Republican Sen. John Cornyn, Democrat MJ Hegar go head-to-head over Texas’ future

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Friday night, two different Texans brought forth their visions for Texas when incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic challenger MJ Hegar went head-to-head for a debate in Austin.

While Cornyn, who has served as Texas senator since 2002, defended and touted his results in the position, newcomer Hegar worked to dismantle Cornyn’s tenure, saying it’s more about himself than the people of Texas.

The two met at a socially-distanced debate held in Austin at the Bob Bullock Museum, hosted by KXAN News. Cornyn and Hegar fielded questions ranging from coronavirus pandemic response to police reform.

As of Friday, Cornyn leads Hegar by eight points, according to a poll by the University of Texas and Texas Tribune. The poll found that 50% of likely voters prefer Cornyn. Libertarian Kerry Douglas McKennon received 3% support. McKennon did not qualify for the debate based on a variety of factors, including polling and fundraising.

Throughout the night, the two clashed as Cornyn’s conservative ideals butted up against Hegar’s more liberal hopes for state government.

On direct COVID-19 relief stimulus payments to Texans

HEGAR: “I believe we can’t attack the economic crisis until we get the public health crisis under control … we can open businesses all we want, but there won’t be customers there to patronize the businesses. I believe we need more stimulus, I’m upset that the government and the Senate haven’t acted in over six months. I was upset that John Cornyn said he didn’t feel a sense of urgency to get more relief out … I do support direct stimulus checks as part of a bigger package.

CORNYN: “I not only would, I have. I was part of the bipartisan coalition, really an almost unanimous vote in the United States Senate and House to pass $3.8 trillion dollars in spending — both to fight the pandemic, the public health challenge, as well as deal with the economic consequences associated with it … but we need to do more. And I hope that the White House and Speaker Pelosi will continue to negotiate…”

Hegar on her “lack of experience”

HEGAR: “Experience is really important and I think we need to elect people with the right type of experience — but I do have experience. Being in D.C., building broad, bipartisan coalitions.”

Cornyn, Hegar on whether they’d accept COVID-19 data indicating Texas needed to shut down businesses again

CORNYN: “When the president ordered a shutdown of air transportation from China, there were people who called him ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’ but that was probably one of the most important things that could happen at that time…. I don’t believe that we need any lockdowns. It’s done tremendous damage to individuals and the economy.”

HEGAR: “Listen carefully how that was a ‘no.’… I am really disturbed by a lack of listening to science, to public health experts…. it’s not up to opinion or ‘What do the polls say?’ or ‘Is it good for my re-election?‘”

Would they support a national mask mandate?

CORNYN: “I would not … We don’t need the government to fill the void that we should fill ourselves by acting responsibly at the local level to keep each other safe and to get this economy growing again.”

HEGAR: “I am for a national strategy — I do agree that different parts of Texas are different. I would be for a national strategy that takes science and objective metrics into consideration.”

Should the vacant Supreme Court seat be filled right now?

Cornyn was asked about his support of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation during an election, despite opposing Merrick Garland’s eight months away from the 2016 election.

CORNYN: “If Hillary Clinton had won the election, as everyone expected at the time, you wouldn’t hear a peep out of people on this topic. But what’s really at stake with Amy Coney Barrett, who’s been attacked for her religious faith … who it’s been suggested that she’s somehow disqualified because she’s a Christian, and she can’t make decisions irrespective of her beliefs, that’s what I think the American people need to see.”

HEGAR: “Where is this urgency when it comes to getting us COVID relief? I think they [Republicans] have the right to vote on this, but there’s a difference between having the right to do something and it being the right thing to do … Precedent matters.”

On possibility of Democrats “packing the court”

HEGAR: “Right now I’m only hearing how it would benefit one party over another … as a combat vet who shed blood for our Constitution, I’m going to be asking what’s best for our country. If people make the argument to me that it’s in the best interest of our country, that’s one thing. Right now, I think we do need term limits for judges. That would solve a lot of these problems.”

On racial justice and police reform

CORNYN: “I believe all African-American lives matter … and when a police officer steps across the line, like they did in the George Floyd murder, they need to be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But I support law enforcement because they are who keep our communities safe. Unlike my opponent, who backs Campaign Zero. They not only want to defund the police, they want to abolish police. And they want to legalize things like prostitution — to me those are not Texas values. We need to support our men and women in blue because they are the thin blue line between us and danger..”

HEGAR: “We have a problem of systemic racism in this country. A problem that on the Senate floor, John Cornyn denied existed. If we’re going to come together and acknowledge this problem, we need leaders who acknowledge the problem, first of all. I believe Black lives matter and I believe we need policing reform. Now, I have been a first responder and I have had to pull the trigger in the line of duty. So I take serious offense to anyone who says I don’t support law enforcement. I believe we need to support transparency and accountability … but I don’t support defunding the police. I don’t know how many times I need to say it.”

What does systemic racism mean to you?

HEGAR: “It is a system that is built against them [minorities]. They don’t have the networks and relationships built with accountants and attorneys and access to business capital. It’s a complex issue. There is systemic racism in this country.

CORNYN: “I’ve been trying to ask that same question. You ask people, ‘What does that mean?’ and they have different definitions, they’ll say it’s structural. Well, I believe in personal responsibility. And I believe that I try to treat every human being with the diginity and respect that they deserve.”

Would you change name of “Fort Hood” military base due to Confederate ties?

CORNYN: “I support the commission process, but I don’t agree with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and MJ Hegar on the direction they want to take the country. We will not even recognize our country if they were to prevail.

HEGAR: “I would [change the name]. I think we can’t deny our history but we can choose who we select to celebrate it.”

Do you believe Election night results could be compromised?

HEGAR: “I have every faith in our democracy and our electoral process. And I also think that being only one of six states that has not relaxed restrictions on vote-by-mail, citing election security concerns, that is voter suppression clear as day … I will accept the election results and I fear the rhetoric of any leader who doesn’t state that clearly.”

CORNYN: “I support every qualified voter being able to vote in Texas. Texas, as you know, has one of the most generous early voting systems.”

Visions for Texas

CORNYN: “I love Texas. It’s been my great honor and privilege to represent her and 29 million others in the U.S. Senate. I don’t believe we need to make Texas like Chuck Schumer’s New York or Nancy Pelosi’s California — which the policies by my opponent would do. We need to make the rest of the country more like Texas … Sam Houston said that what is good for Texas is good for the country. And I believe that’s still true today.”

HEGAR: “Texas is at the forefront of a lot of the major crises that our country is facing… Ya’ll, we need to start electing servant-leaders who can set aside their self interest, ask what’s best for our country — not their careers. And attack the problems that we have, head-on. If you ask me, we have way too much D.C. in government and not nearly enough Texas.”

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