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Texas primary spotlight: An interview with state Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez.
Bri Kirkham
/
Texas Public Radio
Democratic state Sen. Roland Gutierrez is hoping to face U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the general election this fall.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez is one of several Democrats on the March 5 primary ballot hoping to face off against incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November.

Gutierrez has served in the Texas Legislature since 2008 and became more widely known for his gun control advocacy after the Uvalde shooting, which occurred in his district.

He joined Texas Standard to talk about his priorities and goals ahead of the primary election. Early voting begins Tuesday, Feb. 20.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Texas Standard: You recently criticized Colin Allred for his vote to condemn President Biden’s handling of the border. What’s your take on what’s happening at the border right now, and how would you recommend that the border could be handled better?

Roland Gutierrez: I criticized him for basically accepting the premise, right? The premise from Republicans is that we’re living in this kind of world of chaos at the border, and we’re being overrun by migrants that want to kill us and take our jobs and rape our women and all this other stuff.

When you accept that premise, when you sign on to a resolution, like the congressman did – a resolution that only 14 Democrats signed off of, that read like a Fox News narrative – you basically don’t get to talk about the real issues that we’re facing in Texas. The real issues that Republicans have been broken on for the last 30 years — on health care, on women’s reproductive rights, on gun violence, on economy and jobs and college affordability, all of it.

And so my criticism is of what I perceive to be a very rookie mistake by a young congressman, this notion that we need to appease the terrorists on the right – because that’s what they are; they’re MAGA extremists – by signing on to things that simply aren’t true. And we never get to the things that are really broken in Texas.

But you look at opinion polls that have been conducted in Texas and border security is one of the top, if not the No. 1, issue among Texas voters.  

Oh, yeah. Are we broken on all those things that I mentioned and we’re broken at the border? Certainly. But Republicans don’t want to fix it. The same people that he signed on to that resolution with, they have no inkling of wanting to fix this issue.

Look, if you go to RolandForTexas.com, you’ll see our five-point immigration plan. I’m an immigration lawyer. I’m the son of immigrants, and I represent 400 miles of this border. I know how to fix this issue, and so far, none of those fixes have been proposed. You need a comprehensive immigration reform plan. We need to get rid of H-2A visas and H-2B visas.

My farm and ranch clients want a guest worker program that works, the kind of guest worker program that my father came in with in the 1950s that gives people an opportunity and a leg up to be part of this American dream, to do well. Every economist will tell you we need to fill 30 million vacancies for jobs that Americans don’t want to do.

And so while Republicans are out there playing this game that apparently Colin Allred signed onto in a very rookie mistake, the fact is we’ve got to be able to solve it. We’ve got to talk the truth to Americans and say, this is how you fix the border. We all saw what happened last week. Republicans don’t want to fix this problem. They just want to pontificate and scare us about it.

» MORE: Texas primary spotlight: An interview with U.S. Rep. Colin Allred

There’s another that has come up this primary season, and that’s the conflict between Israel and Hamas. What’s your position on a cease-fire in Gaza?

I’ve always advocated for peace in the Middle East. The fact is, my opponent has said that Israel should just be able to keep on bombing. We cannot bomb innocent women and children with impunity.

People need to understand that the Gaza Strip is 25 miles long. It’s seven miles wide, at its widest. It’s 2 million people and half the size of Austin, Texas. In the first week, [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu told people “we’re going to bomb the north.” In the second week, he starts bombing in the south, tells people to move south, and he starts bombing there.

There’s no military mission. They’re bombing mosques in schools and hospitals with impunity. And it’s simply wrong. You’re never going to bring justice to those 1,200 people that died [on Oct. 7]. You can go after Hamas in a police-like manner. Israel is not doing that. Netanyahu is not doing that. I think the congressman’s naivete on this is even further exposed.

If you had faced the vote that Ted Cruz faced recently on aid to Israel, I presume, then you would have said no?

When we were first looking at it, we were looking at aid to Ukraine. I don’t feel like we need to be giving Israel more money without a metric and an idea of when they’re going to stop bombing, when they’re going to stop bombing women and children and when they’re going to end this war.

