The Dallas Weekly, Staff Report
The Dallas Weekly recently got a chance to have some one-on-one time with North Dallas’ own Congressional freshman phenom, Representative Colin Allred, the first Democrat to represent Texas’ 32nd district since its creation in 2003. In defeating Pete Sessions, who had held that district since then, Allred pulled off an upset that – in normal times – would have automatically catapulted this dynamic civil rights attorney into the national spotlight.
However, there is no question that the 2018 midterms were unlike any previous election cycle this century. On the Democratic side, record numbers of women and the most ethnically diverse coalition ever ran on an equally diverse range of issues. Healthcare in particular has become one of the most prominent indicators of the Democratic Party’s expanded range, as defending the ACA is now considered the moderate position in contrast with more progressive single payer systems like Medicare For All.
Into this slew of contradictions stands Representative Allred, a self-proclaimed moderate who considers his advocacy for positions on different sides of the aisle “pragmatic.” And in the theme of this new class, defies the definitions simple labels imply. For example, while Congressman Allred is a staunch proponent of strengthening the ACA, he also endorses the expansion of Medicare. Voted co-president of the freshman class by his peers, yet one of the last holdouts when it came to endorsing Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. Contradictions.
Still, those contradictions just might make Congressman Allred a perfect fit for his North Dallas district. His desire to serve his constituents reveals the earnestness of a man who was not only born and raised in the district, but also still calls that district home. Indeed, of all the questions posed to the Congressman, his most detailed response was to our query about his goals for his district.
Congressman Colin Allred (CA): “We – my staff and I – want to restore the constituent work of being an advocate and resource for the people in the district. I want folks to feel like they have someone in office they can call who will do everything we can to help with whatever their issue is. If you have an issue with your Medicare or Social Security or if you’re a veteran and you’re having trouble getting your benefits…reach out to us and we will go to bat for you and make sure that you get the services that you need.
“I want to make sure people understand that I’m their member of Congress, their advocate and that they can reach out to me regardless of party affiliation. I also want folks to feel like I’m present and that I’m accessible. I’ve held a number of town halls, making sure I stay in contact with people, making sure that they understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Because even if folks disagree with me, I want to hear their opinion so I can try to explain to them why I disagree.
“I’m a strong believer that there’s a lot we can agree on with folks on the other side and that if we could spend a little bit more time talking about those things…things like infrastructure, lower prescription drug prices, lower healthcare costs, job training…that we can move the ball forward in a way that satisfies not only my district, but the American people. I think people expect us to work together.
Dallas Weekly (DW): Bipartisanship? That seemed like something even the least jaded reporter would believe in today’s political environment, so we pressed for details, asking first about his colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Committee, which had recently been rocked over comments made by Representative Ilhan Omar.
(CA): “The committee is one that works very well. Over the past two weeks, a number of bills that we’ve put out have had bipartisan support on important issues. Like today, we voted on some bills regarding Venezuela, regarding the Russian influence in Crimea, things that are really important for our international relations and those as well are all bipartisan, so it’s a committee that I think, so far, we’ve had a lot to agree on.”
“I certainly disagree with some of the comments that the representative made but I also think that we have to be worried about Islamaphobia, and about people using identity as a wedge to divide us. I think we need to focus on what unites us as much as possible.”
(DW): A reasonable answer for sure, but what about increased tensions on the Committee itself? Or between Congresswoman Omar and Chairman Engel?
(CA): “Honestly, I’ve been focused on the work we’ve been doing. The things that we’re doing extend far beyond our individual relationships. We need to make sure we’re exercising our Article 1 [of the Constitution] power as Congress to reassert our control over foreign policy matters that I think for too many years have been slipping to the Executive, especially under this President.”
(DW): Again, a remarkably positive approach. Not that we truly expected him to gossip about his colleagues, but it was still quite refreshing to hear such a thoughtful answer. And one that is, admittedly, quite charitable to his Republican colleagues while still acknowledging a recognition of issues causing conflict between Democrats and the Executive branch. Not bad.
We wanted to know more about his committee work. Noting his position on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, we chatted for a while about one of his campaign issues: high speed rail. Congressman Allred is a huge proponent of the proposed 90-minute Dallas to Houston line and thinks the highly-populous Texas triangle will ultimately provide a great opportunity for the state to lead the nation in the development of HSR. Asked about opposition from groups like “Texas Against HSR,” the Congressman replied:
(CA): “[The proposed Dallas to Houston HSR line] is following an existing corridor; that’s one of the reason why it was chosen, because it would have the least impact on the folks in the area.
