Beto O’Rourke, potential Democratic presidential nominee, came to Davenport (IA) on May 20, 2019, and spoke to a crowd of about 200 enthusiastic supporters at the River Music Experience. Introduced by former Iowa Congresswoman Alesia Gaiman, Beto entered, stage left. He may have thanked her with a wrong first name (sounded like a different first name from the press risers), but, if it was a faux pas, it was the only one I heard.
When Beto finished with a brief introduction about his vision for unifying this divided nation, he took questions from the audience for an hour and a half. Both Beto and the audience acquitted themselves nobly.
Were the questions arranged in advance? I don’t think so, but both the Iowans who spoke and the candidate came off as smart, alert and prepared.
Here were the topics of the questions with Beto O’Rourke displaying an impressive ability to answer without a teleprompter or notes:
Question 1: LGBQT rights and how to restore them.
Question 2: His plans to revise the criminal justice system (with a backhanded slap at former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden for not handling this well enough while in office.)
Question 3: Advice for a first-time voter who feels overwhelmed.
Question 4: Will you fully fund the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)?
Question 5: Immigration issues.
Question 6: The student debt crisis.
Question 7: Minimum wage concerns.
Question 8: Collective bargaining rights for teachers in Iowa (which, aside from pay, have been stripped by the GOP legislature.)
Question 9: The national debt and what to do about it.
Question 10: Gun violence in the schools and what to do about it.
Question 11: How would you pay for everything you propose?
Question 12: Your Middle East policy, especially in regards to Saudi, Arabia.
Question 13: Solar and wind power and other alternative forms of energy.
Question 14: The opioid epidemic in this country.
I am not knowledgeable enough about the organization of Democratic politics in Iowa to be able to tell you if these questions were assigned in advance. I can tell you that O’Rourke pirouetted gracefully from one question to the next with an impressive array of statistics at his command. Did the organizers arrange for questioners (like the retired Muscatine defense contractor who worked in the Middle East) to be present to ask these very relevant questions? Sounds plausible; seems more likely when a small child asked in perfect English, with no hesitation, about the IDEA act. However, the teacher mentioned coming directly from another meeting about the Iowa Supreme Court decision, and most questions seemed valid and unscripted.
Still, I’ve been to many rallies, starting in 2004 and continuing through every presidential election since then.. (2008 Content Producer of the Year for Politics for Yahoo) and this was a well-organized, well-informed crowd and—perhaps most importantly—a well-informed candidate. Very well-informed.
So let’s hear Beto O’Rourke’s fix(es) for these weighty questions.
Q 1 (LGBQT rights): The individual who asked this question appeared very feminine, with long blonde hair, until the question was asked. The voice was very male. Transgender? Don’t know; can’t tell you. Beto answered the question by saying, “Every American should be treated equally.” He shared that, “In my home state of Texas, you can be fired for your sexual orientation” and condemned such practices, saying, “No state can except itself” from providing equal rights to all U.S. citizens.
Q2 (Criminal justice system). The questioner identified himself as Chris Rice. Beto’s answer to the inequities of the criminal justice system and what improvements he would like to implement as president were: 1) End the war on drugs (2) No U.S. “for profit” prisons. (3) Eliminate the cash bail bonding system.
Q3 (1st time overwhelmed voter): Sharing that he had visited 34 college campuses (as well as high schools and middle schools) Beto reassured Jimmy Feeney by saying, “I’m here and I’m listening.” He said, “Show up (at the polls) with the courage of your convictions.”
Q4 (IDEA question): Yes, Beto would fully fund the IDEA.
Q5: John Dunsheath, who asked about immigration issues was given a heartfelt response about an issue Beto O’Rourke knows only too well, being from El Paso, Texas, a border city. He talked about the train known as “the beast” that immigrants take from Central America to the Mexican border, and said, “Amy and I have these conversations” about what they would do if they were in the dire circumstances that the immigrants seeking asylum endure. He suggested that we should lift visa caps. [*I’d like to refer readers to a comprehensive discussion of Beto O’Rourke’s views on the immigration issue and “the wall” by giving you these links to previous articles on this blog in February of this year]:
https://weeklywilson.com/16733-2/; https://weeklywilson.com/beto-orourke-speaks-out-cont-the-end/; https://weeklywilson.com/beto-orourke-speaks-out-day-3/;https://weeklywilson.com/beto-orourke-speaks-out-cont-2/
Q6 (Student debt): Beto affirmed that “crisis” was the right word to use for the student debt situation. He mentioned the $1.5 trillion outstanding debt and said that 10% of those in debt are either in danger of defaulting or have already defaulted on their student loans. He suggested expanding loan forgiveness programs, making college free, and recognizing that trade occupations are a valid career choice.
