With the nation facing various conflicts regarding the controversial topics of abortion, Islamophobia, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, District 15 congressional candidates addressed these issues.
The Progressive Young Democrats (PYD) of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley hosted a congressional forum last Tuesday at the historic Cine El Rey in downtown McAllen.
The well-attended forum featured six candidates: Democrats Juan “Sonny” Palacios Jr., Vicente Gonzalez, Dolly Elizondo, Rance “Randy” Sweeten and Joel Quintanilla; and Vanessa Tijerina of the Green Party.
English senior Esteban Torres, a PYD representative, attended the forum with an open mind and is looking to support a congressman who appeals to the interests of what he believes is best for the community and America. The Brownsville native is experiencing his first semester on the Edinburg campus and dove straight into being more politically active.
“I saw a lot of things that are wrong,” Torres said. “I see people who the system does nothing for. I believe that a government that doesn’t help its people is worthless. What I want to make sure happens is that politicians who are interested in helping others, [rather than] help themselves, get elected.”
The candidates were asked several questions regarding their actions and opinions on topics such as the Zika virus, Black Lives Matter, discrimination, access to birth control and the minimum wage. The six had similar viewpoints regarding these issues, considering the majority of them are from the DemocraticParty.
However, the way they presented themselves to the audience is what helped sway the vote.
PYD Co-President Mimosa Thomas first brought up the Hyde Amendment, which was put into effect on Aug. 4, 1977, and eliminated federal Medicaid funding for abortion. The question was, if elected into Congress, would they fight to repeal
the act or would they keep it in motion. All seven candidates agreed to repeal the act.
“No one–no man, no government, is ever going to tell my daughters what they can and cannot do with their bodies, period,” Palacios said. “I will fight to repeal the Hyde Amendment … and when I researched about it … [I decided] that’s going to be my Goliath. That’s going to be my fight. We need federal funds to provide these services to women.”
Another question Thomas asked regarded the recent spikes of incidents of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Again, all six candidates agreed that more levels of accountability should be held for those in law enforcement as well as supporting the movement, with the exception of Quintanilla, who said he was not familiar with the movement.
“I do support the movement and I believe all lives matter,” Gonzalez said. “It doesn’t matter what color you are. … I believe we need to implement policies where good cops are able to report bad cops without any retaliation or repercussions. I also believe it should be mandatory for them to have cameras on their body. … I can’t believe that in 2016 we’re still talking about people of color dying in the hands of police departments across the country.”
Thomas mentioned the Zika virus and how it has become a public health crisis in South and Central America and is slowly moving up through Mexico and into the U.S. In some areas in Latin America, officials have requested women refrain from getting pregnant until 2018.
The candidates were put on the spot regarding their actions. All six candidates agreed to do more research on the virus;
however Tijerina, a nurse and scientist, has done her part.
“We need to educate the public,” she said. “It seems that this is all we can do at this point. The research that I’ve
done regarding this virus … this virus has actually been around for a very, very long time. … It was something going on with the government trying to eradicate mosquitoes. The whole point was to decrease mosquito population. Something went wrong–there was a glitch. Something happened with what I’m reading, so most importantly, other than just educating, we need to find out how this thing got started, which means we need to start funding science like crazy.”
UTRGV student Martina Basquez attended the forum to educate herself on the candidates. She first became politically active last year when she volunteered with the Wendy Davis campaign for governor and the Minority Affairs Council. Since then, Basquez likes to stay in tune with how certain things will affect her and is looking for a candidate without a hidden agenda.
“I can be cliché and I can say [I’m looking] for honesty, ambition and passion, but you want someone who executes his or her policies,” the chemistry major said. “His or her job is to cater to the people. If there is an agenda or if he or she is looking through the lines of opportunity, then I wouldn’t want that person representing me. I want someone who knows what they’re doing, who can do it fluidly and organically. It’s all really simple–you don’t have to saturate everything that you do and say. I want somebody who can read a problem and find a solution.”
The forum successfully ended without any conflict and the candidates stepped down from the stage to converse with the audience.
PYD Co-President Cathryn Torres spoke on behalf of the club and was glad the community was engaging in politics.
“On average, congresspeople in District 15 hold office for about 19 years,” the biology pre-med major said. “This is definitely a big race, [considering] the way they act on national legislation will affect the Rio Grande Valley for years to come. … People need to understand that the president of the United States is merely a team captain–without a supportive Congress, legislation will not work in favor of our wishes. We will continue to encourage people that their voice most definitely counts and how much politics affects our daily lives.”