Six candidates fielded questions at Angelina College in the first stop of a five-part college tour through East Texas on Thursday morning.

The nonprofit organization Build East Texas put the tour together to introduce candidates who have announced their intention to run for the U.S. Senate and Congress in the March 2020 primary election.

“The objective and the goal of this East Texas Campus Tour is to give students access to the political process, particularly to the Senate race that’s happening right now in East Texas,” Brent Beal, a founding board member of Build East Texas, said.

Four candidates were Democrats running for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn: Sema Hernandez, Jack Daniel Foster Jr., Adrian Ocegueda and Michael Cooper. Mark Yancey, a Republican running against Cornyn, and Hank Gilbert, a Democratic candidate running for the Texas 1st Congressional District, were also there.

A few dozen students and non-students attended the meeting and peppered the candidates with questions after each gave a three-minute introduction. The candidates used the time to plug the keynotes of their campaign and push for further discussion later on.

“I wanted to hear some of the debates on certain things and how it would affect my life in the future of my career field,” Kyle Garey, a freshman at Angelina College and a member of the student government, said.

He was able to learn other opinions about issues that affected him directly, such as the Green New Deal, which would affect his family as they own an oil field business. He thinks there is room to compromise between the two worlds.

Adrian Ocegueda

Ocegueda is running on a policy of structural change. He ran for governor in the last election on the same platform and lost, but hopes to bring thoughts of that type of change to the federal level.

“Everything from Senate rules all the way to corporate governance — the whole spectrum, up and down,” he said. “I think people, a lot of times, talk about structural change but may not appreciate what it means.”

He plans to implement rules and procedures to hopefully prevent the gridlock that is often seen in Congress between party lines. For example, he’d like to see a minority rule implemented that could force a debate on a topic so a decision might be made to move things forward, he said. Even small changes can help to loosen that gridlock, he said.

“I’m hoping to actually improve the reputation of Washington and actually get things done. That’s a small structural change on that level.”

Jack Daniel Foster Jr.

Foster wants to bring the power back to the individual property owners and the county governments that represent them, he said. There are many social programs or changes that need to be made, but could be done so on a local level.

“I am adamant about our quality of life and our standard of living,” he said. “That’s only done at the local level, at the county level. Being a United States senator gives you the advantage of cutting across all the levels of government. … You can make a big difference with people.”

Foster said he is going after the rainy day fund. He plans to give $3 million to each of the 254 counties in Texas because it would be a drop in the bucket for an investment in the state’s local governments.

“And on top of that, I want the counties to shore it up with their money,” he said. “To make sure that taxpayers have the ability to invest in their community … and get their money back.”

Mark Yancey

Yancy was the only Republican in the group of candidates from Thursday’s meeting. He believes the idea that running against Cornyn is an uphill battle is a farce and said any of the other candidates running could do a better job in the Senate than Cornyn.

“I am a true conservative,” he said. “I am for a limited government, a strong military, I’m for a balanced budget. We’re spending money like it’s growing on trees, and it’s untenable.”

Yancey believes Cornyn has ignored the wishes of his voters and the needs of the state of Texas. While he maintains his strong conservative values, he said he also understands issues like the need to fix the national student debt which continually rises, to look at actual common-sense gun control and to find a solution for the health care system.

“Washington is broke,” he said. “So what we need is, instead of looking at the idea that the Democrats are bad or the Republicans are bad, we need to look at this as we’re all Americans and we have to look at what’s right for the policies of Americans.”

Michael Cooper

Cooper also believes that Cornyn has failed to represent the community that voted him in and wants to make sure Texans are cared for at the federal level. He is a strong proponent of fixing the educational system, giving more money to classrooms and teachers, moving the system from testing to actually learning, and ensuring the poor areas are also being supported.

“While we’re fighting for criminal justice reform, while we’re fighting for bail reform, while we’re trying to figure out how to get medicare for all — while we’re waiting to get to the extreme left, we need to find a way to get the ball rolling,” he said.

He is also a strong supporter of health care system reformation, but said he believes it will take a team from across the board to create a truly functioning system.

“There are ways to do this. We need to bring all these ideas together and sit down and figure it out, Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “Because we’ll all benefit. We don’t want to kick big business out of business, we just want to provide better business for them.”

Sema Hernandez

Hernandez plans to smash the patriarchy and rebuild a system that is truly reflective of the needs of all her constituents, she said. Her biggest success has been running against Beto O’Rourke in 2018, when she came in second with much less monetary support, she said.

“Our campaign message is similar to one that resonates with a lot of people: addressing economic issues, systemic racism, poverty, environmental injustices and always is addressing the issues of health care,” she said.

She worked in the health care and insurance field before running and believes that experience will help her create policies that work more smoothly than what is seen now, she said. On a federal level, she wants to see mandates that ensure job growth, better access to health care and movements toward a cleaner environment, she said.

She supports movements like the Green New Deal, which she believes answers much of those concerns.

She said her biggest fight will come from making sure people know who she is and what she stands for, and she is on the lookout for volunteers at every stop in her campaign.

Hank Gilbert

Gilbert hopes to change the minds and hearts of East Texans in his race against U.S. Congressman Louie Gohmert. He is a fiscally conservative Christian Democrat, he said.

“I’m going to try to dispel the myth that those two things (conservatism and Christianity) are not mutually exclusive to Republicans,” he said. “The people of East Texas can get back to their roots and still have a representative that’s there to actually represent them.”

Gilbert said he believes Gohmert has failed, especially since he has only sponsored one bill that was enacted into legislation. He also believes Gohmert has failed because he hasn’t held town hall meetings across East Texas. Gilbert promised that if he were elected there would be regular town hall meetings.

He also wants to see more support for people who would use higher education to enter into a trade. Gilbert is proposing a program to offer free college for the first two years of college or trade school, so someone getting a certificate or an associate degree can do so without graduating in debt. From there, those who promise a year of service after graduation will have three years to begin paying back student loans and a 0% interest rate.

Jess Huff’s email address is jess.huff@lufkindailynews.com.

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