CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: JAN MCDOWELL (EXTENDED)

Jan McDowell is a Democratic candidate for Texas’s 24th District. She was the Party’s nominee in 2016 and 2018 and in those two years the Democratic margin shrunk from -17% to -3%. Cook Political Report has rated the district a “Toss Up” for 2020. Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post to get an overview of the district, the 2018 election and the upcoming 2020 race. This interview was conducted on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

The following interview has been very lightly edited. No substantial content was removed or added. The only edits were taking out unnecessary words or phrases like “I mean”, “Well”, “So” and “Um” for clarity. If you want a condensed version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews -> Condensed within one day of this extended interview being posted. 

McDowell: Hello
Seth: Hi this is Seth Moskowitz is this Ms. McDowell?
McDowell: Yes, it is. Hi Seth. Good morning.
Seth: Hi Good morning. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.
McDowell: Absolutely.
Seth: How are you doing today?
McDowell: I’m doing fine. It’s a pretty day in Dallas. How is it in Rwanda?
Seth: Its pretty good. The weather here gets very stormy then very sunny very quickly. So earlier it was stormy and now it’s looking beautiful.
McDowell: I vote for beautiful.
Seth: Yeah me too. Do you have any plans today?
McDowell: Campaign kinda stuff calling people for donations that’s what candidates do right? I’m going this evening for a forum for City Council candidates. in Farmers Branch which is one of the towns in the congressional district.
Seth: Well that sounds like a busy day of campaigning. I’ve worked on one before and I know that from the outside you don’t see all the phone calls that happen and it just takes up a lot of time during your day.
McDowell: That’s absolutely true.

Seth: So, I was hoping that you could just tell me a little bit about the state of the campaign and what your day to day looks like because it’s so early in the campaign.
McDowell: Right well it looks kinda like what I described today to be. I have contracted with a professional fundraising consultant so I’m trying to get a jump start on that. It is early. And all of the towns in the area are having these municipal elections coming up in early May so you don’t want to step on those races that are so important for all the people in the city races and school board races that they have so close to home and trying to help out little bits where I can and not get in the way of their short term campaigns and just try to, one thing I was told early on when I started this journey was show up show up show up. And I’ve tried to do that all along the way in all the towns across the district.

Seth: Have these candidates been asking you to come speak at their events or come attend as a supporter or are you going more to present yourself and your candidacy.
McDowell: No I’m not going as a candidate myself so much. I’ve offered, coming up in the next few weeks, to do a little bit of block walking for several of them. It’ll just kind of wait to see where there’s more than one Democrat in the race it’s like everybody else I don’t want to step in for one Democrat which would pit me against another Democrat. That’s not helpful but some of the city races of course they don’t say Democrat or Republican on the ballot but clearly the people are sort of Republicans or Democrats and when there’s one Democrat I’m definitely all in for them.

Seth: For your campaign specifically I know I’ve seen some of your Facebook posts and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more candidates in the primary this year because of how close it was and Cook Political Report rating it a toss-up. And I saw actually just yesterday that there’s a third candidate that has officially declared for the Democratic primary Crystal Lee Fletcher. I believe she’s a lawyer in the area. And I was hoping that you could tell me a little bit about what you’re expecting to do to differentiate yourself from these other candidates considering that there’s going to be so many more in this primary maybe than you faced two years ago or four years ago.
McDowell: The first part is that’s a new name to me. I’m aware of including myself of seven people, most of whom have not declared but maybe they’ve told me or appeared at public forums and said that they’re running so I was aware of seven. Crystal Fletcher is a new one for me so I guess were up to eight now. My biggest difference is I am determined to represent the people of District 24 in the United States Congress. It’s the area that I’ve lived in for forty years now I am not picking a district on a map that the Cook Political Report says ‘oh this is a winnable district so I’ll jump in here and try to run in a district I don’t even live in’ and I have been working at this since late 2015. Running in the 2016 and 2018 elections so it’s not like I’m again trying to find something that would allow Jan McDowell to win something. The District 24 seat in Congress is where my passion lies, where the things that I think are so important for people, so mainly trying to solve income inequality gap that includes health care and so many other things that’s what I’m focused on. So I haven’t been focused on this race and then that race and something else. This is where I think I can make a difference and help the people of this area.

