A post-debate fact check of Abbott, O’Rourke

Candidates touch on key issues ahead of Election Day


Sophie Leung-Lieu

O’Rourke and Abbott faced off in the gubernatorial debate in preparation for the November election.

Amaya Collier, co-opinion editor

Incumbent, Republican governor Greg Abbott, running for a third term in office, faced off in the gubernatorial debate with Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in Edinburg at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Sept. 30. This was their sole debate before the Nov. 8 election. Candidates debated issues affecting Texans such as school shootings, reproductive rights, mental health, immigration at the Texas border, the teacher shortage, taxes and the power grid failures in February of 2021.

Abbott and O’Rourke frequently accused one another of spreading misinformation and lying to Texas voters throughout the course of the debate. Here are the facts and the candidates’ takes on each discussed issue at the debate:


The claim:

The moderator raised the question: what would you do to alleviate the financial burden on border communities? Gov. Abbott claimed that the Biden administration is responsible for any economic burden placed on border communities as the administration’s lack of federal enforcement of border control has led to weakened security. Abbott said he’s responded to this issue by ensuring the National Guard and DPS are deployed where they are turning back illegal immigrants from crossing the state’s border. Additionally, border patrol has been busing migrants from northeastern parts of the country where there are sanctuary cities such as New York and Washington DC.

When raised the same question, O’Rourke said that Texas needs a safe orderly path for immigrants to work, join families, or seek asylum. If elected, he plans to work with local leaders to institute a Texas-based guest worker program to alleviate labor demand shortages, reduce inflation, and address supply chain issues.

The facts:

In March 2021, Gov. Abbott launched Operation Lone Star, a $4 billion initiative to reduce migration at Texas’ southern border through the construction of a border wall as well as the placement of more enforcement officers to patrol along the Texas-Mexico border. Data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection revealed that since Operation Lone Star was announced on March 6, 2021, the initiative has not decreased migration at Texas’ southern border.

Gun control

The claim:

The moderator raised the question to the candidates: should the age limit to buy AR-15-style weapons be raised from 18 to 21?

Abbott said it would be a false promise to say a law can be passed to raise the age to own an assault rifle because it would be ruled unconstitutional due to recent court rulings. He does not support red flag laws as he believes they conflict with citizens’ constitutional rights. Abbott claims the real cause of school shootings, like that of Uvalde, is mental health.

The moderator asked O’Rourke to clarify his stance on confiscating assault rifles from Texans because he had expressed conflicting statements. O’Rourke said he believes the only place for guns of that standard is on a battlefield. If elected O’Rourke claims he wants to focus on what is achievable, however, so he intends on instituting legislation to raise the age to own an assault rifle to 21, pass red flag laws, and institute background checks.

The facts:

In O’Rourke’s campaign in the 2020 presidential election, he expressed support for confiscating semi-automatic weapons, but earlier this year he claimed he does not support taking away people’s guns. O’Rourke does support the institution of red flag laws, however, which enable the temporary removal of firearms from individuals identified as potential dangers to themselves or others.

The recent school shooting at a Uvalde elementary school in May resulting in the death of 19 children and two teachers has made gun control a prevalent issue in the campaign. Following the shooting in Uvalde, victims’ families called upon Gov. Abbott to follow Florida’s precedent after the 2018 Parkland school shooting by taking action to reform gun laws and raise the age at which you can purchase such weapons. No special session was called by Abbott.

As of now, only seven states—California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Vermont, Washington and New York—have raised the buying age to 21 for firearms including shotguns, rifles and semi-automatic rifles. Much of this legislation was passed in response to mass shootings. A database project executed by the Washington Post found that over two-thirds of school shootings are committed by individuals under 18 and the median age of school shooters is 16.

Mental health

The claim:

Gov. Abbott asserted the claim that mass shootings are a result of mental health issues and that the state is already addressing this dilemma. 

O’Rouke raised the point that Texas is “dead last in the nation” for mental health care and claimed that Abbott took $211 million from Texas’ mental health care budget. Abbott rebutted claiming Texas was 27th in mental health care because of the funding he provided. He claimed Texas provided $25 billion for mental health care in the last three sessions.

The facts:

According to a Mental Health America 2022 report, Texas ranks last in the country for mental health care, supporting O’Rourke’s assertion.

