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Meet Mary 'MJ' Hegar, a candidate for US Senate race

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.
Credit: Courtesy photo
Mary "MJ" Hegar is running for U.S. Senate.

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.

Occupation: 

Author

How long have you lived in Texas?

I moved to Texas when I was 7 years old and apart from my time in the military have lived here ever since. I am proud to be raising my two boys just a few miles from Leander, Texas where my husband and I met and went to school together.

Why are you running for U.S. Senate?

As a rescue helicopter pilot flying wildfire suppression missions, I was trained to find the biggest bucket of water and use it to put out the biggest fire I could find. I got into this race because that fire is in the US Senate, where all progress on critical issues impacting everyday Texans and the future we are leaving my boys is being halted.

When I look at DC, I don't see the Texas values of courage, independence, and service represented, and it's time we sent them an ass-kicking Texas woman to deliver a dose of those values. As someone outside the political system with a proven record of taking on tough fights, I'm best positioned to defeat Senator Cornyn and get our government working for Texans.

Prior political experience or civic leadership involvement?

In 2018 I ran for U.S. Congress in Texas' 31st Congressional District, where I grew up. I had never planned to get involved in politics, but after seeing how deeply broken our government was and realizing safe career politicians like my Congressman were at the root of the problem, I felt it was my duty to do what I could to fix that. While I wasn't able to overcome the existing partisan tilt of the district, I am proud of what we were able to accomplish. We helped flip two state house seats and took a district with a safe incumbent who won his last midterm by 32 points and brought the race within 2.9 points. We accomplished all this by empowering new voices, mobilizing first-time volunteers, and turning out new voters.

There are a lot of candidates in this race, why should voters choose you over someone else?

I have a long record of successfully taking on tough fights. As a young girl, my dream of becoming a military pilot was often dismissed with claims that "the front is no place for a woman." I was unwilling to back down and went on to join the Air Force, working my butt off to get selected for a highly competitive spot in the pilot training program. After becoming a pilot, I served three tours in Afghanistan as a combat search and rescue pilot. When I was on a rescue mission during my last tour in Afghanistan, I was shot and the helicopter I was piloting was brought down by Taliban fighters. When we landed, it was 9 of us on the ground against 150 Taliban fighters. We worked together to survive and keep the patients secure until help arrived. After my injury left me unable to fly, I was barred from applying for my next job simply because I was a woman. I felt that policy was not only wrong but it was hurting military effectiveness, retention, and recruiting, which is why I partnered with the ACLU and other servicewomen to successfully open up hundreds of thousands of jobs for women in the military.

Texans deserve a senator with a proven record of taking on tough fights and serving their country instead of their ego, to get our government working for Texans.

In your view, what are the three biggest challenges facing Texas? Specifically, how do you plan to address them?

It is long past time that Washington starts working on solutions to the biggest challenges Texans are facing, such as access to affordable health care, aggressive action on climate change and fixing our broken immigration system.

As the mother of two little boys, climate change is my number one issue. Climate change is the greatest threat to the health and safety of our communities, the world we are leaving for the next generation, and our national security. We cannot wait any longer to take action. We must set aggressive goals for the expansion of clean, renewable energy and invest in clean energy manufacturing and sustainable transportation. Texas has the opportunity to be America's leader in wind and solar energy, and we should use our natural, renewable resources to create jobs in our state.

On health care, I will work to make care affordable and accessible to everyone by making Medicare available to all who want it, while protecting the ability for people to choose a private plan.

Texas has been on the front lines of the immigration crisis. It is time we roll up our sleeves, collaborate with our border communities, businesses, and labor to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and treat asylum seekers at our southern border the same as those who come from other countries around the world.

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 biggest problems we have in our broken political system is too many career politicians who are feeding the partisan rhetoric and the politics of division to grab the spotlight and get re-elected. We start fixing the problem by sending more everyday regular people like myself to represent us, instead of career politicians.

I have built a broad coalition to accomplish change. When I worked with the ACLU to open up hundreds of thousands of ground combat jobs for women in the military, we were successful because we built a broad coalition made up of Republicans and Democrats. But we didn't do this by meeting in the middle. We did it through a steadfast determination that what we were trying to accomplish was the right thing for the country. We found the common thread and the value on each side that would bring people together. We spoke of women's rights and the Constitution to the left while convincing the right of the impact on military effectiveness, recruiting, and retention.

The reality I have found when talking with Texans across the state is that on the most critical issues facing our country and families - including access to affordable health care, quality education for our kids, and common-sense legislation to address the gun violence epidemic - there is widespread agreement on solutions. I know we will be able to get back to a place where we can collaborate on solutions when we have more regular people in office and fewer career politicians.

If elected, how would you address the mass shootings in Texas and across the country?

From Sutherland Springs to Santa Fe to El Paso to Midland-Odessa, the sounds of war have rung out in Texas churches, high schools, and stores. As a mother of two young boys and a responsible gun owner, enough is enough. If we’re to be the land of the free, then the brave among us must act to give our people the freedom to go to movies, shop in stores, and walk through parks without having to be vigilant for threats.

We must pass common-sense gun safety legislation to require background checks on every single gun sale, including closing the gun show loophole — a proposal that the majority of Texans support. We must pass red flag laws limiting access to firearms for domestic abusers — including closing the “boyfriend loophole,†and fully fund the CDC to reverse the damage of the decades-long ban on gun violence research. We don’t allow sales of weapons of war like grenades or rockets, and we should no longer be selling assault rifles that were intended for war.

I am also calling for state and local officials to end open carry. The reasons gun owners like me have for wanting to protect our Second Amendment rights, chief among them protecting our families, are not served by open carry.