Q7- (minimum wage): Kevin O’Brien, who identified himself as a 40-year union member, brought up the current minimum wage of $7.25, which, he said, was inadequate. He has 5 children (all college graduates), but commented on how expensive his adult children’s medical insurance was in relation to his own. Beto countered that, in Texas, the largest provider of mental health services was the state. In Harris City, Texas, the City Jail costs $110 a day, which entitles the prisoner to health care (and makes the Harris City Jail the largest provider of mental health services in town.) O’Rourke suggested a form of Medicare for Americans who are uninsured or cannot afford the cost of supplemental insurance.
Q8 – (Collective bargaining for teachers in Iowa) – I was way behind the curve on this one. In my defense, I’ve been in Texas since January, but I didn’t know that the Iowa GOP-dominated legislature and governor had stripped teachers’ unions of most collective bargaining rights—-previously in existence for half a century. In reading up on this issue (which is near and dear to my heart as someone who led the charge for collective bargaining rights in Silvis, Illinois, in 1979-1980) I learned that a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision was 4 to 3 to uphold stripping this right to negotiate such items as class size, length of school day, free periods, lunch hour length and everything except pay. A teacher quoted in a Des Moines Register article said, “Morale is very low.” O’Rourke said, “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life” and called it “Penny-wise and pound foolish,” saying the teachers educated in Iowa are not willing to remain in the state to teach. Iowa’s loss is Minnesota’s gain. How will Iowa attract top-notch teachers? Teachers can go elsewhere and have collective bargaining rights, (which simply means a say about the conditions under which they must work.)
Q9 – National debt – Citing a national debt of $22 trillion, which is going up $1 trillion annually, O’Rourke noted that “The GOP can forget about representing themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility.” Pointing to the wars that added $6 trillion to our national debt, unfunded by “W,” Beto suggested that lowering the tax rate from 35% to 21% was a fiscal mistake and re-doing it would help lower our national debt.
Q10 – (gun violence) – Anna Cynthia, a student, voiced her fear over gun violence possibly reaching into her own classroom. Beto mentioned that the government mandated that gun violence and its causes could not be studied, as cigarette addiction because of nicotine was, after Big Tobacco was overruled. He talked about the deleterious effect of the NRA and gun lobbies, stating proudly that his campaign was not taking any PAC money.
Q11 – (How to pay for all this?) – Beto stated that we must “scrutinize every cent spent” and pointed to the endless war in Afghanistan, going on for his entire lifetime (he turns 47 in September). “Do not lead with the military, but with diplomacy.”
Q12 – Middle East – While acknowledging that MBS in Saudi, Arabia had cold-bloodedly plotted the murder of U.S. journalist Khashoggi, I did not hear the solution to our continuing affiliation with Saudi, Arabia, which leads us into wars in places like Yemen and Sudan.
Q13 – (Solar & wind power) – O’Rourke mentioned that Iowa is second only to Kansas in harnessing wind power to create electrical power. He proposed a $5 trillion increase in programs to invest in wind and solar power over the next 5 years.
Q14 – (opioid epidemic) – O’Rourke talked about how, in his travels, he has met addicts or former addicts, sometimes veterans, who describe how they originally became addicted because of prescription drugs. Beto’s solution? Not sure, as this was the last question of the night and the natives were restless.
Overall, it was an impressive performance from the charismatic candidate from Texas. As a winter resident of Austin,(Texas), I identify and was pulling for him when he ran against Uncle Festus from The Munsters—err, Ted Cruz. An interesting ticket would be Biden/Beto.
I highly recommend “Running with Beto,” which I covered at SXSW. You can read my review of that here or on www.TheMovieBlog.com.