On this episode of Dare to Lead
I think y’all know that I’m a fifth-generation Texan, and I have another Texan with me today: Beto O’Rourke. He is running for governor of Texas, and early voting starts next week on October 24, with Election Day coming up on November 8. But beyond the timeliness of voting, I wanted to connect on the timeliness of brave leadership—because we really need courageous, real, authentic, empathic leaders right now. So I wanted to have him on the podcast to learn a little bit more about his approach, his vision, and what he wants for us in our state. And, you know, if you’re not in Texas, there’s a saying, “As Texas goes, so goes the nation.” I think you’ll find this interesting. Whether you agree or disagree with Beto’s position on things, I think he’s a strong leader with a different approach—and I love the authenticity. I think you’ll find his story and his vision for politics and life in general compelling. We need to be talking to more and more leaders about what their vision is, what their concerns are, who they are as people. You know, we always say on Dare to Lead, who you are is how you lead, and I think we got a really good picture of that in this conversation.
Listen to the episode
“Dehumanizing Always Starts With Language,” by Brené Brown
Texas ranks 41st in the nation for youth mental health and 44th in the nation for overall mental health. But the state subsequently ranks 51st, below all other states and Washington, D.C., for access to mental health care. (Source: Mental Health America, 2022)
Texas is one of the lowest-ranked states in the nation for the well-being of children. In 2022, Texas ranked 45th overall, 36th in economic well-being, 48th in health, and 47th in family and community. (Source: The 2022 Kids Count Data Profile, the Annie E. Casey Foundation)
Over 400,000 uninsured Texas children are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP. (Source: Every Texan)
In 2019, Texas ranked dead last in health insurance coverage for women between the ages of 19 and 64. (Source: The Kaiser Family Foundation)
Foster care instability by state (source: United Health Foundation)
The state of childhood obesity (source: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” —Edmund Burke
Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown and this is Dare to Lead. As you know, I’m a Texan, fifth-generation, as a matter of fact, and I have another Texan with me today, Beto O’Rourke. He is running for governor of Texas and early voting starts next week, October 24th with voting day coming up on November 8th. But beyond the timeliness of voting, I wanted to connect on the timeliness of brave leadership which we really, really need, courageous, real, authentic, empathic, power with, and, to, rather than power over leadership in the state. I wanted to have him on Dare to Lead to learn a little bit more about his approach and what he wants for us and our state and the vision. And if you’re not in Texas, there’s a saying, “As Texas goes so goes the nation.” I think you’ll find this interesting. I think you’ll find his story and his vision for politics and life in general, compelling. I’m super glad you’re here. Welcome to Dare to Lead.
BB: Before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. Beto O’Rourke is a fourth-generation Texan, born and raised in El Paso where he has served as a small-business owner, a city council representative, and a member of Congress. As governor, Beto is really invested in uniting people around the popular things that Texans want to accomplish together including creating great jobs, investing in world-class schools, fighting for reproductive freedom, expanding healthcare, so more people can see a doctor and lowering costs, so families can afford to live in the state. He is also focused on working with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents on popular common sense gun safety measures that will keep kids safe including raising the minimum age to purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21, enacting red flag laws and implementing universal background checks. These do not sound like extremist things to me, do they sound like extremist things to you?
Barrett Guillen: They do not.
BB: That was Barrett weighing in. Beto founded, Powered by People, a Texas-based organization that works to expand democracy and produce democratic victories through voter registration and direct voter engagement. I’m excited to have him on. He is married to Amy O’Rourke. They’re raising their kids; Ulysses, Molly, and Henry. You’ll hear more about Henry. Henry had a lot of questions about Beto’s music choices. And they’re living in El Paso’s historic Sunset Heights.
BB: All right, let’s jump in. Welcome to Dare to Lead, so excited to have you on the podcast.
Beto O’Rourke: It’s a huge honor to be with you and I’m excited to have this conversation with you. I’ve read your book. I lived in Washington DC and one of my roommates when I was in Congress, one of my roommates had your book and I forget the title, it’s about being in the wilderness…
BB: Oh, Braving the Wilderness, yeah.
BO: Braving the Wilderness I had not heard of you before. It was in the living room, I picked it up one day and I just found myself engrossed and have been a fan since then. And I’m very honored that you’d invite me to be on your podcast and it’s good to see you kind of in person through this screen right now. So, thanks for doing this.
BO: Can I just tell you? Cynthia from my team last night texted me, she said, “What are your five favorite songs?” And I was like, “What kind of… What do you… Or what are you asking for? What do you need this for?” And she said, “Oh, this is for the Brené Brown podcast.” And I agonized over it, until I just realized I shouldn’t be agonizing over it and I just kind of five songs that came to mind. So, I will tell you that caused me so much more stress than I was expecting. [laughter] But for whatever it’s worth.
BB: Yeah, yeah. Anything I could do to add to your stress right now.
BO: Yeah. [chuckle]
BB: Yeah, this is great.
BO: It was surprisingly stressful.
BB: I know it’s so stressful. And when we ask musicians, they break down, they cry, they say they can’t do it. It’s like crazy. I’m a big music person, so I know that you are too, so I knew it was impossible.
