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Democrats Colin Allred, Roland Gutierrez draw distinctions on key issues ahead of 2024 election

FILE - Rep Colin Allred, D-Texas, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Allred says he'll run for the U.S. Senate in 2024, becoming an early challenger to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
FILE - Rep Colin Allred, D-Texas, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Allred says he'll run for the U.S. Senate in 2024, becoming an early challenger to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio both think they have the platform needed to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the conservative powerhouse who is seeking reelection next year.

Each brings a different profile to the race. Allred is a former NFL player and civil rights attorney from North Texas who was first elected to Congress in 2018. Gutierrez is an immigration lawyer from South Texas who has served in the Texas Legislature since 2008, first in the House and then in the Senate.

Allred openly touts his bipartisan credentials in a closely divided U.S. House. Gutierrez, meanwhile, has become an outspoken Democrat in a Texas Senate where Republicans dominate.

Their differences extend to the issues, according to recent interviews with the two candidates. While they generally agree on many Democratic priorities, they diverge on the best way to address some of them, including gun control, immigration and health care.

To be clear, the primary could still grow. State Rep. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, has been considering a run and is expected to announce his decision soon.

Allred and Gutierrez spoke to The Texas Tribune to lay out their policy positions ahead of the Democratic primary in March.

Guns and gun safety

Preventing gun violence is one of Gutierrez’s top reasons for running. He represents the district where the Uvalde school shooting took place last year and has spent the year energetically pushing for gun restrictions at the Texas Capitol.

“The Safer Communities Act was a good start, but not nearly enough,” Gutierrez said of the post-Uvalde federal law that increased background checks for gun buyers under age 21 and created new funding for state gun-safety programs.

Gutierrez said he wants to see universal background checks, red flag laws that allow judges to temporarily seize firearms from people who are deemed dangerous and an increase in the minimum age to buy an AR-15 from 18 to 21. As for stopping the future sale of such firearms, he said he is open to a ban with exceptions for law enforcement, military veterans and farmers who can prove they need such a weapon for something like killing feral hogs, a common problem in rural Texas.

Gutierrez said he was not ready to support a mandatory buyback of semi-automatic weapons, the idea that Beto O’Rourke controversially pushed in his 2020 presidential campaign. Gutierrez said he supported a voluntary buyback but questioned whether a mandatory program would work.

“It becomes something that becomes impossible to enforce,” Gutierrez said.

Allred credited U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for his work advancing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act last year, and Allred said any continued work in gun safety will have to be measured and in line with what can realistically pass a closely divided Senate.

Like Gutierrez, Allred backs universal background checks, red flag laws and raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic weapons to 21. He also supports banning the future sale of such weapons.

“Those are all things that I think have broad, broad support and that I think we can get done right now,” Allred said. “I’ve always been focused on what can we do right now.”

Immigration and border security

Allred’s approach to the border is in line with moderates of his party. He advocated for pairing border security measures championed by Republicans, including mandated E-Verify to confirm the citizenship status of prospective employees, with pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country. He backed efforts by the Biden administration to direct asylum-seekers to request asylum online from their home countries as well as creating visa programs to meet U.S. economic and labor needs.

Allred has previously voted on legislation to expand funding for the U.S. Border Patrol and for physical barriers to direct migrants to ports of entry. But he dismissed a border wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, as former President Donald Trump advocated, as “ridiculous” and a waste of money.

Gutierrez was also critical of a border wall, calling it a waste of time, money and resources.

More broadly, he said the United States needs to reimagine immigration policy by overhauling visa programs and working with Latin American countries to help people better understand job opportunities in the U.S. before they travel to the border.

Gutierrez said he supports a pathway to residency for the millions of people who have long been in the country illegally, with a mandated time period and financial penalty. He distinguished that from a pathway to citizenship, which people could apply for five years after they become lawful permanent residents.

He said he favored a pathway to residency and an earlier pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” or young people who were brought to the country illegally as children.

When it comes to border security, Gutierrez advocated for a tougher approach to cartels, which he said profit from illegal immigration. He said the United States should have frank conversations with Mexico about the cartel problem, form an accord and “send in the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] … send in the special forces like we did in Colombia.”

“You’ll never hear a Democrat talk about this that way, but we have to have solutions that are outside the box,” Gutierrez said.

The Senate filibuster

Allred said he would support abolishing the filibuster — which generally requires the support of 60 senators before action can be taken — but acknowledged the political difficulty of doing so because a handful of Democrats and most Republicans insist that the filibuster encourages bipartisanship.

Senate rules currently have exceptions to the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold for certain budget bills and judicial confirmations. Allred said it could be more politically feasible to create a similar exception for voting rights legislation. Allred worked as a civil rights attorney before joining Congress in 2019 and championed voting rights legislation after the tumultuous 2020 presidential election.

“I understood that there were some members who had concerns about doing away with the filibuster entirely, but the voting rights legislation is about how you even make up the body of the Senate,” Allred said. “A supermajority requirement in the Senate is nowhere in the Constitution.”

