CBS7 EXCLUSIVE: Even in unfriendly surroundings, O’Rourke welcomes all inputs

Published: Jun. 4, 2021 at 6:32 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 10:40 AM CDT
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MIDLAND, Texas (KOSA) - As Beto O’Rourke walks into the Midland County Elections Office, the few bystanders present stop and stare.

“Hey, there,” he says with a sheepish smile, one people have seen countless times on TV screens for the past few years.

Some people stop him for photos. Others throw him a wayward look. It’s all normal to O’Rourke by now.

He’s signing up to be a Texas volunteer deputy registrar in Midland County. It’s a county he lost to Ted Cruz by a 3-to-1 margin in the 2018 senate election.

Even in supposedly unfriendly confines, O’Rourke seems comfortable. He makes small talk with Rosa Olgin, the voter registrar. They talk about, of all things, wallets. O’Rourke shows Olgin his wallet, which his daughter made for him. Edges frayed, it’s clearly seen better days, but he can’t ditch it for sentimental reasons.

It’s that same mentality that brings him to the Permian Basin, an area where he has little chance of garnering wide support.

“We shouldn’t write people off just because they belong to a different political party,” O’Rourke said.

It’s a message he learned watching George W. Bush visit El Paso when he was running for governor in the 90s. The idea that no region or people should be tossed aside because of political affiliation.

Which brings us back to Midland.

“We thought we’d meet in town tonight at Washington Park Pavillion and just have a conversation about how we can come back together and make this democracy work.”

It’s a democracy he calls “the greatest in the world.” A key part of that is the right to vote, which O’Rourke believes is under attack in Texas, particularly through Senate Bill 7. It’s part of why he’s on a month-long, statewide tour to spread his message about expanding voting rights via his organization Powered By People.

“SB7 is an attack on democracy,” O’Rourke said, shifting from optimistic Texan to concerned politician. “And I think the best defense is a good offense and making sure we expand democracy at this moment of truth.”

He calls SB7 a voter suppression bill; conservatives call it an election integrity bill. And while Texas Democrats defeated its passage by walking off the House floor Sunday night, there’s the very real possibility the bill will gain new life if Gov. Greg Abbott calls a special session of the state legislature.

O’Rourke hopes to upend that with legislation on a national level via the For the People Act.

“It will mark the single greatest expansion of voting rights since our fellow Texas Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the 1965 Voting Rights Act,” he said. “So, this is a really important piece of legislation.”

After signing up to be a volunteer deputy registrar, O’Rourke went to an unlikely place: the Baymont Inn & Suites near Midland International Air and Space Port to help a woman change her voter registration after a recent move from Ector County to Midland County.

And despite knowing he’ll face an unfriendly crowd at Washington Park, those unfriendly faces deserve to be heard.

“Even though I’m a Democrat and Midland typically votes for Republicans, I think it’s important to show up and listen to people who have a different point of view.”

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