Beto O’Rourke said he won’t make a decision on running for Texas governor in 2022 until later this year, but he definitely sounded like a candidate at times during a conversation with El Paso Matters.

“Bob, it’s the first time since I think I’ve known you going back to the early 2000s that I have not been a candidate for office or an office holder. And it feels good. And it feels even better that I’m in El Paso,” the former El Paso congressman told me in the first of a series of conversations El Paso Matters will be hosting with community leaders and influencers in the coming months.

In addition to his own political future, our Zoom conversation on Thursday explored the current border situation, voting rights and COVID-19. He had sharp words for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who the day before criticized O’Rourke’s political action committee, Powered by People, for its campaign to register people for COVID-19 vaccines.

“My guess is that this guy who’s awaiting trial on securities fraud and who’s been accused by his top staffers of bribery and is under FBI investigation; who on the 6th of January helped to stir up the mob that ultimately stormed the Capitol and killed five people, including a Capitol police officer … this guy would rather you think about or talk about something else.”

O’Rourke, who narrowly lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018 and then ran a brief presidential campaign in 2019, said he needs to decide if running for governor is his best path for service. He said he’ll focus on his decision after he wraps up teaching classes month at Texas State University and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Government at the University of Texas.

He said Democrats running in 2022 need to learn a lesson from former President Donald Trump’s efforts to woo Hispanic voters in Texas — focus on fundamental concerns of working class families.

“Are you working two jobs at $7.25 an hour? That’s bullshit. I’m going to fight for you, 15 bucks, and that’s the floor. Are you struggling to be able to pay for insulin because you have diabetes? Are you likely to die at age 38 because you’ve never seen a doctor and you now have glaucoma on top of that. I’m going to make sure that you pay no more than $50 for your insulin going forward,” O’Rourke said. 

He kept going.

“Are you a teacher working a second job to make ends meet? Half of teachers in Texas work a second or third job because we don’t pay them enough. I’m going to make sure that your starting salary is $70,000 bucks. Boom, you know, some version of that.”

When I told him he was sounding like a candidate, O’Rourke said: “It kind of felt that way. Sorry, I was on a roll there.” 

Watch our conversation with O’Rourke:

YouTube video

This event is the first of many conversations we will host with El Pasoans working in all sectors of the community.

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Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.