Russell Falcon on Twitter @RussellFalcon for more Texas politics updates.