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 condensed and lightly edited to remove unnecessary words or phrases for clarity. If you want the full, messy, extended version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews –> Extended Interviews.
Seth: Tell me about the state of the campaign and what your day to day looks like.
McDowell: I have contracted with a professional fundraising consultant so I’m trying to get a jump start on that. All of the towns in the area are having these municipal elections coming up in early May so you know you don’t want to step on those races. 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 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. I don’t want to step in for one Democrat which would pit me against another Democrat. When there’s one Democrat, I’m definitely all in for them.
Seth: There are going to be a lot more candidates in the primary this year because of how close it was in 2018 and Cook Political Report rating it a toss-up. Can you tell me what you’re expecting to do to differentiate yourself from these other candidates?
McDowell: I’m aware of, including myself, 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. 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. 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. The District 24 seat in Congress is where my passion lies. Mainly trying to solve the income inequality gap. That includes health care and so many other things, that’s what I’m focused on.
Seth: Can you talk a little more about what policies you’re expecting to put on the forefront of your campaign?
McDowell: 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 all working together rather than trying to pull ourselves apart and trying to benefit the people at the top so much. 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: I’m curious if you’re rethinking your approach to any of the progressive policies that have become more popular in the party. You said Medicare For All is ‘probably the answer’ and I’m curious if you’re considering jumping on board more fully with some of these policies.
McDowell: I generally 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. 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 does something slightly different but the bottom line is everyone gets healthcare, then I’m not opposed to that. 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: Are you worried about some candidates coming in and running further to your left 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 excite the base more than a moderate, bipartisan approach?
McDowell: 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’, I don’t think most people think in those terms. And I’m probably pretty far left. But the vast majority of people in my neighborhood don’t think [in] those phrases.
Seth: In 2018 Beto O’Rourke carried your district by around 3%. How much do you give him credit for lifting your numbers?
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. With almost 80 million dollars, you can do a lot. So clearly, I benefited from that. To be able to put a quantitative analysis on 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.
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?
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. I know a lot of people who are Democrats who said ‘well I voted in the Republican primary because I wanted to have a choice because that’s who’s going to win.’ 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 in my race as well.
Seth: Do you think that will affect the way you run your campaign or which policies you highlight?
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. Were focused on the money part at this point.
Seth: This year, the DCCC put your district on their Red to Blue list. The Democratic nominee will likely get some more funding from the national party. How do you see that changing the dynamic of the race? How would you be able to campaign differently?
McDowell: I think that would be huge. 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? 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. 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 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?
McDowell: I mentioned before that the big thing is for a candidate to show up, show up, show up. 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. 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 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 ‘subverting our democracy’ or something real sinister. 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: I’ve seen that Kim Olson(the Democratic nominee for Texas Agriculture Commissioner in 2018) may be getting in the primary. She was a little bit closer with her margin, 48.1 to 49.4 in Texas 24. Do you think that gives her a leg up in the primary saying that maybe she is a more electable candidate?
McDowell: I don’t think so. 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, a lot of people around here don’t even know where Mineral Wells is. 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 realize that is what the Constitution says, they think it shouldn’t be that way. I can just imagine if the Democrats have a candidate in the general election against Kenny Marchant. I can 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.
Seth: Would you go out and support the Democrat regardless of who they were?
Seth: 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: Both of the above. There are still hundreds of thousands of people who are registered and don’t vote. Not to mention people who are not even registered. More money will make it possible to reach more people to both register and then to turn out the vote. 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.
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? Do you think that O’Rourke could be beneficial to you in your district because he was so popular in the state?
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 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 that there could be a problem with you not being quite as progressive?
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: The current makeup of the House seems to be divided 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’s, Rashida Tlaib’s and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s. Do you imagine yourself aligning more closely with the more progressive or more bipartisan moderate members of the House?
McDowell: That’s tough. I tend to be more progressive. I would probably align with more progressive people than more conservative people. 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 don’t always agree with her method or her approach. Sometimes things are so urgent that it’s not going to be acceptable to sit back and be patient and polite. And you have to just go in there like a bull in a china shop. 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 before you say ‘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 is the Democratic Party’s position towards Israel and Ilhan Omar’s comments about Lindsay Graham and other House and Senate members. Do you have a position towards Israel or Representative Omar that you would be willing to share?
McDowell: 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. 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. 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: Are there any issues or one issue that you feel you’re not in line with the Democratic orthodoxy?
McDowell: 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.
Seth: Is anything else that we haven’t gotten the opportunity to talk about that you would like to?
McDowell: 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 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. The reports from scientists are alarming. 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 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: The Senate just took a vote on the Green New Deal resolution and a lot of Democrats either voted Present or voted against it. What do you think of the tactic of introducing resolutions that Democratic Senators or Representatives will vote against?
McDowell: 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. 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. 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.
Thank you to Ms. McDowell for taking the time to speak with me. I have heard from TX-24 Democratic Candidates Kim Olson and Will Fisher and will (hopefully) be interviewing them next week. Republican Incumbent Kenny Marchant has not responded to any of my requests. Stay tuned!