* Served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013-2019
* Ran unsuccessfully in 2018 for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Republican incumbent Ted Cruz
* Voiced doubt in 2018 as to whether the U.S. Constitution was still a relevant document
Robert Francis O’Rourke was born into an Irish Catholic family on September 26, 1972, in El Paso, Texas. From an early age, he was called “Beto,” a common nickname for Mexicans named Roberto. His father, Pat Francis O’Rourke (d. 2001), served as both a County Commissioner and County Judge in El Paso, a political associate of former Texas Governor Mark White, and the state chairman of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns.
When Beto O’Rourke was a teenager, he belonged to the so-called Cult of the Dead Cow, the oldest group of computer hackers in U.S. history. Named after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, the hugely influential group was notorious for releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows, and for inventing the word “hacktivism.” For decades, members of the Cult protected the secret of O’Rourke’s former membership, so as not to damage his political career. The story was not made public until March 2019.
In May 1995, O’Rourke was arrested for attempted burglary on the University of Texas-El Paso campus, but the charges were dropped nine months later. After graduating from Columbia University in 1995 with a BA in English Literature, O’Rourke worked for several Internet Service Providers and then returned to El Paso, where in 1998 he founded the Stanton Street Technology Group (SSTG), a web and software company which he headed for the next 14 years. His mother, Melissa O’Rourke, who once served as a Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas board member, was a shareholder in SSTG.
In September 1998, El Paso police arrested Beto O’Rourke on DWI charges. According to police records, he had a blood alcohol level of .136 and was traveling at a “high rate of speed” when he crashed his vehicle into a truck and then attempted to flee the scene. The charges against O’Rourke were dismissed after he attended “DWI school” the following year.
In 2005 O’Rourke married Amy Hoover Sanders, an educator and charter school executive. For the next six years, O’Rourke was a member of the El Paso City Council.
As a member of the El Paso City Council, O’Rourke voted multiple times to approve a redevelopment project proposed by his father-in-law, billionaire real-estate investor William Sanders, to use eminent domain to take hundreds of homes away from low-income residents of an El Paso barrio and transform the area into a business district.
In 2009, O’Rourke introduced and passed a resolution urging the federal government to support “an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition of narcotics,” an approach that O’Rourke said “may, in the end, be the right course of action.”
O’Rourke and his mother are the co-owners of Peppertree Square, a lucrative West El Paso shopping center whose anchor tenant, Charlotte’s Furniture Store, has been in the O’Rourke family since 1951. In 2010 the store came under IRS scrutiny for feloniously making more than $1 million worth of cash deposits in installments of just under $10,000 apiece, so as to avoid financial reporting requirements. Melissa O’Rourke eventually agreed to a guilty plea on behalf of Charlotte’s, which was fined $250,000 for its fiscal malfeasance.
From 2013-18, Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, represented Texas’s 16th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. During that period, his wife ran SSTG’s daily operations.
In 2013, O’Rourke told Reason magazine that the United States, in order to facilitate trade with Mexico, should “open up the border” between El Paso and Juarez. When asked if such a proposal might spark political resistance, given the fact that Juarez was one of the world’s most dangerous cities, O’Rourke said: “I think you have to start breaking down the reasons Juarez devolved into the terror that it has over the last five years…. You have to look at the source. It’s consumption and demand for drugs in the U.S., and the prohibition policies we have that create such a premium for these drugs, and the interdiction policies that we have … We have to stop pointing the finger at Juarez. We’re part of the problem.”
In aseparate interview with the Texas Observer during his first term in Congress, O’Rourke said: “We really don’t have a [border] crisis. You look at total apprehensions [of illegal border-crossers] this year, last year, the year before, the year before that, we’re at an all-time historical low…. It’s not a law enforcement problem. Cities like El Paso are safer than any other city in the country. The U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border is safer than the average American city.” In the same interview, O’Rourke said that “the very long history of U.S. involvement in Central America to the detriment of the people who live there” was a major reason why so many Central Americans were migrating northward. Asserting that the United States had long “ignore[d]” and “neglected” Central America,” he explained: “[T]he consequence is that there are now literally tens of thousands of kids literally knocking on our door, saying ‘Hey, what about us?’ And we’ve got to do something about it.”
