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Texas This Week: Former Congressman Beto O'Rourke discusses his voting rights project

Former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke (D) is traveling the state of Texas leading town halls on democracy.

AUSTIN, Texas — In this edition of Texas This Week, KVUE speaks with former presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke about his voting rights project and recaps the major political news of the week. 

Three things to know In Texas politics

Gov. Greg Abbott releases details on border wall

This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) released details about his plan to build a wall at the Texas-Mexico border and use your tax dollars to make what he calls "a down payment" on the wall.

Exact details about the wall – where it will be built, how long it will be and how much it will cost – are still unknown. But Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and other State leaders signed paperwork allocating $250 million in State funds for the border wall on Wednesday. The governor also signed a letter to the executive director of the Texas Facilities Commission instructing him to hire a project manager to oversee construction of the wall, and a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to return the land the federal government acquired from Texas property owners for former President Donald Trump's wall. Abbott said the State plans to talk with those landowners about building the wall.

He also promoted a website where people can donate to the project. While the governor didn't say how much the project will cost, last week the White House released information about the previous administration's efforts to build a wall, noting 52 miles of wall was built where no previous barrier existed, and it cost up to $46 million per mile to build.

   

Gov. Greg Abbott signs permitless carry bill into law

Starting Sept. 1, Texans ages 21 and older who are eligible to own a handgun can carry one, openly or concealed, without a license. Gov. Abbott signed House Bill 1927 into law on Wednesday and held a ceremonial bill signing in San Antonio on Thursday. Abbott expressed his support for the bill, saying there is a need for Texans to have weapons to defend themselves.

But there is strong opposition to the law. The second-in-charge in the Texas House of Representatives, Speaker Pro-Tem Joe Moody (D- El Paso), released a statement opposing the law, that states, in part: 

It's been almost two years since the racially motivated mass shooting in El Paso. A lot of promises were made after that tragedy. This session, when there was a chance to make good on those promises, what we got was a partisan blockade of common-sense reforms to our gun safety laws. Instead of fixing our broken background check system, Texas Republicans voted to make it even harder to tell whether someone who has a gun will act responsibly with it – until the shooting starts and all doubt is removed.

RELATED: Texas governor expands gun rights less than a week after Austin mass shooting

Texas Democrats visit Capitol Hill

Texas Democrats were on Capitol Hill this week meeting with members of Congress and Vice President Kamala Harris. They are calling on the U.S. Senate to pass a bill to protect voting rights, just weeks after representatives in the Texas House broke quorum to kill a controversial voter reform bill in the state. 

RELATED: Inside Texas Politics: What did trip to US Capitol accomplish for Texas Democrats?

Beto O'Rourke discusses voting rights project   

For the past few weeks, former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke (D) has traveled the state of Texas leading town halls on democracy. On Sunday, he's hosting a rally in Austin. He talked with KVUE about the project and his future plans.

Ashley Goudeau: Mr. O'Rourke, thank you so much for taking some time to chat with us today. Tell us where you are.

Beto O'Rourke: "I'm making my way to Beaumont, and I just pulled off on the side of the road to have a chance to talk to you in rural Jefferson County. We're on our way to have a conversation about voting rights and democracy, as we've been doing all across the state over the last two weeks in big cities and small towns, rural counties and places like Houston and Dallas as well. And it's been so enlightening and encouraging to me, given how precarious voting rights and our democracy is at this moment. So many people across geography and party lines want to step up to be counted and have a say in protecting voting rights. And that, that gives me some hope."

Goudeau: Talk to us about what you're really hearing from people. Are they expressing concerns to you about voting rights?  

O'Rourke: "One of the most constant concerns I hear, no matter where I am in the state, is the lack of accountability for the insurrection attempt on the sixth of January – and not just for those people who came from Texas, more than they did any other state, carrying Confederate battle flags and Trump banners, but for the politicians in power, who in large part helped to inspire the attack and then have apologized, covered up or justified it ever since. They connect that to the voter suppression bill that was introduced in Texas, SB7. It would take a state that is already the toughest in which to vote and make it even harder, especially for communities of color, for the very young, the very old and voters with disabilities across the state of Texas. They realize our democracy is on the line and they want to do something about it. And that's what gives me some hope, because if all of us decide that we are going to make this a priority, then we can stop voter suppression in the state legislature and we can move voting rights legislation in the U.S. Senate like the For the People Act."