Seth: Can you talk a little bit more about the policies you think you’re going to be highlighting this campaign you just said maybe you’re going to focus on health care and income inequality. Can you talk a little more about what you’re expecting to put on the forefront of your campaign?
McDowell: Right. It’s mainly about shrinking the gap between the haves and the have nots in our country. That gap is so huge and is getting bigger all the time and it’s not healthy it’s not sustainable it’s just flat not right. It is better for everybody on all parts of that spectrum if we were more all in the same boat working together rather than trying to pull ourselves apart and trying to benefit the people at the top so much. You talk about all the job creators and profit creators who are doing work and are actually creating money and those people should be benefitting as well and too often they don’t. I see healthcare as huge issue that is part of the economic inequality that we have now because if you don’t have reliable affordable healthcare you can’t be economically vibrant.

Seth: And I’m sure you’re watching the presidential elections and seeing all the new, well maybe not new, but reemerging policies, from the Democratic party. And I’m curious if you’re rethinking your approach to any of the policies that have become more popular in the party. I know that you said Medicare For All is ‘probably the answer’ and I’m just curious if you’re considering maybe jumping on board more fully with some of these policies or if you’re planning on having the same platform and running on the same issues in the same way that you did last year and a few years ago.
McDowell: I generally don’t want to or I don’t think it’s as productive to have a fully formed policy and say this is what I’m for and dig my heels in and say therefore I’m against any other ideas. I want every person to have healthcare available to them at a price they can afford so from what I’ve seen Medicare For All is probably the best way to get there. If somebody has an idea and they call it something different and it tweaks or does something slightly different but the bottom line is everyone gets healthcare then I’m not opposed to that. So, I’m not so much married to one name or label or particular policy. It’s the bottom line result that matters to me.

Seth: And like we talked about earlier there is likely to be more candidates this time. Are you worried at all about maybe some candidates coming in and running further to your left in the primary which might cause some problems in the general and maybe be more popular in the primary? Are you worried about candidates coming in and saying ‘I’m for Medicare For All I’m for Abolish Ice’, which may take a little bit of the vote during the primary and excite the base more than a more moderate bipartisan approach?
McDowell: I guess my main answer to that is I’m not that much of a politician. I look at problems and solutions and things that will work and I like to talk to people and have discussions and get their input and come up with ideas that work. Once you start saying this is more to the left or more to the right or that kind of thing, I don’t think most people think in those terms. When you talk to partisan people who attend partisan club meetings, they might. And I’m probably pretty far left. But the vast majority of people in my neighborhood I don’t think those phrases really spring to mind on a daily basis with them. So, no I’m not too worried about the left and right of it.

Seth: Yeah, the universe of Twitter is different than the universe when you’re walking the block and talking to real people.
McDowell: Well said, yes.

Seth: I don’t know if you know, but what I’m going to be focusing on in my piece is more the electoral likelihood of a Democrat winning or you winning the primary. So, I’m going to shift away towards the horse race and the campaigning aspect of it. So, in 2018 Beto O’Rourke carried your district by around 3% how much do you give him credit for lifting your numbers and bringing you so close to Representative Marchant versus your effort in the district and bringing out voters.
McDowell: I don’t really know how to quantify that. I think it’s obvious that the Beto effect helped all the Democrats up and down the ballot in 2018. No question. With almost 80 million dollars, you can do a lot. So clearly, I benefited from that as did all of the state representatives who won their seats. Collin Allred won a seat in Congress and all of us at the same time were working hard with our campaigns. So to be able to put a quantitative analysis on that of how much was him and how much was the candidate. I don’t know how to do that. I know we worked hard. I know I had a phenomenal team of people helping me. Small paid staff and lots of volunteers were everywhere from block walking and writing postcards to being professional marketing and IT and all sorts of other professionals input on my campaign that they volunteered. That’s the best answer I can give you on that.

