El Paso Congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke says he won’t take any part of the state for granted in his effort to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz.
O’Rourke, a Democrat, stopped in Tyler on Saturday as part of a whistle-stop tour of the region. He plans to face Cruz, a Republican, in the November 2018 general election.
“It’s going to take being everywhere in the state, listening to everyone we can, and making sure no one is written off and taken for granted,” O’Rourke said. “I’ve been at this for seven weeks now, and everywhere I go, I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing. People have decided they’re going to stand up.”
In some brief remarks to the approximately 100 supporters who gathered at the home of Tyler attorney Pete Milne, O’Rourke said Democrats must act - and not just complain about President Donald Trump and his administration.
“Our kids are watching,” he said. “Donald Trump told us exactly what he was going to do. You didn’t have to read between the lines, when he talked about banning all Muslim immigration, about putting together a military-style deportation force. He said it all very clearly.”
And now, O’Rourke said, Democrats have to step up.
“We can’t just rationalize this away or justify it,” he said of the administration’s policies. “Our kids know it’s bad. They’re going to want to know what we did about it. We have to be able to say to them, ‘We won in 2018. We took back our state and our nation.’”
O’Rourke, who has served in Congress since 2013, is a musician-turned-tech entrepreneur. His father, the late El Paso County Judge Pat Francis O’Rourke, was a close associate of former Texas Gov. Mark White.
In his remarks on Saturday, O’Rourke called for single-payer health care for the United States.
“Health care is a right, not a privilege,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a matter of luck, or privilege, or what job you have. Our state now leads not only the nation, but the world, in maternal mortality. We know we can do better.”
O’Rourke also took aim at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which loosened campaign finance rules. And he pledged to refuse any corporate campaign donations.
“You never have to worry if I’m in Washington to represent you, or to represent someone who paid to get me in to or keep me in the Senate,” he said. “The corrosive influence of money in politics has compromised and corrupted many members of Congress.”
At the same time, O’Rourke argued to decentralize education. Local schools and classroom teachers shouldn’t have to answer to Washington bureaucrats, he said.
“Let teachers do their life’s work as they were called to do it,” he said.
Much of his speech focused on immigration, however.
“In this era of alternative facts, we have a president who vilifies Mexican immigrations as rapists and murderers,” he said. “His way to stop that is to build a 30-foot-tall wall from El Paso to California.”
That’s unworthy of a “nation of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers,” he added.
“Think of the 10-year-old from El Salvador who has made the dangerous journey to the border,” he said. “They get here and they ask for shelter and aid and kindness. Providing those isn’t something we do that diminishes our own strength or makes us less. It makes us stronger.”
Milne, who hosted the Tyler event, said he felt led to open up his home to the candidate because of the current political climate. Milne attended the Women’s March on Washington in January, and felt energized.
“I wanted to take advantage of the momentum that has started in Washington D.C. and everywhere else,” he said. “I want to channel a lot of the energy that’s negative and turn it into positive energy for change.”
A group of about 45 East Texans piled into a bus to follow O’Rourke to additional events in the region Saturday.