Race for the 1st: A Conversation with Terence O'Rourke

Apr 6, 2018

O'Rourke in the Exchange studio.

In this Race for the 1st conversation, we talk with Terence O'Rourke, a Democrat running in the closely watched race for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District. 

O'Rourke is the City Attorney for Rochester and a military veteran who served as an officer in the Iraq War. O'Rourke also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Alabama, and in New Hampshire as assistant county attorney in Rockingham and Carroll counties. 

Our Race for the First conversations will focus on the issues at the forefront in the CD1 race, including opioids, guns, veterans, and how each candidate plans to stand out in a crowded race. 

Listen to the interview:

Watch the interview:

Interview Takeaways

Note: Transcribed comments have been lightly edited for clarity 

Terence O’Rourke, army combat veteran and attorney for the city of Rochester, says he’s got plenty of experience that would serve him well in Congress.   

I have the experience at the local government level, the county level, state level, and federal level. I know how government works. And more to the point I know how to get results within government. And right now what we need particularly in the Democratic Party is people who are willing to fight, and that's what I do. I fight, and I win.

But O’Rourke insists he’s also got outsider credentials:   

I come from outside of the political establishment. I'm not involved with the Concord establishment, and I'm certainly not involved in the D.C. establishment. So again I'm not the candidate that they were looking for, but I believe I’m the candidate the voters are looking for.

He says he wasn’t bothered by Senator Maggie Hassan’s recent endorsement of Executive Councilor Chris Pappas.

We know that Mr. Pappas is the establishment candidate and I'm sure he'll be rolling these endorsements out every week at whatever pace he wants to do it. But I think that goes to the point that if you're looking for more of the same, I'm probably not your guy. But if you're looking for someone to go down to D.C. and really take the fight to these people, then you should be going for me.

When it comes to U.S. military involvement, O’Rourke says the U.S. can’t be a fair broker in Middle East conflicts, and that it should therefore stay out of the Syria conflict, despite the recent suspected chemical- weapons attack in a Damascus suburb.

We got involved in Iraq over 15 years ago based on lies, and we're still there now based on the original lie, the original sin.  The only thing America should do now quite frankly is get out, and I don't see where our presence there is being helpful….I'd like to see the Arab League step forward. I’d like to see the U.N. step up because those are the people who should be involved in this.

U.S. military involvement has spread, he says, because, rather than officially declare war,  Congress instead authorized use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They have been used to get us into places all over the world, including Syria. We have no authorization to be in Syria right now. We haven't declared war on Syria. We haven't declared war on the Assad regime. Yet our soldiers are there today, right now. Why are they there? Well, they're using the authorization for the war in Iraq to be there.

O’Rourke strongly feels Congress must declare war before engaging the U.S. military.  

I think Congress needs to reclaim its Constitutional job - and that's to declare war. And when you declare war, it changes everything. You start going to a wartime footing -  and the economy, the entire country gears up and goes to war. Well, we don't have that now because we're not declaring war, and what we have is the military is at war while everyone else in America goes on with their lives.

O’Rourke was not surprised by reports of substandard care at the Manchester VA Medical Center, first reported by The Boston Globe.  He says it's a widespread problem. 

It's one of these legacy costs of these wars that we didn't anticipate when we went headlong into Afghanistan headlong into Iraq. What they didn't understand was the type of wars that we were fighting, and what they didn't anticipate were thousands upon thousands of 25, 26 year-old men and women coming home missing limbs, coming home with traumatic brain injury, coming home with PTSD at a level that we've never seen before.  

What’s needed to fix the VA medical system?

What has to happen to the VA -- not just in Manchester but around the country -- is we need to fully fund these operations and we need to get people in there who know how to run hospitals.  

O’Rourke advocates a British-style national health insurance system.

What a single payer or a national health system does is: You go to the doctor, you get treated, you go to the pharmacy, you get your medicine, and you walk out, and all that stress and all that concern goes away. There's not going to be bills piling up, months and months, and years later.  You understand exactly what you're going to  get up front. So that to me is something no one ever talks about  - is how stressful this system of private insurance is to families.

O’Rourke thinks people would be willing to pay taxes for such a system. He’d also like to work to overturn the Trump tax cuts, doubling the corporate tax rate and doubling the rate on unearned income, to help pay for national health care.

I don't think people mind paying taxes when they can see a benefit for what they're paying for.

When you're in a country like say Britain and you pay your taxes, you know you're getting  national health care out of it. Well, in America I think people think the same way… Taxes aren't a bad thing in and of themselves. It's the price we pay to live in a civilized society. I think people see that if there's an obvious benefit or service out of their taxes they don't mind paying them.

On finding common ground among gun-control and gun-rights groups, O’Rourke sees the AR-15 rifle as a place to start.  

Not only was I in the military, I've been carrying a gun since I'm nine years old. I'm a hunter.  I'm an outdoorsman. So I understand the value that people have guns in their lives. At the same time I also understand what these weapons of war were designed for.  The history of the AR-15 is clear; it was designed for one thing, one thing only -- to kill human beings. It's not a sportsman's rifle; it's not used for hunting. It's only made to kill human beings and that's what it's been used for. And I would like to see a return to the ban that we had on these weapons in the 1990s that unfortunately expired under the George W. Bush Administration. This doesn't infringe on anyone's Second Amendment rights.

Related Reading:

"NH Primary Source: Terence O'Rourke says he's as 'qualified as anyone' to be a congressman," from WMUR. 

"Rochester city attorney announces congressional run," from Seacoast Online. 

"State of NH wants to take control of wastewater permits," from Seacoast Online. 

"Rochester's O'Rourke touts experience in race for Congress," from Seacoast Online.