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Hello, Mr President: Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke, a fresh-faced political newcomer hailing from El Paso burst onto the political scene in 2018 when he challenged Ted Cruz for the role of Texas senator. He amassed a major following from young onlookers all across the country, despite his narrow loss. After months of flirting with the idea of running, O’Rourke has officially entered the crowded 2020 race as of Thursday, March 14.

Personal Background:

Robert O’Rourke was born and raised in El Paso, Texas — something about which he frequently displays pride. He gained his nickname “Beto” as a baby, (a common Spanish nickname for Roberto) so not to confuse him for his namesake grandfather in conversation (O’Rourke is Welsh and Irish – not Hispanic). His mother owned a furniture shop, and his father was El Paso County Commissioner and County Judge. During high school and college, O’Rourke played the bass and drums for different punk bands that he formed with friends. O’Rourke attended Columbia University, one of the oldest and most prestigious Ivy Leagues in the nation. Out of college, O’Rourke worked as a caretaker and art mover at an Internet service provider, and later as a proofreader.

O’Rourke returned to El Paso in 1998, attributing his homecoming to the fact that he wanted to address the emigration of youth in El Paso, as a result of a lack of opportunity. He co-founded Stanton Street Technology Group, an Internet services company that also published an online newspaper called “Stanton Street.” His wife took over management and ownership of the company, but the CEO since 2005, Brian Wancho, purchased the company in 2017.

Beto O’Rourke spent his childhood involved in El Paso politics as a result of his father. Before starting college in 1991, O’Rourke was a summer intern in the DC office of U.S. Congressman Ron Coleman. O’Rourke volunteered for the campaigns of several politicians, including Eliot Shapleigh’s 2002 and 2006 reelections runs for Texas State Senator. In 2003 O’Rourke beat the incumbent City Councilman, making him one of the youngest representatives ever to serve on the El Paso City Council. He later won re-election by 70 per cent. O’Rourke spent a great deal of time volunteering at various non-profits such as their local Rotary Club, and Center Against Sexual and Family Violence. In 2012, O’Rourke won the Democratic primary to represent Texas’s 16th congressional district, against the eight-term incumbent. As a Congressman, he held multiple town halls every single month, and pushed for more progressive legislation in his district, in regards to things like the LGBTQ+ community and drug legalization.

In 2018, Beto O’Rourke ran for Texas Senate against Ted Cruz. O’Rourke ran his campaign without accepting PAC money, by filming ads on an iPhone camera, and by visiting all 254 counties in Texas. This authentic and grassroots approach to politics attracted many young voters and the endorsement of celebrities like Beyonce and Khalid. While O’Rourke was slimly defeated, many people across the United States were impressed by the fact that a progressive like O’Rourke could create the closest Senate race in Texas in 40 years. Many attributed this loss to voter suppression and voting machine error (machines were “mysteriously” switching democratic votes to votes for Cruz). This election established Beto O’Rourke on the national stage and propelled him towards running for the presidency.

Voting Record & Major Bills Sponsored/Authored

While in office, O’Rourke served on the following committees:

  • Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Ways and Means
  • Natural Resources
  • Energy and Commerce
  • Homeland Security

O’Rourke currently has the following ratings by external groups:

  • Planned Parenthood Action Fund: 100%
  • League of Conservation Voters: 94%
  • NIAC Action: A
  • American Civil Liberties Union: 88%
  • Human Rights Campaign: 85%
  • United States Chamber of Commerce: 47%
  • FreedomWorks: 15%
  • NumbersUSA: 13%
  • Americans for Prosperity: 10%
  • The Club for Growth: 0%

 

According to Beto O’Rourke’s sponsorship and cosponsorship record of bills, he in the center of the left with his Democratic colleagues, but very far from the right. O’Rourke has primarily focused on bills in the areas of the armed forces, national security; immigration, government operations, transportation and public works. Still, his record on many financial issues strays further to the right and remains somewhat mixed.

Main Goals & Platforms:

Beto O’Rourke firmly believes in demilitarizing our borders, removing walls, creating a clearer path to legal status for to undocumented residents, and granting legal citizenship for all DREAMers. Being from El Paso, a border town, O’Rourke often draws from personal experience when sharing his views about the border. Immigration and border security currently appear to be his main platform issue. O’Rourke does not support Medicare for All in its entirety. Like many establishment Democrats running, O’Rourke centers his plan around the ACA and expanding Medicaid. He wants to ban assault weapons and instate universal background checks, protect trans service members, keep NAFTA intact, and remove many restrictions on abortion.  He wants to rejoin the Paris accord, and he supports The Green New Deal, stating, “Literally, the future of the world depends on us.” O’Rourke wants to make preschool education universal, and the first two years of higher education completely debt free. Beto O’Rourke may be touting himself as a highly progressive candidate in 2020, but his record remains mixed.

