SAND SPRINGS — Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke spent several hours visiting Tulsa County flood victims Sunday and then met with party regulars at the local Democratic headquarters.
The trip was part campaign swing, part fact-finding mission for O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman fighting for position in the teeming Democratic presidential pool.
Texans, O’Rourke said, were long ignored by national campaigns because it seemed to be well-established how they would vote.
“No one ever listened to us in El Paso, my hometown, about what was most important to us, what we could offer to this great country,” O’Rourke said.
“I want to make sure no matter where you live, we come to listen to you, learn from you, incorporate your story into the campaign we’re trying to run and the service I want to provide as president of the United States. There’s no short-cutting that in terms of showing up and being around. That’s what brought us to Tulsa today and why I’m so grateful for those who’ve taken the time out of their day.”
O’Rourke said he also wanted to see first-hand how federal agencies respond to situations such as last week’s flooding and how it can be avoided in the future.
From Tulsa County officials and residents of the Town and Country Estates south of the Arkansas River, O’Rourke said he heard concerns about delays in recovery assistance, federal management of the river and the need for additional infrastructure.
“It should not take months for people to get the resources they need to be able to rebuild their homes,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke was accompanied by former Gov. David Walters and Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith, who acted as tour guide. She took O’Rourke on top of one of the levees along the north side of the river in Sand Springs and described the efforts to maintain them during the height of the flooding.
O’Rourke was then taken to Town and Country, where many houses considered safe from flooding were inundated.
Resident Jeremy Herrington told O’Rourke that the Army Corps of Engineers understated the threat to his neighborhood until too late for orderly evacuation.
Across the street from Herrington, Albert and Jamie Casto were cleaning up an elderly relative’s home. They said he had not had time to evacuate, either, and lost his military decorations and citations.
Walters, a member of the Democratic National Committee the party’s executive committee, said he was acting strictly as a host.
Asked if he had endorsed O’Rourke, Walters said, “No, but I love the guy. I think he’s one of our top-tier candidates.”