When Colin Allred, who is running to become the U.S. congressman for the 32nd District in Texas, speaks with a prospective voter, he doesn’t start by describing his four years as a linebacker in the NFL or his experiences working for the Obama administration. He talks about his hometown of Dallas.
“I’m a local candidate,” he says. “I’m running in the district where I was born and raised. This is my home, and I’m running to make sure who we are here in north Texas is being represented in Washington D.C.”
Allred has a difficult race ahead of him. While the district is historically very Republican, it very narrowly went to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. But the Republican incumbent, Pete Sessions, has been in office since 2003, and there’s another strong Democratic challenger.
Allred is a voting rights attorney, and he boasts stints as a special assistant in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of General Counsel, a clerk at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and an intern at the Office of the White House Counsel, all under President Obama.
“I feel like it’s time for a new generation of leadership to come forward that doesn’t necessarily have some of the issues and [isn’t] tied down with some of the scar tissue of the partisan battles that have been going on for the last 30 years in congress or in our statehouses,” Allred told me over the phone.
I spoke with Allred about the importance of oversight, the responsibility to serve the community, and the challenges of running–and voting–in Texas.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why are you choosing to run now?
I think that this moment is one in which we all have to stand up and get involved in to the extent that we can. And for me–someone who had served three different stints in the Obama administration, as someone who played in the NFL, having grown up in this area–I thought the way that I could get involved and the way that I could help was by running for office.
What legislation and rhetoric do you take issue with, and how would you approach both differently if elected?
It’s been on my heart these last few days, this bombing of this mosque in Minnesota, and I think that is a real example for me of the lack of leadership we have from the president of the United States and from Congress. I heard nothing from Pete Sessions about this bombing. [And] to me, that incident and the fact that the president of the United States has not said anything about it, that’s a real microcosm of the problem we have going on right now. There’s policies that are part of this—the Muslim ban, $1.6 billion to pay for this wall that no one here in Texas wants or needs—to me these are interrelated and they’re causing some of these problems that we’re seeing.
Can you talk about your experience as an attorney?
I’ve been a voting rights attorney here in Texas and across the country as a voting rights litigator. The reason I chose voting rights is because it is the kind of the central right. We have a democracy based on the consent of the governed, but if you can’t vote then you’re not consenting to it and you’re not part of it and the system itself becomes illegitimate.
Here in Texas in 2014 I was the [Dallas-Fort Worth area] voter protection director as part of the Wendy Davis campaign. We had to deal with the voter ID law that Texas had at that time, which has since been declared unconstitutional and is currently not in place. I was spending a lot of my time not only talking to people about how to vote and how to get registered to vote, but how to get a birth certificate, how to get to the Department of Health and Human Services here so they pay to get a birth certificate.
All of these things had costs for these people unless we were able to help them. I saw first hand that this was a real life poll tax that we were asking some of our folks to pay here in order to vote, in order to be part of their own democracy.
I saw people who would make multiple, multiple trips to try and get the right birth certificate. The time they’re having to commit just to try and vote to me showed how much we’re failing them and how much it does matter to a lot of people out there. I’m really proud to have been a part of the fight against that law. I’m really proud that I’ve been part of efforts to sue other states that have implemented voter ID laws and other restrictions such as restrictions on voter registration.
Let’s talk about your district and its unique challenges. How do you feel about Pete Sessions?
There are two sides to the problem with Congressman Sessions: his policies, which I deeply disagree with and I think many other people in the district find to be divisive, [and] his disconnection from the district. We’re in a recess period right now from Congress. There’s no town hall that Pete Sessions is holding. If you don’t have a lobbyist, you’ll have a hard time getting in touch with him.
One of the things that I’ve been doing in this campaign is trying to be as open and available as possible. We have a weekly Coffee with Colin where people come out every week and I’ll talk for 15 minutes or so and if anybody wants to ask a question, you know, go ahead and let it fly. [I want to be] the most open and accessible member of Congress.
I also want to have a monthly town hall. I want to open up the seat to the people of this area.
How would you hold the current administration accountable?
I’m always going to fight for universal health care. I’m always going to fight for raising the minimum wage and making sure we have an economy here that’s working for everyone in this district. I’m always going to fight for increased funding for education, universal Pre-K, creating and retaining the best teachers in the country.
But there’s more that a member of Congress can do. Part of it is oversight, making sure that the people’s money is being spent correctly [and] doing everything I can to ferret out what’s going on in this already extremely secretive administration.
But the other thing is to be an advocate for people of this area. If they have an issue with one of our agencies, I will be personally advocating on their behalf in those agencies. It’s a part of constituent services that i think needs to be revived in this area.
What’s been going on in Washington [is] not who we are here in north Texas, and I really believe I wouldn’t talking be to you, I wouldn’t have played in the NFL, I wouldn’t have become a civil rights attorney or work for President Obama if it was.