By Caitlin Meisner | Staff Writer, Kaity Kempf | Broadcast Reporter
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke stopped in Waco Wednesday to speak on gun control, reproductive rights and immigration to Baylor students and the Waco community.
O’Rourke spoke to a packed crowd of about 300 — mixed with supporters and protestors — at Freight Icehouse and Yardbar as a part of his College Tour campaign. It was one of three campaign stops for the day. Prior to arriving in Waco, O’Rourke spoke to Texas A&M students in College Station, and after speaking in Waco, he headed up I-35 to speak to students at UT Arlington.
Several local Democratic politicians came to show support as well. Kelly Palmer, Waco City Council member (District 4); John Mabry, former Texas House representative; and Erin Shank, candidate for Texas House District 56 representative (McLennan County and Bell County) were all in attendance.
The crowd erupted when O’Rourke finally arrived, 40 minutes past the rally’s scheduled start time of 2 p.m.
“We get a lot of love from you, and I want you to know that I love you right back,” O’Rourke said to begin his speech. “I love you if you’re a Baylor student; I love you if you’re not a Baylor student. I love you if you’re straight; I love you if you’re gay or transgender. I love you if you are an eighth-generation Texan, and I love you if you got here eight years ago from another country.”
O’Rourke said he welcomes everyone, even those with different political beliefs.
“If you’re a Republican, I want you to know that you are in the right place,” O’Rourke said. “Democrats, you are welcome here as well. Independents, we’re glad you came. Those who are supporting us, thank you. Those who oppose us, that’s OK too.”
A small group of protestors attended the rally additionally. Some wore “Make America Great Again” hats, and one held a sign that read “Baby Killer Beto.”
“If Texas women won that protection [of abortion] 50 years ago, then Texas women are going to win it back again in 2022,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t addressed gun violence after the May shooting in Uvalde in which 19 children were killed at Robb Elementary School. The gunman purchased two AR-15 style rifles and ammunition shortly after his 18th birthday, once he legally could.
“Eighteen weeks ago, 19 kids and their two teachers were taken from us,” O’Rourke said. “[Those kids] were defenseless against [that AR-15] and against a governor who will not lift a finger to make sure that no other child meets the same fate as those kids.”
O’Rourke said he believes anyone who wants to immigrate to the states to work should have a “safe, legal, orderly path to do that.”
“I don’t condone breaking the law,” O’Rourke said. “But I understand why someone might not want to wait those six years [in a refugee camp].”
“Crossing in between ports of entry are those who seek to do us harm,” O’Rourke said. “Anyone who would want to traffic fentanyl into this community or smuggle human beings — right now, they’re needles in a haystack. We remove that by creating a safe, legal, orderly path for anyone who has a legitimate reason to come here.”
O’Rourke said he supports the legalization of marijuana, which drew the largest cheer from the crowd. O’Rourke said he wants to expunge arrest records of anyone who has served time for drug possession because it hinders their chances to qualify for student loans to attend higher education.
O’Rourke was a U.S. representative for Texas’ 16th Congressional District, representing El Paso from 2013 to 2019. In 2018, O’Rourke unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate against incumbent Ted Cruz (R). He attempted to run for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination for president but ended his campaign in November 2019.
Dallas junior Bryn Anderson said she has been a supporter of O’Rourke since his Senate run in 2018, which was before she could legally vote.
“Everything he wants to do is for the positive — positive social change,” Anderson said. “You can tell that he actually wants to make a difference. He’s just a very inspiring [and] enigmatic person.”
Before introducing O’Rourke, Colleyville sophomore Shahina Chatur said new leadership in Texas is past due.
“There is literally no reason why we should keep someone who doesn’t do their job in office,” Chatur said. “Abbott can be fired on Nov. 8, and we as students can make sure that happens.”
McAllen sophomore Daniel Escobedo said he is opposed to O’Rourke’s policies on abortion and immigration. He stood as part of the group who protested O’Rourke.
“No matter what ways you look at it, I consider a baby separate from its mother,” Escobedo said. “It’s a separate soul. There’s people who want to support this genocide of the unborn.”
Escobedo said he doesn’t expect O’Rourke to win in November.
“[Beto] strikes me as a loser, quite frankly,” Escobedo said. “He’s lost already two offices and about to lose a third. He’s just running for any office that seems convenient for him.”
Houston junior Aalie Hebert said she was happy with O’Rourke’s talk.
“I think human equality is what we need to be striving for,” Hebert said. “Everything he says is just about that. It’s not putting people on pedestals. We’re all fighting for one cause.”
In an interview with the Lariat, O’Rourke said youth voters will decide the margin of victory on Election Day.
“At every major turn of American history, young people have led the way in the wars that we fought,” O’Rourke said. “Today, making sure we restore the freedom for women to make their own decisions about their bodies, the freedom for kids to not have to worry about gun violence in their schools — these are things that young people understand and have urgency on.”
In the Texas gubernatorial election on Nov. 8, Texas voters will choose between O’Rourke (D), Abbott (R), Mark Tippetts (L) and Delilah Barrios (G).