If you watched Friday night’s debate between Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke hoping to learn a little something about the two men to sway your vote or strengthen your current conviction, you likely left feeling underwhelmed.
Some of that must be chalked up to the format: While an hour long debate might be typical, the moderators took on too many topics that are way too substantive to respond to in 60, 30, and sometimes even 15-second chunks. To make matters worse, each time frame was interrupted by the sound of a bell, like the kind at the front desk of a hotel. If you didn’t want to throw the bell across the room by the end of the debate, you’re a better person than me.
In 60 minutes, Abbott and O’Rourke attempted to debate the following: immigration, border security, Uvalde, guns, abortion, crime, the power grid, education and property taxes. They were also asked one personal question in conclusion that wasn’t up for debate. That’s a lot in one hour and neither really got the chance to answer complex questions in a nuanced or explanatory way.
That said, both men did well on some issues and both struggled on others, sometimes the same issue. Here are three you should know about:
It’s Texas’ hottest topic and the one many residents care the most about, so it was smart for the moderators to lead with that. Speaking a bit rushed, Abbott blamed President Joe Biden for causing border security issues via his immigration policies and said he has enacted multiple policies, including Operation Lone Star, to try to quell the chaos.
O’Rourke sounded calmer and seemed ready for this one. “What we need are solutions, not more stunts,” he said, in what was probably one of his better lines of the night. Sadly, O’Rourke didn’t seem to offer many solutions after that. He did pitch a state-run guest-worker program but did not elaborate on how it would work.
The most interesting immigration and border security went to Abbott, about why he bused migrants elsewhere but not Republican-run states.
Abbott said local authorities were overwhelmed with the number of migrants, so he sent them to cities that had dubbed themselves sanctuary cities and had the infrastructure to handle an influx.
UVALDE AND GUNS
This is probably O’Rourke’s strongest issue in terms of taking the gravity of the event and using it as an example of lackluster Abbott leadership.
The moderator asked if O’Rourke supported confiscating AR-15’s after he previously backed down and said he’d never do such a thing, he refused to answer directly, saying he would focus on other, more achievable measures and only wants to keep Texans, especially kids, safe. This likely won’t play well in a state with such high rates of gun ownership.
It could have been a “win” for both men depending on their answers, but the question aimed at Abbott about whether or not emergency contraception was a viable alternative to abortion was specific to a previous statement he made, and so he didn’t go into his beliefs on life or abortion here.. Abbott simply responded that “It’s incumbent on the state of Texas to make sure it’s readily available” and added Texas pays for it.
O’Rourke repeated he wanted to return the state to the 1973 standard set by Roe v. Wade, calling this election “about reproductive freedom.” But he didn’t elaborate on what exactly that meant.
For such a hot topic that both men are passionate about, the answers were a bit lackluster, but then, so were the questions.
The point of these debates is not for the two men to persuade one another on best policies and practices for the state of Texas — that ship has long sailed — but to persuade undecided voters. While a viewer may have caught a line or two that resonated, it was hard to keep up with so many topics and such short time allotted for answers.
Topics such as immigration, guns, abortion, and the Uvalde tragedy are important to Texans, but they’re also nuanced and require thoughtful questions to delve into them and time for substantive answers. It’s too bad the moderators tried to cover so many.
If they’d chosen three or four, voters may have actually learned something about these men and their policy positions. Instead, it felt like a rat race with some of Texas’ hottest topics thrown around as bait.