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April 1, 2019 - Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke declared, "Democracy is what we need if this country is going to make it."
Beto O'Rourke—Transcript of Opening Remarks

How's everybody doing? Is Selena G. [phon.] out here, Austin EMS. I was sitting behind you on the Southwest flight to DC yesterday and you were pumped to be here, so good to see you. We the People, thank you for having us out. Kelly, thank you for the introduction. DJ thank you for the Clash. And each of you thank you for what you're doing for this country right now.

I am so grateful to be able to run to serve you as President of the United States of America and it's a huge honor to be able to take your questions here today. I was listening to the great Senator Amy Klobuchar in the green room right now. So respect her, grateful for her leadership, excited that she's in the race, love the questions that you all were asking her, and her responses to them. and it made me think about where we are right now as a country.

We've never had these kinds of challenges in the lifetimes of anyone in this auditorium, regardless of how young or how old you are.

This economy, this unprecedented concentration of wealth and power and privilege, we haven't seen since the last true progressive era that Senator Klobuchar referred to that produced Teddy Roosevelt, and some extraordinary progressive reforms.

A health care system where people are dying of diabetes and the flu and curable cancers in the year 2019 in the wealthiest, the most powerful country on the face of the planet.

And then you think about climate change. And at this point, there can be no shadow of a doubt that our own excesses and emissions and inaction politically and as a country and a democracy, where each of us comprise the government, have led to the warming that we've seen so far— one degree Celsius just since 1980. And along this current trajectory, the fires, the droughts, the floods, the devastation that we're witnessing right now will only become profoundly worse. And those who will bear the consequences disproportionately are the generations that follow ours. And so you've got to ask yourself, how in the world do we find ourselves in this position? And I direct you to Valencia from Florida, whose question I just listened to backstage. How does this first world country create second class citizens who face Third World conditions?

Let me take you to the state of Texas, where I just spent the last two years campaigning to serve that state and United States Senate, with the help of many who are here in this room. So thank you if you were part of that campaign. I think I hear Claude.

So a couple of things just to set the stage. Texas has been successful in shutting down nearly half of the family planning clinics in our state, exacerbating a maternal mortality crisis three times as deadly for women of color.

Texas ground zero for a school house to jail house pipeline that begins, not in high school, disproportionally for children of color, but at five years old in the kindergarten classroom where if you are a child of color, five times as likely to be disciplined or suspended or expelled as a white kid in the same classroom. In Texas nearly 50%, half of school teachers, educators are working a second or a third job, just to make ends meet. When you would agree with me that their most important job is that child in front of them who's lifelong love of learning, once unlocked, will make that kid and this country by extension, unstoppable.

Climate change, check out Houston, Texas. 58 inches of rain fell from the sky, the landfall record for as long as we've been keeping records in United States of America. The third 500 year flood in just five years. Some homes and some homeowners had not finished repairing and rebuilding from the last flood before this mother of all floods hit them.

We understand these challenges in Texas, and we also understand their connection to the question asked by Valencia, because we ranked fiftieth in the country in voter turnout, not because we like our democracy any less than anyone else from any other state.

But we were literally drawn that way. In 2017 the courts found that our state legislature had drawn people out of a congressional district, therefore a reason to vote, therefore their very democracy solely based on the color of their skin, their country of national origin, to predictable results.

Voter ID laws in our state, where you can use your license to carry a firearm to prove who you are at the ballot box, but you cannot use your student ID at Texas Southern University to prove who you are at the ballot box.

There is a connection between the policies that I just described, that have led to the harm and to the death that we have suffered and the inability for enough of our fellow Texans, and by extension, Americans to get to the ballot box to ensure that this democracy can reflect our genius, our experiences, the lessons that we've learned over the course of our lives.

And so if we are going to confront any of these challenges, whether it's challenges to the economy or a system of health care or public education or confronting climate change before it is too late, within the 10 years that we have left to us to act, then the single greatest mechanism that humankind has ever devised to call forth the power of the people—a democracy, must be fixed.

That's why as President, I will sign into law, a new Voting Rights Act, so every single citizen can vote and every single vote is counted.

We will end the practice of members of Congress choosing their own voters; no more gerrymandering in the United States, racial, political or otherwise.

We're going to get big money out of politics. no PACs, no corporations, and if we need a constitutional amendment to show that corporations are not people and money is not speech and corporations cannot spend unlimited amounts, then so be it.

And in every single state of this country, same day voter registration and automatic voter registration, so that we bring everyone into our democracy.

It is the only way, the only way that this country will be up to this moment, to this set of challenges, and so that we can tell our kids, so they can look back on us with pride instead of disappointment. And when we face this moment of all moments, we were up to the test and we brought this country together.

Anything of any success that I've been part of has involved bringing people together. As a member of Congress, six years in the minority, every major piece of legislation that we were part of came from a town hall meeting just like this.

Expanding mental health care for veterans, somebody stood up and had the idea.

American Families United Act, to make sure that those who are barred from reentering the United States for a technical violation of immigration law, a bill that we were able to introduce with a Republican colleague, came from a meeting, just like this.

The ability to turn around the VA in El Paso, the worst performing VA in the country, came from a town hall meeting like this.

And protecting public lands in El Paso, where we saved 7,000 acres from destruction or development through federal protection, signed into law by Donald Trump, although he may not have known it because he didn't read every single word in that bill, came from a meeting like this.

That's why as president I'll sign an executive order on the first day in office requiring every single cabinet secretary to hold a town hall meeting like this every single month to listen to you and to be accountable to you, so that we deliver for you.

Democracy is what we need if this country is going to make it.

So thank you for having me out here today looking forward to answering your questions and again grateful for the invitation to be here. Thank you.

Katie Mettle, a member of the Sierra Club who lives in Maryland: "...What process will you establish to ensure that your administration is staffed by senior officials who have the experience and the willingness to hold powerful people and corporations accountable?"

Kim Baker of Columbia, South Carolina. Kim spent 20 years as an elementary school teacher [Indivisible]
: "...Do you or do you not support getting rid of the Electoral College?  And, depending on your answer, how do you plan to address the distortion of our democracy and ensure that the will of the people is reflected in who serves our nation in the White House?"

Amber Pallante is the executive vice president of CWA Local 1014 and works for the City of Camden, New Jersey as a principal library assistant at the Camden County Library: "...If elected president, how will you reclaim the judicial system for the people and what will you do to fill the courts with judges from diverse backgrounds who support civil rights and are pro-democracy, pro-worker and pro-choice?"

Kim Baker.
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