Will Fisher is a Democratic candidate for Texas’s 24th District. He ran for the Democratic nomination in Texas’s 26th District in 2018 but has decided to run in the 24th this cycle. Cook Political Report has rated the district a “Toss Up” for 2020. Between 2016 and 2018, the Democratic margin shrunk from -17% to -3%. 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, April 3, 2019.
The following interview has been condensed and edited to remove unnecessary words, phrases and questions for clarity. If you want the full, messy, extended version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews –> Extended Interviews.
Seth: I wanted to start off just by hearing about your day to day life on the campaign trail.
Fisher: The focus right now is fundraising which means I spend a lot of time on the phone. We’re not running a campaign based on corporate tax donations so it means making a lot of phone calls. I had a teacher in high school and he would ask us to clean up the room at the end of the period he would say, “if everybody does a little, nobody does a lot”. And that’s what I apply to campaigning. When you can get a lot of people together united working together, everybody pitches in, 20 or 100 dollars, what they can do, that to me is how you run a race. It’s also helpful that you’re not beholden to these big corporate PAC interests. And so that’s where I’m at right now.
Seth: Have you seen that the your supporters and volunteers from the 26th district are planning to help you out in the 24th district? Or will you have to build a new base of support, specifically volunteers and people helping you knock on doors and give phone calls.
Fisher: The signs so far are that those who supported me in the 26th race are supportive both in vocal support as well as in fundraising. It helps to be able to return to that base of support for this race and undoubtedly that’s an advantage or a benefit I have going into this race.
But I would say the more important carry over from the 26th race that I ran was the name recognition and the experience of running a race. The reason I ran in 2018 was we had just elected a racist and authoritarian, in my eyes, to the White House and it’s one of those moments where we realize the Democratic Party does not have a strong base and it takes people with my resume and experience — I have experience writing law. I have experience interpreting and applying it — to run for office and to try and establish a base of support and I did that in 2018. So that was the analysis at the time and the analysis now is “how do I take that support and that experience that I developed and now apply it for the most effect? How do you create the most good?” And to me, that’s using that experience to flip the 24th Congressional District.
Seth: How long after the 2018 primary did you decide that you wanted to run for office again? Why did you decide that you wanted to run in the 24th district?
Fisher: Timing…to be honest I don’t know. It wasn’t immediate by any means. I would say it was certainly after the general when I made the decision to run in the 24th. The 24th needs to flip. And to me that’s a non-negotiable point. We cannot go another cycle leaving Kenny Marchant in office. This is a guy who almost single handedly authored the gerrymandering redistricting plan for North Texas. He essentially created this district for himself when he was in the Texas Legislature. I looked, after the dust had settled from the general and said “where can I do the most good this coming election cycle? I felt like the most effective way for me to use my experience and support was to ensure or help ensure that the 24th congressional district flipped. Right now, that means I’m a candidate. If the voters decide that I’m not the candidate they want in the general, then after the primary I’ll turn my focus on: who is that candidate and how do I best support making ensure that they flip the district?
Seth: What about your candidacy will help you stand out from the field of Democrats who you likely agree with on a lot of the policy substance?
Fisher: What it takes to win the district in the general is somebody who, without giving up their progressive principles, in fact holding onto those is incredibly important, can still message and talk to those voters. Beto O’Rourke did this very well. It’s one thing that I think made him a very strong candidate. He was able to be very non-exclusive in the way that he presented his policies. Speak to large big picture more morality type issues. Who are we as Americans? A very uniting message and I think that’s the type of candidate that it requires to flip this district. It will be up to the voters to decide how strategic they want to be in the primary. And then my job is to get behind the voice of the electorate. And whoever that candidate is that comes out of the primary, fight to make sure they are our representative for 2020.
Seth: How do you feel like you’re going to be structuring your campaign and what’s your message going to be in the primary to the Democratic voters?
Fisher: I try not to fall into the trap of overthinking what the voters are looking for. I think the key is to be genuine and focus on issues that affect you personally. So, number one for me is health care because it’s a personal issue to me. My daughters have some challenges that it’s critical when they become adults that they have access to the healthcare. I want to see expanded healthcare access for every single American. I think we do that through a universal system. There are a lot of different ways to get there but the goal being that every single American should have health care when and where they need.
