beto orourke

After reading a superb article in the Houston Chronicle by Jeremy Wallace, a reporter in the Austin Bureau, about this changing tide in Texas politics, I realized what a bell weather state this could be, not only for Bernie Sanders in 2020, but long before with Congressman Beto O’Rourke strong challenge to Senator Ted Cruz.

We will explore these matters for as long and for as many words as it takes to do justice to this vast topic of what can only be termed the journalism describing a “sea change,” partly because change and solutions are inevitable, but also partly in response to the actions of Donald Trump and how they resonate in a state like Texas or Alabama. I will directly excerpt some of these articles so the reader can get a much clearer picture, although I must intersperse my own observations and my own “gonzo” journalism here and there…

— Stephen Fox

From Jeremy Wallace’s article:

“To some, Bernie Sanders is the answer. To others, he could be the problem. As Texas Democrats prepare for 2018, Democratic hopefuls for all offices face a balancing act. Embracing Sanders supporters can tap a much-needed energy that 18 months ago turned a little-known self-proclaimed Democratic socialist from Vermont into a legitimate contender for the White House. But embrace the Sanders movement too much, and a candidate can quickly get labeled a socialist by Republican rivals in a general election — an albatross in parts of a red state like Texas.

While Sanders conceded the Democratic nomination for president in the summer of 2016, the followers he cultivated haven’t gone home and have vowed to remain engaged in politics and reshape the Democratic Party and its platforms. “This wasn’t a one-shot deal,” said Chris Kutalik-Couthren, a Sanders supporter who is now a statewide coordinator for Our Revolution Texas, a coalition of former Sanders supporters. “Many of us wanted to keep going.” They have since created nearly 500 chapters throughout the nation with a proclamation: Campaigns end. Revolutions endure. Could Texas turn blue in 2018? Stranger things have happened Filing is over, now hard part begins — raising money and wooing.”

Bernie’s organized efforts have pushed candidates and energized voters in city council races in San Antonio and in school board races in Houston.

One of Sanders’ most prominent supporters is Jim Hightower, former Texas agriculture commissioner, and he believes that the Bernie Sanders movement manifests the kind of economic populism that was the way Texas Democrats resonated with working men and women. Access to health care, free (or affordable) college education and a strong contempt for all forms of corporate greed are part and parcel of Sanders’ ascendancy, which could be politically profitable for Democrats in Texas to retake that state, by reaching out to workers and farmers. In short: “We can turn people out.”

Hightower believes Beto is becoming appreciated by Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution folks. Perhaps as a symbol and manifestation of Bernie’s being the 2020 Democratic frontrunner already is the fact that Senator Cruz has already had three debates in 2017 on CNN, making bravado-like statements like how he appreciates that Bernie is honest about being a socialist, clearly playing to the folks back in Texas and all over the South for whom “socialist” is a label that used to be a razor across the throat of any political opponent.

(Smart move, Ted: you went to Princeton and Harvard, after all, and perhaps there in those elegant ivory towers, you learned to jam and jimmy an enemy by apparently heaping solipsistic praise upon them but doing them in with a single word like “socialist.” However, even in Texas, with his sterling examples and remarkable consistency, Bernie has made “socialist” and “independent” not such a bad word after all)

“It’s really not a word that scares people anymore,” Hightower said, with voters looking for candidates with credible populist campaigning. Hightower’s “getting people out” was successful in a city council race in a conservative district in San Antonio with John Courage winning, and in Houston recently, Our Revolution’s candidate Elizabeth Santos won the runoff for the School Board. However, Dallas saw different results in the school board race, because Republican operatives painted Lori Kirkpatrick as a liberal and sent out mailers scaring voters with the prospect of her bringing “Bernie Sanders-style liberalism to Dallas Schools.”

There is no doubt that Sanders campaign efforts have influenced Texas Democratic politics, stated Lillie Schechter, Harris County (Houston) Democratic Party Chairman. “It has brought a lot of young people into the party, and it’s also opened a dialogue on a lot of issues. We’re building a movement, a grassroots movement. The momentum is just growing as we get closer to the 2018 cycle.”

After putting to rest Roy Moore in Alabama, Texas is the political race that interests me the most as both a political and intellectual challenge, like a chess game from afar, is El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s challenge of Cruz.

After putting to rest Roy Moore in Alabama, Texas is the political race that interests me the most as both a political and intellectual challenge, like a chess game from afar, is El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s challenge of Cruz.

