Monday Night Politics

Audra Riley Teresa Jan Hawthorne Kim Olson Candace Valenzuela State Sen. Royce West Mary “MJ” Hegar


Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates focuses on criminal district judge and U.S. representative candidates


The Dallas Examiner


Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates presents a focus on candidates running for criminal district judge – Dallas County No. 3 and U.S. Representative District 24 in the July 14 Democratic primary runoff election.


Criminal District Judge – Dallas County No. 3

This political office is a felony court that handles all felony cases and only felony cases, starting with capital murder cases. It’s responsibilities include to render decisions, to render legal decisions, preside over felony trials and take pleas.


Audra Riley


Q: What is your platform?

I am committed to fairness and justice for everyone. I believe in second chances for those who find themselves making poor choices due to circumstances. It’s important to me to help those in need of mental health treatment and/or drug treatment. It’s equally of importance to me to hold those who commit violent offenses accountable.


Question: What is your political/business experience?

This is my first time running for office. I have volunteered for multiple campaigns in the past. The most recent campaign that I was involved in was Beto O’Rourke’s run for U.S Senate in 2018.


Q: Why is she the best candidate for this position?

A judge is responsible for overseeing the courtroom and is responsible for making decisions that impact a victim who has unfortunately found themselves in the criminal justice system. But it also impacts someone, possibly someone accused of an offense. And it impacts their life as well. So it is very important for a judge to have impartiality and be balanced. And I know that I am the better candidate for this position because I have been a prosecutor with the Dallas DA’s office for all 10 years. I’ve tried those misdemeanor cases, I’ve tried those felony cases, I’ve tried those sex abuse cases, I’ve tried those murder cases, capital murder cases, aggravated robbery cases.

So, I am knowledgeable of the pressure that everything it takes from the prosecution standpoint to make sure that justice is served for a victim.

Now, I am a criminal defense attorney, so now I have been on both sides. As a criminal defense attorney, your eyes open up differently. You have a different perspective, trying to help your client out in the best way possible. Some of my clients are innocent and some of my clients find themselves in a poor condition because of circumstances they find themselves in. Some of my clients are drug addicts, some have mental health issues, in fact the overwhelming majority of my clients have one or two or both underlying issues. In those cases, my job is trying to get my clients the best outcome possible. That could be rehabilitation, probation, drug treatment, mental health treatment, over incarceration, so I have that balance. I’ve seen it from the state’s perspective, and I now see it from the defense attorney’s perspective.

In addition to that as I worked criminal law as part of my education as an undergrad, I was actually a prison guard at the Texas Department of Corrections. I know what prisons look like, I know the conditions, and I think it is important for a judge to not necessarily be a corrections officer at a prison, but because I do have that experience I believe that it makes me a better candidate because I have seen the criminal justice system from several different perspectives.


Teresa Jan Hawthorne


Q: What is your platform?

My platform primarily is I do think we need to make some great changes within the criminal justice system. I’m concerned about so many nonviolent people being sent to prison for what I consider nonviolent crimes just because of technicalities and sometimes the judges are afraid to continue them because they have not followed the rules, but I think we can continue to work with people that are nonviolent. I believe that prison is for the most violent like murderers, child rapists and not for people that commit nonviolent crimes. When a person is placed on probation if they haven’t committed any other offense, the should not be sent to prison, they should be given chances because they probably never learned to learn the rules anyways other than going to prison.


Q: What is your political/business experience?

My professional experience entails that I have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and my law degree. I was a school teacher before I went to law school. I went to law school when I was 39 years old. I taught school at North Garland High School and was the first girls head coach there. I have been a secretary before that at Texas Instruments while I was working my way through school. I worked my way through school with three jobs. I did some accounting work and was an exercise instructor and then practiced law for several years and been a judge for several years.


Q: Why is she the best candidate for this position?

