Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 election, visited Henrico, Virginia, for a campaign event on April 16, where he laid out his platform supporting universal healthcare, working to reduce climate change, abortion rights and reducing discriminatory practices. 

“I am confident that instead [of our fears and divisions], we will be known by our ambitions, our aspirations, the work, the creativity, the service and the sacrifice we will bring to bear in order to achieve them,” O’Rourke said. “That is why I’m running to serve you as the next president of the United States.”

O’Rourke is a three-term U.S. representative for Texas’ 16th congressional district, which includes his hometown of El Paso. In 2018, O’Rourke gave up his House seat to run for Senate, a race that he narrowly lost to Sen. Ted Cruz. 

After introductions by Henrico County Democratic Committee chair Lizzie Drucker-Basch and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Virginia, O’Rourke laid out a moderate, Democratic platform, addressing a multitude of issues. 

He especially focused on healthcare — and issues within it like veterans’ healthcare and mental health  — and climate change. He also addressed teachers’ pay, immigration and the Dreamers, access to family planning and women’s right to choose.

O’Rourke advocated for “universal, guaranteed, high-quality healthcare for every single American.”

“Too many of our fellow Americans in the wealthiest, the most powerful, the most technologically and medically advanced country on the planet are dying of diabetes,” O’Rourke said, referring to the high prices of insulin. 

Climate change is threatening our existence, O’Rourke said.

Scientists say that the planet has cooked one degree Celsius over pre-industrial revolution levels, and that this warming is in large part responsible for the storms and increased flooding we are seeing, O’Rourke said. 

“Those same scientists say that we have 10 years left to us, as a human race, as a civilization, to get this right, or at least better than it will be if left unchecked,” O'Rourke later added.

He laid out a plan of investing in renewable energy, partnering with rural America to incentivize farmers to plant cover crops, which pull more carbon out of the air – and signing back onto the Paris Climate Agreement. 

O’Rourke also mentioned issues that affect minorities, such as the black-white infant and maternal mortality gaps and a school-to-jail pipeline affecting young African American boys.

The U.S. must lift the prohibition on marijuana because nonviolent drug offenses disproportionately affect people of color, O’Rourke said.

He said he would sign an equality act to protect the LBGTQ+ population from discrimination, because in Texas, someone can be fired for their sexuality. 

After his speech, O’Rourke answered a few questions from audience members. 

“I was born with a pre-existing condition, and I’m on government healthcare, and my granddaughter right here, she too has a pre-existing condition,” one audience member said. “My concern is that I’ll get my healthcare taken away.” 

The woman also said that her granddaughter needed surgery, and that she was scared her daughter would be denied healthcare. She asked O’Rourke what kind of promises he could give to people with pre-existing conditions. 

O’Rourke said the Affordable Care Act should be defended but that the answer did not stop there.

“The Affordable Care Act is a great step in the right direction: no lifetime caps, no limitations based on pre-existing conditions, cover your kids up to the age of 26,” O’Rourke answered. “But it doesn’t meet every single challenge, especially in states where Medicaid was unexpanded, and especially since those gains, as we have learned, can be rolled back, and they are." 

The answer, O'Rourke said, is not just to defend the ACA, not just to expand Medicaid in all states, and not just to use the bargaining power of the federal government to lower prescription drug costs, "but to get to true, guaranteed, high-quality, universal healthcare.” 

O’Rourke explained how universal healthcare came with lower costs to people.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to invest in everybody to ensure that they’re at their best, all of us getting the benefit of what they’re going to do for the course of their lives," he said. "So, if you measure the cost of universal care in the trillions of dollars, it’d sound like a lot of money, but it’s a lot less expensive than the way that we pay for healthcare today, in our emergency rooms, in our jails, in lives diminished or not led to their full extent.” 

The event was sponsored by the Henrico Democrats. After announcing the event, the organization discovered that the event's initial capacity of 200 would not suffice to meet the amount of interest.

“We had maybe five to six days lead-in,” said Alsuin Creighton-Preis, the vice chair of the Henrico County Democratic Committee, about O’Rourke’s team contacting them about the event. “Once we did the initial, very quick release of the announcement that this was going to happen, it became clear very quickly that there was a massive amount of interest.” 

The Henrico Democrats had to scramble to find an appropriate location, Creighton-Preis said. The chair, Drucker-Basch, contacted the owner of the Hilton that the event was held in, and the organization released another 250 tickets, which were claimed within three hours, Creighton-Preis said. The Henrico Democrats then decided to have the event in the full ballroom instead. 

In total, she thinks there were close to 1,200 tickets released, Creighton-Preis said.

Sophomore Grace Miller, a political science major, attended the event to hear a primary candidate, especially because she will be abroad in the fall.

“The primary pool is so large,” Miller said. “I just think it’s really important to actually expose yourself to the people and messages that you wouldn’t necessarily hear. Specifically Beto was so interesting for me during the Senate race. I just was really excited to see him talk in person and see if he lived up to the hype that I’ve been seeing all over social media.”

After this event, O’Rourke continued to Charlottesville, where a University of Virginia student asked about the low charitable giving shown in O'Rourke's tax records, according to USA Today and Politico.

O’Rourke responded that he and his wife had made donations that they did not detail in their tax returns, and that he worked to help his community through his career of public service, USA Today reported.

Contact news and content editor Katherine Schulte at katherine.schulte@richmond.edu.