Students impressed with Beto O’Rourke
Mar 29, 2019
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks at a rally at South Carolina State University on March 22. (Panther photos by Olanma Hazel Mang)
Immigration, health care and criminal justice reform were major talking points for U.S. presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke at a rally at South Carolina State University on March 22.
“All of us must see a future in this country,” O’Rourke said in his stump speech at the university’s student center plaza.
He cited racial disparities in the criminal justice and education systems, which he said ultimately lead to economic inequity and injustice.
“A country that supports the largest prison population on the face of the planet, disproportionately comprised of people of color,” the former congressman continued.
He rebuked marijuana-related arrests and convictions and supported the federal legalization of the drug.
“All of these things, in my mind, are connected: from our education system to our health care system to our economy to our system of criminal justice.”
O’Rourke launched his 2020 presidential campaign earlier in March.
While some students at the rally were roused by his demeanor and stance on certain policies, others were not very impressed.
“It sounded nice, but he was talking in circles which doesn’t help me,” said Alexis Rice, a freshman at S.C. State University. “Just be direct and answer the question.”
She said the presidential candidate was too vague and placatory in talking about police brutality. However, she liked his answers addressing issues concerning the LGBTQ+ community.
During a Q & A session with the audience, S.C. State University’s Mr. Honors College Charles Patton asked the candidate how he would help the LGBTQ+ community if he became president.
In response, O’Rourke rebuked the legality of discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ+ community in Texas, his home state.
“That's why, as president, I will sign into law the Equality Act which guarantees the full civil rights of every single American regardless of their sexual orientation,” he said.
His response to the question also impressed Claflin University student Jeremiah McFadden.
“I feel like there needs to be more focus on it because it is a real issue,” McFadden said. “I really appreciate that he took the time to address that question.”
Patton also quizzed O’Rourke on DACA and immigration policies. The congressman voiced support for a path to citizenship for the “Dreamers.”
The “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) is a program that protects undocumented immigrants, called “Dreamers,” who were brought to the country as children.
“I think the best, most American way to respond to this opportunity,” O’Rourke said, “is to free those dreamers permanently from any fear of deportation back to a country whose language they do not speak, where they no longer have family.”
S.C. State freshman Tuesday Cabang said she liked his ideals. “I think he has a lot of promise. I’d vote for him if he was nominated.”
However, she said the candidate relied too heavily on his senatorial campaign platform, and he should address more issues about student loan debt and rising college costs.
O’Rourke ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 but lost to Republican Ted Cruz.
Claflin University senior Eric Favor also wanted O’Rourke to focus more on education policies, especially those that would increase teachers’ salaries and improve educational programs.
“Educational inequity, especially for African-Americans is a big thing where I’m from,” said Favor, who minors in education.
He said O’Rourke had “good momentum,” but he is uncertain the congressman can win against President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
College junior Patton said even though O’Rourke was impressive, it is too early to tell how far the candidate would go in the election.
But other students thought O’Rourke was picking up enough speed to win the Democratic Party nomination.
“He reminds me of a young Bernie Sanders,” said Israel Robinson, a junior at S.C. State University. “He is a perfect embodiment of where America is going.”
Claflin University senior William Fairfax said, “He’s going to generate a lot of interest from the youth and middle-aged voters who felt hurt after the 2016 elections.”
“In my opinion, he’s very passionate about all the issues that he’s talked about, especially on criminal justice, health care and immigration,” said Jah’Juan Bess, a political science major at S.C. State University.
The rally was one of the pitstops in O’Rourke’s campaign tour in the state. Before his S.C. State University visit, he went to the University of South Carolina.
S.C. State University student Vic Douglas said O’Rourke was captivating.
“A lot of candidates come, speak and just leave. I was happy that he was here to hear the concerns of the people,” Douglas said.
“I really liked the intimate vibe, for him to be out here with the students, answering questions,” Patton said in an interview after the rally.