Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates features candidates running for U.S. senator

Senate candidates
Democratic candidates for the U.S. senator’s race in Texas, from left: State Sen. Royce West, Michael Cooper, Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, Mary Jennings "MJ" Hegar and Adrian Ocegueda. – Official photos and social media photos

 

By DIANE XAVIER

The Dallas Examiner

 

It’s that time of year again when election season gets underway. In order help inform about the upcoming 2020 elections, The Dallas Examiner presented another ongoing series of Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidate, Jan. 13.

The forum was held at the African American Museum in Fair Park to educate residents about the candidates running in the March 3 primary elections. The incumbent is U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

The Democratic candidates for the U.S. senator’s race in Texas were featured and included candidates: State Sen. Royce West of District 23; Michael Cooper, pastor, president of the Beaumont NAACP Chapter and general sales manager at Kinsel Toyota in Beaumont; Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards; Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, Air Force veteran, teacher and business woman; and Adrian Ocegueda, chartered financial analyst.

The candidates introduced themselves and stated why they were running for office.

West: There is no place like home. Many of us have been doing forums like this for many weeks now. This is the first time we have done a forum in the Black community. I just want to say, Mollie and The Dallas Examiner, job well done.

Back in July 22, I made the decision to run for the U.S. Senate. The reason why I decided to run was because of who is occupying the White House and who the current senator is that has been complicit in all of this and stuff the president has done. I have never in my lifetime been in this country where we have a president that has been reviled by most people. This man has no integrity whatsoever. What I want to do is go to Washington to do exactly what I have done as your state senator. I want to be able to bridge the divide between Democrats and Republicans and come up with common solutions to problems such as health care, women’s rights, criminal justice, education, climate change and those type of issues. I have done it as a state senator. You know I can do it as your U.S. senator.

Hegar. I am running because I am a combat veteran. I did three tours in Afghanistan. I took an oath before I put that uniform on to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. And frankly after spending three tours fighting foreign threat, I view what is happening in our country right now as a domestic threat to the Constitution. So running for this office is a fulfilment of that oath.

In addition, the reason why I am throwing everything I have at this is because I have small kids. I have a three year old and five year old and I am terrified when I think about the future of this country, climate change, gun violence…. This race is me overreacting to not being able to wrap them in bubble tape before I send them out into the corner. I have to do everything I can to protect them. This administration and this senator in particular is doing so much to hurt this country and so much to hurt the future of our kids. We owe the people putting on the uniform a stable as possible foreign policy environment, national security environment.

I know that you guys are as concerned as I am when you look at the news. Texas is leading in all of the wrong places right now where Sen. Cornyn is not leading us and helping us. We lead in maternal mortality rate, uninsured rate, gun violence, immigration and human rights violations in our Southern borders.

But instead of being overwhelmed by all of the work that needs to be done, I am enthused and I am optimistic because in rooms like this across the state, we have driven almost 14,000 miles in the last couple of months alone and mobilized tens of thousands of people. Rooms around the state have me convinced that we can do something about this because while I can’t do it alone, I know that when you stand with me we are going to be able to take this guy down and have a lot to celebrate in November up and down the ballot when we send him packing and get more regular working people in D.C. and send home the career politicians that have had decades to fix these problems and have been unaffective about it.

Edwards: The reason why I am running is simple. Texans all across the state deserve real results in their lives. I think the days have come and gone where it is good enough to just make campaign promises along the campaign trail and fail to deliver.

We need effective servant leaders in office who will be focused not just on the politics of the day but in the people and the needs that they have so much in front of them that we need to serve. How do we take this seat?  One of the things that was striking in the 18th cycle was that we saw Beto O’Rourke come within almost 215,000 votes of winning that election. But when we looked closely at those numbers, when we looked at what happened, he was able to do extremely well getting those communities that we call persuadable voters out to vote. But when we looked at communities of color, when we looked at people under the age of 35, we had high registration levels, but they didn’t turn out in high numbers. They were under 50 percent of their registered numbers.

If we can build the coalition that is necessary in order to win this race, we will be able to unseat John Cornyn. We will be able to buy access to health care coverage. We will be able to make sure that nobody in our community is left behind in today or tomorrow’s economy.

I had the pleasure of four years of serving 2.3 million Texans. In my service as an at large Houston City Council member, I have been hands on and focused on results for people. That is precisely what we need in Washington D.C. Someone who has walked the communities, walked the homes and understand where the disconnects are on a local level so that we can fix them at the national levels. So if you are tired of politics as usual, stand with me in defeating John Cornyn for U.S. senator.

