Beto O'Rourke, currently running for the U.S. Senate, made a stop in Jacksonville on Thursday for a town hall meeting. The meeting was held at Castle on the Lake and drew a fairly large crowd.
Jacksonville Mayor Dick Stone, City Councilman Rob Gowin and many other Cherokee County residents were in attendance. Marlene Jowell, Democrat and candidate for county judge, introduced O'Rourke to the crowd. She went through some of his background and expressed her excitement to help his campaign.
O'Rourke is a Democrat from El Paso, having served several years on the El Paso City Council before running for U.S. Congress in 2012. He serves in the House of Representatives on the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services Committees. He is now seeking office in the Senate, campaigning for the seat currently held by Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. Jowell pointed out that O'Rourke's campaign has been funded solely by individual donations, not by any lobbying group or special interest organization. An article by Business Insider stated that O'Rourke has raised more campaign money than Ted Cruz, at the time of writing.
“This is the kind of guy you have been seeking for 50 years, and our time has come. It seems like magic that Democrats now have a candidate so able to represent our state, who is intellectual, honest, compassionate, energetic, empathetic, experienced and with a tremendous passion to serve,” she said.
O'Rourke discussed why he is running for Senate before taking questions from the audience. He said he sees some of those reasons in Jacksonville's own history.
“The first schools were started in the 1870s, well before many of the towns in Texas were settled or established,” he said. “The first free public schools were in the early 1900s. That commitment, that investment, has paid dividends for generations going forwards. I think it's that kind of leadership, that kind of vision, that kind of focus that is not on the next election, but the next generation and the generation thereafter that we need in this country right now.”
Some of his goals, if elected, are to put more emphasis on investing in the next generation. This includes better educations, better infrastructure, more job opportunities, easier access to the Internet, among other things. He said that he was born and raised in El Paso, and he wants to see his kids have a reason to come back to El Paso and strengthen its community.
He also said that the United States should also focus on getting better healthcare for all people, especially its veterans. He said the country spent more money on its military than every other nation in the world. If elected, he wants to see that money spent at home instead of abroad.
Climate change is another issue O'Rourke feels needs to be dealt with, especially in Texas. He said the danger of climate change is one that has many Texans, especially younger Texans, very worried about the future.
“We won't worry about storms hitting Houston because people will not live in Houston, Texas anymore. We won't have to worry about droughts in North Texas because people will not be able to grow food and live in North Texas,” he said.
Lastly, O'Rourke said he feels immigration is a good thing for the country and that the path to citizenship should be made easier. In the case of the Dreamers, children of illegal immigrants who were brought to this country at a very young age, the communities they grew up in have already made a large investment in these kids. The Dreamers have gone to school in the United States, they have friends and family in the United States and they want to stay in the United States. To see them deported back to a country they cannot remember or speak the language of, he said, is just throwing away an investment the community could have used.
After briefly going over his campaign goals, O'Rourke took some time to answer questions. One member of the audience asked how the Democratic party can hope to reach out to younger voters.
“The conventional wisdom is that young people don't vote, so you don't go to high schools and colleges and talk to young people. Why waste your time? … I see that as almost a catch-22. As a young person, I might not vote, either, if no one showed up or heard what was on my mind. So, you find us showing up on college campuses and listening to high school students … and I'm learning a ton by doing that. It is very often the youngest person in the room who is going to ask the most important question.”
Another participant at the town hall meeting asked how O'Rourke plans to close the tax loopholes large corporations are using, and also what his thoughts are on Russian interference in the last presidential election.
As to Russian hacking, O'Rourke said it is something he is very concerned about, and he wants to see the government put more checks in place to make sure America's ballot boxes are secure and that international meddling cannot occur. He also said that it is not a partisan issue. Everybody, Republican, Democrat and Independent should be concerned about other nations interfering with American elections.
“If you care about this 230-year experiment that is American democracy and if you want it to be there for the kids and the generations that follow, this is the year that we either save it, or we lose it,” he said.
As to corporate tax loopholes, he said that is another issue he wants to fight against, and is part of the reason his campaign is only accepting individual monetary donations.
“One of the reasons that I don't take PAC money is I never want you to have to wonder who it is that I'm voting for or writing legislation for,” he said. “I serve on the House Armed Services Committee, a very solemn responsibility. You don't want to wonder if I'm doing the work of Boeing, or Northrop Grumman, or General Dynamics or any other defense contractor.”
In a questions along a similar vein, O'Rourke was asked how powerful lobbying groups (the NRA was an example given) could be taken out of political decision making. He said that one of the ways to do so was to implement Congressional term limits. O'Rourke admitted he is out of lockstep with many other Democrats on the subject who dislike the idea of term limits, but he supports the idea regardless.
One of the last questions asked was how he will most differentiate himself from Ted Cruz, should he be elected.
O'Rourke said one way he wants to stand out is by not forgetting who he is responsible to if he gets elected. Both he and Cruz were elected to Congress at the same time, in 2012. In his first month in office, he said that he held a town hall meeting where everyone was welcome to come discuss what was on their mind, whether or not they supported him. He said he has held one of these town hall meetings every month he has been in office, and a lot of the time the people showing up to these meetings are the people who are not happy with him or the federal government.
“That has made me a far better representative than I could have been otherwise. It adds urgency to my work because I can't just tell you 'Listen we just wrote a great bill that'll expand mental health care access to veterans, but those dang Republicans won't work with us.' I know that you're going to say, 'Well, Beto, find a Republican to work with and get the job done.' So I find that Republican and get that job done and we pass that bill.”
O'Rourke also added, getting a laugh from the audience, that he has no intention of leading any government shutdowns.
More information about Beto O'Rourke and his campaign can be found online at www.betofortexas.com. The Cherokee County Democrats can be found at www.cherokeecountytexasdemocrats.org. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.