Hundreds of East Texans turned up Sunday evening in Longview to hear Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke’s message: it’s time for real change.
The El Paso native gunning for Sen. Ted Cruz’s seat in Congress is in the midst of a 34-day campaign drive across the state. O’Rourke has already traveled to all 254 Texas counties to drum up support and is now revisiting some communities to host town hall events.
The town hall in Longview was held at the Summit Club. Packed by the start of the event, supporters flowed into the venue throughout the evening. Over 350 people registered to attend on the event website and another 300 expressed interest on Facebook.
Not everyone who turned up was fan of O’Rourke.
Lee and Virginia Lester stood at the entrance to the club as attendees arrived. Behind them was a large banner reading “BETO.” In their hands were signs emblazoned with a message supporting Cruz’s Senate re-election.
“Some of these people need to see who they should be voting for,” Lee said when asked why he turned up to the event.
“Anyone would be better then Beto,” he continued. “He wants open borders, he’s anti-gun, he’s Nancy Pelosi’s right hand man. We know where that leads.”
Inside the club, the attitude towards O’Rourke was friendlier.
Gil Browning, who recently moved to Longview from Dallas, said O’Rourke could bring much-needed changes in politics.
“I want to see some positive change in Washington. I think we need some checks and balances to an out-of-control administration. In the budgeting process, I would like to see a return to fiscal responsibility. Possibly a clawback of some of the legislature’s constitutional duties, i.e., the War Powers Act. Those are the two primary things and, you know, let’s do something about infrastructure instead of just making a talking point about it,” Browning said.
In O’Rourke, Browning sees a path to change through dialogue.
“There’s a willingness to communicate with people in the other party, unlike Ted Cruz. He’s just a divisive figure in politics and same with Louie Gohmert,” Browning said.
Mia Levetan, of Longview, brought her children to the event for an educational opportunity.
Levetan said she came to O’Rourke’s town hall “to support him and his campaign and I brought my kids to teach them about the democratic process, telling them about how he’s hoping to get everyone’s votes and getting everyone excited to vote for him.”
Levetan said she researched the candidate before deciding to back his campaign.
“The other day I went to his website to get a better idea of who he was and every single thing he had on there I agreed with 100 percent,” Levetan said, citing women’s rights and LGBTQ rights in particular.
The event officially began with a performance by Austin musician Laura Lee Bishop and her husband John. The music was followed by speeches from Shirley McKellar, a Democrat seeking election to the U.S. House for the 1st Congressional District of Texas and Nona Snoddy, Longview councilwoman representing District 2.
McKellar, who is trying to unseat incumbent Louie Gohmert, said she had no problem backing O’Rourke.
“It was easy for me to support Beto because his platforms are the same as mine,” McKellar said.
Snoddy encouraged the crowd to remember the purpose of the town hall.
“Today is about how we can help Beto get to Washington, D.C. and ensure that the voices of Texans are heard,” Snoddy said.
As the preliminary speeches concluded, O’Rourke took the stage and explained the goals of his campaign for the Senate.
He described his plan to represent all Texans and mentioned his visit to King County, a county which gave 96 percent of its votes to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race.
“You would agree with me the people of King County are every bit as deserving of being shown respect, of being listened to, being heard, of being represented,” O’Rourke told the crowd. “So we showed up in King County.”
The first major policy point O’Rourke addressed was separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Is this American?” O’Rourke asked. “Now this is something each of us will carry until we make it right. I want us to keep up the pressure now and every day until every single one of those children is reunited. I want to win this election to make sure there is a U.S. Senator who represents this state, this country, this generation, so the generations who follow will look back on us and judge us for our actions or for our failure to act. We know that we are better than this and we know that Texas can lead the way.”
The candidate tied the issue of migrants seeking jobs and safety to the issue of Americans worried about job security, benefits and opportunities. His solution to unemployment is investment in education to create a skilled workforce.
“If we can make sure that all of us can earn to our full potential, that we are creating the jobs and preparing those who will work them in the future, making sure that we have world-class public schools, that means paying those teachers a living wage,” he said. He claimed retired Texas teachers had not received a cost of living adjustment since 2005, citing this as an example of lack of investment in education.
The candidate moved on to address a variety of topics, including the need for broadband Internet access in rural communities, the problem of underfunded rural hospitals ill-equipped to deal with a growing opioid crisis, the high price of medications and a failing war on drugs. O’Rourke proposed government-funded broadband expansion, government-funded healthcare and the decriminalization of marijuana as solutions to these problems.
He claimed the cost of these programs would be offset as entrepreneurs and college graduates would be more likely to live and invest in rural towns if provided fast Internet, government-funded healthcare could reign in rising drug prices and decriminalizing marijuana would keep users out of jail and able to pursue higher education and productive employment.
O’Rourke cited his large amount of individual donations as proof of the popularity of his platforms among Texans. He also pointed out he did not accept donations from political action committees and corporations while his opponent Cruz has taken many.
“You and I together, no PACs, no special interests, no corporations, an average contribution of thirty-three bucks, we together to his $4 million raised $10.4 million,” O’Rourke said as the audience cheered.
O’Rourke closed his speech by calling on those attending to support his campaign by having conversations with friends, neighbors and others about his platforms.
Following his closing remarks, O’Rourke encouraged the audience to ask him questions about his campaign.
He responded to a variety of questions by asserting he would be willing to publicly debate Cruz in Spanish, he would support net neutrality, support the United Nations and support term limits for government officials.