The likely Democratic nominee for governor made campaign stops in Denton and Dallas as the anniversary of last year’s winter storm approaches.
DENTON — As the North Texas ice melted from last week’s winter blast, Beto O’Rourke on Sunday continued his effort to put the heat on Gov. Greg Abbott for his handling of the 2021 storm that left millions without power and killed more than 240 people.
“The people of Texas understand the failure in leadership,” O’Rourke told The Dallas Morning News. “When we see reporting that tells us that the primary causes for the outage last year have yet to be fixed, like the gas supply, we all know that more changes need to be made, and it looks like we’re not going to get those changes made until we make a change at the top.”
On the third day of his 20-city, 12-day “Keeping the Lights On Tour,” O’Rourke made appearances in Dallas and Denton, highlighted by a visit with Steven Brown, a 24-year-old Dallas man who had his legs amputated last year after developing frostbite during the storm. O’Rourke also staged a rally at a Denton park, where he urged Texans to hold Abbott and others accountable.
“This didn’t have to be our fate. It didn’t have to be our fortune,” O’Rourke said in Denton. “This is no act of God or Mother Nature. This is the failing of the person in the highest position of power in public trust.”
In an effort to steal O’Rourke’s thunder, state Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, scheduled a “Save Texas Energy Jobs” event at the same time and in the same park as O’Rourke’s rally. A few anti-O’Rourke folks shouted into bullhorns during his speech, telling him to “secure the border.”
Abbott campaign spokesman Mark Miner said Sunday that O’Rourke was deceiving Texans and wishing for another catastrophic storm to spark his campaign for governor.
“It’s fearmongering by a desperate candidate who hasn’t unveiled one policy idea,” Miner said.
He pointed to the 14 bipartisan pieces of legislation Abbott signed into law to bolster the state’s electric grid.
“Clearly [O’Rourke] is misleading the public,” Miner said.
Some experts, however, say the state’s power grid has improved but is far from fixed. Like O’Rourke, they point out that natural gas components of the grid need to be weatherized.
“It sure seems like the governor is complacent, judging from his comments,” O’Rourke said.
The Democrat said Sunday that as governor, he would winterize the gas supply, connect Texas to the national grid, lower utility costs by recouping money “stolen” by greedy energy companies, sue companies that engaged in price gouging and appoint an independent market monitor for natural gas issues.
“Your party affiliation does not matter,” O’Rourke said in Denton. “All that matters is that we’re focused on getting this fixed.”
The politics involving the 2021 winter storm and whether or not the electric grid has been adequately fortified are highlighting the race for governor. Abbott and O’Rourke are expected to win their respective primary contests, and they’ve wasted no time in hurling barbs at each other.
Amid last week’s much-hyped winter event, Abbott proclaimed the electric grid was more resilient and reliable than ever. The storm, much weaker than the one last year, did not lead to massive power outages.
But O’Rourke said Texans know the difference between last week and last year, and he wants to highlight the dangers of a faulty grid, particularly for the poor and downtrodden.
O’Rourke said that’s why he visited Brown, who met him in Dallas at CitySquare, a nonprofit that helps fight poverty and homelessness and is providing Brown with housing.
Brown suffered frostbite during last year’s storm and developed a blood infection. He said Sunday he chose amputation rather than dealing with a long and uncertain recovery.
The living conditions at a relative’s home where he was staying were less than ideal, Brown said, so he had to find housing elsewhere. He said he was placed into Health to Home, a collaborative medical respite program involving Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas; Austin Street Center, a Dallas homeless shelter; and CitySquare.
O’Rourke’s road trip ends in Houston on Feb. 15, the anniversary of the 2021 storm and massive blackouts.