 Seth: Do you expect the 2020 race with the presidential election happening at the top of the ticket will bring out a different coalition of voters? Traditionally, in the presidential years more minority and low-income voters come out. So, I’m curious if you think that’s going to change the dynamic in the race or maybe the kind of voters that you’re aiming to attract with your campaign.
McDowell: Possibly. I know Texas has been historically pinned as a solid red state. Obviously not so much anymore. But for years and years that’s been the case. Texas is Republican. And I know a lot of people who are Democrats who said ‘well in the primary I voted in the Republican primary because I wanted to have a choice because that’s who’s going to win so I want to weigh in on which Republican candidate is the one’. And I see the potential for that to happen in reverse next March when there’s such an array of outstanding Democrats running for president, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see quite a number of Republicans deciding it’s pretty darn likely that whoever wins the Democratic nomination for president will be our next president so I’m going to go vote in their primary and have a say on that race. So that could impact the makeup of the primary race I think in March in my race as well.

Seth: And do you think that will affect the way you run your campaign or which policies you highlight in any way or are you planning to run the kind of campaign that you ran last year regardless of the different coalitions that are expected to come out in 2020.
McDowell: I believe what I believe and if voters agree with that, I hope they’ll vote for me. I’m not going to start changing what I say to try to play to that game. My team and I haven’t really talked about real specifics yet. Whatever I’ll do going forward will require money so were focused on the money part at this point. We would always welcome a chance to have more opportunities to speak and be seen and interact with more groups of people who I’m sure well be working on that along the way.

Seth: You talk about money and I know that this year, because of how close the race was last year the DCCC put your district on the Red to Blue list so that’s a good sign for the Democrat who wins the primary. That they’ll likely get some more funding from the national party. How do you see that changing the dynamic of the race or the way, or if you were the candidate, how you would be able to campaign in a different way?
McDowell: Well I think that would be huge. There’s also a group called Swing Left that had a Swing Left 32 who when that district was the target last time around and our district borders on 32. Were the next district on the left. We were very much in the shadow of that. That was the race that was seen as the one we could win so the attention and money and spotlight all went right there.  This time some of that spotlight and money are going to shift to the left for District 24 so I have a tremendous talking point speaking to potential donors that we shrank the gap in this district that started out as an absolute longshot. Who would think to run with a 17-point gap in 2016 and got it down to 3 points in 2018?  And surprised I think pretty much everybody. I kept saying this is a suburban district, well-educated it’s the very picture of the kinds of districts that are flipping. And still all the attention was going to District 32. So, I think this time donors will be much more willing to believe that their money and their effort and their passions can be productive in actually resulting in another seat in congress.

Seth: You talk about the district being the kind of archetypal district that is swinging left and that Democrats are flipping. Is there anything that Representative Marchant has done or votes that he’s taken that you expect you will use in the campaign or that the Democratic candidate will be able to use in the campaign that have come up since the election in November that will make a big impact in the 2020 election? Or just things in general about Representative Marchant that you think will help flip the district this time?
McDowell: All of the above. I mentioned before that my understanding and what I’ve been told is the big thing is for a candidate is to show up show up show up and that’s exactly what Marchant absolutely never does. Very few people have ever seen him. I’ve started referring to him as a professional ghost. He doesn’t show up in the district he is not accessible to constituents so that’s huge. Then every time Congress takes a vote which doesn’t seem like it happens very often outside looking in. They seem to avoid doing that whenever possible. Every time there is a vote, I can post and say this is what Marchant voted I would have voted the opposite of it in every case. The house has passed HR1 bill which is all about campaign financing, gerrymandering and voter suppression and all of the things that try and make our democracy work and I would’ve been an enthusiastic jumping up and down yes vote and he called it… I can’t remember the phrase he used it was subverting our democracy or something real sinister that people were trying to come in and do this. So thing after thing. Voting to overturn president Trump’s emergency declaration on the border and the House voted overwhelmingly to do that. Marchant was with most of the Republicans voting against that. The House needs to be the check and balance of the co-equal branch of government and he’s always way too willing to be told by the party which way he is supposed to vote.

