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 …
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.
In May 1995, Beto 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, where he 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 a separate 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 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?”
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.”
On a variety of key political issues, O’Rourke:
- strongly favors the expansion of Obamacare as a step toward a government-run, single-payer healthcare system;
- favors government-enforced affirmative action policies designed to compensate nonwhites and women for the effects of past and present discrimination;
- favors the implementation of a pathway-to-citizenship for illegal aliens, in part because “Americans don’t want to do the millions of jobs that non-native-born residents are willing to do”;
- strongly opposes Voter ID laws as racist schemes that are designed to suppress minority voting;
- believes that the federal government should inject large amounts of funding – in the form of cash as well as federal job-creation programs – to help the U.S. economy recover from downturns that it may experience;
- believes that the nationalization of banks and corporations is more appropriate than government bailouts of those entities when they fail economically; and
- calls for a significant increase in the national hourly minimum wage requirement for all workers.
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); “Beto O’Rourke Arrested in 1990s for Burglary and DWI” (Politifact.com, 8-22-2018); “Beto O’Rourke’s Drunk Driving Accident Flies Under Radar at CNN Town Hall” (Daily Caller, 10-18-2018); “Beto O’Rourke Once Voted to Take Away Homes from Low Income Constituents — His Family Benefited” (Daily Caller, 10-29-2018); “Remember That One Time Beto O’Rourke Called for Legalizing All Narcotics” (Daily Caller, 5-1-2018); “Meet New Congressman Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat With Some Libertarian Ideas About Drug Policy and Immigration,” Reason, 1-9-2013); “Congressman Beto O’Rourke: There is No Border Crisis” (Texas Observer, 7-24-2014); “Rep. Beto O’Rourke Falls Short in Challenge to Unseat Ted Cruz from U.S. Senate Seat” (ABC13.com, 11-7-2018); “Beto O’Rourke Says “Nothing More American” Than to Stand up or Take a Knee for Your Rights” (CBS News, 8-24-2018); “Beto O’Rourke Asks: Are the ‘Principles’ of the U.S. Constitution Still Relevant?” (Washington Examiner, 1-15-2019); “Despite Everyman Image, Beto O’Rourke Twice As Wealthy As Ted Cruz” (Washington Times, 10-10-2018); “Beto O’Rourke: ‘I’d Take the Wall Down’” (AOL.com, 2-15-2019); “Beto Calls For Tearing Down Border Walls, Ends Up Helping Make Conservative Case For The Wall” (Daily Wire, 2-15-2019).