By Stephanie Salas-Vega
Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke faced off in the first debate of the 2018 Texas Senate race. The candidates clashed on immigration, the national anthem kneeling controversy, gun laws and current events.
The 60-minute debate took place at Southern Methodist University Sept. 21 and was the first of three the candidates are participating in. The two used the platform to accuse one another of being out of step with Texas and its values, causing the audience to react with cheers and applauses.
O’Rourke called for rewriting immigration laws in our own image and to grant citizenship to “Dreamers,” so they may contribute to their full potential in the success of themselves, their families and the country. “Senator Cruz has promised to deport each and every single ‘Dreamer,’” he said. “That cannot be the way that Texas leads on this issue.”
Cruz said Texas needs to do everything possible to secure the border, including building a wall along the U.S-Mexico border and making sure immigrants follow the immigration process like his father did in 1957. He said granting citizenship to immigrants is a mistake.
“[O’Rourke’s] focus seems to be on fighting for illegal immigrants and forgetting that millions of Americans are dreamers also, and granting U.S. citizenship to 12 million people who are here illegally is a serious mistake,” he said. “I think Congressman O’Rourke is out of step with Texas on that.”
“I’ll tell you about being out of step with Texas,” O’Rourke said. Cruz’s legislation to build a wall would cost $30 billion and would not be built along the international border, but in someone’s farm, ranch or property, he said.
The candidates argued when Cruz was asked about Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who shot Botham Jean in his own apartment after mistaking it for her own. Cruz said O’Rourke called for firing Guyger after the shooting, which he thinks is a mistake and should be left to the criminal justice system to resolve.
“Congressman O’Rourke, when faced with an issue about police and law enforcement, he sides against police,” Cruz said. “When it comes to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he has said he is opened to abolishing that law enforcement agency.” He then said O’Rourke previously described police officers as part of a modern-day Jim Crow era, which he believed was offensive.
O’Rourke said that statement was untrue, adding that Jean’s death was another example of an unarmed black man killed by law enforcement. Republicans and Democrats should work with law enforcement for criminal justice reform, he said.
Cruz quoted O’Rourke saying black children are being killed by white police officers and that The Washington Post fact-checked O’Rourke’s claim as untrue. He also said police officers risk their lives to protect all, including African-Americans and Hispanics. Turning people against the police is irresponsible, he said.
“This is why people don’t like Washington D.C.,” O’Rourke said. “You just said something that I did not say and attributed it to me. This is your trick in the trade, to confuse and to insight based on fear and not to speak the truth. This is a very serious issue and it wants the truth and the facts.”
“Too many unarmed African-American men [are] losing their lives in this country to peacefully protest [injustice] nonviolently and to call attention to that,” O’Rourke said in the debate. “To trick the conscious of this country so that those in position of public trust and power will finally do something standing up not just for your rights, but everyone’s rights in this country. There’s nothing more American than that.”
Cruz said people who refuse to stand for the national anthem and take a knee are disrespecting the millions of military personnel who have fought and died to protect the flag. He also said everyone has a right to protest and speak up, but they should do it in a way that does not disrespect the flag or the national anthem.
Candidates were asked about Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court nominee, who faces sexual misconduct allegations. Cruz said the accuser deserves to be heard and treated with respect. He then took a turn to talk about the Second Amendment comparing O’Rourke to Hillary Clinton, claiming they both want judges who would overturn the Second Amendment.
“You may not understand how the Senate works, but it’s your job in the Senate to decide if you’re going to support or not support,” O’Rourke said.
The candidate’s views on the Second Amendment caused another confrontation. Cruz said survivors of the Santa Fe High School shooting told him they wanted more armed police officers on campus over more gun control. O’Rourke said students and teachers he has met want universal background checks and do not think bringing weapons into classrooms will make them feel safer.
“Thoughts and prayers, Senator Cruz, are just not gonna cut it anymore,” O’Rourke said. “The people of Texas, the children of Texas deserve action.”
Cruz said, “I’m sorry that you don’t like thoughts and prayer. I will pray for anyone in harm’s way, but I will also do something about it.”