Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the high-profile El Paso Democrat who ran for Senate in 2018 and president in 2020, drew a crowd of around 200 listeners Monday night at North Lakes Park as part of a tour to raise awareness of voting rights across Texas.

After opening remarks by state Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, and volunteer Jen Spugnardi, O’Rourke took center stage. After thanking Spugnardi for her contributions and Beckley and the Texas House Democrats for their walkout over the controversial Senate Bill 7, O’Rourke tackled a variety of topics, such as nationwide voter suppression.

“This democracy of ours, that people so willingly laid their lives to defend and extend, is threatened now,” O’Rourke said, “unlike any other time in the history of this country.”

During the event, he was heckled by a group of about two dozen pro-Trump counterprotesters, who blared horns and rode a convoy of about a dozen vehicles around the park’s parking lots.

“These fine jackasses over here?” O’Rourke motioned to them to the laughter of the audience. “Six months ago, people like them took Trump flags and the Confederate battle flag and they invaded the United States Capitol, the citadel of our democracy.”

O’Rourke’s tour, called “For the People: The Texas Drive for Democracy,” comes in the wake of multiple pieces of legislation affecting voting around the country. Texas SB 7 is one such bill, which would restrict voting by mail, limit early-voting hours and affect other processes.

In an earlier interview at the Denton County Elections Administration building, O’Rourke further dished his views on voting rights. What brought him to Denton was a conversation with the community regarding “democracy, voting rights and [the people’s] ability to fairly participate in elections,” he said.

“You have a very restrictive voting bill which is being debated, and will likely be brought up in a special session,” O’Rourke said. “You have similar bills which have either passed or are pending in 46 other state legislatures.”

For similar legislation, O’Rourke pointed to regulations passed by Georgia that will give state lawmakers more power over local elections, limit early voting in runoffs to a single week and ban handing out food and water within 150 feet of any polling stations.

As for what lies beyond his tour, O’Rourke denied that he’s planning a run for higher office. He will be continuing to focus on raising awareness of voting rights. For the rest of his tour, O’Rourke will be stopping in at least 15 other cities around Texas, including Dallas, Houston and Austin.

“It’s just that this democracy — which we all care about, we all contribute to — is under attack unlike any time in this country’s history,” O’Rourke said. “You have the first successful storming of the U.S. Capitol since 1812. You have almost a third of the country believing in the ‘big lie,’ that voter fraud cost Donald Trump the presidency in 2020. This kind of threat requires all we got from all of us. I want to travel the state to bring people together to serve this democracy. That’s my highest and best use right now, and I’m going to do my best to see it through.”

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