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Politics with Parker – episode 17: Interview with U.S. Congress candidate Colin Allred

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Parker: “Hi everyone, my name is Parker Butler, and this is Politics with Parker Season 2, Episode 17.

In this weekly series, I break down the latest political news, and offer some commentary on how to get people, especially young people, engaged in politics and energized about the issues that we as a generation are going to inherit.

Well, 2018 has arrived, and that means it’s midterms year. Candidates up and down the ballot are running in primaries and preparing for general elections. The battle for control of Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, is sure to be a contentious one. Organizations like the Democratic one called Swing Left have launched national efforts to influence the hundreds of House races across the country, and they’ve used analyses and polling data to determine the ones that are going to be the closest.

The 32nd Congressional District of Texas includes areas such as Richardson, Garland, Wylie, and Highland Park.

One of those is Texas’ 32nd district, which includes areas of North Dallas like Richardson, Garland, Wylie, and Highland Park. The Republican incumbent, Pete Session has been an incumbent for decades and has voted heavily conservative on both social and economic issues, while the district has drifted towards the center. The Democratic primary to decide who runs against Sessions is a crowded one, and there are two frontrunners, both of whom are former Obama administration officials. Of of them is Colin Allred, and on top of his credentials in the federal government, he is also a former NFL linebacker and attorney. This week, I interviewed him on a number of issues to get a better understanding of how he sees this election and how he, if he were to be elected, would represent his district.”

Parker: “So I just want to start just by getting to know a little bit more about you as a candidate, so I’m just going to start with the most cliche question — but it’s very important — and that is what made you decide to run and also why now? Why this cycle in particular?”

Colin: “Well you know Parker, this is my home, I was actually born in a hospital in this district, I grew up in this district, and everything I’ve done whether it’s playing in the NFL, or becoming a civil rights attorney, or working for the President of the United States has all kind of been built on the foundation that I got here, growing up here. I was raised by single mother who was a public school teacher, my mom taught in Dallas public schools, and I went to public schools, I graduated from Hillcrest High School. And I had a lot of help along the way and it’s because of the people of North Texas that I’ve been able to do the things that I’ve done. So I want to give back to those folks and I think that we can do a lot better.

Courtesy of Colin Allred for Congress
Speaking to a group of constituents, attorney and former NFL linebacker, Colin Allred is running as a Democrat for the 32nd Congressional District seat currently held by Republican Pete Sessions.

I think that Pete Sessions — I disagree with him on almost every policy issue, but what I really disagree with him on is I don’t think he respects the people of this area, I don’t think he comes back and talks to us, I don’t think he explains what he’s doing to us, I think he is largely bought and paid for so I think that this is a critical time for our country. 2018 is the most important election of our lifetime, because if we don’t reject what’s been going on, not only in this White House, but in this Congress, then the naked greed, some of the hatred and fear that has been tapped into and used a political wedge issue, if we don’t reject that here in 2018, we’re going to get a lot more and it’s going to get worse, so it’s important not just replace Republicans with Democrats, but to restore sanity and some stability to our government.”

Parker: “You have you served in the Department of Housing in the Obama administration alongside Mr. Julian Castro, and you also served as a civil rights attorney, but this is this is your first campaign for public office, is that right?”

Colin: “It is.”

Parker: “Alright, so let’s assume that you win the nomination on March 6th, your Republican opponent Pete Sessions, he’s held the seat for fifteen years — what do you think makes having fresh faces in Congress so important as opposed to the long term incumbents like Mr. Sessions?

This is my home, I was actually born in a hospital in this district, I grew up in this district, and everything I’ve done whether it’s playing in the NFL, or becoming a civil rights attorney, or working for the President of the United States has all kind of been built on the foundation that I got here, growing up here,”

— Colin Allred (D) Texas 32nd Congressional District candidate

Colin: “I think it’s good for all organizations, but just government but any organization, to have fresh blood come in every now and then, that sees things differently, that kind of haves a different perspective on what that organization is doing — And Congress is no different, and I think it’s a problem that so many of our members of Congress are sitting there for life-long sentences. I mean, Pete Sessions has been in office for a long time I think he has lost track, probably why he got into this. He’s certainly lost touch the people of this area and when I go around and talk folks here in North Texas, I feel not only a hunger, not only to get rid of Pete Sessions and replace him with a Democrat, but for a new generation of leadership that kind of sees things differently.

I see public office as being a public service was talking about public service, and I think we have to go back to that model of servant leadership that we have gotten away from in this Congress. And we have to do it now, especially under the presidency under an unstable, and I think, unfit president.”