Seth: Before you get to the general election, there is obviously going to be the primary. And I’ve seen and heard that Kim Olson may be getting in the primary. And I know that she also carried the district. Well she didn’t carry the district, but she was a little bit closer with her margin. It was 48.1 to 49.4. Do you think that gives her a leg up in the primary saying that maybe she is a more electable candidate and more likely to win the seat in the general election.
McDowell: I don’t think so. I hadn’t seen the numbers that you said. I know that I was shown some kind of raw vote numbers and I think she got 157 more actual votes than I did. So it was very very close. I would think, and I’m not saying anything negative about her. I think she’s a phenomenal woman. She lives 80 miles to the west of the western edge of the district. When I say she lives in Mineral Wells, people look at me and a lot of people around here don’t even know where Mineral Wells is. So the law says you only have to live in the same state as the district you represent. That’s what’s in the Constitution. But I think that’s a real surprise to people when they hear that you do not need to live in the district that you’re going to represent. When they realize that is what the Constitution says they think it shouldn’t be that way. So I believe that there would be a problem with that. I know Kenny Marchant has lived here forever he went to high school in Carrolton so I can just imagine if the Democrats have a candidate in the general election against Kenny Marchant that I can just see the ads of him growing up here being here forever and she’s just way outsider and I don’t think that would be a positive thing for Democratic chances at the general election. Again, my passion has been since I started at the federal issues that I think are so important to the well-being of the future of our democracy and the future of the people of our district that that’s what I would support. Not finding a race that Jan McDowell can win and get elected to some office.

Seth: You said that there were, or said that you’ve heard rumblings about seven possible candidates for the Democratic primary, although only three that I’ve seen have officially declared with the FEC. Which is you, Carl Fisher, who I believe ran in the twenty sixth district last cycle, and Crystal Fletcher, who you hadn’t heard of but had registered.
McDowell: The second one is named Will Fisher.
Seth: Okay. Will Fisher, Crystal Fletcher, and you have officially declared. What kind of a primary are you expecting. Are you expecting it to be cordial and more focused on the policies or do you see that there is a possibility that it will turn into a more personal race?
McDowell: I would certainly expect and hope and plan for it to be the former, the cordial policy focused campaign. I’ve spoken to some of the people and each one has said what they intend and we all have a healthy respect for one another of the people that I know in the race. So that’s what I would expect and hope. That will be my approach.

Seth: And are you expecting, whoever the eventual nominee is, and obviously your hoping it’s you. Would you go out and support the Democrat regardless of who they were?
McDowell: Absolutely.

Seth: So I have a few more questions that are more about the electoral part of it. Have you seen from the numbers from the last election that there is any type of general election voter that either you believe is most likely to flip to being a Democrat or that you think didn’t quite turn out in 2018 that you might be able to encourage to turn out in 2020?
McDowell: Sure both of the above. Especially people who didn’t vote in 2018. And as you said, historically, the numbers are usually higher in the presidential year. 2018 though, did come amazingly close to 2016 numbers so it was an outlier turnout for an off year. There are still hundreds of thousands of people who are registered even and don’t vote not to mention people who are not even registered. And there are huge efforts underway to register more people. More money will make it more possible to reach more people to both register and then to turn out the vote. So all of those things are huge. I kept hearing going into the 2018 race that Texas isn’t a red state, it’s a non-voting state and that’s definitely true. There are plenty of people registered, who presumably would lean Democrat, if they would go vote the Democrats would win. So its paramount to get those people out to vote.

Seth: And are there any presidential candidates or other candidates higher on the ticket who you could see boosting Democratic turnout or flipping the most voters? I’m specifically thinking of if you think that O’Rourke could be beneficial to you in your district because he was so popular in the state. Or if there are any other candidates you can imagine maybe helping with the turnout in your district specifically.
McDowell: Well that Beto effect would certainly come into play if he were on the general election presidential race. Really, out of all the Democrats who have thrown their hats into that ring they almost all just so impressive and so dynamic and so not Donald Trump that I think that the presidential race just by its being its very nature is going to energize voters to turnout to vote in the 2020 general election. I can’t imagine it not being a wildly engaged electorate ready to go vote.

