National Politics

Beto O’Rourke talks climate change, immigration and more at Penn State stop

Beta O’Rourke talked immigration, the economy, climate change, the spread of opioids and more Tuesday morning as he stood in front of about 500 people who gathered in Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Center for a meet and greet with the Democratic presidential candidate.

The 46-year-old former U.S. congressman from El Paso, Texas, first led a “We are ... Penn State” chant before criticizing President Donald Trump’s border wall proposal. He told the crowd that his hometown is one of the safest and most diverse in the nation because of, not in spite of, the city’s immigrants.

“If you think about it, they chose us,” O’Rourke said while donning a white Penn State hat. “They left their comfort, their language, their home, their family — everything they knew — to become strangers in a strange land. They also came here because they were called to us by this experiment, this idea of America, and to contribute to our success.”

He also said the nation’s current economy works “too well for too few.” Teachers and educators, who are responsible for “unlocking that lifelong love of learning that is inherent in every single one of us,” must expect a living wage, O’Rourke said.

“You will not get political democracy until you have something approaching economic democracy in this country,” O’Rourke said. “It’s a drag on our entire economy. It’s not allowing America to realize its full potential.”

During the speech, which was just short of an hour, O’Rourke also said the most “existential challenge of them all” is climate change.

“If it warms another degree Celsius going forward, we are screwed,” O’Rourke said with a laugh. “And that is the term the scientists use.”

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Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, center, thanks students as he leaves an at the HUB-Robeson Center on the Penn State campus in State College, Pa., on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Gene J. Puskar AP

O’Rourke’s statements, he said, all hinge on the “greatest single mechanism that humankind has ever invented” — democracy.

“Our democracy right now is as broken as it has been in our lifetimes,” O’Rourke said. “It is captured. It is corrupted. It is being attacked from without. It is being attacked from within.”

To combat that, O’Rourke said, his campaign will not accept “a single dime” from political action committees. He said he plans, if elected, to end “racist” voter ID laws, invest in renewable energy and reverse Trump’s travel ban.

“All that matters now is that we are Americans, we are human beings and we (have) the opportunity to meet the greatest challenge of this country’s history,” O’Rourke said. “That’s why I’m running to represent you, to serve you (and) to work with you as the next president of the United States.”

Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins spoke with O’Rourke after the meet and greet about rural broadband access in central Pennsylvania. O’Rourke appeared to express shock when Higgins told him about 80 percent of the region is without adequate access.

O’Rourke’s stop — which started with Scholar’s Chip ice cream from the Penn State Berkey Creamery — was criticized in a press release from state Republican party Chairman Val DiGiorgio. He said O’Rourke’s values are “completely out of line” with Pennsylvania’s.

“Beto O’Rourke supports socialist proposals ... which are proposals that fly in the face of American values, would impose impossible tax burdens on average Pennsylvania households and insert government into the lives of individuals in a way never contemplated by the founders of our country,” DiGiorgio said.

Pennsylvania was one of six states — along with Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa — that flipped from Democratic to Republican during the 2016 presidential election. Those states represented 99 of Trump’s 306 electoral votes.

Since announcing his campaign on Thursday, O’Rourke has campaigned in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. He is among more than a dozen Democrats who’ve announced plans to seek their party’s presidential nomination in 2020. Trump, a Republican, has said he will seek reelection.

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.