Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates features U.S. Congressional candidates

MNP 01.08.18

The Dallas Examiner

Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates, presented by The Dallas Examiner, featured several candidates running in the March 6 Democratic primary election, Jan. 8. The forum was the first of several to be held every Monday through March 5.

Held at the African American Museum in Fair Park, it began with candidates contending for the U.S. Representative congressional position in District 32: former WFAA-TV reporter Brett Shipp, former NFL player Colin Allred, former Hillary Clinton adviser Ed Meier, George Rodriguez, Ron Marshall and former Obama appointee Lillian Salerno. Shipp, Meier and Marshall were not present.

Allred kicked off the forum introducing himself and his campaign dedicated to pushing for more economic opportunities, affordable healthcare, and protecting the civil rights and liberties of others.

Rodriguez followed by discussing his goals centered on educational excellence, quality healthcare, and immigration rights to help all Texas citizens achieve the American dream.

Salerno has an extensive background working around prominent government officials and hopes to translate her experience to her potential congressional position.

“I worked for the Obama administration for the last 5 years creating economic opportunities for those 50 million people who live in small town America,” she said. “What I know for sure is that families in North Texas have no representation with Pete Sessions. We need someone on day one who will start fighting for you, and I’ve been doing that all my life.”

During the forum, members of the audience took advantage of the opportunity to ask each candidate about their intentions and how they will address the needs of the district.

Question: What do you plan to do your first 100 days in office?

Allred: Infrastructure is a huge need for the 100,000 people who move to North Texas, if every minute that we spend in traffic on U.S. Highway 75 or on our tollways is money taken down the drain. We need to invest in our public transportation system, so people can get to work. It will help our businesses. We might not get the Amazon 2nd headquarters because of our lack of public transportation. So, I want to invest in our infrastructure in my first 100 days. Possibly we need to fill our skill/labor gap. We need to go back to having vocational training in our high schools and invest in apprenticeship programs and technical schools. Give our kids the training they need to get good jobs that are available right now and give them a livable wage.

Rodriguez: In my first 100 days, I would attack infrastructure because I think it is something we can accomplish. I think there’s common ground there. But, the other thing I strongly believe is education. Education made a difference in my life, and that’s how I figured out you can create a leveled playing field. So, I would invest more in public education, better resources and STEAM education. I would also provide college students with a cap on student loans at 3 percent. I would give corporations a tax-free opportunity to pay those student loans to the employees. I would make sure we have the Pell grants because I am a beneficiary of the Pell grant.

*Salerno arrived late to the forum and was not present to answer this question.

Q: Your district comprises of Highland Park, University Park, Preston Hollow, and etc. How do you plan to engage in other residents and districts that don’t care for much of what you’re talking about?

Salerno: If you look at the district, there is a lot of people with a lot of money, but there’s also people in Wiley, Rowlett, and Garland. When I’ve been knocking on those door, those people aren’t getting anything special. They got three families living in someone’s house because housing is unaffordable. What we know about this district is that there is no affordable housing. We have to realize that this will help lift all of our votes. This isn’t a society we’re going to have the haves and the have nots.

Allred: This district is much more diverse than what people think it is. The district looks a lot like the country, demographically and economically. There are a lot of people in this area who are struggling and fighting to take care of their families. Like I said, there are 100,000 people a year moving to North Texas, so a lot of people coming don’t have these conservative values that you may be referring to. This is a dynamic area looking for leadership, and it is time for a change here. It’s just not among folds who are not doing well financially, [but] people all-around who are looking for somebody to stand up against this president and his administration.

Rodriguez: When I talk about the American elite that are the politicians in power, I am talking about those people who feel entitled and ignored the common man. They have ignored the teachers who have worked in this district, the construction workers, police officers, and the 400,000 kids that live in poverty most of all. The problem that I have is not with people making money. [It] is that we have elected officials who feel so emboldened that they can get away with passing this tax scam that is only enriching the rich while taking money away from kids and not funding CHIP and Medicare. That’s what we need to address because that’s what has been ignored by those who are in power now.

Q: How soon would call for congressional review to look at police officers who have shot unarmed people?

