Story by Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer, Video by Caroline Waterhouse | Broadcast Reporter
Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, who is running against Republican candidate Ted Cruz for the Senate seat, wants lower tuition, a better student loan system and robust funding for social services as a financial and a personal investment in the country’s future.
After his event at Common Grounds Friday, O’Rourke clarified what he meant by overcoming the challenges college students face today such as immense loans and high tuition. Some policy changes O’Rourke wants implemented are better funding for Veterans Affairs; universal – meaning public and required – pre-kindergarten and simple, affordable access to mental healthcare. This is what he calls investments in people that will pay off literally and figuratively in the future.
O’Rourke told Baylor students that the last time the country was so divided – not just politically, but in terms of labor conditions, wealth and access to education and healthcare – was in the early 20th century. He recounted how the progressive movement rose up to provide universal high school education and other programs that made success or a living wage possible that was otherwise not systemically attainable. He said it would be fiscally irresponsible to neglect giving these systems funding. O’Rourke said he wants to invest in citizens so they are free to contribute to their country and their family, which in turn provides more revenue for the nation.
Houston sophomore Edgar Gonzalez is the vice president of the Baylor Democrats. He agrees with O’Rourke that higher taxes are worth it for a more functional country.
“His stance on student loans and debt show a value towards receiving a quality education,” Gonzalez wrote in an email to the Lariat. “He believes people having the knowledge that comes with a higher education is worth more than the probable tax increase it would cost.”
O’Rourke gave the example of a high school in Roscoe he visited where 90 percent of students graduated with both a high school and associates diploma, meaning they’ve completed the first two years of college.
“In many cases, they’ve graduated with certifications that allow them to command high-skill, high-wage, high-value jobs like welding certification, where you could begin at 18 years old at $70,000, $80,000 a year, [or like an] FAA remote pilot’s license to fly the drones that do the inspections on the wind turbines over Roscoe and Sweetwater,” O’Rourke said.
According to O’Rourke, the people of Roscoe are investing in their future and they will see a return in their quality of life and in their economy. He said he wants the country to be ready for the future and to optimize it for future generations.
“What if that were the model to ensure that at a minimum — and I mentioned the investment we make in high school education a hundred years ago — what if we decided that as the economy changes, as more people are dislocated and unable to enjoy the growth of this economy, we invest in their education to continue to get past high school to at least an associate’s degree,” O’Rourke said. “If they want to pursue that four year bachelor’s or they want to do a master’s, there’s assistance there.”
O’Rourke went on to say that he wants to explore loan forgiveness programs and federal refinancing of outstanding student loan debt.
“In every instance that we allow people to better themselves, they can do better not just for themselves, but for their communities, for their country. Those are a few thoughts around how we might be able to do that,” O’Rourke said.
According to Gonzalez, the reason so many people are willing to support O’Rourke is that he is honest about his campaign — he only receives money from individuals and not Political Action Committees or corporations, and he is clear about the fact that he wants to represent Texans’ interests above all else.
“Many factors keep people in Texas from feeling properly represented,” Gonzalez said. “Beto O’Rourke seems like an honest guy who has demonstrated a desire to represent Texans. I feel Beto has found support across different voters, regardless of whether their views are left or right, whether you agree with his points or not, O’Rourke embodies a desire to improve the state.”
Gonzalez said he hopes that regardless of whether Baylor students intend to vote for O’Rourke or not, that they will go out and vote.