After putting to rest Roy Moore in Alabama, Texas is the political race that interests me the most as both a political and intellectual challenge, like a chess game from afar, is El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s challenge of Cruz.

I have had to learn to see past the fact that Beto was an obligatory and enthusiastic Clinton super-delegate, but so were many prominent Senators and former Senators, like one of my own favorites, former New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman. Anyway, Beto’s campaign points these days sound more like what Bernie has been saying for 40 years, like affordable higher education and health care for all, with strong opposition to foreign trade deals that end up that harm the American work force. He has declined taking PAC money and makes loud noises against accepting money from big donors, much the same as Bernie both in speeches and in practice with his $27 donation requests.

Also in the Houston Post, Kevin Diaz’s article on December 29, 2017 (Diaz is the Houston Chronicle’s Washington Correspondent)

“Strategists on both sides know that the backdrop for the U.S. Senate race in Texas — possibly one of the marquee races of the 2018 midterm elections — will be the push or pull of Trump, who bested Hillary Clinton in Texas by 9 percentage points. For O’Rourke, a Spanish nicknamed, fourth-generation Irish-American from El Paso, that is a source of hope. But first, the 45-year-old ex-punk-rocker with the toothy, Kennedyesque smile will have to prove it can be done — even as he eschews polls, Beltway consultants and, most importantly, political action committee money. “They have to know it’s possible,” O’Rourke said of the grass-roots volunteers he hopes to mobilize. His case might have become slightly more plausible given the Democrats’ upset victory in a hotly contested Senate race in deep crimson Alabama.”

O’Rourke has frequently explained that he thought voting for fast tracking authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership would give then-President Barack Obama the ability to negotiate the best deal for the U.S. and would deny the Republican-dominated Congress too much influence on the negotiations, and he later told crowds on the campaign trail that he had serious problems with poor wage protections for overseas workers, and had apprised Obama that he couldn’t lend support to the TPP.

Sanders supporters have questioned why did he not sign on to the House Bill for Medicare for all, and Beto’s responded that he had backed the Senate version by Sanders more because it was more of a “pure expansion of Medicare.”

He disavows that he is basing his campaign on Sanders’ or on Clinton’s prior efforts, or anyone else’s for that matter, stating that “I’ve never met Bernie Sanders. I’m sure he’s a wonderful person, and I’m grateful for his service,” but that his pronouncements and campaign points were gleaned from his conversations with Texans from all 254 counties. “Really, people care fundamentally about the same things”: jobs, affordable higher education and affordable health care.

Beto has very recently finished a 34-day tour of Texas talking to first-time voters, African Americans, Hispanics, and the long neglected Democrats of Texas, a group that has taken beating after beating at the hands of the corporate political machinery that gave the Governorship in years past to George Bush, Rick Perry, and now Greg Abbott, despite the 2014 campaign that spent $40 million to elect a Democrat, State Senator Wendy Davis.

O’Rourke’s opponent, Ted Cruz really came in second to Donald Trump in many states after winning the earliest Iowa primary in 2016. Beto seized on the Alabama victory by Doug Jones almost immediately with his email to all of his supporters: “Tonight, the eyes of the nation were on Alabama. Tomorrow, Texas and 2018.” Beto also reminds his crowds that Cruz backed Roy Moore, despite most of the Republicans in the Senate disavowing any connection whatsoever with Moore. Cruz is the son of a Southern Baptist preacher who emigrated from Cuba and was born in Canada.

From Diaz’s Houston Post article:

“Cruz knows how to speak in the cadences of Texas’ politically influential Christian Right. Combining mathematical rigor and Harvard law erudition, Cruz has built one of the most formidable fundraising and grass-roots organizing machines in American politics. Harnessing the energy of a resurgent Democratic base, O’Rourke was able to best Cruz in the money chase in the second-quarter of 2017, but he entered the fall with some $3 million in his campaign kitty, about half of Cruz’s total.”

O’Rourke has 7,000 more individual donors than Cruz through the end of September, and the coming final 2017 campaign reports should, I believe, increase that number. O’Rourke has vowed to decline all PAC money in the Senate race, and has also rejected any polling. You could make a case for Cruz’ success in Iowa as a manifestation of his statistical tools working in Iowa, which is perhaps the capitol of conservative evangelical political strength outside the South. On the other hand, Democrats see that the blunders of the Trump administration thus far, especially regarding Russia, may have pulled the plug on the entire conservative movement, but that wouldn’t fly with for example Conservative leader, Richard Viguerie, who no doubt will send tens of millions of emails and letters to Texans, as he always does, warning against the Democrat as a supporter of 8th month abortions.