Rodriguez: Immediately. It is called for. Black lives matter do matter. Black dollars matter, too. It goes back to the social narrative that has been created and the type of rhetoric being used. We got to start changing there. It starts with me. One of the things that I do you will never hear me refer to anyone as a minority, and I will not allow anybody on campaign to refer to somebody as a minority. We have to take it upon ourselves and elect officials who get it. Don’t vote for me because I’m Brown or a female or Black or White. Vote for me because I have your values, and I understand your community.

Allred: I’m a civil rights attorney. I spent my career to making sure everybody is treated equally under the law. Obviously, that is not happening in our criminal justice system. I’m concerned that this Department of Justice wouldn’t correctly handle an investigation into any kind of police misconduct. That’s one of the reason s why I want to be on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. But, we have to go a lot further than just change our police forces. We’re asking them to do so much. There’s so much more on mental health issues and reduce this era of mass incarceration. We have to do better in this country. I’ve been fighting for this community before Donald Trump came along, and I want to keep doing that in Congress.

Salerno: For my career, I worked in jail. I use to do criminal defense work. The problem I had when I worked in the Denton County Jail is the only people they looked for their pilot programs were Caucasian. They wouldn’t put any Hispanics or African Americans in their programs. Another problem I had was the jail population was so skewed, and it is crazy what we do with incarceration.

After District 32, nominees for lieutenant governor took the stage to participate in the forum: Mike Collier and Michael Cooper. Collier was not present.

The second half of the discussion began with Cooper addressing the crowd.

“It’s about time we have someone who is worried about every individual from the bottom to the top, from the rich to the poor, and from the privileged to the ones who deserve a second, third, and fourth chance,” he said.

After his introduction, Cooper answered audience members’ questions regarding his platform and his possible position.

Q: As Lieutenant Governor, what exactly do you have authority to do?

Cooper: Lieutenant Governor is 2nd in position in the state of Texas, and number one in power. He can control legislation. He is the president of the senate.

Q: If elected, what would be your strategy to address how the legislation would look in the next few years?

Cooper: I would make sure the agenda is exactly what my platform is. I want to push education everywhere I go. I want to make sure that when your children graduate in the state of Texas that they are workforce ready. When I say ‘workforce ready’, I mean that these children are coming out- if they have vocational skill- as mechanics, carpenters and electricians they can make $50,000 to $75,000 a year. I can do it.

Q: If you elected, would you consider using the rainy day fund to fund some of the cuts we have seen in education lately?

Cooper: $10.3 billion of the rainy fund, and they said they would not use that money to rebuild the schools [after Hurricane Harvey]. All we need is $97 million to rebuild one school, but I don’t need your money. I’ll figure out a way to do it without you. Anybody been to the Toyota Center in Houston? You’re looking at the guy who came up with the brain job and got the name rights to the Toyota Center. You are all paying for that center, and you don’t even know it because of business people like me decided and figured out a way to get you to get excited about a center. That’s the way we are going to fix the school system, also.

The event concluded with the contenders running for the city District Attorney position: Judge John Creuzot and Judge Elizabeth Frizell.

Creuzot discussed his experience working as a local judge and creator of the DIVERT program, Dallas’ first drug court which also aided in a 68 percent reduction in recidivism.

“I started criminal justice reform as a result of these programs being the foundation, and we have closed eight prisons in the state of Texas,” he said.

Frizell followed with her introduction expressing her purpose for running for district attorney’s office.

“Our system is broken and needs to be fixed, but we need a leader that is not afraid to stand up and fight,” she said. “I’m running because I don’t want to see another unarmed young Black man be shot. I am running for Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Jordan Edwards, Lindo Jones, and Andrew Finch.”

After introductions, the candidates participated in a Q&A session with the audience about future programs and strategies to address injustice within the city.

Q: What programs will be in place to help further the education of juveniles who have been tried as adults?

Creuzot: The number one question before that [question] is sparingly certify juveniles as adults. We’ve done that way too much. As district attorney, we have discretion, and we’re going to put people in that area who can use better discretion and certify fewer adults. The whole thing is about reform and that means we need to help the people. We need to understand what the underlying issues were.

