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Greg Abbott to launch television ad targeting Beto O’Rourke over police funding

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference, Friday, May 27, 2022, about the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Dario Lopez-Mills
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference, Friday, May 27, 2022, about the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

The ad is based on O’Rourke’s 2020 comments that he appreciates protesters bringing up defunding certain line items “that have overmilitarized our police.” But at recent town hall meetings, O’Rourke has said he does not support defunding the police.

Gov. Greg Abbott is launching an attack ad aimed at Beto O’Rourke, claiming the Democratic challenger wants to defund the police. But O’Rourke’s campaign says the claim is not true.

In a 30-second TV ad set to launch Monday, Abbott appears in front of images of a crime scene, with police cars and red-and-blue lights in the background. The Houston Chronicle reports Abbott’s campaign spent $4 million to air the ad statewide.

“Across America, there are too many scenes like this. Beto O’Rourke’s answer is to defund and dismantle the police. He wants to punish the police, not the criminals,” Abbott says in the ad. “I support our law enforcement by ensuring that they are fully funded."

The attack ad is based on O’Rourke’s comments on a podcast from June 2020 – at the height of Black Lives Matter movement when demonstrators flooded the streets to protest police brutality.

“I really love that Black Lives Matters and other protesters have put this front and center to defund these line items that have overmilitarized our police and instead invest that money in the human capital your community, make sure that you have the services, the help, the support, the health care necessary to be well and not require police intervention,” O’Rourke said. “And then also in some necessary cases, completely dismantling those police forces and rebuilding them.”

O’Rourke also said in the podcast he approved of the Minneapolis City Council decision to redirect $8 million of the police budget toward violence prevention and other city services. A spokesperson for O’Rourke’s campaign said that O’Rourke had been specifically referring to Minneapolis, and not Texas, in the podcast.

At a July town hall in Pecos in West Texas, O’Rourke was asked about his stance on funding law enforcement.

“I don’t see eye-to-eye with you on defunding the police,” O’Rourke told the attendee. “I want to make sure we can count on the police and that means making sure they have the resources and funding they need, the training that they need.”

Chris Evans, the spokesperson for Beto’s campaign, said O’Rourke repeatedly voted to increase the police budget as a member of the El Paso City Council and as a Democratic congressman.

“As governor, Beto will ensure that law enforcement agencies have the resources they need to address violent crime, bring justice to victims, and keep our communities safe,” Evans said. “Beto will also invest more resources in mental health services, social workers, and addiction treatment. “

Since the protests of 2020 Abbott and other Texas Republicans have taken aim at calls to “defund the police,” a slogan that depending on the advocate can mean anything from redirecting some money for law enforcement to programs that treat the root causes of crime to fully abolishing police departments. After the 2021 legislative session, Abbott signed legislation that would punish Texas cities and other jurisdictions if they cut funding for law enforcement.

In Abbott’s campaign ad, the governor said he had deployed more law enforcement to crime hot spots and kept violent criminals off the streets. But Evans argued that violent crime such as homicides has increased across the state since Abbott took office.

In previous ads, Abbott’s campaign has branded the Democratic contestant as “Wrong Way O’Rourke,” spotlighting comments in which he has tacked to the left. One campaign ad from 2021 manipulated and altered O’Rourke’s comments about policing to make his stance appear radical.

“He clearly keeps running more to the left and he stands at the extreme left wing of his party as of today,” Abbott campaign spokesperson Mark Miner said in November 2021. “Now he’ll try to reinvent himself, but he can’t run from his past.”

Abbott's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Both campaigns are ramping up their advertising as the race for governor enters the homestretch. O’Rourke ran his first TV ads of the general election late last month to mark the effective date of the “trigger law” that bans almost all abortion in Texas. He has reserved $10 million worth of airtime for ads this week, the content of which he hasn’t yet disclosed.

Earlier this summer, Abbott’s campaign unveiled plans to spend at least $8.8 million on TV in the fall, plus $2.75 million on Hispanic media. Until now, those ads have focused on portraying a positive image of the incumbent governor, rather than targeting O’Rourke.