The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The S&B interviews Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke

The S&B’s Maxwell Fenton ’19 (left) and Seth Taylor ’21 (right) talk politics and policy with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke before his April 5 rally in Grinnell. Photo by contributed.
The S&B’s Maxwell Fenton ’19 (left) and Seth Taylor ’21 (right) talk politics and policy with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke before his April 5 rally in Grinnell. Photo by contributed.

Former Texas Representative and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke stopped by Grinnell on April 5, 2019 for a campaign rally at Hotel Grinnell. The S&B’s co-Editor-in-Chief Maxwell Fenton 19 and Community Editor Seth Taylor 21 sat down for a brief interview with O’Rourke before the rally.  

Seth Taylor: The first question I have is: what issues, if any, would you sacrifice your political career for? 

Beto O’Rourke: All of them! I have never been a big fan of polls or thinking about the next election. I always want to be sure what I do is something I’ll be proud of for the rest of my life, and that my kids will look back on, and may or may not agree with the decision I made, but I hope they’ll know I did it for the right reasons for them and for the generation that follows instead of the election that comes. So, you know, I think about some of the issues we face. Climate — , not politically expedient, certainly in some parts of the country to talk about transitioning from oil and gas to renewable energy like solar and wind. On the issue of gun violence that claims the lives of more than 30,000 Americans every year, you’re running up against the gun lobby, and the NRA and their political action committees just to say you believe in universal background checks, much worse if you should say, as I have, to end the sale of weapons of war — assault weapons, military style weapons into our communities. I think you’ve got to have the courage of your convictions, and you’ve got to stand for something, or else you’re not going to be able to accomplish anything. We’ve got to do this for the right reasons. And then, if the things that I say and those issues that I believe are most important and those policies that I profess — if folks don’t like them, they’ll ultimately decide in this election and I’m comfortable with that.  

Maxwell Fenton: According to FiveThirtyEight, you have voted as a congressman with Trump and his policy proposals 30% of the time. By the resurgent left of the party, you’ve been considered often insufficiently progressive. I’m just wondering then, why stick with the middle in politics if these more progressive, more left policies are more popular? Could you be moved to embrace progressivism as the Democratic Party’s left-wing describes it if these policies are indeed popular? 

I guess it is in the eye of the beholder. You decide where I am on the political spectrum. If I have advocated going back to 2009 for the end of the War on Drugs, the end of the prohibition of marijuana, if I’m calling for the expungement of arrested for possession of a substance that’s legal in more than half the country right now but has produced the largest prison population per capita on the planet, for universal, guaranteed high-quality healthcare, not just freeing Dreamers from any fear of deportation but making them US citizens right away. On climate, I agree with the goals of the Green New Deal. We have to transition this economy, our country, the world off fossil fuels, or the people of this country — the planet — are just not going to make it. ... But if we say that Democrats are the ones are going to do this, and only Democrats support us in these endeavors, we’re never going to get there. ... We must find a way to bring Republicans, Independents, people who don’t see from the same point of view or come to the same conclusions on the issues that you care about [together]. So, all six of those years I was in Congress I was in the minority. I worked with Republicans every step of the way to expand mental health care access for veterans, to protect public lands, to invest in our ports of entry, our borders, our security, and also quality of life in communities of immigrants like the one I represent. I’m grateful for the chance I’ve had to serve, the way in which I’ve served. I’m always open to learning and listening and doing better, but I’m going to listen to everyone; Democrats for sure, but Republicans and Independents as well.  

MF: Speaking of bringing people together, you have on your site a vision for America that Beto for America has. But much of it is rhetoric or snippets from speeches, and there’s not a lot in terms of specific policy. Can you give us a brief timetable of when you’ll have specific policies for things like climate, healthcare and common-sense gun reform, and when you will be releasing on the campaign trail your specific policies to that effect? 