Cooper: I was here two years ago. There was a guy named Mike Collier. He was my opponent back then, but we have since become friends because they found out that we are on the same page. The same page was to defeat Dan Patrick. Well, that didn’t happen.

But what I did do was, I exhausted him and exasperated him to the point that he always had to talk about education when I showed up. At that point he challenged Dan Patrick on the education level. Dan Patrick lied and said he was going to get teachers a $10,000 pay raise. Go check The Houston Chronicle, they will tell you. Guess what happened? He had come back and said at least I will give them a $5,000 pay raise because I challenged my opponent and my opponent challenged him.

After my wife, an educator for 28 years, I got her a pay raise for $5,000. Any teachers in here? There you go. I’m the reason for that. And if I can do that on the outside, imagine what I can do on the inside?

Ocegueda: Now, I want to talk about Princeton. It’s a part of my resume. I went to Princeton University. When I first went there, I went to the freshman orientation program. There was a group of us that controlled the campus before the real students got there and when I looked around, it was all minorities, African Americans, students from all parts of the country and this was our campus. Because senators go to Princeton. presidents go to Princeton. If you go to one of their halls, it is all White males.

Let me tell you what happened from 1993 to 1998 while I was there. FIrst two years when I was there, we had a professor by the name of Dr. Cornel West. First year I took introduction to African American studies he was a firestorm and this is why I decided to have my minor in African American studies. Second year, he decides to join his professor and friend Mr. Gates at Harvard University. What the Princeton Daily decided to say was newly bought Cornel West. Which got all of us minority students thinking what do you mean by newly bought because it had connotations of the slave trade and we didn’t like it.

So a lot of us started protesting and we had a sit in that year and that is why it took me five years at Princeton University instead of four because I actually had to take a year off, because these institutions have impacted us and who is prepared to bring this discussion and to bring some of these arguments about minorities communities to bare a normal policy. Because our voice is largely been missing from that from all host of levels. So I am glad to be here and open to have this conversation.

The candidates then answered questions from the moderator and the audience.

Question: The U.S. government has not established a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. What  strategies would you want to see move forward in policy to protect breaching our national and personal security, especially since we learned that about three dozen voting machines companies actually had machines that had talked to the internet and could possibly be hacked. With that in mind, since we do not have an established and comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, what strategy would you want to see move forward in a policy to protect our national and personal security?

Edwards: One of the things that we have to do is protect our individuals. In Europe, there are policies that are already in place in which consumers and users of the internet can protect their personal information and instead of you checking the box and you automatically default for all of your personal information and be up for grabs for whoever can find it, instead you have the impetus to keep your information private. And the companies and the internet industries and all those that are using internet commerce have to work around that. I think that’s the way that we protect Americans first thinking about our private information.

Of course, if there are any compromises to any of our systems, we have to protect that as well, the integrity of our elections, making sure that companies are protecting your data. But also making sure that if there is any breach of any source, we strengthen our reporting policies so that people are protected in this country as well.

Cooper: We have to start at the top. We are talking about security and cyberspace, what about the president having private conversations with the president of Russia? These are issues that we have in our Sen. John Cornyn who is not addressing it so therefore he is complicit and doing nothing. Therefore, we need senators in there that are checking the president. The reason why the president is not impeached today is because of the fact that Congress has put him in check but is the United State senators with two-thirds of the vote that put him in what I call checkmate. When we check the president in the right way, we can make sure that our security stuff is safe and ready for the next election.

Ocegueda: I went to the chamber of commerce meeting couple of weeks ago and understand that there is a lack of human capital. There are not enough people in programming that can actually secure a lot of our networks. Even if we can say let us put a budget together, where is the human capital to execute this playing manner. And this is where our education system comes in. So all of these issues, good education to look at more comprehensive ways to decide what are the actual resources we need across the board and in addition to that we are competing with the private sector.

The private sector is paying wages way up here and even if we want these employees there are we preparing to pay for that. How are we going to compete with the wages and capital in place? What are we providing for our communities to get to college so we can do all this and prepare to get programmers to actually do work that is able to secure our cybersecurity network? That is a big hole and complicated issue but great question.

Hegar: In our last elections, we were under attack and the elections before that we were under attack from hostile foreign governments. We got to protect our country     with cybersecurity and infrastructural investment.