Number two on that list for me is that we need to expand and make cannabis legal. My mother, she passed away several years ago from Parkinson’s and was willing to try any legal remedy or process or treatment that was recommended and available. It’s frustrating to me that we have an opioid crisis and at the same time we have people suffering that could benefit from cannabinoid-based medication. And we continue to make it illegal in this country. I intend to support that and fight for legalization at the federal level. While it may seem shocking that in Texas a candidate who proclaims to be more palatable for general election voters is loudly out there on Cannabis to me that actually that tells you where the general public is. I actually think the general public is in support of legalizing Cannabis.
Seth: The House seems to be divided between moderates in red and purplish districts and the progressive from deeper blue districts that are a little bit louder and running to the left like AOC, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar. Do you see yourself aligning with one of those two camps
Fisher: That’s a really tough question. The problem is I don’t see myself aligning cleanly with any particular camp. Part of that could be points on messaging. I believe strongly in not ignoring one side of the aisle, you can do that without coming off of your values. So, I agree on policy issues…I agree on Medicare for All. Right now, I think the way we get there is through a public option. What we should be debating on right now is how we get there. Because so often I see us debating as Democrats on what should be the ultimate goal. The more important question right now is how we get there. I think the smartest way to get there is through a public option. One, you’re pretty quickly increasing the coverage rate. The amount of people that don’t have access to medical insurance is dropping, especially if you expand Medicaid, which I support. Number two, you’re forcing private insurers to start to compete with he public option, which, one of the biggest differences between those two camps is one is paying bonuses to their executives. One is paying dividends to shareholders, and the other is not. So those private insurers are going to have to figure out how to be more competitive. Well, maybe they reduce their bonuses to their executives. Too bad.
Seth: This does sound different than the messaging that would be coming from Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio Cortez because I don’t know that they would be willing to talk about taking votes for anything short of a full single payer system and be willing to have a conversation as openly as you are about this more incremental approach. So, do you feel like you being willing to have this conversation and talk about that more step by step approach sets you apart from those kinds of politicians and that coalition within the party?
Fisher: No and let me tell you why. I would vote tomorrow for a full single payer answer. If we had a chance of getting it through the Senate. I love the idea of getting out there and fighting for something big and impactful in terms of rallying Democrats. But when we’re not talking about the best policy approach to save more lives, then I start to think about the structures that we’re within and what do we do about dealing within the limitation of those structures. Now are we talking about getting rid of the 60-vote threshold in the Senate? If you want to look at what the presidential candidates are arguing for and the positions that they’re setting forth, the number one question I have for them is “how are you going to get that through the Senate?” That’s not arguing for an incremental approach that’s saying give me a plan for how we get these big ideas that I agree with on a policy level, how do we get them through the Senate.
Seth: How do you feel about those more systematic changes like getting rid of the 60 vote threshold, eliminating the Electoral College, adding justices to the Supreme Court
Fisher: I liked some of the ideas that I’m hearing about from Pete Buttigieg. Expanding the size of the Supreme Court but not through court packing. I don’t think court packing is the way to do it. I like the idea of it becoming less of a nuclear event every time there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. One that strikes me as really interesting is expanding the size by bringing in some temporary judges off the Appeals Court, but requiring a unanimous consent vote on the current justices. I’m open to the idea of getting rid of the 60-vote threshold in the Senate but I recognize the cost of doing that are that you are likely to have a swing of policy depending on who is in power, which also would not be good. Before I would be able to buy into that I would want to start to think through and hear particularly the leaders in the Senate, who are in control of this issue, think through how are we are going to deal with what might be the ramifications of swinging policy every four or eight years.
We are so divided as a country and voter turnout is so low, if you asked me what is more likely to avoid those kinds of swings it’s to fully expand voter access in the country. Automatic voter registration, election day being a holiday, ensure that people who even have to work holidays have access to vote. Mail in ballots.