BO: Yeah, it was. I asked my 11-year-old… I have three kids and I love music and the first two like it but this kid is just… It is his life and he’s consumed by it; he’s playing all the time and I… His name is Henry and I sat down with him last night and I said, “Henry, you’ve got to help me out with this.” And he was giving me really good feedback, he’s like, “Why don’t you pick that song? What does that mean to you? But why don’t you have this band or… ” Anyhow, it was great, and it ended up fostering this conversation with him, it was really wonderful about why we like the songs that we like, so… Anyhow, thank you for that. That was the non-stressful part about it, the really sweet part about it.
BB: The convo with Henry…
BB: About music.
BB: Yeah, it’s good. Music’s a big connector with me and my kids too. I want to start with a question that’s really important to us, tell us your story. Where are you from? What are you about? What was growing up like?
BO: So, I’m beaming in from my living room here in El Paso where I grew up. I was born and raised here, both of my parents from El Paso as well. My dad, small businessman, a politician. He was an El Paso County judge and county commissioner before that. My mom worked in the furniture store that her mother, Charlotte, had founded in 1950 which was kind of exceptional in 1950, that a woman would start a business at all and one that would become so successful here. Our city is connected with Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. It’s the largest binational community, I think anywhere, but certainly in this hemisphere. So, growing up, you’re growing up in Spanish, you’re growing up in English, you’re growing up in Juárez, you’re growing up in El Paso and you’re in this beautiful part of the world. It’s in the Chihuahuan Desert, in the Franklin Mountains, our base elevation is 4000 feet.
BO: But Brené, it is physically, and I would say politically and maybe even culturally isolated and disconnected from so much of the rest of the world. In El Paso, we’re much closer to the state capitals of Chihuahua or New Mexico or Arizona, I think even Colorado than we are to our own. I was really into music, still am, growing up and I was just a devoted fan of punk rock and I subscribe to Maximum Rocknroll. And they would publish the tour schedules of the bands that I listened to and followed, and I’d see that they’d play in Tucson on Thursday and then play in Austin on Saturday. And I knew they had to be passing through El Paso but they… [laughter]
BO: They never stopped and did a show here. And so, I grew up with, in an embarrassment of riches in this extraordinary place with these wonderful parents and family and yet, I could not wait to get out because I wanted to be at the center of where everything was happening and for me, in my 17-year-old brain, that was New York City. And I ended up being lucky enough to go to college there and lived and worked there for a while. And then ultimately, realized I’m not a New Yorker and this is not my future, this won’t be my fate. And I made this decision in my mid-20s to move back to Texas and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made and came back to El Paso and ultimately, met my wife, Amy on a blind date where I took her to the Kentucky Club in Ciudad Juárez and we just hit it off, got married within months and raising our family here in this house and getting to serve my community and just be in a place that I love. So in other words, I lucked out all the way through life and it all started right here in El Paso.
BB: You really… When I hear you talk, I read things that you’ve written or said in an interview, you really have a love affair with not just El Paso but Texas in general. I’m a fifth-generation Texan raising sixth-generation Texans, you have some deep feelings for our state.
BO: There’s no other place on the planet like it. And I don’t pretend to be the most well-traveled person, but in my visits to other states, to other countries, there’s just something really kind of exceptional and extraordinary about those of us who live here. There’s a real kindness to begin with that is striking to me. I was… Recently, as part of this campaign, I was up in Bonham, Texas which is not the most liberal or progressive part of the state, it’s in a rural county in North Texas. And there were folks who were out there protesting my visit, including I later learned the chairwoman of the Republican Party there. And I… Brené, I had this moment where I was like, “Do I acknowledge these protesters? Do I even look their way? Do I ignore them? Do I just go into the event?” And I stopped the truck, and I rolled down the window and said, “Hey, good morning,” and all the protesters said, “Good morning.” And I parked the truck and I walked over to shake hands, and everyone was so nice and they joked, they said, “This is just our way of saying welcome to Bonham.” [chuckle] And the Republican Party chairwoman, I said, “I’m so surprised at how nice you all are being.” And she said, “Hey, Beto, we’re Texans. This is how we treat one another.” And you see this in the natural disasters that we’ve survived. Hurricane Harvey, where you are in Southeast Texas…
BO: And people didn’t stop to ask, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat? What’s your citizenship status? Who do you pray to? How do you love?” They’re just like, “Can I help you out?” And they did. It happened during the winter storm last year, it happens all the time. Texans really do try to do right by and for one another and I think that’s really our spirit. And the current extremism that I see in this state and people who feel attacked based on their identity of being a woman or being gay or being transgender or whatever it might be, I really don’t think that’s who we are at our core. And I really see this campaign as an opportunity for us to come through and not as Democrats to be sure, but to come through as Texans who want to get back to doing big things and doing them together. And so yes, this state is… It’s unlike any other place I’ve been and El Paso, which as you know, is the only city in Texas that’s in the Mountain Time Zone. It’s got its own unique character and culture, it’s unlike any other part of Texas, so it’s very much part of my identity and who I am.
BB: I live next door to someone that just flies this big ass UTEP Miner ball flag. And every time I see it, I’m like, “Boy, the El Paso love runs deep.”