The Middle East is a powder keg. We need a game plan before we give them another cent. And the game plan better have a pathway to peace and a pathway to a two-state solution.

What do you see as the main issue or position that sets you apart from your main opponents in this primary?  

I think it’s experience. I think it’s age. I think it’s wisdom. I don’t want this job out of some sense of ambition. Nineteen kids and two teachers died in one of my communities that I represent. I’ve seen all of it. I’ve seen all of that horror, all that video. I’ve seen hundreds of hours of carnage, things that I can’t ever get out of my mind again.

Washington politicians need to get this straight, that we are broken in this nation: on gun violence, on reproductive rights, on everything. And we’re tired of their same old, same old Washington solutions that all it does is keep both sides in power. People want change in this state, and they want progressive ideas that are neither Democrat or Republican. They’re just ideas for humanity. And I think wisdom brings you that.

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I notice you use that word ‘progressive.’ And in some quarters, that’s been considered to be a kind of electoral liability. Do you have a sense that Democrats are split on this?

Listen, I think the vast majority of us are, you know, even some Republicans could consider themselves progressive. I think the forefathers of this country were progressives. They fought against corruption and tyranny. You know, you’ve got to be able to understand that when we talk about progressive values and ideas, we’re just talking about common sense solutions for making our country and our state better.

I think that right now, if you look at Colin’s idea, his theory of the cases, we go out and hold hands with Republicans. We say crazy things like he said on Trump’s border wall. Four years ago, he was against it; now he’s for it. He signs this ridiculous resolution with these people. I think that there is this narrative that says we need to hold hands with Republicans and call that bipartisanship. The fact is, these current Republicans are not the party of Joe Straus or Rick Perry. They’re just a bunch of MAGA nuts.

In our side of the aisle and our progressive wing, if you will, the fact is, we’ve been in the desert in Texas for 30 years, and the guy that got us closest was a guy named Beto O’Rourke. And all of a sudden we want to throw out his playbook? Beto inspired people across this state to wake up and push back and demand change.

How do you secure a seat at the table that’s meaningful if you’re not willing to compromise? 

I never said I wasn’t willing to compromise, but I will use a rule book and the amendment process to push for the maximum gain. At the end of the day, I’ve gotten great things in the Texas Legislature done, including creating the Farmer Suicide Prevention Act, with Republican opposition. Now that program is being adopted by 35 states and the federal government is looking at it.

I’ve done great things in the Legislature over the years, pushing back against Republican extremism through a rule book and the amendment process. We need to develop the fortitude to sit back and push and demand for change, not just do what my opponent did in this race — sign on the dotted line on a crazy MAGA resolution.

If you were to make it through the primaries and defeat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, what would be your No. 1 issue once you reach Capitol Hill?

I’ll give you three. I’m going to start talking to Chris Murphy, a Democrat, and we’re going to go across this country talking about dead kids and how we need to change and have an assault weapons ban, with exceptions, and universal background checks.

And I’m going to sit down with Marco Rubio and say hey, you remember when you were the Gang of Eight? Let’s go back to that bill. Let’s start talking about it. Let’s go dust it off.

Then I’m going to sit down with Bernie Sanders, and we’re going to go across this country and we’re going to talk to people about Medicare for all, because that’s what’s right. We deserve it. We need it. It’s a human right.

What would you say to voters that are still deciding how they want to vote in this primary?

If you’re frustrated like me and you want real change, then come to our side of the aisle on this thing, because I promise you, what you’re going to get with me is someone that’s going to work hard. I’m going to be there in your corner and never stop and never give up.

I’ll never stop pushing for common sense and decency in this country, because we need to get back to that. We need to get to a place where we actually love each other and care about each other and do things for our neighbors. And the only way we’re going to do that is by exhausting ourselves.

I’ve exhausted myself for those families in Uvalde because I love and care for them. The only thing that they have to get used to is some duller sense of pain. We’re going to continue to do that on every issue that we’re broken on in this country, for good, honest, working-class people.

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