Jose "Chito" Vela Candidate Questionnaire
If there were one thing you could accomplish immediately, what would it be?
Expanding Medicaid is the single most important step we could take for Texas. Texas has refused the Medicaid expansion that was part of the Affordable Care Act. About 900,000 Texans could have access to free and comprehensive health care through Medicaid if our state government simply said yes to the federal money. It is inexcusable for state leadership, in the name of partisanship, to deny access to healthcare for millions of Texans. Each of us knows someone, friends, relatives, neighbors, whose health has been compromised as a result.
What spending would you advocate increasing or decreasing while in office?
The greatest predictor of life outcome is education. Texas has the fastest growing student population in the country. The best investment we can make for the wellbeing of our children and our state is in education. Another important investment is in our transportation infrastructure. The gas tax has not been increased since 1991 and additional money for transportation is badly needed, particularly for public transportation, walking and biking that is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than automobile use. Conversely, it is time to eliminate corporate welfare. A better incentive for companies to come to Texas is a quality education system and prepared workforce.
What is your stance on gun control?
I support universal background checks for gun buyers and a ban on assault rifles. I also support eliminating open carry in Texas. As our politics enters a new phase of protest and counter-protest, the last thing we need are armed militia appearing at political events with assault weapons. These types of displays are both provocative and designed to intimidate. Having armed groups confronting each other in the streets is extremely dangerous and we need to immediately put an end to it by banning open carry.
What is an example or two of legislation you’d like to see passed on Criminal Justice Reform?
The drug war is a complete failure. We need to stop making drug enforcement a criminal justice priority and treat it like the health care problem it is. I would legalize and tax marijuana sales and dedicate the revenue to public education. I would also make any simple drug possession for personal use a misdemeanor. We are currently charging people with felonies for the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. This destroys people’s lives and makes it difficult for them to become employed or get education and job training. We have also over-criminalized driving without a license. We impose huge fines and license suspensions on people who are simply trying to get to work. We need to make it easier for people to keep and renew their drivers’ licenses, not trap them in an endless web of fines and license suspensions.
Explain your stance on corporate subsidies.
End them. Corporations have too much influence at all levels of government. It’s time to abolish corporate welfare.
How would you go about fighting for equal pay for women?
I would support a prohibition on employers from asking for an employee’s salary history. Salary history is one of the most significant perpetrators of pay disparity for women. Eliminating this practice is one of the most effective policies for closing the pay gap.
What state policies would you implement to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change? What actions have you taken on Environmental Justice?
As evidenced from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, there is much work to be done with respect to mitigating damage and adapting to the effects of climate change. For one, we need to dramatically reduce energy consumption and transition to an all-renewable future and a modern day public transportation system. Two, we need to renovate existing structures and require all new construction to be built to withstand rising temperatures and severe weather events. Finally, we need to advocate for low-income communities who find themselves further marginalized in the wake of climate change. With regard to working for environmental justice, I worked as the city manager for El Cenizo, Texas – an incorporated and impoverished colonia south of Laredo – during the late 1990s. There were problems with trash collection and drainage, there was no park, and the streets were not paved. I helped the city get its affairs in order and pass its first property tax. The money and the administration that I helped put in place enabled the city to tackle those environmental problems. When President Bush proposed a border wall, I organized a group that advocated against the construction of the wall, particularly in Texas. Building a wall along the Rio Grande river would be an environmental disaster. The construction would destroy sensitive habitat. The flood plain would be altered and could cause flooding and destruction in the river basin. And animals would be unable to pass through the wall, causing migratory problems and cutting off critical habitat. We were able to convince various cities and counties to adopt resolutions against the construction of a border wall. As a City of Austin Planning Commissioner, I fight to stop sprawl and build housing that is closer to the central city and accessible to transit. People that live closer to the urban core emit less carbon than people who live in the suburbs and have to drive in to the city for work.
What’s an example of legislation you would support to promote clean renewable energy?
I would support a carbon tax on producers of electricity based on their carbon emissions. This is a simple idea that would both limit carbon producing electrical plants, such as coal and natural gas, and raise badly-needed revenue for the state.
What should the State Government do regarding undocumented immigrants?
SB4 is a stain on our democracy. We need to repeal it immediately and grant drivers licenses and/or state IDs to undocumented immigrants. The inability to get a driver’s license or a state ID is the single biggest hurdle facing our immigrant population. That simple change would make so many undocumented immigrants lives easier and safer.
What ideas do you have for fixing the Texas School Finance system?
Our school funding system has two separate problems. The first is that we simply do not provide enough funding for education. Texas provides one of the lowest per capita student levels of funding in the entire United States. We need to raise additional revenue and increase funding for public education. The second problem is that the way we distribute our funding is flawed. Our school finance system is structurally flawed and needs to be simplified and equalized across the board. And we need to move away from our heavy reliance on local property taxes to fund education and toward a statewide tax system dedicated to education.
How are you funding your campaign?
Our campaign is 100% funded by individuals, mostly friends, family, neighbors and colleagues that know me and trust me to be a good, honest elected official. But it is such an honor to get small donations from people that I don’t know well – people that heard me speak, read something I wrote, or met me briefly at an event. People want new ideas and new energy in the Democratic Party and believe my campaign can help move the party in the right direction.
What state policies would you like to see in place to address racial justice? What actions have you taken on racial justice?
Working towards racial justice is an essential component of every issue and policy area I work on. From immigrant rights to criminal justice reform and affordable housing, racial justice is always a principal concern. Institutional racism is pervasive, and we need to be intentional about dismantling it.
What state policies would you pursue to address the issue of income & wealth inequality?
Workers’ wages have stagnated for decades at a time when CEO compensation has increased nearly 1,000%. It is past time to make the minimum wage a living wage, now and for generations to come. Finally, I cannot emphasize enough, Medicaid expansion would give low-income communities health care and the relief and necessary peace of mind to focus on their futures.
What are some policies you would implement to make our election system more democratic?
Over 100 people move to Texas every day from other states, and the majority can tell you how much easier it was to vote in the state they came from. Same day voter registration, mail-in ballots, and official voter information guides are all critical components of a modern, democratic election system. Unconstitutional attempts to disenfranchise, Hispanic, Black and elderly voters through Voter ID laws have no place in our society.
What actions have you taken to improve your community?
I have always felt a strong duty to give back to my community. In college, I was active in campus politics and worked to bring a Chicano voice to a university that didn’t always want to hear that voice. My first professional job was as city manager for the City of El Cenizo, where my entire focus was on improving the community. After that, I worked at the City of Laredo as director of the Nonprofit Management and Volunteer Center, helping area nonprofits become better and stronger organizations. As an attorney, I have always fought for justice. When I was general counsel to a Texas state representative, we always had the public interest in mind and fought for our community every day. And my own law practice is dedicated to serving and defending immigrants and helping them build a life in this country. As a volunteer, I served on the board of Workers Defense Project, where we fought for working class immigrants who frequently had their wages stolen or were injured on the job and had no health care. I left the board of Workers Defense Project to serve on the City of Austin Planning Commission, where I fight to keep housing in Austin as plentiful and affordable as possible. Serving my community is an obligation that I have always taken very seriously. I have been blessed, and it is my duty to give back to my community.
What is your campaign strategy for winning in November 2018?
We’re bringing a strong, progressive, pro working-class message to the district. The voters of the district are not happy with the status quo and want to see an energetic, engaged state representative that will fight for them at the Texas Capitol. Our campaign is going house-to-house, voter-to-voter to connect with every household in the community.