On Saturday evening at the close of the Texas Democrats convention, the two Democratic runoff candidates vying for the nomination to challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) in November participated in a debate.
MJ Hegar, a retired Air Force helicopter pilot who previously ran a close congressional race against Rep. John Carter (R-TX-31), received 22.3 percent of the vote in the March 3 primary, the most out of the candidates on the ballot.
State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) finished in second place with 14.5 percent of the vote, leading just ahead of Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez’s 13.2 percent.
Since the primary, West has been endorsed by several of the losing candidates, including Ramirez, Chris Bell, and Michael Cooper.
While the actual debate between the two candidates was minimal, each used the event to highlight why they believe they are the Democrat party’s best choice to win against Cornyn in the general election.
Saturday’s debate was hosted by KXAN and is viewable in its entirety here.
The runoff election will be held on July 14.
Below is a summary of the topics discussed.
Police Brutality, Racism, and the George Floyd Protests
In light of the recent protests over the death of George Floyd, police brutality and racism were the first topics brought up for discussion by the moderators.
The candidates were asked how they would turn concerns about these issues into action.
Hegar said that the “obvious answer is criminal justice reform,” and she noted that she supports Campaign Zero and policies such as “police being more representative of the communities that they’re policing.”
She also said that a “full systemic reform” was needed to address racial disparities in healthcare, business, and education.
Hegar said that in respect to police brutality, there are not “a few poisoned apples,” but “a plague of locusts that have come through the orchard.”
West cited his own record on addressing the issue, pointing back to his 2015 bill that expanded the use of body cameras by Texas police officers.
He said that the federal government needs to use its “purse strings” to incentivize states across the nation to adopt a “uniform definition of the use deadly force.”
West added that there needs to be appropriate hate crime laws in place for racially-motivated murders by police and that punishments for such crimes need to be enhanced.
In one point of disagreement between the candidates, West said that the rioting and looting in the midst of the protests is “opportunism,” and while such actions should be reported, the public should not lose sight of the issue of racial justice.
Hegar said she doesn’t think it is “opportunism,” but rather “anger” at a system that has been oppressing people.
She said that she does not support the riots or looting, but thinks the “militarization” of law enforcement “sends the wrong message.”
Both candidates indicated they supported using the funding of police departments as a potential tool to compel the departments to respond to certain issues, but neither said that they wanted to completely defund police departments.
Another Possible COVID-19 Stimulus Package
When asked if she supported another coronavirus relief stimulus package, Hegar said that she was worried that the reopening process is moving too hastily and might “cause more damages to small businesses,” but did not directly say if she supported another stimulus.
West said that he did support another stimulus, and that he believed the funds should go to states and cities which in turn should support first responders and essential workers.
Hegar added that she was concerned about the national debt and believes that corporations and wealthy Americans need to pay higher taxes.
West agreed with Hegar on taxes.
West said that Obamacare should be expanded and that Texas should expand Medicaid.
Hegar wants a “public option” for everyone to participate in Medicare.
Holding China Accountable
Hegar said that the United States withdrawing “our influence around the world,” through actions such as reducing funding for the World Health Organization or limiting our presence at the United Nations, damages “our position as a global superpower.”
She said that the question of how we should hold China accountable comes “from a very racist place.”
West said that all countries that harm America’s national security should be held accountable, and agreed that China withheld important information at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, but did not provide a clear answer on how to effectively hold China accountable.
Abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Hegar said she would “consider” abolishing ICE, but that she would rather focus on having “the right leadership in place passing down the right policies.”
West provided a similar response, saying he would not support abolishing ICE if Joe Biden is elected president.
Legalization of Marijuana
Both candidates said they support the legalization of marijuana, and also admitted that they have used marijuana. Hegar said she did not want to elaborate on her use, and West said it was “a youthful indiscretion.”
Both candidates said they support a two-term limit for senators and a six-term limit for members of the House of Representatives.
Neither Hegar nor West have come out in full support of firearm confiscation in the form of “mandatory buybacks.”
Hegar said she would not “pander to one side or another” on the issue of firearm-related deaths, but will only support policies that she thinks will “move the needle on gun violence” and will be “pragmatic” and “enforceable.”
She said that universal background checks would be more effective than confiscation.
West said he was “encouraged” by what has happened in Virginia, with state leaders pushing for tighter firearm restrictions.
He also said he wants to see expanded red flag laws.
Ban on Fracking
Both candidates emphasized their support for climate change policies, but avoided directly answering if they would support a ban on fracking.
Each said that they wanted to see more evidence about the effects of the practice.
Hegar never gave a clear answer to the question.
West only responded in the affirmative after being pressed on the question and adding the qualification of if “it is harming the water supply.”
Reparations for Slavery
Asked if they support reparation payments to descendants of slaves in the country, Hegar said that she would need to consult with others for more information.
West said he leans toward supporting reparations, but would also need to consider it some more.
West said there should be “at least two more years of funding of education by taxpayers so persons can go to a community college.”
Hegar said that student loans should be reevaluated so that the government “is not profiting off of student loan interest,” and more options to pay back student loans, such as community service, can be given to students.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.