Q&A: Where the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate stand on the issues

MJ Hegar and Royce West are in runoff for the Democratic nomination

Unfinished business will be decided at the ballot box, one race KSAT is watching is the race for the democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

SAN ANTONIO – On Tuesday, Texas voters will decide who will represent the Democratic and Republican parties in the general election in November.

At the top of the ticket on the Democratic side is the race for U.S. Senate. Mary “MJ” Hegar and state Senator Royce West are both hoping to unseat incumbent Republican Senator John Cornyn in November. Hegar is an Air Force veteran who took 22% of the vote in the March primary. West, who has represented the Dallas-area for nearly three decades, earned 14.5% of the vote.

So where do they stand on the issues? Both candidates sat down with KSAT to address some of them. See who all is on the runoff ballot here.

On the decision to run for Senate:

Hegar: “When I put on a uniform to serve in our military, I took an oath to support and defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I spent three tours in Afghanistan fighting a foreign threat. But now we do have a domestic threat to our Constitution and I feel like running for office is a fulfillment of that oath. Furthermore, I have a three year old and a five year old, and I feel like this is just what I need to be doing to protect the world that they’re growing up into and the country that they’re inheriting. I’ve been to D.C. as a private citizen and I was able to take on the bureaucrats and special interests and build a broad bipartisan coalition for something that made our country and our military stronger. While I was there, I looked around and wondered why more people couldn’t do that. I think that we just need more people like me with with my kind of experience, not career politicians, with my military experience. I worked five years in health care as well. I have an executive MBA instead of a law degree. I just think that we need more people in a position to legislate solutions to the challenges of regular everyday people who have actually faced those challenges.”

West: “America is in desperate need of leadership. The state of Texas is in desperate need of leadership also at the federal level. I’ve ready myself in order to run. You need to have someone that understands the issues of everyday Texans. And I’ve been fighting for everyday Texans for 27 years. Now I’m going to take that fight to Washington.”

On the biggest challenge facing the U.S.:

Hegar: “Right now, it’s definitely a pandemic that’s ripping through causing a public health crisis, but also an economic crisis. We had a public health crisis in Texas before COVID-19, where we had nearly one out of every five Texans without access to health care. Crises kind of come and go, but we still need access to quality, affordable health care. No matter what’s going on, we still need an economy that’s working for everybody and not just the powerful special interests. And those things enable us to handle whatever crisis is next a little bit better.”

West: “Well, there’s not one. There’s several. The person in the White House is the biggest challenge. He has been he’s divided this country like I’ve never seen in my life. We have COVID issues and implicit in those COVID issues are issues of unemployment now and also that of health care. We have a country that, frankly, many of us thought that we were getting the racial strife behind us. We see that we have a divided country with 76 percent of the people in this country believes that racism is, in fact, a problem. And they believe in Black Lives Matter.”

On Health Care:

Hegar: “When I was working in health care, that’s when the implementation of the Affordable Care Act came down. I got to see how it impacted providers and patients. We were very excited because it was going to help us keep the lights on because it was going to get more people covered. One of the problems in Texas with hospitals being able to stay open is that...we’re not turning away people who don’t have health insurance. There’s so many people in Texas, I mean, higher than any other state in the country that didn’t have access to health insurance. We were really excited about our ability to keep the lights on, keep the doors open, especially in rural areas, without having to charge people $50 for a tablet of ibuprofen. But then I saw how it got politicized and gutted and sabotage just for political football points up on the scoreboard. I think that we need to protect preexisting conditions. I think that we need to ensure that John Cornyn and his ilk can’t take us back to a time where you could be discriminated against for preexisting conditions or sold junk plans. Meanwhile, I think that the future of this country is a public option. I’m going to fight like hell to make sure that my friends and neighbors and family have access to Medicare through a public option. I’m also a big believer in protecting people’s choice, whether that’s the choice of who you marry and who you love or the choice of what a woman does with her body or when she has children, but also the choice in what that access to quality, affordable health care looks like for you and your family.”

