The bipartisan organization No Labels invited congressman Beto O’Rourke on campus to discuss his campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate (he is currently running against incumbent Ted Cruz) and answer the questions of UTD students. After the meet and greet, the congressman sat down with The Mercury to discuss gerrymandering, free college and the one thing he’d like all voters to know.
A large majority of the cities in Texas are believed to be “turning blue” with an increasing Democrat population. However, we have not had a Democratic senator in the last 23 years and all 38 of Texas’s electoral votes were given to Trump in the last election. What would you say to college Democrats who don’t vote because they feel like their vote has no real impact?
It’s interesting, because the more you look into this, the more evident it becomes that Texas, more than it is red or blue, is a non-voting state. More than half of Texas has made the choice not to vote. The opportunity inherent in that is that elections (not just for Democrats, but for anything that you believe in or care about) can be decided by the people who, for whatever reason, have not been involved. You may have seen in just this year alone that the courts have found four separate occasions that the state has racially gerry-mandered these districts. They’ve drawn people out of these districts, and I would say effectively out of their democracy based on their race and on their ethnicity. And while these districts may or may not be redrawn in a way that responds to that, we all have a chance right now to decide these issues. And we can leave it up to the power-brokers in Austin and in D.C. or we can take matters into our own hands and this campaign is very much about doing the latter. And any consultant worth their salt would urge me not to come to a college campus today, and we’re on three college campuses today because typically young people, as you’ve said, don’t vote. My bet is that if you show up and show respect and show that you’re going to be accountable to them, reflect their interests in the way we campaign and the way we behave once we’re elected, then they’re going to have a reason to vote.
Speaking of college students, Senator Bernie Sanders brought an issue to the forefront in this last election that many millennials have come out in support of — free college tuition for public colleges and universities. What is your stance on that?
I like the idea a lot. One, we know that it can predict earning potential in taxes that they pay, and two, we know it can — to some degree — predict someone’s ability to live up to and fulfill their potential. I would love for there to be some way that all of us not only receive the benefit of a great education without taking on debt, but there’s also some sacrifice made by every young American and one of the things that I’d love to work, with especially young people, on because they would be the ones that we would ask to serve is some kind of national service bill or national service program that may or may not be connected to one’s education but ensures that everyone has the chance not only to learn and succeed in that way, but to serve and to sacrifice and succeed in that way as well, so with some of the other members of Congress those two things could be connected.
If there was one thing about you, political or otherwise, that you’d like the voters to know, what would it be?
That I’m here. That we’ve been personally present in every part of the state, and not just once or twice, but that we continue to show up, to listen, to learn. No one has a monopoly on the great ideas or the answers to the questions that were asked in that room, and it’s only by working together, listening and being open to an argument that may fly in the face of what you have believed or what you’ve concluded that things are going to get better. And that is the way that I’ve tried to conduct myself as a public servant, holding town hall meetings in El Paso every single month and being very accessible and responsive online and just in the community beyond that. It’s the way that I’m running this campaign.
Since you are visiting multiple colleges today, what made you want to come to UTD in particular?
I want to represent the people who go to school here and the people who teach here and the people who work here. As I said earlier, too many in Texas are relegated to a group that’s been counted out or that has been taken for granted. It’s no wonder that young people don’t vote at the rate that you’d expect them to, given that everything is at stake for them as well. But if I don’t show up and if I’m not listening to you and I’m not engaged, then I don’t blame you for not voting. Why would it matter? Because what you care about hasn’t registered with the candidate if I don’t show up, so that’s the premise of that.