Written by Christina Lopez
The “One on One with Beto O’Rourke” convened on September 23rd, 2017 during the seventh annual Texas Tribune Festival. O’Rourke is a Democratic congressman from El Paso, Texas, who has been making waves throughout the state after he announced his “longshot race” for the Senate against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in 2018. Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith moderated the event.
Smith went right to the heart of O’Rourke’s campaign, stating that a Democrat running for office in a red state is an uphill battle. He asked O’Rourke if six months of campaigning has altered his view on this obstacle.
“I don’t think I’ve changed my mind about how tough the odds are,” O’Rourke said. “But what has happened over the last six months is we have met tens of thousands of our fellow Texans all over the state who are so incredibly inspired to ensure that… all of us are committed to pull together for the things that matter most.”
He went on to describe the uncertainty among Democrats in the nation following the presidential election on November 8, 2016.
“I’m confident after meeting so many people in Texas that we [Democrats] will [get the nation back],” he said.
O’Rourke continued with the main points of his campaign that will help in this reclamation: using Texas’ experience as a border state to rewrite immigration laws, ensuring statewide healthcare coverage, and raising the minimum wage to a livable amount.
Smith then asked O’Rourke about his view on “career politicians”and the high rate of re-election for a member of Congress, which stands at 93 percent. O’Rourke said if we want Congress to be more reflective of our diverse population, we have to enforce term limits and take corporate money out of elections. He subsequently made a commitment to serve only two terms if elected to Senate to help end gerrymandering and PAC money influencing Congress.
At this point, Smith saw the opportunity to segue to Ted Cruz, inquiring after substantive differences between the two candidates. O’Rourke responded in three parts. Firstly, in regard to healthcare, O’Rourke wants to expand Medicaid in Texas. Secondly, he wishes to make DACA “the law of the land.” Lastly, he pointed out how the American-Mexican border has never been safer and hopes that this encourages Texans to take the lead nationally on the issue of immigration.
According to O’Rourke, the main problem with Cruz in regard to these issues is that he “has his eyes on other things, not on Texas.”
After, Smith brought up Cruz’s smear campaigns that refer to O’Rourke’s youthful indiscretions: a DUI arrest at 25 and an attempted burglary arrest a few years before that. O’Rourke explained how he jumped a fence at the University of Texas at El Paso when he was a senior in college, which led to the breaking and entering charge, and how he exhibited poor judgment in drinking and driving a few years later, but was arrested rightly both times. He addressed the crowd directly, “It’s up to you, I trust your judgment.”
“In the 19 years since then I’ve done my best to be as productive and as good a person I possibly can,” he said.
“Everyone should deserve that next chance to improve their lives, to contribute to their communities, to do better, and if my own personal experience serves as some form of motivation… then there will be some good that has come out of it.”
Smith closed with asking O’Rourke about his father Pat O’Rourke, an El Paso county judge, who died in a bicycle accident in 2001.
“What’s the thing you take away from his life as a public servant?” Smith inquired.
O’Rourke choked up and apologized before he said, “He absolutely loved life and loved people and his family and gave it everything that he could. He was always so focused on doing what he thought was important or the right thing, and there was a joy that came out of that. I wish I could find my own and I seek to do that.”
Featured image by The Texas Tribune.