Criticisms:

Beto O’Rourke is considered inexperienced in many’s eyes. Many older voters share concerns about whether or not he is polished enough, and whether he has “paid his dues.” More progressive voters are concerned about his past fiscal choices.

Beto O’Rourke’s record shows that in 2017 and 2018, he supported some fiscally conservative bills. He supported the following bills, which has sparked controversy:  “GOP legislation that Democrats said would empower financial institutions to shield themselves from bank examiners. A package of Republican bills that Democrats said would reduce independent audits of corporations, deregulate stock exchanges and high-frequency trading. A Republican bill to permit a larger number of bank holding companies to take on more debt. Additionally, a Republican bill that Democrats said would ‘eliminate meaningful, clear disclosures to consumers about their privacy rights, including their ability to opt-out from having their information sold to unaffiliated third party companies’”. In 2017, O’Rourke initially joined his party in voting against Trump’s tax cut package. O’Rourke later broke away from Democrats to vote for the Republican legislation. He supported the bill, even though the Congressional Budget Office warned that it would likely expand the deficit. Many do attribute this fiscal conservatism as a way for O’Rourke to connect with his base while pushing for social justice reform.

Beto O’Rourke was criticized by Ted Cruz for using his nickname “Beto”. Cruz even released an ad that sang, “If you are going to run in Texas, you can’t be a liberal man. I remember reading stories, liberal Robert wanted to fit in. So he changed his name to Beto and hid it with a grin.” Some claimed that this was cultural appropriation, but the majority of those attacking O’Rourke for this were far right Texans. Beto rebuked these claims of appropriation or changing his name in recent years for political gain, by tweeting a photo of him as a toddler wearing a sweater with his name “Beto” stitched onto it. It should also be made clear that Ted Cruz’s real name is not Ted, but actually Rafael Edward Cruz.

O’Rourke was arrested twice in his younger days. One time was for breaking into the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)  physical plant, he stayed in jail overnight was released on bail the next day. UTEP decided not to press charges and prosecutors dropped the charges against O’Rourke and friends. O’Rourke was also arrested for driving while intoxicated after a car crash in 1998. The charges were dismissed in October 1999 after he completed a court-recommended DWI program. In regards to attacks about these arrests, O’Rourke has said, “I’ve been open about it since the very beginning. I have owned up to it and I have taken responsibility for it,” and that he is “grateful for the second chance.”

O’Rourke made a joke about “helping” to raise his children, with the majority of the responsibility weighing on his wife. Many found this offensive and privileged, while others thought that this was a surprising (but light) acknowledgement of his wife’s work, which would have been uncommon in years prior. O’Rourke issued an apology nonetheless.

O’Rourke recently accepted money from a lobbyist, and removed the anti-lobbyist stance from his website/email list. He has since apologized, returned the check, and revised his email list.

Popularity & Electability:

Many say that his (semi)floppy-haired, social media use, skateboarding, the guitar-playing style just can’t win Beto O’Rourke the presidency. However, Beto jumped to polling third in democratic polls on the first day of announcing his campaign alone. This propelled O’Rourke far ahead of candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Booker Cory Booker who have been running high profile campaigns for much longer periods of time. O’Rourke also remains wildly popular amongst younger voters who praise his optimism, authenticity, and ability to organically connect with his base.

O’Rourke would be first US president to be bilingual in 84 years (he speaks Spanish fluently), one of the youngest US presidents ever (at a spry 46), the second ever Catholic president (though unlike JFK, he has shown great opposition to the church’s policies and practices), the first hacker to be president, and the last president since Abraham Lincoln to lose the Senate but win the White House.

O’Rourke’s skill for fundraising, promoting bipartisanship, optimism, employing his southern charm, and remaining a likeable “anti-establishment” candidate; could make his campaign the one to beat. Donald Trump’s success even suggests that American voters will accept a lack of governing experience in exchange for personality.

While the 2020 field grows every day, Beto O’Rourke still looks like he may be able to board right into the White House… 

Feature Image: “‘SHOW OF HANDS’,  O’Rourke greeting his people after the “Celebration of El Paso,” February 11.”

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Written By

Helen Ehrlich is a writer who enjoys politics, all things literary, activism and charity work. She lives in the United States, where she attends school.

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