Over two years, $211 million of funding was reallocated from Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s budget to Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border security mission. Although the commission oversees mental health issues, it is not clear that the money subtracted from the budget would have been directly utilized to improve mental health care access in Texas.

June 23 marked the second day in which people gathered in downtown Austin to protest the Supreme Court announcement reversing the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Photo and reporting by Leah Gordon. (Leah Gordon)


The claim:

On the topic of abortion, the moderator asked Gov. Abbott if he thought Plan B was an alternative to abortion for victims of rape. Abbott responded that the alternative to abortion is doing what is possible to assist and aid survivors such as medical assistance as well as other forms of care. Additionally, he said that Texas could provide baby supplies and living assistance to victims of rape who birth their children.

Moderators asked O’Rourke if he believed there should be any limit on abortions. O’Rourke responded that he supports the return to the abortion statutes instituted under the Roe v. Wade court case ruling of 1973 which established abortions as constitutional under the right to privacy.

The facts:

In 1973, the court ruling Roe v. Wade established the precedent of the right of abortion prior to the viability of a fetus. After it was overturned in June, Gov. Abbott instituted Texas’ “trigger ban,” banning abortions at all stages of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest. 


The claim:

The moderators raised the issue of Texas’ current teacher retention crisis. O’Rourke was asked how he intends to keep qualified teachers in the classrooms, and he responded that teachers are currently underpaid an average of $7,500 a year and that he intends to institute a pay raise for educators in Texas. If elected, he intends on accomplishing this raise by increasing the state’s share of school funding. He added that he wants teachers to have more valuable class time to connect with students, so he intends to end STAAR testing. O’Rourke said he would ensure retired teachers a cost of living adjustment every year.

When asked the same question, Gov. Abbott said that he raised the state’s share of school funding in 2019 and 2021 and that he has provided more funding for education and teacher pay raises than any other governor in Texas history. Additionally, he added that he instituted a new program that provides a six-figure salary for teachers, which was effectively instituted broadly in the Dallas Independent School District area. He claimed if teachers dedicate themselves to being “master teachers,” they will be able to earn a six-figure salary. Abbott claims that teacher pay raises will continue for teachers if re-elected as governor. 

The facts:

According to a 2020-2021 Texas teacher workforce report, there were 13,373 first-year teachers at the start of the 2010-2011 school year and only 6,664 remain in the 2019-2020 school year. 

A ranking from the National Education Association reveals that Texas public school teachers’ salaries fall $7,500 behind the national average.

Power grid failures

The claim:

Gov. Abbott asserted the claim that no Texans have lost electricity due to power grid failure since the winter storm on February 2021. O’Rourke criticized Abbott’s lack of action to address significant issues with Texas’ power grid pre-dating its failure in 2021, faulting Abbott with the devastating aftermath of the winter storm.

The facts:

The winter storm responsible for the power grid failures in February 2021 left millions of Texans without power, heat, and water and caused 246 deaths. During Gov. Abbott’s time in office, in years pre-dating the winter storm, extreme weather exposed Texas’ vulnerable power grid and lawmakers neglected to address these significant issues. After the storm, Abbott signed various bills into effect aimed to improve the state’s power grid. Since the winter storm, there have been no grid-related outages.

Long-term property tax relief

The claim:

O’Rourke stated that the average Texan is currently paying more than the average Californian in taxes. He faulted Abbott with the state’s high energy bills as a result of the power grid failures from the winter storm. If elected, O’Rourke plans to expand Medicaid claiming this action will reduce property taxes because Texans are currently on the hook for uncompensated indigent care. Additionally, O’Rourke intends to reform Texas from being the least insured state to a state where health care is accessible for everyone. He hopes to reduce pressure on local property taxpayers by increasing the share of state spending. Lastly, O’Rourke wants to ensure there’s property tax fairness by holding corporations accountable for paying their share.

If re-elected, Gov. Abbott claimed that he will drive down the ability of local governments to raise Texan’s taxes. Additionally, he asserted that Texas has a budget surplus of $27 billion, which he intends to utilize at least half of to drive down property taxes. Abbott said this can be accomplished long-term if those funds are utilized to lower the school property tax component.

The facts:

According to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, the higher a household’s income in Texas, the lower the tax rate, as opposed to California where low-income and high-income residents pay the higher tax rate and middle-income individuals receive the lowest tax rates.