I think if we strengthen the Voting Rights Act and make sure that we are really making an effort as a country to get everybody out to vote then I think you’re going to see less swings. Because people are more consistent on a one by one basis than the electorate is on a macro basis.
Seth: If you’re in the general election would your strategy be to turn out the base of the Democratic party through progressive policies and policies that the Democratic party base supports, or try to be that candidate that can flip conservatives, continuing the trend of flipping white suburban voters to the Democratic party? And how do you see yourself being able to do that?
Fisher: You’ve got to be able to do both. As difficult as that sounds, I don’t think there is a one approach strategy that works. You have to be able to reassure your progressive voters that you’re there with them on progressive policies. Then you have to be able to message those policies to scared moderate voters who see the writing on the wall, see what’s going on in the White House, who see that Kenny Marchant is either a complete copycat of Donald Trump with the bigotry and authoritarianism, or he’s a coward. I realize that these issues are sometimes complex and that messaging complex issues to voters can be a challenge. But that’s the challenge of a successful candidate. Can you talk about progressive issues, making sure every single American has health care when and where they need it, in a way that resonates with you?
Seth: You’re aiming to strike this balance between campaigning on these big ideas but also digging into the policy and telling voters the substance of the policies that you want to enact.
Fisher: Getting turnout among progressives and the left is about focusing on bigger ideas and reassuring them that you’re going to be a fighter for those ideals. But when your campaigning in the white suburban district, or the white suburban areas of the district. Right now, this is my analysis. I’m not going to go out there and win the Tea Party vote. I’m not even going to aim for it. And the people on the margins who are looking at the White House saying, “I can’t support that but there’s a Democrat over here talking about Single Payer Health Care and that freaks me out.” So that’s where policy discussions and policy messaging become really important. Because there you’re reassuring them that “I am not fear. I am not bigotry. I am not hatred and I’m not an authoritarian. But I know you have your concerns about XY and Z. Let me help you understand why XY and Z are better for your family.”
Seth: I’ve heard you say that “Donald Trump is an authoritarian in the White House.” I’m curious to hear a little more about what you mean by that and exactly what kinds of things you’re thinking about when you use that term.
Fisher: Look who he cozies up to. he cozies up to Putin. And Kim Jung Un. He loves these dictators. You can tell he admires them. He wants to be them. Just today he’s talking about closing the southern border. And he says, “we may have to get rid of the judges”.I can’t tell you what is more authoritarian than talking about getting rid of judges. So, the assumption of executive power going over the heads of the legislature and particularly talking about reducing the power and influence of the judicial branch is textbook authoritarianism.
Seth: Is that something that you think that Democrats in the House of Representatives should consider impeachment?
Fisher: I want to see the Muller report. Certainly, he has said and done things that I think are impeachable offenses. From a legal point of view, The Constitution does not define “High Crimes and Misdemeanors”. There’s common law guidance that we have here from English law about what that means. But at the end of the day, it’s essentially a political remedy to a political problem. If I were a Representative, I would want to see and read the Mueller Report. And I’d be fighting for that because we’ve gone through this two-year investigation to understand what has actually been done. And I don’t accept a four-page book report from Bill Barr. I want to see the actual hundreds page report or however long it is that goes into the details. Before I can say whether I would vote for impeachment or not, that’s a prerequisite.
Seth: Are there any issues in the Democratic orthodoxy or the Democratic platform that you have second guesses about?
Fisher: Up until very recently, the Democratic Party has been more willing to take Corporate PAC money. That’s been disturbing because what you end up with is Senators in Congresspeople on the one hand who say all these great things but then when it comes to a really hard vote that might upset one of their Corporate PAC donor, they get a little more skittish. I’m not going to throw stones at any presidential candidate right now, but there’s a few that come to mind on particular important votes regarding prescriptions and things like that that are worrisome. It also gets back to the 60-vote threshold issue. That I want to see somebody tackle in a meaningful way because we have a tendency to talk about big, big issues but then voters become really frustrated if you can’t do anything about it and so what I want to see is the Democratic Party take the lead on…I was happy with HR1 for example. I want to see [the bill] move forward because we don’t ever actually implement any of these big important issues unless we have the politically support to do it and while public opinion is one thing you’ve got to have those votes in the ballot box to make sure you can accomplish those things. I guess my critique would be, in the past we’ve been willing to take…not me because I don’t throw myself in that boat… but a lot of Democratic Representatives have been willing to take money from unsavory donors which colors their vision when it comes to taking tough votes and then also promising things without actually having a plan to be able to get them through the Senate. This is probably, if you ask me, the number one issue I’m looking for leadership from presidential candidates. Dealing with that 60-vote threshold issue. How do you get your policies in place given those restrictions?
