O’Rourke makes choice to do closed roundtable rather than rally like Warren, Booker
By MIKE MCCOMBS
The first Southern presidential primary for the Democratic Party on the road to its 2020 nomination is South Carolina.
And though the state is solidly red, the majority of its democratic electorate is black, which may explain why Beto O’Rourke went straight to the heart of the black community on Friday, June 14, when he took part in a roundtable discussion with local black leaders and members of the Gullah/Geechee Nation at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Beaufort.
O’Rourke arrived by car, and before heading inside for the discussion, he was given a quick tour of the grave of Robert Smalls and the site of a monument to Harriet Tubman.
Before taking questions from the panel, which included Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, O’Rourke addressed the strength of the local community.
“Its citizens have produced some heroes. Women like Harriet Tubman, who was one of the first women in this country to lead people into battle, and for the best of all reasons, to free her fellow human beings from bondage,” O’Rourke said. “And then you have someone like Robert Smalls, who took possession of a Confederate ship to bring more people to freedom and ensure justice at risk of his own life. He was willing to sacrifice it for others.
“And you talk about the tradition of fierce independence that has existed here for centuries. It really resonates and is powerful for a person from El Paso, Texas.”
O’Rourke called their stories powerful, profound and absolutely inspiring.
Before taking questions, O’Rourke had the opportunity to make an opening statement of sorts and he focused on the environment and climate change.
“Our most urgent, pressing challenge is to confront climate change before it is too late,” he said.
He said the Lowcountry was on the “front lines, “whether it is sea level rise or the intensity of storms that hit this region.”
And he drew applause when he guaranteed if elected that he would “make sure that we stop any prospect of offshore drilling.”
O’Rourke would go on to answer questions about diverse topics like young voters, veterans, climate change, health care, organized labor, reparations, voting rights and communities.
Here is an assorted rundown of topics discussed and O’Rourke’s responses:
Climate change extremes and communitites
Queen Quet asked about climate change and the extreme drought and weather as a result, in respect to food security, sustainability and protection of cultural heritage.
O’Rourke used Houston as an example of the extreme, citing the three 500-year flood event in the same community in a short period of time.
“We put those communities first that are on the front lines against climate change,” O’Rourke said, emphasizing the need to invest in infrastructure in those communities first.
He also pushed investing in “water in places where it isn’t safe to drink the water” like Flint, Mich., and rural S.C.
O’Rourke wants to invest in jobs in solar and wind, while we stop investing in fossil fuels.
And finally, he wants to make it a priority to reward farmers who practice sustainable agricultural.
Young voters and student loan debt
When asked about engaging young voters, O’Rourke had a simple answer.
“Go to where young people are,” he said.
He said in his failed bid for the U.S. Senate seat in Texas held by Republican Ted Cruz, he learned the conventional wisdom – don’t waste time and money on young people because they don’t vote – wasn’t necessarily true.
“Give them a seat at the table, show up, and listen,” O’Rourke said.
After a line about how the University of South Carolina is “the real USC, I am told,” he addressed the high cost of a college education and high student loan debt, especially at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, suggesting we be willing for forgive some or all student loan debt if the borrower serves the public.
Health care – universal and rural
There was no hesitation on this question.
“Guaranteed high quality health care for every single American has to be the goal,” O’Rourke said.
He described a system where people could stay in a plan that works for them or elect to move into Medicare.
“If people think it’s too expensive, it’s far less expensive than the way we do it now,” he said.
He also addressed 400 rural hospitals on the verge of closing.
It will “shut down communities,” he said, emphasizing that it is imperative we invest in rural health care.
O’Rourke said it is imperative that progress or economic development does not come at the expense of communities. He said the government had to promote affordable housing and invest in not only roads and bridges, but transit and public transportation.
He said it wold be a priority that the EPA enforce laws that protect our air, water and surroundings.
And places that make our communities special should be preserved.
“Any one of the (candidates) running would make a better president than the one currently occupying the White House,” O’Rourke said.
In regard to court appointees, lower level elections and organized labor, O’Rourke said, you’re seeing an urgency that was not there before the Trump administration.”
O’Rourke said the nation needs more organized labor, a court that respects people over corporations and to make the most of the moment in 2020.
In a soundbite moment, O’Rourke took a long pause before answering, “yes,” to supporting reparations. Though he wants to study the issue some more.
“We must repair this country,” O’Rourke said.
He said this country must reckon with the fact that we kidnapped people from West Africa, kept them in bondage and used them to build the wealth of the United States.
“White America does not know this story,” O’Rourke said.
He said the descendants of slaves are still obviously second-class citizens according to our criminal justice system, our infant mortality rates, health care statistics and economically.
“Segregation in our public schools is as bad as it has ever been in this country,” he said.
“What this government is doing to Vietnam veterans is atrocious,” John Glover said to Beto O’Rourke.
First priority, he said, would be to adequately fund the VA based on the wars we have started. And then we should resist going into anymore wars until we bring our troops home.
In an alarming statistic, O’Rourke says there are 44,000 fully funded but unfilled positions within the VA.
O’Rourke again risked controversy, taking a shot at Georgia governor Brian Kemp.
He touted Stacey Abrams as the “rightful governor of the state of Georgia. Voter purges of thousands at the hand of the same secretary of state that was running against her in the election.”
O’Rourke touts a new voting rights act that includes automatic and same-day voter registration and preregistration of high school students.
After we pass a new voting rights bill, he wants to end purges, gerrymandering, make election day a national holiday, and give paper receipts for voting, all while ending PAC money in federal elections.
Top: Democratic presidential hopeful Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, right, makes his remarks during a round table discussion at Beaufort’s Tabernacle Baptist Church on Friday. At left is Tabernacle’s pastor and former Democratic State Representative for S.C. House District 121, the Rev. Kenneth Hodges. The forum was not open to the public. Photos by Bob Sofaly