DECATUR, Texas — The packed room of roughly 300 people where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke spoke on Thursday wasn’t in Houston, Austin or Dallas.
It was in Decatur, the seat of Wise County, where former President Donald Trump won nearly 85% of the vote in 2020.
“These are the cities that Greg Abbott is sleeping on,” O'Rourke said after his town hall. “He’s not showing up, he’s not fighting for these folks. He’s not earning the vote.”
Gov. Greg Abbott won the 2018 race for governor by 13%. Recent polls have shown O’Rourke behind Greg Abbott by just 5% statewide.
As students head back to school this week, both candidates were in North Texas for events and both focused on education.
O’Rourke’s message focused on raising teacher pay and shrinking class sizes, with many educators fleeing the profession and districts struggling to fill vacancies.
“What if paid teachers enough to not have to work a second or third job to make ends meet or for retired teachers,” O’Rourke asked rhetorically in the town hall. “What if we ensured there’s a cost of living adjustment every single year going forward?”
Abbott hosted an education roundtable at The King’s Academy, a private, religious school in Dallas, and advocated for school vouchers, a system where public school tax dollars are diverted to instead help families send kids to private schools.
“Giving parents a true choice about where to educate their child gives parents that power that they need and deserve to provide the education that is best for their child,” Abbott said.
The issue has received pushback from critics who say vouchers harm public schools by removing funding.
“We should not as a state mandate that that child should continue to go to a school that is wrong for that child,” Abbott said.
“Not only are we going to stop the vouchers, fully fund teacher pay, we’re going to invest in our public schools,” O’Rourke said in his town hall. “We’re going to listen to you when you tell us how you want to teach and connect with those kids. We are going to cancel the STAAR test in the state of Texas as well to make sure you can do what you need to do.”
The other top issue on the minds of many parents is safety after last school year ended with 19 students and two teachers murdered in Uvalde at Robb Elementary School. Since the attack, Abbott has formed special committees to look at the issues around the shooting and how to fix it, but he has been criticized for not calling a special session to enact change.
“The governor has called special sessions on CRT or to go after transgender kids or to make it harder to vote in Texas,” O’Rourke said. “Why more than 11 weeks since those teachers and kids were shot and killed in that classroom has he not called a special session?”
Abbott said Thursday that 30 state troopers will be at the district when classes resume and that the number is what the city’s mayor requested. He also said district’s have stepped up on their own to improve security.
“We know that schools and administrators and teachers, they wanted to keep their children safe and I’m proud to seeing the way they’re responding,” he said.
On Wednesday, O’Rourke was in Mineral Wells talking about AR-15s and the Uvalde shooting when a heckler began laughing at him. O’Rourke responded, “It may be funny to you, motherf---er, but it is not funny to me.”
After the town hall Thursday, O’Rourke addressed the response.
“There’s nothing more serious to me than justice for those families in Uvalde and taking action to ensure that no other community, no other families have to go through what they just experienced,” he said.
Abbott’s event focused mostly on education while O’Rourke’s stop, part of a 49-day tour, also touched on protecting abortion rights and improving the energy grid.
With just a couple months to go, the back and forth is still only just beginning.