five frontrunners

How are the top Democratic U.S. Senate candidates in Texas different? We asked them 11 questions to find out.

The 2020 Democratic primary to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is widely expected to win his own primary, has been muddied from the start. The list of candidates on the ballot is long, but the contenders have struggled to distinguish themselves. Most have denounced Cornyn, and in particular Cornyn's support of President Donald Trump. But the candidates have been hesitant to engage each other on the issues.

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Meet the frontrunners

To help voters make sense of the race, we asked the top candidates — those who raised at least $100,000 for their campaigns or registered at least 3% support in an October 2019 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll — a series of simple questions designed to help Democratic primary voters understand their political and policy-based differences. (Sema Hernandez, who received 6% support in the UT/TT Poll, did not respond to our questionnaire. As of publication, she had not filed her latest campaign finance report, which was due Jan. 31.) Their answers, which have been edited for clarity, are below:

Chris Bell

$318,983 raised in 2019

Chris Bell is an attorney who served one term in the U.S. House in the early 2000s. He was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006.

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Amanda Edwards

$807,479 raised in 2019

Amanda Edwards is an attorney who served as an at-large member of the Houston City Council from 2016 to 2020.

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MJ Hegar

$3.2 million raised in 2019

MJ Hegar is a retired Air Force helicopter pilot and Purple Heart recipient. In 2018, she ran for Congress, but came up short against U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

$807,023 raised in 2019

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is an activist who helped co-found two prominent progressive groups, the Workers Defense Project and Jolt Action.

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Royce West

$956,594 raised in 2019

Royce West is an attorney and mainstay in Dallas-area politics. He has served in the Texas Senate since 1993.

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Do you support a proposal pushed by former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke for a mandatory assault weapon buyback program?

Yes

Bell

Tzintzún Ramirez

I support a ban on assault rifles but not mandatory buybacks

Edwards

Hegar

West

No

No one chose this option.

Chris Bell

Yes. The time for action to address gun violence is now. I support universal background checks, stringent "red flag" laws, and the closing of loopholes such as the gun show loophole and the Charleston loophole. However, I would not stop there. Following the Parkland, Florida, shooting, I proposed a mandatory ban and buyback program for assault weapons, a proposal that I still support today. These weapons have no place on our streets and in our communities.

Amanda Edwards

I support a ban on assault rifles but not mandatory buybacks. While I support restrictions on assault rifles, I do not support mandatory buybacks. I also believe we must do additional work to obtain universal background checks, "red flag" policies, and other forms of commonsense gun policies to keep our communities safe from needless murders and deaths by gun violence.

MJ Hegar

I support a ban on assault rifles but not mandatory buybacks. I will use my perspective as a mother, responsible gun owner and combat veteran in my work to pass urgently needed legislation to protect our communities, including passing commonsense gun safety legislation to require background checks on every single gun sale, fully funding the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] to reverse the damage of the decadeslong ban on gun violence research, stopping the sale of weapons of war like assault rifles, and ending open carry.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Yes. Texans understand the consequences of assault weapons more than most. In El Paso, a gunman with an assault rifle massacred 22 people because of the color of their skin. No one can afford to wait for bold action on gun violence — especially communities of color. As I’ve said before, this is not the time for political caution. These are weapons of war, and they have no place in our communities. We must buy them back.

Royce West

I support a ban on assault rifles but not mandatory buybacks. I support a voluntary buyback, with an agriculture exemption for feral hogs.

What fixes should Congress prioritize to improve the U.S. health care system?

Implement Medicare for All

Tzintzún Ramirez

Establish a public health insurance option

Bell

Edwards

Hegar

West

Other

No one chose this option.

Chris Bell

Establish a public health insurance option. My top priority for Texas would start with making Medicare accessible through a public option for all Americans, no matter their age. Along with that, we must take action to lower prescription drug prices by allowing the government to negotiate with drug manufacturers directly and making generics more available.

Amanda Edwards

Establish a public health insurance option. I believe that we must expand access to health care immediately. Expanding and improving upon the Affordable Care Act is the best way to achieve this goal today. Providing for an affordable public option, coupled with the ability for those who would prefer to keep their employer-based plans, is the approach that will lend itself to more immediate results while expanding access to coverage.

MJ Hegar

Establish a public health insurance option. The best health care I’ve ever had was when I was on military-provided Tricare, similar to Medicare. During my five years working in health care, it was clear that our skyrocketing costs were unsustainable. I will fight for access to quality affordable health care for every Texan and for their right to determine whether that is Medicare or their private plan.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Implement Medicare for All. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country. We can’t keep failing those Texans. In the richest country in the world, we should all be able to go to the doctor when we are sick. The best and most cost-effective way to achieve that is through "Medicare for All." Under Medicare for All, every Texan will have coverage with no co-pays, premiums or deductibles. No Texan will need to worry about affording health care.

Royce West

Establish a public health insurance option. I support expansion of the ACA [Affordable Care Act] and the addition of a true public-option insurer. This will allow people who like their insurance to keep their insurance.