Parker: “Okay, your district, the 32nd District, has historically been pretty red, but it did go for Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2016 and also I might add that not a single Democrat actually filed to run for Congress in the same district in 2016, despite Clinton winning the district.

But now there are upwards of ten candidates running for that same seat this year, and you’ve been on the ground talking with voters, so you know the district. Like you said, you were born and raised in the district. Are you seeing firsthand the formation of that same Democratic blue wave that we’ve been hearing about nationally?”

Colin: “I think so. I think that waves have often had a hard time reaching Texas because we have gerrymandered districts that make it difficult to land and we make it very difficult for people to be able to vote in the state. I was a voting rights attorney and I’ve dealt with that pretty extensively, but I do think that the conditions are right. There are a lot of organizations and groups that have popped, that exist now that didn’t exist before the election.

Courtesy of Colin Allred for Congress
Facing a crowded primary field, Allred is hopeful of bring new energy to Washington D.C.

I gotta tell ya, the thing I love most about my campaign is the number of young people who are involved in our campaign. We have the fellows program that let young people come in and get a full view of what we do on the campaign and they have really added a ton to this, and I think they’re going to go forward and they’re going to be the leaders of this community long after this race is over, so I’m really proud of that. I think it’s going to make a difference not only for this election, but I think it’s going to be really great for the area.”

Parker: “That’s awesome. Moving onto policy, there are so many issues that can be talked about that you stand in such a stark contrast to Mr. Sessions, and one of those is healthcare. But I want to sort of pinpoint your position more clearly though. Sessions’ has repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He has voted for the replacement plans last year that would have uninsured tens of millions of Americans and also undermine protections for pre-existing conditions.

But on the Democratic side, there’s a wider spectrum of viewpoints, and I know that you came out in favor of a Medicare for All single payer system, which is something that the Democratic leadership in Congress is not particularly united on, and so for you as a candidate in a sort of swing, sort of center-right district to come out in favor of [this] policy — that is pretty significant. So do you think that Democrats should unite behind Medicare for All to give people a clearer contrast to Republicans?”

Colin: “Medicare for All, and fighting for health care for everyone in this country has been a Democratic goal since Franklin Roosevelt. I mean this is like, honestly, like the basis of our party. We’ve always talked about getting to universal coverage. Harry Truman introduced The National Health Care System after the war because he thought that we need to have more people who were eligible and healthy to serve in the military. He saw it as a national security issue. So I mean this is a long-running value for the Democratic Party.

Whether or not Democratic leadership wants to get behind that and actually fight for the things that I think most of the people in our party believe — that’s that’s up to them. But that’s part of why we need a new generation of leadership, not just to have Democrats come in to replace Republicans, we need to have new folks come also into the Democratic Party to kind of push us and make us fight for the things that we do believe in, that we’ve believed in for a long time. When I talk about Medicare for All, I’m really talking about allowing everyone to get into the Medicare system so it’s not specifically kind of what you might have seen from Bernie Sanders or something like that.

But either way we have to get universal coverage. We have a health care crisis. In Dallas County, one in in five people don’t have health insurance. In Texas, one in six people don’t have health insurance. That’s the highest rate in the nation. So if I’m trying to take care of people in my area, I have to focus on issues that we have, and one of them, and the biggest one is providing healthcare to everyone.”

Parker: “Alright, so moving onto another issue that has been in the news and ton lately and has gotten younger people in particular very heated and engaged because it directly and in many ways disproportionately affects us — and that is net neutrality. Pete Sessions, just like Ted Cruz and Trump, he doesn’t support net neutrality. Where do you stand on it, and also should Congress take action to overturn the FCC’s decision?”

Colin: “Absolutely. Congress has to step into this, this is way too important of a decision to leave to a group of unelected bureaucrats who sit on the F.C.C. panel there.

The idea that we will allow these mega internet service providers to throttle and, really, slow down access for groups depending on whether or not they’re able to purchase access is, to me, just insane. You know, the next great American idea will almost certainly happen online or use the Internet.

And we need to make sure that there are no barriers or obstacles in the way of that person doing that. You know when Mark Zuckerberg starting Facebook in his garage or wherever it was, he didn’t have to go to Comcast or AT&T and ask for permission to set this up, even though it’s going to use a lot of bandwidth and it will be something that’s heavily trafficked. He didn’t have to do that. It was an open internet, he was able to just get online and people could come to him.

