Gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke completed his statewide tour in Houston on Tuesday, his last visit in a 2,100 mile drive on the one-year anniversary of Winter Storm Uri.
Rallying supporters at the 8th Wonder Brewery, O’Rourke stumped for a five-point plan to fix the electrical grid — including going after gas suppliers that made billions in profits during the freeze, which he said impacted Houston the most.
“No city, no part of Texas got hit as hard as Houston did,” O’Rourke told attendees. “More people died in this community than in any of the other 254 counties of Texas.”
Sharing one harrowing experience from the storm, O’Rourke said he met a Laredo mother whose son moved to Houston to work in construction. As temperatures dropped, O’Rourke said the man called his mother fearing for his life.
“He said, ‘Mom, I’m really starting to get scared.’ ” O’Rourke said. “She said, ‘mijo, I want to make sure that you’re eating, take care of yourself — what’s in your cupboard?’ And he pulls out a can of tuna fish that is frozen solid as a hockey puck. He says ‘mom I can’t eat.’ ”
“They found him curled up on the floor of his apartment in a fetal position, dead of hypothermia in a state that is the energy capital of the world,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke’s plan to fix the grid includes winterizing gas supply in the state, which he noted Texas officials were warned they should do following a 2011 freeze that knocked out the power, and connecting Texas’ isolated power grid to the rest of the nation.
“When demand outstrips capacity, we want to be able to pull some electrons down from the rest of the country,” O’Rourke said, adding that Texas energy producers could also sell back to the rest of the country.
He pointed to his hometown of El Paso, which did not lose power because it is the only major city in Texas that is connected to the national grid.
O’Rourke’s third point in his plan to fix the grid called for the removal of what he called the “Abbott tax,” billions in outstanding debt from the storm that must now be paid by Texas taxpayers in the form of higher utility bills.
This is because electrical utility companies incurred debts to gas suppliers as prices skyrocketed during the winter storm. In turn, gas suppliers made a $11.1 billion windfall from the surge in prices.
“Instead of asking you to pay a Abbott tax, we will send money back to you as we recover those illegal profits, the $11 billion,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke also promised consequences and accountability for those who illegally profited during the storm, the fourth point in his plan.
“There is a state statute called the Deceptive Trade Practices Act,” O’Rourke said. “And it specifically says, that if you charge exorbitant rates for a basic necessity that keeps us alive when there is a declared emergency or disaster — you have broken the law.”
Citing $4.6 billion in campaign contributions to Abbott from the energy industry following the end of the latest legislative session, O’Rourke said the governor is in the pocket of the lawbreakers and said it’s the reason Abbott has not taken them to court.
“We’re taking them to court, we’re getting accountability, there will be consequences,” O’Rourke said. “And we’re getting that money back for the people of Texas.”
Lastly, O’Rourke promised to create an independent market monitor for the gas industry in Texas, “a cop on the beat to prevent this from ever happening again,” he said.
Outside of grid politics, O’Rourke said he would reverse Texas’ abortion ban and voter suppression by the Republican-led state legislature, and promised to boost teacher pay.
Afterward, the Signal spoke with O’Rourke on the thousands of mail-in ballots rejected under Texas’ voter suppression bill, Senate Bill 1.
“It’s not good for anybody,” O’Rourke said of some counties seeing mail ballot rejection rates at 40 to 50 percent. “And I don’t know if those are Democrats or Republicans who are having their ballot request rejected. But they are Texans, they are voters and it’s wrong.”
O’Rourke said his campaign is working to help voters get educated on the new registration process. He said his campaign has already reached out to two million voters across the state and now has a new goal of three million by the end of February.
“And many of those conversations are just like this,” he said. “Do you know what you need in order to vote? Do you know where your nearest early voting polling location is? If you’re requesting a mail-in ballot here are the rules. So we’re doing our part to help the Texas voter.”
Beto O’Rourke Photo: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons