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Jessica Cisneros

Endorsement watch: Warren sticks her neck out

Very interesting.

Jessica Cisneros

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is wading into one of Texas’ highest-profile intraparty fights, endorsing Jessica Cisneros, the primary challenger to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

“The people of Texas’ 28th district are ready for systematic change and deserve a Democrat that will be on the side of working people; not the side of big money and obstructionist Republicans,” Warren, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts, said in a statement Monday morning. “I believe Jessica Cisneros is that fighter.”

Cisneros, a young immigration attorney from Laredo, has the backing of Justice Democrats, the progressive group famous for helping elect freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., last year. Cuellar is among the more conservative Democrats in the House.

“Jessica knows our diversity is our strength and that when progressives are unapologetic about our values and who we’re in this battle for, we win,” Warren said. “It’s time Texans had a champion in Congress who does just that.”

See here for the background. This will certainly raise Cisneros’ profile, and I’d say it’s a good bet it will help her with fundraising, too. It’s a bit of a risk for Warren to take, partly because it may cost her some primary votes in a heavily Democratic part of the state, partly because she may have made a mortal enemy who can sabotage her agenda in the House if he survives and she wins, and partly because Henry Cuellar also has friends who are now motivated to work against her. It’s also very on brand for her, and if you’re looking for someone who walks the walk, Elizabeth Warren has the record to show she does that. This race just got more interesting. The Texas Signal has more.

On an unrelated note but something that I’ve been looking for an excuse to include in a post, CD02 candidate Elisa Cardnell was recently endorsed by Rep. Marc Veasey, who among other things is the Regional Vice-Chair of the DCCC. CD02 is not currently on the DCCC target list, but in an ideal world the overall political climate, the Cardnell campaign fundraising prowess, and any available polling data would cause this race to be added in at some point. For now, it’s on the second tier, but the endorsement of an incumbent like Rep. Veasey is a boost for Team Cardnell, and suggests the national folks are keeping an eye on this one as well.

Lucio’s challengers

Will definitely want to keep an eye on this.

Sen. Eddie Lucio

This cycle, [Sen. Eddie] Lucio’s record will be dissected as two opponents—one a trial lawyer and daughter of a former Cameron County Democratic chair, and another a current State Board of Education member—take aim at this titan of Rio Grande Valley politics. Can they persuade the voters of Lucio’s district, which is 89 percent Hispanic with a 37 percent poverty rate, to reject the Texas Senate’s most conservative Democrat, or will the 73-year-old prevail again?

[…]

Lucio’s two primary challengers are Sara Stapleton-Barrera, a 35-year-old trial lawyer whose father chaired the Cameron County Dems in the ’90s, and Ruben Cortez, a sitting member of the State Board of Education who won re-election last year.

Stapleton-Barrera practices injury and constitutional law and criminal defense, but she’s politically inexperienced. Her campaign is founded on the idea the district needs new blood and on a promise to prioritize women and children. She’s been endorsed by the Cameron County Democratic Women, said Lucio’s not a “real Democrat,” and condemned his anti-equality views. “I’m 110 percent supportive of the LGBTQ community,” she told me over the phone. She’s also stressing the need for renewable energy and addressing climate change, an area where Lucio may be vulnerable: The senator voted to kill Denton’s fracking ban in 2015, and wrote a letter of support in March for one of three controversialliquefied natural gas plants proposed east of Brownsville. Stapleton-Barrera opposes the gas plants.

Seven months before writing the letter of support, Lucio accepted $5,000 from the company, Exelon, proposing the natural gas plant. Over the phone, Lucio told me he couldn’t remember who requested the letter and said his support for the gas plants depends on them operating in an environmentally “safe” way.

Stapleton-Barrera also hits Lucio for his tort reform record. “He’s taking money from the insurance companies and leaving people injured in a car wreck or by medical malpractice high and dry,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t take money from any PACs including TLR.

On abortion, Stapleton-Barrera is to Lucio’s left, but may not excite pro-choice advocates. In an email to me, she stole a line from the 1990s, saying abortion should be “legal, safe, and rare.” When pressed, she told me she would not support any further restrictions on abortion and would consider any measures loosening restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Her online platform doesn’t mention reproductive rights at all, and she told me she’s not making it a prominent part of her campaign because many in her district are anti-abortion.

Cortez has served on the state education board since 2013 and used his role to fight for Mexican-American studies; before that, he was on the Brownsville school board. In 2018 in Lucio’s senate district, Cortez got more votes than any other candidate, including Beto O’Rourke. (Lucio was not on the ballot.) Cortez, who currently represents an area larger than the state senate district, is attacking Lucio’s liberal bona fides. In a recently-posted bilingual announcement video, he slams Lucio for “consistently break[ing] his promise to carry forward the Democratic Party values” and accuses the senator of siding with “Trumpist Republicans” against Valley residents. According to the video, Cortez has endorsements from three local teachers’ unions and a letter carriers’ union.

But Cortez’s grasp of Lucio’s record appears a bit shaky. In the video and a separate post, he hits the senator for supporting a bill this year to allow more guns in schools, even linking the vote to the recent mass shooting in El Paso. Lucio, however, voted against that bill both in committee and on the floor. (Hinojosa, the McAllen-based state Senator, is the one who broke party ranks.) Cortez did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Money could be a problem for both challengers. In the first half of this year, Stapleton-Barrera raised around $4,000 and took about $20,000 in loans from her husband; as of July, Cortez had only about $1,000 on hand. Lucio couldn’t fundraise during the legislative session, but in the second half of last year he pulled in almost $350,000.

I’m a big non-fan of Sen. Lucio, so I’m happy to see him draw a couple of serious challengers, flawed though they may be. There’s a lot of attention being paid to the primary challenge in CD28, where national Democrats are funding a more progressive candidate against Congressman Henry Cuellar, whose record on many issues is as problematic as Lucio’s. I’m skeptical about that effort, in part because challenger Jessica Cisneros is flawed in her own ways, but it’s a worthwhile thing to try. Lucio is arguably a bigger impediment to progress than Cuellar, because he’s one of 31 Senators, giving him that much more influence in his chamber, whereas Cuellar is one 435 Congressfolk. The good news is that even if Lucio survives this race, every Senator will be up for election in 2022, so the next opportunity to have another go at him will be in short order.

Anyway. Stapleton-Barrera’s website is here. Cortez doesn’t appear to have any web presence, but his SBOE profile is here. Check them out, and I’ll keep an eye on this.

Justice Democrats find a primary opponent for Rep. Henry Cuellar

It’s on.

Jessica Cisneros

A 26-year-old Laredoan, former valedictorian of Early College High School and current immigration and human rights attorney, Jessica Cisneros is announcing her campaign Thursday to run for Congress in 2020 to represent Laredo and the rest of Texas’ 28th District, which spans from San Antonio to Mission.

“I’m super excited to finally have the opportunity,” said Cisneros to Laredo Morning Times. “I’ve been working for it and praying for it, to be able to give back to my community here in South Texas. From a very young age, I’ve known that I wanted to give back to my community. I’ve been inspired by the people here in Laredo.”

Cisneros will have the chance to give Laredo’s Rep. Henry Cuellar a serious primary challenger in this very blue district, which has solely been represented by Democrats since it was created in 1993.

Cisneros is backed by Justice Democrats, the progressive advocacy group that famously recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her successful primary bid to represent New York’s 14th congressional district. And Cisneros’ platform reflects Justice Democrats’ core values, which have become emblematic of the progressive left. According to a release from the Justice Democrats, they include: fixing the U.S. immigration system, ending family separations, opposing the border wall, instating a $15 minimum wage and a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, the end of corporate money influencing elections, free public college, women’s health and reproductive rights, gun reform, expanding Social Security, and making the wealthy pay their fair share.

Cisneros has pledged to reject campaign contributions from corporate political action committees and lobbyists.

Since Justice Democrats first announced that they would be targeting Cuellar’s seat in the primary, doubt has poured forth about the likelihood of a liberal Democrat winning an election in Laredo. In a recent Texas Monthly story on this very topic, Democratic consultant Christian Archer says he believes the Justice Democrats have misunderstood this congressional district.

“(Justice Democrats) probably don’t know Laredo. … These are farmers and ranchers and people who grew up carrying a gun,” Archer is quoted as saying in the story.

Cisneros begs to differ. She said people believe this area is conservative in part because Cuellar, a conservative Democrat, perpetuates the idea.

“South Texas is its own district. We are placed in a very unique spot in terms of politics and also geographically, being right here on the border,” Cisneros said. “But fundamentally I think the big issues are being able to address things like poverty — the rampant poverty that we have here on the border — health care access and the jobs issue.”

See here for the background. I’m not going to offer an opinion on Cisneros’ chances of winning. I don’t know the district, I don’t know either her or Rep. Cuellar, and I don’t know what kind of campaign she will be able to run. As I noted in that link, the recent history of primary challengers to incumbent members of Congress does not offer a ton of hope, but times change and this particular kind of challenge has not been attempted before. The one bit of pushback I will offer is that CD28 is not actually “very blue”, it’s on the blue end of purple. Cuellar has never had a serious Republican challenger, in part I think because he always outperforms the partisan baseline, which is still pretty blue if not impregnably blue to begin with. This isn’t challenging Gene Green from the left; Cisneros would be advised to not take her district’s partisan leanings for granted if she won the primary. That’s not an argument for her not to run – one could make a case that a more progressive Democrat would do a better job than Cuellar does turning out Democratic voters, for example – just an observation on my part about the numbers.

The x-factor in this and all other primaries for 2020 is the very high turnout we’re going to get thanks to the Presidential cattle call. Will lower-information Democratic voters stick with the name they know? Will newer voters be more inclined to vote for a change? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. Be prepared to take any primary polling of the district with a big ol’ grain of salt. Vox, the Rivard Report, the Current, and Texas Monthly have more.