The gun violence epidemic in this country reaches beyond the tragic mass shootings into our homes through domestic violence, accidental shootings, and suicides. As your senator, I will use my perspective as a mother, responsible gun owner, and combat veteran in my work to pass urgently needed legislation to protect our communities.

What federal cuts would you support to help achieve a balanced budget?

Politicians from both parties have let federal spending get out of control and are leaving the next generation to pick up the tab. We should not be wasting billions of dollars on an ineffective wall that robs our military construction budget while seizing land from Texans. We can reduce Medicare costs without cutting benefits by allowing the program to negotiate prescription drug prices. It is time we take a hard look at areas where we can cut government waste and make sure we are using your tax dollars in the most effective way possible.

Do you support or oppose open borders?

As someone who has put on the uniform to defend our country, open borders are not the answer. We need an immigration policy that both reflects our core values as Americans - human dignity and our respect for the right of people to pursue happiness - while securing our borders.

Living in a border state, Texans experience firsthand the impact that our broken immigration system is having on our communities. And yet, our sitting Senator John Cornyn has spent almost 20 years in Washington repeatedly opposing bipartisan immigration reform solutions. We are at the point we are today because of finger-pointing by career politicians.

It is time to roll up our sleeves and collaborate with our border communities, businesses, and labor to pass comprehensive immigration reform. That means starting with permanently ending child separation, ensuring asylum seekers are not treated as criminals and their claims are properly processed, securing the border with effective procedures and technologies, and building a path to citizenship for the 1.8 million undocumented immigrants in Texas.

Do you support universal healthcare? If so, how would you pay for it?

The rising cost of health care is the number one issue I hear about from Texans on the campaign trail. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, and that’s unacceptable. While working in health care, I saw first-hand that our current system is one of sky-high costs and inefficiencies. By offering a public option to make Medicare available for all those who want it, we can bring down the overall cost of health care throughout the system.

While I was pregnant with my first son, the hospital system I worked for at the time was experiencing layoffs, and I had a pre-existing condition growing in my belly. Being pregnant in a state with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, I was terrified of what would happen if I didn’t have insurance. The experience made me think back to the time in my life when I received the best health care. The best health care I’ve ever had was when I was on military-provided Tricare, similar to Medicare, and I believe that kind of high-quality care should be made available to all Americans.

Texas is a state that values individual rights, freedom, and choice, and I believe that individuals should have the option to choose to stay on private insurance if they prefer or opt into Medicare

If elected, what’s your priority on Day One in office?

Texans are sick and tired of watching DC politicians put special interest donors and political games over the needs of the people. It is time to clean up our broken system and return the power back to people. We will not get the needed action on climate change, lower-cost prescription drugs, common-sense gun safety measures, or comprehensive immigration reform until we get the influence of money out of our political system. On day one, I will work to pass comprehensive campaign finance and ethics reforms that ensure Washington is accountable to the voters and no one else.

On what issue or issues could you work with the White House? Or U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell?

This question presumes that Mitch McConnell cares about getting things done for working people and not just furthering the goals of his special interest friends. Given his legislative graveyard, it is clear he doesn’t and why we need more servant leaders who know how to get things done. That being said, the White House has expressed interest in lowering the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices - yet another proposal being blocked by Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, but one which I would be open to collaborating on.

On what issue, would you not compromise?

When Texas voters come up to me and ask, why, if the vast majority of Texans support universal background checks, won’t Washington take any action; We all agree that prescription drug costs are too high, why isn’t anything getting done to lower them; I reply, follow the money. 

Senator Cornyn has taken millions of dollars from corporate PACs and special interest groups tied to industries like the gun lobby, big pharmaceutical companies, and private detention companies, so it is no wonder that when push comes to shove, he sides with them over Texans. 

Texans are sick and tired of watching DC politicians put special interest donors and political games over the needs of the people. I have not and will not take a dime of corporate PAC money. Texans can be assured I will always answer to them and fight to clean up our broken system and return the power to people.

Have you ever been arrested, charged with a crime or faced criminal proceedings in a court? If yes, please explain:

No

Have you ever been involved in any lawsuits or declared bankruptcy? If yes, please explain:

After an injury during a rescue mission in Afghanistan left me unable to fly, I was barred from applying for my next job simply because I was a woman. I felt that policy was not only wrong but it was hurting military effectiveness, retention, and recruiting, which is why I partnered with the ACLU and other servicewomen to sue the Department of Defense to open up hundreds of thousands of jobs for women in the military. 

Ultimately, it didn't go far in court because the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs agreed to make the change without a judicial judgment. We were successful because we used the lawsuit to bring attention to the issue and build a broad coalition made up of Republicans and Democrats who agreed with us that ending the ground combat exclusion was the right thing to do for the effectiveness and future of our military. I was able to take on the good ol' boys club, buck their system, and score a victory without being a political insider, donor, or lobbyist. It made me realize we need more people who can do that in our legislature.

This experience also served as a lesson for me that we can never rest after we achieve a victory for equal rights. From civil rights to women's rights to LGBTQIA+ rights to racial justice, it is our job to defend the ground we have gained and keep pushing progress forward.

Favorite restaurant – or night out in Texas?

My favorite restaurant is Juarez Restaurant & Bakery in Round Rock. My husband and I are breakfast taco enthusiasts and Juarez's breakfast tacos are out of this world.

Do you ever ride public transportation such as city buses or light rail?

Our public transportation in Round Rock is not as accessible and convenient as I would like it to be, but when I am visiting other cities I try to take advantage of their public transit options.  

Tell us something about yourself – unrelated to politics or this race – that voters probably don’t know.

While many people know I was in the military, they may not know that I also waitressed and bartended into my 30’s. I most famously worked at Sixth Street’s Maggie Maes, but during my time as a waitress at Macaroni Grill, I learned how to sing “Happy Birthday” in Italian.