Goudeau: Voting rights and election integrity should be a nonpartisan issue, but a February poll by the University of Texas and Texas Tribune found that a majority of Republican voters said that they trusted the Texas election, but not the national election results, even though that was the same election. So that perception that the 2020 election wasn't fair is driving a lot of this push among Republicans for election reform and those election reform bills. How do you combat that narrative?  

O'Rourke: "It's tough because we really don't have two parties in this country anymore. We have the Democratic Party that's trying to fight for democracy and voting rights. And you have the Republican Party that's inspired and is now trying to cover up for insurrection and justify voter suppression, not just in Texas, but 46 other state legislatures considering bills just like the one that was narrowly defeated right here in Texas. As you said, this isn't something that should divide us. The Voting Rights Act was reauthorized by overwhelming majorities on a bipartisan basis every time it came up for a vote in Congress until the 2013 Shelby decision. When you have the ex-president of the United States trafficking in the big lie that there was widespread election fraud, you can understand why tens of millions of our fellow Americans, including in Texas, believe that. The way to restore faith in democracy is to make sure that we have free and fair elections, that we can count on the results of those elections. And these bills, like SB7 in Texas, run counter to that. They would, in fact, allow Texas to overturn lawful, legitimately decided elections. And that's not good for Republicans or Democrats or Independents. It's not good for Texas and it's certainly not good for democracy. 

Goudeau: Talk to us a little bit about the rally, the culmination of all these town halls you've been holding all across the state, that's going to come to an end this Sunday at this rally at the Capitol. Talk to us about it.

O'Rourke: "If you care about this democracy that so many have given so much to preserve and to save and to defend – whether they wore the uniform in service to this country or whether they were civil rights leaders who put their lives on the line – then know that is under attack unlike any other time in our life. And the way to respond to that is to show up, in person, to be counted today, 5:30 p.m. in Austin in front of the state Capitol. If we show up in numbers large enough, not only will those who represent us in the state legislature take heed, but I'm confident that the president and the members of the Senate who have the power to pass voting rights legislation right now will hear our call and we'll take action accordingly. So that's the power of people. And that's what I'm asking folks in Austin and really across the state to do – today, 5:30 p.m., state Capitol, right here in Austin, Texas. We hope that you'll be with us."

RELATED: 'For the People Act' supporters rally for voting rights at Texas Capitol

Goudeau: Let's talk a little bit about the action you want the Senate to take passing the For the People Act. There are some who characterize this as overreach by the federal government into state elections. What do you say to that type of criticism?

O'Rourke: "That's exactly what they said in the 1950s and 1960s when African Americans in Texas and throughout the South could not vote. And Lyndon Baines Johnson, our fellow Texan, president of the United States, in '65 proposed the Voting Rights Act, and that Voting Rights Act ushered in the first true multiracial democracy in America. And that Voting Rights Act is what's under attack right now in Texas and Georgia and Florida and throughout the country as you have provisions in SB7 in Texas that would target Black voters by ending Sunday morning voting and canceling the Souls to the Polls program, making it harder for those with disabilities and other communities of interest who may not look like the majority in this country or the majority in this state. So there is a precedent for federal intervention with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And it is that precedent that I hope our president, Joe Biden, and the Senate, where there is a Democratic majority, follow at this moment of truth, because if they fail to do that, we'll not only lose voting rights in Texas, we might very well lose democracy in this country. And that's why I think it is so important for all of us to show up today at the state Capitol and ensure that our voices are heard to rally for voting rights and to save this democracy.

Goudeau: You know, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you, while I have you, if you're willing to share with us some of your future plans when it comes to possibly running for office again. 

O'Rourke: "This fight for voting rights is the most important thing that I or any of us could be doing right now, so I want to see this through to the finish. After that, I want to understand how I can best serve Texas. That might be as a candidate, that might be supporting other candidates, that might be focusing on voter registration, which is what our organization Powered by People does day in and day out. But one way or another, I am all in for Texas and will do all I can for this state."

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