Shared from the 2/16/2022 Houston Chronicle eEdition

O’Rourke targets Abbott, freeze

Gubernatorial hopeful says Houston was hit hardest during winter storm last year

Karen Warren / Staff photographer

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke speaks during his “Keeping the Lights On” event at 8th Wonder Brewery in Houston on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, the former congressman from El Paso appeared at Houston City Hall.

Karen Warren / Staff photographer

A man listens to gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke speak at his “Keeping the Lights On” event at 8th Wonder Brewery.

Capping his 12-day “Keeping the Lights On” road trip, Beto O’Rourke on Tuesday night spoke about the heartbreak of last year’s fatal freeze in Texas and said why he believes it happened, in hopes that it’s not repeated.

The Democratic gubernatorial hopeful drew a crowd of at least 200 people at 8th Wonder Brewery in Houston a year after more than 240 Texans died from freeze-related causes.

“No city, no part of Texas, got hit as hard as Houston did,” he said. “More people died in this community than in any of the other 254 counties of Texas, though it got very cold everywhere, and it certainly was very cold here.

“This community understands the sacrifice and the cost and the consequence of our failure as a state to get it right better than any other. And it’s really important that we understand it, so that we never have to face it again.”

People of all ages came to the rally, listening to music — including the country-inspired “Babes in Betoland” band — or grabbing a drink. Some danced as another band took the stage and the tunes continued on, bouncing black-and-white “BE-TO FOR TEXAS” signs in the air as string lights glowed above them.

Earlier in the day at Houston City Hall, O’Rourke said the state should further weatherize gas facilities, connect the state’s electric framework to a broader grid and assist ratepayers. The Democrat has homed in on the power outages as he campaigns against incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. On Monday, his campaign launched an attack ad making that case as well.

O’Rourke stopped at City Hall to mark the one-year anniversary of the freeze and power grid breakdown that left more than 240 people dead in Texas.

O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso, laid blame for the grid’s near-collapse at the feet of Abbott. Both men face opponents in their respective parties in the March 1 primary elections.

“In the energy capital of this planet, we were unable to power the lives of our fellow Texans,” O’Rourke said during the City Council’s weekly public session. “That was not due to any act of God, or the force of Mother Nature. It was those in the positions of power, the highest positions of power at the state, who could not deliver the power to the people of Texas.”

Temperatures plummeted in Houston and across Texas on Feb. 15 last year. The state’s power grid almost collapsed, resulting in prolonged outages that caused millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses and crippled many water systems.

The governor, meanwhile, has argued that a series of bills he signed into law have vastly improved the grid.

A campaign spokesperson for Abbott told the Chronicle that O’Rourke should have used his time in front of Houston’s City Council “explaining his support for the Green New Deal,” alleging that it would “kill hundreds of thousands of energy jobs and open border policies that have resulted in over 1,000 fentanyl deaths in Texas.”

“The truth is Gov. Abbott and the Legislature have put reforms in place that have made the grid more resilient than ever,” the spokesperson’s statement said.

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