Rural and semi-urban newspapers are giving rather lightweight and even superficial coverage to Beto’s efforts (perfunctory, shall we say?), with a few exceptions, yet they in toto show a hardworking and relentless quality for Beto as a backdrop behind each story. I quote them verbatim, so that you can get a direct picture of how these newspapers have thus far treated Beto O’Rourke. For example, in Big Spring:

“Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, is planning a trip through West Texas to explain to local voters why they should vote for him instead of Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. O’Rourke, currently the U.S. Representative from the Texas’ 16th Congressional District (El Paso), will hold town hall meetings in Big Spring and Anson on Thursday; Big Spring at 10 a.m. at the Dorothy Garrett Community Center in Comanche Trail Park, and Anson at 4 p.m. in that town’s City Council Chambers. The tour starts today, with town halls in Odessa and San Angelo; and continues Friday in Brownfield before O’Rourke heads to a grassroots event in Fort Worth that evening.”

In Amarillo, a large West Texas city, with barely a mention of the Senate Candidate coming to Amarillo:

“Democratic U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) is in Amarillo today for a town hall meeting. The meeting is part of Rep. O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senator. He hopes to eventually unseat Sen. Ted Cruz who was first elected in 2012. Rep. O’Rourke must first win the Democratic nomination. He is running against several other Democrats in the March primary.

Paul Corey, in the Odessa American, did a much better and more incisive story which really got into the issues implicit in this important campaign:

“How the hell are we going to do this?” O’Rourke said during a visit to Odessa on Wednesday, one in a series of town halls he’s having across the state. “It’s not going to be easy.”

Cruz has a greater campaign war chest and a national fundraising network after running for president. Polls show Cruz with low favorability ratings, but they also suggest a majority of Texans don’t know of O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso. Cruz is a Republican in a state that has not elected a Democrat to a statewide office since 1994. O’Rourke said he is encouraged that his campaign has “outraised Ted Cruz so far in this race.” The money for O’Rourke, who has vowed not to take money from any political action committees, is from individual donors, he said. He still said he expects his campaign to be outspent.

“The second thing is that we are showing up,” O’Rourke said. “We are here in Odessa. This is my third visit this year to Odessa and to Midland, to listen to the people that I want to serve and to represent. Getting to know those issues, being able to run on them in a campaign — that’s part of success. And it’s a slow, long process. But it’s the best way to connect with people that I want to vote for me in this election.” This time, O’Rourke spoke to a crowd of about 100 supporters in the Gertrude Bruce Historical Cultural Center. O’Rourke mostly talked about other topics than Cruz, who he said “is viewed less favorably here in Texas by his own constituents than Roy Moore is in Alabama.”

The El Paso congressman called for expanding affordable healthcare. He supported “rewriting our immigration laws to reflect the reality on the ground here in Odessa: the incredible contribution that people who have chosen this community and this state and this country have made, and ensuring that they can continue to make those contributions.” That includes extending protections offered under DACA.

O’Rourke was traveling with his family and scheduled to speak in San Angelo later in the day. Such trips are a key part of his campaign, along with social media, and hope that more supporters will turn out to vote amid more contested local and congressional races. “They are going to be the explanation for how we win,” O’Rourke said of the group in Odessa on Wednesday. “They are more fired up than folks in Odessa have been in my lifetime. It’s the same in El Paso. It’s the same in Corpus Christi. It’s the same in every single part of this state. The people of Texas are going to deliver this victory, regardless of what the trends look like over the last 30 years.”

beto orourke

O’Rourke and Cruz

Other interesting clear thinking non-editorializing non-hatchet job articles restore my faith in Texans’ deep down open-mindedness and these have shown up in small town newspapers in what we normally would think of as ultra-right conservative areas:

By Gloria Johns | Dec. 28, 2017 article in the SAN ANGELO newspaper:

“O’Rourke is a visionary. Referring to a casual observation at a gas station, O’Rourke told the story of one family who was obviously struggling, being helped financially by another family. “The families had never met, and no one asked for a hand-out.” O’Rourke said. “The darkest hours bring out the best in Texans.” With regard to Planned Parenthood and the rules applied by the state that narrow service options, O’Rourke said “Planned Parent is a valuable organization when it comes to serving women’s health needs. Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. Lack of adequate care, such as that which Planned Parenthood espouses, certainly contributes to that.”

