5 things gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke is promising Black Texans this election

"[Black voters] will decide the outcome of this election and, therefore, the future of this state," said Democratic nominee for Texas governor, Beto O'Rourke, in an exclusive interview with theGrio.

Gubernatorial Democratic nominee Beto O’Rourke knows that when he campaigns for Black voters in Texas, he has to have a plan.

The former congressman, who came less than three points away from winning a U.S. Senate race against Ted Cruz in 2018, is now the Democratic candidate for governor in one of the toughest races in the nation, running against two-term Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

Beto O'Rourke
Democrat Beto O’Rourke listens to a volunteer before a Texas Organizing Project neighborhood walk in West Dallas on June 9, 2021. O’Rourke is running for governor of Texas. AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Determined, optimistic, and relentless in his campaigning, O’Rourke said Black voters in Texas are going to decide the outcome of this year’s governor’s race, but he’s not just counting on their vote because he’s a Democrat.

“It’s so important that we lay out this vision together for how Texas will be different and will be better for Black Texans after this election,” O’Rourke told theGrio as he rode in a car on his way to Houston for another campaign stop on Sunday. O’Rourke said he understands if there are some feelings of resentment from Black voters who don’t feel the Democratic Party has done enough for their communities.

“Though Republicans are leading that charge right now to seek to effectively disenfranchise Black voters, I’m afraid that some in our own party will take those same voters for granted,” he said, adding, “and without fighting for or earning those votes, will expect Black voters to come out for this party, as they have done historically. 

In explaining his priorities to theGrio, O’Rourke highlights five key areas where he wants to create change in Black communities in Texas.

1. Increasing Black homeownership and businesses by ensuring access to capital.

“When you look at the rate of homeownership, which is a key economic indicator in Texas, white Texans in a big county like Dallas are three times as likely to own their own home as Black Texans are,” O’Rourke told theGrio, highlighting a gap that has been blamed on the mortgage lending industry. “That’s not just a matter of equity and building intergenerational wealth. It’s also a matter of capital and leverage for small business formation.”

“So we want to see more entrepreneurship, more independent business owners in the Black community working on homeownership by making that capital more available, more fairly lent and more accountable from the very top of government. It’s critical that we get that done.”

2. Fighting discrimination against Black schoolchildren by hiring more Black educators.

“What we know is that in the average kindergarten classroom in Texas, a Black 5-year-old is five times as likely as a white 5-year-old to be disciplined, suspended, expelled for the same infraction in front of the same teacher,” said O’Rourke. Those figures come from a study called “Keeping Kids In Class,” which shows that despite being only 13% of the population, Black pre-K to second-grade kids made up almost half the population of kids being suspended.

“That schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline that we sometimes hear about starts when a child is absolutely defenseless at the most vulnerable age that they’ll be at in the school system,” O’Rourke continued. “So intentionally hiring more teachers who look like the students in front of them in those classrooms is key. And that goes all the way up to higher-ed HBCUs in Texas like Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M.”

3. Fight to address the Black maternal mortality rate and protect abortion rights.

This state leads the nation in a maternal mortality crisis three times as deadly for Black women as it is for white women in the state of Texas,” O’Rourke told theGrio. “The total abortion ban that we have is only going to make that worse. That’s why it’s so important that we elected a governor who will trust every woman to make her own decisions about her own body, her own future, and her own health care.

4. Expunge marijuana arrest records, which disproportionately impact Black people.

“We’re the most incarcerated state in the union,” O’Rourke said, referring to Texas’ record of having the highest rate of incarcerated populations, according to data from the Department of Justice.

“Disproportionately, it is Black and brown people serving time for nonviolent drug crimes. So making marijuana legal and then expunging the arrest records. For those who have a conviction on their record, it’s really important to open up other opportunities for more of our fellow Texans.”

5. Create common-sense gun laws that prevent violence and homicides.

O’Rourke also pointed out that while Texas’ devastating record of mass shootings may garner the most media attention, Black communities are especially paying the price.

“Overwhelmingly, it’s Texans of color, and Black Texans specifically, [who] are dying at such a numbingly common rate that their names are no longer making the paper,” said O’Rourke. “Their faces are no longer seen on the nightly news. It is as though we have tacitly accepted this as the price of living and dying in the state of Texas.”

A supporter carries a Beto O’Rourke sign during a rally at Prairie View A&M University on February 25, 2022 in Prairie View, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The Democrat said Governor Abbott promoted policies that made it easier to get guns and made Texas less safe. O’Rourke wants to explore “common-sense gun solutions” such as a red flag law or domestic violence reporting law to curb violence.

Voters’ priorities will be put to the test on Tuesday when polls officially open for Election Day.  O’Rourke said that win or lose, protecting Democracy, and the Black vote is what’s actually on the ballot.

“We’ve never had a test like this one in our lifetimes,” he said. “You might have to go back to the Civil War or the overcoming of Jim Crow in 1964, 1965, to find another moment of truth like the one we live in at this moment.”

“The only way we’re going to change something like that or anything else that I described earlier is by changing those who are in power right now … and the only way that’s going to happen is if you vote.”

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Natasha S. Alford is VP of Digital Content and a Senior Correspondent at theGrio. An award-winning journalist, filmmaker, and TV personality, Alford is writing her forthcoming book “American Negra.” Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @natashasalford.