One of the things that concern me are attempted attacks on our energy grid. There are a lot of things that can be done to damage us through cybersecurity as we recently saw Iran try to retaliate with cybersecurity attacks. We absolutely need to invest in this, but there is so much more to do in addition. I think protecting voting when you need to look at things like paper ballots.

We also need to look at social media and holding social media accountable without spreading fake and misleading ads and propaganda, lies and things like that because those are the things that are really tearing apart our country and being more decisive and dividing us further at a time when we need to come together to find solutions.

We certainly need our military and the intelligence community to come together and give us some ideas on things we need to invest in, in order to move forward to secure our infrastructure and give us some cybersecurity, especially around elections.

West: We have to have a president that, number one, recognizes the problem, especially when the experts say it is a problem in terms of hacking the election systems and all of our financial institutions. We have to make sure that we have our best and our brightest trained to deal with this particular issue. Like Adrian said, we don’t have the workforce necessary in order to get it done. That is why it is necessary to have the personnel going to various universities to get the necessary experience.

It is a problem and our election system is still under attack and it will be under attack. In the 2020 elections, we got to make certain that we follow the advice of those persons that have already said it’s a problem and the recommendations that they are making in order to deal with the issue.

 

Q: What is your position on charter schools versus public schools?

West: My position on charter schools is when it first started I supported charter schools. We wanted to have a laboratory, that was what charter schools were supposed to be, but they become public schools now. And it has gotten to the point that they are oversaturating our communities.

When you look at the charter school movement in this state, what you will see is most of the charter schools are in this senatorial district and Borris Miles’ senatorial district, where we have the largest African American communities in the state. So, what I attempted to do is put in place to reduce the oversaturation of charter schools, given the commissioner of education the ability to do it. We need to elect a pro public school president. Then we will be able to make certain that pro public school president appoints a pro public school secretary of education. So we will get it done.

Hegar: I am a product of public schools. I think we need to continue to invest in education and 80 percent of people who walk into a military recruiting station are turned away for health care or education problems. They can’t read at a sixth grade level or they have some type of health care issue that would prevent them from serving. This is an epidemic happening in our country and we can’t stand by.

A lot of people talk about post-secondary education and student loans and we really need to focus on K-12 as well and make sure that our kids have the resources and make sure that we are able to keep teachers in rural schools. I think that there are examples of charter schools doing well like the Ann Richards School for Young Women, I like what they are trying to do there, but I am not going to support what diverts tax money away from private schools and things like vouchers and things like that. I will not support things like that.

Edwards: I also happen to be a product of public high schools and I believe that we have to invest in our young people in a way that has a plan for success for them. There are so many of our schools both public and charter schools that don’t have a clear path of success for our youth. The worst thing you can do for a child is to have no expectations for that child. You have to have a plan, whether it is for them to pursue a four year academic institution or for them to have vocational training or a combination of those things.

Certainly, I have witnessed on the ground that there are some charter schools that are very successful at educating some people in our communities and there are some that are not successful. I don’t think that we have to have a one size fits all solutions to the issue of charter schools and say that public schools should then divert to those charter schools. I think we should be investing in our public schools system, that each public school should not just focus on the test but making sure that we are educating people to be equipped for tomorrow’s workforce.

Cooper: When it comes to charter schools, it’s just like anything else. Follow the money or show me the money. Charter schools, just by investigating those, they get paid a million dollars in Beaumont, not just in Dallas. Those schools are being closed down by a guy that has been on the school board here in Dallas, Texas. Anybody know Mike Morath? He is your education commissioner. He’s the guy that Greg Abbott appointed to that position that is closing down our school system and he laughed when Lt. [Gov.] Patrick said that he is going to put an F rating in the school instead of failing. So he can then make those charter schools SB 1882 bill that allows charter schools to come in and liquidate a diluted area and not educate your kids, just pass them along. That’s not good for you, that’s not good for me and it is happening in your backyard and it is happening in my backyard. It is happening in Houston, Texas. I am absolutely against any form of charter schools.

Ocegueda: Largely, a local taxation issue and state funding issue. So we are at the federal level. I am also a product of public schools so I can tell you how inconsistent the product is. You can go from one district to saying hey I want my kid in this public school from one geographic area to another. So where do we start adopting those standards. Another thing I have been looking at is behavioral economics at a micro level. So think about it as simple as this. If you are a teacher in the public education system and you have been serving for 15 years you have tenure, you have more skills on how to teach your students well and what positions do you think you want in the public education system? You want students that are in the honors programs so the challenging students that actually need to improve their education are not getting the experienced teachers they are getting the first time teachers which actually helps compound the problem. But issues like this at the microlevel have huge impacts at the bigger level and if we just change our minds at the psychological level we get what we actually want inside the school.

