Rep. O’Rourke held a town hall meeting on Aug. 21 at Beaumant, Texas, Local 479’s hall.
Photo credit: Beto O’Rourke campaign Twitter account

The Texas senate race wasn’t supposed to be close at all, but with just weeks before Election Day, all eyes are on an airtight race in the Lone Star State.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke speaks to a crowd in Johnson City as he campaigns for the U.S. Senate.
Photo credit: Beto O’Rourke campaign Twitter account

“What’s happening in Texas right now is exciting to see,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Working people are fed up with always getting the short end of the stick and they’re ready for change.”

Much of the credit for the surprise contest has gone to Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke who has traveled to all 254 counties, a commendable feat in the country’s second-largest state. He’s also brought in millions of small dollar donations and amassed a significant following on social media.

First elected to congress in 2012, the El Paso native has a 94 percent lifetime rating from the AFL-CIO, compared to Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz’s lifetime record of seven percent.

O’Rourke’s record, according to the federation’s scorecard, includes:

  • Voting against budget cuts for the National Labor Relations Board.
  • Voting against repealing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s injury reporting rules, which were designed to help keep workers safe.
  • Voting against cutting funds for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
  • Voting against repealing prevailing wage laws, which guarantee union-level wages and benefits on government-funded construction projects.
  • Voting to prohibit the outsourcing of federal civilian jobs.
  • Voted to protect new NLRB rules to streamline union elections and reduce employer interference.
  • Voting against reversing an Obama-era rule that required companies bidding on federal contracts to disclose past violations of labor and employment laws.
  • Voted to protect the Affordable Care Act.

By contrast, Cruz’s record is full of anti-labor votes including:

  • Voting for a tax bill that gives more to the richest one percent and wealthy corporations at the expense of working people.
  • Voting to confirm anti-labor nominees William Emanuel and Marvin Kaplan to the NLRB.
  • Voting to weaken the Affordable Care Act.
  • Voting in favor of overturning an Obama-era rule to expand access to retirement savings plans.
  • Voting to overturn an Obama-era OSHA rule to keep complete records of serious work-related injuries for at least five years.
  • Voting to overturn an Obama-era rule to require companies bidding on federal contracts to disclose past violations of labor and employment laws.
  • Voting in favor of forced arbitration.

Cruz also voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. As the IBEW has reported, the former district court judge has a striking anti-worker record. O’Rourke said he would have voted “no.”

Meanwhile, O’Rourke has pledged to invest in training, certification, and registered apprenticeship programs; to increase federal spending on infrastructure in order to create new construction and manufacturing jobs; to promote rural broadband infrastructure policies that expand access; and to end partisan gerrymandering. He also supports protecting social security and Medicare.

IBEW members have been working to get out the vote for O’Rourke, who has the support of the state AFL-CIO and the building trades. O’Rourke doesn’t accept donations from political action committees, so locals have been encouraging members to make individual contributions, said Gary Buresh, the Seventh District’s political coordinator.

“A lot of our members have attended his events,” Buresh said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm out there for Beto.”

Texas State political coordinator Phyllis Goines echoed the sentiment, adding that a lot of members are saying health care is a major issue for them. That’s one that could favor O’Rourke, who wants to expand coverage. He describes health care as “a basic human right, not a privilege.”

“The biggest concern I hear is the medical,” said Goines, who is Arlington, Texas, Local 220’s business manager. “For our Democratic-voting members, they’re hoping Beto wins.”

Still, O’Rourke faces an uphill battle. Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in decades and Donald Trump won the state by nine points. The fourth-generation Texan is betting on getting new voters to the polls in addition to registered Democrats.

“The press keeps talking about how O’Rourke’s coattails are much longer than anyone expected, which could help in a lot of down-ballot races,” Buresh said.