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Saturday, September 23, 2017

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Q&A: Senate candidate O’Rourke says student debt too high


Beto O'Rourke Pearland town hall

Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke held a town hall in Pearland on Saturday to discuss his 2018 Senate campaign. “The reason I’m in Pearland today, the reason we were in Houston last night and in Beaumont the day before … is because I want to represent and serve the people of this state, and I also want this campaign to be driven and funded by them as well,” O’Rourke said to The Cougar. | Emily Burleson/The Cougar

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, addressed a town hall at the Pearland Independent School District administration building on Saturday morning to discuss his 2018 Senate run.

Prior to taking the stage, O’Rourke spoke to The Cougar in the parking lot outside of what he called his office — a gray Toyota Tundra — about student debt, his decision to not accept money from PACs and super PACs and how he can beat Sen. Ted Cruz.

The Cougar: You’ve said you wont accept money from PACs or super PACs for this Senate campaign. How do you plan to raise enough funds to compete with Ted Cruz? He has a lot of donations.

Beto O’Rourke: We’re putting all our faith in the people of Texas. So the reason I’m in Pearland today, the reason we were in Houston last night and in Beaumont the day before, Nacogdoches, Palestine, Tyler, Longview — and that’s just in the last three days — is because I want to represent and serve the people of this state, and I also want this campaign to be driven and funded by them as well. So we’re only accepting contributions from human beings. Corporations who want to filter that money through political action committees, special interests who want access so that they can affect legislation in congress — we don’t want any of that stuff. I think it’s not only the right way to do this; it’s the way to win.

In the last three-month reporting period, we raised $2.1 million, which turned out to be $500,000 more than Ted Cruz had raised, even though he takes from PACs (and) those corporations who can bring donations through those political action committees, and he’s also got a national fundraising base because he used the last four and a half years he was in office to run for president. So, I feel pretty good about our chances and feel that our faith in the people of Texas has been rewarding.

The Cougar: Why do you think you would be a better senator for college students than Sen. Cruz?

O’Rourke: I think I could be a better senator for every Texan, because I’m out here meeting with, listening to (and) trying to understand the people that I want to serve. Ted Cruz used his position of public trust to go pursue the presidency and further his career. He put politics before country, partisanship before Texas and helped explain the shutdown of our federal government in 2013, which helps explain how he hasn’t been able to get anything done in the Senate.

Whether we’re talking about ending the war on drugs, whether we’re talking about reducing student debt and making college more affordable, whether we’re talking about connecting young people to their careers and their potential and that next great American novel that they’re going to write, whether we’re talking about universal health care so that every single one of us can be healthy, or whether we’re talking about getting the corporate influence out of politics and Congress by not accepting PAC money. These are issues that seem to be resonating with lots of people in Texas, and I gotta tell you, for the young people who have been coming to our events in greater and greater numbers, they seem to be resonating with them in their lives.

But it’s not enough for me to be holding events here in Pearland, which is going to be fantastic — I cant wait to go in there and do this. We need to come back during the school year, and we need to be on these college campuses everywhere. Stephen F. Austin (State) University as well as the University of Houston, as well as TCU, as well as UT-El Paso, as well as the community colleges. I want to listen to and learn from the young people that I want to represent. It’ll make me a better candidate. It’ll make me a better public servant. It’ll help make me a better senator.

The Cougar: There’s a total of about $1.4 trillion in student debt in the United States. What is the…

O’Rourke: I think that’s, in policy terms, that’s a sh*t ton. Just once you pass $1.2 trillion, it’s a sh*t ton.

The Cougar: So what’s the solution to making college more affordable?

O’Rourke: A couple of thoughts. One is if you agree to come back and serve your community in an in-demand, under-served area, we should wipe your debt clean or not allow you to accrue it to begin with. Second, if we’re going to subsidize federal student loans and federal grants, then when should have a commitment from institutions of higher learning that they’re going to curb the inflation for tuition, room and board.

Third, I’d love to continue the proposal made by our previous president, Barack Obama, that at a minimum, your first two years at any state institution – community college, University of Texas, A&M, Tech, taxpayer-supported institutions — should be free for the student at a minimum. That investment, maybe a little upfront, is paid back many times over in the productivity, earning potential and the taxes paid by those who are able to afford an education. I think those are three great ideas to start with. I’m open to others. We can certainly do better by our students.

The Cougar: Final question: any plans to come to the University of Houston sometime before November 2018?

O’Rourke: Absolutely, if you will invite me. With Jody (Casey), my campaign manager, as my witness here standing behind us, we will come to the University of Houston. We want to come to every college in Texas if we can, and we’re going to do our damnedest to do that. So, invite us, and we’ll be there.

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