WFAA invited each of the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senator from Texas to answer the following questions to help inform voters before Super Tuesday on March 3.
I recently took a leave of absence from my role as Executive Director of Jolt.
How long have you lived in Texas?
I spent some of my earliest years growing up in Oak Cliff before moving with my family to Ohio. I returned to Texas in 2003 to attend college. Shortly thereafter, I founded the Workers Defense Project at age 24. I haven't looked back since.
Why are you running for U.S. Senate?
I’m running for Senate because when I imagine the world my son is going to inherit, I want him to be proud of what we stood up for together. I want him to know that in a moment where 1 in 6 Texans didn't have access to healthcare and millions were struggling to make ends meet when communities were being pitted against one another, and our world was experiencing a climate crisis, we came together and worked as hard as we could to address these challenges and make government work for working people.
Prior political experience or civic leadership involvement?
When I was 24, I co-founded Workers Defense Project, an organization that fights for the rights of low-wage workers here in Texas. I led that organization until 2016, when I founded Jolt, which aims to empower and mobilize young Latinos across our state. Through these organizations, I led campaigns to protect the rights of immigrant families, to make college affordable for Texas students, and to register and mobilize thousands of young Latinos in the 2018 election. I've also helped pass half a dozen local and state laws to protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of workers. I have over a decade of experience mobilizing Texans for change that makes a difference in people’s lives.
There are a lot of candidates in this race, why should voters choose you over someone else?
Texas deserves a Senator and a government that represents actual working Texans, and to replace John Cornyn we need someone who can mobilize a broad coalition of people to win. I have spent the past decade and a half leading organizations dedicated to improving the lives of working people in this state, so not only do I know what working Texans go through, but I have proven experience mobilizing Texans across the state.
During the 2018 midterm elections, I worked with a coalition of civic engagement organizations across the state that registered 1 in 5 voters in Texas and got 70% of them out to vote. We need strong turnout from communities of color and young people to win, and I believe that I am the candidate that knows how to do this based on my years of organizing in these communities.
In your view, what are the three biggest challenges facing Texas? Specifically, how do you plan to address them?
I think that the top three challenges we face are achieving universal health care, building for a strong economy where everyone has opportunities, and addressing the climate crisis. On universal health care, I will fight for Medicare for All because I believe it's the easiest and most cost-efficient way to provide all Texans with quality healthcare. To build a strong economy, I believe we have to focus on how everyday Texans are doing. I support raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hour and tying it to inflation, as well as relieving the burdens of student debt by supporting efforts to make public universities and community colleges tuition-free. Lastly, I support a Green New Deal because I know that as Texans, we will lead the way towards a green future. Through a Green New Deal, we can combat the climate crisis while investing in our economy, creating new jobs and technology that enables us to leave no oil or gas worker behind.
Washington is broken. Lawmakers retreat to their parties, follow orders from party bosses and rarely work across the aisle for the common good. How would you change that?
One of the Senators I most admire is the late Sen. John McCain-- while I don't have much in common with him ideologically, his willingness to put the interests of the American people before his party is something I would hope to model as a Senator.
In terms of working across the aisle, I know how to bring people together around a common goal. At the Workers Defense Project, I brought people of all political backgrounds, immigrant and American-born, together with a diverse coalition of faith organizations, labor unions, and advocacy groups to work towards our common interests and to secure victories for working Texans. That's why in the Senate, I will be a champion on the issues that impact us all and I'll work alongside anyone who shares my commitment to improving the lives of the people and building an economy that provides economic security for everyone.
If elected, how would you address the mass shootings in Texas and across the country?
In the wake of the El Paso and Odessa-Midland shootings, I am committed to ending the gun violence epidemic. Texans have had enough of waiting for the federal government to take action and save lives. As Senator, I would advocate for legislation that fully realizes the March for Our Lives Peace Plan for a Safer America, which includes implementing universal background checks, banning and buying back assault weapons like AR-15s and AK-47s, and holding the gun lobby and industry accountable for the harm they have done to our communities. Policies like mandatory buybacks have worked in other countries to drastically reduce gun violence there's no reason we shouldn't pursue these proven solutions that will save lives.
What federal cuts would you support to help achieve a balanced budget?
I believe that the first and most important step that Congress can take to get a more balanced budget is to reverse the Trump administration's recent tax cuts. These have primarily benefited corporations and the wealthy-- corporations have been bragging that they now pay $0 in taxes. In the Senate, I will ensure that our tax system is fair so that we can reduce the deficit and put our money towards what Americans really need, like universal healthcare, public education, and climate action.