I am certainly not God and can’t say who is the best person. But I do have respect for my opponent, Ms. Riley. She is a very nice person and has been a lawyer for 10 years, however, I have a lot more years on her, and I have been a judge before, and I think that all of my experience and background, and I worked with mental health with people for years which is very important within the criminal justice system and she hasn’t. And I believe that my background and career and all of my jobs, and everything that I have done certainly renders me the most qualified candidate to handle felony cases in a state court.


U.S. Representative District 24

This office is part of the legislative branch of the government and represents the North Texas area, specifically the Dallas/Fort Worth airport area, urban and suburban parts. This position makes laws and authorizes the use of American tax dollars and appropriates that money. It tells thorough laws, the budget of the United States and how one will spend the tax dollars and the priorities as a country.


Kim Olson


Q: What is your platform?

I think our focus needs to be on leadership to maneuver this country in this incredible, unprecedented time. The platform is to offer the constituents of 24 and in Texas and in the nation a reasonable leader who will go and put their interests before your own. What we know is that people are very concerned about the economy and in getting jobs and getting up back on their feet. They are very concerned as COVID has shown us the incredible inequities in our health care system and within our haves and have nots. Who would know that the lunch lady would become an essential worker and the frontline provider in keeping us fed and healthy.

COVID has shown how much of a gap there is between folks and we need to fix that and have a change in our nation to help the have and have nots. And finally, I think we have an incredible opportunity to fundamentally maneuver this nation out of this negative, hateful rendering that is going on. I have no tolerance for the decisiveness that is going on in our leadership at the state and national level at a time when our country needs folks to work really hard to right this country.


Q: What is your political/business experience?

I am a 25-year combat veteran. I was a pilot in the first generation of female military pilots. When I got out of the military, I sat for two terms on the school board and have been a small business owner, I ran a CSA, or community supported agriculture, or farmer. I also ran a nonprofit for several years helping women veterans. I also worked for head of H.R. for Dallas ISD.


Q: Why is she the best candidate for this position?

I think the job requires someone who has experience and the depth of resume and working with large organizations and bureaucracy. I think having the experience of being a trailblazer and opening doors all along the way of my professional career and in working with wounded warriors and working with the education system on the governance and in practice and in the classroom and finally someone who has been battle tested, someone who has been where you got decisions to make and you make the best decisions and work as hard and again, me being a retired female officer it has always been service before self, and I think that the kinds of leadership that folks are looking for right now and that’s what I bring to the table.


Candace Valenzuela


Q: What is your platform?

I’m running because the reality is that working families are fighting to put a roof over their heads, food on their tables and see their children succeed. Washington doesn’t understand that many of us are struggling to do those things. Washington is not fighting for our families, our children or the futures we deserve.

I have a unique perspective, but my story is the quintessential American story. I’m the great granddaughter of veterans, the granddaughter of veterans, and daughter of veterans. My mom and dad met in the military in El Paso.

But things weren’t always easy growing up. My mother, brother and I were forced to flee in the night away from an abusive situation and we ended up homeless.We bounced around from place to place, even spending one night in a kiddie pool outside of a Texaco gas station. But we were able to overcome these difficult times with the help of key governmental programs like affordable housing from HUD, food stamps and public school. Through hard work, the help of our community and very good luck, I became the first in my family to go to and graduate college.

I’m working hard to serve the families of this district and fight for the very life saving and life changing programs that have empowered me to be in the position to give back. That means making health care more affordable for all Americans, reforming our broken criminal justice system and creating a more equitable education system for our children.


Q: What is your political/business experience?

In 2017, I became the first Black and Latina woman to be elected to the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board. I decided to run because the board was not representative of the families of my district and was not responsive to the needs of the families. While the district was majority-minority, there were only two people of color on the board. I knew that things needed to change, so I ran. I was told I couldn’t do it, the incumbent was too powerful, I wouldn’t be able to raise the money, I didn’t fit the typical profile.

