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Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking a third term, and Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat trying to unseat him in November, faced off on Friday night in their only scheduled debate and sparred over the major issues in the race, from immigration to gun policies to the reliability of Texas’ power grid since a February 2021 winter storm left millions without power or heat for days.
Throughout the debate — held in the empty auditorium on the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campus in Edinburg — Abbott and O’Rourke frequently accused each other of getting their facts wrong or lying to Texas voters. Here are some of the claims they made during the debate and what you should know about each issue:
Abbott on busing migrants to New York
The statement: Abbott said New York City Mayor Eric Adams “has never called my office, never talked to anybody in my administration” to coordinate with Texas since Abbott’s decision to bus thousands of migrants from Texas to New York and other Democrat-run big cities.
What you should know: Adams’ press secretary Fabien Levy told The Texas Tribune that Adams’ office reached out to a member of Abbott’s administration and they spoke on the phone on Aug. 1 about alerting Adams’ staff before the migrants’ arrival to New York City.
Levy shared an email from Adams’ office, dated Aug. 1, that he said was an effort to follow up on the phone call with Abbott’s staff earlier that day. The email doesn’t specifically mention migrants or busing. Levy said Adams’ office did not receive a reply from Abbott’s staff.
Four days later, on Aug. 5, Abbott announced he was sending migrants to New York City on buses. That announcement came two weeks after Adams held a press conference saying that asylum-seekers were already arriving in New York City on buses sent by the Texas and Arizona governments.
Texas’ ranking on mental health access
The statement: Abbott repeated his claim that mental health problems lead people to commit mass shootings and said the state is addressing that issue. O’Rourke said Texas ranks last in the nation for mental health care access. Abbott disagreed and said Texas ranks 27th.
What you should know: A 2022 report from Mental Health America supports O’Rourke’s assertion that Texas’ limited availability of mental health resources puts the state 51st in the country — including Washington, D.C. — for mental health care access. It’s not clear what metric Abbott was referring to when he claimed that Texas ranked 27th. Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for clarification on Saturday.
O’Rourke also accused Abbott of taking $211 million intended for mental health care from the state budget. That amount was subtracted from the budget of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees mental health issues, over a two-year period to help fund Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border initiative. It’s not clear if that money would have directly gone to improve mental health care access.
The aftermath of Texas’ power grid failures
The statement: Abbott said that no Texan has lost electricity because of power grid failures since the February 2021 winter storm, while O’Rourke faulted Abbott for neglecting to correct significant problems with the grid before its failure in 2021.
What you should know: The 2021 winter storm that caused the power grid to fail, leaving millions without power or heat and causing hundreds of deaths, came years after previous extreme weather events exposed the grid’s vulnerabilities, which lawmakers failed to correct during Abbott’s tenure.
After the 2021 storm, the Legislature approved — and Abbott signed — numerous bills aimed at improving the grid, although experts have said those efforts may not be enough.
While the state’s grid operator requested that Texans reduce electricity usage multiple times earlier this year when demand threatened to exceed supply, no major grid-related outages have been reported in the state since February 2021; there have been localized outages due to a variety of causes unrelated to the state grid — such as tree limbs falling on power lines.
On Texas’ (and California’s) taxes
The statement: O’Rourke said that the average Texan pays more in taxes than the average Californian.
What you should know: On average, Texans do pay more in local and state taxes than Californians, although there are differences depending on income level. According to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, Texans in the middle 20% of the state's salary range pay 9.7% in local and state taxes, compared to 8.3% for Californians in the same range. Texans who are in the bottom 20% of earnings also pay more in taxes — 13% — than their California counterparts, who pay 10.5%.
On the other end of the economic spectrum, the opposite is true. For Texans with salaries in the top 20% of the state, local and state taxes amount to 7.5% or less of their income, while Californians in that same bracket pay at least 9.4% of their incomes in state and local taxes.
In Texas, the higher a household’s income, the lower the tax rate, according to the institute’s analysis. In California, the tax burden is lowest for middle-income earners, with low-income and high-income residents paying a higher percentage in taxes.
O’Rourke’s stance on gun control
The statement: A debate moderator said that O’Rourke has made conflicting statements about whether he supports confiscating AR-15-style rifles from Texans.
What you should know: While campaigning during the 2020 presidential election O’Rourke said he supported confiscating AR-15-style rifles, but earlier this year he said he doesn’t support seizing guns. O’Rourke said, if elected, he would focus on raising the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle like an AR-15 from 18 to 21 — a goal which he said was more politically achievable than confiscating weapons.
Abbott has rejected calls to increase the purchasing age to buy semi-automatic rifles — as Florida did following the shooting deaths of 17 people at a high school in Parkland in 2018 — saying that would be unconstitutional.