 

Q: If you are successful in being appointed to the U.S. Senate, what committee would you seek to be appointed to, why, and at the end of the first year, how can we gauge how successful you have been?

Edwards: I think it would be fitting for me to serve on the Judiciary Committee. Just seeing the atrocities that have been taking place in the Supreme Court appointments and the ways in which our judiciary system has been violated by just making it a political game rather than an avenue for justice for people, I look forward to seeing and making sure that if there are new appointments to our Supreme Court that they have a fair process. How many times do we have to see time and time again where the processes are for selecting the judges of the Supreme Court the highest court of the land be unjust, be unfair? We have to correct that. We also have to make sure that as a senator on the Judiciary Committee all of us have to confirm our judges. We have to make sure that that is an entity, an arm of government that does in fact implicate or have an impact on what are the laws of the land. While it may not be legislation but the common law that is created out of traditional means is significant and does have an impact.

Hegar: I too would seek the Judiciary Committee because I believe that is the greatest threat to our constitution right now is the judges be confirmed. I think the other committee I would seek is the Senate Arms Services committee. The experience that I have with them and working with them and our staffers to try to block the legislation that would close jobs to women. I think we need more men and women who have served in uniform to be in our legislature because it is us who understand that there are things worth fighting for. Committing troops to any deployment and any boots on the ground around the world are federal and diplomacy first. We need more people who understand the awesome cost of war and I believe the people who are making decisions to deploy our troops do not understand that cost.

Ocegueda: I honestly don’t care what committee they put me on. You’re a junior senator and you come in and we as senators have the right to speak out on any subject. I will speak out about two policies that I have proposed. One is the 20 percent minority rule and this gets back to gun violence. We have a lot of Democrats saying I can’t do anything, Mitch McConnell is sitting there, and he is avoiding my law. This is a rule that would give minority party 20 percent control of the agenda so that the minority can actually bring the legislation that has already been passed in the House should we have a split government. The second thing is that I would like to adopt is anytime we have a piece of legislation, we need to hold someone accountable, put it in the law. Say look, when we pass this law, we said the expectation for some metric to be measured and this was the expectation of what we wanted to come out of that legislation. And also put a timeline for that measurement to say, hey look this is what we wanted and we say that we wanted this in three years, so in the legislation itself any future senator and future legislator can go back and say that’s what was expected to happen and this is what we are supposed to measure.

West: I want to serve on the finance, education, and health committees. Follow the money. We didn’t get UNT Dallas by me sitting on some other committee. We got UNT Dallas, the law school and other things because I was on the finance committee and knew how it actually worked in terms of government. In terms of how do you measure me after my first six years, what you do is you find the things I am working on and make certain that we at least have a $15 minimum wage in America. You judge me on it. You also judge me if I’ve done anything as it relates to health care in this country. I want to make sure that it becomes a fundamental right. When I come back, you judge me on those metrics.

Cooper: Education and health. Education because that was what I was pushing for when I ran for Lieutenant Governor. So I am consistent in that. There was a lady, Sen. Kamala Harris out of California and she was a candidate for President when she came out and said she was going to give teachers a $13,000 pay raise and she was going to use $300 billion dollars of federal money. That’s money on the federal level that no one is thinking about education. Look at Chicago, look at Dallas, look at Beaumont, look at Philadelphia, New York City. Because my son heard there is only one percent African American males that are teaching classes, he decided to go back and teach now. Education is where it is at. That is where we can afford to spend more money on vocations in high school so those people are now paying into the system so now we can expand Medicaid and Medicare for all. Health and education is where it is at.

The candidates then offered their closing statements on why they should be elected.

Cooper: I am a professional automotive executive manager. I am also a psychologist, I am a pastor. I only sleep three and a half hours at night. I am not a politician. I am unbought and unbossed which means that I am just like you. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. I am going to work for the people and I proved that before and I will prove that again. I am your candidate. Go to CooperforTexas.com and support me to be your next United States senator.