But I did have the knowledge of what the families of the district needed. I knew the urgency of the issues families were facing because I had faced them too. I had the experience to deliver solutions for our families, for our teachers and for our community. Through hard work, community engagement and coalition building, I beat an 18-year Republican backed incumbent. When I got to the school board, I delivered results for the working people in our community. We got rid of reduced lunch and expanded free lunch, gave teachers pay raises and made our schools safer from gun violence. I am the only candidate in this race who has represented and served our community here in TX-24, and I’ll bring that experience with me to Washington to continue to serve the working families of North Texas.


Q: Why is she the best candidate for this position?

As my friend and endorser Rep. Ayanna Pressley says, “The people that are closest to the pain are the people that need to be closest to the power.” My governing experience makes me the best candidate for working families in the 24th district. I’m running for Congress because the reality is families are fighting to put a roof over their heads, put food on the table and see their children succeed. Washington doesn’t understand that, that isn’t happening right now. They don’t understand that $1,200 doesn’t go very far. Or that our needs for health care aren’t some luxury of wishlists. They are living necessities. I am the best person to articulate those thoughts, feelings and needs.

I am running for Congress for the same reason I ran for the school board. Being homeless as a child, to being the first in my family to graduate college, I am building a coalition to win. I have many endorsements from various people such as Sen. Kamala Harris. Locally, I got the endorsement of Shirley Tarpley, she was the very first Black woman on the Carrollton City Council and she was the first Black teacher in Carrollton-Farmers Branch School District. The congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley are some of the other endorsements that I have gotten.

My responsibility will be to serve our community in Washington, lift up working families by enacting laws at the Federal level like universal health care, a $15 minimum wage, and reforming our criminal justice system, including the way we police, adding oversight and making sure everyone has equal protection under the law. Finally, I will be responsible for standing up to Republicans like Donald Trump, who seek to divide and harm many of us. For too long, politicians have been responsive to their donors, not their communities. I’m working to change that, and my experiences overcoming poverty growing up and serving on the school board give me the necessary skills to serve our community effectively and with compassion.


U.S. Senator for Texas

This office is responsible for passing legislation and building on legislation. It also confirms judges, cabinet members and other presidential appointees and works for Americans. Candidates running for election to this seat will replace incumbent Sen. John Cornyn.


State Sen. Royce West


Q: What is your platform?

I believe health care is a fundamental right and we must make health care available and affordable for all Americans. I will work to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, and create a true public option for health insurance in this country. I believe we must drastically reform policing, law enforcement and the criminal justice system in this country. I believe we must end systemic racism in any and all American institutions where it may be found. I believe we must make certain that we address climate change, in order to leave a better planet for future generations. Toward those ends, I support getting our nation to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. I support two years of no-cost college, trade, or technical school for every young American, and means-tested student loan forgiveness. I believe we must stop any and all attempts to hamper the exercise of the right to vote, and support mail in balloting in all elections for all voters. This is just a sample. Read more at


Q: What is your political/business experience?

I have served as the State Senator for Senate District 23 serving Dallas County since 1993. Prior to my tenure in the Texas Senate, I worked as a prosecutor in the Harris County and Dallas County District Attorney’s Offices. I was the first minority Chief Felony Prosecutor in Dallas County. I have been practicing law for 40 years, and am the managing partner of West & Associates LLP which has offices in Dallas and Houston.

During my tenure in the Texas Senate, I have authored and passed or sponsored and passed, many pieces of legislation that have had a significant impact on all Texans across a wide spectrum of policy areas from health care to criminal justice reform and education. This legislation includes: our state’s police body camera and dash camera laws; the Community Safety Education Act; as well as legislation extending the reach of telemedicine; legislation to create the first public university in Dallas and the first public law school in Dallas; legislation to help protect special needs children in self-contained special education classrooms; landmark legislation that enabled persons fostering children within their families to receive a monthly stipend – keeping them out of the foster care system; and legislation to ensure the state’s bidding and procurement process was more open and more friendly to women and minority-owned businesses.

