'Beto' O’Rourke among five Democrats running for Texas governor

By Bethany Blankley

Texas Democrats will have five candidates to choose from when they vote in the March 1 primary election for governor.

The most well-known is front runner Robert "Beto" O’Rourke from El Paso. A former congressman, O’Rourke lost both races he’s ran in since leaving office.

In 2018, he ran against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, losing by 2 points. In March 2019, he ran for president in a crowded Democratic primary. He dropped out eight months later.

O’Rourke officially announced he was running for governor in November 2021 in a video announcement on YouTube.

He’s largely considered the only Democratic candidate to have enough political experience and fundraising prowess to challenge Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, whose running for a third term. Within 24 hours of having announced his candidacy last year, O’Rourke's campaign raised $2 million. O’Rourke broke fundraising records in 2018 when he raised over $38 million in mostly small donations under $200.

He founded and currently leads Powered by People, a Texas-based organization “that works to expand democracy and produce Democratic victories through voter registration and direct voter engagement,” according to his website. The group has “helped register over 250,000 unregistered Texans to vote since its inception in December 2019,” it claims. It also reportedly helped House Democrats abscond from Austin last year, holding up state legislative business for over a month.

 “We are a city of underdogs. We have another underdog team right here, right now," O'Rourke told supporters Saturday at his first campaign event of the year, help in his hometown. "With your help, with this team, we are going to win the race for governor of the state of Texas."

O'Rourke criticized Abbott's "failure of leadership" for the February 2021 power outage and for his border security policies.

Abbott “treats people living at the border,” like those in the border town of El Paso, "as a prop to stoke anxiety, fear or even hatred," O’Rourke said, The El Paso Times reported.

"As governor, I'm going to make sure that El Paso, and other border communities and other places in the state that are so often overlooked or taken for granted, become a priority," he said.

His platform includes restrictions on gun, abortion on demand, and Medicaid expansion, among others.

While O'Rourke is favored to win the Democratic primary, no polls have yet shown him beating Abbott, the Republican frontrunner, in November.

O’Rourke faces four challengers who’ve never been elected to public office.

Inocencio Barrientez is listed as a candidate on the Texas Secretary of State website but doesn’t appear to have a campaign website, social media sites or an official platform.

Michael Cooper, a Beaumont native and president of the Beaumont NAACP, previously ran for U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor in Texas, losing both. He’s an automobile executive with 35 years of experience who holds a master’s degree in psychology. He’s running on a platform prioritizing education, climate change, the Texas economy, criminal justice reform, and human rights, according to his campaign website.

In local news interviews, Cooper’s said he’s running because he wants to put teachers first. He’s also worked with the NAACP and community leaders to demand police reform.

Former KUT public radio journalist and former public school teacher Joy Diaz says her professional experience makes her qualified to run for governor. Her platform issues include individual rights, health care, reproductive health care, criminal justice, education, energy and the environment, infrastructure, the border and immigration, and state preparedness, according to her campaign website.

“Our current leadership has forgotten that their mission is to serve us,” she said when announcing her candidacy, according to KXAN TV. “Yes, conventional wisdom may say that it’s unlikely for an average person – even a qualified one, even one with expertise, even one with a huge heart – to become the next governor of this great state, but Texans don’t solely rely on conventional wisdom. We believe in miracles.”

Rich Wakeland, a “conservative Democrat,” is running to invest in Texas and focus on the middle class, according to his campaign website.

Wakeland is a retired Navy reserve captain, a professional engineer, attorney, and former policy adviser to a former Texas Public Utility commissioner. His platform includes ensuring Texas has a reliable power grid, supporting the Texas oil and gas industry, expanding Texas’ high-tech industry, and protecting farmers and ranchers from drought.

One candidate who’d announced she was running as a Democrat last summer recently switched to run as an Independent: Deirdre Gilbert, a former teacher in the Houston area who founded the National Medical Malpractice Advocacy Association.

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