Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke (born September 26, 1972) is an American politician and the U.S. Representative for Texas's 16th congressional district. He was elected in November 2012, having defeated incumbent Representative Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary earlier that year. The district includes most of El Paso County. Prior to his election to Congress, O'Rourke was on the El Paso City Council from June 2005 to June 2011. Being born and raised in El Paso, early in his life he was given the nickname of "Beto" (from Spanish "Roberto"). He is noted for his opposition to the War on Drugs. Donald Williams, Texas State Democratic Executive Committeeman has suggested O'Rourke has a bright future politically, perhaps even a Cabinet position. When asked by the Texas Tribune if he might run for the Senate in 2018 or 2020 O'Rourke said he is thinking of it.
Early life, education, and music career
O'Rourke is a fourth-generation Irish American and a native of El Paso. His father was an El Paso County Judge Pat O'Rourke. He attended Carlos Rivera and Mesita Elementary Schools and El Paso High School. In the early 1990s, Beto was a singer and guitarist in the band Foss. Foss included Cedric Bixler-Zavala (vocalist for At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta) on vocals and drums, Arlo Klahr on vocals and guitar, and Mike Stevens on vocals and guitar. They released a self-titled demo and a 7" record, "The El Paso Pussycats", on Western Breed Records in 1993. They released a subsequent album, "Fewel St." in 1994, also on Western. Foss toured the U.S. and Canada in the summer of 1993 and again, along with Bixler's concurrent band, Los Dregtones, in the summer of 1994. In 1995, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in English literature from Columbia University in New York City. He was arrested in 1995 on burglary charges, and in 1998 on drunken driving charges.
He speaks fluent Spanish.
Business career (1995-2005)
O'Rourke spent three years working at Internet start-ups in New York City before his return to El Paso in 1998.
El Paso City Council (2005-2011)
In mid-2005, O'Rourke ran for the El Paso City Council, and defeated two-term incumbent City Councilman Anthony Cobos, 57%-43%.
O'Rourke is one of the youngest representatives to have ever served on the City Council. In 2007, he won re-election to a second term defeating Trini Acevedo, 70%-30%.
In August 2005, a resolution was drafted by O'Rourke and fellow council member Steve Ortega, calling on city officials to discourage the anti-illegal immigrant Minutemen from patrolling the local stretch of the Texas-Mexico border and "reject civilian attempts to enforce immigration law." The Minutemen's spokesman Shannon McGauley said his group planned to go ahead with October operations in El Paso, despite the resolution.
In 2006 there was a failed attempt to recall O'Rourke over an El Paso Downtown Redevelopment plan. South Side activist Carmen Felix initiated a recall petition drive against him on May 3, 2006. Despite the threat of recall, O'Rourke continued to strongly advocate the use of eminent domain in conjunction with the plan to redevelop downtown El Paso. At the El Paso city council meeting held on July 9, 2006, still under threat of recall, he showed a distinct change in tone toward the El Paso Downtown Revitalization Plan. He responded to a question posed by fellow city councilman Lozano as to whether residents displaced by new construction "could come back to the area", responding in assurance that the city would make "every effort" to ensure displaced residents were allowed to remain in their same neighborhoods.
On September 5, 2006, the Land Grab Opponents of El Paso filed an ethics complaint with the City of El Paso, citing the business relationship between O'Rourke and the Paso del Norte Group, developers who had proposed a Downtown Revitalization Plan for El Paso. O'Rourke's own company, Stanton Street Technology Group, was providing Internet and Information Technology services to Paso del Norte. O'Rourke's father-in-law, William Sanders, was a leader in the Paso del Norte Group. The complaint said "O'Rourke is impermissibly entangled in the Paso del Norte Group's Downtown Revitalization Plan, through both family and business ties". The complaint raised objections to two votes by O'Rourke, one to extend Paso del Norte's contract with the city in 2005 and another to accept the group's redevelopment proposal in March. It alleged that O'Rourke's participation in these votes "violated his fiduciary duty to the citizens of El Paso". The city's Ethics Review Commission summarily dismissed this complaint on October 12, 2006. The Land Grab Opponents filed a second complaint that suggested that the CFO of Sanders' company, The Verde Group, prepared O'Rourke's income tax return in 2006. This complaint was dismissed on October 18, 2006.
An attorney for the Land Grab Opponents said his the ethics complaints were filed to make O'Rourke recuse himself from debating and voting on the Downtown plan. O'Rourke abstained from voting when the Council considered establishing a Downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone.
War on drugs
In January 2009, O'Rourke sponsored a resolution asking the federal government to rethink the War on Drugs and initiate an "open and honest debate" about ending the prohibition of illegal drugs. The resolution, which was unanimously supported by his colleagues on the El Paso City Council was vetoed by then-Mayor John Cook, and spurred a larger national discussion on the topic. He told reporters that the reason he decided to speak up about what he called the failed war on drugs was the thousands of people who have been killed in the drug war in the adjoining city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. "I hope it has all had its intended affect of starting the national discussion of the wisdom of the war on drugs … and probably more importantly, helping to bring about a better solution than the status quo, which has led to the terror and tragedy in Juarez."
U.S. House of Representatives
In 2012, Beto ran in the Democratic primary against eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes to represent Texas' 16th congressional district–the real contest in this heavily Democratic, majority-Latino district. O'Rourke took 50.5 percent of the vote, just a few hundred votes above the threshold required to avoid a runoff against Reyes. He was contrasted with former Congressman Reyes in his support for LGBT rights and drug liberalization. He defeated his Republican opponent, Barbara Carrasco, in the general election with 65 percent of the vote.
He won re-election in 2014 with 67% of the vote.
During the fall of 2014, O'Rourke donated at least $28,000 from his own campaign funds to fellow Democratic candidates for House seats.
In October 2015, he announced he was seeking re-election to a third term in 2016. He won the Democratic primary and defeated his Green and Libertarian opponents in the general election.
- Committee on Homeland Security
- Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security
- Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency
- Committee on Veterans' Affairs
- Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs
- Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Beto's first sponsored bill was introduced on April 8, 2013. The bill was H.R. 1265, which required the continuation of tuition assistance programs for members of the Armed Forces for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. This bill was not passed into law.
H.R. 2036 was introduced by O'Rourke on June 6 of the same year. H.R. 2036, also known as the Foster Children Opportunity Act, would require state plans for foster care and adoption assistance to have procedures to assist alien children in the child welfare system achieve special immigrant juvenile status and create a process for those children to become U.S. citizens by the time they exited foster care. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, and Nutrition, where it is awaiting a vote.
O'Rourke endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in June 2016. As a sitting member of Congress, O'Rourke was a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention.
On the evening of June 22, 2016, O'Rourke participated in the sit-in in the House of Representatives that attempted to force a vote on gun control legislation. When the Republicans ordered C-SPAN to turn off is normal coverage of the chamber, O'Rourke and Representative Scott Peters transmitted images by cell phone to social media for C-SPAN to broadcast.
O'Rourke married Amy Hoover Sanders, the daughter of William and Louann Sanders of El Paso, on September 24, 2005 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The couple has three children.