If given the opportunity, would you vote in favor of the Green New Deal resolution proposed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Yes

Tzintzún Ramirez

No

Bell

Edwards

Hegar

West

Chris Bell

No. I believe that the spirit of the Green New Deal is absolutely necessary, particularly the sections that fund green infrastructure. Our very first action on climate must be to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and invest in green technologies and sustainable infrastructure to make a lasting, long-term impact that will create jobs and position Texas to remain the energy capital of the world.

Amanda Edwards

No. I support a number of the objectives it contains and it lays out goals we should aim for. I think a careful examination of more specific pieces of legislation would be more appropriate and less polarizing.

MJ Hegar

No. As the mother of two little boys, climate change is my No. 1 issue. It is too important to allow the necessary aggressive action on climate change to get overly politicized. As our nation’s leader in the energy industry, Texas must lead the way in the inevitable renewable energy future. It is critical to both our economy and national security.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Yes. In Texas, we have seen Houston underwater along with unprecedented heat and drought. As the second-largest economy in the country with massive wind and solar potential, I will position Texas a leader in the transition to a green energy future. I support the Green New Deal because it presents an opportunity to invest in the future of Texas — a future with clean air and water, green buildings, and a thriving clean energy economy.

Royce West

No. I would not support as written. Just as with any other legislation, it would take us sitting down with all stakeholders to achieve the goals in the GND and others [that] have not been thought about or suggested at this time. We need to be realistic about how long it will take to eliminate fossil fuels from the energy mix. I believe we need to address the existing carbon load in the atmosphere now.

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Should the federal government repeal Section 1325 of U.S. immigration law, which criminalizes illegally crossing the United States border?

Yes

Bell

Edwards

Tzintzún Ramirez

West

No

Hegar

Chris Bell

Yes. We also immediately must stop the immoral and inhumane treatment of immigrants, both at the border and in the heartland. We must create a pathway to citizenship for not only the "Dreamers," but also other temporary resident holders, such as TPS [Temporary Protected Status] and DED [Deferred Enforced Departure] holders. I will sponsor legislation that offers a clear path to citizenship and establishes protections for immigrant communities, as well as dismantling the horrible apparatus of family separation.

Amanda Edwards

Yes. One of the first steps to reforming our immigration laws should be to repeal Section 1325 and replace it with a civil violation.

MJ Hegar

No. The crisis at our border will not be solved by changing one policy. We need to roll up our sleeves [and] collaborate with our border communities, businesses and labor to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and treat asylum seekers at our southern border the same as those who come from other countries around the world.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Yes. Our immigration system should not be in the business of locking people up. We have the largest immigration detention system in the world, and Trump has used this law to separate families. Instead of criminalizing migrants for crossing the border and deporting people for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses, we should ensure that migrants have a meaningful opportunity to seek a home here.

Royce West

Yes. I would like to repeal and replace with language that doesn't criminalize. This should be a civil matter.

Would you vote for the version of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that passed the U.S. House in December?

Yes

Bell

Edwards

Hegar

West

No

Tzintzún Ramirez

Chris Bell

Yes. Trade is a lifeblood of the Texas economy. The USMCA made a lot of improvements on labor and environmental standards to even the playing field with Mexico and Canada. I applaud lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in getting the work done to come to a deal.

Amanda Edwards

Yes. The new agreement is a rare instance of bipartisanship in Washington. I would have voted for the new agreement because it updates a number of NAFTA's [the North American Free Trade Agreement's] key provisions. It also has the support of labor by way of including these union groups in the formation of the measure.

MJ Hegar

Yes. We are a state and a country that is dependent on trade for both our economy and national security, and we need to be the ones setting the rules. I support the USMCA because it is good for the Texas economy and workers. While I am especially glad that labor had a seat at the table, I wish that the environmental groups would have had more of a seat.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

No. Trade agreements that think only about products rather than about people will fail. In my career, I saw how NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] lost the U.S. over a million good manufacturing jobs and displaced thousands of Mexican farmers after it decimated their agricultural economy. USMCA was a step in the right direction for labor, but effective trade policy requires unions, farmers and environmentalists to be at the negotiating table. Environmental considerations were missing from this agreement.

Should the Senate have voted to remove President Donald Trump from office?

Yes

Bell

Edwards

Hegar

Tzintzún Ramirez

West

No

No one chose this option.

Chris Bell

Yes. I believe that the United States is a nation of laws and that no man, not even the president, is above the law. He must be held accountable for corruption, and removal from office is warranted for breach of public trust.

Amanda Edwards

Yes. President Trump used his office improperly and then obstructed the investigation by Congress into the matter.

MJ Hegar

Yes. The publicly available evidence points to several instances of the president abusing the power of his office for his own benefit, and yet Sen. Cornyn blocked the American people from having a fair process and hearing from key witnesses. Having shed blood on foreign soil fulfilling my oath to support and defend the Constitution — the same oath Sen. Cornyn took — his refusal to put his oath over partisan politics is unconscionable.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Yes. We’ve seen enough to know that Donald Trump is unfit for office. As of today, [Jan. 29, 2020], his counsel is not even contesting that Trump abused his office to hold onto political power. This is about more than politics. We must remove Trump from office in order to preserve the rule of law and our very democracy. Anything else will signal to Trump and all future presidents that there is nothing they cannot do.