Hegar: I feel like this race is another in a line of many big challenges I have taken in order to try to right our community and make it stronger. I have a track record of wanting to be a combat pilot back when women were not combat pilots and I have been given a pat on the head and told that was really cute and I became a combat pilot, a combat rescue helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. When I served my third tour I mentioned that I was shot down and shot. As a victim of gun violence and a responsible gun owner and a mother of two toddlers, we also didn’t talk a lot about that and climate change is my number one issue and we didn’t talk about that either. I am going to encourage you to stay engaged with me and ask me questions one on one afterwards. When we were shot there were nine of us surrounded by 150, and we were against the odds, we got everybody out alive. The patients, the whole crew. When I took on the Department of Defense and the bureaucrats in D.C. who were trying to close jobs for women, I was also told that was impossible. We are not going to change 200 years of military tradition and I did. Give me challenges. I will take it. But don’t take this election cycle for granted. We have an opportunity you all, and that is our opportunity to seize and take advantage of or to mess, and I need you to stand with me.

Ocegueda: I get very passionate but I also get very frustrated. There is just a lot of stuff in my brain. There is also a lot of b.s. In the world. And these arguments you always want to simplify them. I am not going to lie to you. My chances for winning this election is small. But likewise, I almost feel like we are reinstituting the system as it already is. That ultimately begins with us and what we know and how we are approaching our candidates. What are we asking our candidates to actually talk about. You hear a lot about advocating for you to be angry at something. We got to address this. What you are not hearing a lot about is solutions. How do you actually go about the mechanics of actually getting those solved. Some of that actually has to do with little stupid things like a 20 percent minority rule that I talked about. Some of that has to do with understanding and evaluating climate change. Some of that has to do with creating a behavioral macroeconomic model. The challenge is to do capitalism in a different way. What it says is we as human beings make mistakes in our choices. I also belive we make stupid choices in politics all the time which is why we ended up with this President. The question is whose going to get educated collectively. How are we going to think differently about all these issues. What have we been told and so what looks good to you as a candidate may not be the actual choice we need to solve solutions going forward. But because it looks good to you because it sounds like something you heard before your brain automatically takes the easy path. You see that candidate, you see that persons fundraising, that’s the candidate I want because that’s what I want in my mind. In reality, it may be something completely different.

West: When I first decided to run for the United States Senate, I did three things. I had two or three private morning conversations with God, making sure I was headed in the right direction and making sure that it is not about me but a greater good. Then, what I did was I talked to my colleagues to see whether or not I had their support and then I talked to the head of my house, my wife Carol to make sure it was a joint effort and it was. I have never seen our country like this before and what I want to do is be a part of change and make sure our democracy endures. We begin to look at the issues, the issues concerning a woman’s right to choose, I believe a woman should have their right to choose on health care. That decision should be between their God, them and their physician. Not man. We have to deal with issues of education. We have to deal with issues of criminal justice, climate change and a whole host of issues need to be dealt with. The question is whether or not I’m ready. Do you believe I am ready to tackle those issues? What you have to do is look at what a person has done in the past that gives you a good idea of what that person can do in the future. You know what I have done in the past on these issues. I have been upfront on these issues. If I have been upfront then I will be upfront as your United States senator. We have 12 Democratic state senators. Of the 12 Democratic state senators there are 10 that support me. We have 69 House members, and 48 of them support me. I am hoping that Dallas County will support me and your choice will be Royce.

Edwards: In 2017, 51 inches of rainfall came across my community. I recall getting a call to check on some of our low-income senior citizens to make sure that they were okay. And when I went to visit those homes, residents told me they were okay. And grandchildren came out and asked me what they were doing to those walls that were soiled. And in each of those houses they would say to me that they were in fact fine because those walls in fact dried. And of course you know you can’t allow walls that have dried and been soiled by flood water to remain in the home. So of course that broke my heart but most importantly it caused me to act. I mobilized hundreds of volunteers to go out door to door and canvass and make sure we got those seniors the help that they needed for somebody to get those walls out of their homes. When I showed up on those doorsteps. I would be happy wearing my City Council shirt the first thing that would come to mind was oh, are you up for reelection because their elected official was standing in front of their doorstep. The reason I share this with you is because we have to got to change the dysfunction that exists and the way our democracy works and does not work for so many of our residents and our communities. It cannot be the case that we just show up when it is campaign time and then we go away to our offices. We have got to be here to be accountable to you and delivering the results no matter what party you are in. And most importantly delivering results to you that most matter in your lives. We have a senator that has voted six times plus to overturn the Affordable Care Act without a replacement in sight. We have to do better. We can do better. And if we have a candidate that comes out of this primary that can build the necessary coalitions both persuadable voters and the base, we will have a new United States senator. I am very encouraged. Follow me at AmandaforTexas.com.

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