Beto O'Rourke speaks at Kerps Tavern in Carroll Thursday.
Beto O'Rourke speaks at Kerps Tavern in Carroll Thursday.

April 5, 2019

Onica Ulveling of Carroll stumped a stumping White House aspirant. If but for a moment.

The 41-year-old pharmacist, a mother of two, asked Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke — who frames his candidacy as something of an urgent generational answer to questions he expects to get in 30 years from his own children about what the nation did at its 2019-2020 crossroads — how he parents during the administration of President Donald Trump, a leader Ulveling said showcases bullying and character flaws.

“It’s a really good question,” O’Rourke said after pausing to consider it Thursday morning.

O’Rourke, 46, a former Texas congressman who vaulted to national prominence with a near-miss U.S. Senate challenge last year of Ted Cruz, the conservative lawmaker who won the 2016 Iowa Republican caucuses, said he and his wife, Amy, work to exhibit the sort of decency O’Rourke says escapes Trump in their own public service and business endeavors.

What’s more, for example, they have taken their daughter, Molly, to work with refugees seeking asylum, O’Rourke told a crowd of about 60 people, including a large contingent of national and local media, at Kerps Tavern.

“It’s important for Molly to understand that there are people who are really struggling,” O’Rourke said.

To reinforce Ulveling’s point, O’Rourke recalled going to a grade school in Texas and being struck with a question from a third-grade Mexican-American girl who asked him: “Why doesn’t the president like me?”

O’Rourke drew comparisons between what he described as the dehumanizing language of the Trump administration and the propaganda machine of Nazi Germany and wondered what effect Trump has on the third-grader.

“When the president of the United States has called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, he then went on to call asylum seekers animals and an infestation,” O’Rourke said. “Now we would not be surprised if in the Third Reich, other human beings were described as an infestation, as a cockroach, or as a pest that you would want to kill. But to do that in 2017 or ’18 in the United States of America, it doesn’t make sense.”

O’Rourke, known for climbing atop tables or even the higher flats of bars to speak with audiences, delivered remarks from the floor of the modern party room at Kerps. He then posed for dozens of photos with voters and chatted with Democrats evaluating his place in the largest and most diverse Democratic field in the history of the first-in-the-nation presidential testing contest.

Pat Hartley, a Carroll grandmother and retired salesperson who has been active in local philanthropic causes, talked for five minutes with O’Rourke. Hartley, a registered independent, said she found him remarkably approachable for someone with high profile. She used the term “approachable” several times in an interview after the Carroll event to describe O’Rourke.

“Just knowing these candidates are typically on tight schedules as the campaigns move from town to town, just for him to take that time,” Hartley said. “He was not rushed out the door. He listened to my concerns like he had all the time in the world.”

Hartley said she asked O’Rourke about the balance between the right to bear arms and safety in schools. It’s important to her, she said, because Hartley has not only has five grandchildren but also several family members involved in education.

O’Rourke said creating safer schools will require changes in leadership in Washington, Hartley said of the conversation.

Like O’Rourke, Hartley sees the 2020 election in terms of the future questions from today’s young people.

O’Rourke hit that theme heavily in his Carroll speech.

This is going to be a moment of truth about what our kids and grandkids read about,” O’Rourke said, adding that he thinks the nation is as polarized as it’s been since 1860 as the Civil War brewed.

Read more in Tuesday's Carroll Times Herald.