AUSTIN (KXAN) — Beto O’Rourke – the former Texas congressman long-rumored to be the Democratic challenger to Gov. Greg Abbott’s reelection in 2022 – said his sole focus is defeating Republican efforts to further restrict elections.

O’Rourke is set to launch a statewide tour in the coming weeks to advocate for voting rights and democracy. In an interview with KXAN Wednesday, O’Rourke said he would only consider running for public office this cycle if a controversial elections proposal by Texas Republicans is defeated or federal elections legislation is passed by Congress.

“If we can get this done… I’ll think about what other role I can play in public service whether that is as a candidate in 2022 or supporting great candidates in 2022,” O’Rourke said. “Our democracy is on the line.”

Democrats in the Texas House were able to kill Senate Bill 7 by walking off the floor near the end of the legislative session this week. But Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to add election integrity to a special session.

Running out of options to stop the bill, O’Rourke has joined other Texas Democrats in calling on President Joe Biden and Congress to pass a federal elections law.

Last week, Biden issued a statement advocating in favor of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but the president has not said if he supports doing away with the U.S. Senate filibuster rule to allow Democrats to pass the proposals with a simple majority vote.  

Beto O’Rourke is set to launch a statewide tour in the coming weeks to advocate for voting rights and democracy

“Although the state can go farther in some cases, the federal government can set the boundaries of action, and that’s really what Texas Democrats are asking for from the Biden administration,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

Texas Republicans have already gotten to work on fixes to SB 7 before an eventual special session. Abbott has not said whether he would attach the agenda item to a special session he already called to redraw the state’s political maps or if the issue will warrant its own session.

State Rep. Travis Clardy, a northeast Texas Republican and member of the House Elections Committee, said certain mistakes were made with the legislation, because time was running out on the legislative session. He said a revised version of the bill will remove the reduction of Sunday voting hours, and enhanced powers for elections judges will be curtailed.

“We were jammed up for time,” Clardy said. “We did it in good faith and with good effort, but I want to make sure that we clarify any misconceptions or wrong perceptions about what SB 7 was intended to do.”

Clardy said he welcomes input from Democrats in the Texas Legislature and wants to ensure every member has ample time to consider the legislation.

SB 7’s final version, before failing in the Texas House, would have:

  • Imposed uniform statewide early voting hours
  • Required all counties to have paper versions of electronic ballots by 2026
  • Banned drive-thru voting and mail-in ballot drop boxes
  • Further empowered poll watchers, but gets rid of the previous section of the bill that would allow poll watchers to photograph suspected fraudulent activity
  • Required mail-in ballot applicants to provide an ID number
  • Required counties with populations over 100,000 to livestream areas containing completed ballots