Frizell: Many kids are sitting there in the juvenile system with nothing to do and their education is passing them by. I have a program called Community Connection that I want to start to get mentors in there in the juvenile system. I went in there to talk to those juvenile systems. I went in there to talk to those juveniles because they were my clients. They weren’t just a file. With Community Connection, I have pastors all over Dallas County that are ready and waiting for their deacons, deaconesses, trustees and members of the church to come into these juvenile centers and mentor the young boys because many of them don’t have fathers, but if they had someone to look up to, they might not be there in the juvenile system.

Q: What would you do as district attorney to train and enforce policies with law enforcement to make sure proper precautions are made?

Creuzot: Policies on which cases you accept will help train police officers. If they know you are not going to accept certain things and these low level that you are going to divert them to, I think that helps train them to not arrest them because as district attorney, I really don’t have the authority to tell the chief of police who to arrest and not arrest. However, we have a chief’s meeting every month, and one thing that has been absent is our voice about what is appropriate and what’s not.

Frizell: I agree with Creuzot. We can’t force the police department to do anything, but let me tell you what I can do as a district attorney. As a district attorney with a civil asset forfeiture, I’m going to make sure those hearings take place after you get out of jail. Right now, the current district attorney if you are arrested for a criminal offense and they [police department] seize any of your property, they can take your cash money. They seize your car and your house. They have a hearing before you can bond out of jail and all of that is gone, so when you get your ‘not guilty’, your money is gone [including] your house and car. All I have to say as district attorney is that there will be no hearings until they can bond out of jail. Once they bond out of jail, you have a right to be heard. There’s two sides to every story.

Q: How will use the district attorney budget to be more reformative versus being penal?

Creuzot: We have 13-15 programs that deal with individuals right now. We need to focus on what makes those work. Those are rehabilitative as oppose to penal. When we go to court, let’s not talk about two percent of cases. Let’s talk about a vast majority of the cases. Why aren’t we using that same paradigm in the regular courts? Too often, we pass that up. That’s how we get the closing of eight prisons. It wasn’t with two percent of the cases. It was taking what we learned there and putting it into the general courts and training the prosecutors and probation officers. As district attorney, we’re going to keep doing this. My goal is to close more prisons.

Frizell: I want to shift my prosecutors within that same budget without costing more money. Right now, it is a sentence of punishment to be sent to juvenile. Why is that? Juvenile are our youth and our future. We should have our most experienced people doing those child cases to make sure that they are not funneled into that pipeline to prison. I want my experienced prosecutors in juvenile too just like I want them on the adult cases. Also, within the budget, I have to put experienced people in intake. We should have experienced prosecutors in intake because there’s some cases that the DA’s office should not accept. We’re majoring in the minors. Let’s make sure we catch that at the beginning before it comes in the door, so our prosecutors are not overloaded and have time to prepare for trials on rape, robbery, and murder. That’s something within the budget that will not Dallas County taxpayers one more dime.

Q: How are you going to pledge to eliminate the abuse of enhancing and paragraphing?

Frizell: For those of you who may be wondering what that is, when you come back on another case and you’ve previously been convicted of a felony, you can have what we call a paragraph. First paragraph means you have one previous felony. Second paragraph you have two previous felony convictions, so you’re minimum is 50 years. Your next minimum is 25 years. It’s not like the federal systems. In state court, it’s five to 99 to life. You can get probation on a murder case depending on what the facts are. What we have to do in sentencing is I have prosecutors that will come in and say “I know you didn’t commit this offense, but you committed a previous offense. We’ll drop a paragraph if you plead to it,” and that’s not fairness or justice. I’m going to train my prosecutors that if you are not guilty of an offense, you should not be plea bargaining regarding enhancement paragraphs to force someone to plea to something they did not do.

Creuzot: The program I had with repeat offenders all had paragraphs. We looked at the underlined reason why they were there whether it was drugs, alcohol or mental illness. They brought it to me. We’re going to tell the prosecutors look at the underlined reasons that the person can be helped. Forget the paragraphs. Let’s get them the help. We’re going to train prosecutors to look for fairness, equity and underlying causes, when appropriate.

The second forum was held Monday for State Representative District 100, District 104, District 109, District 113 and State Senator District 16. The next forum will be held Jan. 22 for District Judge Districts 68, 160, 193, 203 and 204.

Note: Due to recording error, The Dallas Examiner was not able to quote Colin Allred and George Rodriguez’s introductions.

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