Beto O’Rourke makes campaign stop in Lubbock, talks public education, healthcare, jobs
LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Beto O’Rourke made his second campaign stop in Lubbock at The Garden late Sunday morning.
The Democratic candidate for governor, sporting a red Texas Tech hat, spoke to a crowd of about 100 people at 11:30 a.m. in downtown Lubbock.
“We’re going everywhere, listening to everyone, talking to everyone, making sure no one is written off and no one is taken for granted. This moment calls for all of us,” O’Rourke opened. “We don’t care - no me importa - if you’re Republican. If you’re a Republican and you’re here, you are welcome. Democrats, we want to see you as well. Independents, we need more of you in our lives right now. All of us in Texas are welcome to be here because all of us in Texas are needed to get this state on the right track.”
O’Rourke spoke on a wide range of topics, arguing the three biggest issues facing Texans today are jobs, education and health care.
“The issues that bring us together, I would argue, are far greater and stronger and more powerful than anything that might divide us at this moment in this highly polarized, fractured state where we’re having a hard time listening to each other. Seeing the best in one another. Trusting each other so we can get back to the big things,” O’Rourke said.
On public education
O’Rourke said public educators are overworked and underpaid, and argued on top of that, they are under attack from the state government. He also said he would prioritize teacher retention by increasing the salary for public educators and cancelling the STAAR test, getting an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the crowd, which included several public educators.
“Seven out of 10 fourth-graders are not able to read at grade level in the state of Texas. 70 percent,” O’Rourke said. “That cannot be a reflection on those teachers or those kids or those parents or us as Texans. That has to be something else. And when I get into the data, I find this: The average educator in the city of Lubbock is underpaid by $14,000 a year against the average educator nationally... Why not pay teachers their true value and worth right here in the state of Texas?”
“We live in the least-insured state in the United States of America,” O’Rourke said. “That means far too many are literally dying of diabetes, of curable cancers, of the flu in the year of our Lord 2022, in the wealthiest, most powerful, most medically advanced country the world has ever known. It’s unconscionable, it’s immoral.”
According to the Texas Medical Association, O’Rourke is correct in his claim that Texas is the least-insured state in the nation. Nearly four and a half million Texans do not have health insurance, at rates almost twice the national average.
O’Rourke also argued that Texas’s refusal to expand Medicaid in the state is closing rural hospitals, leaving millions of Texas without insurance or easy access to medical care.
O’Rourke attacked Abbott over his failure to address vulnerabilities in the electric grid prior to last year’s winter storm that left hundreds of thousands without power, resulting in at least 100 deaths, according to the AP. O’Rourke questioned Abbott’s connections to electric companies and utility providers that recorded large profits during the storm.
“If that is not corruption, I don’t know what is. He’s taking $1 million campaign contributions from the same people who stole this money from the state of Texas,” O’Rourke said, referencing the additional taxes imposed on electric bills as a result of the winter storm.
O’Rourke also emphasized the need for renewable energy production in Texas amidst record-high gas prices. He argued that expansion of current oil and gas jobs in the state in combination with ramping up production from sources like wind and solar will help the state, and the nation overall, become energy independent.
“We clearly want to keep the oil and gas jobs we have here right now. And we want to expand them,” O’Rourke said. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes the case clear that we need to have energy independence in America... There’s one state that has the unique capacity to do that, and that is Texas. So let’s protect and expand oil and gas jobs in the state of Texas, but let us also make sure that we expand energy resources that are renewable. Wind, solar, geothermal, hydrogen - those are ours to lead on right here in the state of Texas.”
O’Rourke then answered questions from the crowd on topics ranging from border security, mental health care, environmental safety, voting rights, gerrymandering and term limits, marijuana legalization and LGBTQ+ issues.
On border security
O’Rourke acknowledged the challenges at the nation’s southern border, saying he wants to address issues like illegal drug trafficking and human smuggling, but harshly criticized Abbott’s activation of the Texas National Guard, describing the operation as “political theater” and “a solution in search of a problem.”