Without net neutrality, I’m really concerned that some of these mega internet service providers will be allowed to throttle that, and to change the way we get online and who can get online — and change what content you have access to, and that’s something that Congress has to hope for, and if your member of Congress isn’t willing to vote for it, we should be asking them, as young people specifically: Why won’t you stand with us? Why won’t you keep the internet open and free?”

I think it’s good for all organizations, but just government but any organization, to have fresh blood come in every now and then, that sees things differently, that kind of haves a different perspective on what that organization is doing — and Congress is no different,”

— Colin Allred (D) Texas 32nd Congressional District candidate

Parker: “I want to talk a little bit about LGBT rights because I think it’s another issue where your opponent has been incredibly conservative on, when as you said in a different interview, it doesn’t seem that his district is nearly as conservative as he’s voting. And so, he voted for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, he voted to ban same-sex adoptions, etc. The American Civil Liberties Union actually give Sessions a 7 percent rating.

And so if you win the nomination, how do you intend on getting the word out about his record, and sort of, framing in a way that’s not red versus blue, but is instead, in your view, reasonable person versus, on issues like this, extremist?”

Colin: “You know I actually think, that’s a great question Parker by the way, I think that this is all about deeply held American values of equality for everyone, justice for everyone, that everyone should be able to pursue their version of the American Dream, right? We all agree on that, we are trained that that’s part of our culture as Americans. And it’s so against that culture and against those American values to think that we’re going to treat a subset of our citizens, and our people, differently because of who they love or who they want to form a lasting relationship with. To me, this is the exact opposite of everything stand for.

I actually — this is one things that I enjoy about talking to young people is that we are almost all in agreement about this. There’s very little disagreement about this among millennials, folks who are young people trying to get involved. The only area of disagreement there is with older folks who just have not come around to this, and who have been kind of holding onto this this idea that they’re going to be able to tell other people who they can marry, and who they can love. I think it’s an anti-American thing, and I don’t don’t think it’s a partisan thing. I think there are young Republicans who feel this way too.

I think it’s a generational thing and I think that we have to do everything we can to not only stand up to the policies that discriminate against people who are  LGBTQ, for example you can still get married on a Saturday and be fired on a Monday for marrying the person you love it, we have to stand up to the rhetoric and the way that we talk about this — because to me it’s just unbelievable that we’re still having this conversation in 2018.”

Parker: “Yeah, really, it’s more moral than it policy really, yeah.”

Colin: “Yeah, it’s not a political issue. People don’t think about who they’re going to vote for when they want to get married, or when they fall in love. That doesn’t come into their minds. This is about whether or not we’re going to allow people to pursue their full lives as Americans or whether or not we’re going to restrict it. If you’re in favor of restricting it, I think you should have to explain why.”

Parker: “Yeah. So moving onto immigration, right now the DACA program for immigrant youth is being used as a negotiating tool for Donald Trump to get his precious border wall. Let’s say that you’re in Congress and congressional Republicans say that they want the money for the wall, and in return they’ll keep the protections for the 800,000 dreamers in the US. Would you agree to it?”

Colin: “Parker, you’re asking some great questions man. No I wouldn’t. No. I’m not trading DACA or the Dream Act for a wall that we don’t want, that we don’t need, that is a waste of money. Republicans need to do the right thing. President Trump earlier in his term said that he was in favor of protecting these young people, and I think that there is consensus among Republicans that we should do something, and that we should do the right thing here.

They are just afraid of their own political base getting mad at them for extending this protection to these young folks who have come here for no fault of their own, who are serving in our military, who are contributing to our economy, and who are teaching our schools. They’re every bit as American as you and I are, and they deserve to be allowed to stay here, and to build their lives here.

This is the only country they’ve ever known, and I’m not going to trade that in favor of what I think will be a racist symbol, that won’t do its task, it won’t stop undocumented immigration, because walls have never worked, number one, and number two it’s an enormous waste of money. An enormous waste of money. And number three I think it will be a racist symbol that will not — we can’t trade the Statue of Liberty for a wall with barbed wire on top of it. The symbol of America has to remain the Statue of Liberty and we have to lose that, then we’ve lost something much more than a single policy issue.”

Parker: “So you were voting rights litigator in Dallas is that right?”

Colin: “Well I’ve done my litigation work all over the country, but yeah.”

Parker: Okay. So, last week Trump’s — what he calls his voter fraud commission — was dissolved after many states refused to comply with their requests for voter registration data. Do you think that there was an underlying intention behind Trump’s commission that he set up, and also what is your take on his claims about the millions of illegal votes that were case in the 2016 election?”

