Former U.S. Representative and current Democratic Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke returned to Keene State College on Friday, September 6, to hold a town hall meeting in the Mabel Brown Room. O’Rourke is famous for challenging and nearly defeating Senator Ted Cruz in the 2018 election, setting the record for most Democratic votes cast in Texas during an election, according to the Texas Tribune. On Friday night he discussed his campaign platform and answered questions from supporters and detractors alike.
O’Rourke arrived slightly late to the Mabel Brown Room, but was not as tardy as he was when he came to speak in the Young Student Center last March. Shortly after someone in the crowd complained that O’Rourke has “Axl Rose type time-management skills,” the candidate arrived in the Mabel Brown Room, wearing a black KSC hat. O’Rourke began by thanking the assembled crowd and discussed how happy he was to return to New Hampshire. He then launched into an anecdote about a woman he encountered earlier that day in Manchester, New Hampshire. The woman had a full drum kit set up in a parking lot, drumming along to a boom box on her lunch break because that was her only time during the day to be herself. O’Rourke discussed how inspiring this was to him.
“We are facing the most extraordinary challenges our country and this planet have ever known. We have about ten years left as a civilization to confront climate change, to free ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke talked about the shooting that occurred in an El Paso, Texas Wal-Mart over one month ago. O’Rourke discussed how the shooter was motivated by racism, specifically fear of hispanic immigration. O’Rourke believes that President Trump is responsible for this. O’Rourke discussed a Trump rally in which a supporter suggested shooting immigrants, eliciting laughter from Trump and the crowd. O’Rourke cited this as an example of President Trump supporting racism. O’Rourke said that Trump actively encourages racism rather than merely tolerating it. O’Rourke says that hate crimes have been on the rise since the beginning of the Trump Administration and that the majority of cases the FBI investigates these days involve white supremacy.
The crowd assembled had mixed feelings about O’Rourke. KSC student Collin Coviello was skeptical about O’Rourke’s stances on fossil fuels and the Keystone Pipeline.
“I think he had an evasive mindset about the amount of fossil fuels we burn in this country. I think we need to stop using fossil fuels completely,” Coviello said. However, Coviello acknowledged that he believes O’Rourke wants to do “the right thing” and that as a politician O’Rourke may have a more pragmatic plan for combating climate change than activists such as Coviello. Coviello said he believes O’Rourke represents a centrism that will bring people together, but feels that he’s too young to appeal to older democrats. Coviello said he hopes that more people will take O’Rourke’s message and get involved in politics because “there’s more people out there that think like you than you think.”
One man, who was unavailable for interview or comment after the meeting, provided a dissonant voice in the crowd. He asked what would happen to gun owners who did not want to surrender their assault weapons under the mandatory gun buyback that O’Rourke has proposed. This gentleman also expressed his support for President Trump and questioned why O’Rourke called the president racist.
Some in the crowd were neutrally optimistic going into the meeting. “I’m really interested in the whole political arena of New Hampshire,” KSC senior Patrick Holden said. Holden said that part of his decision to come to KSC was political. “I was in a bunch of political clubs in high school, so then coming to New Hampshire, coming to Keene, I knew it was such a lively political atmosphere, I wanted to get involved.”
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