Beto O’Rourke holds rally in Waxahachie

Former congressman and Senate candidate sits for interview with Daily Light

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
Former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke speaks during a rally on Wednesday at Getzendaner Park in Waxahachie. The event, promoted by O'Rourke's Powered by People organization, drew a crowd of about 200 people.
Former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke pets an attendee's dog before a rally on Wednesday at Getzendaner Park in Waxahachie. The event, promoted by O'Rourke's Powered by People voter-registration organization, drew a crowd of about 200 people.
Former U.S. Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke, left, sit down for an interview with Daily Light reporter Bill Spinks before Wednesday's Powered by People rally at Getzendaner Park in Waxahachie.

Throughout his visit to Waxahachie’s Getzendaner Park on a steamy Wednesday morning, former U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke remained confident that members of his party would be able to turn back massive restrictions on voter access being imposed by state legislatures across the nation.

O’Rourke, a one-time Democratic U.S. Senate and presidential candidate, held a rally for Powered by People, a grassroots effort established by O’Rourke to sign up voters across the state of Texas. About 200 people attended the rally, including members of the Ellis County Democratic Party and other party dignitaries from the area.

O’Rourke said Powered by People has registered almost 200,000 voters in Texas in almost every county. One of the things he encourages is for Democrats to become certified as volunteer deputy registrars so that they can register voters in almost any county, as O’Rourke himself has done.

Before the rally, O’Rourke sat down for an interview with the Waxahachie Daily Light. He said he is traveling the state to bring people together in conversation about what can be done to save democracy.

 “There’s an open question as to whether what Abraham Lincoln called the last best hope of Earth, representative democracy, is going to make it,” O’Rourke said. “You don’t have to look much further than the Jan. 6 insurrection, where the citadel of democracy was breached for the first time since the War of 1812.”

O’Rourke also mentioned the tens of millions of Americans who have been persuaded that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Republicans; and the Texas Legislature’s attempts to enact restrictive voting laws in a state that is already among the most difficult to vote in the nation. Those laws failed to pass only because of a walkout by Democrats at the end of the legislative session, denying a quorum.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures like that one,” O’Rourke said. “Not only would it end Sunday morning voting which is disproportionately used by Black voters, (and) make it harder for voters with a disability to vote early and vote by mail, but it would allow Texas to overturn an election simply based on the allegation of fraud. Once you have that, you don’t have much of a democracy anymore.”

O’Rourke said the Democrats’ action in Austin bought them some time, but that now the important part is voters asking President Joe Biden to make the passage of the federal For the People Act his top priority. However, that will be a challenge in the U.S. Senate, given the refusal of two Democratic senators to vote to end the filibuster.

“The thing that gives me hope is that we were in a very similar circumstance in 1965 where President Johnson said he supported voting rights and the civil rights movement was pushing him to do something about it,” O’Rourke said. “There was enough public pressure brought to bear on Johnson and (southern) members of Congress that they found the will and did the right thing, and passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. ”

This act gave minority voters in the South a chance to vote for the first time, but a Supreme Court decision in 2013 rolled back some provisions that opened the door for some states, including Texas, to make it more difficult for these populations to vote.

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes,” O’Rourke said. “There’s a rhyme that we’re hearing right now from what was first said or done in the mid-1960s.”

O’Rourke’s goal is to increase the numbers of Democratic voters across the state to ultimately turn it blue, as the state becomes more and more “purple” through demographic changes.

That sounds like a tall order in Ellis County, where almost 70 percent of the vote went to former President Donald Trump, but O’Rourke has the overall picture in mind. He said 7 million Texans who were registered to vote didn’t cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election, and getting those voters off the sideline is his priority.

“I think we can do much better if we show up next time,” O’Rourke said.

Living close to the U.S.–Mexico border in El Paso, O’Rourke rejected Republican assertions that there is a “crisis” at the border. However, he recognizes a number of major concerns, including the root causes of migration — abject poverty and rampant crime. O’Rourke said Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent trip to Central America was an important first step.

“The wall didn’t work, and President Obama’s policies didn’t work,” he said. “What would work is focusing on the underlying problems in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. That’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be inexpensive.“

The coronavirus pandemic is finally receding with a large and growing number of Texans getting vaccinated. But O’Rourke laments that measures to fight the virus became politicized, and hopes that people being able to get out of their homes and mingle for the first time in more than a year will be a start toward some sort of reconciliation between the two camps.

“I think we could have saved some of the 50,000 lives we lost in Texas had we just heeded those warnings,” he said. “It was very sad to see how political it became for many. I’m hoping we are coming through and out of that and we can get where the country used to be … Maybe we can be kind and decent to one another and that’s progress in my book.”

O’Rourke, perhaps the most popular Texas Democrat to run for statewide office since the late Gov. Ann Richards, gets asked often when he will run again.

“I’m going to focus on what we’re doing now, this fight for democracy,” O’Rourke said. “I want to see it through. Then I want to see what it is that I can do going forward that’s helpful to Texas. That might be a run, but it might also be getting behind great candidates and supporting them … As long as I am in service to others and helping people, I’m happy and I will keep doing that.”