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The Observer talks to Rep. Beto O’Rourke

I wish this were longer, and I’d have definitely asked about how he plans to win a Senate election in 2018, if indeed he does run, but it’s worth reading nonetheless.

Re. Beto O’Rourke

You mentioned how incredibly expensive congressional elections have become. Do you see this as a real barrier to reform?

I remember my first official meeting at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — I’d just been sworn in. Steve Israel, who was the chair and a member of Congress from Long Island, laid out for [newly elected members] how we should do our job. When you broke down his daily agenda as to how we should be spending our time, more than half of it was fundraising. It showed me just how screwed up the place was. Because the opening conversation wasn’t, “Hey, I know you came here to improve [health care] access for veterans or pursue a smarter foreign policy or fix health care” — it was all about how to stay in office. It was absolutely disgusting to me. It’s probably disgusting to Steve Israel. I don’t think anybody likes it.

But it’s the system into which people were elected. I think that’s the way most people look at it: to be reelected and to have any weight with the caucus they need to do these things, even if they find them distasteful. I spent about a half-session trying to figure out how to play that game, and then I gave up and stopped taking PAC checks. I decided I was going to sacrifice my ability to be a player in that large-dollar world and just focus on the issues I was excited to be there for.

I think with America’s disgust with politicians in general and congressional members in particular, and part of that connected to the obsession with money and with being re-elected, I think there’s a golden opportunity for the Democratic Party to set itself apart and renounce Big Money. It’s counterintuitive. It means you leave some big bucks on the table, but I think it could be inspirational and could become the brand that will set us apart.

What do you expect will happen in the first congressional session under the new Trump administration?

I’m very concerned by some of his nominees. Jeff Sessions is a perfect example of someone who in every way is opposed to the promise that immigration and communities like El Paso and Texas hold for the rest of the country.

One thing I’ve learned is that very rarely does the moral argument, which is the compelling one for me, persuade anybody. So I try to make the strongest economic argument that immigration is in America’s self-interest. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries, for example, will earn $4 trillion in taxable income over their lifetimes, and I’ve looked at what it would cost to deport them and what it would do to our economy should we lose them.

Those are things hopefully I can get Republicans to pay attention to. No state would be hurt more than Texas should we take a draconian turn on immigration enforcement, and it’s hard to imagine a more draconian turn than what we saw during the Obama administration, which deported more people than any previous administration.

I agree with what he says about how expensive it is to run for Congress and how awful the endless fundraising cycle is, but it’s also very expensive to run statewide in Texas, and he had $211,923 on hand as of his December finance report. If he hopes to ride a small-dollar wave to finance a Senate campaign, he’ll need to get cracking on it. As for DACA, well, we knew what was coming. Read the rest, and if he really is serious about running against Ted Cruz next year, I look forward to hearing a lot more from him.

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