BO: It really does. People will be at our events, our Triple-A baseball team is the Chihuahuas. They’ll be wearing Chihuahuas caps or UTEP Miners caps, it’s like dogs sniffing each other. We always ask one another, “What high school did you go to?” [laughter] And there’s Bowie, there’s Jefferson, there’s El Paso High, where I spent a couple of years and all these other great schools. But it tells you something about where they grew up and what part of town, they lived in. No, El Paso is really, really, really special.
BB: How about a walk into a hard question with you that I really… I’m not asking theoretically, I don’t understand. So again, fifth-generation Texan, I grew up in a hunting family. When I was 14, I got a Shaun Cassidy album and battery-operated socks, so I would not… And quote to my dad, “Piss and moan in the deer blinds so much when the weather was cold.” But I grew up in a Texas that’s much like the Texas you describe. I never would use the word, hateful, and I would just never use the word, hateful or cruel, to describe us. Now, we are rowdy and contentious, and we’ve got a lot of race stuff that we need to figure out and a lot of gender stuff we need to figure out. I cannot reconcile for the life of me, how I think of myself and how I think of anyone from: Barbara Jordan to Molly Ivins, Ann Richards, Beyoncé, Lizzo, I just can’t reconcile what my family has talked about and known for six generations now and what’s happening in the government and the state. I feel so unseen by the leadership right now, I just… The hatefulness is shocking to me. What’s happening?
BO: I really don’t think that’s who we are. And I want to assure people, maybe even within Texas but certainly outside of Texas, that that’s not who we’ve become. It’s not as though we were one way and something transformative has made us into these hateful, scared people who are afraid of one another, which is so much of what I think is driving the conversations, fear of people who are not like you, who pray differently or come from different countries or love differently than the way that you love, that’s just not who we are. I think it really is a reflection of the fact that those in power today enjoy that power through a very different form of democracy than the one you and I grew up in. One person one vote. Which was really won by and made possible by people from Texas, including Lyndon Baines Johnson who signs into law the Voting Rights Act in 1965, creating the first true multiracial democracy in American history. And that was improved upon by someone you just mentioned, Barbara Jordan. She was the first African American woman elected as a member of Congress from a state of the former confederacy. And in 1975, she says, “Look, there are others who were not really considered in that first Voting Rights Act including language minorities, including Mexican Americans who have a hard time voting or reading the ballot or being represented in office,” and she re-authors that bill to expand it. So, you’ve seen some of the harshest attacks…
BO: On democracy in Texas but you’ve seen these champions who’ve overcome them. But today, 10 years after the Shelby decision and years more since Citizens United, you really kind of have a warped democracy that has produced a situation where it is now harder to vote in the state of Texas than any other state in the union, harder to get registered and get your name on the roles than anywhere else in America. And the targets of those voter suppression and voter intimidation tactics, as they always have been, tend to be African Americans, communities of color, young people, the very old and increasingly those with disabilities in the state of Texas. And you never want to ascribe motive without knowing for sure, but I think this is an effort to retain or even increase power by those who were in office. And nothing by the way that is a monopoly of the Republican Party. When Democrats were in power in the state of Texas, they did exactly the same thing. I think this is really kind of a human condition more than it is anything else.
BO: But my very long answer to your question Brené ends with this, the extreme abortion ban that begins at conception with no exception for rape or incest, that exacerbates a maternal mortality crisis in Texas that’s three times as bad for black women, these attacks on the LGBTQ community, the fact that we lead the nation in school shootings, it’s not a reflection of the majority of us in Texas, it’s really a reflection of those who are able to participate in our elections. In 2020, nearly 7 million eligible Texans didn’t cast a ballot, it was arguably the most important presidential election of our lifetimes. But those seven million didn’t vote because they’re lazy or because they lack love for this democracy, I’m arguing they were literally drawn out of the ability to participate. We draw them back in and in part, this campaign is an effort to do that. Our volunteers on those doors, bringing people in. That majority shows up and you begin to get government that is more in tune or in sync with the people it purports to serve and represent. And I really do think that’s what’s going to come through November 8th of 2022.
BB: God willing and the creek don’t rise. Yeah, I’m with you.
BO: That’s right, that’s right.
BB: I want to ask you this. You were very quick to point out, you beat me to it, that it wasn’t just Republicans, the Democrats in power in the past have also leveraged this kind of different, I don’t even want to call it a warped democracy because I think at some point, it just bankrupts the term democracy. I want to talk to you about… I have this theory and this fear and I wrote about it in 2015 and 2016, and actually in somewhat in, Braving the Wilderness, that we’re kind of witnessing this white male power over making a really desperate last stand. Not white male, but white male power over. I’m talking about a specific brand of power which is power over, instead of power with, and power to. And the thing about power over, as I’ve studied it, is you have to flex every now and then to maintain it. And the flexes are increasingly violent and cruel, you have to go after transgendered kids, you have to… The complete abortion ban, you have to flex every now and then to show that what you’re willing to do to maintain that power. What are you going to do differently? I’ve watched and studied your campaign and pretty vigorously because I wouldn’t have you on if I had not. But you seem to be a power with and power to person, versus a power over person. How are you going to build coalitions to lead the state that look and feel like the state?
