AUSTIN — District 10 of the U.S. House of Representatives stretches east from Austin, through Bastrop, Lee and Fayette counties all the way to the outskirts of Houston. Since 2005, Republican Michael McCaul has represented the district, but City of Austin Assistant Attorney Mike Siegel (D) is challenging him in the November 2018 election.
Siegel sat down with Ashley Goudeau to discuss his campaign for this week's edition of Texas This Week.
Ashley Goudeau: First and foremost, tell our viewers a little bit about yourself and why you're running for Congress.
Mike Siegel: "Sure, so my name is Mike Seigel and I'm a former public school teacher and civil rights lawyer and most recently I've been the City Attorney for the City of Austin. And I'm running for Congress really to provide real representation to the people of this district. I'm concerned that the incumbent has not been available, that he has not held town halls, that he is not accessible to the people here. And also that he's voting in a way that doesn't represent the needs of the constituents. Whether that's voting to cut healthcare for thousands and thousands of people in the 10th Congressional District or whether it's supporting the family separation policy. I feel that he's at odds with the people in this district and he's not accountable to the people here."
Goudeau: You've never run for political office before, held a political position -- why start with congress? Do you think that's a little ambitious?
Siegel: "Yes, it is. But desperate times call for desperate measures, I would say. My background is in public service. For 20 years I've been in the classroom I've been representing workers who are mistreated by their employers, representing tenants who are mistreated by their landlords. So, I have been serving the people. And the reason I'm running is to provide real representation here in Texas 10. And unfortunately Michael McCaul, my opponent, has gone virtually unchallenged since Texas gerrymandered the map about 15 years ago. So, because of the way the map was drawn and because of his vast wealth and connections, the Democratic Party has not put a lot of emphasis on this district. And that unfortunately leaves a lot of us disenfranchised and not represented. And so I wanted to step up. You know my background includes being a community organizer, and really run a campaign that is going to reach out directly to the people, knock on all the doors, you know meet everyone where they are, and provide a real choice compared to the incumbent."
Goudeau: When we think about District 10 and the way that it is drawn and what it does all encompass, what do you feel are the top three issues that people in the district are facing and are concerned about?
Siegel: "That's right. This district you know stretches from Austin all the way out to Harris County, includes nine counties including seven rural areas. So, the districts do differ based on where you are geographically but number one it's healthcare. No matter where you are, whether you are Democrat or Republican, old or young, rural or urban, healthcare is the number one issue. And so I'm running on a platform of Medicare for all. I believe everyone should be guaranteed basic, quality healthcare services. No barriers for preexisting conditions. We need mental healthcare, reproductive healthcare and that's number one. Now in the rural areas it means something a little bit different. You know out there, places like La Grange, hospitals have been closing. And so unfortunately, if you're a mother who wants to give birth at a high-quality hospital at someplace in the middle of this district, you might have to drive 90 minutes which is absurd. So, it's not just healthcare insurance, but it's also quality hospitals. Issue number two is public education and that works strongly with my background teaching in the public schools working in public education. And folks are really concerned that we don't have high quality public schools, that we don't have well supported teachers, and that's a huge issue. And if there was a third one it would be infrastructure investment. And that means different things in different places. But out by Houston and Harris County and Waller County, they are very concerned about flood infrastructure. They're wondering why it's going to take several more years to be prepared for major floods. But in the rural areas you know, the issue might be more internet access. Folks out there need high speed internet. You know I've spoken to landlords in the Hempstead area near Prairie View A&M University and they asked their student tenants 'would you rather have a washer and dryer or broadband internet?' And every time the young people say internet. And even if you're a farmer these days, you know Wi-Fi and high-speed internet matters. They're making a lot of decisions based on available information, so internet is very important for the economy and the people."
Goudeau: Lets dive more into some of these issues, I think another big issue for a lot of people that they're concerned about is immigration. Particularly when we saw the family separations happening at the border. What are your overall thoughts, I know it is a broad thing to say, 'how do you fix immigration' but where do you stand on what America needs to be doing to address immigration?
