U.S. Senate Democratic candidates faced off at a debate Tuesday night on subjects including healthcare, marijuana and immigration.
At the debate, hosted by KVUE, The Texas Tribune and KUT, 11 out of 12 candidates discussed policy issues and how they will challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.
The candidates in attendance included former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, Michael Cooper, former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards, Jack Daniel Foster Jr., Annie “Mamá” Garcia, Victor Harris, Mary “MJ” Hegar, Sema Hernandez, Adrian Ocegueda, labor organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez and State Sen. Royce West. D.R. Hunter, who is also on the ballot, did not participate in the debate.
Viewers prompted candidates to discuss the legalization of marijuana, where most candidates responded positively to the idea. Cooper suggested the funds from legalization go toward education, rebuilding infrastructure and funding Medicare and Medicaid. Bell said marijuana would be an extraordinary cash crop for Texas farmers.
“I absolutely support the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana on a federal level, and ensuring that we do attack this war on drugs head-on,” Hernandez said. “(Charges have) disproportionately targeted communities of color.”
Garcia said incarcerated people should be released for marijuana possession charges and tax revenue from marijuana sales could go toward social welfare programs.
Debaters also discussed what immigration policies should be put into place. Harris said he would like to place more judges at the border to process people faster.
“Immigrants are coming over here for a reason,” Harris said. “So what we need to do is not have open borders and not have closed borders, but controlled borders, where we challenge people to come in and process them properly.”
Candidates were also asked to discuss how the Democratic Party could reclaim the title of the party for family values, which has often been associated with the Republican Party. West said Democratic belief in civil rights shows these values.
“When you begin to think about the family values, we have our Republican friends who talk about (being) pro-life,” West said. “They’ll fight against a woman’s right to make a decision, but once they say they are pro-life, once a child is born, then they abandon the child in terms of support, whether that child needs support through schools or healthcare.”
Debaters discussed how to reform the current political system. Ramirez said she supports fair elections and voters need elected officials who are more beholden to the people than corporate donors.
“To protect the rules of our democracy, we have to make sure we have nationally financed elections, publicly financed elections (and) automatic voter registration,” Ramirez said. “I want to make Election Day a national federal holiday so that we can have as much participation in our democracy as possible.”
Ocegueda said media should focus more on local issues than campaign finance issues.
Candidates expressed their support for transitioning from the oil industry to renewable energy. West said more research and development needs to go toward renewable energy.
Throughout the debate, candidates focused on their ability to defeat incumbent Cornyn in November.
“To John Cornyn, because I know you’re watching, I’m here to say pack it up Buttercup,” Hegar said. “I’m coming for your seat, and I’m going to take it back for the people in Texas.”