Seth: It does seem like it’s somewhat of a binary thing. Where it’s either go for the bipartisan compromises where you win some Republican votes or eliminate the Filibuster or do some other more structural changes like D.C or Puerto Rico statehood and giving them representation in the Senate.
Fisher: It could be a little bit of both. D.C. Puerto Rico, Guam, these are people who I think deserve representation. So that’s its own issue that can be a help towards resolving this problem we’re talking about, but I think also dealing with is it the right policy to have such a high threshold. And maybe it’s something other than 50%. Maybe its 55. There are some other ways to get us closer to being able to pass these policies while still requiring something more than a majority.
Seth: It is a good example of norms and which ones are important to uphold and which ones are okay to break down.
Fisher: Norms are important. They’re critical to make sure that the system doesn’t get flipped in the night. I guess one critique of Democrats is that we often hold to these norms in a way that the other side doesn’t and it puts us at a huge disadvantage to actually help people because the other side throws norms out the window. We need to be able to balance valuing these norms while also recognizing that the other side has been corruptly gerrymandering and restructuring the system to benefit their donors for years. So, I don’t want us to fall into the trap of holding these norms and squeezing them tight like something precious to you while all it’s doing is ensuring the policies you believe in, that will help American families, never gets passed. And what good does that ever do? It questions whether you are even accomplishing what you set out to try and accomplish in the first place. Are you actually doing what you said you were going to do?
Seth: Where will you and will you not take money from in your 2020 campaign?Fisher: I won’t take money from Corporate PACs. If Planned Parenthood wants to donate to my race, I am ideologically aligned there so there is no issue from my perspective. These kinds of organizational PACs that are designed to help Democrats and progressive policies be enacted. I don’t have any issues. None at all.
Seth: What kind of things you and your team have been thinking about that you’ll have to differently, given that you’re changing form the 26th to the 24th.
Fisher: My campaign ethos has always been to put yourself out there in as many locations as often as possible. And that’s not going to change, but with one recognition. And that recognition is that turnout will be astronomically higher given that it’s a presidential year. Donald Trump is on the ballot. Turnout is going to be very high. So, reaching voters in mass is going to be much more important than perhaps it was in my prior race. In an election cycle like this one, big media has to be involved.
Seth: Have you been seeing the other primary candidates in the district campaigning? What kind of interactions have you had with the other candidates?
Fisher: All the other candidates that I know I have great relationship with and I deeply respect them. Nothing ill to say at all. So far there’s not been a lot of community campaigning by any of the candidates that I’ve seen so far. It’s just too early.
Seth: Are you going to support the Democratic nominee?
Fisher: Yes and I trust the voters to not make a decision there that is somebody that you couldn’t put your support behind.
Seth: Am I right that you endorsed or supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary?
Fisher: I voted for Bernie in the primary. That’s right.
Seth: Do you have a candidate in the presidential race that represents your values or that you’ll vote for?
Fisher: It’s too early. I’m just spending a lot of time listening. I’ll tell you those that are sticking out for me. Beto — I admire the way Beto is able to talk about progressive policies in a way that doesn’t in my opinion scare off independent moderates. I admire that. I think it’s important that we don’t exclude people from any side of the political spectrum. That they have the ability to come and hear you and take something away that may be a nugget that develops in them the ability to maybe see the hope and the possibilities in progressive policies. I really have enjoyed listening to Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He sort of fills that professor role in terms of the candidates that are currently in the race and I like that. I love policy. I consider myself a bit of a wonk and so I like to hear him speak I like to hear candidates get into the details because details matter. For a lot of voters, that may not be the case. So that’s something that I’m following very closely. Kamala, Cory, Elizabeth Warren. I love the big ideas that Elizabeth Warren has. Look, what excites me about Bernie is his fight for Single Payer. That’s what inspired me in the 2016 primary. I love the passion that he brings to that debate and the effects that he has had on the Democratic electorate of moving it more progressive, particularly on the issue of health care legislation.
Seth: I think he’s the one candidate that hasn’t spoken about being willing to vote for an incrementalist approach so it is interesting to hear the things that you value about his candidacy.
Fisher: I’m a negotiator by trade. And when you negotiate you often don’t start out in the middle. You start out asking for more than you’d be willing to accept in the end. And I think Democrats made a mistake with the ACA negotiations where the Public Option was the big thing that they were then willing to give up in order to get it passed. If there had been a public option you wouldn’t see the crumbling of so many of the healthcare markets. Bernie’s approach is, “hey let’s go out there and fight for the big thing.” Tt the end of the day, if he were negotiating legislation, maybe he’ll take something less than that. And I admire that fully. I will tell you that while that may be effective on a national stage, I’m thinking about my district. It’s going to take to get them on board with moving in that direction. Because these are not Brooklyn voters. You have to recognize there’s a difference. And I think a public option is what we need right now in order to move in the direction of things there.
Seth: Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you’re interested in talking about?
Fisher: Two of the other issues I want voters to know I’m passionate about: One is criminal justice reform. The particular focus that I want to have is on white collar corruption, which is incredibly costly and damaging to our system and we see it right now with the Trump administration. There’s a lot of opportunity we have to make our system more equitable in part my ensuring that those who commit white collar crimes are prosecuted and receive appropriate penalties in line with the crimes they commit. It’s important to me that we have people accused of Marijuana possession that end up with more jail time than somebody who commits bank fraud, for example. Something that significantly hurts our system, increases the costs of products for everyone. And that’s something that we have to tackle because at the end of the day I think that there’s racial inequity involved there and our entire criminal justice system needs overhaul in order to address some of those racial inequities. And the other one is firearms legislation. We need to ensure that the universal background check bill that recently passed that that gets through. So we need to keep fighting for that in the House until we have a Senate that can pass it. And a part of that that’s really personal for me. Personal experience with folks who ended their lives where a mandatory waiting period may have given us a chance to intervene. So I’m going to fight for three day waiting periods nationally.
When it comes to this particular issue, a strong majority of Americans support Universal Background Checks. Now Mandatory Waiting Periods is not a policy that’s gotten as much, I certainly don’t hear it as much in the political milieu, punditry type discussions. So that one will be, let’s see how voters react to it. To me it’s a personal issue. And it’s something I feel passionate about. My sense is that it’s not offensive to gun owners. The misconception on this issue many times is that Democrats don’t own gun. That people who support Universal Background Checks don’t own guns. I think that’s just not true. That’s NRA messaging, “the Democrats are there to take away your guns”, which is just not true. I find that popular opinion on those issues are, kind of across the board, positively received.
Seth: Do you have any requests of me?
Fisher: I’m very cognizant of the divisions right now in the Democratic Party. I’m hesitant personally to be classified in any of these camps. I agree with Representatives like AOC who are fighting against incrementalism. My concern is short term. I want to make sure we’re not promising things that we can’t follow through on because right now were in this moment of brief excitement. I don’t want that followed by a moment of great disappointment. And I foresee that being a risk. And I realize that by saying that, that may have someone classify me as a moderate, which I don’t think I am. I don’t use that label myself. I think I’m a practical progressive: someone who aspires to practical policies that works within the limitations we have and says “how do we get as close as possible to that?” So, take that for what it is. My goal in life is not to be labeled as “Well, Will is the moderate in the race”. I just don’t think that would be accurate either.
Seth: I know you’re busy as a candidate and as a lawyer so I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me over the phone.
Fisher: No worries. Thanks Seth.