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For North Texas Activists and Others, the 'Most Important Election' Is Just a Start

The contenders for the 2020 national, state and local elections for Dallas county: From left to right: Beth Van Duyne (R), Genevieve Collins (R), John Cornyn (R), Colin Allred (D), MJ Hegar (D), Candace Valenzuela (D); Top: Joe Biden (D) and Donald Trump (R)
The contenders for the 2020 national, state and local elections for Dallas county: From left to right: Beth Van Duyne (R), Genevieve Collins (R), John Cornyn (R), Colin Allred (D), MJ Hegar (D), Candace Valenzuela (D); Top: Joe Biden (D) and Donald Trump (R)
Samuel Corum/Getty Images; Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; courtesy photos

There's one week left to choose if you haven't yet voted: Do you go for the senile socialist swamp creature or brilliant businessman patriot? Or to put it another way: Is your candidate the honorable public servant and blue-collar hero or the morally bankrupt grifter and racist?

That's a stark choice for the dozens of people who won't make up their minds until Election Day on Nov. 3.

Or as Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party, put it: “This is the most important election of our lifetime. Everything is on the line in this election.”

Joe Biden has said the same, so has President Donald Trump. Political journalists have cranked out truckloads of words making the case that this is true, and more truckloads pointing out that the same cliche has been applied to nearly every election since the Eisenhower administration.

Considering that a voter who lives the average 78.87-year lifespan in the United States will see 19 or 20 presidential elections, calling the 2020 presidential vote "the most important" could be premature, so let's pass on historical rankings and focus on what's actually on the line this election.

The Observer spoke to people involved in politics, immigrant advocacy, environmental protection, LGBT issues, abortion rights and social justice to get their take on what a Biden or Trump win would mean for their work.

We also reached out to Texas officials from both parties for their opinions. Republican organizations at the state and county levels did not respond. Democrat Rahman did. People looking for the GOP take can just assume the opposite of everything he said is true.

Even during “the biggest pandemic in American history,” Republicans have been attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Rahman said. That could leave millions of Texans uninsured.

The state’s sky-high unemployment rate indicates that Republicans are ill-equipped to restore the economy, he said. The coronavirus crisis must end before it can be fully rebuilt, which Rahman said won’t happen under Republican leadership.

On top of that, the rights of gay people, immigrants and women are on the line, since Trump’s administration has further oppressed marginalized groups, he said.

Biden will restore integrity to the country’s highest office, Rahman said, and his willingness to listen to scientists and doctors will help put an end to the coronavirus crisis. Trump’s leadership has divided the country and embarrassed America on the world stage.

“We just simply can’t afford four more years of this,” Rahman said. “There’s no way that we’ll be able to keep on going the way that we are if Trump wins this reelection.”

Party Control

Not all of the big show is happening at the top of the ballots. Control of the House and Senate is on the line, and in Texas, Democrat MJ Hegar is 8 points behind incumbent Sen. John Cornyn in the most recent polls, according to the website fivethirtyeight.com. That would be a comfortable lead in any election year that didn't have Trump at the top of the GOP ticket, but it's a long way from the 61.6 percent of the vote Cornyn won in his 2014 election and another reason Democrats believe that Texas is shifting blue.

Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Rep. Colin Allred is battling Republican Genevieve Collins to hold onto the District 32 seat Allred won by defeating Republican Pete Sessions during the 2018 "blue wave" election, which shifted control of the House to Democrats. In Congressional District 24, covering northwestern Dallas suburbs, Democrat Candace Valenzuela is running against Republican Beth Van Duyne to fill the seat being left vacant by retiring GOP U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant. Marchant, a conservative serving his eighth term, defeated his Democratic opponent by just 3 percentage points in 2018, a far cry from his 33-point margin in 2014. He is one of six GOP House members from Texas who are not seeking reelection in 2020.

Texas has long been a Republican stronghold, but some political experts say that’s changing. Rebecca Deen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington, said many of her students do in fact believe this to be the most important election of their lives, particularly those who are in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program. As non-citizens, they can't vote, of course, but the outcome may determine whether they remain in the U.S., as Trump has fought to end DACA.

Deen said that if Biden were to win with a strong majority of the vote, his coattails might deliver Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. If that happens, they will probably have retained a majority in the House, she said, securing at least two years of Democratic control.

Then, Democrats would be on a mission to restore the nation to normalcy, she said.

“President Trump has been norm-busting on every dimension one could imagine,” Deen said. “And I have to constantly tell my students he is anomalous, and I don’t mean that in a normative, nor value-laden way. In an empirical way, he’s just really different than any other president we’ve seen.”

