DALLAS — Texas billionaire Kelcy Warren, the executive chairman of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, is suing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke in state court for defamation, slander and libel.
But, politically, this could turn out to be just the kind of media attention that Beto O’Rourke’s campaign needs right now.
For months, O’Rourke has made accountability for the deadly February 2021 ice storm and power outages a key element of his gubernatorial campaign.
O’Rourke blames Governor Abbott for it, and has campaigned on how natural gas companies made billions in profits off that frigid week. (Natural gas is used to power about half of the electric generating plants in the state.)
More to the point, O’Rourke has frequently and specifically remarked on how one natural gas company in particular -- Warren's Energy Transfer Partners -- made $2.4-billion dollars in profit that week. Collectively, the industry itself reported $11 billion dollars in profit from sky high gas prices during the storm.
Also while campaigning, O’Rourke has made a point to call out that the Warren gave Abbott a one-million-dollar campaign donation in the wake.
All of that is factual, and it’s something that WFAA has reported on (along with other media outlets).
"Not only did he make windfall profits of the death, misery and struggle of our fellow Texans, he’s now trying to shut us down in the courts," O’Rourke said Tuesday afternoon in Dallas. "He’s trying to shut us down in the courts through a frivolous lawsuit. And I wanted to make sure you heard that here directly from me here first."
But in a 16-page lawsuit filed in San Saba County, where Warren lives in Central Texas, the Texas billionaire says O’Rourke is suggesting he did something illegal.
"Beto O’Rourke clearly hasn’t read or doesn’t understand the lawsuit filed personally by Kelcy Warren," stated Warren’s company, Energy Transfer Partners, in a statement provided to WFAA. "Mr. Warren is not interested in barring Mr. O’Rourke from talking about the winter storm. That is the right of every Texan and every American. What Mr. Warren is interested in stopping are the irresponsible, defamatory and highly offensive statements by Mr. O’Rourke related to his donation to Governor Abbott’s campaign... This is also the right of every Texan and every American to contribute to the campaigns of candidates they support without being defamed in the process. Mr. O’Rourke’s statements are flat-out false, and they appear to have been made for political gain in a desperate attempt to overcome what appears to be a weakening campaign to unseat Governor Abbott."
Politically, any activity relating to last year’s power grid failure could help O’Rourke keep attention on the issue, as he has aimed to do for month's heading into the primaries.
Now, O'Rourke said his campaign would be paying for his legal defense, and he expressed confidence that his team's efforts there would succeed.
Potentially even more revealing, though, is what could come out of discovery from a lawsuit about this topic -- providing the lawsuit ever advances to that point -- as it could be used to bring communications between Warren and state leaders about last year's storm to public light.