Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, 44, is running in the Texas Democratic primary on March 6 against Sema Hernandez and Edward Kimbrough. If he wins, he will face off against incumbent Ted Cruz for the Texas Senate seat in the 2018 federal midterm election. O’Rourke has been serving as the U.S. Representative for Texas’ 16th District in El Paso since 2012. O’Rourke is one of a select few Democrats running for office who has pledged not to receive PAC donations.
This isn’t the first time O’Rourke has faced off against an incumbent. When he first ran for the House of Representatives, he was running in the Democratic primary in 2012 against eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes. He won by 50.5 percent, getting just a few hundred votes over what was required to avoid a runoff. He then defeated Republican Barbara Carrasco in the general election by getting 65 percent of the vote. With just a couple days before the primary, he’s leading in polls against the other two Democrats running for office. A CBS 11 poll in late February gave him 38.23 percent, compared to 5.8 percent for Hernandez and 3.41 percent for Kimbrough. But 52.56 percent were undecided. In a UT/Texas Tribune poll in February, O’Rourke had 73 compared to 19 for Hernandez and 8 for Kimbrough. Here’s what you need to know about O’Rourke.
1. O’Rourke Has Received More Campaign Donations than Ted Cruz in 2018 So Far, Despite Refusing PAC Money
O’Rourke first came off as a serious contender to Ted Cruz in early March, when it was announced that he had already outraised Cruz in campaign donations for early 2018. By mid-February, O’Rourke had raised $1.5 million more than Cruz: $2.3 million compared to $800,000 from the beginning of 2018 through mid-February. He also outraised Cruz in the last quarter of 2017, $2.4 million compared to $1.8 million. In overall funds, Cruz still has about $1 million more than O’Rourke as of early March 2018.
O’Rourke has vowed to not accept PAC donations. “One of the reasons that I don’t take PAC money is I never want you to have to wonder who it is that I’m voting for or writing legislation for,” he said. “I serve on the House Armed Services Committee, a very solemn responsibility. You don’t want to wonder if I’m doing the work of Boeing, or Northrop Grumman, or General Dynamics or any other defense contractor.”
O’Rourke has also stated that he’s not hiring a pollster or contracting consultants, except for Revolution Messaging, a group that worked with Bernie Sanders’ campaign.
O’Rourke has said that pointing out Cruz’s flaws is going to be a minimal part of his campaign. He told Dallas News, “I know it’s part of how you’re supposed to run campaigns, but I just don’t get fired up being against something or somebody. We learned in 2016 that being against somebody, pointing out that this other candidate is bad, is not a strategy. People have already made their judgment about Ted Cruz; there’s nothing I can add to that. What they want to hear from me, and rightly so, is what are you going to do?”
2. He Supports the Legalization of Cannabis, Wants Single-Payer Health Care, and Is Concerned About Russian Election Interference
O’Rourke is running a different kind of campaign, CNN reported. He’s traveling to events by car, sharing his Spotify playlist on social media. He’s visited 223 of 254 Texas counties. As far as campaign issues go, O’Rourke supports the legalization of cannabis and opposes the war on drugs. In January 2009, while serving on the El Paso city council, he sponsored a resolution asking the government to rethink the War on Drugs and to have an open debate about ending the prohibition on illegal drugs. The mayor vetoed the resolution.
He’s opposed to Trump’s immigration plans, referring to the Trump administration as “another step into a dark world of fear.” He believes the path to citizenship should be easier. He is also in support of gun control legislation. During a House sit-in for gun control legislation in 2016, Republicans ordered C-SPAN to turn off its coverage. O’Rourke and Rep. Scott Peters then streamed what was happening from their cell phones, which C-SPAN aired.
He and Cruz both support term limits, but O’Rourke has said that he will leave Congress in 2020. He supports single-payer healthcare, and he wants to spend money at home rather than abroad. If elected, he will focus on better education, infrastructure, job opportunities, and easier access to the Internet. He also is worried about the dangers of climate change and is pro-choice.
