Criminal JusticeElections 2020Congressional Candidate Has Close Ties to Progressive Group Pushing for Elimination of Prisons

Democrat Mike Siegel is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Michael McCaul for the second time in a district spanning from Houston to Austin.
September 28, 2020
The race for Texas’ 10th Congressional pits incumbent Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX-10) against progressive Democratic challenger and attorney, Mike Siegel.

Siegel has not shied away from taking radical stances during the campaign, and a program from the 2014 National Lawyers Guild (NLG) San Francisco Bay Area Chapter’s annual dinner honoring Siegel’s parents, Dan Siegel and Anne Weills, demonstrates the candidate’s controversial rhetoric.

About his upbringing which was tied heavily to the NLG’s activism, Siegel said, “My childhood was solidarity with striking janitors and teachers, protests to block shipments of war materials, barbecues to celebrate organizing campaigns and countless late night meetings to plan the revolution (as well as various reform efforts before now and the big moment).”

“I wasn’t born into the National Lawyers Guild, but sometimes it feels like I was,” Siegel said.

In law school at Cornell, Siegel served as the organization’s student chapter president.

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“In many ways, NLG has been a part of our family. From Stephen Bingham to Walter Riley, from the fight against the Iraq War to the fight against gang injunctions, this has been a place of solidarity and support,” he continued.

Bingham is an attorney and civil rights activist. He was accused of smuggling a pistol to George Jackson, then a prisoner in San Quentin State Prison for armed robbery who led an ultimately failed jailbreak attempt during which three corrections officers and two prisoners were found dead in his cell. Jackson was a founder of the Marxist–Leninist Black Guerrilla Family.

Bingham lived as a fugitive abroad for 13 years before turning himself in and achieving acquittal in 1986.

The NGL has existed since 1937 and calls itself the “nation’s oldest and largest progressive bar association.”

Its mission is to “use law for the people, uniting lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective force in the service of the people by valuing human rights and the rights of ecosystems over property interests.”

The NLG’s policy planks include the closure and defunding of prisons; redistribution of police and prison budgets to alternative programs; legalization of drug use and prostitution; release of prisoners serving life in prison without opportunity for parole; reduction of solitary confinement; and prevention of new prison construction.

The prison abolition movement aims to reduce or eliminate the use of prisons in the criminal justice system. It is different from the similarly oriented “prison reform” movement which advocates internal condition improvements or the effort to eliminate privately run prisons.

In the Harvard Law Review, Dorothy Roberts, a leading social justice scholar, wrote that prison abolition centers on three theories:

  • “Today’s carceral punishment system can be traced back to slavery and the racial capitalist regime it relied on and sustained.”
  • “The expanding criminal punishment system functions to oppress black people and other politically marginalized groups in order to maintain a racial capitalist regime.”
  • “We can imagine and build a more humane and democratic society that no longer relies on caging people to meet human needs and solve social problems.”

Siegel served as an assistant City of Austin attorney from 2015 to 2019.

His parents were, chiefly, labor activists but also organized against the Iraq War and “gang injunctions” — a method by which the government uses broad powers to clamp down on gang activity before it reaches a felonious level.

Critics of gang injunctions say they allow the government to prosecute individuals without being tied to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof.

“If you know my parents and my family, you know that we often work at the intersection of politics and the law. If we can’t beat you in the courts, we’ll meet you in the streets,” his speech reads.

Progressive activism has a long history of employing civil disobedience to advance its cause. But civil disobedience, of every political stripe, can often devolve into physical violence.

Across the country, renewed protests of America’s policing, some devolving into riots, have marked 2020 following the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd under the knee of an officer. Most recently, those protests have bubbled up after the grand jury verdict on the death of Louisville woman Breonna Taylor during a police raid.

For the second straight election cycle, Siegel is running against McCaul. In 2018, the incumbent congressman won by 4.3 percent, a stark contrast from the 21 percent average margin of victory in his previous six re-election wins.

Siegel has been endorsed by the Sunrise Movement — an organization dedicated to implementing the Green New Deal — for his determination to drastically change America’s energy system.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) does not include Siegel in their “Red to Blue” effort and has a contentious relationship with the candidate. Siegel has levied allegations that the DCCC has worked to sabotage his campaign. 

Siegel and his campaign did not reply to requests for comment.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.