Siegel: "I start from a perspective of common decency, you know this principle that families should stay together. And I find it interesting that the Republican Party used to be the party of family values but now has backed this really horrendous policy of separating mothers from their children. My background at the City of Austin, I was the lead attorney for the city and suing Governor Abbott to stop Senate Bill 4 which was this show me your papers law that the Texas Legislature passed last year. And that was the first sign of this demonization of these hardworking immigrant families unfortunately to score political points. And so, I think we need to start from a foundation of humanity and common decency and respect and honor that people are working hard here, that they're valuable members of the community and that these folks want to be on a path to legal status. And unfortunately, our system is so broken because it's under funded and there are these things like quotas that make it really hard for people to progress through a line. I mean if you're coming from some countries, it might be 20 years to get legal status. And if you're facing extreme violence at home, if you're facing conditions of oppression, you are going to come here and try to bring your family here for safety. It's something that really any reasonable person would do to protect their family. So, we need to fix this system. There needs to be comprehensive immigration reform, but I would start by protecting the dreamers, these young people who are brought here before they could even make a choice and are going to school and not committing any crimes and contributing to the economy. I would end the family separation policy, and then work on more comprehensive reforms."
Goudeau: One of the things that people on both sides of the aisle can agree on is the need to secure our border. We know that the President is a fan of building a wall, what are your thoughts on how we secure the border?
Siegel: "Well first of all, the wall to me, is a futile gesture. It's a big symbolic thing that would unfortunately cost billions and billions of dollars and take resources away from other more essential security needs. You know I would say, in terms of keeping this district safe, flood control is a much higher priority. I mean people are literally drowning when we have these hurricanes, whereas if you look at this idea of immigration coming from the south it's actually at a lower rate than it has been in previous years. It's not that we're having this massive surge of immigration from the south. And so yes, we need security, we need borders, we need to know who's coming into this country, but I think that the President and the Republican administration have made too much of this idea that we need to secure the south. Unfortunately, I think what they're doing is telling American workers, who unfortunately have suffered under de-industrialization as jobs have gone across the border, the Republicans are looking for scapegoats and they've pointed to these brown folks that are coming across the border from the south as a scapegoat. And I want us to move away from that. We should honor that we're a nation of immigrants. So many of us came from different countries, our ancestors came from different countries and we should respect that people want to come here and contribute to our society. So to me, yes we need security, but let's also be realistic about what the real dangers are and I would start with issues like lack of healthcare, lack of safe infrastructure, lack of a decent working wage, and for retired folks it's social security needs to be improved. I mean social security benefits have not been increased in many many years and so folks are living on limited incomes and have to choose between paying their electricity bill and getting the medication they need. So, if we're talking about safety, I want to take a broader view at what people really need to be safe."
Goudeau: You've made it clear that you would like to see money spent in other places. So then are you content with how we are currently securing our border?
Siegel: "I think the United States does a great job of securing its borders. We have comprehensive agencies that are doing a lot of work to keep an eye on who is coming across the border. Of course, we have a major issue with drug cartels and the instability that brings to the border region. But one thing we can do to address that is to address this war on drugs. I mean we are criminalizing the use of drugs that might be better treated as a public health issue. We have the criminalization of marijuana where 26 or 29 state have already legalized that drug, yet some folks are still bringing it across the border, that contributes to instability. We have other issues that if we address more holistically I think we can discourage some of that violence and some of that instability on the border. But big picture, in terms of public safety in this country, it's not folks coming across the border. In the lawsuit against the Governor on Senate Bill 4, we asked the State of Texas to say why do you think undocumented people are a public safety risk? And they were only able to point to one incident from California where an undocumented person acquired a gun that was stolen and there was an unintentional murder. And so they couldn't even point to something in Texas that was a real concern. So, I think it's overblown the idea that undocumented immigrants are causing a public safety crisis, and unfortunately I think it's a type of cynical politics, where there's this divide and conquer going on, so I want to end that."
Goudeau: Let's dive into education, that is a large part of your background. Obviously in the State of Texas the State Legislature has a lot of control over the education system, the funding for the education system, but do you think there are some things that can be done on a federal level to help give Texas schools a boost?