Deen said that although Texas Democrats are still the underdogs, the party has more of a chance than in years past. The fact that people are even talking about the Republicans losing Texas is huge, she said, and the presidential race here could be a toss-up.

Last Friday, Dallas County broke its all-time early voting record. High voter turnout typically benefits Democrats, Deen said.

Critical partisans believe that this election is “seismic” on many levels, she said.

“It’s the most important election [to them] because four years was damaging," Deen said. "Eight years is very difficult to come back from."

Immigration

Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for the immigrant rights organization RAICES Action, offered a troubling bit of history to DACA recipients who see a President Biden and Democratic Congress as their best chance at remaining in the U.S.: When Democrats controlled the House and Senate during the Obama administration in 2010, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, failed to pass.

Though Obama offered DREAMERs some relief by creating the DACA program by executive fiat, its protections are tenuous without an act by Congress. Besides, Obama's record on immigration didn't win him love among some advocates, who called him "deporter in chief" for the number of immigrants ejected from the U.S. during his time in office. "While Obama deported 1.18 million people during his first three years in office, Trump has deported fewer than 800,000," the Washington Post reported last year.

"We can't forget history," Andiola said.

Former Obama VP Joe Biden certainly can't. In February, he described the Obama administration's decision to deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants without criminal records a "big mistake." Andiola suggested that Obama's focus on a path to citizenship for DREAMERs rather than pushing comprehensive immigration reform with support by lawmakers was a mistake.

Without legislation, immigration policy is left to executive orders subject to court challenges and rewriting by the next administration. In Trump's case, though his White House has deported fewer people, it has detained more than half a million immigrants, many asylum seekers, and separated parents from children.

A President Biden could rescind some of Trump's harsher policies, push Congress for comprehensive reform and send White House adviser Stephen Miller back to the private sector, Andiola said. Miller is the adviser behind the detentions, family separations and reductions in the number of refugees granted asylum in the U.S.

"Democrats are for the most part our friends, but you have to hold your friends accountable," Andiola said.

In the meantime, RAICES has developed a rapid response team and expanded its team of lawyers who provide immigrants representation.

"They're definitely tired," she said of the litigators assisting RAICES. "A lot of them aren't winning cases the way they were before."

For now, though, Andiola shares the same feelings many on both sides do about this Election Day.

"I'm really anxious. I just want it to be over," said Andiola, herself a DACA recipient who has lived in the U.S. for 22 years, since she was 11 and her family left Mexico to escape domestic violence.

Aaryaman Singhal is a co-founder of the Dallas chapter of Sunrise Movement.EXPAND
Aaryaman Singhal is a co-founder of the Dallas chapter of Sunrise Movement.
Kathy Tran

Climate Change

For Sunrise Movement’s Aaryaman Singhal, this election presents Americans with an existential dilemma. Should Trump win reelection, Singhal said there won’t be a pathway forward for the Green New Deal, a sweeping piece of legislation that aims to stop climate change while creating millions of jobs. (Biden has his own climate change plan, though Trump insists it's a stalking horse for Democrats who really support the Green New Deal, which Republicans say would wreck the economy.)

Some scientists predict the world only has seven years left to cut carbon emissions in half before the “countdown clock” runs out of time, Singhal said. Calling the situation “urgent” and “dire,” he believes it isn’t too alarmist to say the fate of the world could be at stake.

“It’s really critical that we vote Trump out of office,” Singhal said.

The Green New Deal would invest money and resources in communities most affected by climate change and pollution, Singhal added.

Dallas itself is riddled with examples of environmental racism, he said. West Dallas’ 75212 ZIP code has the highest air pollution burden in town, he said, and shingle mountain, a huge pile of improperly dumped roofing shingles, has long plagued the residents of southern Dallas.

If Biden wins the election, Sunrise Movement will continue to put pressure on his administration to implement the Green New Deal, Singhal said. They also have a contingency plan if the election results are unclear or contested.

If Trump is reelected, Singhal said the movement won’t just “melt into the background.”

“Certainly the federal government is best equipped to tackle the climate crisis at the scale of the challenge,” he said. “We’re going to keep fighting, because our future and our lives are at stake.”

Dominique Alexander, a minister and leader of social justice group Next Generation Action Network
Dominique Alexander, a minister and leader of social justice group Next Generation Action Network
Can Turkyilmaz

Social Justice

The fabric of the country has torn since Trump’s inauguration, said Dominique Alexander, a minister and president of social justice group Next Generation Action Network. He said he feels as though people’s humanity, and the very future of the country, are on the line in this election.

Since 2016, Alexander said, the president’s administration has eradicated many of the accomplishments that civil rights leaders fought hard for. On top of that, Trump has exacerbated the already tense relationship between law enforcement and people of color.