On the subject of the status of dreamers, “Many people have not had the opportunity to follow their dreams.” O’Rourke continued. “The salutatorian in Booker, Texas was deported to Guatemala after graduation. Republicans and Democrats alike in that community thought it was ridiculous.”

But the proverbial elephant in the room was whether or not O’Rourke has much of a chance competing against Ted Cruz for the Senate seat. Texas is a die-hard Republican state. O’Rourke responded this way: “As of Feb. 2017 Sen.Ted Cruz had an approval rating that hovered between 38% and 39%. His approval ratings are in the neighborhood of Donald Trump’s, at 35%, the lowest in 70 years for a sitting president.” At one point, Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the Senate in Alabama, who was also accused of pedophilia and other crimes against women, at one point had a higher approval rating that Ted Cruz. “Numbers aren’t favorable for some Republicans. That’s how Doug Jones won the seat. A Republican can be beat in the state of Texas.”

San Angelo Concha Valley story quote:

“Before we are democrats or republicans or independents, we are Texans and we are Americans and I think that’s what you’re seeing here. Every community is important, every person is important and I’m here in San Angelo to listen to the people I want to serve and represent,” said O’Rourke.

Sealy Texas News by the Editor, April Towery:

Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, is currently serving District 16 in the U.S. House of Representatives and is challenging Republican Ted Cruz for a U.S. Senate seat. About 120 people showed up for the gathering on a chilly Sunday morning to meet the candidate and ask questions. “There was a wonderful, positive energy about getting something done for Texas and the country,” O”Rourke said after the event while en route to another town hall meeting in Columbus. “It’s not about tearing anyone down; it’s more about what we can achieve together. I’m really grateful to have had the chance to be in Sealy. I want to visit every community in Texas. Spending some time in Austin County and Sealy was really important to me.”

O’Rourke said the issues close to his heart include “opening mental healthcare access to more veterans, ensuring that folks looking for work are able to find a living wage and that everyone is able to see a doctor, including immigrants.” “None of those are partisan issues,” he said. “I think there’s so much more we can do for Texas. This state should really be the defining and leading state on economic issues, on health care, on immigration, on fulfilling our commitment to veterans. We’re punching below our weight right now, and I’d like to see us lead.”

The candidate said the response has been encouraging, especially since he’s facing political powerhouse and former presidential candidate Cruz. “I feel great about Texas’ chances to do something great,” O’Rourke said. “My mom is a Republican. We see some issues differently, but I know she wants what’s best for this country, and we’re able to find some common ground. My Republican colleagues love this country as much as I do. It’s about finding some consensus.”

More from Kevin Diaz’ coverage in the Houston Chronicle:

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa recently said this: “A blue wave is rising in the Lone Star State. Texas Democrats are marching, organizing, and stepping up to serve.” O’Rourke is depending on friction between Trump, the Republicans, and the Hispanic community regarding immigration, has started reaching out to Texas’ huge block of Latino voters, which will make a very large difference in this coming race, using fluent Spanish to do Spanish-language radio and television interviews.

That is just the obvious place to being, however, and concurrently, Beto knows better than anyone that he must also appeal to middle class rural Texas white voters, difficult to achieve with no other prominent Democrats running statewide who will bring voters out. So Beto no doubt believes and sees clearly that HE, on his own, will have to be the big name prominent Democrat that will court voters to show up to vote for him and/or against Ted Cruz, of course an uphill battle, but one that many, including me, believe he can and will win! By opening up Town Hall meetings all over Texas, he has set a stunning example of how far right and how ineffective is Cruz’ predilection for controlled corporate or rich Republican settings for his rallies.

Trump in fact did not do as well against Clinton as Mitt Romney did against Obama in 2012, or as McCain did against Obama in 2012. However, Texas GOP pollster Chris Wilson, a top strategist in Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign recently said that “there is no reason to believe that Texas is turning into a Democratic state.”

Beto has been the lucky recipient of national media coverage in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and most recently in Texas Magazine. What seems clear to me, and I could be wrong, is that the political pendulum is swinging to the Left for many good reasons, not the least of which is the backdrop of mild to harsh contempt for the actions of the Trump White House. This is going to show up strongly in the midterm elections, but it is going to take more than a wish and a prayer; it is going to take really hard work, a lot of targeting of districts and a lot of number crunching for this to happen, especially in Texas. It will take some strong safeguards in the realm of voting machine forensics.