Do you support or oppose open borders?
No elected official is talking about open borders-- this is misinformation spread by the right-wing. The GOP doesn't want us to believe that there is an alternative to spending billions building a mass detention and deportation system, which is an expensive, cruel, and inhumane form of addressing immigration but that alternative exists, and it's a choice we need to make. What we should be talking about is how we create a modern and efficient immigration system that allows us to fill our labor needs while also keeping families together. Perhaps no state has benefited more from the contributions of immigrants than Texas, and it is time that we don't just accept their labor, but their full humanity.
Do you support universal healthcare? If so, how would you pay for it?
Yes. I want to ensure that Texas families are healthy. We should not be okay with the fact that Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country. We are failing those Texans, and we are failing Texans who have health insurance but still face astronomical costs to access treatment and prescription medication.
Medicare for All will eliminate co-pays, premiums, and deductibles so that no Texan has to worry about how to afford the healthcare that they need, and so that families do not have to go bankrupt when a family member has a serious illness.
In terms of cost, I want to move us towards a day where we treat the health and wellbeing of our nation as a top priority. How have we as a country spent billions on a border wall when millions of Texans don't have health insurance? In the richest country in the world, we should all be able to go to the doctor when we are sick and have the highest quality healthcare when we need it. And I think that when we prioritize our nation's health and ensure that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share through measures like a wealth tax, we can achieve universal health care.
If elected, what’s your priority on Day One in office?
If we truly want to make change on every single issue we care about, then we must change the rules that govern our democracy to make sure it is working in the interests of the American people not just big corporations and the wealthy. My top priority will be to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act and make election day a national federal holiday so everyone can participate easily and equally in our democracy. In addition, I support a federal opt-out automatic voter registration program and will oppose any legislation that aims to limit our rights to vote and undercount marginalized communities in the census.
On what issue or issues could you work with the White House? Or U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell?
I will work alongside anyone who shares my commitment to improving the lives of Texans. I know that there is common ground to be found amongst Republicans on issues like immigration and criminal legal reform. However, I will expect that work to happen in good faith in order to pass clean bills. We've seen the GOP condition the legal the status of DREAMers on funding for a border wall into an effort, and our own Senator attempt to put anti-choice wording into bills designed to provide resources to victims of human trafficking. I believe in working across the aisle, but again, that work has to happen on common ground with no ulterior motives.
On what issue, would you not compromise?
There are many issues where I feel strongly about our need for real change, but chief among them is immigration. I believe fundamentally that immigration is a labor issue. I spent years representing low-wage workers from all backgrounds, immigrant and American-born, and I saw how workers are in the fight for dignity together. Until we end the exploitation of undocumented workers, all workers will suffer lower wages and poorer working conditions at the hands of big corporations, like the Trump Organization. I believe that every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. That's why I will fight to end the cruel practices we've adapted in immigration enforcement by redirecting funding from ICE into the Department of Labor to power agencies that enforce labor protections, such as the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Have you ever been arrested, charged with a crime or faced criminal proceedings in a court? If yes, please explain:
When I was fourteen years old, I shoplifted a pair of jeans. Thankfully, I was able to take part in diversion programs that worked to help juveniles like me stay out of criminal proceedings and support them to change their course.
At the age of nineteen, I was arrested by the City of Cincinnati in violation of my first amendment rights. I was attending a public rally when police began demanding all participants give their names and social security number and I refused. With the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, I sued the City of Cincinnati and won. The city had to change this policy, which was found to be in violation of the First Amendment.
In 2013, I participated in non-violent civil disobedience with 100 women, among them current Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, to defend the rights of immigrant families. No charges were filed in that case.
Have you ever been involved in any lawsuits or declared bankruptcy? If yes, please explain:
Favorite restaurant – or night out in Texas?
Do you ever ride public transportation such as city buses or light rail?
Unfortunately we don't have light rail in Austin just yet, but I am committed to overhauling our transportation system through policies like the Green New Deal that will invest in improving public transportation across Texas while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. While I don't often take city buses, on the campaign trail I frequently take buses for my trips from Austin to other cities.
Tell us something about yourself – unrelated to politics or this race – that voters probably don’t know.
I'm an avid gardener! When I'm at home, I love to tend to my garden with my son Santi. It helps me get my mind off of the campaign trail for a bit and it's a source of fresh vegetables to prepare meals at home.