I fled Texas to begin college in Boston. Over the course of the past two years, the politics of the state have reflected larger patterns of partisan divide throughout the nation. I watched the political narratives play out from afar, much like a pedestrian observing a highway pileup. One observational method involves the social media accounts of the people from home. Although I know it is a ridiculously inaccurate picture painted with the brush of only one demographic, I use the political tweets of my former peers and their networks to try and figure out which way the state is leaning. I scroll through my feed, the voice in my head reading the tweets in the drawl of George W. Bush for effect. This past year as we crept closer to the November elections, a name appeared more frequently on my feed: Beto O’Rourke.
Beto O’Rourke is the democratic senatorial candidate who is originally from El Paso, Texas. After obtaining a BA in English and Literature from Colombia University, he worked as a proofreader for a publishing company in the Bronx. After three years, O’Rourke returned to El Paso and co-founded Stanton Street Technology. The website and software development company was created with the intention of creating more career opportunity for the people of El Paso. This same concern for the wellbeing of his home city prompted O’Rourke to run for City Council in 2005 and then for US Congress in 2012. O’Rourke served in the US House of Representatives until beginning his current run for US Senate.
As the candidate for the democratic party, O’Rourke has a taken a liberal stance on many of the issues dividing the state of Texas. He strives to eliminate Senate Bill 6 (the bill that prevents a person from using a bathroom or changing facility “designated for the biological sex opposite to the person’s biological sex”). He supports the research on gun violence and the regulation of firearms. O’Rourke believes in the legalization of recreational marijuana simply because marijuana-related crime is a cause of greater arrest rates for black men. The support of veterans is a priority. Being from a border city, he supports the DREAM Act and believes in fair opportunity for immigrants. No wall. Instead, he wishes to modernize an outdated system to create an opportunity for citizenship and economic growth.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of O’Rourke’s campaign is the serious effort he has put into connecting with Texas voters. In a fashion that is reflective of his years spent touring the country in his punk rock band, Foss, O’Rourke has hopped in a car and driven through all 254 counties in Texas. He holds town hall meetings in each, the same way he has in El Paso during his time as a Representative. He has done this without the assistance of any political action committees (PAC) This is no small feat. Texas is large. The majority of my early social studies classes included a unit discussing just how big the state was. We were not permitted to graduate into the fourth grade until it was clear that we knew that the countries of Slovenia and Belgium could both fit snugly inside of the Pan Handle.
Nevertheless, he has made his way from county to county (many of them more than once) in a van filled with bags of Whataburger. He has gone door-to-door like an Aaron Burr with an actual issue position and still makes time to skateboard through parking lots. He has listened to the grievances of both those who agree with him and those who do not. Rather than regurgitating his beliefs, O’Rourke takes the time to break down his viewpoints so that his intentions and motivations are very clear.
His eloquent response to one man’s question about NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem went viral and resulted in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres. When he was asked whether he believed this practice was disrespectful to the country and veterans, O’Rourke helped to clarify that the practice was meant to peacefully bring attention to the police brutality and racial inequality that exists in the country. He also explained the history and benefits of peaceful protest.
“I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee for your rights anytime, anywhere, any place,” he said.
O’Rourke’s concern for people allows him to transcend the political divide that plagues his state. A recent New York Times article profiled a group of Evangelical women in the Texas Bible Belt who had decided that they were voting for O’Rourke, despite their firm pro-life standpoint.
“When I look at (Ted) Cruz, I think he sees Republican politics. When I look at Beto, I think he sees vulnerable people who need to be supported,” one of the women, Kelsey Hency said.
It seems that we are becoming more and more willing to compromise with the political party we support. We will vote for Trump if it means keeping Hillary out of the Oval Office. We will support a Supreme Court nominee with a disturbing history if it means one party can maintain power. During a time when polarization is running rampant, Beto O’Rourke is making people stop and consider what lies past the ideological boundaries their parties have set for them. He is doing his best to make a state filled with 254 counties, and roughly 28 million people feel heard.