He said he is concerned about Russian interference in elections, and believes the government should add more checks to make sure ballot boxes are secure.
3. He Apologized after Voters Mistakenly Thought He Wanted Mandatory Military Service
In January, KSAT reported that O’Rourke was considering introducing a bill that would require all young people to spend a year serving the country in some way, whether through military service, teaching, medicine, or some other way. During a town hall in Corsicana he discussed the idea, but many misunderstood and thought he was advocating mandatory military conscription. A few days later, he addressed the issue on Facebook Live and said he had made a mistake. He said the idea was ultimately to make college more affordable.
“When we were in Corsicana a couple of nights ago, we were talking about a national service bill that I would like to work on, and that I have been working on, that would encourage more young people to serve and perhaps connect that service with the ability to go to college without debt, and if they’re able to afford coming back to their communities — to El Paso, to Laredo, to Ft. Stockton, to Wichita Falls, to Lufkin to Longview — to wherever they are from, or wherever they want to be, or wherever they can do the most good.
In talking about that, I said ‘I’d like to make that mandatory.’ That is a word that has concerned a lot of you and I got to tell you, you’re right. I think I got way out in front of this without having the necessary conversation, without listening to enough of you about if you were serving as a teacher, if you were serving in the VA, if you were clearing trails in a conservation core, if you were serving in the military, if you were doing some kind of service that helps to make your country stronger, or your community better, that all to have some sense of shared purpose and sacrifice in this country.
Talking about this being a requirement for everybody — that’s a few steps beyond the conversation that we’ve had already — so I want to tell you that I’ve heard you and I’m listening to you and that I made a mistake — without having listened to enough people and really have the conversation that we need to have on what this would look like getting so far out ahead on an issue.”
4. He’s a Former Rock Band Member, Has a Couple Arrests on His Record, and Endorsed Clinton in 2016
In 1995, O’Rourke was arrested on burglary charges and in 1998 he was arrested on drunk driving charges. However, he was not convicted for either, and he’s said those incidents were youthful mistakes. In 2006, while serving on the El Paso City Council, the Land Grab Opponents of El Paso filed an ethics complaint with the city, alleging he had a business relationship with the Paso del Norte Group, developers proposing a downtown revitalization plan. His company was providing Internet services to Paso del Norte, and his father-in-law William Sanders was a leader of the Paso del Norte Group. The city’s Ethics Review Commission dismissed the complaint in 2006.
In the 1990s, O’Rourke was a bassist in the punk rock band Foss, alongside Cedric Bixler-Zavala who is the vocalist for At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta. The group toured the U.S. and Canada in 1993 and 1994.
O’Rourke endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in June 2016. As a member of Congress, he was a superdelegate during the Democratic National Convention.
In 2017, he livestreamed a road trip that he took with Republican Rep. Will Hurt of San Antonio. They answered questions about health care and other issues, punctuated with rounds of karaoke.
5. His Wife Amy Runs a Tech Business They Founded in 1999
O’Rourke is the son of Melissa Martha and Judge Pat Francis O’Rourke. He adopted the name “Beto,” which is short for Roberto. He’s fluent in Spanish and a fourth-generation Irish American. His father was the El Paso County Commissioner and then County Judge in the 1980s. Pat was killed in July 2001, at the age of 58, when he was riding his bicycle over the New Mexico state line and was hit by a car. O’Rourke’s mom, Melissa, owns Charlotte’s Furniture, a business his grandmother started in 1950.
O’Rourke attended Columbia University and was captain of the rowing crew. He graduated in 1995 with a degree in English literature. After college, he worked for Internet service providers in New York before returning to El Paso in 1998. In 1999 he co-founded Stanton Street Technology, an Internet services company that develops websites and software. His wife Amy was still running the business in March 2017.
O’Rourke and Amy Hoover Sanders were married in September 2005. Amy is the daughter of Louann and William Sanders of El Paso. She’s the director of education development for La Fe Community Development Corporation. She’s also the executive director of the La Fe Preparatory charter school. They have three children.