Beto O’Rourke comes to the College

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Students and community members welcome O'Rouke to campus to speak about prominent campaign issues. JAMIE HOLT / THE FLAT HAT

Students and community members packed into Trinkle Hall Tuesday, April 16, to hear 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speak during his visit to the College of William and MaryAt the event, which was sponsored by the College’s Young Democrats, O’Rourke discussed his platform, detailed his ongoing campaign for the presidency, and illustrated his hopes for the future. 

O’Rourke was introduced by U.S. RepElaine Luria, who represents Virginia’s 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Luria noted O’Rourke’s reputation in Congress and emphasized his bipartisan merits. 

“I think that he’s someone who’s willing to reach across the aisle and find common sense solutions, and he has really valued our military and veterans,” Luria said. 

“I think that he’s someone who’s willing to reach across the aisle and find common sense solutions, and he has really valued our military and veterans,” Luria said. 

Following Luria’s introduction, O’Rourke walked onstage boasting a hat with the College’s logo. O’Rourke spoke about the challenges that the United States faces today, including those in healthcare, public education, immigration and climate change. 

“In a democracy  which we still are, I hope — we are the government, and the government is the people,” O’Rourke said. “The responsibility to change this is on us.” 

“In a democracy  which we still are, I hope — we are the government, and the government is the people,” O’Rourke said. “The responsibility to change this is on us.” 

Students asked O’Rourke questions after his speech, and queried him on topics from third trimester abortions to Medicaid expansion. One group of students asked O’Rourke if he would sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, which requests that candidates refrain from accepting more than $200 from fossil fuel lobbyists or their affiliated political action committees. Ten 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have signed the pledge  including SenBernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg — but O’Rourke declined to join the pledge, while still emphasizing his commitment to its ideals.  

“We don’t take PAC money, we didn’t take PAC money in our Senate campaign, and I haven’t taken PAC money since, I believe, 2014,” O’Rourke said. “You ask about the challenges we face in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels including oil and gas, you’ve got my commitment to doing that.”

O’Rourke explained that his reluctance to sign the pledge stemmed from a concern that it would prevent individual workers in the fossil fuel industry from donating. 

“If you work in the oil fields, if you answer the phones in the office, if you’re one of my fellow Texans in one of our state’s largest employers, we’re not going to single you out from being unable to participate in our democracy,” O’Rourke said.

“If you work in the oil fields, if you answer the phones in the office, if you’re one of my fellow Texans in one of our state’s largest employers, we’re not going to single you out from being unable to participate in our democracy,” O’Rourke said. 

Maggie Herndon ’22, member of the Williamsburg Sunrise Movementwas dissatisfied with this answer as an environmental activist. 

“I think he interpreted the questions as having to do with preventing ordinary workers, like rank-and-file workers, from donating, but that’s not what it is,” Herndon said. “Workers are completely allowed to donate, and most studies have shown that the majority of them are likely to donate to candidates who will support transitioning to clean energy, because that’s such a fast-growing field. Him refusing to sign it is, I think, a testament to how he’s not really that willing to take a huge stand against the issue.” 

O’Rourke previously signed the pledge during his senatorial campaign against Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. He has since received multiple campaign donations from CEOs in the oil and gas industries 

Herndon noted that O’Rourke told students with the Williamsburg Sunrise Movement that he would sign the pledge with some modifications. 

“He said he would be willing to sign it if we added CEOs to it,” Herndon said. 

While some students were disappointed by O’Rourke’s speech, others were impressed by his campaign. 

“As funny as it is, realistically I think I’ve seen more memes about him than any other candidate, which, in terms of the name recognition and the support among young people, is actually indicative to some minor extent of how popular he is with college-aged people and that demographic,” David Jensen ‘19 said.  

Jensen also said that O’Rourke’s platform had great appeal among liberal voters. 

“It was clear that he was really going out of his way to establish how liberal he is and to stake out a lot of positions. I think he has a big advantage in declaring and running so early and campaigning so early, so it was pretty clear that he wanted to stand out as the champion of all of the liberal and leftist positions that he was talking about.” 

Louisa Janssen ‘21, secretary of the William and Mary Young Democrats, was excited about O’Rourke’s presence on campus.

“Because I’m involved in Young Dems, I know the general tone and body of this campus and who people are pulling for in 2020,” Janssen said. “And regardless of whether or not you support Beto, it’s really inspiring to have someone who came so close to beating Ted Cruz and had this big rhetoric of a grassroots movement campaign.”

“Because I’m involved in Young Dems, I know the general tone and body of this campus and who people are pulling for in 2020,” Janssen said. “And regardless of whether or not you support Beto, it’s really inspiring to have someone who came so close to beating Ted Cruz and had this big rhetoric of a grassroots movement campaign.” 

Janssen was also optimistic about other politicians visiting the College. 

“By having him come to campus, I think it was a really great gateway to have more candidates come in the future,” Janssen said.