Speaking in a dimly lit room packed with veterans, service members and civilians, Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for Texas governor, rallied the veteran vote and spoke on issues such as veterans’ care, mental health and women’s rights at a town hall in Killeen on Monday.
Veterans were at the focus of O’Rourke’s message Monday as he continued his tour of VFW posts across the state. During the town hall, at VFW 9191 in Killeen, the former United States congressman spoke on three items that he said were key to veteran’s success.
O’Rourke previously served on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, a term which he described as “difficult” and not prone to hand outs.
Those items included reducing or abolishing homelessness among veterans, stopping or vastly reducing veteran suicides, and ensuring that veterans receive treatment for injuries suffered as a result of toxic burn pits.
To address the first issue, O’Rourke provided three solutions, several of which he said came from residents across the state.
The gubernatorial hopeful said that recipients of the 100% Disabled Veterans Property Tax Exemption receive “some relief” while also stating that rising property taxes have made it difficult for Texas veterans to maintain their property.
On veteran suicides, O’Rourke focused on the opioid epidemic and the decriminalization of marijuana, which he said is a necessary step in protecting Texas’s veterans. O’Rourke told a story of a veteran who had attended a previous town hall and that had publicly admitted to abusing heroin since he was cut off from his opioid prescription, using it as a launching point to discuss the issue of marijuana in what he said is the “last state” to still consider marijuana a criminal offense.
O’Rourke claimed that decriminalizing the drug would save the state approximately $500 million a year from incarceration costs, and would generate another $500 million in sales and regulation taxes.
First, O’Rourke said that, as governor, he would establish a veterans land bank. The land bank would be comprised of properties purchased by the state government and would be used to provide affordable housing for veterans. O’Rourke’s second and third solutions include “wraparound care” for veterans, as well as addressing veterans property tax exemptions, which he said don’t go far enough.
“In some neighborhoods, some houses are seeing an increase of 50%,” O’Rourke said.
Healthcare was a large part of O’Rourke’s pitch as he called for expanded healthcare for veterans. Specifically, O’Rourke called for the expansion of veterans care to “other-than-honorably” — OTH — discharged veterans. Additionally, O’Rourke stated that he intends to push for federal accountability and the provision of aid for veterans harmed by toxic burn pits. He pointed out that it took the federal government over 40 years to address injuries sustained by Vietnam veterans by way of Agent Orange.
Several Killeen and Bell County residents also spoke during the event, attended by more than 100 people.
Killeen City Councilman Riakos Adams asked if O’Rourke would help local governments receive funding lost as a result of the 100% Disabled Veteran’s Property Tax Exemption, while Councilman Ken Wilkerson asked if O’Rourke would support Killeen’s attempt to move the election to November. Both issues involve action from the Texas Legislature.
Responding to Adams, O’Rourke said he would work to make sure companies pay their share on property taxes.
Another resident asked O’Rourke’s stance on assault rifles, stating that he had campaigned on “taking away our guns” and had shifted to
“Let us not pretend that this is a mental health issue, or a video game issue,” he said.
James Everard, a former candidate for Killeen mayor, was present at the town hall, carrying an assault rifle and protesting against what he described as anti-Second Amendment rhetoric. Everard stayed off the VFW property, but several attendees could be heard expressing worry about the gun he was holding.
Other residents asked about women’s rights and how he would support residents that are targets of racist or otherwise hateful speech.
The event was also attended by Councilwoman Jessica Gonzalez and Louie Minor, the Democratic nominee for Bell County Commissioner. The Bell County Coalition of Black Democrats was also present, as was the Democratic nominee for State House seat 54, Jonathan Hildner.
a softer approach.
The candidate clarified his stance on assault rifles, saying that, despite his admiration of Texas’s “strong tradition of gun ownership,” he believed that “no one should have” an assault rifle. O’Rourke also said that practices such as a universal background check and safe storage laws may help to reduce the rate of injury.
O’Rourke also addressed the recent mass shooting in Buffalo, saying that it, as well as the Jan. 6 insurrection, are deliberate assaults on democracy. O’Rourke said that Texas’s recent changes to voter laws, as well as gerrymandering, have had a negative effect on democracy.
Gonzalez said the she attended the event because of her father.
“My father was a member of this post,” she said. “So anything to do with veterans is important to me.”