On Friday, 46-year-old rising star of the Democratic Party, Beto O’Rourke, sat down with three dozen or so Fairfielders at a private residence just one day after announcing his run for president of the United States.
O’Rourke talked about starting a small business in El Paso, Texas, in the late 1990s before becoming a three-term U.S. Congressman thanks to his ability to connect with both sides of the aisle in a very red state.
“I grew up the son of a Republican mother,” explained O’Rourke, who joked that he finally got her vote during his failed Senate race against incumbent Ted Cruz. “Being at the dinner table almost every Sunday reminds me that we may come to different conclusions on things we all care about, but that makes her no less human or American, and I love her no less for that. And we really campaigned that way in Texas.”
Although O’Rourke did fail to unseat Cruz, he was proud to have visited all 254 counties in Texas during the campaign.
“I’m running to serve you as president of the United States,” O’Rourke told the crammed crowd inside the Plum residence where The Ledger joined the New York Times, the Associated Press and about 35-40 excited locals.
He spoke of helping the unemployed find work and the working class earn a more livable wage. The south Texas native also told of the reality of immigration at the border as opposed to the scaremongering tactics of a suggested “invasion.”
“El Paso has been in the top three safest cities in America for the last 20 years,” said O’Rourke. “That is not in spite of the fact that we are a city of immigrants, but because we are a city of immigrants with more than 25 percent of the population born somewhere else.”
O’Rourke also spoke of improving mental health for both the public and the military personnel who fight the country’s battles, foreign and domestic.
“I was able to serve on the House Veterans Affairs Committee for six years and worked day-in and day-out in El Paso and Washington, D.C., with veterans, veterans’ organizations and the [Veterans Affairs office], and I can’t tell you how many times I heard from a veteran that they came back from Afghanistan with PTSD or Iraq with a traumatic brain injury or sexual trauma that occurred during deployment. They were prescribed an opioid to which they knew they may become addicted, and in many of those cases, both the patient and the VA wanted to prescribe them medical cannabis that would not leave them addicted while curing their symptoms and give them better lives.”
O’Rourke said he had met veterans who are buying heroine on the street as their opioid prescription has been cut off by the VA. He said the VA is recognizing the opioid crisis, but the veteran he mentioned still needs help and is not receiving it.
“If we don’t stop treating this as a criminal justice issue for those that are using it, we will never get to the root of the problem,” he said. “If we fail to address the criminality of the pharmaceutical corporations who fostered this problem in America in the first place by lying to doctors and prescribers about the addictiveness of the substance, and have [born] none of the responsibility for the problem that they caused, then we’re never going to get to the solution.”
O’Rourke said he wants to end the prohibition on marijuana and expunge the arrest records of those who were arrested solely for possession.
He said people of all races use drugs at the same rate, but people of color are more likely to be arrested for it, which prevents them from succeeding later in life.
“When we built this house last year, we thought it would be the perfect place to meet candidates,” explained Stan Plum, who hosted the event with his wife Debi. “Wednesday, Susie Drish gave us a call and asked if we could host Beto. We were expecting about 15 people. It exceeded that, but we like it the way it happened. It went very well.”