Siegel: "Oh certainly, certainly. And of course, yes, we need the Texas Legislature to fix the broken public education funding system. But the federal government has two main tools: the carrot and the stick, right? And so the carrot is the funding we provide through title one, title two, other programs to support public education. So, I would like to see the federal government step that up, to raise the floor to make sure that all students have the bare minimums they need in terms of well-trained teachers, in terms of special education, technology in the classrooms, and even small class sizes. You know as a
former third-grade teacher, I know that teaching 20 kids is one thing, 35 kids is something completely different. And so we need to make sure that teachers are equipped to succeed. And then also I do think the federal government needs to think about enforcement against states that refuse to provide the bare minimum. And so the Department of Justice should hold states like Texas accountable if the state refuses to provide the basic necessities for a quality education."
Goudeau: Another issue on the mind of a lot of parents, particularly and especially when it comes to education, is guns and gun control. Particularly what we saw at Parkland, what we saw at Santa Fe High School. Do you think there needs to be changes in our current gun laws and if so, what would you like to see?
Siegel: "Yes, certainly. You know, I'm a father of a six-year old and a three-year old and the idea of worrying about whether your child is safe when they go to school is just terrifying to me. It's just a horrible situation. And I do believe there are many common-sense gun reforms that we can achieve that the vast, vast majority of Texans agree with. And so, I would start with comprehensive background checks. You know that is almost universally popular. And the only reason why we don't have that is because we have this influence of money in politics, the National Rifle Association that has bought the loyalty of representatives, including my opponent, Michael McCaul. And so over 90-percent of Americans support comprehensive background checks. That's an easy place to start. We need to close these loopholes. You know the idea that you can go to a gun show and buy a gun and not be subject to a background check is absurd. And I also want to look at these red flag laws. I mean the idea that right now, you could be someone who is subject to a court order, that you're presenting a danger of violence to your spouse or partner, but you can still have a gun is absurd to me. So, we need to take guns out of the hands of people who have been shown to be dangerous and violent. And then from there, I think the two other things I would want to work on are, one: getting money out of politics. The idea that the NRA can contribute millions to elected officials and then buy their loyalty is obscene. And then also we really need to look at getting military weapons off of our streets. I have spoken to many military veterans who say you know what these high-capacity assault rifles like an AR-15, these are weapons of war designed to kill human beings at a very fast rate and they have no place in our streets. And so for someone that wants a weapon like that, you can go join our armed services, you know, represent our country. I want to say that I'm not talking about taking guns away from people, but we should stop selling these and distributing them in the public."
Goudeau: The last thing I'll ask you about is NAFTA. Recently President Donald Trump expressed that he was going to get out of the deal and have separate agreements with Mexico and working to negotiate with Canada. What are your thoughts on that?
Siegel: "Well first of all Mexico and Canada are extremely important partners and allies of the United States and these are very important markets for us. And so I feel my first concern is that the President is not treating these nations with due respect. The idea that we're negotiating a side deal with Mexico and Canada is not at the table, why are mistreating our allies to the north and south? And that's similar to this trade war that's been going on, where we've been imposing tariffs on China, which have been hurting farmers here in the Texas 10th Congressional District. It seems like we're engaging in Twitter diplomacy and I would like to see our nation be more strategic in how we go about these things, to work with our allies. You know, Beto O'Rourke has said something recently that resonated with me. When the United States goes to war, we never go to war alone. We have a coalition of willing allies. Dozens of countries join us." And so why aren't we approaching trade in a similar way, where we're working together with all of our allies?"
Goudeau: Leave our viewers with a final thought on why they should elect you to represent District 10.
Siegel: "Sure, well I'm a real public servant. I've been working in the public schools, I've been representing people in the civil rights lawsuits. And I'm running my campaign in a way that is designed to reach the people where they are. So this is a real accessible, grassroots campaign where I am holding town halls, I'm knocking on doors, we're making phone calls, and we are really available to the people and we're fighting for what the people need most. And so my campaign is about fighting for healthcare, a living wage, a retirement with dignity, and policies that treat people with common decency and respect. And that's something that's really missing in this day in age unfortunately with the discourse that's coming out of the white house and the way that the Republican Party has basically allowed President Trump to do whatever he wants without accountability. So this is a people-powered campaign but it's also about having real checks and balances in government, to having oversight where congress makes sure the executive branch is following the law. And so if people elect me to congress, they know they will have an advocate, they will have someone with an open door policy, I will be accessible, I will listen to your concerns, and I will fight for what matters most to the people here in this district."
KVUE News has reached out to the incumbent, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul about an opportunity for an interview about this race. We hope to share it with you when it happens.