On Tuesday, the Signal interviewed Candace Valenzuela, a former local school board member running for an open seat in Texas 24th congressional district.
Going into 2020, the suburban Dallas congressional seat was already among the likeliest to flip in the state. Republicans suffered from a retiring incumbent, a close congressional challenge from Democrats in 2018, and polling in the district showed a weak approval rating for President Trump. The latest polling, conducted in the summer, showed Valenzuela favored to win.
In the final weeks of the race, Valenzuela has more than doubled the fundraising of her Republican opponent Beth Van Duyne, Irving’s former rightwing mayor. Valenzuela outraised Duyne during the previous fundraising quarter too.
If elected, Valenzuela would be the first Afro-Latina in Congress and the first Democrat to hold the district since 2005.
Here’s what Valenzuela had to say about COVID-19, healthcare, taxes, and police reform.
It looks like a second COVID-19 relief package won’t come until after the November elections. What is the bare minimum Congress should be able to agree on to help Americans? What are some non-negotiable aspects of a second COVID-19 relief bill?
I think it’s just relief for families. They cannot wait to eat, they can’t wait to put a roof over their head. So making sure they get direct monetary relief to help pay for their food.
Making sure that COVID-19 testing, tracing, and treatment widely available and not prohibitively expensive. And making sure that we are getting relief to our small businesses and our labor force. Folks cannot wait.
One other thing. [Congress] needs to continue halting evictions, either for failure to pay rent or failure to pay mortgage. People need to be able to stay housed even as the economy isn’t right where it needs to be because COVID is still ravaging many of our community. We’re seeing hotspots getting even hotter here in Texas. And people aren’t safe, but people still need to eat and live.
What is your campaign’s top issue?
My campaign’s top issue right now is making sure that when I get Congress, we’re going to be getting relief to our families, and our small businesses, and our localities as quickly as we possibly can.
And of course, after that I’m going to be committed to making sure that we protect healthcare, negotiating drug prices, making sure we protect pre-existing conditions and making sure we expand coverage to people that aren’t necessarily employed because that’s the condition of so many Americans right now, who by no fault of their own are going through an economy that’s been ravaged not just by COVID-19, but by our federal administration’s ineffectual response to it. The people in my district didn’t choose this.
We need to honor and protect them as we get our economy back on track.
You mentioned expanding healthcare coverage. You support a public option for the Affordable Healthcare Act. Why is that the best way to achieve universal coverage?
We need to make sure that we have a robust public option that covers everybody who is making less than $50,000 at 100 percent, and more than $50,000 at 90 percent of their costs.
If folks are in a place where their employer-sponsored healthcare works for them or their own plan works for them, that’s fine, but for the rest of us — and there are many, many more folks right now, especially in Texas and states that failed to take the Medicaid expansion — we need to make sure that coverage is broadly available and I think a public option will provide that coverage.
Where would you like to see Democrats take tax policy in 2021? Biden recently released his tax plan this month. He is proposing raising the top federal tax rate from 37 percent to about 40 percent, its pre-Trump level. Biden said this would only affect those with taxable incomes above $400,000. What are your thoughts on that? Does it go too far, not far enough, or is it just right?
We can say the tax rate is a million percent — as long as there are loopholes that we can drive a truck through, as long as we have large corporations like Amazon getting around all the taxes that they could have potentially paid, it doesn’t matter what we say the tax rate is. We need to make sure that corporations are paying their fair share and that they cannot find wiggle room with lawyers to get out of these taxes.
Right now, because they’re not, we have this infrastructure that is in need of help, we’ve got workers that are in need of help, families in need of help. And even though these workers and families have invested in these major corporations, their time, their sweat, their blood and tears, they’re not getting that return on investment from these corporations.
As much as I’m looking forward to working with these corporations as partners to bring jobs, they need to be actual partners and they need to be investing back in what they receive from the American people.
You mentioned corporations paying their fair share. What are your thoughts on Trump’s 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which reduced the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent? Would you support legislation to revert or change the corporate income tax rate?
I think that would be a minimum. Again, we have to have a discussion beyond rates. Even if we revert to the original rate we’re still having that problem of corporations not paying their fair share before 2017. If they were, I don’t think we would have been brought to the brink in the way that many families were at that point.
So, yes, that’d be great, but also we need a more nuanced discussion as to what that means for the actual action.
The latest United Nations climate change report said the globe has a little more than a decade to address climate change before it causes irreversible damage. What is your plan to rapidly fight climate change?
First off, we need to make sure that large corporations, who are the primary polluters — it’s not folks with straws or folks who are occasionally taking a long road trip, but large corporations.
We’ve had so many environmental protections reversed from the Trump administration in all facets of manufacturing, right down to our meatpacking companies. Losing those protections just further exacerbates the problems we’re seeing with climate change.
So again, making sure that corporations who are supposed to be paying their fair share in taxes, also pay their fair share in green infrastructure. And moving forward, as we are creating more jobs to update our existing infrastructure, we need to make sure that the new infrastructure is green, sustainable and that it has in mind that we have to address climate change right now.
What actions would you like to see Congress take to address the police killings and police brutality of Black people?
It has to go beyond the banning of chokeholds. A lot of these police forces that have been subject to scrutiny because of their brutality have had chokeholds banned. We need to talk a lot more about external oversight, so that we’re not just protecting our community but better our police officers too. If we’re talking about a few bad cops, then we shouldn’t let a few bad cops run the entire organization.
We need to make sure there are mechanisms of accountability, we need to encourage folks to be hired within the community, we need to make sure that there is training for racial bias and mental health. But beyond that training, we shouldn’t expect our police officers to be therapists. We need to hire more folks that are equipped to handle mental health issues, that are equipped to handle folks with disabilities and special needs.
We need to make sure we are promoting general equity in our communities. If we don’t have drinkable water, clean air, a living wage, if we don’t have equity in education, all those things affect public health and crime rates.
We have to take a holistic approach, not just to police reform but to justice for our communities, and I’ll be working with our members of Congress to do that.
Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you would like to talk about?
The biggest failure that I feel we have right now in our system and the biggest failure folks are feeling acutely regardless of income or political affiliation, is our government’s failure to be compassionate and invest back in our people.
There is such much middle ground that we have — that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to skew to the center, that’s completely not it all — when it comes to investing in our education, making sure there’s police accountability, and making sure there is clean air and water, and making sure we have common gun sense laws … we have so much room for progressive legislation and I’m looking forward to having a Congress, a Senate and a presidency that will allow us to do that. And in the event we don’t have that, I’m looking forward to using my platform to continue to organize so that we have a government that’s more reflective of our people.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org