Seth: Do you think that if there is a candidate at the top of the ticket that is running further to the left. I know some of the candidates have endorsed the idea of Abolish Ice or been a little more forceful in their support of Medicare For All. Do you think there is any chance that there could be a problem with your not quite as progressive or to the left, specifically on those policies, can you imagine some voters voting for the progressive presidential candidate but having hesitations for a less liberal, or less forcefully progressive House candidate?
McDowell: I don’t think thats me. If people are for Medicare For All, and I’m sitting in Congress and there’s a vote on that, I’m a yes. I’m an enthusiastic yes.
Seth: Okay so that’s pretty straight down the line. You’re a yes vote.
McDowell: The only thing I’ve said that’s different than that is if there was a vote on another policy that had a different name and also gives everybody health insurance, I’d be an enthusiastic yes for that too. I don’t think that makes me less of a Medicare for All person.

Seth: And the House is, from the outside, the current makeup of the House does seem to be divided a little bit into more red and purple districts, I’m thinking specifically of Virginia 7 and New York 11, and progressive more deeper blue districts like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Do you imagine yourself, if you’re sitting in the House of Representatives, do you think that you will align more closely with one of those spheres or do you not see yourself as having a close alignment with the more progressive or more bipartisan moderate members of the House?
McDowell: That’s tough. Who are the people on the more conservative side? Is that like Spanberger?
Seth: Yeah Virginia 7 is Abigail Spanberger and New York 11 is Max Rose.
McDowell: Okay I’m not familiar with him. I tend to be more progressive. So, I would probably align with more progressive people than more conservative people. I want to say this so it comes out exactly the way I mean. When I listen to AOC’s positions on things, I find very little that I disagree with. I’ve read posts that she’s done and thought that’s exactly what I would have said if I was quite as eloquent as she is. I mean this is dynamite this is exactly what I think. I don’t always agree with her method or her approach. Kind of the you get more flies with honey?
Seth: More bees with honey? I think?  Than vinegar?
McDowell: Something like that. Sometimes things are so urgent that no it’s not going to be acceptable to sit back and be patient and polite and wait. And you have to just go in there like a bull in a china shop and say “this is what we’ve got to do. We have to do it right now.” But it’s not always that way. Sometimes you do sit back and watch and learn a little bit when you’re the new kid and take notes for a little bit and figure out what’s going on before you say everything that’s been happening, I can do so much better. I don’t think people react tremendously well to being approached that way.

Seth: The issue of the day, what’s been on Twitter. I know we talked that Twitter clearly isn’t always the real world. But the issue of the day is the Democratic Party’s position towards Israel and if the presidential candidates were going to attend AIPAC and Ilhan Omar’s comments on Twitter and in public about Lindsay Graham and other House and Senate members. And I was wondering if you have a position towards Israel that you would be willing to share or a position towards the controversy with Representative Omar that you would be willing to share?
McDowell: In a nutshell. I am all for Jewish people. I am also all for Muslim people. I don’t think that people and their governments are the same thing. I think that we are desperately hoping that’s the case now when our government is doing things like separating families at the border and taking children away from their parents. And we say ‘that’s not us. We’re so much better than that’ and when the Israeli government or Palestinian government groups do things, I think it’s possible to say ‘we don’t agree with that we don’t like that’ but give the people in those nations the benefit of the doubt just like we hope they are giving us. And saying that doesn’t reflect the people in those countries. We are for those people and yes, their government may have messed up here. This isn’t something we approve of or agree with so I think that people of every religion or faith or no religion or faith are equally deserving of respect and have their personal dignity and I think that needs to be reflected separate from our positions on what their governments do.

