Beto O’Rourke, a former Democratic congressman from Texas, made a name for himself during the 2018 midterm elections, in which he almost stole a Texas Senate race from the Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. Before entering the political sphere, O’Rourke spent his high school and college days playing in punk-rock bands, as a member of a hacker group, and as a co-captain of Columbia University’s heavyweight rowing team. And despite being only 46 years old, O’Rourke has had a diverse career. After graduating from Columbia in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, O’Rourke worked as a part-time nanny, an art mover and an internet service provider. It wasn’t until he moved back to Texas that his political career took off. In 2005, he won the race to earn a spot on El Paso’s city council. And in 2012, O’Rourke beat out the incumbent Silvestre Reyes to become a congressman representing Texas’ 16th district.
Now he is running for president.
Here is what Beto O’Rourke stands for:
1. Beto O’Rourke on Higher Education
- Free College
Beto O’Rourke is not opposed to the idea of making four-year public colleges and universities tuition-free, but he hasn’t supported it as staunchly as his competitors for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and others have co-sponsored the Debt-Free College Act, which would make the entire cost of college free, including housing, books and other expenses, but O’Rourke is yet to publicly voice his support of the Act.
- Community College
O’Rourke has, however, publicized his support of the America’s College Promise Act, which would make two years of community college free. The Act proposed that the federal government would invest $3 for every $1 a state invests towards community college tuition for students. It also ensures that community colleges offer academic credits that can easily be transferred to a four-year state college or university.
- Student Loan Forgiveness
Addressing the student loan crisis is a priority of O’Rourke’s.
Policy-wise, O’Rourke has a few thoughts, which he expressed during a Q&A with The Cougar — the University of Houston’s student-run news organization.
“One is if you agree to come back and serve your community in an in-demand, under-served area, we should wipe your debt clean or not allow you to accrue it to begin with,” he said. “Second, if we’re going to subsidize federal student loans and federal grants, then when (sic) should have a commitment from institutions of higher learning that they’re going to curb the inflation for tuition, room and board.”
“Third, I’d love to continue the proposal made by our previous president, Barack Obama, that at a minimum, your first two years at any state institution — community college, University of Texas, A&M, Tech, taxpayer-supported institutions — should be free for the student at a minimum. That investment, maybe a little upfront, is paid back many times over in the productivity, earning potential and the taxes paid by those who are able to afford an education. I think those are three great ideas to start with. I’m open to others. We can certainly do better by our students.”
2. Beto O’Rourke on Social Justice
- Income Inequality
Unlike many of his competitors for the Deomcratic nomination in 2020, O’Rourke has not prioritized closing the income gap between the rich and the poor. However, he is not opposed to the idea. Recently, he told the Huffington Post he would support a tax on the super-rich.
“I think fundamental to this experiment of America and democracy is ensuring we don’t have princes and princesses, kings and queens, a concentration of wealth and power and privilege, and that’s exactly what we have in this country right now,” O’Rourke said.
“So both for reasons of generating the revenue that we need and reasons to achieve the political democracy by having an economic democracy, some part of that wealth that has been built up and continues to be built up and receives favorable preferential treatment in the tax code must be taxed for our common benefit,” he continued.
It is worth mentioning that when O’Rourke was a member of Congress, he ranked 51 out of 450 U.S. representatives in terms of net wealth, according to the Washington Times. He is also married to the daughter of a billionaire real estate developer, according to the New York Times.
- LGBT Rights
O’Rourke is a believer in equality for LGBT people. In a 2018 tweet, he publicized his support of the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination against LGBT people in education, employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, federally funded institutions, and federal jury service.
“I don’t think you can be too gay to buy a cake,” he tweeted. “I don’t think you can be too gay to open your caring family to one of TX’s 30,000 kids in the foster care system. Let’s end this discrimination. Let’s pass the Equality Act. Let’s ensure equal justice under law for LGBTQ Americans.”
