By Katie Burrell and Exsar Arguello
Immigration reform and climate change were two of the topics U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke addressed during a packed town hall event at Texas State University Sunday.
The event was the latest stop in O’Rourke’s campaign against incumbent Texas congressman Ted Cruz; recent polls show Cruz and O’Rourke are within a few points of each other.
The event was organized by Texas State student Rhett Pharr, vice president of Interruptions, a student group organized around anti-racism beliefs and education efforts. Pharr, with the help of other students, student organizations and advisers from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, reached out to O’Rourke’s campaign in July to organize the event.
Pharr said O’Rourke confirmed his attendance in late August.
“Beto O’Rourke has gone to every county in Texas and spoken to so many different types of people,” Pharr said. “We haven’t had any pushback against the event … I think he’s a pretty non-partisan candidate.”
During the town hall, O’Rourke addressed several issues that impact Hays County including immigration, social security and climate change. During a brief discussion with San Marcos Mayor John Thomaides, O’Rourke talked about the health of the San Marcos river, and the area’s struggle with flooding. The pair agreed to discuss the issues further at a later date.
“For the first time in the history of social security, the incoming receipts do not weigh the outcome,” O’Rourke said. “By 2036, we will not be able to pay 100 percent of the obligation of every working American who has paid into that program.”
O’Rourke said he intends to raise the salary threshold for social security taxes paid by workers and the matching tax paid by employers. In 2018, workers pay 6.2% of their salary, matched by employers, up to $128,700.
Discussion also centered on low voter turnout and the struggles to get people to the polls.
Historically, Hays County voter turnout in off-year elections is low. The Hays Free Press reported less than 10 percent of registered voters cast a ballot at the polls during the May 5 election.
Despite county and university-wide efforts to register citizens to vote, elections have failed to bring high numbers of voter turnout. However, Keely Freund, a political science student at Texas State, said she believed more people are starting to become more active in politics following the 2016 Presidential election.
“I think more people are involved with politics and looking to get involved with politics after seeing how impactful their vote can be,” said Freund. “Because of what happened in the Presidential election, more people are beginning to look into who actually represents them.”
Other Hays County organizations attended the event to measure their own political thoughts with O’Rourke’s. Molly Pursey, deputy regional chapter leader for Moms Demand Action, brought members of her organization to decide if they wanted to approve O’Rourke as a gun reform candidate for their website.
“Beto is one of many candidates across the country who is a gun-sense candidate,” Pursey said. “That means his values for reducing gun violence align with ours.”
Pursey said she hopes to see gun control impact Central Texas and will consider that ideal when voting.
The last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 9. Those interested in registering can do so online at votetexas.gov/register-to-vote.