(If you question that, watch an old 80 minute movie on YouTube, Uncounted: the New Math of American Elections. Some Texan journalists question whether nationwide Democrats, and the DNC as well, will give much effort or money to winning the Texas Senate seat, basically capitulating to Ted Cruz’ formidable persona. I don’t agree, not at all.)

If this race becomes a referendum on Trump, Republicans could lose the whole show in Texas. That is what Beto O’Rourke and his supporters and planners are almost betting on. That is precisely what they need more than anything: a Trump Referendum in the Lone Star State, and this is how the campaign should truly be framed and pursued. Voters could turn on Trump, much as they clearly did in Alabama.

O’Rourke, an intellectual who is issue-oriented, also has an Ivy League background at Columbia, with six years on the city council in El Paso. He’s convinced that Texans see the border as a source of pride, not a threat. “Texans live the border,” he said, “It’s something they’re proud of and understand as a source of strength.”

“The Cruz campaign’s opposition research team will have no trouble unearthing old ethics complaints alleging conflicts-of-interest involving O’Rourke’s wealthy father-in-law, William Sanders, a real estate investor who was involved in one controversial redevelopment plan. The charges were dismissed by an independent commission. In his first run for the council, O’Rourke also had to live down two youthful indiscretions which come back to haunt him from time to time: a 1995 burglary arrest involving a prank climb over a fence at the University of Texas in El Paso, and a DWI in 1998. Both charges were dismissed. O’Rourke calls his behavior in both incidents ‘stupid,’ offering no excuses, not even his youth. ‘It does nothing to diminish how dumb it was,’ the married father of three says.”

O’Rourke is a very strong proponent of the political uses of social media, particularly Facebook, like using Facebook Live to stream the Democrats’ House floor protest pressing for gun legislation in the aftermath of a mass nightclub shooting in Orlando, and those same clips went viral on the Internet.

“Video streaming has become a standard feature of his travels across the state, inviting viewers along for the ride between campaign stops, where they can listen to him expound on the weather, history, music, family life and politics. It’s a classic underdog strategy, one that Democrats hope will level the playing field, pull back the veil on politics, and excite the ranks for what promises to be a steep, uphill climb through big media markets and small-town Texas.

“At 50,000 feet,” former Clinton campaign manager in Texas Democrat Mauro said hopefully, ‘Beto O’Rourke is the classic reform candidate who comes in and wins against Ted Cruz, the classic machine politics.’

From Anna Tinsley’s article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram: 2018 Election: ‘As Tarrant County goes, so goes the state,’ says Beto O’Rourke

“No Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas since 1994 and that Tarrant County is one of the reddest communities around. O’Rourke, a Democrat challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for his Senate seat next year, said he will keep coming back here, reaching out to locals and listening to their concerns. “We have to win Tarrant County to win. As Tarrant County goes, so goes the state. But I’m not convinced that Tarrant County is red. I’m not convinced that Texas is red. They traditionally have been non-voting. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t know it was possible. What Alabama did was to show people that it’s possible.”

O’Rourke concerned president may ‘sleepwalk or tweet’ country into war

Texas members of the progressive Political Action group praised O’Rourke’s support for universal health care and his “progressive policy agenda,” endorsing him in the race. During the town hall, O’Rourke — a punk rocker turned congressman from El Paso who was greeted by chants of “Beto” from the standing room only crowd — turned the microphone over briefly to Kim Olson, a Democrat running for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. She talked about how women can make a difference in next year’s election. “Women are pissed … and when we get pissed, we stay pissed for a long time,” she told the crowd. “It’s up to us. This is our time.”

O’Rourke told the crowd that he didn’t know how Democrats can lose with candidates such as Olson on the ballot. For about an hour, O’Rourke touched on issues ranging from net neutrality to health insurance. He told the crowd there was one reason the country’s health care program wasn’t repealed earlier this year. “You stopped the repeal of the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

O’Rourke was asked about fracking and said there’s a place for it, but the process must be “regulated, overseen.” He noted that Texas is the nation’s leader in wind energy and can be in solar energy as well. He was asked about DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, and CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, that has yet to be renewed by Congress and could soon leave nearly 400,000 Texas children without health care.

O‘Rourke said Texans have the ability to impact decisions on these and other issues. “You all have the leverage,” he said. “We fear our constituents. Use that healthy fear [to contact Congress]. … They listen to you. The phone calls matter.” When he was asked about union members — a traditional Democratic stronghold — voting for Republican Donald Trump to be president, O’Rourke said the answer was simple. “It’s on us. Democrats have not been showing up.”

Stephen Fox


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