BO: I love the framework that you just described. One of my favorite stories about this is LBJ in the Oval Office having just completed his work on the Civil Rights Act, monumental legislation, literally nearly a century in the making and he was the one to see it through. And in his office are Dr. King and Andrew Young, who plead with him to continue the work with the Voting Rights Act. And Johnson is alleged to have told them, “Look, I would love to. You’re absolutely right that we should, but we just did this, and I think I’ve exhausted or burned all the political capital I had. I just don’t have the power to get this done.” And upon leaving the Oval Office, King is said to have said to Andrew Young, “We got to go get this president some power.” And over the coming months, people across this country and most importantly in states like ours of the former confederacy gave that president the power and it really culminated in a 24-year-old John Lewis crossing that Edmund Pettus Bridge with so many others willing to risk and really give their lives for this democracy. And upon the completion of that march or that attempt, within eight days, LBJ has convened a joint session of Congress and gives one of the best speeches by an American president for my money…
BO: And he puts Lewis in line with those who fought at Concord and Lexington, at Appomattox in 1865. And he says, “So it was at those points. It is today, in 1965, in America, thanks to those in Selma,” and that to me is one of the best descriptions of power in a democracy, it is of and from the people, and I remind those who just want to complain about those who are in power, and maybe I’m guilty of that sometimes as well. That we blame that person in that one office who did these things to us, and I’ll say, “Look, if this really is government of, by, and for the people, and the government is the people and the people are the government, at some point, this becomes all of us,” and on an issue like school shootings, for example. Yes, Abbott hasn’t done a single thing to make it any less likely that any other child is murdered in their classroom, but all of us have a choice and a decision to make at the ballot box this November, and whatever we ultimately decide is going to be on us not just that person in power, and so power comes from the people, and as long as we remember that, I think we’re going to be okay.
BO: And the reminder for me when I’ve been in office as a member of Congress, for example, is holding these town hall meetings every month, open to the public, no holds barred. Anyone can come. And anyone did come, [chuckle] and they’re there to ask questions, to raise really good ideas, to light me up in front of everybody and say, “Hey, Beto I can not believe you voted for this thing, that is the dumbest thing in the world,” and I’d have to defend myself and I would go into those meetings with this healthy dose of fear and my God, I was going to face those who put me into this position in the first place, and account for myself in this position that I’m holding in trust for the community I serve, it’s not mine, it doesn’t belong the party, this is ours as a community, and I had better be making the most of it, or I better get out the door, so…
BO: That’s the way that I see power, and I think you’re right about so much of the cruelty today, it is about power over others. Is it about life and heartbeats? I don’t for a second question those in the pro-life movement on deeply held very personal beliefs, but this extreme total ban really does seem to be about control and power. Abbott sending out a mailer in 2019, warning of an invasion and saying, “Texans, we must defend ourselves and take matters into our own hands,” that rhetoric drove a white nationalist from Allen, Texas, 650 miles to my hometown armed with an AK-47 to open fire on those that he said were going to replace him as a white man in this state. He said, he wrote in a manifesto he published minutes before walking into that Walmart, he had come to repel the invasion of Hispanics that were taking over this state. Now, that doesn’t feel like or remind me of anything that I grew up with in this state, but it is very much of this moment being stoked by those who are in these positions of power today.
BB: Yeah, and I think one of the things that… I’m a social worker, social worker, Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD in social work, and one of the things that we study is the art and craft of dehumanization and the choice of language, and that all violence through recorded history has started with dehumanization. All dehumanization starts with language, and when you use words like infestation, and you use these words, and you’re able to see people not like people, anything is possible. And it’s not like a 45-mile circuitous walk from rhetoric to death in a Walmart. This is a short step, this is… you know, I want to talk about guns for a minute, I was talking to Laura Mayes, who is the producer behind, she creates the podcast with me and we were talking before you got on, and she’s like… And we’re both… I think we’re both fifth-generation Texans, we always say that we were raised in twin deer blinds, [chuckle] but she said, “He’s like old Texas, isn’t he” and I was like, “He is like old Texas. Which is weird because they’re trying to make him out to be like a foreign Texas,” but I was raised in a family where…
BB: I was raised hunting, shooting skeet and trap. My dad is from a family of eight, they hunted to live. But what was so weird is you couldn’t shoot a gun in our family that you couldn’t take apart, clean, and put back together. When people would talk about automatic weapons, my dad would always say, “Well, if you’re into that, you should serve, otherwise don’t have that shit around here.” Something has happened where people don’t understand that… I understand and respect hunting culture, I grew up in it, and I’m absolutely the biggest supporter of gun reform that you will ever meet, and so what is it about this inability for both things to be true right now? Do you understand what I’m asking?
