It’s a dream of many Texas Democrats to turn the Lone Star State blue. While not impossible, one man in particular would have to be unseated for the tide to turn – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. While others have tried unsuccessfully to unseat Cruz, Congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke thinks he’s on tap to actually do it.
O’Rourke has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2013 and is a member of the House Committees for Armed Services and Veterans Affairs. He is a native of El Paso, a graduate of Columbia University and a former rock guitarist and El Paso City Councilmember. He and his wife Amy have three children.
The Defender talked to the 44-year-old congressman to find out just who is Beto O’Rourke.
Defender: Why should African-American voters in particular vote for you instead of your opponent?
Beto O’Rourke:The work of the U.S. Senate impacts our communities and the lives of every single Texan – the roads we drive on, the health care we receive, the student loans we take out, the taxes our business and families pay, the federal funding we need to rebuild from Hurricane Harvey, the justices who serve on the Supreme Court, the accountability the Department of Justice has over law enforcement.
I am in this race to represent the people of Texas because we have clear inequities that are holding too many people back in education, housing, criminal justice, transportation, and healthcare, and far too many suffer under policies that do not allow all 28 million of us to be treated with the dignity and respect each of us deserves.
I want to reform our broken criminal justice system through real change. I want to ensure that every single Texan can afford to see a doctor and get the care they need. I want to strengthen our public schools so every child gets a high-quality education no matter what neighborhood they grow up in. I want to not only represent Texans but elevate their voices in this campaign and beyond.
This campaign is people-led and people-driven. I committed early on to going everywhere, not writing anyone off or taking anyone for granted. Showing up and listening to those we want to represent by holding community conversations all across this state – taking our lead from those we meet along the way in communities like Greenspoint, Sunnyside, DeSoto and Fifth Ward.
Defender: Explain your four-pronged approach to what you hope to accomplish if elected.
O’Rourke:Working together, I want Texas to take the lead on the big, bold, important work of this state and this country – breaking down inequities in the criminal justice system, healthcare, education, and jobs so that we can truly invest in our communities and all Texans. We have to urgently address the imbalances in our criminal justice system that has often been called the new Jim Crow, intentionally holding back people of color and creating a cycle that puts a disproportionate amount of people of color in jail.
That means working together to end mandatory minimums for minor drug offenses, ending the federal prohibition on marijuana, finally putting an end to the war on drugs, and providing an environment that welcomes re-entry from banning the box and returning driver’s licenses to protecting the constitutional right to vote. It also means reforming the perverse incentives that distort the criminal justice system, from ending private and for-profit prisons that create an unending cycle of incarceration to stopping the broken system of bail bonds that punish people for being poor.
I want Texas to take the lead in building a criminal justice system that all Texans can trust. I also want to make sure that every single Texan can see a doctor, afford their prescriptions, and get the care they need – not as a function of luck or circumstance, but as a fundamental right. No family should have to choose between buying their insulin medication or paying for groceries. We must eliminate the stark disparity in health outcomes experienced by communities of color and continue to push for a more equitable healthcare system.
I want Texas – the least insured state in the country – to lead on this: to expand Medicaid; to reduce Texas’ high maternal health rate that is particularly high among African American mothers; to achieve guaranteed, universal health care; and to ensure that every single one of us can be well enough to go to school, to work, and to live to our God-given potential. Every child in Houston and all across Texas deserves to go to a high-quality public school, regardless of their zip code.
We cannot allow Betsy DeVos and Ted Cruz to turn our hard-earned tax dollars into vouchers that divert money away from our public classrooms to private schools. We must ensure equity in our classrooms, increase public funding for low income and underserved communities, increase teacher pay, ensure teachers in our classrooms look like the children in their classrooms, and put an end to the school to prison pipeline at a time when our country imprisons more of our citizens – disproportionately Black and Brown – than any other country on the planet.
As a small business owner, I know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy and our communities. I want to ensure Black businesses can access the capital they need to expand; help students leap into entrepreneurship without being saddled with student loans that prohibit opportunities to much needed financing; and invest in job training programs that provide our children with the skills they need to succeed.
As we do that work, I want to make sure that every single Texan is treated with dignity and respect. Meeting the small, petty, and divisive politics of this age with a confidence, courage and strength that could only come from Texas. Ensuring that we are unapologetically proud of the fact that Houston is the most diverse city in the most diverse state in the country.
Defender: What are some of your greatest accomplishments?
O’Rourke: As a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I have been proud to work with Democrats and Republicans alike to write and pass bills to ensure our service members who have borne the battle for this country are able to get the care they have earned. At a time when 20 veterans a day are taking their own lives, I was able to work with a Republican colleague earlier this year to get legislation signed into law to help make sure that every separating service member receives mental health care screenings.
I also return to El Paso every single month for an in-person, public community conversation so that I can be accountable to my constituents. Anyone can come and ask any question, share any idea, offer any criticism, and I have used that feedback to give urgency and direction to our work in Congress. Since 2013, I’ve held 95 of these public meetings, and they have made me a better, more responsive Representative.
During my time serving on the El Paso City Council, I was proud to lead initiatives that ensured full domestic rights were given to all members of the community. On top of this, I successfully fought to overturn a domestic partnership ban, which had allowed members of our community to be discriminated against and not be treated with the dignity, respect, and equality we all deserve. I also led a push to end the prohibition on marijuana. As a small business owner, I was proud to launch a new company that invested life into an underserved community, bringing in high-skill, high wage jobs, increasing vitality, and elevating new voices.
Defender: How did you get the name Beto?
O’Rourke: Beto has been my nickname since I was born. It’s part of growing up as a fourth-generation El Pasoan in a binational community. There are people named Beto all across El Paso. Beto is your neighbor, your mailman, your kids’ teacher, your congressman.
Defender: How can people assist with your campaign?
O’Rourke: First of all, people can assist by helping me learn from their experiences and insights. That means coming to our next Houston town hall to join the discussion. People can also get involved by joining a block walk, a phone bank, or a campaign meet-up.
For more info visit www.betofortexas