Exactly one month before a Presidential election, my mother will walk outside and stick ten political yard signs in our grass. Without fail, each night someone comes by and tears them down, such a common Texas occurrence that the film Boyhood had an entire scene about it. While she knows that her signs will be stolen no matter what, she marches out the next morning and puts up a new ten.
I’m inspired by her energy and passion, one that is so specific to my home state. The Texas I know and love is generous, hospitable, and embraces diversity. The state welcomed evacuees from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and passed the Equal Rights Amendment with almost 80% support in 1972. Throughout the past year, East Texans have come together to rebuild their lives, and their neighbors’ lives, all while watching the Astros win the World Series (no other state has Jose Altuve, another plus for Texas).
Unfortunately, there is another side to Texas, one that is rooted in racism. The state, which by 2022 will have a larger Hispanic population than white population, has a deep colonial history; the infamous Alamo battle and resulting idolization was, and is, more about discrimination towards Mexicans than state pride. Too often, this ideology is celebrated by Texas’s elected officials, from Governor Greg Abbott to Senator Ted Cruz.
On election night in 2016, there was a brief moment when Texas turned purple on the MSNBC projection map and I burst into tears. My home state, I thought, could be rejecting the hatefulness of Donald Trump and finally standing up to racism and bigotry. Needless to say, I was wrong but not surprised. The Democratic Party has ignored Texas for years, using the state for a few stump speeches and donor events. Texas, I realized, needed a statewide Democratic candidate that actually showed up for our diverse population.
A few weeks after the 2016 election, one of my friends told me about Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who he believed had a chance to win the 2018 Senate election against Ted Cruz. I was ecstatic. Beto served for six years on the El Paso City Council where he was severely critical of the War on Drugs and fought to legalize marijuana. One of the first candidates to refuse PAC money, he’s gone on to serve three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he passionately fights for universal healthcare, access to family planning, and ways to reform the U.S. prison system.
Beto has found a way to merge his progressive goals with the policy priorities of average Texans. Texas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates, especially for women of color, which he strategically links to right-wing attacks on reproductive health clinics and the state’s failure to expand Medicaid. Additionally, state funding cuts and the Trump administration’s attempt to privatize education has left Texas schools struggling, leading to a standardized test-driven curriculum that is highly unpopular among voters. Beto’s policy ideas connect the everyday reality of Texas students to the dysfunction of right-wing education policy, which is more focused on discriminating against students than empowering them.
Texas’s economy thrives because of its large population of immigrants and profitable proximity to the Mexican border, yet it is also home to the highest number of immigrant detention centers. This is why the state needs a Senator who recognizes the value of a humane immigration policy that keeps families together, provides a pathway to citizenship, and doesn’t waste money on a pointless wall. The day after a report was released outlining the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border, Beto was in Tornillo meeting with migrants and paying tribute to those exact ideals, not for the cameras, but for the people at these facilities and in those communities. He’s not just relying on his policies to speak for themselves; he’s taking them straight to the communities impacted by them.
Beto’s policies so clearly align with the needs of Texans that it’s almost shocking Ted Cruz can possibly represent the state. He voted for Betsy DeVos, an Education Secretary who has made it her mission to undermine funding and regulatory support for public education. He also voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip family planning funding from Planned Parenthood, both of which are steadfast ways to worsen maternity care for women in Texas. He continues to support the president’s racist policies, recently putting out a statement endorsing the inhumane actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the wake of the Family Separation Policy.
Unlike Cruz, Beto’s platform speaks to the increasingly progressive young people in Texas. He is pulling off the unheard of mission of visiting all 254 counties in the state, proving to the people that if there is a problem in Texas, he will be there. For once, a Democrat isn’t treating Texas like a lost cause, and that’s why I’m excited about Beto. For young people, immigrants, and people of color, Beto’s campaign makes us feel recognized and important, both critical for turning out reluctant and first-time voters. We need to win back the Senate if we want to stop Trump, and for the first time in a long time, Texas could be the answer.