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At Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Beto O’Rourke promises not to take Black voters for granted

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

The likely Democratic nominee for governor will need a strong turnout in communities of color to upend incumbent Greg Abbott in November.

governor Beto O'Rourke
Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke is flanked by (from left) State Rep. Carl Sherman, State Sen. Royce West and State Rep. Rhetta Bowers as he addresses a press conference after meeting with Black elected leaders at Paul Quinn College on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, in Dallas.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

By Gromer Jeffers Jr.

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Monday that he will not take Black voters for granted, and promised to push programs that would protect their voting rights, provide access to affordable health care and promote economic equality.

“I’m going to make sure that those voters know that I care about them by not mailing them something or putting it on their TV sets, but showing up in person, eyeball to eyeball, face to face, to make that connection,” O’Rourke said after talking to a group of local Black elected officials gathered at Paul Quinn College, a historically Black school. “When we do that, we build on the base that we created in 2018.”

O’Rourke, the probable Democratic nominee for governor, needs a huge turnout from Black voters — one of the most reliable voter blocs for his party, to upset incumbent Republican Greg Abbott in November.

Democrats haven’t won a statewide office since 1994, and often their statewide nominees put little effort into turning out the vote in communities of color. While their percentages in getting support from Black and Hispanic voters are impressive, the total number of voters of color casting ballots for Democrats is typically not enough to win in Texas, a state firmly controlled by Republicans.

Democratic candidate for governor Beto O'Rourke
Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke listens as State Sen. Royce West whispers in his ear during a press conference following O’Rourke’s meeting with Black elected leaders at Paul Quinn College on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, in Dallas.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Voters of color have complained that they only see some Democratic Party leaders during election years, if then. And in places like East Texas, where there are significant numbers of Black voters, residents often feel ignored.

O’Rourke said he changed that dynamic in 2018, when he came within 2.6 percentage points of beating incumbent Republican Ted Cruz for U.S. Senate. But even that groundbreaking campaign could have attracted more voters of color.

The El Paso Democrat said he would leave no voter behind in his effort to beat Abbott and move Texas forward. And he reflected on his 2018 campaign, when he made partners of Black and Hispanic community leaders in DeSoto and Dallas who initially complained he wasn’t doing enough. They helped him make inroads with voters of color.

“With some of these voters, who have been written off by some or taken for granted by others, there’s no other way to do it,” O’Rourke said about campaigning in communities of color. “There’s no amount of money, no magic message, no silver bullet. You’ve got to put the work in, and I’m going to put the work in.”

O’Rourke added that, as governor, he would sign into law legislation that improves the quality of life for Texans, including improving the maternal mortality rate for Black mothers, improving education to better prepare residents for jobs in the changing economy and expanding Medicaid. Standing with state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, along with state Reps. Carl Sherman of DeSoto and Rhetta Andrews Bowers of Rowlett, O’Rourke also promised to protect the right to vote.

“We talked about things like jobs, making sure that not only are we creating more jobs, but creating better jobs,” O’Rourke said. “We talked about the importance of public education at a time that public educators find themselves under attack by their own governor.”

Beto O'Rourke
Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke hugs State Rep. Rhetta Bowers after addressing a press conference following a meeting with Black elected leaders at Paul Quinn College on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, in Dallas.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Bowers said the message to Black voters is important.

“In order for us to do this, to get Texas on the right track, we have to make sure that we’re listening to and serving all of those among us, including the most vulnerable,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure that everyone can vote.”

West proposed that Abbott and O’Rourke stage a gubernatorial debate at Paul Quinn College.

“There should be a focus between the two candidates … to come to Paul Quinn and have a debate and allow all Texans to hear their positions and look at their records on issues important to African Americans in the state of Texas,” West said.

O’Rourke is on the fourth day of a 20-city swing through Texas, where he’s urging voters to hold Abbott accountable for the 2021 winter storm that left millions without power.

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