Article Lead Image

Beto O’Rourke calls Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a ‘thug,’ says he’ll legalize weed if elected

‘Republicans like to get high just as much as Democrats.’


Mariam Sharia



The Texas Tribune CEO and co-founder Evan Smith delivered a masterclass in interviewing during his conversation with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke at the SXSW conference Saturday in Austin, Texas.

The pair covered all the big things. Smith questioned the former Texas congressman about the February 2021 storm (“we have yet to weatherize and winterize”); voting (“there’s a tradition of voter suppression in the state of Texas”); guns (“It’s easier to carry a gun on the streets of Texas than it is to vote in our polling places“); immigration (“I’m not for a wall”); and, most notably, his opponent: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), whom O’Rourke called “incompetent,” “a thug, an authoritarian.”

In fact, O’Rourke’s answers always circled back to Abbott. Why wouldn’t they? Six years after he became governor, it’s difficult to determine what exactly the governor has accomplished.

“You and I have been around long enough to know that every election is supposedly about the next four years but really, it’s about the last four years,” said Smith. “It’s a referendum, not a choice.”

So, let’s talk about the last four years.

Abbott inherited some of the worst education, foster care, and healthcare institutions in the country, and made them worse. In response to the winter storm that killed hundreds of Texans last year, Abbott shifted culpability from himself to renewable energy—then took a $1 million check from Energy Transfer CEO Kelcy Warren, who had profited colossally when demand for gas skyrocketed. Instead of demanding the legislature force gas companies to winterize and weatherize, he deemed the power grid “stable, resilient, and reliable.”

(Warren, by the way, is now suing O’Rourke for defamation over his criticism of the GOP mega-donor’s $2.4 billion winter storm windfall. “The best defense against libel is the truth,” O’Rourke replied when Smith asked, ”Did you defame him?”)

The governor signed voter suppression legislation that competes with some of the worst in the nation. He placed bounties on the heads of those helping people get abortions. He signed a law allowing Texans to carry guns without permits or training. He directed Texas Child Protective Services to launch child abuse investigations into families receiving gender-affirming care for their transgender children.

O’Rourke hammered the governor for what he called his “crazed fixation” on trans children. “Those same kids who were rescued from sex traffickers, are now being trafficked for sex by their guardians in the state of Texas,” O’Rourke said, citing a recent report. “The governor knew there was a problem for four months, and he did not do shit.”

Despite Abbott’s cartoonishly malevolent behavior, he has yet to face a truly competitive election. But this time around is different—O’Rourke is seeing to it. In 2018, he came “within 215,000 votes of sending Sen. Cruz on a permanent trip to Cancún,” marking the closest U.S. Senate race in Texas in 40 years—a margin of only 2.6%. In December 2019 he launched Powered By People, an organizing group focusing on voter registration and engagement, and traveled around the state for two years, meeting Texans and ensuring they knew who he was and how they lived.

Which is to say, O’Rourke stands a real chance of becoming the first Democratic governor of Texas since Ann Richards. And though he framed every major talking through the lens of our Republican governor’s incompetence and callousness, he knows there is bipartisanship and consensus that can must be found between the parties if we are to ever make any progress. (“We cannot allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good.”)

And one of those bipartisan topics? Weed. If elected governor of Texas, O’Rourke said he’d legalize weed and expunge the records of those arrested for it. When asked about how he’ll get the bill passed despite an overwhelmingly Republican majority legislature, he simply said:

“I’ll let you in on a secret: Republicans like to get high just as much as Democrats.”

The Daily Dot