In a February 2019 interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, O’Rourke was asked whether he would eliminate the existing border wall dividing El Paso from Mexico if he could. The congressman replied without hesitation: “Absolutely, I’d take the wall down,” adding that the barrier had “not in any demonstrable way made us safer.” Moreover, said O’Rourke, the existing wall “has pushed migrants and asylum seekers and refugees to the most inhospitable, the most hostile stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border ensuring their suffering and death…. We have walled off their opportunity to legally petition for asylum, to cross in urban centers, like El Paso — to be with family, to work jobs, to do what any human being should have a right to be able to do.” But in fact — since the people cited by O’Rourke were deliberately attempting to cross the border at illegal points, rather than at legal ports of entry where they could have applied for asylum — they were not, by any definition of the term, “asylum seekers.”
At an April 2019 town hall meeting in Iowa, one attendee said to O’Rourke: “I know you are for tearing down existing wall … and you’re basically for open borders. Have you ever met any Angel Moms here in Iowa? There’s a woman by the name of Michelle Root, about a hundred miles east of here. And her daughter Sarah was killed by a drunk illegal alien right after she graduated from college … what would you tell her about your immigration stance?” O’Rourke replied:
“First I would tell her … that I am deeply sorry for your loss. And I would also share with you that I think I understand the spirit of your question, but the premise is incorrect. I’m not for open borders. I do think there are places where physical barriers along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border makes sense…. We will be demonstrably safer when we know who is in this country and right now there are millions, there are millions in those shadows that we know nothing about today. Give them the chance to get right with the law. Come into the light of day. Contribute even more to the success of this country. If they have committed crimes, deport them back to their countries of origin. But if they are contributing to the success of our country, they’re raising U.S.-citizen children, let’s offer them a future here in the United States of America.”
In 2018, O’Rourke ran for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and lost by 2.6 percentage points. All told, O’Rourke’s campaign raised a record $80 million in contributions, of which more than $25 million derived from the fundraising platform ActBlue. O’Rourke also received enormous support from wealthy celebrities such as Lebron James, Beyonce Knowles, Eva Longoria, Jim Carrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Chelsea Handler.
At an August 2018 town hall meeting during his Senate campaign, O’Rourke defended the many National Football League players who had been kneeling during pre-game national anthems as a gesture of protest against allegedly widespread police brutality aimed at African Americans. Said O’Rourke: “Non-violently, peacefully,… they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it. I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, anytime, anywhere, or any place.”
During a November 2018 interview with the Washington Post‘s Jenna Johnson, O’Rourke was asked whether America was capable of “implementing sweeping change” in the current era of political divisiveness and animosity between Republicans and Democrats. In his reply, O’Rourke voiced doubt as to whether the U.S. Constitution was still a relevant and worthy document: “I’m hesitant to answer it because I really feel like it deserves its due, and I don’t want to give you a — actually, just selfishly, I don’t want a sound bite of it reported, but, yeah, I think that’s the question of the moment: Does this still work? Can an empire like ours with military presence in over 170 countries around the globe, with trading relationships … and security agreements in every continent, can it still be managed by the same principles that were set down 230-plus years ago?”
On March 21, 2019, a reporter asked asked O’Rourke if he agreed with Andrew Gillum‘s assertion that he (O’Rourke), as a white man, enjoyed a set of privileges that other presidential candidates did not. He replied:
“Yes…. As a white man in this country, there are a set of circumstances that are different than they are for women, than they are for people of color. We won’t become the country that we’re supposed to be. We want to fill our promise and tell opportunity is shared equally regardless of differences of gender, of race, of country of national origin, of, you know, how long your family’s been here, or whether your family just got here yesterday. That’s — that’s the promise of — of America.”