BO: Totally, and I love that you’re just pointing out that these are not mutually exclusive things. In fact, I think the kicker is that no state better than Texas could lead on this issue. Your experience growing up, my experience growing up in Texas, my great uncle Raymond O’Rourke, was the jail captain at the El Paso County Jail. He was a deputy in the sheriff’s department here, he won the marksman’s award. And I actually still have that award mounted on my office, because it was literally his pride and kind of the pride of our family, he insisted to my dad that he’d teach me and my two sisters how to shoot and the responsibility of owning a firearm, and that was deeply ingrained and something that my wife, Amy, who grew up on a ranch and grew up shooting and who with me, taught our kids how to use these guns on this ranch has imparted to them, that we can both defend the Second Amendment and also enjoy this extraordinary heritage that we have as Texans of responsible gun ownership for hunting or target practice or collection. Really, it’s nobody’s business but yours, right? And still do a better job of protecting the lives of our kids in classrooms or just people everywhere in the state, because as much as we know, and should know, about Uvalde and Santa Fe High School and Sutherland Springs and Midland, Odessa and El Paso, we also know that people and all too often young people are dying one, two, three at a time, every single day in this state, and it is so common that it doesn’t break through and it doesn’t shock us anymore, their names just don’t make the paper, we don’t see their faces on TV. It is a tacit acceptance of the price of living or dying in the state of Texas, and it does not have to be that at all, and these Vietnam era veterans who… I used to buy into the greatest generation idea, and certainly, the World War II generation are just phenomenal, extraordinary, but I think about this Vietnam era, who went to a war that this country never, ever understood or fully supported, came back, never to thank you’s or ticker tape parades, I mean, indifference at best, and hatred at worst, and just…
BB: And cruelty at worst.
BO: Yeah, and really kind of left to their own devices, it took this country 40 years to recognize that generation’s exposure to Agent Orange as the presumptive condition for cancers that were killing them, and so many of them were armed with essentially the predecessor to the AR-15 that we have today, it was designed, engineered, developed, sold to the United States military to kill an enemy soldier in Vietnam at 500 yards and penetrate a steel helmet and take that soldier.
BO: Down dead. So many of them have come up to me, and these are… including folks who might not vote for me, or who have said, “I won’t vote for you.” And they’ve said… There is, kind of like your dad would tell you, there’s absolutely no reason for anyone to have one of these. And they may even say, “Look, I’ve got them in my house, and for me, it’s of sentimental value, or I just cherish my right to have it.” But from a practical matter, you don’t need it to hunt, you don’t need it for self-defense, it’s fun to shoot, and I’ve shot, AR-15s and AK-47s, and I can attest to the fact that they are fun to shoot. But when you meet the mother of a child whose remains in Uvalde could only be identified by the shoes that she was wearing, when you talk to people here in El Paso who lost a loved one whose internal organs were just liquefied by that high impact, high velocity round, it is really hard to come to any other conclusion. But here’s the silver lining in this discussion that I’ve had with people around Texas. We may not agree on everything when it comes to this, but there are some points of consensus. Raising the age to purchase an AR-15, from 18 to 21, most people can get behind that.
BB: Yes. Yes.
BO: A red flag Law that allows you to intervene…
BO: If someone has that firearm and they say, “You know what, I’m going to go into the school and shoot people up.” The Uvalde shooter was called the school shooter by his friends before he ever walked into Robb Elementary. There was no law on the books that allowed law enforcement to intervene before it was too late. A universal background check, it just says, “Look, wherever you buy that firearm, all we ask is that we’re able to do a little due diligence to make sure that you won’t use that gun against yourself or against someone in your life.” Texas women are 24% more likely than the national average to become victims of gun violence from a domestic partner. There are people who have records who should never, ever be in possession of a firearm, because chances are they’re going to use it against a loved one in that home. And again, I can’t find the gun owner, the Republican, the Democrat, the anybody who will take the other side of that argument. We just need to get this stuff done, and I think we’ve been beholden to fear that this is a third rail issue, you just can’t do this in Texas, but I love the way that you’ve put it. Responsible gun ownership and defending the Second Amendment are not mutually exclusive. We can, we should, and I think we will get both of them done.
BB: Yeah, and I think if there’s anything that Texans agree with, that it’s with great rights, come great responsibilities, and rights without responsibility is class A Texas chicken shit-ness. [laughter] I don’t get it. Where are all the folks who raised me right now, saying like they did when I was growing up over Domino’s and a Pearl beer, “What the hell?” [chuckle] “This makes sense, just get it done.”
BO: The word you just used, I think enters the Texas lexicon next to dumb-fuckery and numbnuttedness. [laughter] It is now going to be one of my favorites. You will hear that out on the campaign trail.
BB: Good, that’s good. Because if the chicken shit fits, you’ve got to use it.
BB: Okay, this is… I’m going to take a hard right to a topic I can barely talk about. I’m scared for the girls and women of Texas right now. If this is not a power over flex, I don’t know what is. Beto, you would not… you would believe, but you know, I was filming something on the campus of the University of Texas for HBOMax, and I remember the production company saying, “We’re not sure we’re going to be able to film in Texas. People don’t want to come. People are scared.” I’ve got a friend whose daughter was at Match Day, first-generation college student, got her way through college, went through medical school, pulled a match for an OBGYN residency here. I really don’t understand.