- Criminal Justice
O’Rourke is a staunch supporter of criminal justice reform. While running against Ted Cruz in the 2018 Texas Senate race, he wrote an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle, which encouraged Texas to lead the way in reforming the criminal justice system. In the article, he called for ending mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses, stopping the “War on Drugs,” closing private prisons, and improving the system set up for those transitioning out of prison.
“We know that our criminal justice system has created a cycle that puts a disproportionate amount of people of color in jail,” O’Rourke tweeted in 2018. “African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites.”
3. Beto O’Rourke on the Environment
- Climate Change
O’Rourke supports rejoining the Paris Agreement, because he sees climate change as the greatest environmental threat we have ever faced.
“We need to take unprecedented action in building a foundation for a clean energy economy,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “Harmful emissions that contribute to climate change also pollute our air and water. Climate change threatens our food supply, our security and the complex ecosystem that sustains humanity.”
- Sustainability and Clean Energy
O’Rourke’s stance on moving towards renewable energy is a bit unclear. Publicly, he supports the transition to renewable energy. But in 2018, he accepted more money from people working for oil and gas companies than any candidate other than Ted Cruz, his Republican competitor.
Money aside, O’Rourke seems to be in support of legislature that protects the environment. He received a 95 percent lifetime score from The League of Conservation Voters, a renowned environmental advocacy group.
4. Beto O’Rourke on Immigration
As a former U.S. representative from Texas and a resident of El Paso, a city just miles away from Mexico, it is fitting that immigration will be a key talking point in O’Rourke’s campaign for the presidency. In regards to policy, he is in complete opposition to Trump. He dismisses the idea of a border wall and criticizes Trump for “constantly stoking anxiety and fear about Mexicans, immigrants and the border with Mexico.”
O’Rourke is a strong proponent of the Dream Act, which would protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation, allow them to work in the United States and travel in and outside of the country.
“All of us, wherever you live, can acknowledge that if immigration is a problem, it is the best possible problem for this country to have,” O’Rourke said in his 2020 announcement video. “And we should ensure that there are lawful paths to work, to be with family and to flee persecution.”
5. Beto O’Rourke on Marijuana
O’Rourke is certainly not excited about the idea of legalizing marijuana, but in his mind, legalizing the drug is the lesser of two evils. He suggests taking a public health approach to marijuana usage, rather than criminalizing the drug.
“There is no silver bullet to solve this issue,” O’Rourke said in a video. “But the least bad solution is to end the prohibition on marijuana; to make it legal for adults to buy it in every single one of our 50 states, but to strictly control and regulate its sale to keep it out of the hands of kids.”
6. Beto O’Rourke on Gun Control
O’Rourke supports a ban on all sales of assault weapons, calling them “weapons of war.” He also supports universal background checks. He is adamant, however, that he does not want to take away people’s Second Amendment rights.
“It is not a politically easy thing to talk about, but I think if we talk about it from experience, out of pride and responsible gun ownership and ensuring that weapons of war are kept on the battlefield and they’re not used in our schools and concerts and communities, we’ll save a lot more lives and will do nothing to infringe upon any American’s Second Amendment rights,” he told the Associated Press.
7. Beto O’Rourke on Net Neutrality
O’Rourke is a supporter of net neutrality, as he believes everyone should have access to a free and open internet where they can express their ideas, opinions and creations. On December, 14, 2017 — the day the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality — O’Rourke published an op-ed voicing his concerns.
“This vote will undermine the power of people on the internet — where today, everyone’s ideas, opinions and creations are available to the world at common access,” he wrote. “This vote will give more control to the internet service providers, special interests, and highest bidders. This vote will be bad for our American ideals of expression — hurting everything from the arts and innovation to Democracy and free speech as we know it.”
News & Content Manager
Jackson Schroeder is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. He is originally from Savannah, Georgia. Jackson has covered a wide range of topics, including sustainability, technology, sports, culture, travel, and music. He plays bass and guitar, and enjoys playing and listening to live music in his free time.