For anyone confused about how Texas has seemingly developed into a swing state overnight, look no further than what is happening in the north suburbs of Dallas where Democratic congressional candidate Candace Valenzuela has launched her offensive.
Valenzuela spoke with the Signal on Friday about her campaign, the ongoing pandemic, its dire effects on Americans amid a stalled Senate response, and her district, which she has called home for several years and is among the many Republican suburbs in Texas undergoing a revolt against Trump.
An educator and former school board member, Valenzuela said she opposes the decision by the state education agency and Gov. Greg Abbott last month ordering schools to reopen classrooms.
“He’s putting many families in an untenable situation for their lives instead of making sure that we keep as many folks at home as possible while we test, we trace, and we treat COVID-19 — and contain it,” Valenzuela said.
She lamented the incoming loss of institutional knowledge as thousands of teachers that are capable of retiring and are concerned for their health weigh the dangers of returning to school.
The reopening of schools comes as federal unemployment benefits end, threatening the housing of Texans living in areas without local evictions bans.
Valenzuela said the bare minimum Congress should be doing right now is pausing evictions and freezing mortgage payments on a federal level in order to keep people housed.
As a child, Valenzuela and her mother fled from domestic violence, forcing them into a period of homelessness in El Paso that saw them bounce around couches, a homeless shelter, and at one point, outside a gas station where Valenzuela slept in a kiddie pool.
Valenzuela said she gets an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach as she thinks about the similar stress millions of Americans are facing or will soon face.
“That sense of instability, even when you get a place to stay — we didn’t stay [in one place] for very long in large parts of my childhood — it really takes a toll on parents,” Valenzuela said, remembering her mother. And kids too, she added.
“Kids are always aware of how their parents are feeling, and they’re always aware of their living situation and that instability,” Valenzuela said.
As a mother raising two young children in a home with her husband who is able to work from home as she campaigns, Valenzuela said she feels a huge responsibility to leverage everything she has to prevent families from experiencing income and housing insecurity.
“There are folks in our federal government who are working their tails off,” Valenzuela said, nodding to the Democrat-controlled House. “I wish we could give them support before January 2021, but so many of us are coming as fast as we can.”
Valenzuela supports creating a public option for healthcare and improving the Affordable care Act. When asked about how the economic consequences of the pandemic have highlighted a grave problem with healthcare in the U.S., in which just under half the country depends on health insurance through their employer, Valenzuela said Republican lawmakers in Texas who have declined federal dollars to expand Medicaid and provide coverage for low-income families can’t be let off the hook — but a comprehensive Congressional response will be needed too.
Valenzuela’s congressional district, Texas 24, is home to a set of Goldilocks-style conditions that make the district one of the likeliest to flip in November.
Chief among those “just right” conditions is the district’s rapid population growth, particularly from non-white Democratic-leaning residents, as well as increasingly disaffected Republicans that together have chipped away at Republican margins since 2016, most notably delivering a win for Beto O’Rourke in the district during his U.S. Senate run and flipping five statehouse seats for Democrats throughout the Dallas area the same year.
GOP vulnerability in the middle-class, college-educated district is also heightened by the expiring term of retiring incumbent Rep. Kenny Marchant, the only Republican to hold the district since it was created.
Right next door is Texas’ 32nd district, another Dallas suburb success story that saw Democrat Rep. Collin Allred tackle 11-term Republican congressman Pete Sessions during the 2018 midterms. It shares the same demographic shifts, Democratic down-ballot wins, and backlash against Trump as the neighboring district where Valenzuela is running.
Early polling shows that voters prefer Valenzuela to her GOP opponent Beth Van Duyne by a six-point margin. The same polling shows that margin drops to only three percentage points in a generic ballot, suggesting Valenzuela exerts unique influence over the race, or that Van Duyne, the former mayor of Irving known for accomplishing very little and being anti-Muslim, is particularly toxic in a district that already disapproves of Trump and is polling in favor of Biden.
Campaigning in a district with so much going on under the hood, from disaffected Republicans to a new generation of galvanized Democrats, is no doubt a challenge.
But Valenzuela said that during her 2017 election to the school board, she learned there are enough issues, like equitable education, that can unify Texans in an ideologically diverse district such as hers.
As she was running, Valenzuela said she heard from residents who were willing to vote for her because she was issue-focused and cared about the wellbeing of children in the school district. She recalled the moment a voter who had a slew of Tea Party signage on their lawn called to include her sign too. When Valenzuela called the voter back, she was surprised to find it wasn’t a mistake and the Tea Party supporter had liked what she heard from her campaign.
“That is what people value in Texas, that’s what people value in the suburbs,” Valenzuela said. “People think it’s about trying to play some role politically, but ultimately it’s just caring about the folks here and fighting for them.”
Photo: Candace Valenzuela campaign website
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at email@example.com