West: “Texas is number one, my friends, in terms of the number of uninsured in this country and it’s not like it’s a new phenomena. It’s been going on for several years. We know that Texas decided when President Obama was able to pass the Affordable Care Act, Texas was going to receive ten billion dollars a year. An excuse for not taking that money to its basic federal government couldn’t afford it. Well, that’s been over 10 years ago. And yes, we should have been able to expand Medicaid. Had we been able to do that more and more persons now that are uninsured would be insured and have a health care solution to many of their ills right now. We begin to think about all of the people that are unemployed. There’s a couple of million people in the state of Texas. You know, numbers that we have never seen before..unemployed. And if they’re unemployed, that means many of them don’t have health insurance. And guess who’s going to end up picking that up? The state government, as opposed to making certain that we can share that cost. I think it’s a nine to one match with the federal government. For every nine dollars the federal government put in, we’ve had to put in at least one dollar. And so it makes no sense to me. But again, I’m not in the majority party. And so the majority party is going to have to figure out exactly how we manage through this, especially when they don’t take the input from Democrats in the state of Texas.”

On Police Brutality Protests and Black Lives Matter Movement:

Hegar: “I think that police brutality and systemic racism are not new and they are not even new during this administration. This is a problem that has been plaguing our country for decades and the systemic racism for centuries. I’m glad that the things we’ve been fighting for for so long are becoming more mainstream and more people are acknowledging and understanding that this really is a problem that makes our country weaker.

I think we need to go beyond criminal justice reform and look at systemic racism in access to small business capital and in housing and employment and health care disparities that once we’re able to address these things head on and and really be able to put reforms in place and vote out people like John Cornyn who stand in the way of those reforms. It’s going to make our country stronger. And I’m really excited about being a part of that.”

West: “When you begin to look at my legislative record. You’ll see that I’ve worked on these issues here in the state of Texas. I pass the first body cam law in the state of Texas. And in fact, Texas was one of the first states that had a body camera law. I’ve passed racial profiling. I have passed legislation on training of police officers as well as compensation of victims of crime.

I’m uniquely qualified to be able to go to the United States Senate and work on this particular issue, especially in light of the fact that when I passed those particular bills it was done in a body that was dominated by Republicans. I’m able to work across the aisle to find consensus. I’m hoping that I find consensus on this issue from the standpoint most people in this country recognize that we shouldn’t have 50 different standards when police officers can use deadly force. I think that even though it’s going to be an uphill challenge, I’m ready for it. So if Texans want someone who’s going to give up that fight for Texans rights and citizens rights, I’m that person.”

On the removal of Confederate Statues:

Hegar: “That’s another thing that I’m glad to see go mainstream, is that people are recognizing that we’ve been sold this propaganda, that taking down statues is somehow not respecting our history or rewriting history. It’s not about that. I am glad to see people moving to take down these statues because we need to acknowledge our history and learn from it. To try to keep it from repeating as much as possible, even though I think that happens a lot. But we need to choose what we honor and what we glorify and what we celebrate. And that’s what statues do. So I am all for not only taking down these statues, but renaming military bases that are named after Confederate generals. We should be honoring people who fought for our country, not people who led a rebellion against our country and killed American soldiers.”

West: “Local units of government and others need to have the choice or a voice in terms of whether or not they want to remove statues. You know, frankly, when I go into the capital and specifically into the Senate chamber, there’s this big old portrait of a Confederate officer right there on the wall right by my desk. And yes, it’s chilling when you do that and you think about the legacy. We had a big debate this past legislative session concerning the removal of Confederate monuments and flags for our state of Texas. And when I brought went back to the library and brought out the books concerning the 1861 secession speech on the Senate floor about why Texas was seceding, it was real clear. They wanted to make certain Texas was able to maintain slaves.