Seth: Well thank you. I know I said I have just a few more questions a little while ago, but you had interesting responses and I enjoy talking to you so I keep thinking of more as we keep going. But I know you’re busy I’m sure you’re busy with your campaign calls and everything so I just have two more questions. I’ll ask them both and you can answer them in either order because one might require more thought. The first is a question that I like to ask my peers and other people that I’m speaking to. Are there any issues or one issue that you feel you’re not in line with the Democratic orthodoxy or that you’re a little bit unsure of the Democratic stance on the issue? And then the second question that I have is if there is anything else that we haven’t gotten the opportunity to talk about that you feel would benefit the piece or that you would like me to hear before we hang up.
McDowell: The first question you asked. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I would be at odds with the Democratic mainstream line of thought on. Two things that we haven’t touched on at all that I think are huge are gun safety rules. I’m so impressed with New Zealand and their ability to say ‘gee we have a problem, here lets fix it’. Something that our government has not been able to manage to do. I was proud to have the support of Moms Demand Action in the 2018 race and I just so believe that there’s just so much logic and commons sense to having some oversight on the ownership and registration of firearms that I think is just incredibly important and we need to be able to do that. The other thing is our environment. That is an existential threat to our nation and to our planet and I think we disregard that at our peril. We don’t say ‘don’t mess with mother nature’ for nothing. We’ve been ignoring that for a long time. The reports from scientists not from alarmists. The reports from scientists are alarming and I think we need to be alarmed and react accordingly. And no I don’t think that that means that nobody can have hamburgers anymore. That’s kind of akin to when Obamacare came out and Republicans wanted to talk about death panels and come up with something that you can throw out there and have people catch onto rather than talking about the real issue and real solutions. I think that there are enough smart people in our country who, given the opportunity and the funding and support and encouragement to come up with new and better and innovative ideas of how we can do things without destroying our planet in the process, I’m betting on them. I think we can do it. I think it would be great for our economy to send those people and those ideas loose and as a bonus still have a planet to live on for our kids and our grandkids.

Seth: You talked a lot about the environment do you have anything to say about the Green New Deal. And I know that the senate just took a vote on the Green New Deal, or the resolution that was introduced, and a lot of Democrats either voted Present or voted against it and I’m curious what you think about the tactic of introducing resolutions that Democratic senators or members of the House of Representatives will vote against and if you think that’s a good tactic for the Democratic Party to take.
McDowell: The politics of it is kind of in the weeds stuff that I don’t know that I’m the best person to know what’s the best politics involved. I think the concepts in the Green New Deal are things that we need and I think they’re important and how that gets approached. My understanding of the Green New Deal is that at this point it’s kind of a wish list and I don’t really know how you vote on a wish list. It’s not a bill. In concept I think it’s incredibly of paramount importance to start acting on those initiatives to get us there and I’ll leave it to Nancy Pelosi and other leaders in the House to figure out how we do this and how we frame it. I’m not an expert on how the politics of it works.

Seth: The idea of the Green New Deal was to bring together the environmentalism with health care and income inequality. Do you support the framework of tying all those policies together or do you think they should be tackled individually and one on one?
McDowell: I think that the issues are all tied together and I think that good solutions for each one will all benefit the others. I think that they’re all of a piece. Again, how you go about legislation to accomplish each one. Each one of those is so enormous that I can’t imagine being able to come up with a bill that had all three rolled together in one. But I think each one should draw from the others and be mindful of the impact that they’re having on the others.

Seth: Well, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I know that you’re very very busy even though it’s so early in the campaign cycle and election cycle and I know that it is an important time for you to call supporters and make sure people know that you’re running again and that you need their support. So, I really really do appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
McDowell: I’ve enjoyed talking to you.
Seth: If you want to talk again in the future because you thought it was so enjoyable I’d be more than happy to get on the phone with you. But again, I want to ask if you had any requests of me. When I post it maybe I can tag you on Twitter or if you have any other requests. I can send you an email with the piece or anything like that that you have requests of me before we say goodbye and hang up.
McDowell: I don’t have any requests. I’ll be thrilled to see the piece when it’s done. Interested to see. Hopefully I didn’t say anything that as I read it back I’ll think that was a dumb thing to say. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and always willing to make time to talk about issues that I think are important.
Seth: Again, thank you so much and best of luck on the campaign trail. I’m looking forward to following the election and seeing how it turns out and what happens in 2020. I’m sure it will be a different race than it was in 2018 considering all the national attention it’s going to be getting so I wish you the best of luck.
McDowell: Thank you Seth.

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