In September 2019, O’Rourke reacted vocally after The New York Times printed an article about a newly published book about Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s 2018 Supreme Court nominee. The Times piece – written by the book’s authors, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly – noted that the book – titled The Education of Brett Kavanaugh – discussed allegations in which a woman named Deborah Ramirez, who had been a Yale University classmate of Kavanaugh more than 30 years earlier, claimed that a drunken Kavanaugh had once exposed his penis to her during a campus party. The article further reported that another “former classmate,” Max Stier, claimed to have personally witnessed the incident in question. But the article never mentioned Stier’s deep ties to the Democratic Party – most notably, he had worked for President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, while Kavanaugh was a member of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s investigative team which looked into Clinton’s misconduct in office. Nor did the article mention that Ramirez had refused to be interviewed about the alleged incident; that all three of the friends whom she had identified as witnesses steadfastly maintained that it never occurred; and that all three friends had stated that not even Ramirez herself could recall the incident. Despite the paucity of evidence against Kavanaugh, O’Rourke said: “We know he lied under oath. He should be impeached.”
In an October 2019 interview with the Washington Post, O’Rourke compared President Trump’s rhetoric vis-a-vis Muslims to that of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, saying, “Outside of the Third Reich give me another example of a western leader who has called one people of one faith inherently defective or dangerous and disqualified of being successful in that country.”
In a March 2, 2021 appearance on MSNBC, O’Rourke characterized the Republican Party as a “cult of death” after Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the COVID-19 mask mandate. Said O’Rourke: “They literally want to sacrifice the lives of our fellow Texans, for I don’t know, for political gain? To satisfy certain powerful interests within the state? This isn’t hyperbole.” “I think to many of us it appeared to be a cult of personality, the Republican Party in the era of Trump, and it probably still holds true,” he added. “It’s hard to escape the conclusion that it’s also a cult of death.”
On November 15, 2021, O’Rourke announced that he planned to run for Texas governor in 2022 against the incumbent Republican, Greg Abbott.
In early February 2022, O’Rourke spoke out in favor of Critical Race Theory (CRT), saying: “We should know the full story of Texas and the full story of the United States of America. Not only our founding ideals and principles, but the way that those ideals and principles were often violated by the people who wrote them or the fact that so much of the wealth and opportunity in this state was actually created by people who had no choice in the deal whatsoever…. If we don’t, then we’re trafficking in myths and things that just are not true.” But as the anti-American, anti-white tenets of CRT gained more exposure and grew increasingly unpopular with the American public, O’Rourke subsequently tried to distance himself from CRT. When an attendee at a March 11, 2022 town hall in Victoria, Texas asked O’Rourke if he was in favor of CRT being taught in K-12 schools, he replied: “No, I don’t think it should be taught in our schools.”
During a May 21, 2022 campaign event, O’Rourke expressed his belief that no one should be able “to purchase an AR-15 or AK-47,” and added: “I don’t think that the people who have them right now in civilian use should be able to keep them.”
On May 25, 2022 — the day after an 18-year-old gunman named Salvador Rolando Ramos had shot and killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas — O’Rourke, a longtime advocate of enhanced gun-control measures, approached the stage during Governor Greg Abbott’s press conference about the mass shooting and shouted at Abbott:
O’Rourke’s outburst had been entirely planned and choreographed prior to the press conference. For the 15-to-20 minutes during which people were gathering to attend the event, two individuals, serving as placeholders for O’Rourke, occupied seats in the audience. Then, at the very last moment moment before the press conference got underway, the pair stood up and left the venue while O’Rourke entered the room and sat in the seat that one of the two men had just vacated — thereby joining the proceedings without having had his presence noticed in advance.
While O’Rourke was delivering his message to Abbott, the mayor of Uvalde, who was on stage with Abbott, told O’Rourke: “Sir, you are out of line. Please leave this auditorium. I can’t believe. You’re a sick son of a bitch, you would come to a deal like this to make a political issue.” The same man also told law-enforcement officers: “Please get his ass outta here.” O’Rourke was then escorted from the scene by police.
O’Rourke’s Voting Record
For an overview of O’Rourke’s voting record on a number of key issues during the course of his legislative career, click here.
As of 2015, O’Rourke’s personal net worth was approximately $9 million.
Further Reading: “Beto O’Rourke’s Biography” (Votesmart.org); “Meet the Irish-American Going by a Mexican Nickname Challenging Ted Cruz” (Washington Free Beacon, 3-31-2017); “Meet New Congressman Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat With Some Libertarian Ideas About Drug Policy and Immigration,” Reason, 1-9-2013).