Candidates vying to replace Sen. John Cornyn gathered on Wednesday at the Texas Signal Senate Forum to make their case for the Democratic nomination.
Civil rights leader Christina Tzintzún Ramirez, Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, former congressman Chris Bell, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, State Sen. Royce West, and activist Sema Hernandez attended the forum to discuss their ideas on healthcare, climate change, and gun violence.
One of the first issues discussed was impeachment– a timely concern following damaging testimony on Wednesday by a senior Trump diplomat in Ukraine that indicated the president demanded a quid quo pro from the Eastern European country.
Hegar, who last month backed the House impeachment inquiry against Trump, was asked if the avalanche of new developments since then, including the president himself directly calling for Ukraine and China to investigate a domestic political rival on national television, had pushed her closer to backing outright impeachment.
“I do believe I have seen enough to think that the evidence from the inquiry is going to show impeachable offenses,” Hegar said. “[B]ut I’m also cognizant that those are things we’ve read in the press, and so I’m going to respect the process.”
Her position was essentially echoed by Edwards and West, both attorneys, who also said they would wait for the facts and Democratic-led investigation to end. Other candidates in the race previously have gone beyond calling for an inquiry; they back impeachment now.
On economic matters, candidates were asked about how they would solve the growing gap between rich and poor in Texas. Last month, newly released Census figures revealed Texas was one of nine states to see an uptick in income inequality, continuing an almost 40-year trend in the U.S. of wealth being concentrated at the top.
To reduce the gap, Edwards said Texans needed improved access to economic opportunity in a changing economy. “We’ve got to do more than just talk about these things, we actually have to deliver and look at ways we can bring all people aboard so that they can see themselves as part of the economy and thrive,” she said, suggesting better jobs and wages. In a separate but related question about higher education, Tzintzún Ramirez said she supported canceling all student debt to prevent an economic crisis among the youngest generation of Americans.
Last month, a Texas Tribune poll showed 66 percent of potential Democratic primary voters were undecided about whom to support in the Senate race, or hadn’t heard enough about the candidates, suggesting the U.S. Senate Democratic primary remains wide open.
West and Bell are banking on Democrats prioritizing their government experience.
“I’m ready to represent the state of Texas based on the experiences that I’ve had and understanding what the core value of Texas are,” West said, flexing his 26-year legislative record in the Texas Senate. “Experience counts. I’m the only one in the race who’s actually served in Congress,” Bell said citing about his work in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Can you win?
About 225 people attended the Wednesday forum in Houston. A focus throughout the evening from the moderators, Texas Signal’s CEO Kevin Nix and Annie’s List Executive Director Royce Brooks, was candidate viability. Many candidates were asked, should they be the party’s nominee, about their path to victory in the general election against Cornyn.
“That’s how I’m going to win– speaking about our common interests and also speaking to the issues that have been ignored by both political parties,” Tzintzún Ramirez said, explaining her organizing and advocacy work, most recently as the CEO of Jolt, a Latinx-focused political group.
“They can vote for the ass-kisser or the ass-kicker,” Hegar said, the latter label referring to Cornyn.
“Having a candidate that has a track record of delivering results for people who have been working in communities of color, who has been working alongside young people, but also someone whose politics will allow for people in the middle to find a connection,” Edwards, said of her campaign.
Texas Democrats will decide on the nomination for U.S. Senate in March. Texas is an open primary state, meaning as long as someone is registered to vote, they can participate in the primary election.
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