Beto O’Rourke on Texas: “I don’t know if we are a conservative state” | Beto o’rourke
For Beto O’Rourke, voting rights are the silver bullet for progress in Texas.
If more than 7 million Texans who were eligible to vote but did not participate in the last election could indeed go to the polls, the former Democratic presidential hopeful believes state lawmakers would soon stop picking on transgender student athletes and access to abortion.
Instead, lawmakers would be spending their time fixing Texas’ power grid, which left millions of chills in the dark and hundreds of deaths when it failed in a devastating winter storm last February. They would be forced to expand health care coverage in a state with the fewest uninsured people in the country, and they would actually tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 51,000 Texans.
âI don’t know if we are a red state. I don’t know if we are a conservative state. I don’t know if we’re a state that’s focused on sporting transgender girls or telling people what to do with their bodies, âO’Rourke told The Guardian in an exclusive interview.
âI think it really is a minority of the people and voters of this state. It’s just that the majority is not reflected because it does not vote.
Originally from El Pasoan and one of the country’s leading Democrats, O’Rourke spent much of June roaming his home state, advocating for the right to vote. As he registered eligible voters in a 102F (39C) heat or held intimate town halls with as few as 100 people, he was fighting for democracy in Texas – before it was too late.
“If the great crime committed by the Republicans was to try to suppress the votes of those who live outside the centers of power,” he said, “then the great crime of the Democrats was to take all these people for acquired. “
During his travels, he has heard from people who readily admitted that they weren’t paying attention until he showed up.
“You can’t expect people to participate in state politics if you don’t show them the fundamental respect to listen to them and understand what is most important to them and then reflect that in the campaign that you are running, âsaid O’Rourke.
âYou can’t do it remotely, and you can’t do it through a poller or a focus group. You have to do it in person.
Many Democrats are anxiously awaiting to see if O’Rourke launches a bid to oust Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022. But for now, he’s mostly pushing back questions about his political future; the fight for voting rights couldn’t be more urgent, he said, and he doesn’t have the bandwidth to mount a separate campaign simultaneously.
âAs this woman said at our meeting in Wichita Falls, you know it doesn’t matter who the candidates are on the ballot if that vote can be overturned,â he said. “Or if we functionally deprive millions of our fellow Texans of the right to vote.”
Texas was already infamous as the toughest place to vote in the United States ahead of this year’s legislative session, when state lawmakers capitalized on false narratives of widespread voter fraud to push for news. drastic voting restrictions.
State House Democrats staged a historic 11-hour walkout to kill one of the most controversial restrictive ballot bills. But Abbott, who still sees “electoral integrity” as an emergency, said he would call a special session from July 8, sparking yet another bitter showdown via legislative overtime.
According to O’Rourke, the special session is one of two fronts in the Texas voting rights war. The other is at the federal level, where Democrats scramble to protect polls after Republicans blocked their ambitious For the People Act.
Texas Special Sessions can’t last longer than 30 days, and the US Congress only has a few weeks before a long break in August.
âThere is a very tight window in which we have to do whatever we can,â said O’Rourke.
At stake is a series of new provisions that would make voting even more difficult and frightening, in a state where voter turnout is already chronically low.
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Republicans in Texas proposed to ban 24-hour and drive-thru voting, remove drop boxes, and subject officials to state crimes for soliciting or distributing votes. unsolicited by mail, among other intransigent policies.
Many of their suggestions were aimed directly at innovations to expand voter access last year in Texas’ largest county of Harris, which is both diverse and more to the left. And voting rights advocates fear that, in general, Texans of color will be disproportionately deprived of their rights by the restrictions put forward.
Already, Texas has extremely limited access to mail voting, virtually no online voter registration, and no same-day registration during early voting or on election day. Voters must show acceptable identification, which may include a handgun license but not a student ID.
The state is a hotbed for gerrymandering, and politicians are deliberately reducing voting power in communities of color. Hundreds of polling stations in Texas have closed since 2012, with closures concentrated where black and Latino populations are increasing the most.
O’Rourke remembers he used to be confused by people who didn’t vote. No more.
âWhen your voting power has been diminished like this, it is not illogical or irrational to say, ‘I am not going to vote. I will not participate in this one. I’m not going to have good hopes, âhe said.
When O’Rourke visited Rains County, Texas last month, a woman with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and other illnesses explained how – because she’s disabled and doesn’t drive – she had difficulty obtaining identification. ID cost her $ 125, she said.
As she told her story, O’Rourke said, even the local GOP president apparently nodded, as if the issue was starting to make sense.
In Gainesville, where 40 suspected trade unionists were hanged during the Civil War, a young woman told O’Rourke that she managed to bring down a Confederate statue in the park where her town hall stood.
But she was not registered to vote, she added.
âIt’s not for lack of urgency or love for the country,â O’Rourke said. “I think it’s because they are keenly aware of how our democracy is rigged right now, and nowhere more than in Texas.”
From ideological courts to a Republican-controlled legislature and a right-wing executive, conservatives dominate every branch of state government.
Their overwhelming dominance makes it nearly impossible for the Liberals to make inroads in Texas, despite long-standing Democratic hopes that rapid demographic changes will trigger a blue wave.
Yet O’Rourke refuses to give up.
“If we register in numbers and represent in numbers, even with a rigged system – and we have to recognize that it is rigged – and even with the bridge that is stacked, there is still a way to win”, did he declare.
âIt’s not going to be easy. And that’s going to take a lot of us.