Colin: “Parker man, we’re going to have to get your resume after this, and submit it to the Dallas Morning News or something. These are really good questions.

The voter fraud commission was a sham commission that was set up to justify a lie by the President of the United States, which was that he lost the popular vote, because three million — as he said in his words, “illegal” immigrants voted in the election.

That is absolutely not true. It’s a lie. Republicans at the time, when he said it, knew it was a lie and said that it was a lie. The fact that we have allowed this president to just get away with a lie is, to me, one of the things that we have to be very on guard for, because we can’t allow ourselves to slip into a place where we just accept lying from the President of the United States. And it’s also been a huge waste of money, and to back on what we were talking about with the wall, it’s just a political stunt that has done nothing. And the intention behind it, led by Kris Kobach, if you don’t know who he is you should look into his history of trying to suppress the vote.”

Parker: “Yeah I know.”

Colin: “Yeah it was led by him as an effort to try and find ways to make it much more difficult to vote. Because the truth behind this is that there is a segment of the Republican Party that does not want the majority of Americans to vote if they are afraid that their policies and their politics and what they stand for is not popular enough.

So they want to fix who votes so that they can stay in power by not allowing people to vote who disagree with them. And a lot of those folks are young people, they’re people of color, people who move often, people who sometimes are seniors who sometimes have some difficulties complying with some of these laws, and the intention behind it is to make it harder to vote, and in this country and in the greatest democracy in the history of world, we have to be making it easier to vote every single day until we get to the kind of voter participation that we need. Not harder. And so I think it’s the exact wrong idea.”

Parker: “Alright, and moving on to the major tax bill that was passed just a few weeks ago. Aside from some of the major controversial components, I seen some concern in places like the 32nd district about things like property taxes. What’s your take on the new law: is it completely disastrous, or are there some things that, for a Democrat, are justifiable?”

Colin: “It’s almost completely disastrous. It’s a law that was written by lobbyists. The Republicans who voted for it didn’t even read it. If you look at Pete Sessions after voting for it, he wanted to try to take back one of the provisions that was going to tax graduate students. Because he didn’t realize, I guess, that was in there and he’s like, “Oh now, now we want to go and try to fix it”. Well you should have read that before you voted for you, and know and you know I think it’s a piece of social engineering, really, it’s a donor appreciation bill. It’s trying to transfer wealth from the middle class, and people struggling to get into the middle class, to the ultra wealthy and corporations.

At a time when corporate profits are through the roof, we have record corporate profits, that’s the time when you need to cut corporate tax rate. There are things we could have done, like maybe easing the tax rates for small businesses that are trying to get off the ground, maybe making it easier invest in a small business. But that’s not what they did. They did an across the board giant cut that is going to help the biggest corporations much more than will help any of those small businesses that actually drive our wage growth.

And the state and local income tax credit that they got rid of this is really, really, crazy because it’s a huge tax increase for people who are in areas that have high local taxes, areas that have high state taxes, and you know, what are those taxes paying for? Well they’re paying for our roads, they’re paying for our schools they’re paying, in our case here in Dallas County, to keep Parkland Hospital going, where it’s dealing with a huge number of uninsured people coming in every day — that we’re all paying for their health care, when they’re at the worst part of whatever illness they’re dealing with.

So this bill, to me, is just an unbelievable, just naked grab for money, for donors who give money to these politicians. And it’s a it’s one of the best examples, I think, of why Pete Sessions has to go and why just a whole generation of these folks need to go and allow people to come in who actually care about their constituents.”

Parker: “And moving to a larger point, you’ve used words to describe Pete Sessions like “bought out”, you referred to the tax bill as “donor appreciation”. Would you support a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics?”

Colin: “Absolutely. This is something I think that we have probably paid not as much attention to nationally. We’ve not made this as big an issue is it is. The amount of money that has flooded into our politics and that distorts our political system is just unbelievable and unacceptable.

So we need to overturn Citizens United which was a terrible ruling by the Supreme Court. Not only did it say that corporations are people, but that corporations are people that have First Amendment rights to talk in our elections and that they can use those rights to drown out all the other folks out there who maybe don’t have as much resources or don’t have as much money. I think it’s just crazy, it allows money to come into this country and into our actions, that we don’t know where it’s coming from. It literally could have been paid for by Russia in some of these things. And so the Citizens United ruling was a huge, huge mistake.

