Early voting began Tuesday, but some undecided voters have yet to hit the ballot box. For those living in Texas’ 24th Congressional District, which covers the Dallas-Tarrant county line, the race between the two major party contenders is bound to get interesting.
The Observer reached out to both candidates but only heard back from one: Democrat Candace Valenzuela.
Since announcing her bid for office, Valenzuela has billed herself as a woman-of-the-people candidate devoted to improving others’ lives. She would be the first Black Latina elected to Congress, according to The Texas Tribune.
“I’m fighting for working families,” Valenzuela told the Observer. “I’m fighting for folks who may not necessarily feel like they have a voice, because a lot of our legislators don’t seem to get the urgency we’ve been experiencing for a long time, and even more so during COVID-19.”
Valenzuela said that Washington is long overdue for a system upgrade. It’s largely been run by elites with Ivy League degrees, many of whom have been shielded from the struggles faced by everyday Americans like herself, she said.
Growing up, Valenzuela said her family experienced homelessness and was plagued by financial troubles. They had to rely on public housing and food stamps, as well as public education, she said.
Now, Valenzuela is an educator who served on the school board for Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD. As a trustee, she said she helped secure pay raises for teachers and support staff. She also fought for an expansion of district schools' vocational and STEM training.
Valenzuela said serving on the school board and living as a woman of color have prepared her to lead.
“We don’t have enough people who have dealt with these struggles in D.C.,” she said. “They’re just sending the same kind of folks to push forth the same kinds of problems.”
Last week, The Dallas Morning News editorial board “cautiously recommend[ed]” Valenzuela’s Republican opponent, former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne.
Van Duyne is an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, and she served in his administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development from 2017 to 2019. But the News’ endorsement sparked outrage; Van Duyne has faced intense criticism for making xenophobic and racist remarks.
In 2015, Van Duyne made national news after she advocated for Irving City Council to pass a symbolic anti-Sharia law resolution. Later, she joined Glenn Beck in perpetuating a conspiracy theory that Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old student arrested for bringing a disassembled clock to class, was part of an Islamic takeover plot.
More recently, she appeared to condemn the NFL for its pro-Black Lives Matter stance in a tweet.
Instead of acknowledging how her actions could have offended some, Van Duyne blamed the Morning News for manufacturing the controversy over her stance on Islam — a move that baffles her opponent.
“I’ve never fantasized about walking into an editorial board meeting … insulting them and walking out with an endorsement, but that’s what we’re looking at in 2020,” Valenzuela said. “This is how systemic bias works.”
Neither the News nor Van Duyne responded to multiple requests for comment.
In last week’s editorial, the Morning News said that Valenzuela’s “inexperience” disqualified her for the endorsement. The board wrote that although passionate, Valenzuela “leans a little too progressive” for their liking.
But Valenzuela said she would be equipped to represent her constituents’ needs. She attended a top political science college and beat an 18-year incumbent for her spot on the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School Board, she said.
“It’s not like I wasn’t without merit there,” Valenzuela said. “I’ve been elected into office before in this district, and I’ve served folks without having to step on one community or another to get ahead.”
Former President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren have all endorsed Valenzuela, according to her website.
Professor Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, chair of the political science department at the University of North Texas, said that the Valenzuela and Van Duyne race will be an interesting one to watch. They’ll be battling for an open seat currently held by Republican Kenny Marchant, who won it by only 3 points in 2016, according to the political website Ballotpedia.
Valenzuela seems to be a good candidate, Eshbaugh-Soha said, and she’s running in an area of Texas that has strong Democratic support. When you add in the fact that she’s not competing against an incumbent, it helps her chances, he said.
It’s a tricky time to enter the national political ring, but Valenzuela said she’s up to the task.
“As somebody who’s been through the experiences that I’ve been through, I also know that it’s luck, and it’s systems, working for people,” she said. “And for kids that aren’t like my kids, I need to work very, very hard so they can see the prosperity and the hope I was able to receive when I was at my most vulnerable.”
If elected, Valenzuela said she’d work hard to provide everyone with affordable health care coverage. When she was younger, Valenzuela said she was in a terrible car wreck that left her in need of prescription pain medication and physical therapy. She said she couldn’t find a job with health insurance, so she had to work three of them to survive.
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Valenzuela said she’s also passionate about campaign finance reform. She’d like to see public financing of elections so that representatives are beholden solely to their constituents, not special interest groups, she said.
Also, Valenzuela said she would work to establish comprehensive climate change policies, such as cracking down on corporations that are large-scale polluters. Many Texans rely on oil and gas jobs, so Valenzuela said she would fight to create clean-energy work as the state’s economy transitions.
Ultimately, Valenzuela is confident that voters understand she’s the better candidate.
“I’ve built coalitions; I didn’t divide them,” she said. “And in this divisive, toxic atmosphere, we need more coalition builders. That’s not my opponent.”