Presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke on reparations, climate change, and regulating tech giants

The topic of reparations has gained traction on the campaign trail, with several Democratic presidential candidates supporting the idea, including former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. He's said he wants to create a federal commission to further study the issue.

In interview with Press Play, he talks about how the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation affects today's America. "There's 10 times the wealth in white America than there is in black America today… You have the largest prison population on the face of the planet, and it's disproportionately comprised of people of color… It's in our education system where a child of 4 or 5 years old in a kindergarten classroom is five times as likely to be disciplined or suspended or expelled. And it's in access to healthcare and in outcomes -- in the midst of a maternal mortality crisis in this country, it is three times as deadly for women of color."

He says we can start working on all these issues by making sure teachers look like the students they teach; having universal guaranteed high-quality health care, especially for women of color; ending the war on drugs; getting capital into communities that have been denied capital from redlining or racism in the banking industry.

So does that mean not paying reparations directly to descendants of slaves, but redirecting tax money to programs that would help descendants of slaves? O'Rourke says that's part of it.

"You're asking the question: is there some direct monetary compensation made? I think that's a decision that follows that HB 40 legislation [which would open a congressional study of reparations] and making sure that all of us understand that story. I think that's a conversation and a decision that we have together as a country," he says.

Fighting climate change

O’Rourke recently unveiled a substantial climate proposal, calling for investing $5 trillion over the next 10 years in clean energy transitions, so the U.S would reach net-zero in carbon emissions by 2050.

He says if we all do our part, the country will "have set the example for the world to make sure that we do everything within our power globally to stop us from warming another two degrees Celsius, after which it's really hard for us to make this planet habitable for the generations that follow."

There are broad public policy proposals on the table, but how does O'Rourke think individual Americans should change their habits to promote a cleaner planet?

He points to food waste: "Thinking about what we eat, how much we eat, how much we're served. The way that we grow, and process, and buy, and transport, and consume food in this country is something that we're going to have to change going forward."

When it comes to transportation, he says the country will have to invest in public transit and light rail, and ensure the cars on the road are electric.

Housing: rich and poor living together

O'Rourke says right now, people cannot afford to live close to where they work, and so, "rich people are going to have to allow poorer people to live closer to where they are."

That means increasing federal funding for affordable housing, but making it conditional on inclusionary zoning laws, he elaborates. "One, it's the only way I think that we're going to be able to invest in the necessary housing stock. Two, it significantly reduces commute times… Three, if this country, if this democracy is going to make it, then we're going to have to address the extraordinary gap between those who have and those who do not have wealth in this country," he says.

Should tech giants be broken up, specifically Facebook, Amazon, and Google?

"These companies are as big, and in many cases, bigger than governments all over this planet," O'Rourke says.

Considering how much power the tech giants hold over our lives, privacy, and personal information, O'Rourke says at minimum, there should be thorough and vigorous regulation and policing of how our information is used.

He also believes that stronger antitrust enforcement is necessary, but hesitates to call out specific companies to be broken up.

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy