AUSTIN, Texas — The November election is now less than one month away, and KVUE is continuing to bring you interviews with the candidates who want to represent you in the U.S. House of Representatives.
District 31 is made up of Williamson and Bell counties. In 2018, the race to represent the district was one of the closest in the nation.
Political newcomer MJ Hegar (D) nearly defeated seasoned Rep. John Carter (R) – but the Republican was elected to his eighth term with about 50.6% of the vote. He's represented the district since 2003.
Ashley Goudeau: Begin by telling our viewers a little bit about yourself, your background and why it is that you're running for Congress.
Donna Imam: "I am an electrical and computer engineer. And I've been in the tech industry for over 18 years now, both in development and also in product management, bringing very successful products to market. And that's kind of my background, but I also ran a nonprofit for the last five, six years before running for office. I was elected president of that nonprofit. And what we do is we provide free training and education to anybody who wants it. So, that's sort of my background.
And as to why I'm running, you know, early on in my career when I started out, every single manufacturing worker in my company was laid off and their jobs were moved to Mexico. Many of them never worked again and none of them had any job retraining options. And that's always left a profound impact on me. So, I've tried doing many things like helping other people find better jobs, write a better resume, etc. But what I realized as I ran my nonprofit and prior to that during the 2007, 2008-2009 recession, is that when Austin had some of the lowest unemployment rates in the entire country, we had many middle-class families struggling. They were foreclosed on. Once they lost their job, they had no way of covering their family with health insurance. And I realized we could do more. And that's why I'm running for office."
Goudeau: As you know, in 2018, the race for the District 31 seat was one of the closest in Texas – even closer than the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz and then-Congressman Beto O'Rourke. But Rep. John Carter still came out on top. He defeated MJ Hegar by about three points, and he has represented this district since 2003. So, what makes you think that you can flip this seat?
Imam: "Great question. So, in 2018, what a lot of people don't know is Texas's 31st District has Williamson County and Bell County. And Williamson County is the northwest Austin and all of its northwest Austin suburbs, all the way up to Georgetown, including Round Rock, Cedar Park, Leander. And then you go in Bell County. Now, in 2018, Williamson County flipped blue. So, this tiny 3% gap needs to be closed in Bell County. What a lot of people are not aware of is Bell County is a majority minority district, which means [the] majority of the people who live in Bell County are Black Americans, they are Latino Americans, Hispanic Americans and they're Asian-Americans. And many of the underserved communities of Bell County had never been asked for their vote. No one has ever knocked on their door. Well, in the primary, our campaign knocked on more doors than all the other primary candidates together. We engage with voters in a way that they've never been engaged before. And after the pandemic, we talked to them over the phone to try to understand what their challenges are. And we're engaging them in a way that they want to be part of change. We're listening to the challenges.
The platform that I'm running on is focused on the needs of this district. And I believe by showing the results, if you look at the Democratic Primary turnout in 2020 on March 3, the increase in the rate of voter turnout growth was 233%. And if you compare it to every other district that runs through Austin, Texas's 31st District had the highest rate in increase of voter turnout of all the other six districts that represent parts of Austin. That is why we believe that we will flip this district, and we will bring new representation because the people of this district are demanding change."
Goudeau: If you are elected to Congress, what would be your top priority?
Imam: "Well, prior to the pandemic, when I quit my job in January 2019 and spent six months researching this district, talking to people and listening to people and organizations about what their needs are, what I heard over and over and over again is the economic insecurity that is faced by people in this district. Even if you have a good job, that many people in this district are unable to live on their own, in their own home, they still have roommates. And they're like, 'OK, right now I have a decent job. I can pay my bills. But at any time I get laid off, I don't know what will happen. I don't have enough savings to sustain myself the three months or six months that it requires to find a new job. And I don't know if I'll be able to find one.' So, some of the reasons that [this] huge economic anxiety is felt by people in my district is because of the cost of health care, the cost of being able to afford rent or a mortgage, the cost of education, property taxes have skyrocketed in this district, child care, whereas wages and benefits have [inaudible]. These are the things that I will focus on.
And I am proposing health care for all, which is one of my top priorities, which focuses on covering every single person in our country by lowering the cost of health care, increasing the number of physicians – primary care physicians, specifically, and nurses – in our health care system to address the issue from a primary care standpoint, not using E.R. as our first line of defense where our expenses go up. So, that is one of the key things I'm focusing on.
The second key thing I'm focusing on is getting to debt-free graduation for students, whether that's a two-year college, trade school, four-year college. Students should be able to graduate debt-free. That gets them a head start in their careers and their lives and being able to get a high wage job once you've graduated. That is the platform that I'm running on. And I believe that these are solutions that we can bring to our district in a very, very cost-effective way."
Goudeau: Share some final thoughts with our viewers about why you believe they should vote for you this November.
Imam: "Great. So, this district is one of the closest, most competitive districts in the entire country. What I'm saying is that for health care coverage for every single American in 2018, we paid $3.65 trillion. Every single study says single-payer health care for all will cost somewhere between $2 to $3 trillion. We are overpaying for health care in this country. I have a financially solid solution that would solve this. We can bring health care coverage to every single person, including the 80 million. And for those of you who are saying, 'I don't want to pay for someone else,' you're already paying for it. Let's get this done. We're bringing real solutions. And it doesn't matter whether you're a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent, all of us will have a better life if we lower the cost of health care and improve the quality of health care. And the way we do that is with health care for all. And by decreasing the cost of education, making it so inexpensive so that everybody can graduate debt-free. These are solutions that everybody can get on board with. And that's why I'd say vote Donna Imam for U.S. Congress if you're in Williamson or Bell counties."
If you're not registered to vote, the time is now. The deadline to register to vote is Monday, Oct. 5, meaning your application has to be postmarked by Oct. 5 or at the voter registrar's office by 11:59 p.m. Monday.
Early voting runs Oct. 13 through Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3.