But we also I think need to go further, because the way we just fund campaigns is, to me, broken. I would love to see us implement a public finance system to allow every candidate to have access to a baseline of funds so they can run for office. That would reduce the percentage of members of Congress are millionaires. Right now, I think it’s over half of members of Congress are millionaires. You shouldn’t have to be a millionaire to run for Congress.

It should be somebody who cares about your area and is going to be an advocate for your area, and so we have to do a lot more to get money out of our politics and to take out the corrupting effect that happens when you’re getting so much money from an individual person, when they’re obviously going to want something in return.”

Parker: “Yeah and I mean I was talking with some students at my own school and they were surprised by how drastic the laws of money in politics are. I told them, they were asking why net neutrality was ruled the way it was and I was like, well it probably has to do with the lobbyists who influence the FCC and they said, “Well isn’t that bribery? Isn’t that illegal?” and I said no that’s just that’s how the system has been set up.

So as a former Obama administration official you are running in a primary with another Obama administration official, Ed Meier. For the undecided person walking into the polling booth on March 6, and they see your names on the ballot, what would you tell them that would set yourself apart as to why you are uniquely qualified to take on Sessions in the general election?”

The thing I love most about my campaign is the number of young people who are involved in our campaign. We have the fellows program that let young people come in and get a full view of what we do on the campaign and they have really added a ton to this, and I think they’re going to go forward and they’re going to be the leaders of this community long after this race is over,”

— Colin Allred (D) Texas 32nd Congressional District candidate

Colin: “I think we have to have a story to tell as Democrats. They say that Republicans fall in line, Democrats fall in love.

Our biggest problem in Texas, and our biggest problem in this district, isn’t that there are too many Republicans. It’s that we don’t have enough people voting. Not enough people come out to vote. When voter turnout goes up, Democrats do well. And you have to have a candidate who is able to speak to those folks who aren’t voting, who has a story to tell and a vision and where we should go as a country, that will appeal enough to get people out to vote who have a whole lot of other things competing for their time and their attention.

As a former NFL player, as a civil rights attorney, as someone who worked with President Obama, and as someone who was born and raised in this district by a single mother — I’ve think I have a story to tell about who we are here in North Texas, and where we should go together as a community that nobody else in this race can tell. And I think that story is going to that allow us to reach folks who maybe have a lot of other things on the mind, like how they are going to pay for the bills, how they’re going to take care of grandpa who is sick, how are they going to replace that car that needs to be replaced.

That’s what we’re competing against to get people out to vote here in Texas and it requires some excitement, it requires a candidate who can get people involved who haven’t always been involved, and we’ve already done that in my campaign. I think that we as Democrats have to look for and and get behind candidates who can get folks decided, especially here in Texas because our biggest issue: we’re 49th in the country in voting.

Our biggest issue isn’t that we’re red state. It’s that we’re a non-voting state. And to grow that pie, we have to have compelling candidates with compelling stories, and with visions for the future, and I think that’s what I have, and I think that’s why folks should vote for me.”

Parker: “Alright so we’re almost done, just last question: What can people do who are listening to this, and they support what you’re saying, they want to see change in North Texas’ representation in Congress — what can they do to help your campaign and these causes between now and November?”

Colin: “Well first of all, they can go to my website, it’s colinallred.com.

Go to our website, sign up to get involved, sign up to volunteer with us, if you’re interested in becoming a fellow, click on our fellowship application. You’ll get involved in our campaign, you’ll see everything that we do. There are no closed doors in our campaign, if you speak to any of our fellows they’ll tell you that. You’ll see everything we do from the finance side, to the field side, to the press side. Yo can get a full view, and that way when you’re ready, you can run for office too.

And then of course I’d love for you to follow me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, on the all the social media channels, Instagram. I would love to have you help spread our message and come out to one of our events, and see me in person, see that people who come to our events look like this district. A lot of young people, it’s families, it’s people of every race, every national origin, every religion, and I think it’s the thing that I’m most excited about and the thing that I’m most pleased about. We’ve put together a group of supporters and a base of folks that’s extremely diverse and that’s young and fun and ready for change. If you want to be apart of that, we’d love to have you.”

Parker: “And that was my interview with congressional candidate Colin Allred. I’m looking to interview more candidates in the future who are running for positions up and down the ballot.

The offer still stands for the incumbent Mr. Pete Sessions if he’d like to come on the show and defend his record, I can tell you I certainly have some questions for him.

Finally, remember, the 2018 primaries in Texas are on March 6th. If you plan to vote for any candidate, you’ll need to make sure you’re registered by February 5th. That’s all I’ve got for this week, my name is Parker Butler and thank you for listening.”

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