Eleven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas faced off in Austin on Tuesday night. Guns, immigration, health care and marijuana dominated the debate.
The race is being closely watched. After Beto O’Rourke lost by just 2.6 percentage points to Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, many now believe Texas — which hasn’t had a Democratic U.S. senator since 1993 — could elect a Democrat.
A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll shows MJ Hegar, a former Air Force pilot from Cedar Park, is leading the crowded field of Democrats this year.
The winner of the 2020 nomination will likely compete in November against Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who is running for his fourth term in the U.S. Senate. He’s up against four candidates in the Republican primary, but is expected to win the nomination.
Here are the highlights from Tuesday’s debate.
On gun violence
Annie “Mamá” Garcia: “In this country we are such an outlier compared to any other country in the world. We have more people that die at the end of a barrel every week than most countries experience in an entire year. And what I want to know is, where is the outrage on this issue? … We need to come up with new solutions like demanding that all gun owners carry liability insurance so we can put an end to this epidemic.”
Victor Hugo Harris: “My recommendation, and I have a five point plan on how to deal with this, but specific to adolescence, is mental health support from grade school to high school. I think that will create more resilient minds. What we do now is we provide health support after the fact. We need to do it before that.”
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez: “I grew up around guns, and I am a supporter of the Second Amendment. But I also graduated high school the year of the Columbine shooting. And I’ve been waiting for my entire adult life to see Congress act and do very basic things like pass universal background checks. And instead we decided to teach a generation of school children to learn how to play dead in their classrooms. That’s why I’m a proud supporter of the March For Our Lives Peace Plan, one of the most comprehensive plans to deal with the gun violence epidemic in this country.”
On climate change
Sema Hernandez: “What I would like to see is the Green New Deal implemented, where there is a transition that includes workers and prioritizes local communities so that we can rebuild our crumbling infrastructure as well as employ people within our communities. That way, we have control of our electric grid.”
Royce West: “I believe also that we’ve got to make certain that we transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy. We have to do that. That has to be the dominant fuel. In Texas obviously we’ve got to balance moving in that direction with our economy here. And we’ve got to make certain that those workers in the fossil fuel industry are able to get retraining in maybe the new energy.”
Amanda K. Edwards: “I live in a place that is both home to the energy capital of the world, but then at the same time, is home to the space and place where there’s been four 500-year flood events in the last five years. We know that climate change is real. It costs us lives, it costs us billions of dollars. I think there are sensible policies that can be implemented, namely those that include trying to subsidize and support the use of clean or renewable energies. But also building infrastructure like high capacity transit options so that we can continue to live a lifestyle that’s consistent with being good stewards of our environment.”
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez: “I spent a decade working alongside immigrant workers who lost their limbs and lives because our country was willing to accept their labor but not their full humanity. Let’s be clear, on this issue we’ve let the GOP control the narrative. And our current immigration system is innefective. It’s cruel, and it’s inhumane. We need a system that benefits not just big corporations and the politicians they support, but protects immigrant and American workers and keeps families together.”
Chris Bell: “I just crossed over the border yesterday to walk through the tent city across from Brownsville, and it is shameful and it is heartbreaking. And we’re better than this. In terms of policies, one policy that would make a huge difference is the repeal of Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. There’s no reason to treat immigrants as criminals. We need to start treating them with compassion and move in that direction.”
Victor Hugo Harris: “I completely disagree with sanctuary cities. We should be a sanctuary country — and we should do away with sanctuary cities — where people can go to the police and get help if they need help. Right now, we have people that refuse to do that because they don’t want to get deported. We need to let policing do policing. And we need to have a sanctuary country, not sanctuary cities.”
Chris Bell: “We declared a war on drugs a long time ago, and we lost. We need to admit that and move forward. It was during the War on Drugs we decided that we would make addicts into criminals, and we’ve done ourselves no favors whatsoever. Of course, I support the legalization of marijuana. Alcohol is legal in this state and in this country, and I’m sure we’re going to have to put safeguards in place and there will be some abuse of marijuana. We will have to deal with that, but, meanwhile, it’s not going away, and it could be an extraordinary cash crop for farmers here in Texas.”
Jack Daniel Foster, Jr.: “First of all, let me say this: you should be high on life. … I definitely am for legalizing marijuana. I have no problem with that, but you have to respect the city ordinances, just so people would not get carried away with smoking marijuana.”
MJ Hegar: “Whether it’s the impact on criminal justice [or] the tax revenue we could get from it, clearly, I think most people agree we should legalize marijuana. Being a veteran — being in a community where people suffer, whether it’s from high suicide rates or PTSD or the opiod epidemic — this is something that marijuana could help in every chapter. And the reason that I think it needs to go beyond medical is that most veterans are not self-identifying and seeking treatment and doing the necessary things that it would take to actually get a prescription.”
Sema Hernandez: “I can say I’m probably the only one up here who has ever smoked marijuana. I absolutely support the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana on a federal level and ensuring that we do attack this war on drugs head on and repealing the Crime Act, which has disproportionately targeted communities of color and incarcerated more black and brown bodies than white counterparts for the same crime of smoking marijuana. So, hey, do it. Let’s free the weed.”
On health care
MJ Hegar: “I would like to see access to Medicare for all Texas families. I think that access to quality, affordable health care is a human right, but it’s also important that we understand that we need to protect the rights of individuals and Texas families to determine what that means for them, so I support a public option.”
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez: “By allowing private health insurance companies to profit off of our illness and pain, we’ve not only created the most expensive health care system in the world but one with some of the worst health care outcomes of any industrialized nation on the planet. I believe it should be the right of every single American to go to the doctor when they are sick. And that will be our right with a Medicare for All system. There will be no copays, no deductibles, just high-quality health care for every single American.”
Amanda K. Edwards: “I believe we need to provide a public option for those for whom employer-based insurance coverage does not work. But also we need to make sure that we’re closing the short-term insurance loopholes, reducing the price of prescription drugs and of course making sure premiums are going down because these are all barriers that people are facing when trying to access, affordable, accessible care. [It is] imperative that we actually get those things done now because lives are hanging in the balance.”
Annie “Mamá” Garcia: “This is a right that every American deserves, and it makes financial sense. It’s something that we can do here. I want universal health care that looks like Spain, with no copays, no co-insurance … and if we do that, we are going to have a healthier, happier and richer America.”