BO: I was driving into Houston from San Antonio, I was going to go to the Houston Chronicle editorial board meeting, and I stopped to use the bathroom at a gas station in Fort Bend County, and I’m walking out the door and this woman’s walking in, she’s got a baseball cap on, no hair, no eye brows, and she sees me and she just starts crying, and I come over and we hug and I said, “Who are you? What’s going on? Why are you crying?” And she said, “I am a cancer patient at MD Anderson right now, I have breast cancer and I’m undergoing chemotherapy, and I can’t stay here because if I become pregnant and I want to make a decision about that pregnancy or I need to make a decision about that pregnancy, that is now illegal in the state of Texas. I will not be able to continue my cancer treatment right here.” And she used the word, you just used, she said, “I am so scared and I’m crying with you right now, Beto, because I don’t know what to do.” And I said, “We’ve got to win this race. And you have to do everything that you possibly can. I will do everything that I possibly can, and I just know I just had this feeling… ” She introduced herself as a Samantha. “Samantha, I just have this feeling that we’re going to be able to overcome this.” and I…
BO: My read of history gives me cause for hope because 50 years ago, abortion is just as illegal in the state of Texas as it is today, and it was Texas women, and at that young Texas women, Jane Roe and her two attorneys; Sarah Weddington from Abilene and Linda Coffee, who actually still lives in Dallas. Those three young Texas women prevailed upon an all-male United States Supreme Court and won protection for the right to privacy to make very personal, often very painful decisions, without government intrusion or intervention. And you and I started the conversation talking about Texas values and that value of freedom and independence and the right to decide your future and your fate. I just cannot think of anything more Texas, and the fact that it was won by three Texas women, 50 years ago, it just tells me not only can we overcome this, we’ve overcome this before against much longer odds, and we are going to do it.
BO: But you’re absolutely right, we can in no way ignore how terrifying and terrorizing this is to women in a state that leads much of the developed world in the rate of maternal mortality, and that it is three times as deadly for Black women in this state, because when you foreclose an opportunity to seek an abortion in Texas, you’re also essentially turning women away from cervical cancer screenings, family planning providers or just the ability to see a doctor of any kind in what is today, the least insured state in America, and it is really scary. But I think it will have maybe the opposite than intended effect from those who introduced and signed this bill into law. It is absolutely galvanizing the people of Texas, and again, folks who may consider themselves Independents or Republicans or who never, ever, ever thought about voting before, but are not going to miss this election for all the money in the world, because literally, their lives are riding on the outcome. So as dark as these days are, I really do think it’s going to bring out the very best in us, and I see it in people like Samantha, who though terrified, are committing themselves to doing what it’s going to take in order to win this.
BB: Yeah, I’m hopeful. I think… I’m hopeful and I think it is galvanizing, and I think… hard conversations, even within my family, where we have different politics and different beliefs, this has been a place where we’ve come together and just said, “Not us, not the girls, not our daughters, no way, we’re not doing this.” And so, I am hopeful. Let me… I pulled these stats and then double-checked them for everyone listening, we’ll put all the source material on the episode page. We rank 41st in the nation for youth mental health, and 44th in the nation for overall ranking of mental health. We are one of the lowest ranked states in the nation for the well-being of children, 400,000, uninsured Texas kids are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, but not enrolled. And in 2019, Texas ranked dead last in health insurance coverage for women between the ages of 19 and 64. I don’t need you to address these specifically, but what I would like to do before we go to the rapid fire, which I’m so curious about your answers, but before we go to the rapid fire, I want to know when you think about your wife and kids, when you think about the people you love, what is your vision for Texas? What do you want this place to be for us?
BO: I’ve been so fortunate in that I’ve traveled the entirety of the state, I’ve been to every county and been to most every county many times. And you and I were talking at the outset of this conversation, what is so exceptional and extraordinary about Texas, and the fact that we come from the planet over some people, their families came here 10,000 years ago, others brought here in bondage and forced to build the success and the wealth of the state. My family came here because to stay in Ireland meant to die there from a famine that killed more than a million. And out of all of these people from all of these places, you just have extraordinary genius and creativity and exciting lives that are being led and contributions that are being made for ourselves and those immediately in our lives, but also enjoyed by everyone else. And so, my vision is that everyone be able to flourish to the best of their potential, to be able to fulfill their promise and to be able to do it, not just be able to do it here, to want to do it here, for this to be the destination for talent and enterprise, and those who want to do big, bold, exciting things.
BO: I think that is so much of our history for hundreds of years, maybe millennia, going back to indigenous people who first came and settled, the place that we call Texas today. And I think by and large, it is still true. But without going into the details of facts that you just elevated, when you’re not healthy enough, or well enough to finish your education, or go to work or raise your family, or even keep your kids in your home, and they’re turned over to Child Protective Services, which is also one of the worst run foster care programs in America today. When you age out of that program as a child, more damaged than when you went in, not only are you not doing well for yourself, you’re not able to reveal that talent and genius to the benefit of all of us.
BO: And so sometimes, things like raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to something more livable, like $15, or expanding Medicaid so that the largest provider of mental health care services in Texas is no longer the county jail system, it can sound academic or it can sound political or theoretical, but when I meet these people across the state of Texas who have so much potential and want to do so many exciting things for all of us, I just want to make sure that they can. And I’ve got to tell you, I believe that’s what motivated LBJ to sign Medicaid into law in 1965. We invented the program right here in the state of Texas, and we’re now one of the last holdouts, who won’t expand it and bring $10 billion back to connect more people with that care.
