The Democratic candidate running for Senate in Texas continues to sound like he's stumping in San Francisco and Portland, rather than in Dallas and Austin. That's where Beto O'Rourke tackled the school-to-prison pipeline and once again called for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. He said the status quo stifles young people.
Speaking at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, Rep. O'Rourke addressed the issue head-on. "A school-to-prison pipeline has produced the largest prison population on the face of the planet," he told the crowd at a rally that hoped to drive up youth turnout in November.
The Dallas Morning News reported that he addressed the early start of the pipeline, which activists argue can begin as early as kindergarten when minority students are more harshly punished than their white peers. The ACLU argues this can later result in regular suspensions and being expelled — or sent to the juvenile justice system — limiting later reentry to mainstream education and the opportunities that come along with it. Many of these students ultimately end up in prison.
O'Rourke noted that young people are "doing time right now for nonviolent drug charges, including possession of marijuana — a substance that is legal in 29 states in this country today." Only nine states have legalized marijuana for recreational use; other states allow it when prescribed by a doctor.
In recent weeks, O'Rourke has been attacked by the incumbent Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz, in an ad that suggests O'Rourke supports legalizing all drugs. The narrator claims O'Rourke "said we should consider legalizing all narcotics, including heroin." O'Rourke's views — as laid out on his website — are to "end the federal prohibition on marijuana," and he's holding firm on that.
Tuesday's rally was not the first time he's addressed these issues on the campaign trail. One of his stops, at the Harris County jail last week, even informed some of his views on issues he pushes on the trail such as bail reform, improved mental health care, and an end to private prisons.
At the jail, O'Rourke learned that incarceration at the facility costs taxpayers $87 a day per inmate. The costs go up if psychiatric medication has to be covered.
"That life not led, those children not raised, that job not worked, that potential not realized — all of that connected to the fact that today we have the largest prison population in the world, a prison population that is disproportionately comprised of people of color," O'Rourke said after the visit. "One-third of that prison population there for nonviolent drug crimes."
On Monday, he published an op-ed in The Houston Chronicle that explain how he has had his own run-ins with the law, including an arrest for drunk driving, but that none of his misdeeds have precluded success later in life. — he was elected to Congress, first in 2012. But others have not been so lucky.
He blamed bail, mandatory minimum sentences, and more. "Giving low-level offenders a second chance no matter the color of their skin or the economic status they hold can create opportunity for all of us. It will help build a future that is more just, more fair, and more prosperous for every single person in this state and this country. It is time for Texas to lead the way," he wrote in the piece.
On Tuesday he connected this issue specifically to young people. To win in November, he'll need their support.