Gov. Greg Abbott and his likely Democratic challenger in November, Beto O’Rourke, made campaign stops in San Antonio Thursday, each targeting their base of voters with events that demonstrated the candidates’ contrast in style.

Abbott met with the business advocacy leaders at Sunbelt Material Handling, a Dallas-based forklift supply company that opened a warehouse on the far East Side in January. There, he accepted the endorsements of a slate of business leaders and their political action committees.

The group of eight officials representing various statewide organizations lauded Abbott’s leadership during the pandemic and for being a friend to business by supporting job creation and eliminating regulatory barriers.

“We know that Gov. Greg Abbott will continue to stand firm and protect the Texas miracle,” said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business. 

Others announcing their endorsements during the event included the campaign finance arms of the National Federation of Independent Business, Independent Bankers Association of Texas, Texas Restaurant Association, Texas Trucking Association, Texas Association of Manufacturers and the Texas Independent Automobile Dealers Association.

Representing the auto dealers, April Ancira, vice president of the Ancira Auto Group, credited the governor for creating what she called the best business climate in the nation. 

“With a combination of reasonable and predictable tax, regulatory and legal climate, Texas businesses and their employees prosper,” she said. “And when local family-owned businesses like a franchise dealership prosper for their employees, the Texas communities in which they are based prosper as well.”

As he faces seven primary challengers in the March 1 election, Abbott has stressed Texas’ economic growth during his two terms, attempting to make the case to voters that his role in the “Texas miracle” is key. But on Thursday, he pointed to the business community itself as the reason the state has prospered.

“What all these people here together have been able to accomplish is that, as we gather up just outside of San Antonio today, more Texans have jobs than ever before in the history of our state,” he said. “Our success is owed to businesses both large and small.”

Gov. Abbott discusses industry and small business during a campaign appearance and press conference at Sunbelt Material Handling on Thursday.
Gov. Greg Abbott discusses industry and small business during a campaign appearance and press conference at Sunbelt Material Handling on Thursday. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Meanwhile, O’Rourke headed to downtown San Antonio for the latest stop on his 12-day tour of Texas cities that he’s calling the “Keeping the Lights On” road trip. At the Espee venue in St. Paul Square, he blasted Abbott with what he said was a failure to address the problems that pushed Texas’ electrical grid to the brink of collapse during last year’s big freeze.

Speaking before more than 100 people at the informal outdoor event, O’Rourke said Abbott did “nothing” in the wake of Winter Storm Uri, inaction that he attributed to energy companies giving Abbott’s campaign millions of dollars in contributions.

“That’s pretty close to a bribe,” he said.

O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman who is expected to win the Democratic nomination easily over eight other candidates, also provided a broad outline of his own policy proposals, which included connecting Texas’ power grid to the rest of the country and taking an aggressive actions against gas companies that profited during the freeze.

“These folks who robbed us when we were at our most desperate and vulnerable — that $11 billion — I’m going to make sure we get that money back and we’re going to prosecute anybody who is responsible for the disruption and death we saw here in Texas,” he said.

Gas sellers in Texas took an estimated $11 billion in profits during the Texas freeze, according to Bloomberg News.

The Democrat outlined his ideas for making the state’s power system more stable and equitable if elected: further weatherizing the energy grid and connecting it to the national grid and making sure Texans don’t foot the bill for last winter’s storm by taking back the $11 billion from energy companies that O’Rourke described as profits from price gouging. He also called for appointing an “independent market monitor” for Texas’ energy market.

O’Rourke acknowledged Abbott’s event occurring about 8 miles away, but described several policies passed under Abbott — such as the recent near-total abortion ban — as bad for business.

“When you govern the energy capital of the world, and can’t keep the lights on in a winter storm — that’s not good for business,” O’Rourke said to applause from the crowd.

As O’Rourke spoke, a handful of protesters stood outside the gates of the Espee, waving a large American flag. One held a sign that read “Green New Deal = Less Energy Jobs.”

Counter-protestors demonstrate opposite of the O'Rourke event during a rally for Beto O'Rourke's candidacy for governor of Texas at The ESPEE on Thursday.
Protesters demonstrate outside a campaign event for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke at the Espee on Thursday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

At his event, Abbott was questioned by reporters about the near-collapse of the Texas power grid nearly a year ago and how that has affected recruiting new businesses to the state. He responded with a description of infrastructure upgrades made since then and said “far more” power was available for the most recent winter cold spell than was needed. 

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.

Waylon Cunningham covered business and technology for the San Antonio Report.