US Democratic senatorial runoff candidates to face off in May

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U.S. Senate candidates Royce West, left, and Mary Jennings Hegar are participating in the run-off to win a spot against Republican incumbent Senator John Cornyn. Hegar served as a search and rescue pilot in Afghanistan and West has served as state senator for Dallas County for 27 years. 

Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar | Texas Tribune Staff

United States senatorial candidates Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar and Royce West entered a Democratic primary runoff following Super Tuesday, narrowing a field of 12 candidates to two.

The runoff will culminate in an election on May 26, where the winner will face incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn in November. 

According to her website, Hegar is advocating for lower rates for student loans and a grace period of a few months after graduation before students begin paying off loans. West’s website said he is focusing on debt relief programs for Texans and creating an easier pathway from a community college to a four-year university.

Hegar served as a combat search and rescue pilot in Afghanistan, where her helicopter was brought down by the Taliban, said Amanda Sherman, communications director for MJ for Texas. Although Hegar has never served on a government body, Hegar petitioned the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to open ground combat roles to women following the helicopter incident, Sherman said.

“She’s proven what you can do as a private citizen,” Sherman said. “She’s shown she can be effective in those ways, and she can accomplish large-scale change.”

 

Hegar’s campaign emphasized health care, supporting a public option for Medicare, opposing any cuts to the current system and lowering the price of prescription drugs.

“(Hegar) has traveled tens of thousands of miles across the state talking to Texans about what’s on their mind,” Sherman said. “The number one issue that always comes up is … making health care affordable and accessible to every single Texan.”

West has served in the Texas Senate since 1993 for Dallas County. During his time as senator, he has stood for a ban on assault-style weapons and defended women’s reproductive rights. During a press conference Monday at the Travis County Democratic headquarters, former senatorial candidate Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez endorsed West.

“I think about where I stand as a woman, that Sen. Royce West has clearly always been protecting the rights of women,” Ramirez said. “When I think about where I stand as a mom … and making sure that (my child’s) school is as safe as possible, that Sen. Royce West is the best choice. And where I stand as a Latina and a daughter of an immigrant, that he is the best choice for my family and community.”

Travis County constable Stacy Suits and Austin NAACP president Nelson Linder also endorsed West at the press conference. Suits said at the conference West is responsible for getting body cameras for police officers and video cameras in law enforcement cars.

“When you begin to think about the difference between the candidates … you’ll begin to see that in terms of legislative experience, I am the only person in this race with a legislative track record of getting things done,” West said at the conference.

University Democrats president Alex Meed said the group has not yet decided which candidate to endorse. He said one factor that plays into the decision is who took time to reach out to students and pay attention to student issues.

“Is the candidate someone that is … genuinely trying to get support from young voters and respond to their issues?” Meed said. “That’s what rises above to connect everyone.”