While he did not say what he would do differently to address drug trafficking and illegal immigration, O’Rourke made the case that making it easier for people to come to the country and gain legal citizenship would reduce the amount of people attempting to cross the border illegally.
On the Second Amendment
O’Rourke came under heavy scrutiny during his short-lived stint campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 when he advocated for mandatory buyback programs for weapons such as AR-15s and AK-47s. He has attempted to walk back those comments, saying that he wants to protect the Second Amendment but called for “common sense” legislation that would aim to reduce gun violence.
“Where do we find common ground on the Second Amendment? Let’s make sure we protect your right to have firearms, but we do a better job of protecting the lives of the people in our community,” O’Rourke said. “So universal background checks, which means if you buy a firearm in the state of Texas, there’s going to be some vetting to make sure you’re not going to harm yourself or someone else in your community. I know gun owners and non-gun owners alike can get behind that one. That’s a place to start.”
Other policies he proposed were safe storage laws, aimed at preventing children from accessing firearms and either accidentally or intentionally harming themselves or others, and extreme risk protection orders, also known as red flag laws, which would take firearms away from a person deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.
O’Rourke also blasted Texas’s new permitless carry policy, signed into law last year by Gov. Abbott.
“What the governor did last year, by signing permitless carry into law, is not in keeping with the best traditions of responsible gun ownership in Texas,” O’Rourke said. “Listen, I support a license to carry program... But allowing anyone to carry a loaded weapon in public when more cops have been gunned down in the state of Texas than in any other state, it’s why police and sheriffs argued with the governor, pleaded with him, ‘Please do not sign this into law. It’s going to make our job harder, it’s going to make life as a cop deadlier, and it’s going to make it more difficult to protect the people that we serve in our communities.’ He turned his back on them and did it nonetheless.”
The final question of the event came from a young man who said he agreed with O’Rourke on many of the issues discussed, but that he was not ready to “vote his guns away.”
O’Rourke responded by saying he wants to protect the Second Amendment, but that just like other constitutionally protected rights, it is not unlimited.
“It’s a matter of where we draw that line,” O’Rourke said. “You and I see the line in different places, and I respect where you want to draw the line and maybe you understand where I want to draw the line. The beauty of this form of government is that neither you nor I can impose our will on anyone else. It’s going to require consensus, debate and dialogue until finally we come to something that is better than what exists today.”
On higher education
The Permanent University Fund (PUF) has come under scrutiny in recent months, leading many to call upon Gov. Abbott (or a potential Gov. O’Rourke) to amend the fund. The PUF provides funding to the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems using oil and gas money from West Texas, despite West Texas schools like Texas Tech being excluded from the fund.
Gov. Abbott has declined to endorse changing the PUF, saying that it would require passing a constitutional amendment since the money comes from land allocated in the state constitution. Abbott said instead, he would attempt to secure a $1 billion endowment for Texas Tech.
READ MORE: Gov. Abbott makes campaign stop in Lubbock
O’Rourke, however, heartily supported amending the PUF to include other university systems.
“I really do think we need to make fundamental reforms to how public education is funded in the state of Texas,” O’Rourke said. “UT has the largest endowment of any public university in the United States of America. And we’re proud of UT, we want them to be successful, but we want more of that wealth to stay in West Texas - and not a one-time deal, but we want that permanently to be the case. When we do that, more young people in West Texas and the Panhandle can afford higher education.”
O’Rourke closed out the event by making the case that he is better suited to get the things done that the majority of Texans support, such as supporting jobs and innovation in the state, investing in public education and improving the quality and access to healthcare.
“I served in the United States Congress for six years, every year as a member of the minority. The only way I was ever going to get anything done was by finding common ground, consensus, and - I know this is a dirty word in America right now but - compromise,” O’Rourke said. “...So we can find a way to get the job done, even if we think there isn’t a lot of agreement mutually between us. Those three items I started with - jobs, great schools and the ability to see a doctor - I know that most Texans agree with them.”
The Texas gubernatorial election will take place on Nov. 8, 2022.
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