Congressman comes to campus to talk policy, inspire civic engagement

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Next year’s midterm elections are still more than a year away, but the candidate who wants to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is already stumping for votes.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, stopped by campus Wednesday in an effort to appeal to those who have never voted. He talked with 30 people in the chambers of the Brown-Lupton University Union.

“I’m making a bet for those who haven’t voted before,” O’Rourke said. “If we take a chance on them, they’re going to take a chance on us. Everyone deserves to be heard.”

O’Rourke is mounting an underdog campaign. The last Democrat to win a senate seat in Texas was the late Senator Lloyd Bentsen who left office in 1993 to become Secretary of the Treasury. Add in that Cruz is an incumbent and the competition gets even harder. In 2016, 87 percent of senators won re-election and it was 82 percent in 2014, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The congressman is taking this all in stride, launching a campaign that he said is focusing on the people instead of relying on money from special interests. O’Rourke said that money has a “corrosive” effect on elections so he is choosing not to take any money from Political Action Committees or Super PACs. O’Rourke is instead relying on the people of Texas and their individual donations to his campaign – the average of which is $44, he said.

“We’re going to walk the walk, but run it in a different way,” O’Rourke said. “That’s why I’m here right now instead of following a Super PAC.”

Anthony Deininger, the President of Young Democratic Leaders which co-sponsored the event, said O’Rourke was important to bring to campus because he is helping to fight the notion that Democrats can’t win in Texas.   

“He faces some of the same challenges we do on campus with the state kind of thinking that everything is red,” Deininger said. “I think he is a great model to bring on campus to show the kind of fight that we’re fighting for.”

Part of O’Rourke’s underdog candidate model focuses on appealing directly to voters instead of listening to campaign consultants. This is part of the reason he isn’t commissioning any polls.

“What would the poll add to what we’re doing?” O’Rourke said. “I’m going to continue to talk about things I think are important. The best way for me to get a sense of what we’re doing is to keep traveling across the state.”

O’Rourke said these in-person conversations he’s had on the campaign trail and at his monthly town halls have helped him learn more about his constituents and made him a “much better” representative. His in-person conversations Wednesday took him across a variety of policy issues, including a focus on immigration.

O’Rourke talked about the decrease in apprehensions at the border between the year 2000, when there were around 1.6 million apprehensions, and 2016, when there were 400,000 apprehensions. O’Rourke argued that despite the documented increase in border security, members of congress still fixate on talking about border security instead of reforming the immigration system as a whole.

“The rhetoric connected to this versus the facts I am showing you right now is preventing us from going forward,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke would also like to move forward on green energy, arguing that Texas’s high potential for solar energy brings the conversation to him.

“Texas of all places in the world should take the lead on that,” O’Rourke said. “We need aggressive leadership to get us started.”

This aggressive leadership is something O’Rourke promised to deliver on if elected, adding that he would never forget the Texans who got him there. O’Rourke said one of Cruz’s weaknesses is he started campaigning for president almost as soon as he was elected senator.

O’Rourke took another swipe at his competition when answering a question about Twitter by alluding to when Cruz’s Twitter account liked a tweet which linked to a pornographic video.

“I don’t want anyone to tweet for me or like anything for me,” O’Rourke said. “It’s run 100 percent by me.”

This direct appeal to voters resonated well with many of those in attendance Wednesday. Graduate Student Joe Love, a registered Texas voter, said he was pleased by the congressman’s conversation.

“I was super impressed,” Love said. “He talks about things I am super passionate in. He’s an all around a great candidate from my brief time with him here.”

Several other students stopped O’Rourke after the scheduled talking time to go into more detail on a specific issue or to pose for a photo. One supporter questioned the congressman about the size of his bumper stickers, complaining that they were too small to be read from far away. O’Rourke’s campaign manager chimed in to say that new ones were in production and should be out next week.   

O’Rourke used the opportunity to encourage everyone in the room interested in politics to get involved in a campaign, adding that he learned so much about politics from his time working on one as a freshly graduated college student.  

Getting volunteers involved in politics is one of the main focuses of the other student organizations that co-sponsored the event, Women in Politics / Ignite, a non-partisan group. Women in Politics / Ignite Vice President Rachel Herrera said she hopes by bringing political speakers from both sides of the aisle she is able to convince more people to think critically and get involved in politics.

“We like to open up that conversation to everyone because it does create such an important dialogue when you’re able to talk to people from both parties,” Herrera, said. “I’m really proud of how the event went today, we had really good questions from the audience.”

O’Rourke ended up offering to be an unofficial campaign advisor to one of the Women in Politics / Ignite members if she decided to run for office. He said the key to a good campaign is getting to know the voters.

“Folks just want to know you’re a good person and that they can trust you,” O’Rourke said. “Nothing can replace going and knocking on someone’s door.”