“The fact that we live in a country where hate and bigotry have run so rampant and dominant right now, the toxic behavior is troubling," Alexander said.

The futures of the economy and federal courts are also in jeopardy, Alexander said. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened, and women’s rights could take a hit now that the U.S. Senate has confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Alexander also said it’s terrible that Trump has politicized mask wearing, since medical science has proven that they work to stop coronavirus spread. Lives depend on the willingness of leadership to listen to scientists and public health experts, he said.

“We’ve got a president who wakes up in the morning and tells people that [we’re] dealing with the greatest health scare of this world’s history,” Alexander said, “and then he stands in front of the Oval and tells people to drink bleach.

“I hate the fact that I live in an America where I’m smarter than the president,” he continued.

Feminism, Anti-abortion

Election Day’s results won’t make much of a difference in people’s everyday lives, said Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of the anti-abortion group New Wave Feminists. Biden might not eliminate abortion, but he’s no feminist, she said; both politicians have exhibited predatory behavior, though Trump has a “higher body count.”

Herndon-De La Rosa said that Biden tokenized the position of the vice presidency by announcing he wanted to choose a Black woman for the job. That move objectified the qualified women of color candidates, she said.

Herndon-De La Rosa said she would have preferred just about any other Democratic leader to Biden.

“I view him more as just a tourniquet: He would stop the bleed, right? That’s all he’s probably going to do, so I don’t have my hopes too high for him,” she said.

“We have two old white dudes in office,” she continued. “That’s our choices right now.”

Should Biden win, he’ll likely attempt to codify abortion while Trump will push to ban it, she said. Either way, it won’t solve the root problem: America doesn’t provide comprehensive support for women and their children.

Abortion needs to become unthinkable and unnecessary, she added; until then, nothing will change.

Yet Biden does have an edge in terms of how he’d respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Herndon-De La Rosa said. Trump has been unwilling to listen to medical experts and has mocked mask-wearing.

That behavior, coupled with Trump’s push to repeal the Affordable Care Act during the pandemic, is antithetical to the tenets that pro-life supporters espouse, she said.

“The fact that Trump has made it somehow about dick size about whether you wear a mask is the stupidest thing I’ve seen in my life,” she said. “I, out of the respect for my community, wear a bra. You can wear a mask.”

Tenants’ Rights

Since the pandemic arrived in North Texas, tenants have been hit hard, said Sandy Rollins, executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union. Little relief has been offered, and people have been losing their jobs, with some unable to pay rent.

Homelessness has long been an issue in Dallas, but Rollins said she has recently noticed it has gotten worse. People now camp on the street behind her office building in East Dallas. They didn’t used to be there, she said.

“My fear come January is if something major doesn’t come out of Washington, that it’s just going to get much, much worse," Rollins said.

The Texas Tenants’ Union is a nonprofit organization whose tax status requires representatives to be nonpartisan, Rollins said. Even though they aren’t involved in electoral politics, Rollins still encourages civic engagement.

Whoever is elected president will lead federal pandemic response efforts. Rollins said that even though there has been a “patchwork of tenant protections,” none have eliminated rent. (The current federal eviction moratorium expires Dec. 31, and tenants still must pay back rent in full.)

Rollins said that it could be a while before the economy bounces back, so it’s up to Washington to pass another stimulus bill to take care of Americans. Otherwise, the homelessness crisis could spiral out of control.

People shouldn’t just be resigned to suffer without contacting their elected officials who have the power to do something about it, Rollins said. These representatives who command “the halls of power” have an obligation to help fix it, she said.

“As a country, it seems like we’ve come to accept what is unacceptable,” Rollins said. “There’s enough wealth in this country to fix these problems, but there needs to be the political will to do it.”

LGBTQIA

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas is an organization dedicated to politically representing the LGBTQ community in the city of Dallas and the state of Texas.

Jay Narey, president emeritus of Texas Stonewall Democrats, said one of the most immediate effects the election result might have on the LGBTQ community will have to do with healthcare.

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President Trump has promised a better program in place of ACA. He hasn't offered any details, though, and continues to push for the act's repeal.

Joe Biden on the other hand, Narey said, has been a strong and vocal proponent of equal rights for the LGBT community for several years now. “So I believe both the presidential as well as the U.S senatorial elections will have a huge impact on the LGBT community moving forward,” he said.

The Stonewall Democrats main goals include sensitizing Democratic candidates and officeholders to the political needs of the LGBTQ community and promoting economic justice and social progress.

Staff writer Jacob Vaughn contributed to this report.

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