On March 11 in Victoria, when asked if Critical Race Theory should be taught in public schools, O’Rourke said he opposes its addition to the curriculum. But a month earlier at an Austin event, Yahoo News summed up O’Rourke’s view of the state legislature’s bill banning its teaching in schools, saying “O’Rourke sees the law as a way to duck painful truths about the former slave state.”
At an education town hall in Dallas on March 6, O’Rourke framed it as Abbott “attacking teachers…trying to control what history [teachers] are able to tell.”
Picking and choosing political messaging based on an audience is not new. Voters in Nacogdoches, Victoria, Lubbock, and Austin all have different priorities — even if they identify with the same political party.
But shifting positioning is something else entirely. The prime example of O’Rourke’s position-shifting is on guns.
The most remembered moment of O’Rourke’s short-lived 2020 presidential campaign was his emphatic declaration during a debate that, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
That, itself, was a drastic change from his 2018 U.S. Senate run when he told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty, “If you purchased that AR-15, if you own it, keep it,” before then saying that such firearms should not be sold for public purchase.
Then, when he announced his run for Texas governor, he doubled down on a mandatory gun buyback program for “weapons of war” — a category in which he’s included AR-15s and AK-47s. Completing the 360-degree turn, O’Rourke then said in February at a stop in Tyler, “I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone.”
And then, two weekends ago at South by Southwest in Austin, CEO of the Texas Tribune Evan Smith pressed O’Rourke for clarification on gun confiscation, asking “Do you want to confiscate those automatic weapons, the AR-15s [and] the AK-47s?”
Both of those rifles are semi-automatic and civilian purchase of automatic weapons, that is without extra permitting and permission from the government, has been illegal domestically since 1986.
When pressed, O’Rourke reversed his earlier reversal, saying, “I do not believe that any civilian should have an AR-15 or AK-47,” adding that “If I can find consensus in the Texas legislature to buy back [those guns], I will do it.”
In Johnson City on March 12, O’Rourke said he hoped to focus on other restrictions such as universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders, safe storage laws, and licenses to carry.
On energy, O’Rourke said at his Victoria town hall that he wanted Texas to ramp up its oil and gas production to supplant Russia’s hold on Europe’s natural gas supply. But in College Station on March 8, O’Rourke painted a picture of America’s energy exuberance spearheaded by wind, solar, and geothermal generation buttressed by currently quixotic battery storage capacity.
“Those are jobs, it’s economic development and the attraction of capital which we badly need, and it allows us to take the lead in confronting climate change before it is too late,” he said.
Often on his statewide tour, O’Rourke has conceded that should he defeat Abbott he’ll likely face a GOP-controlled legislature — leaving him the option of “finding common ground” with Republicans where it exists. Asked after his Austin town hall last week if removing obviously pornographic books from schools, where they exist, might meet that goal, O’Rourke sidestepped the question.
Legalizing marijuana is O’Rourke’s chief example of a potential point of consensus with Republicans.
The Democrat has touched on consistent themes throughout the state: augmenting education funding specifically for raising teacher pay, Medicaid expansion, legalizing marijuana, and hammering Abbott for the power grid’s collapse last year. He’s also frequently criticized the passage of the Heartbeat Act and constitutional carry.
But on some issues, he’s doing his best Texas two-step around taking a firm stance to all audiences. It’s a product of conflict between his 2018 Senate race positions and his 2020 presidential race stance — with the latter being much further left than during the former.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.