Any reasonable person should recognize that having those statues, frankly, is an embarrassment and an affront to African-Americans that have come this long way. Do we remove them and do nothing with them? No. I think we take them, put them in a museum and those persons that want to be able to study those particular statues and that what they mean should be able to do that there. But they should not, in that my estimation, be in public view at the Capitol, or anyplace else.”

On DACA and Immigration Reform:

Hegar: “I think that we need to increase the public awareness of what DACA is. I’m all for protecting DACA and Dreamers and I’m glad that the Supreme Court case protected the program for now but it did so on a technicality. We need to make sure that we legislate this protection. People need to understand that we’re talking about a group of people who America is the only country they’ve ever known. They are serving in our military. They’re doctors and nurses and teachers and part of our community. The vetting to be a part of this program is so thorough. We’re really talking about people in our communities that represent the best of us. And it’s in our country’s best interest that we keep these people here because we’ve invested in them so much and they really do represent the best of us.

I’m all for protecting dreamers. I think we need more than that. We need comprehensive immigration reform. I think our immigration policies right now are not reflective of our values as America. This administration said that the family separation policy was a deterrent, was meant to keep people from bringing their children here, fleeing violence and trying to find a better life for their kids, which as a mom, I mean, who wouldn’t do that? The fact that they didn’t say it was for human trafficking or for national security but it was actually a deterrent means that they are terrorizing families and traumatizing children and doing it to try to influence people’s actions. And that’s the action of a tyrant. That is an authoritarian regimes kind of actions. And that’s something that I think that they should be ashamed of. And I want to see an immediate end to family separation.”

West: “We need to quit playing with this issue and have some serious discussions and have people that are serious about it sitting at the table and not gaming this particular issue. We know that it’s been a problem for what, 20 years now and we still haven’t come to a resolution of it. It needs to be resolved by Democrats or Republicans sitting down making certain we provide a pathway to citizenship for dreamers and everyone else. It’s not just a South America issue. It’s an international issue. You have a president that uses profanity towards persons coming from the African continent and denying people, family members from coming from Nigeria to the United States.

It’s a problem across the world. And yes, we’ve got to make certain that we have comprehensive immigration reform for all people coming into this country. We have got to remember that this country is a country of immigrants. Some came voluntarily and some came involuntarily. And so we’ve got to make certain that we have comprehensive immigration reform in this country.”

On the Border Wall:

Hegar: “I’m not OK with the administration robbing the military construction budget of sorely needed funds for things like daycares and schools and housing. Clearly, nobody who was involved in that decision has ever been an enlisted troop living on a base and trying to keep their family safe. We need to do better by our military members.

This is another example of why I’m running for office because I feel like we have too many people representing us who make decisions based on politics and based on what’s good for their ratings or fulfilling campaign promises or speaking to their base without actually going to the experts and saying, what do you need to keep our country safe?

I’ve worked in national security and I know that the answer to that is we need information technology, investment, things like that, not physical barriers. So I would like to see the kind of leadership where people are actually asking the experts, listening to data and not saying, ‘how will this affect me in the polls or what can I do to help myself get reelected and speak to my base.' How about we ask what’s best for the country? What message do we want to send globally? What would the leaders of the free world do? Build a wall on our border is probably not something that would rank very high up there.”

West: “I think that once Biden becomes President of the United States, it will be revisited. And to the extent that parts of the wall that need to stay, they’ll stay. Otherwise, I think that any contract associated with it will be canceled and we’ll put in place the necessary protections on our borders other than building a wall. Trump, frankly, lied about who’s got. We now know that American taxpayers are paying.

Of course, we need law enforcement south of the border. But what we do have to do is make certain we have the best assessment by those persons that have expertise in terms of the border-related issues and then come up with policy and also the funding to follow that policy to implement a secure border. "

About the Author:

Sean Talbot is the Assistant News Director at KSAT. He formerly served as the Assignments Manager. He joined KSAT in 2001. He graduated from Texas State with a degree in Mass Communication with a minor in Political Science. When he’s not getting our news crews out the door, he’s at home with his wife Lomisa and their two daughters Grace and Sydney.