Meet the Candidates: Beto O'Rourke

Beto O’Rourke, former U.S. Representative (TX-16), burst onto the national scene as the surprisingly formidable challenger to Senator Ted Cruz in 2018. The young, eloquent then-Rep. drew favorable comparisons to Robert Kennedy as he visited each of Texas’s 254 counties, highlighting poverty, injustice, and inequity and giving powerful off-the cuff but well thought answers to anything town hall audiences wanted to ask (including this viral response to a question about kneeling NFL players).

Following a close, 2.6% Senate loss, the three-term Rep. was included on every short list of presidential contenders, but that momentum was squandered by a prolonged period of indecision characterized (even by himself) as one of personal exploration rather than what was best for the country. A lackluster first debate performance confirmed for many that the magic of O’Rourke’s Senate run had passed. After a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso however, O’Rourke seems to have thrown off the pressures of presidential politics and risen to the occasion with a no-B.S. approach to combatting gun violence and the white supremacy that has been strengthened by the current regime.

Gun Safety: While his specific policies differ little from the rest of the Democratic field — universal background checks, closing loopholes, banning semi-automatic weapons of war — O’Rourke’s statements on mass shootings has channeled the frustration and anger many Americans feel at Republicans continued enabling of this violent, uniquely American epidemic. He stood by recent remarks to reporters that Republican inaction on gun violence “this is f—ed up,” and there’s really no disagreeing with him.

Heathcare: Medicare for all, private insurance as an option. Beto’s center-left approach to healthcare would guarantee every American insurance and allow private insurers to continue offering a for-profit alternative. The two-tiered system seems to be an ideal compromise, though many fear that a continued profit motive eliminates much of the cost savings of a true single payer plan. Beto is also passionate about addressing the alarming disparity of maternal and infant care in communities of color and predominantly white areas. He pledges to bring top notch care into places that have been denied adequate services for decades.

Education: Free community college and two free years at state schools, increased grants for low- and middle income students to cover room and board, loan forgiveness for public school teachers — these comprise the bulk of Beto’s plans to lower the burden of college tuition. He also supports universal pre-K, investments in home visiting programs to get disadvantaged kids school-ready, and a dramatic increase to public school funding. In a not-so-thinly veiled swipe at the current regime, his website’s top priority for public schools is to appoint “a Secretary of Education who has a background in public education.” Novel.

Criminal Justice: Cynics have argued that Beto’s passion for criminal justice reform and racial disparity is an opportunistic seizing of a political moment with electoral motivations. But O’Rourke co-wrote the 2011 book “Dealing Death and Drugs” before he was elected to federal office and has a long documented history of arguing for marijuana legalization, the end of cash bail, an emphasis on real rehabilitation, and a restructuring of our criminal justice system to stop persecuting minorities.

Climate Crisis: Beto has offered among the most detailed, ambitious plans to combat Earth’s climate emergencies and yet for some Green New Deal supporters, it falls short because his goal for net zero emissions in the U.S. is 20 years later than their 2030 deadline. Still he pledges a five trillion dollar investment in his first 100 days in office comprising four parts: executive action, infrastructure investments, enforceable goals to cut emissions and combat the immediate threats to the country posed by climate change.

Critics say… It’s easy to look good when you’re facing Ted Cruz. Standing out in a star-studded Demcoratic primary is another matter. Maybe if he’d launched his campaign while the wind was still at his back or performed better in the first debate, things would be different. As it stands though, the privileged, young white man has yet to find a way to stand out in the most diverse presidential field in history. His plans are bold but not enough to excite progressives. He offers compromise solutions but few so safe as to satisfy moderates. He’s not entrenched like some in the old guard, but he’s not the primary’s fresh face either. To most Democrats, there is simply no good answer to the question of why Beto?

…and finally: Progressive (by most standards) and pragmatic, we have seen Beto’s ability to be an effective messenger of our values. When Beto gets out of his head and speaks from the heart, his passion is infectious. We marveled at and fed off that passion for a full year as he battled Cruz, but that magic has been largely absent in his presidential run. Whether it is in this campaign or beyond, we look forward to Beto being Beto as important ally in America’s most important fights.

To read up on all of Beto O’Rourke’s policies, visit his website!