Beto O’Rourke climbed onto the counter at Central Park Coffee Company in Mt. Pleasant on Friday, March 15, pledging to “bring this badly divided country together.”
O’Rourke announced his 2020 bid for the presidency last week, making Mt. Pleasant one of his first stops on his tour of Iowa. He is the 15th Democrat to enter the presidential race. His narrowly lost race in Texas in 2018 against Sen. Ted Cruz brought him national attention.
On Friday, O’Rourke briefly touched on climate change, minimum wage and poverty, gun control and health care to a sea of people during a meet and greet at Central Park Coffee Company.
Beto said climate change is perhaps “the challenge of human existence.” While scientists are in agreement that there still is time to act, the U.S. needs to get on board to make the “bold decisions” and “tough political choices” to be a global leader slowing global warming.
“I want our kids, my son Ulysses, who is 12 years old, in 2050, which is this make-or-break moment where we would have either made it or broken it forever, to look back at us and say, ‘They squarely faced this challenge, they called forth the absolute best from every single one of them, and they did the right thing.”
Beto also spoke on health care reform. He said that while the U.S. has some of the wealthiest people in the world, there are others who can’t afford the prescriptions they need to survive. It will take a bipartisan movement to find a solution to guarantee high quality health care to everyone “without exception,” he said.
Beto would like to increase the minimum wage to “a living wage” at $15 an hour as quickly as possible.
Beto said the wealth in white America is 10 times the wealth of that in black America and believes a higher minimum wage can help bridge that gap.
“It’s very hard for the next generation of black Americans be able to do some of the things that too many white Americans, myself included, take for granted,” Beto said. “The ability to afford to go to college, to buy a home or start a business, and to accumulate wealth that can be passed on to the next generation, it’s a consequence of slavery, segregation and continual oppression.
“From where pollution is concentrated, to a criminal justice system that is unfair and keeps some people down, all of these things are connected,” he continued.
The Texan said he comes from a “proud, responsible, gun-owning state.” Beto wants Texas to work with Iowa and other states to lead the country in universal background checks for every weapon purchased in the U.S.
“Those states that have adopted universal background checks have shown us we can produce a near 50 percent reduction in gun violence. Imagine if we did that for the entire country,” Beto said.
Beto said on his drive over from West Burlington to Mt. Pleasant, he read about the shooting in a New Zealand mosque on Friday, March 15, where 50 people were killed.
“It is not enough just to be compassionate and thoughtful and prayerful at this moment,” Beto said. “We understand these acts of hatred and violence against those who may be of a different religion than the majority of a given country are on the rise right here in this country.
“It’s part of a larger disease of intolerance that has taken hold in what was thought to be the most tolerant, most open, most welcoming country the world had ever known,” Beto continued. “We must call out this hatred, this Islamophobia, this intolerance and the violence that predictably follows. We need leadership that reflects it.”
David Suarez, of Mt. Pleasant, spoke with Beto about immigration afterward. Suarez said that “wonderful things” about promising citizenship to Dreamers — students who were brought into the U.S. legally as children to study — and generally improving immigration laws.
“We have to wait and see,” Suarez said. “It sounds good, but we have to see the action.”
Jeff Fager, chair of the Henry County Democrats, said it was exciting to have O’Rourke in town right out of the gate. Fager said Democratic voters have some decisions to make.
“It’s no secret the Democratic Party is the minority in Henry County, but we’re seeing a resurgence in energy thanks to the current occupation of the White House,” Fager said.
Tina Yohannes drove from Iowa City to hear O’Rourke speak in Mt. Pleasant Friday. Yohannes, a former Texan, relocated to Iowa just before her chance to vote for O’Rourke in the 2018 race for Senate. She plans on voting for him in the 2020 presidential election.
“He seems very genuine. He says what he believes, not what I want to hear,” Yohannes said. “He was so close to winning the Senate race in Texas. I believe he has the ability to win 2020.
“I’m willing to give every candidate a chance,” Yohannes continued. “I am so proud of how close (O’Rourke) came to winning (the Senate).”
Buzz Bezoni, of Mt. Pleasant, said he thinks the country is ready for a change. As someone who is “super Independent,” Bezoni said he believes O’Rourke might be the person to lead that group of Independents.
“I followed him in Texas very briefly. He’s so well mentally organized. He reminds me a lot of (former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack). I’m looking for a team player,” Bezoni said.
Denise McCormick, of Mt. Pleasant, heard Friday morning that O’Rourke would be in town and knew she had to hear him speak.
“I feel the same about him I felt about Barack Obama in 2008,” McCormick said, adding she think he has a positive direction for the U.S.
Cade Hillyer, 16, of Danville, got permission from his parents to skip school on Friday to hear the presidential candidate speak.
“I want to get to know candidates before the 2020 election when I’m able to vote,” Hillyer said. “(O’Rourke) knows how to draw a crowd.”
Liana Sweezer, 17, Garrick Dodson, 17 and Madison Brady, 18, students at Winfield-Mt. Union High School, also made it a priority to see O’Rourke speak on Friday.
“There’s a lot of Democratic candidates this year, and I think it’s really important to get as much experience as possible for our first opportunity to vote and make an informed decision,” Sweezer said.
“The only way to change stuff is if we vote,” Brady said.