Colin Allred, the Democratic candidate in the race to represent Texas’ 32nd congressional district, visited UTD on April 19. The Mercury had a chance to sit down with Allred and discuss his platform, his views on public education reform and his efforts to engage with millennials.
Q: You are going into a run-off with Lillian Salerno. What do you think sets yourself apart from her in this campaign?
I think we have built a campaign that has gotten more people involved and has, thankfully, changed the way people think about politics here in North Texas. I think we’ve done that because of my local connection to the area and my commitment to growing involvement in politics here. And I think that’s the biggest difference between us, I also think that’s the way in which we win in the fall — by getting people engaged, by getting people involved in our campaign and by getting people out to vote. Our biggest issue in this area and Texas in general is that not enough people are voting or getting involved in our democracy.
Q: You mentioned earlier high college tuition and the amount of debt students are now facing. We’re also seeing teacher strikes around the country . What do you think is the primary solution that we need to be implementing to improve the education system, and do you agree with the idea of free college tuition?
We are, right now, having a crisis in the public education system in our country. At the federal level, there are two things that I really believe in passionately. Let’s have universal pre-K so that every kid can go to pre-K. We need to invest in growing, retaining and training the best teacher workforce in the world. The best thing that we can give a kid when they’re in the classroom is a good teacher. But to do that, we have to train our best and our brightest to become teachers and pay them what they’re worth. And in terms of the cost of higher education, we have really got to get the cost of tuition down. We’ve got to get to the point where we can have debt-free college, where you can attend one of our public schools in this country without taking on a significant debt. I had a lot of professors in law school that told me they flipped burgers in college to pay for law school and that wasn’t that long ago . It wasn’t that long ago that college was mostly free, you’d pay for a few incidentals, books and stuff like that, but tuition was very low. And this is something that’s in our national interest. It’s not like it’s just a giveaway to kids, we need this as a country. I think that we need to significantly lower the costs and work our way towards getting back to where we were, which is basically debt-free college.
Q: In terms of Texas politics, is there a predominant problem that you feel like we should really be focused on solving?
Voting. We have a real issue in Texas. Not enough people vote in this state and it’s a result of policies that have made it harder for people to vote, that have made people feel like maybe they should n’t be involved. And the biggest issue facing us isn’t a single policy, it’s that we don’t have enough people involved in our democracy. If more people were involved in our democracy, then our representatives would be more responsive to them because they’d have a chance of getting voted out. We need to expand access to the ballot with things like automatic voter registration, making election day a national holiday and restoring the Voting Rights Act to make sure that nobody is being discriminated against when they try to vote.
Q: How do you plan to reach out to millennials and make them feel like they have a voice?
Millennials have a very finely tuned BS detector and they’ve grown up in the information age in which some of the platitudes and nonsense of American politics have been exposed to not really be what they said they were, so I think the first thing we have to make sure we have are authentic candidates who can make an appeal to young people. I think authenticity is the number one thing that young voters are looking for. Another thing of course is that we’ve got to talk about the issues that matter to young people. The issues that matter to young people aren’t that different from the issues that matter to the rest of the electorate. But we need to talk about them, we need to make sure we’re not speaking down to young people. They are demanding all the things that I think we care about as a society. They want healthcare, they want to have more investment in education, they want to make sure they have good jobs when they get out (of college) and they want to make sure they don’t have a government that’s bought and paid for.
Q: What made you come to UT Dallas today?
Oh, I love UTD. We have a lot of fellows from UTD that are involved in our campaign, and I think UTD is one of the best institutions that we have here in North Texas. It’s, I think, the most diverse university that we have in Texas. It’s an extremely good academic institution, and it’s kind of a magnet for people that come here to this area. There’s an entrepreneurial program here that I think we should be expanding upon that helps people start businesses and grow businesses, we need more of that. There’s science programs here that are doing a great job. There’s all kind of great work going on here so I’m happy any time I can work with UTD.