Gutierrez said he was open to changing the filibuster, at least for legislation related to certain issues such as abortion rights, voting rights and gun control. He suggested those are “issues that the nation is vastly in favor of,” and he said Democratic leaders like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer need to “develop some real fortitude in this space.”

The U.S. Supreme Court

Allred supports “common sense” ethics reform for the high court, calling the self-regulated court the “least accountable body in our government.” He cited recent Democratic legislation that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct, allow public complaints on court ethics and tighten disclosure rules for justices’ travel and gifts.

Gutierrez also was critical of the court, saying recent revelations of potential outside influence were “appalling.” He said the court needs a beefed-up ethics code and more congressional oversight.

Allred stopped short of supporting proposals to expand the size of the Supreme Court to add more liberal justices. Conservatives on the court occupy six of the nine seats, and several leftist advocates and lawmakers argue that the Constitution does not dictate how many justices can sit on the court. Republicans and most moderate Democrats have dismissed the idea as a political long shot.

Gutierrez said he was open to expanding the court.

“It’s been a very, very long time that it’s been nine,” he said, “and it probably should be increased to be able to show a little bit more diversity within the United States of America, certainly.”

Term limits for Congress

Cruz joined a bipartisan coalition in the House and Senate pushing for congressional term limits, with a maximum of three two-year terms in the House and two six-year terms in the Senate after becoming law.

Gutierrez expressed support for term limits for members of Congress.

“I don’t know if it’s two or three [terms], but at some point, you need fresh ideas,” he said.

Gutierrez already poked at Cruz over the issue in January, when Gutierrez filed a bill to require U.S. senators from Texas to serve no more than two terms.

Allred stopped short of backing term limits but said he understands the rationale behind the idea. He said legislation to fight partisan gerrymandering, tighten campaign finance laws and expand ballot access would more directly address frustrations with Congress.

“If you’re able to address voting rights and campaign finance, which I think are the two real root causes of most of our problems, then I don’t think you have to look at something like term limits,” Allred said.

Abortion and gender equity

Allred, a vocal critic of the Supreme Court’s decision reversing Roe v. Wade, co-sponsored a bill last year to codify a national right to abortion. He also voted to secure the right to travel out of state for an abortion.

Gutierrez said he would have voted for both bills had he been in the U.S. House.

“We have to protect women’s reproductive rights and their private decisions between their doctors and themselves,” Gutierrez said. “No man should go out there, tell a woman what to do with her body. … It’s just as simple as that.”

Allred has also been critical of Texas’ abortion laws, saying they infringe on women’s rights and harm the economy by discouraging job and college applicants from coming to the state.

Health care priorities

Gutierrez predicted health care will be a major point of debate in the primary. He supports a single-payer health care system like “Medicare for All,” calling health care a “universal right.”

“We can afford to do this in a right way where corporations, where employers still pay into a system that isn’t gouging,” Gutierrez said. “We have to have a very real discussion on this, on how we pay for it, and part of that is we have to take out some of that tremendous amount of … profit.”

Allred does not support a single-payer insurance plan but supports other initiatives in his party to expand access to health care, including the creation of a public option to buy Medicare if there are no other affordable alternatives. He introduced a resolution in 2019 to intervene in the Texas lawsuit that sought to overturn the Affordable Care Act and lobbied to expand ACA subsidies through 2025 for those impacted if Texas were to pass Medicaid expansion. Texas remains one of 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

Gutierrez said he wants to eliminate the ability of “rogue governors like Greg Abbott” to decline Medicaid expansion. Asked for details, he said there are “myriad ways” for the federal government to make states like Texas comply.

As a senator, Allred said he would also focus on bringing down prescription drug costs and creating incentives to expand the number of doctors and nurses.

Climate change and energy

Texas Democrats often have to balance the interests of the oil and gas industry with concerns over climate change, and Allred has pushed his colleagues not to take too punitive an approach on fossil fuels as a way to lower carbon emissions. Instead, he favors financial incentives to grow renewable energy. He also supports permitting reform to streamline environmental reviews for clean energy and fossil fuel projects, saying both are critical.

“We have to recognize that we’re going to continue to be an energy state, but that energy mix is already incredibly diverse,” Allred said. “But also, I am very concerned about the climate, and about what’s happening, and I think we have to be better stewards of the planet.”

Allred proposed additional federal investment in technology to capture carbon before it’s released into the atmosphere — a proposal popular both within the fossil fuel industry and with industry-minded climate activists.

Gutierrez has a similar view. He said he wants Texas to become a leader in renewable energy, but he also wants to ensure oil field workers are not left behind. They should be transitioned to jobs in renewable energy that pay at least as much, he said.

“I’m not one of those guys who says we’re going to throw out the baby with the bathwater in Texas,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez said he supports using tax credits to motivate oil companies to invest in renewable resources. He also said he has supported a carbon tax, or a tax on fossil-fuel emissions.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.