BO: We lead the nation in the number of kiddos who die of diabetes, a totally preventable death, right? The most vulnerable among us, all they need is insulin, which was invented 102 years ago, costs nothing to produce. And but for some political will and leadership, those kids would be with us right now. So I just want to see us come through, and I just want us to rise to our full promise in this state. And again, I am wired for optimism, I just know that we will. I know that it is tough right now, I know sometimes that outcome or result is not obvious. It’s not always obvious to me. I just know that we will. We’re too good, as a people, to end up anywhere else. So it is tough right now, but we’re made of bigger and stronger things than what you see today.
BB: I love that. And this is a global audience that listens, and so I know a lot of people have funny stereotypes about Texans, but I can tell you as a Houstonian… I love Houston. My kids went to an elementary school, 51 countries of origin, first-generation. In HISD, Houston Independent School District.
BO: I love that, I love that.
BB: And here… the way I think about Texas is, we don’t build walls, we build really long tables. And if you’re willing to work hard and be kind, there’s a place for you here.
BO: I love that. That’s great.
BB: And so, your vision fits with my vision, which is good. I think I might vote for you.
BO: Yes! [chuckle]
BB: All right, you’re ready for the rapid fire?
BO: No, but I’m going to do it.
BB: Yeah. Yes, you are. I’m ready for you.
BO: Okay. All right.
BB: Fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is…
BO: Admitting when you need help.
BB: Mmm, absolutely. Okay, you’re called, you, Beto, are called to be brave, but your fear is real. You can feel it in your throat. What’s the very first thing you do?
BO: Move. Being in motion for me is always the answer to overcoming a temptation, to despair, or to shrink back, or to stop, or to quit, just being in motion. Not knowing whether being in motion will work, by the way.
BB: Yeah, but I like it. It’s got a little bit of, “Let’s go” in it.
BB: All right, last TV show you binged and loved.
BO: I am, with my wife Amy, binging the latest version of Game of Thrones. I think it’s called House of Dragons.
BB: Oh yeah, good.
BO: It’s good.
BB: Favorite movie?
BB: That’s Gene Hackman, right?
BO: I don’t think he’s in it…
BO: It is…
BB: What am I thinking?
BO: You’re thinking of The French Connection…
BB: Oh yeah, I’m thinking of The French Connection.
BB: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BB: Who’s Chinatown?
BO: It’s Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.
BB: Oh Okay. Oh my God, that’s intense. That’s a hard movie.
BO: Yes, it is a really, really, really… John Huston is in it as the creepy… I don’t want to give away the ending for anyone that hasn’t watched it.
BB: Yeah, no, but that’s a hard movie.
BO: Yes. That’s a tough one, but so well made.
BB: A concert you’ll never forget?
BO: My 11-year-old Henry and I, who bond over music, went to see Iron Maiden in El Paso last month. [laughter] And we don’t get enough time together at all. No dad ever does with his son. And I think what we’re doing now, traveling over the state of Texas makes it even harder. But we took this night out to go see Iron Maiden. And I liked them okay growing up. He’s into metal a little bit more than I ever was. But we went and these guys absolutely rocked. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
BB: So fun. All right, favorite meal.
BO: I make a flank steak out on the grill that is kind of my signature move. And we make it when we’re going to have an important family meal, or we’re going to have my mom over or Amy’s parents, or we have an important guest in town. And it’s… Brené, it’s really, really good. So, my flank steak is my signature meal.
BB: That’s your move. All right. A piece of leadership advice that is so good you need to share it with us, or so shitty, you need to warn us. [chuckle]
BO: I’m going to blank on the guy’s name. He’s an Irish statesman who… and students of history are going to kill me for this, for not knowing. But essentially, I’m paraphrasing. He says, “Look, you owe your constituents your attention, your maximum service, but more than anything else, you owe them your conscience and your leadership and doing the right thing, regardless of whether or not it is popular.” And it is an easy thing to say, although I really probably screwed up the paraphrase there, but it is a tough thing to do when you’re in that moment of truth and you know what’s popular, but you also know what’s right, and sometimes those two are not the same thing…
BB: God bless. So hard.
BO: But I think that’s leadership.
BB: That’s leadership. Yeah, it just really comes down to that, right. Doing the right thing regardless. All right, we asked you for five songs that you can’t live without. You had basically a breakdown trying to figure it out. [chuckle]
BO: I did.
BB: Henry walked you through it.
BO: That’s right.
BB: Henry walked you through, challenged you, held your hand through it. You came up with these: “Clampdown” by The Clash, “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince and the Revolution. “Whiskey River” by Willie Nelson, “Shelter from the Storm” by Bob Dylan, and “Baba O’Riley,” ugh, so good, by Pete Townshend. In one sentence… And because you’re a politician, I’ll give you the warning, I don’t want any dashes or hyphens or long ass sentences.
BO: Oh, no.
BB: In one short declarative sentence, what does this mixtape say about Beto O’Rourke?
