Who Is Beto O'Rourke?
Beto O'Rourke is a former Texas congressman who represented the state's 16th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019. In 2018, O'Rourke ran for a U.S. Senate seat against incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Although he lost by a narrow margin, O'Rourke made Texas history by earning the most votes ever won by a Democrat. In March 2019, O'Rourke announced his 2020 presidential run, but due to his inability to increase his support amid a crowded field of candidates, dropped out in November 2019.
Early Life and Education
Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke was born on September 26, 1972, in El Paso, Texas. A fourth-generation Irish American, O'Rourke is the oldest child of Pat and Melissa O'Rourke and has two younger sisters, Charlotte and Erin. Pat was a successful businessman, building his fortune in real estate and manufacturing enterprises, and also served as a local Democratic politician, serving on municipal boards, commissions and as a county judge. An avid cyclist, Pat died on July 3, 2001, at age 58 when a car struck him as he was cycling just outside of El Paso.
O'Rourke attended a private school in Virginia before attending Columbia University, where he majored in English Literature. Identifying as binational, O'Rourke is fluent in Spanish.
During college, he was in a punk rock band called Foss and toured all over North America during the summers. After graduation, he stayed in New York City for a brief time, taking on miscellaneous jobs, including working at an art moving company and being a live-in babysitter before becoming a proofreader at the book publishing company H.W. Wilson Company. However, his life in New York City eventually lost its charm and he returned to El Paso.
Political Career and Senate Run
After returning to El Paso, O'Rourke won a seat in the city council. In 2012, he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for Texas' 16th district. While serving out multiple terms, he was a member of both the Veterans' Affairs and Armed Services Committees.
In 2018, O'Rourke decided to give up his House seat and challenge incumbent Ted Cruz in the Senate. His impressive campaign shot him into the national spotlight, and even though it didn't result in a win, it still broke records for being the closest a Democrat has ever come to winning in the seat in the red state of Texas.
Presidential Bid and Policies
Having received so much attention from his narrow defeat in Texas, O'Rourke decided to run for president in the 2020 election. In April 2019 he appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair with his quote that he was "born to be in it." He later commented on The View that he regretted his choice of words, saying that it "reinforces that perception of privilege." However, O'Rourke clarified that he was "attempting to say that I felt that my calling was in public service," adding "No one is born to be president of the United States of America, least of all me."
Among his most prominent policy proposals, O'Rourke is known for his strong stance on gun control, which evolved during his presidential campaign. Further influenced by the El Paso shooting in August 2019, O'Rourke became in favor of mandatory buybacks of assault rifles and banning assault rifle sales going forward.
"Hell yes, we're going to take away your AR-15, your AK-47. We're not going to allow it to be used against a fellow American anymore," he said during a Democratic primary debate in September 2019.
Acknowledging that both he and his wife are descendants of slave owners, O'Rourke proposed a variety of measures to rectify the injustices that the African American community has had to face in America's history. Among them, he offered a new Voting Rights Act, addressing academic and health disparities and signing Texas Congresswoman's Sheila Jackson's reparations bill, which would create a commission to explore the possibilities of compensation to right the wrongs of slavery.
O'Rourke had a middle-of-the-road approach towards the healthcare debate, supporting a "Medicare for America" plan, which is essentially a public option. Under this plan, O'Rourke would allow Americans to choose whether or not to keep their private insurance or to opt into a government-run plan.
O'Rourke rolled out a $5 trillion dollar plan to fight climate change, which included transforming the country's infrastructure, encouraging green tech innovation and aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050.
O'Rourke vowed that if he were to win the presidency, he would immediately end child detention centers, reintegrate Dreamers and their families back into American society, tear down border walls in his hometown of El Paso and create a viable pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents, among other plans.
Dropping Out of the 2020 Presidential Race
On November 1, 2019, O'Rourke ended his campaign for the presidency.
“My service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee. Acknowledging this now is in the best interests of those in the campaign; it is in the best interests of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee; and it is in the best interests of the country,” he said in a statement.
Although O'Rourke had a surge of energy and popularity at the polls at the start of his presidential campaign, within weeks of his announcement, his numbers began to fall. Added to his less-than-memorable appearances at the debates and unspecific policy proposals, O'Rourke polled at just 2 percent in national polls by the time he suspended his campaign.
Wife and Children
Beto has been married to his wife Amy (née Sanders) since 2005. Like O'Rourke, Amy is a native Texan and comes from a wealthy family — her father is a billionaire real estate investor who also helped finance her husband's failed Senate run against Republican incumbent Cruz.
Shortly after graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts, Amy met O'Rourke in El Paso. After building a successful career in the teaching profession, Amy took over and ran her husband's software startup, Stanton Street, from 2013 to 2017. The couple has three children: Henry, Molly and Ulysses.
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