Democrats kicked off the election season by rallying with loyal supporters on Monday, but opening salvos delivered by local elected officials and candidates at Monday’s AFL-CIO breakfast underscored the party’s new focus on waning enthusiasm for the GOP among rural Republicans.
Gathered at the Grand Hyatt River Walk, party leaders vowed to hold Republican incumbents accountable for what they called leadership failures during the Uri winter storm, the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde as well than the fallout from the social agenda that conservative lawmakers pushed in the last Legislative session.
The move comes as Texas Democrats recognize they need to do something to slash Republican benefits in rural territories, which for years has seen the GOP win statewide, even losing in the urban centers.
“Our job is not to convince our friends to vote…our job is to convince Republicans and rural Texas residents to say, ‘These people have nothing to do with you. They don’t care not from you,” said State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde.
“There is no bill that a Republican introduces to help rural Texas,” Gutierrez said, explaining his midterm message to rural voters. “They are not for your economic interest, and we need to make changes for the better.”
Since the mass shooting in Uvalde in May, Gutierrez has focused his attention demanding answers for the community and the families of the 21 victims. He has also become one of Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s most vocal critics both on the campaign trail and in the media, taking every opportunity to criticize the state’s role in Uvalde as the governor prepares to campaign for a third term.
Gutierrez fired up the speakers at Monday’s event so he could hit up a morning TV hit on MSNBC.
Democratic Gov. hopeful Beto O’Rourke, who had to call off recent events in San Antonio due to a bacterial infection, followed Gutierrez in using the event to slam state officials. O’Rourke’s unconventional senatorial campaign refused to attack Republican Sen. Ted Cruz until the very end of the race in 2018 — an approach he certainly isn’t taking this time.
“We’re going to win because we’re running against the worst governor in the United States of America,” O’Rourke said Monday. “You can’t choose your opponent, but in this case we couldn’t have asked for a better contrast.”
O’Rourke then pointed to a recent Fox News San Antonio report that the radio system used by first responders in rural South Texas had been in poor condition for years before it failed in the shooting.
Although local officials requested that it be fixed, their requests were ignored and the problems escalated when additional law enforcement officers began using the system for Abbott’s border security efforts. known as Operation Lone Star.
“Uvalde law enforcement years ago begged DPS Chief Steve McCraw and Governor Greg Abbott personally to make sure they had the radios so they could communicate to the in case they have an incident like the one they had in Uvalde at the end of this last school year,” O’Rourke said.
“Although the governor was repeatedly warned year after year, he was unwilling to do a single thing to help this community or prevent this tragedy,” he added.
Sharing a scene with San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, O’Rourke also echoed the mayor’s criticism of energy company profits from winter storm Uri, saying that as governor he would seek to connect the Texas to National Grid.
“Those five days that you were freezing in your homes, pipeline companies, their CEOs, energy traders made $11 billion in illegal profits,” O’Rourke said. “The mayor called it the biggest wealth transfer in Texas history, and you and I, the taxpayers, ended up with the bag.”
Monday’s event came as San Antonio labor organizers say they are witnessing an increase in basic energy created by pandemic-era working conditions. Their supporters filled the Grand Hyatt’s Texas Ballroom.
O’Rourke’s campaign staff formed a union with his support, and the first event of his gubernatorial run was organized by members of the Communications Workers of America in San Antonio, he told the crowd. Waving to the audience, a speaker at the event vowed that organized labor would deliver Bexar County to O’Rourke.
Much of the governor’s race now focuses on rural areas of the state, but O’Rourke’s campaign said it ran two television ads in the San Antonio area and had a field office here.