BO: Life is really hard, but we’re going to make it through, and we’re going to do it together.
BB: God, that’s beautiful!
BO: Was that too cheesy?
BB: No, it was so good. I was afraid you were going to take a cheesy turn and you were going to say like, “Life is hard, but we’re still going to rock,” or something, but you really, [laughter] pulled it out. I love it.
BB: You can run it by Henry. He’ll give you a good grade. He’ll tell you the truth. I think it’s good. What’s one thing you’re deeply grateful for right now in your life?
BO: Oh, my mom. And I’ll tell you, just over the last few months, she got a terrible diagnosis of a cancer that she didn’t know that she had. And she is the picture of health and strength for me in my life. And it’s not been the easiest of lives for her, but she’s just amazing. And it was such a shock to all of us, and certainly to her, that she had cancer, that the cancer has spread in her body. But we are so damn lucky that she has extraordinary care at MD Anderson, that she is so strong and that she’s meeting this with a fierceness and an intensity and also an acceptance that I think has been really, really important, to how she has done over the last few months. And then my sister… I’ve got two sisters: Erin and Charlotte. Charlotte is a nurse. And Charlotte’s employer has been incredibly gracious and kind and given her time to accompany my mom and help her to navigate the healthcare system and these diagnoses and the treatments that are involved and… But as much as I love my mom and as much as I’ve always loved and cherished her, with this diagnosis and seeing her struggle and get so sick and become weak at times, it is just… If it’s possible, made me even admire her more and be even more grateful for her and time that we have together.
BO: And I’ll tell you this, to land on a positive note, she’s just completed her third round of chemotherapy, and they’ve measured the different tumors in her body and they’re responding well and they’re shrinking. And the deep nausea and dehydration and things that sent her to the ER in the midst of this treatment, we seem to be figuring out. And I just did a town hall or a rally in El Paso two nights ago, and she… first time she’s been well enough to come out to one of our events. And it just made me so happy to see her there, that I almost started crying when I saw her. And we hugged. And there’s a… The El Paso Times‘ photographer got a picture of it. And man, she’s just the best and she’s going to make it through. She’s going to do great. And it’s not going to be easy. She’s going to make it through. But I just love her so much. And literally, obviously, I would not be here but for her, but I also would not be here but for her love for me and all of my faults and flaws and fuck ups along the way, as a kid and as a young man.
BO: I mean, she just unconditionally loved me. And I was at a church actually in Houston, not too long ago. And the preacher said something that may not sound profound to you, and you may have always known this or seen this or heard this before. It’s the first time I heard it. He said, “God cannot love you any more than he loves you at this moment.” In other words, there’s nothing you can do, or nothing you’ve done that is going to make God love you less. And there’s no level you can perform to that will earn you any more of his love. And it really made me think of my mom, who just… There’s nothing I could do, serve as a member of Congress, or get great grades in high school, or really screw up as I’ve done several times in my young life, and she just loved me the same. And it was just… That’s the foundation for me in my life. That is the strength from which I draw. And man, I just gave you too long of an answer, but I’m so…
BB: No way, it’s perfect.
BO: So grateful for her. She’s amazing. And I just have to tell you… [chuckle] I had dinner at her house last night, and I told her that I was going to be meeting you today. And she’s like, “When is the podcast going to come out? When can I listen to it?” She is so excited. She loves you, and at some point, I hope that I get a chance to introduce you to her. We may swing by one of your classes at the University of Houston or somehow try to come by and meet you.
BB: I’d love it.
BO: Because she’s a huge, huge fan of yours, as am I.
BB: What is her first name?
BB: I’m a pray by name person. Will send huge prayers to Melissa. And I just am so grateful, that was a vulnerable and brave answer. And I hope I see you here, and I can’t wait to meet… I’m excited to meet you, but I’m really excited to meet Melissa, so…
BO: That’s right. [chuckle] You’re going to love her, and she already loves you, so it’ll be a really good meeting.
BB: Thank you for your time today. Thank you for the campaign. Thanks for keeping it real. Yeah, I’m grateful.
BO: Thank you. I am so grateful as well. And I’ve got to tell you, I love meeting you. I love talking with you. I love the way that you framed the ideas that you’ve raised, and just having this conversation with you. And look forward to hopefully meeting you in person.
BB: That would be awesome. Bring Melissa.
BO: I will. I will. Adiós.
BB: Thank you. Adiós.
BB: Look, whether you agree with Beto’s position on things, whether you disagree, I think he’s a strong leader, and I think he has a different approach. And I love the authenticity. I happen to align with his approach and beliefs. We need to be talking to more and more leaders about what their vision is, what their concerns are, who they are as people. We always say in Dare to Lead, who you are is how you lead. And I think we got a really good picture of that. Don’t forget, if you are in Texas, that early voting starts October 24th, voting day, November 8th. I was going to say, “I don’t care who you vote for, but get out and vote.” You should get out and vote, but I actually do care who you vote for. [laughter] Barrett is looking at me. She’s laughing. All right, y’all, stay awkward, brave, and kind.
BB: The Dare to Lead podcast is a Spotify Original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden and Tristan McNeil, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and Kevin McAlpine. And the music is by The Suffers.
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