Race for U.S. Senator in Texas heats up ahead of early voting

The race for the U.S. Senate in Texas is heating up with early voting beginning next week.

The latest UT and Texas Tribune poll shows U.S. Senator John Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar by eight percentage points.

FOX 7 spoke with Hegar and Cornyn’s office this week on their top priorities:

Shaken by the pandemic, the Lone Star State has seen more than 16,000 fatalities. How do you believe Texas has handled the coronavirus pandemic?

MJ Hegar: “We have completely fumbled the handling of this pandemic both from the national level and certainly here in Texas. In April when we were talking about relaxing restrictions or letting restrictions expire. I was trying to sound the alarm that if we do not handle the public health aspect of the pandemic it would kill us economically, especially small businesses because you can force openings and increase capacity all you want. But if people don’t feel confident that they can go out and patronize businesses then those businesses will suffer.

"I knew we were going to have a struggling recovery. We are seeing the impact of our broken healthcare system. We had the worst uninsured rate before COVID. We had the worst economic crisis in Texas before COVID when it came to the energy industry. I just think this is the result of prioritizing your wealthy special interest corporate donors ahead of the experiences and challenges of regular working people in Texas.”

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Krista Piferrer, Spokesperson for Cornyn’s Campaign: “In an emergency, you always learn no matter how well and how hard you worked to try to respond in a crisis, there are always lessons learned, that said the Senator has spoken very often about how much, how happy he was that even in these divisive political times Congress was able to come together at least initially to pass unprecedented aid $3.8 trillion to send to Americans that were struggling. Those who have lost their jobs, those whose businesses are struggling through no fault of their own of course. That has been a real shining moment in the way that our government has been able to respond to a crisis. He has also been pushing for an additional COVID relief bill. Right now it is hung up in politics. We have Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi who have basically said they want their $3 trillion partisan wish list or nothing. That is not how the senator wants to negotiate. 

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Tensions over police reform have taken center stage. Do you believe in defunding police departments?

PIFERRER: “The senator does not believe that we have to defund police; we need to defend them. With that said our country witnessed the murder of George Floyd and that is, that was a hard thing to watch and it certainly spurred action. The senator worked with Senator Tim Scott to develop legislation called the Justice Act that would have had several impactful measures in it. For example, it would have banned chokeholds, it would’ve made lynching a federal crime, unbelievable that it isn’t already, it would have allocated funds for additional training for police forces and ways to escalate situations and also help police forces be able to recruit, to recruit staff that is really represented the community. These are all evidence-based impactful measures that unfortunately fell victim of the politics of the day. Senator Cornyn, before he was Senator, was Texas Attorney General and so he has taken a lot of lessons he learned during that time, a lot of the initiatives that he implemented here in Texas and brought them to DC and they have been successful on the national level. This is not something he is going to give up on. He adamantly opposes police reform.

"There is an initiative that MJ Hegar supports called Campaign Zero which is a pretty radical movement that advocates for things like not only abolishing the police but legalizes prostitution, legalizing loitering, things like that. Juxtaposition between how we would protect our communities and support our law-enforcement, make sure we are actually asking the right things of our police, and reforming where there might be some holes that have led to these horrible tragedies that we’ve seen nationwide. That is a track that the senator is on. He wants to solve the problem.”

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HEGAR: “I think that this issue has been so politicized. I don’t understand why we can’t have more universal condemnation of both, any kind of riot that would hurt property or people and a condemnation of systemic racism and police brutality. I don’t understand why this has become a partisan issue. We can stand against both, we can stand for police reform and criminal justice reform and peaceful protests. We can also stand for reform and transparency minded police unions and police leaders that don’t think that police should be doing social work and mental health work as much.

"The path forward is in being pragmatic and solution-oriented and acknowledging that we have systemic racism understanding that the policing reform that is needed is not the core problem, that it is the symptom of a bigger problem and that we really have to address the systemic racism and access to housing and education and business capital healthcare disparities and others.”

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Cornyn has described himself as the steady hand behind the wheel, how would you describe yourself? Anything else you would like people to know who are watching this at home?

HEGAR: “A steady hand on the wheel as the bus is heading towards a cliff doesn’t do anybody any good. I certainly think we need a steady hand on the wheel from maybe someone who has been a combat pilot who has handled life and death crises before. And shown a willingness to not put her own self-interests ahead of the best of her community. Like how John Cornyn has. I think that understanding when to calmly turn that wheel into a different direction is also important. John Cornyn keeps touting his experience and I am just a little surprised because frankly he’s had 18 years in DC. A third of that he has had the House, the Senate and the White House. A third of that he was also the Senate whip if he wanted to get something done it would be done. He is promising the same things he promised in 2002 when I voted for him by the way. When he said we need to close the gun show loophole, we need a pathway to citizenship, we can’t overturn Roe V Wade, we need fiscal responsibility and sound foreign policy. He has betrayed all of those things and he is still running on the same things. Still saying we need those things. I say if you have a CEO of a company for eighteen years, saying for 18 years we need to do something that they couldn’t get done, it’s time to send that person to the golf course and let somebody who actually has the experience with the challenges of regular everyday people take a shot at it.

"I don’t think our founding fathers intended for people to be in DC as long as John Cornyn has. I am fighting for term limits because when you have been in DC for 18 years and you are receiving three taxpayer-funded pensions of course you’re not going to prioritize protecting our Social Security. You’ve never worried about where you’re going to get your healthcare from like I have and like many Texans have. Of course, you don’t understand how to fix our broken healthcare system. John Cornyn has sold us out to his special interest and corporate donors for too long. I have a vision for this state that more closely represents and matches the values and the vision of the people across the state. Why? Because we have a grassroots army of people volunteering and donating to this campaign and the momentum is real and strong. We have an opportunity to elect someone like me who is pragmatic who has a history of taking on really tough problems and actually fixing them and putting the mission first instead of their own self-interest.”

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PIFERRER: “Some people enter into politics to be someone and others enter to do something and Senator Cornyn falls on the latter. He is a workhorse,he’s not a bombastic personality, but he is one of the most effective senators in Washington D.C today. He does that because he is bipartisan. believe has sponsored tops, among all of the US senators in partisan legislation as well as effectively passing legislation. It goes to show that his compassionate conservative, yes as our nation is a center-right nation, he stays true to those values but he finds common grounds. He’s willing to work with anyone Republican, Democrat, if it’s a good idea he wants to make sure that he passes that bill.

"Senator Cornyn truly is a thoughtful leader for all Texans. He has crisscrossed the state, especially during these times ensuring that he is meeting with school administrators, hospital and healthcare workers, with local officials and when he has those meetings, the key question that he walks into a room with is, what can I do to help? And he means that and he’s meant it for his time in the Senate and his years in public service before that. I think he is a trusted leader that is pragmatic who’s a problem solver and frankly, that is what we need more of right now.”

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