March 1st was Election Day in Texas, and Gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke kicked it off with Walk with Beto in his hometown of El Paso. He, along with dozens of supporters walked from Aztec Calendar Park to the nearby County Courthouse to cast their votes.
A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered. While waiting for O’Rourke to arrive I talked to a few of his supporters.
When I asked Armando Gutierrez and Joanna Chavez why they support Beto, and what issues mattered most to them, Armando answered:
“I like him because he’s a local politician who knows what El Paso needs. His values. His agenda. Women’s rights and the attack on the trans community,” Gutierrez said.
Joanna added, “and weed.”
Beto has been vocal about his support for the legalization of marijuana.
Sara Sakellakos has volunteered for Beto since his bid for Senate in 2018. She is also his neighbor. Sakellakos said she supports Beto because she feels he will bring “dignity and respect” back to the office of Governor.
Chris Evans, Beto’s Communications Director, has been with Beto since he was a Congressman. When asked what Beto’s top priorities are, Evans didn’t hesitate. Education and Healthcare. Texas is 40th in the country in school funding, with a $4000 per student deficit compared to other states. With Texas being the least insured state in the country, expanding Medicaid is a big platform issue for O’Rourke.
After a brief speech, Beto went straight into a Q & A with the assembled press.
One of the first questions, asked by a reporter from KTSM, was about Beto’s feelings on current Governor Gregg Abbott’s order to charge parents supportive of their children’s transition with child abuse. Beto had this to say:
“It’s interesting that when you have so many real problems in the state of Texas, like the fact that the Governor cannot keep the lights on for most of the people in this state. Or that 80K people have lost their lives to Covid, or we lead the nation in Covid hospitalizations. Or that 7 out of 10 fourth graders cannot read at grade level in our public schools right now because we’re not supporting our teachers and our educators. The governor chooses to focus on this. And further inflict cruelty on these kids, and of their families. When I am Governor, we are going to focus on the big things. On creating better jobs. On improving our public schools. On expanding Medicaid and making sure that everyone in this state knows that Texas, is big enough for all of us,” the Democratic candidate for governor insisted.
When I asked Sara Sakellakos what she thought was Beto O’Rourke’s biggest hurdle to overcome, she said the misconception that he wants to take people’s guns away. This is Texas after all. Beto clarified his stance on the issue when prompted by a reporter.
“Like almost every El Pasoan, I understand the deep damage that Ak-47s and AR-15s and other weapons that were designed for use on a battlefield to kill people, can do in civilian life. We saw that at Walmart on August 3rd, 2019. And my position remains the same. That no one except a soldier on a battlefield should have one of those weapons. As Governor, I’m gonna make sure that we both protect the 2nd Amendment, and do a better job of protecting the lives of those in our communities,” he said.
After the Q & A, O’Rourke greeted his supporters. Took pictures and chatted with them. He even took the time to listen to a man who approached him about his disability payments. In a motorized wheelchair, the man told Beto that he can barely meet his basic needs each month on what little he gets. Beto O’Rourke listened patiently and instructed his assistant Cynthia to get the man’s contact information.
Right before heading to the courthouse, I was able to ask Beto one last question. What did he think of the GOP comparing what’s the war in Ukraine to the southern border “crisis”? His response:
“I saw those comments from Gov. Abbott, and it’s uh, it’s not what’s really happening of course. I mean here we are in El Paso. On the border. In one of the safest cities in the United States of America, with the most beautiful people you’ll find anywhere. And he’s comparing this to what’s happening in Ukraine right now? Where an autocrat is invading a democracy and killing innocent civilians. But there, there is a parallel of course, in that democracy is under attack in Texas right now. This is, he, he has made this the toughest state in the nation in which to vote. And he’s targeting certain people in this state for that suppression and that intimidation. And wherever democracy is under attack, whether it’s in Ukraine, whether it’s in Texas right now, we have to stand up on the side of the right to vote. And the people freely and fairly being able to decide their own future, and those who will represent them,” O’Rourke said.
One thing was abundantly clear, those who support Beto O’Rourke believe in him. Not just as a candidate for Governor, but as a person. As one of his voters, Yvonne Mireles, said:
“He seems like a very sincere person. Right now, Texas is such a mess. He’s trying make change.”
Yes, he is, Yvonne. And change is what Texas needs.
That evening, Beto won the Democratic Primary with 90% of the vote.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick
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