Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who will be running for Ted Cruz's Senate seat next year, has been doing everything he can to help people devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Cruz has been giving a lot of TV interviews.
As Texas struggles to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, local lawmakers have dropped everything to come and help. And few have done more than Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso.
O'Rourke, who is mounting a challenge against Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, originally scheduled a 34-day tour of the Lone Star State, holding a series of town halls and discussions. In the wake of the disastrous floods, however, he canceled the final two weeks of his tour and headed for the Gulf Coast to do what he can for victims.
The experience has been "the most amazing, encouraging, powerful thing," O'Rourke said in an exclusive interview with Shareblue Media.
O'Rourke traveled to the towns of Victoria, Port Lavaca, Rockport, and impoverished neighborhoods of Houston, where he met with first responders and helped deliver medical supplies. He saw "people up for days at a time," working to help.
Everywhere he went, he was moved by people who had lost everything, and were still lending a hand to their neighbors.
One man in Victoria, O'Rourke said, is "living in his restaurant because his home is no longer habitable." He and his family are still keeping the restaurant open for business while they shelter there, and are serving everyone in need, regardless of their ability to pay. A sign on the front door simply asks people to pay "what they can."
O'Rourke also described a woman, Danielle, whose trailer in Port Aransas, just outside Corpus Christi, was completely smashed. She, her husband, and their 22-month-old son Luke are now living in a hospital, where a nurse named Erin is providing the family with everything they need — not just medicine, but food, babysitting, and emotional support.
Then there are the firefighters O'Rourke met in Rockport. All of them lost their homes, but they are still working around the clock to rescue people from flooded areas. Among their number are a group of firefighters from Guanajuato, Mexico, who drove across the border to help and have been sleeping in their truck because there is no habitable shelter anywhere.
Their spirit, O'Rourke said, is "fucking amazing."
Asked what concerned citizens can do to help, O'Rourke cautioned that while it might be tempting to simply load up supplies and drive to the coast to donate them in person, people doing this are "creating a burden and a pressure on first responders." He advises anyone who wants to help to go to the Red Cross website and donate, or sign up to volunteer.
O'Rourke declined to directly criticize Cruz amid the recent controversy over his 2013 vote against disaster relief for New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Cruz — who has spent much of the week giving interviews on TV — has been lashing out at his critics, accusing them of politicizing a tragedy for calling out his lies.
O'Rourke disagrees with Cruz's claims that Sandy relief was loaded with funding for unrelated pet projects.
"That money was absolutely necessary," he said, and "every penny" went to causes related to disaster relief. Even funding for seemingly different things, like Head Start, ultimately benefited the disaster areas and helped people rebuild. "The political decision took too long," he said of Sandy relief.
And yet, he is determined to look forward rather than backward, and partisan battles are not on his mind. He says he will commit himself "to working with Democrat and Republican colleagues," including "both our U.S. senators," if it means relief for Texas.
Likewise, O'Rourke did not take shots at Donald Trump for how he has handled the crisis.
"I'm glad the president came out" to Texas, he said. "I'm hoping for the attention." If Trump's visit shines a light on communities that are suffering, he believes, that is the most important thing.
O'Rourke concluded by reiterating his admiration for all the people he has met on his travels. "If you're in need of inspiration, come to Texas," he said.
What O'Rourke has found in these ruined towns is the very best of humanity — people who have nothing but the clothes on their backs, doing what they can to help each other. In a dark and divided time for our country, O'Rourke found hope — and he wants to pay it forward.