In addition, I have long been a champion of public education and have worked to increase funding for public education and helped secure a $5,000 pay raise for Texas teachers during the last session of the Texas Legislature. I also helped secure the funding for power transmission lines to connect hundreds of new wind turbines in west Texas and the Texas panhandle to our electric grid, helping make Texas a national leader in renewable energy, and helping lower electric bills for thousands upon thousands of Texans. I also helped lead the charge to create our state’s James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, and have long been an advocate for legislation to help ensure that a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions were protected, and that disabled Texans, LGBTQ+ Texans, and elderly Texans were protected.


Q: Why is he the best candidate for this position?

First and foremost, my experience makes me the best candidate for this position. During my 27 years in the Texas Senate, I have worked diligently to build diverse coalitions to devise solutions to difficult issues. Additionally, during these difficult times, as America battles the COVID-19 pandemic and the clarion call to reform our criminal justice system and end systemic racism rises ever louder, I am the only candidate in this race with the type of experience necessary to tackle these difficult issues. I was on the front lines of battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Dallas in the 1990s, and have been a leader on health care issues in the Texas Senate. When it comes to ending systemic racism and enacting true police reform, I am the only candidate in this race and one of the few legislators in the nation who can say he has enacted true reforms that changed the manner in which policing was conducted in this state. With the difficulties facing our nation, we are in a time when an experienced leader is necessary.


Mary “MJ” Hegar


Q: What is your platform?

I’m running for Senate because it’s long past time we make Washington work for Texas families – not for big donors and special interests. We need working moms like me in office who’ve lived the everyday challenges facing our families and who’ll put an end to policies that shift the scales in favor of the rich and powerful. As Senator, I’ll prioritize expanding access to quality and affordable health care, creating an economy that puts workers first, stemming the gun violence epidemic, and addressing climate change. I’ve traveled tens of thousands of miles across Texas building grassroots support and talking directly with voters, and their stories guide my mission. Texans are sick and tired of career politicians and just want a leader who will accomplish real change — with a strong record of taking on tough fights and winning, I’m just the person for the job.


Q: What is your political/business experience?

I’m a decorated combat veteran, working mom, and Texan. I joined the Air Force after graduating from UT and served three tours in Afghanistan as a combat search and rescue and medevac pilot. After my helicopter was shot down and I sustained injuries from enemy gunfire, I was barred from competing for a ground combat position just because I was a woman. I knew the policy was not only unjust, but a detriment to military preparedness – so I took on the fight to overturn the policy and open up hundreds of thousands of jobs for women in the military. Though we were successful in overturning the outdated policy, I got my first glimpse at how broken Washington is. My new mission is taking on the fight for the Senate because Texans deserve a leader who will put them ahead of special interests while expanding health care, tackling climate change, and ending the gun violence epidemic.


Q: Why is she the best candidate for this position?

I am the best candidate for this position because we don’t have enough people in D.C. representing us right now with the right type of experience and values. That is two-fold. When I say values I say that when I look at people like John Cornyn, I see D.C. I don’t see Texas. I don’t see strength and independence and integrity and somebody who is going to fight for Texas. I see somebody who has a vested interest in a system that doesn’t work for regular folks that only cater to the rich and powerful. I see someone who is spineless who only answers to his party bosses.

The type of experience that we need is that we need more people who understand the high cost of war and that is why I think we need more veterans in office because when people have responsibilities in committing our troops to combat zone and once they get deployed in combat zones, we need to understand what they are doing to military families and only employ those as a last resort not as a first resort. I think if they understood that they wouldn’t standby and let the state department be gutted and let our relationship with our allies be jeopardized. But more than just being a military veteran we need more people who are working parents who understand the challenges and the reason why we need things like kid sick leave and family leave we need more people who have worked minimum wage jobs who understand how difficult it could be to put food on the table.

We need more people who understand what it means to be laid off who understand what it means to not have the protections to the right to organize and understand the challenges and accomplishments of the labor movement. Things like social security, we need more people who understand the fear of paying into a system that is not going to be there for them. I feel like the people in charge of finding a fix on protecting social security are not defending our social security because of their rich and powerful friends. The system right now is not working for regular folks like you and I.


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