Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, who serves Texas’ 16th congressional district, is locked in an unusually tight race against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican who won office nearly six years ago as one of a wave of Tea Party-backed candidates who became the insurgency against the Leftist-progressive policies of then-President Obama.
Recent polling, if it is to be believed, show him not just gaining on Cruz in a Deep Red state, but tying him, statistically, with less than three months before the midterm elections in November. Democrats are buoyed by the thought of turning Cruz’s seat blue, and indeed, should O’Rourke prevail, his victory would send shock waves through the political world while putting GOP control over the Senate in greater jeopardy.
But who is O’Rourke, and would he really be a good fit for Texans used to conservative leadership and policies?
O’Rourke, 45, is fourth-generation Irish, having been called “Beto” – a common Spanish nickname for “Roberto” – since before he was in kindergarten. His father, El Paso County Judge Pat Francis O’Rourke, was politically associated with former Texas Gov. Mark White; he was struck by a car from behind and killed at the age of 58 as he rode a bicycle across the New Mexico state line.
Attending primary schools in El Paso, O’Rourke, who speaks Spanish fluently, graduated from a high school in Virginia, Woodbury Forest School, in 1991. From there he began a short musical career as a bassist for an indie band called Foss. The group did release a 7” single and a self-titled demo, “The El Paso Pussycats,” on a label called Western Breed Records in 1993. An album followed called “Fewel Street,” in 1995, on the same label. O’Rourke toured with his band in the U.S. and Canada in between these record projects.
Eventually, O’Rourke enrolled in and graduated from, Columbia University in New York City with a BA in English Literature, where he became captain of the school’s rowing team. After college, he worked in New York City at various Internet service providers, but then returned to El Paso in 1998. A year later he would co-found a technology company, Stanton Street Technology, which provided Internet services and software development for websites. His wife, Amy, still operates the business.
Around the mid-2000s, O’Rourke became interested in local politics. In 2005, he ran successfully for the El Paso City Council, beating a two-term incumbent, Anthony Cobos, 57-43 percent. After becoming one of the youngest members to have ever served on the council, he won reelection in 2007 handily, defeating his opponent roughly 70-30 percent.
A staunch opponent of the “war on drugs,” O’Rourke sponsored a resolution in 2009 that called for a “comprehensive examination” of the strategy, as well as “the repeal of ineffective marijuana laws.” It received the unanimous support of the city council but was summarily vetoed by then-Mayor John Cook. He would tell local media that the driving factor behind his initiative was the high rate of death in neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where drug-related violence had been escalating since the mid-2000s when the Mexican government mobilized the army against drug cartels.
Eventually, O’Rourke turned his attention to national politics, and in 2012 he filed for the Democratic primary against another incumbent, eight-term Democrat Silvestre Reyes. There was much interest in the primary in a district that skews heavily Democratic and Latino. O’Rourke managed to secure more than 50 percent of the vote, but it was just a few hundred more than needed to avoid a mandatory run-off election. In the general election, he defeated his Republican opponent with 65 percent of the vote.
He went on to reelection in 2014 and 2016; he formally announced his candidacy for Cruz’s seat in March 2017.
According to reports, O’Rourke is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, which some say is politically moderate and centrist in terms of viewpoints. Culturally and socially liberal, the group is fiscally conservative, according to its website.
The coalition has had some legislative successes. In July, the House passed a bill supported by the group that calls for the strengthening of career and technical education.
As for O’Rourke personally, his life hasn’t been without controversy. (Related: Ted Cruz endorses Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection bid.)
In 1995 he was arrested by University of El Paso Police on burglary charges after he was seen jumping a fence on school property. Police later declined to press charges. In September 1998, however, he was arrested again, this time for DWI. He was “referred to a misdemeanor diversion program in March 1999 and completed ‘DWI school’ in May 1999,” Politifact reported. To his credit, O’Rourke has repeatedly owned up to these incidents.
More concerning to Republican voters, however, are his political views. First of all, he’s only voted in line with POTUS Donald Trump 28.7 percent of the time, far fewer than the New Democrat Coalition’s claimed ‘political moderate' status.
He supports LGBT rights and gay marriage, which isn’t problematic of course, but he seems to do so at the expense of the rights of other Americans to express their own views and values on the issue.
O’Rourke has a 100-percent lifetime rating from Planned Parenthood and the NARAL Pro-Choice America organization, meaning he supports abortion under all circumstances.
He did not support POTUS Trump’s repeal of President Obama’s likely unconstitutional DACA program, and though he claims he’s for “immigration reform,” he would most likely support a more widespread ‘pathway’ to U.S. citizenship for all immigrants than a majority of Americans.
He wants to do away with cash bail and he supports ‘universal healthcare’ (unlike Cruz) which, according to a recent study, would cost more than $32 trillion over 10 years. He also wants a complete ban on “assault rifles” and said after POTUS Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin earlier this year he would “vote to impeach the president” for allegedly siding “with him over the United States.”
Read more about Beto O’Rourke at the upcoming website Beto.news.