More than 200 people from across the region packed into the Hostess House at Hancock Springs on Thursday afternoon to hear U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman from El Paso.
“If you’re a Republican, you’re in the right place; if you are a Democrat, you’re in the right place,” he said. “Whoever you are, we’re glad you’re here.”
Collaboration across party lines and ideologies for the benefit of the nation was a reccurring theme in O’Rourke’s speech.
“These are very hard times for some people in this country, and so, by extension, for the country as a whole,” the candidate said. “[We are] 242 years into this idea – that is not the rule, it is the exception in the history of this rule – that we’re going to choose our own representatives, that we’re going to choose the course in common that this country will take. That idea, this experiment, our country, has never been under greater attack than it is right now.”
O’Rourke cited the indictment of several Russian nationals as evidence that American democracy has been “infiltrated and compromised.”
“We have a country that has never been more divided or more polarized, at least in my 45 years on the planet,” he said. “We’ve retreated back to our tribes. We’re unwilling to have unguarded, uncomfortable conversations with those we don’t agree with us on every issue, and so there’s almost no issue that’s getting addressed in the way that it should.”
Members of both parties are guilty of this, O’Rourke said.
“[We have] this inability to come together, and not just face our challenges [but] stop the bad things we don’t want to see happen in our country; to do the very big, aspirational work that used to distinguish this country among other countries of the world,” he said.
Some of what O’Rourke considered bad things for the country are the idea to construct a wall along the Mexican-American border, and immigration policies that separate illegally immigrating families from their children after they cross the border.
“We’re going to stop walls that we don’t need that will cost us $30 billion in 200 miles of poured concrete that will cut us off from a country with whom we are not at war,” O’Rourke said. “We will stop with this hand taking little kids from parents after they have survived a 2,000-mile journey seeking refuge and salvation in this country which was offered the same to so many who preceded them here.”
Instead, he said, “we need to write immigration laws in our own image.”
O’Rourke also spoke of stopping “Muslim bans” that he said prevent people of the Islamic faith from immigrating into the United States.
“With this hand we will stop any idea that the press is the enemy of the people, and acknowledge they are the best defense against tyranny,” he said. “They keep people like me accountable, keep us honest, and allow you to make an informed decision at the ballot box, or know just how your taxes are being paid.”
HEALTH CARE REFORM
“What if we led the way on universal, guaranteed, high-quality health care?” O’Rourke asked the crowd.
Then, citing a study released earlier this year by brothers Charles Koch and David Koch, O’Rourke said a socialistic healthcare system would cost the country less rather than more.
“Their conclusion was that it will save the country over the long term trillions,” he said. “Not only can we pay for this, we must pay for this.”
O’Rourke spoke strongly to the crowd about the importance of prioritizing public service personnel, especially teachers and the military -- both of which, he said, are professions that struggle to receive proper benefits.
“[Teachers] haven’t received a cost-of-living adjustment in 13 years,” O’Rourke said.
He added that healthcare costs for educators have doubled in the last year.
“We continue to fight wars without end,” he said. “Seventeen years straight, with no definition of victory and no end in sight in Afghanistan. We are tearing apart and rebuilding that country, losing American lives in the process … adding trillions of dollars to the national debt in the process, without having the resources ready for those who have borne the battle, to come back and receive the care they have earned.”
The nation desperately needs a farm bill to protect agricultural business people and programs that support proper nutrition, O’Rourke said.
“At this point in time, we [United States government] can’t wrap our minds around a farm bill to be there for those ranchers, those farmers, those producers; a farm bill that has, in the House version, a title one protection for cotton growers,” he said. “I want to make sure that those jobs are protected … This farm bill cuts $23 million for our fellow Americans who may not be able to get the nutrition they need to survive.”
After the speech, O’Rourke elaborated on the subject in an interview with the Lampasas Dispatch Record.
“I’m confident we can make the necessary compromises to ensure that those farmers already surviving on razor-thin margins can continue to grow our food to feed and clothe us,” the candidate said.
Additionally, keeping rural communities alive is dependent on connectivity, he added.
“Half of rural Texas does not have broadband internet,” O’Rourke said. “It’s not profitable for the telephone companies, but it’s necessary for the viability of those communities … This is time that we invest in rural America.”
O’Rourke said he wanted to ensure the federal government, much in the way it did through the Rural Electrification Administration during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, invests in connected communities with the internet.
He also explained his reasoning behind the decision to not accept PAC funds.
“Congress has been purchased – corrupted – by corporations and special interests,” O’Rourke said. “I just never want anyone to wonder, ‘Did Beto support this or write this bill or vote in this way because of a PAC, or because of us?’ I think getting our democracy back means returning it to the people, and right now it’s increasingly in the hands of corporations and special interest groups.”
In all, O’Rourke’s message – just like his campaign slogan – was that Texas deserves better.