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Greg Casar is prioritizing housing, health care and voting rights during his first term in Congress

A person at a podium with a microphone and people in back of him holding up signs
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Greg Casar claims victory in the race to represent District 35 in the U.S. House of Representatives, at an election watch party in East Austin on Nov. 8

Greg Casar's roots are deep in Austin. He started off as a community organizer for construction workers and later served as an Austin City Council member for nearly seven years. Now, he’s representing the city in Washington, D.C.

Serving parts of Travis, Hays and Bexar counties, Casar is ambitious about his first term. He’s promising to work on issues like housing, abortion rights, voting, worker wages and the climate crisis. Despite Republicans holding the majority in the House of Representatives, Casar and his fellow Democrats are optimistic.

KUT spoke with Casar in Washington, hours before a House speaker was elected and he was sworn in. Listen to the interview above and read the transcript below to hear more about his hopes for his first year in Congress.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

KUT: You're about to be sworn in. What are your priorities for your constituents, specifically the people of eastern Travis County?

Rep. Greg Casar: I feel a great sense of responsibility to handle issues big and small for Central Texans, especially folks in Travis, Hays and Bexar counties. That means helping folks make sure they can afford the rent, make sure they can afford the mortgage, make sure that there's a good school for their kids and a future on this planet for their kids.

That's why I think it's so important for us to form this Congress, get a speaker seated and work really hard on the big issues like restoring abortion rights, restoring voting rights, raising worker wages and tackling the climate crisis.

I'm going to have neighborhood service centers, district offices in places like eastern Travis County and Hays County to help people make sure that they get their Social Security checks and get the benefits they deserve from the VA, make sure that people get the respect that they deserve from the federal government.

How do you anticipate working with Republicans to move things like abortion rights and voting laws across the floor? 

I was supposed to have been sworn in days ago, but the Republican conference has been so taken over by extremists on the right wing that for the first time in 100 years, there isn't really a House of Representatives right now because they have so much dysfunction.

We are going to look for places that we can do good work for the American people, regardless of party affiliation. We used to have more bipartisan support for things like the Dream and Promise Act. Democrats overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, support that kind of legislation. We're seeing Republican support diminish for things they used to support, like keeping our young people together with their families, young people that were brought to this country as young children continue to be under threat of being deported. And that's just wrong.

I hope we can get back to a place where we have bipartisan support for our veterans and for our Dreamers and for things like Social Security and Medicare.

You mentioned a big priority for your constituents is housing and rent numbers. What actions do you plan to take in Congress to help people here in Central Texas?  

We have to address the rising housing costs in Central Texas. That means the federal government needs to invest in affordable housing for people — from the working poor to the working class to the middle class. We used to have that kind of investment and priority on housing when Lyndon Baines Johnson was the member of Congress for Central Texas. We've got to get back to that.

We also have to protect tenants. We have way too weak of laws protecting renters and Texans, but the federal government should pass those sorts of laws to protect renters from unjust evictions and extraordinary rent hikes. That is the role of the federal government, it is to step in when we see places like the State of Texas siding with big corporate landlords over working-class people.

What are you most looking forward to with your first week in office?  

We are already at work. We're already answering constituents' phone calls, making sure we help people with their everyday issues. I really look forward to working with the White House to create good union jobs for people across Texas. I'm also prepared to fight back against the bad stuff. We know that's going to get thrown our way.

We're already seeing the chaos being caused by the Republican conference, and I know that folks in Texas want to see us defend baseline programs like Social Security and Medicare and continue to chip away against Texas abortion ban. We know we need to restore civil rights, voting rights and abortion rights in Texas.

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Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter, with a focus on Travis County. Got a tip? Email her at hpanjwani@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @hayapanjw.
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