The Texas Democratic Party brought several candidates for U.S. Senate to Lubbock Friday, showing only part of a crowded field running for the chance to take on Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who's held the seat since 2002. Packed into the Lubbock County Democratic Party headquarters, eight candidates cordially disagreed on policy and approach, helped along by questions from party members.
State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) has represented the Metroplex in Austin for more than two decades, and carries endorsements from many of his colleagues in the Legislature.
"I think we need a change in direction," he said. "The demeanor there at the White House is not what we have become accustomed to, and I think we've got to make a change."
Former Rep. Chris Bell ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2006, and said this year's crowded primary field shows the strength of the party -- even in deep red West Texas.
"A vote coming out of Lubbock is every bit as valuable as a vote coming out of Dallas or Houston," Bell said.
Amanda Edwards is a councilwoman-at-large for Houston, and cites her experience representing 2.3 million Texans shows she can govern effectively.
"All Texans deserve to have a place in both today and tomorrow's economies," she said, "as well as to have their needs served."
Jack Foster, Jr., is an educator, and has a plan to expand vocational training to working-age and retired Texans. As his focus, he said other opportunities would follow from setting that "skill foundation" in computer and technical skills.
"What we need is for them to be able -- no matter who you are -- if you're rich or poor," Foster said, "it doesn't matter. You have a foundation."
Victor Harris was the Army Forces Commander in the Horn of Africa until late last year; he said he'll be hitting the ground running to catch up on the other candidates. He said his primary focus will be immigration and border security.
"It affects our education system," Harris said ,"it affects our social and welfare programs, it affects our economy. That is the greatest threat to our security as Texans."
Pastor Michael Cooper ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2018, and claimed his last campaign exhausted eventual nominee Mike Collier.
"I kept pushing education," Cooper said, "because education is the key to doing the things we want to do."
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is a labor organizer and claimed to be an integral part of Beto O'Rourke's failed campaign to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the midterms. She said her work as a grassroots organizer will benefit her and other campaigns, and carries O'Rourke's progressive policies into the next election.
"We all just want [our kids] to be safe," she said, "to be healthy, and to go to great schools and become everything they dream of. I think every single Texas family can have that and every single Texas family deserves that."
Adrian Ocegueda is a financial analyst and ran for governor in 2018. He advocated for a much more research- and data-driven approach to policy decisions.
"We are going to bring forth a platform as Democrats," he said. "We'll say 'look, these are our progressive values, but here's the intellectual background where we start with this. This is the underpinnings of how our progressive ideologies are going to work for all Americans.'"
Health Care Reform
The only candidate to not raise their hand when asked whether they'd rework the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion was Jack Foster. The other seven candidates stood behind President Obama's vastly-dismantled legacy, saying they wanted to improve or grow on it.
State Sen. West said health care access should be a fundamental right, especially for children and expecting mothers, but warned against a "big tent" program.
"I don't think one size fits all," he said. "If you have a private insurance and you want to keep that insurance, I think you should be able to do that."
Cooper, citing decades of experience with "millionaires," said even the wealthy -- who could afford high-price health insurance plans -- are in favor of Medicaid expansion, saying they'll be on the same programs when they turn 65.
"I think we can work [the Affordable Care Act] and tweak it to the point where we don't need a privatized health care system," he said. "We're smarter than this, we're better than this ,and we can do that."
Councilwoman Edwards said she wanted to vastly expand Obamacare's public option proposal. That would have created a government agency in charge of health insurance products, allowing for subsidized health care options for those who couldn't afford private coverage. She said Democrats need to push solutions fast.
"We're not anywhere close to a consensus," she said, "and therefore peoples' lives will be lost as we're discussing it. We can't afford to do that."
Foster put on a capitalism class at the meeting, saying making health care 'free' would flood hospitals with patients. He said that would lead to the government owing them for their services, forcing them to close; Foster said patients should still pay in any new system.
"I'm not saying pay astronomically," Foster said. "Nobody wants to pay astronomically, but they need to understand the capitalistic system doesn't lend itself well to being given away. We're gonna have to be able to make it affordable for all."
Harris suggested taking cues from states that have expanded their Medicaid programs, warning against any sudden, big changes.
"We can't inundate the medical system," he said. "It's going to have to be slow. Just like education, we can't say 'free education for everybody,' because we don't have the infrastructure to support everybody going to school at once. It has to be built up."
Ocegueda advocated for more research into what drives insurance costs up, noting they're a "pass through" cost and their premiums are only a result of rising care costs.
"It is not enough to say -- as the Republicans like to say -- 'the private sector will take care of it,'" he said. "Likewise, it's not a silver bullet to say that a public system will solve all things. We have to get smarter about this."
Ramirez opposed Harris's call for slow, incremental change. She was the lone voice trumpeting true "Medicare-for-All" in the vein of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. She called it the most cost-effective and efficient way to provide care nationwide.
"By having a health care industry where private health insurance companies have been able to profit off our pain, our suffering, and our illness," she said, "we've not only created the most expensive health care system in the world, but one with some of the worst health care outcomes of any industrial nation."
Absent from the Lubbock 'summit' were M.J. Hegar, D.R. Hunter, Annie Garcia, and Sema Hernandez.
A University of Texas-Tyler poll from November showed a majority of Democrats weren't sure who to back in the race against Sen. Cornyn, with 52% of respondents answering "undecided." Hegar led the pack with 9% support.
Election Day is Super Tuesday, March 3.