So climate: reinstitute the Clean Power Plan, elevate the vehicle emissions standards we have in this country, invest in wind and solar. [Iowa] produces more wind energy as a share of total energy production than any other state. My state produces more wind energy in absolute terms than any other state. The two fastest growing jobs in America are wind and solar jobs right now. Re-establish American leadership by signing back on to the Paris Climate Agreement, leading the world to make sure that China, which has three to four times the number of coal fired plants, also [does] their part. Allow farmers in Iowa to contribute even more. And I’m not just talking about ethanol, as important as that is. I’m talking about encouraging them through the farm bill to plant cover crops, to do more precision tilling and farming that disturbs less of the soil in which they’re planting and also captures more of the carbon out of the air. We need to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. But as soon thereafter as humanly possible. 

You asked about healthcare. First, expand Medicaid in those states that have not, [like] Texas. Publicize it in those states that have privatized like yours here in Iowa. Allow Medicare to use its bargaining power, its leverage and its purchasing power to bring down the price of prescription medications. Allow Americans to buy from Canada, Mexico or whatever other country is producing cheaper prescription drugs than our own country. Reduce the size of premiums and deductibles, allow Americans to choose to enroll in Medicare if they have no insurance today, or transition to Medicare if they don’t like their private employer-provided insurance. Allow those who do have employer-provided insurance to keep that if those plans work for them and their families. That’s a very specific prescription that gets us to better than where we are immediately and a universal, guaranteed high-quality healthcare in the nearer term. 

When it comes to gun violence, a specific proposal: universal background checks, full stop. They saved lives in the states that have adopted them — a 50% reduction across the board. Weapons designed for war, to kill people as effectively and efficiently as possible — the AR-15 is a variant of a military-style weapon — there’s no reason we should be selling it into our community. Stop the sale of military-style assault weapons into American communities. 

ST: To go back to the first question Max asked, you spoke to the need for Democrats to unify both Democrats and Republicans. But you didn’t really talk about how you are going to speak to Republicans, specifically those voters who are alienated by demographic and economic shifts in the country but supported Trump in 2016. So, what would you say to a Trump supporter here tonight? 

First thing is you’ve gotta show up. It’s no accident that the first day of our campaign, the first stop of that campaign, was in Keokuk, Iowa, one of those communities which voted for President Obama in 2008 and voted for President Trump in 2016. No accident that there were 254 counties in Texas and running for Senate in that state, I showed up to 254 counties in Texas, and never compromising the courage of my convictions talking about gun safety, or reproductive rights, or healthcare, or immigration, the same way in Houston I would in a rural community. I hope that produces a certain amount respect for me and for the positions that I hold, for the courage of my convictions, that I’m being straight with people. But I also am able to demonstrate respect by listening to and learning from those I wish to serve, and sometimes we find common cause.  

I’ll give you an example: listening to a Republican school teacher — a public school teacher — who is just as afraid as any Democratic school teacher that [Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos will take the resources out of her classroom, privatize them as a voucher and send them to a private school. She wants to make sure there’s someone advocating for her. On issues of public education, on issues of healthcare, on issues of immigration, I find fairly wide bipartisan agreement on doing the right thing. Universal background checks: gun owners, non-gun owners, Republicans, Democrats, seem to have formed a consensus that this is the right thing to do. What seems to be missing is the political will, or the ability to include everyone in the conversation. I write no one off for voting for President Trump. I reward nobody for voting for Secretary Clinton. All of us are Americans, and I really want us to act that way, treat each other accordingly, campaign in that fashion, and then bring the country together because — you will not be able to meet climate change — let’s look at the biggest challenge before us, the most existential in its threat, you won’t be able to meet that with half the country. It’s going to take all of us, and, you know, easier said than done. The action that follows the words is literally showing up in these communities and listening to people. So that’s what I would say, but I’d also take the time to listen to that Republican voter you just described to make sure what’s on her mind.  

Look for a more in-depth story about the O’Rourke rally and community reactions in the next issue of The S&B on April 12! 

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