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WAVERLY — Though the Iowa caucuses are a year and a half away, by now Iowans have heard many promises from 2020 presidential candidates.

So when a woman asked Beto O’Rourke about candidates promising “unrealistic things” and asked “to not pander to us,” O’Rourke agreed, laying out his plan for health care: Those with employer insurance would keep it, those who can’t afford co-pays could enroll in Medicare, and he would shore up the Affordable Care Act and end Medicaid privatization in states like Iowa.

“The total cost of this program is a fraction of ‘Medicare for All,’” O’Rourke said during a stop Tuesday at Wartburg College in Waverly.

In a race of nearly two dozen Democratic candidates, some distinguishing themselves from the pack with bolder progressive ideas like “Medicare for All,” the former Texas representative seemed to be trying to stick to a more balanced approach to woo Iowa’s mostly independent voters.

“You’ve heard what our challenges are,” he told a crowd of around 180. “We’re either going to be defined by our pettiness ... or we will be defined by the great things that we want to do.”

Those things O’Rourke wanted to do included making community college free for all Americans, strengthening unions, taxing capital gains like income, paying a “living wage” and encouraging farmers to plant cover crops and precision or no-till farming to help alleviate flooding.

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“We’re on our third 500-year flood in the last five years in southeast Texas,” he said. “The devastation, the destruction — that is climate change happening right now.”

He also talked a considerable amount about ending the so-called “war on drugs” by ending marijuana prohibition, expunging the records of those convicted of nonviolent drug crimes, ending the cash-bail system and eliminating for-profit prisons — the last of which got considerable applause from the audience.

O’Rourke noted he wanted to “end the legacy of Jim Crow,” including voter suppression.

“We are still seeing the repercussions (of Jim Crow) today, and will for some time,” he said, noting the wealth as well as maternal and infant mortality rate discrepancies between white and black Americans. “This is a very tough but very necessary conversation for this country to have.”

O’Rourke, 46, who shot onto the national stage in 2017 by nearly unseating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the closest Senate race in Texas in decades — and raising $80 million in campaign contributions in the process — is polling at between 3 and 5 percent in the most recent polls among Democratic presidential candidates.

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Staff Writer

Staff writer at The Courier 2005 (college intern), 2007-2012, 2015-present. Graduate of UNI 2006. Three-time Iowa APME award winner (investigative reporting 2008, lifestyle feature 2016, business feature 2018)

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