Beto O’Rourke: Fragile democracy in Texas and why Cambridge is ‘f*cking amazing’

The 2020 US Presidential candidate spoke to The Tab about his vision for Texas – one that is far from current reality

On his first trip to the United Kingdom, Beto O’Rourke enlightened Cambridge Union members about the value of democracy, US gun reform, Democratic hopes in Texas, and provided a fresh profanity-filled perspective on Cambridge University. The Tab sat down with Beto to discuss these topics and more before he addressed the Union last month.

The Texas democrat enjoys a reputation that defies his recent electoral failure. After unsuccessfully running for Texas Senator in 2018, President of the United States in 2020, and Texas Governor in 2022, one would think his political career would be in tatters. However, the strength of his reputation lies partly in the electoral and geographic situation he finds himself in. Democrats have been underdogs in Texas politics for decades, and O’Rourke has slowly reduced a number of consistent majorities the GOP has enjoyed for more than two decades.

His reputation can also be partially attributed to his natural ability to grab national and international headlines with his impassioned speeches about the issues facing Texas, often splattered with profanity. This profanity does not stem from a poor lexicon, but authentic passion – the sort of passion that drives him to continue coming back for more political punches, despite being knocked out in the ring the last three times he’s entered.

Where are the democrats in Texas?

After unsuccessful senate, presidential, and gubernatorial races, Beto’s commitment to creating a better Texas is inspiringly unwavering. When I asked him if another candidacy is in his sights, he quickly replies “never say never.” However, there is a distinct lack of ego in everything Beto says, it’s always about the cause for him, never about the man. He goes on to say: “I’ll do whatever. I’ll volunteer, I’ll knock on doors, I’ll run as a candidate, I just want to be part of making sure we come through at this defining moment of truth.”

Beto addressing the Cambridge Union with characteristic passion (Image credits: Nordin Catic)

How do democrats “come through” then and win the chance to enact the gun reform, border policies, health insurance legislation, and other policies O’Rourke has dedicated more than a decade fighting for? He argues for reinserting what he calls “eyeball to eyeball” communication back into politics. It’s why O’Rourke has personally visited all 254 counties across Texas, knocking on more than 16,000 doors. Democracy, O’Rourke argues, is increasingly facilitated online, through advertisements, social media, and screens everywhere. He argues that “in this age, we think there are shortcuts to connecting with people.”

Despite the sort of commitment shown by O’Rourke, Texas has not elected a democratic governor or senator since 1993 – three decades ago this year. O’Rourke says “is it tempting to despair or give up or lose hope? Absolutely. It is undeniably tough.” However, he takes inspiration from the example he wishes to set for his three children, wanting them to be proud of the fight their dad brought for a better Texas.

However, this fight is not just for a democratic win in Texas, but a healthier democracy in the state in general – something he believes is long overdue.

A decayed democracy and gun reform

When I asked Beto why Texas politicians are locked in such a stalemate over gun reform, to my surprise, he did not once mention the gun lobby or the Republican party. Rather, O’Rourke makes the persuasive connection between how difficult it is to vote in Texas and the electoral results in the state. According to Beto, registering is the first battle for voters, but even many of those who register fail to vote – 9.6 million of them, Beto tells me.

O’Rourke then uncharacteristically indulges in his own ego for a split second to make his point. “I am confident that if they had shown up, if their votes were reflected in the outcome, […] I would have won.” The fact is, these voters did not show up, and Texas continues to be one of the leaders in a statistic no state wants to lead – the number of school shootings.

O’Rourke answering students’ questions (Image credits: Nordin Catic)

What’s Beto’s solution? Change the fact that “it is harder to vote, or to register to vote [in Texas] than it is anywhere else in the country.” O’Rourke sees a direct correlation between the ease of voting, and meaningful gun reform in his state. That’s why his key focus, despite not currently being a candidate, is to nurse Texas democracy back to health. Reflecting on this ongoing fight, he says “who are we to not do our part” given so many have given so much to fight for voting rights in the US.

Until then, one can assume Beto will continue to be accused of unnecessarily politicising the issue of Gun reform in Texas. His response in the future will likely be similar to what he has gained attention for in the past – his most famous being: “It may be funny to you, motherf*cker, but it’s not funny to me okay.”

Why Cambridge is ‘f*cking amazing’

Before leaving to address the Union, I ask O’Rourke his first impressions of Cambridge University, on his first day visiting the city. He compares it to his alma mater, Columbia University in New York, and that both universities have students who “came from the world over.” From what he’s seen, Cambridge is a special place where students come together “in a very raw, honest, unfiltered way, [to] share ideas and perspectives that inevitably challenge your ideas and perspectives.” Cambridge and Columbia share this quality, according to O’Rourke.

He goes on to say that after one full day in Cambridge, “it’s f*cking amazing. The history, the people, the stories that all come together in this one place on the planet.” Not a bad impression, Beto, not bad.

Although it’s unsure what’s next for Beto O’Rourke, I’m willing to bet this isn’t the last we’ll see of him.

Feature image credits: Nordin Catic

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