AUSTIN (KXAN) — The two Democrats vying for an opportunity to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, stepped onto the debate stage Saturday evening.
The Nexstar Media Group debate between M.J. Hegar and Texas State Sen. Royce West began at 6 p.m. at the KXAN studios in Austin. It was their only scheduled face-to-face meeting ahead of the July 14 runoff election, and the topics they discussed ranged from police brutality and protests, to coronavirus response, decriminalization of marijuana and fracking.
Hegar, an Air Force veteran, garnered 22% of votes in the March Democratic Primary, while West picked up 14%. The winner of the runoff election will face Sen. Cornyn in November. Cornyn has represented Texas in Washington, D.C. since 2002 and is a three-term incumbent. Throughout the debate, his campaign tweeted responses.
KXAN-TV news anchors Sally Hernandez and Robert Hadlock, as well as Dallas Morning News political writer Gromer Jeffers Jr., moderated the hour-long debate and posed questions to the candidates collected from viewers around Texas.
Police brutality and protests
“We don’t have a few poisoned apples — we have a plague of locusts that have come through the orchard,” Hegar said in response to a question about how she would end police brutality.
She said it’s essential to have leaders who can legislate effectively to fix problems within the system, partnered with reform-minded law enforcement leaders to make changes. She also supported standards related to body cameras and releasing video from them.
West said he wanted a uniform definition of deadly force across the nation that all states adopt. He also said officers found guilty of murder as a result of race should also fall under hate crime laws and have enhanced punishments.
Earlier this week, Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, “Every police department violating people’s civil rights must be stripped of federal funding.”
Both Hegar and West said they’d consider that as an option. West said he wasn’t for stripping funding because of a single incident, but if that incident did not lead to reforms, then it would be appropriate to consider withholding funding.
Hegar, as a veteran, sympathized with the need to use deadly force in certain situations, but wanted standards for police to be much higher, like those she had when she was in the military.
Some of the protests across the country against police brutality have devolved into looting and violence. When asked if those were about opportunism, West agreed, but Hegar said it was more than that — “anger at a system that has absolutely been oppressing” people. She vowed to go to Washington, D.C. and make sure the government doesn’t oppress its citizens and take away their First Amendment rights.
She said she didn’t support looting, but that “when you’re militarizing the police force, you’re not doing any favors,” and people will naturally respond as if…