I missed Texas very deeply, for a long time. It’s a proud and distinctive place, gritty and charming in its mix of sprawling cities and rolling hills. I won’t sugarcoat anything — maybe that’s a marker of Texanhood — I spent my childhood in Austin primarily bored, hot and waiting to escape, painfully itching to grow up, fantasizing about Los Angeles and New York and all the places that would bear nothing in common with home. But I still remember driving back from a friend’s ranch outside the city in the early evening — a photographer friend tells me this is called the “Golden Hour” — shuttling along on a two-lane road, facing nothing but expanse. My mother looked up at a blood-orange sunset and said to me, “There won’t be skies like this anywhere else.” She was right. There aren’t.
I’ve met more Texans at USC than anywhere else I’ve been since I left. Countless friends from Dallas, a classmate from New Braunfels, a couple from Waco and Houston here and there. There’s a camaraderie in these meetings I can’t really describe, a sense that you both feel that same grief. It’s a peculiar feeling, to miss a place so wonderfully proud and idiosyncratic and yet with so many problems to fix. All this love and disappointment and nostalgia is summed up somehow in the same conversation — “Is it already hot back there?” “Yeah, it’s getting hot.”
Texas, by its very size and nature, is a place brimming with different walks of life — they sound different, act differently, need different things. To represent it is to forge a future that can include everybody, that plans on including everybody. That’s not something you can just achieve with the slightest hint of a twang and a firm handshake. Like the state itself, Texas’ best public servants — President Lyndon B. Johnson and former Gov. Ann Richards among them — have something about them, something more, an ability to encapsulate a greater unity and not just a mock-up of what a ‘Texan’ ought to look like. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the congressman from Waco and underdog candidate for Senate (chasing Sen. Ted Cruz), is one of them. Texans at USC, we’ve got to get behind Beto.
O’Rourke is looking toward the state as a whole, and his platform reflects it. The Texan public education system for years has fallen off in myriad ways and varies wildly depending on county, city and district. The state is a major economic powerhouse, and yet many Texans still don’t see any benefit from its boons; vast amounts of the state population still don’t have affordable health care. Immigration is nowhere as relevant a subject as in Texas. O’Rourke also recognizes, like other great Texan statesmen before him, that these issues intersect.
He’s put forward a comprehensive plan to boost job growth by expanding apprenticeship, skills training and certification, to take advantage of Texan manufacturing power and expand the industry to employ non-college educated citizens, extending economic growth to the rural stretches of the state. He has pledged to reform the Affordable Care Act and fight for fair and reliable drug costs, lessening the burden on state-supported emergency services and ensuring adequate health care and equitable access for all socioeconomic levels. He’ll fight to protect Medicaid guarantees for vulnerable Texans like children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. More importantly, his immigration plan recognizes the role that undocumented workers play in the Texan economy and the state’s culture as a whole; and his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is a far more reliable plan than the thinly veiled racism and ridiculous, nativist Build-the-Wall method that characterizes the Trump ‘plan.’ His education platform begins with the redirection of public tax dollars away from private schools and toward the public education system that supports nearly 5.5 million Texan kids.
My calculus is simple: Beto for Texas; Ted Cruz for himself. Of course, Beto’s race isn’t just about unseating Cruz; but we’d be remiss to ignore it. Texas and its people deserve real representation and leadership. A maverick in the Senate, a pariah even in the eyes of his own party, Cruz has time and time again doubled-down on his commitment to carving his own legacy in the annals of history, rather than giving voice to the millions of Texas who don’t have bumper stickers and web sites. With an illustrious career of landing on the wrong side of history, Cruz’s hard-liner quasi-Evangelical libertarianism more often results in honorific displays of ideology than practical legislation for Texans. It’s not hard to feel that Ted Cruz is the senator from Texas primarily because he doesn’t have another home state to choose from, and his string of failed presidential campaigns clearly demonstrate his desire to use the office as a stepping stone. Not a bad thing on its own — but blatantly self-serving with a track record as empty as Cruz’s. Many a time he’s slung himself into the national spotlight; but after nearly six years of filibusters and fanaticism, for everyone back home — what’s really changed?
By some supporters O’Rourke is described with the brightness and potential of a modern John F. Kennedy, and perhaps five or 10 years down the road we’ll see if that rings true. But right now, in this cycle, in your single voting booth in this present election, one thing is absolutely for certain: Texas made Beto O’Rourke; with our support, he’ll make good on that investment. I know it.
Lily Vaughan is a junior majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.