Mike Siegel’s Ambitious Progressive Platform Falls Short in Deep-Red Texas

Siegel failed to match his 2018 performance, coming in almost 7 points behind Rep. McCaul on Tuesday.

Austin Kickoff Rally for Mike Siegel
Mike Siegel at the Austin Kickoff Rally in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 4, 2020. Photo: Michael R. Keller/Mike Siegel campaign

Mike Siegel, a progressive-populist civil rights attorney who hoped to flip the solidly red Houston-area district in Texas, came in 25,000 votes short as of Tuesday night. Siegel had been hoping to unseat Rep. Michael McCaul, a wealthy Republican congressman who helped author President Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” policy.

Siegel came within 4.3 percentage points of defeating McCaul during his first run for Congress in 2018, outperforming the expectations of many political observers. This cycle, he failed to match his 2018 performance, coming in almost 7 points behind McCaul on Tuesday.

“Regardless of tonight’s results, we showed that deep in the heart of Texas, a progressive movement is rising,” Siegel said in a statement. “It has been an honor to work with the diverse coalition that powered our campaign and helped mobilize over 178,000 Texans to the polls in support of our vision for change.”

The Bernie Sanders-backed Democrat reported raising more than $1 million in the third quarter and has earned support from national progressive groups, local labor unions, and even the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. McCaul, who has represented Texas’s 10th Congressional District since 2005 and is the fourth richest member of Congress, raised $870,000 and had about $1.1 million cash on hand. (He did not contribute to his own campaign.) McCaul draws part of his $113 million wealth through “alleged predatory landlord practices” that hurt small businesses mostly owned by people of color, the American Prospect revealed.

Demographic changes across the state have created a much more competitive political landscape, starting last cycle when the shifts eventually pushed six GOP members of Congress to announce retirement. As Texas drifts more Democratic, Siegel was one of several other candidates, like Candace Valenzuela and Julie Oliver, who hoped to flip a historically red district while running on a more ambitious platform than the one that Democrats usually run in these races.

The 42-year-old civil rights attorney, who began his career teaching third grade as a Teach for America corps member, has represented labor unions, immigrant families, and low-income renters. Siegel supports Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and a range of policies to ensure “housing for all” and strengthen the organized labor movement. Throughout the campaign, Siegel had been attacked as a “socialist” from the right. The son of activists, Siegel ran as a Democrat and not a socialist, but has said he is a “proud red diaper baby.”

Internal polling from Siegel’s campaign had found the two candidates heading into the final stretch of the race statistically tied. To fend off Siegel’s challenge, McCaul launched a million-dollar-plus TV and digital ad buy early last month, leading with an attack against his Democratic opponent. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to the House, also threw in more than $144,000 into the race, according to Open Secrets.

In the attack ad, which features an anti-Black Lives Matter cop, McCaul’s campaign went after Siegel for supporting criminal justice reform policies like defunding the police and ending contracts for private prisons. “It’s extreme, it’s dangerous, and it’s all true,” Waller County Republican Constable Joe Trimm Jr. says in the 30-second ad. “Take it from me, Mike Siegel is a threat to your family.”

Siegel immediately called on McCaul to take down the ad, The Intercept previously reported, saying that the ad “and McCaul’s choice to platform a public, certifiable racist is very dangerous.”

Though Siegel zeroed in on health care and environmental issues, he also focused on criminal justice reform and racial justice issues. He hammered McCaul on his history of pushing racist policies, from his role in putting together the Muslim ban policy that Trump first promised as a candidate in 2015 to his efforts to ramp up America’s disastrous war on drugs. Notably, McCaul was deeply complicit in the biggest law enforcement scandal in Texas history, as a deputy attorney general under Attorney General John Cornyn, who won reelection as the Senate’s No. 2 Republican on Tuesday.

In 1999, more than 10 percent of the Black population of Tulia, Texas, was handcuffed and arrested, pulled out of their homes in front of television crews and wrongfully charged with dealing cocaine. Many of them served years in prison for a crime it is now widely understood they did not commit. Forty-six people, almost all of them Black, were arrested on fabricated drug charges that were entirely based on the testimony of one police officer.

“As the state’s leading prosecutors, Cornyn and McCaul had unique latitude in opening an investigation, taking over the case, and overturning the convictions in Tulia,” the Texas Signal wrote. “Instead, they intentionally delayed action and sat on the sidelines for years.”

Siegel has criticized the Republican lawmaker for delaying justice for these innocent individuals, while they were “languishing in prison, facing severe personal, economic, and family costs.” Now, 20 years later, Siegel said, he “is still propping up white supremacists.”

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