Royce West

Yes. The Senate should have voted to call witnesses. However, based on available evidence and a careful review of that evidence, I would have voted to convict.

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Should Democrats eliminate the Senate filibuster if they gain control of the Senate?

Yes

Bell

No

Edwards

Tzintzún Ramirez

West

No response

Hegar

Amanda Edwards

No. The filibuster is a tool that senators can use to stop bad legislation and appointments. ... It not only gives the minority party some negotiating strength, [but] it provides an individual senator with the power to stand up for her beliefs.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

No. I am undecided on this issue. I know that eliminating the filibuster would be extremely consequential for a Democratic majority in the Senate. However, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell has used changes to the filibuster to rapidly approve judicial nominees and stack our courts. I am weighing this issue carefully because I am concerned about the long-term impacts of these changes on our democratic institutions.

Royce West

No. After seeing this done in Texas, I would not support such a move. When the majority begins changing the rules, the result is usually nothing good.

If a Democrat were elected president in 2020 and he or she decided to “pack” the Supreme Court by increasing the number of court justices, would you vote to confirm those nominees?

Yes

No one chose this option.

No

Bell

Edwards

Tzintzún Ramirez

West

No response

Hegar

Chris Bell

No. Politicizing the court further will only undermine the separation of powers and our co-equal branches of government. It also invites corruption.

Amanda Edwards

No. I would not support "packing" the Supreme Court. It will be important for a Democratic president and Congress to regain the trust of the American people. Such a blatant political move will harm that effort.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

No. The dynamics on this and the elimination of the filibuster are actually very similar. Once you open the door to court-packing, you have to accept its consequences when you lose political power. Overall, I support the depoliticization of the Supreme Court and am open to the implementation of term limits on Supreme Court justices. I do not, however, believe that we should expand the size of the court just for the purpose of stacking it.

Royce West

No. It would depend on the quality of the nominees.

Would you support a federal ban on fracking?

Yes

Tzintzún Ramirez

West

No

Bell

Edwards

Hegar

Chris Bell

No. I would support much more funding through the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to study the long-term affects of fracking in local water tables and geology.

Amanda Edwards

No. I favor tighter federal regulations dealing with air and water pollution caused by fracking but not a total ban.

MJ Hegar

No. It is imperative to the health and safety of our communities that we reinstate many of the environmental protections that were critical to making sure local families and communities do not experience harmful impacts from fracking-related pollution. As we move toward a renewable energy economy, fracking of natural gas, while not a long-term solution, can serve as a bridge to help us get there.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Yes. I support a ban on fracking on federal lands. These lands are our legacy to future generations and should be protected. I am also concerned that more than 17 million Americans live within a mile of an active fracking well. I support the efforts of local governments to limit fracking and support implementing buffer zones to restrict fracking near schools, hospitals and homes so that we ensure everyone’s access to clean air and water.

Royce West

Yes. Until we ascertain how to protect our scarce groundwater resources, and we will need to do this with industry, I would support a moratorium on new drilling.

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Would you support a cap-and-trade plan in an effort to reduce carbon emissions?

Yes

Bell

Edwards

Hegar

West

No

Tzintzún Ramirez

Amanda Edwards

Yes. Using a combination of carbon caps and market trading could be an effective way to help fight climate change. We can no longer stand by and do nothing.

MJ Hegar

Yes. Climate change is the greatest threat to the health and safety of our communities, the world we are leaving for the next generation and our national security. We must set aggressive goals for the expansion of clean, renewable energy, and invest in clean energy manufacturing and sustainable transportation. Texas has the opportunity to be America’s leader in wind and solar energy, and we should use our natural, renewable resources to create jobs in our state.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

No. For years, we have tried to align the interests of fossil fuel corporations with the actions we need to fight climate change. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked, and I believe there are better ways to support a clean energy transition. I would rather focus on supporting investments in clean energy, in making our infrastructure climate resilient, and on investments in public lands and works that ensure no oil or gas worker is left behind.

Should the United States require employers to offer at least 12 weeks of paid family leave?

Yes

Bell

Edwards

Hegar

Tzintzún Ramirez

West

No

No one chose this option.

Chris Bell

Yes. Yes. And I fully support a universal pre-K program to help young families get the education they deserve.

Amanda Edwards

Yes. I support the extension of paid family leave to working families.

MJ Hegar

Yes. Having had challenging births with both my sons, I can’t imagine what our family would have done if my husband hadn’t been able to take leave to be with our family. For the wellbeing of our children and families, I strongly believe that the U.S. needs to offer paid leave for both mothers and fathers.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Yes. There are just five countries in the world that don’t offer moms paid time off to be with their newborn babies–and the United States is one of them. Paid parental leave keeps parents and babies healthy and happy. It gives moms much needed time to recover after childbirth and allows babies to spend time bonding with their parents, supporting their brain development and overall health. That’s why I support implementing federal paid family leave immediately.

Bobby Blanchard contributed to this report. Design by Emily Albracht. Photos by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune, Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune and Angela Piazza for The Texas Tribune.
Disclosure: The University of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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