“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions about how we’re going to connect people and continue to deal with our growth but I am positive and hopeful that we can get this project done in a way that’s consistent with our values and is respectful of the homeowners as well.
“Perhaps, but for now, those rural homeowners still aren’t interested. In fact, Texans Against HSR recently won a fairly significant ruling against Texas Central, which was declared “not a railroad” and therefore, ineligible to survey or acquire land by eminent domain. Texas Central is appealing the ruling, but it’s clearly a setback for the project.”
(DW): Next, we asked about Healthcare. At a recent town hall, the Congressman derided the “hidden tax” Texans were being forced to pay for healthcare thanks to Republican efforts to weaken and sabotage the ACA. We asked him to expand on that assertion.
(CA): “Healthcare shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Finding ways to lower the cost of healthcare and expand coverage should be something we can agree on. To me, it’s one of the pillars of opportunity we have to have in this country.
“When I talk about a hidden tax, there are actually a couple of parts to it. Number one: we haven’t expanded Medicaid coverage in Texas and we should because we are paying into the system and our money is going to other states that did expand Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid would bring a lot of that money back to Texas so it just makes fiscal sense to do that. Number two: when we have folks who don’t have insurance, who have to go to Parkland [Hospital] to get care, we have to bear the cost of that care as a community. But we’re bearing it when they are at their most ill – when it’s most expensive – when some of those issues might have been taken care of at an earlier, less expensive stage if they had access to preventative care along the way.
“And refusing to expand Medicaid is also the wrong thing to do. It’s just not who we are as people. To me, this is all about values and it should be a value of ours to try and make sure that as many of our neighbors as possible can go see a doctor when they need to.”
(DW): So what does the Congressman think about President Trump’s reported budget containing $845 billion in cuts from Medicare and $1 trillion in Medicaid cuts?
(CA): “Budgets are about values. It’s a statement of values. When a president puts out a budget, it’s supposed to reflect what they think is important and it’s very clear from this budget that this president does not think that Medicare is something that is valuable and that people who depend on it – people like my mom whose Medicare paid for her breast cancer surgery and for her treatment – aren’t of value. I just don’t think that matches the North Texas that I know, so I reject that.”
(DW): Now that we were talking about the President, we asked the Congressman what he thought about Speaker Pelosi’s recent statement coming out against impeachment.
(CA): “I’ve never been somebody who thinks we should talk loosely about impeachment. From the very beginning I’ve always thought it a very serious topic, that should be treated very seriously and not done in a partisan way. If it ever happens, it needs to be done in a way that’s right for the country. And so I agree with what the Speaker said in that regard. This is not something that should just be pursued by Democrats; it would have to be something that the country perceives needs to be done for the good of the country. I think what we need to be doing is focusing on the things that I think the American people expect us to do and not get stuck in what would be at this point just a partisan battle over how one feels about the President.”
(DW): We then noted that we knew how he felt about at least one person becoming President and asked him to explain his early endorsement of former HUD Secretary, Julián Castro, who recently made headlines over his strong support for reparations.
(CA): “Well Julián is a friend of mine. I worked for him at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and so I’ve seen him work and think he’s a great Texan and great American and I’m certainly proud that he has taken this step. Julián has always been a straight shooter. He says what he believes whatever the topic is and I think that’s something we need more of in politics: people who say what they believe.”
DW: Finally…let’s talk baseball. Noting that his athleticism as a former NFL player surely couldn’t have gone unnoticed by his colleagues, we wanted to know just how quickly he was recruited for the Congressional baseball team. Laughing heartily, the Congressman fessed up.
(CA): “The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in the last Congress was my good friend Cedric Richmond, who was a baseball player in college as well as the main reason why Democrats have been winning the baseball games in recent years…was literally recruiting me during the campaign while he helped me out. So, yeah, it started really early. Thing is, I played baseball in high school. It was my favorite sport when I was growing up and so we’ll soon see if I still have the old skills.”
So ended our introduction to this thoughtful, congenial, independent-minded new Congressman who defies labels yet stands out all the same. An unapologetic advocate for family leave who will cite studies showing a correlation between paternity leave and increased quality of life and increased productivity as readily as he will go to bat for his constituents (neighbors) over missing federal benefits shows that Texas 32nd district is in good hands.