In this bonus episode, Zach chats with Amanda Edwards, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, about her journey in electoral politics and the importance of voting ahead of Super Tuesday.
Zach: What’s up, y’all? Look, it’s Zach with Living Corporate, and yes, I know. It’s a Monday. You’re like, “Whoa, why are you dropping content on a Monday? The world is shifting! Why is reality as I know it splitting in half?!” No, you’re probably not doing any of that. You’re probably just like, “Yo, okay. Another podcast, okay.” And that’s what it is. It’s, like, a bonus pod. Look, y’all. Remember when we had Royce West a couple–you know, it was, like, a week or two ago? A little bit ago. The point is, we had Senator Royce West on, Texas State Senator Royce West–what’s up, respect to the man–to talk a little bit about voting and the importance of voting. Today is the day before Super Tuesday, right? Like, Tuesday, that’s the day you vote for the person that you want to continue forward in the respective race, whether it be presidential or senatorial, and we have Amanda Edwards on. Amanda Edwards is someone who is running for U.S. Senate. She is a native Texan and former Houston City Council member who represented 2.3 million constituents, and she actually left that position to run for U.S. Senate. A pretty crowded race. We’re talking a little bit about just her background and the importance of voting as well as really why we should vote. And you’ll hear me say it in the podcast, y’all. Like, Living Corporate is about amplifying and centering black and brown experiences at work. I believe a way–not the only way, but a way to do that for yourself civically is by voting. And I recognize there are different positions, like going full dissident. We had Howard Bryant on the show, and he talked about the idea of Colin Kaepernick not voting, because he’s like, “Look, if I believe that the system is inherently broken and I can’t vote my way out of oppression, then why should I vote?” But, you know, there are different points of opinion on that. I do believe we have the right to vote. People are actively looking to take away our ability to vote, questioning our very right to be here. I believe a great way to just say that we matter is by voting. So make sure y’all check out this episode. Nothing changes for the rest of the week. We’ve got more content for your head top starting tomorrow and then Thursday and then Saturday, and then the marathon continues. ‘Til next time, y’all. Peace.
Zach: Amanda Edwards, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Amanda: I’m great. Thank you so much for having me on this morning.
Zach: It’s not a problem. Now, look, just to start, many people are saying that, you know, Texas is really truly the battleground state. So goes Texas, so goes the nation regarding tilting red or blue. So there have been, you know, accelerated attempts to speed that up. We’ve had Beto and Wendy’s campaigns being notable in that regard. So with that let me ask you, do you think Texas is ready? And if so, what makes you the right choice to get us there?
Amanda: Absolutely I believe Texas is in fact ready in 2020, and the question remains is will the Democrats put up the right candidate who will be able to unseat John Cornyn. It is not a far-gone conclusion that it will inevitably happen. It will happen if we put forward the correct candidate, and that is someone who can build upon the strengths of Beto’s election. So when we looked at Beto’s 2018 run, in a time where nobody thought it would be possible to flip the state of Texas, Beto came within 215,000 votes of doing so, and he did so in large part based on the strength of getting persuadable voters out to vote for him. In other words, people who were independent voters or people who were in suburbs or people who were in non-traditional markets, like smaller markets that typically don’t vote heavily Democratically, those are areas and spaces and places in which he had tremendous success in terms of getting the vote out. Where there were still some opportunities left on the table happened to be–when you look closely at the numbers, you saw that communities of color, they registered in high numbers, but they didn’t turn back out and vote in high numbers. There were less than 50% of the registered numbers. People under the age of 35 likewise had high levels of registration but did not turn out to vote in those same high levels. They were under 50% of their registered numbers. So what if you had a candidate who could, by virtue of her politics, allow her to galvanize those persuadable voters yet again, but in addition to that be able to build upon Beto’s run and actually also bring in those communities of color that had registered but did not actually vote, bring them into the fold as well as those under the age of 35 who had this similar situation arise with registration versus actual turnout. If you can build all three of those coalitions, you will actually the votes necessary in order not just to come close but to actually beat John Cornyn and to make history in Texas, and that is what we’re planning to do after getting out of this Democratic primary, which is in fact a very crowded field, but I think a very important testament to the significance of the time that we’re living in. ‘Cause it used to be the case where you couldn’t get anybody to run in these primary elections because of how difficult the feat was considered to be. Now of course, people have internalized that Texas is in fact winnable now, and in fact, that’s why a number of us are running in this race. I for one left my city council at-large state–I was representing about 2.3 million Texans–to pursue this because I know how significant and important it is that we not just come close but that we actually can win, and the only way to do that is by galvanizing those coalitions that I mentioned to you.
Zach: So what have been some of the greatest, you know, advantages and biggest challenges in not only being young and being black and being a woman, but being a young black woman in this race?
Amanada: Well, the first thing you always have to do is your homework, right? And we know that this is a change election, meaning there’s gonna be a lot of non-traditional voters turning out to vote, and so you can as a result–I mean, just to [?] small statistic, since 2016 for example–and there’s been well over 2.6 newly registered voters in Texas. Of that number, over 1.6 million of them are people of color and/or under the age of 25 years old. And so if you look at that or you think about that statistic, the electorate is changing. So someone who’s younger, someone who is a person of color, is actually consistent with the wave of change that we’re seeing in Texas as we speak. So these are not, you know, things that many people from the outside looking in might view to be challenges that I face or obstacles I see as strengths. And so we have a huge opportunity in our hands, putting in a candidate that looks and sounds and is about change. Also a candidate who has a track record for such. I think it’s important when you have someone–when you talk to some of these communities that stayed at home last election cycle. Let’s take some of the communities of color, for example. Back in ’17 when Harvey struck my community, there was 51 inches of rainfall that fell across our community. Billions of dollars in damage, loss of life, loss of property, you name it. Devastation across a broad spectrum, and I got a phone call to go check on some of my low-income seniors. I said, “No problem,” and I went, and I just went to their houses impromptu, and I learned they weren’t removing the walls from their homes. And of course they had been soiled by the flood water, and that will result in mold setting in if you don’t remove those walls. So I mobilized hundreds of volunteers. We went out and started going door to door. Well, the first question I was asked by many homes was “Oh, are you up for re-election?” And they asked it very innocently, but the question is an illustration of a much broader systemic problem in which people are only accustomed to seeing their elected officials when it’s time for us to get a vote, and we’ve got to make it more than just about electoral politics and voting. We’ve got to make it about depositing in people’s lives, and I think that’s how you bridge that disconnect with a lot of these communities of color who are used to being exploited around election time only to see that the promises are never delivered, and we’ve got to have a messenger, which would be me, who can demonstrate when they ask “Well, why should I believe you that it will be different? Because I’ve heard this before,” I can say it’s been different for the communities that I’ve represented, and that’s gonna be huge in bridging the disconnect. So again, another strength out of what some could perceive to be a disadvantage. I see it as a strength.
Zach: I love it. So, you know, it’s easy I think–and let’s talk a little bit about, like, the presidential race as well, because it’s Monday, the day before Super Tuesday, y’all. Y’all get out there and let’s get to voting. Let’s go. Let’s move. But it’s easy, right, for black and brown folks, I think, to look at the current slate of candidates and see that the Democratic Party does not really prioritize the voice and representation, like, of us, and with that in mind, I’m curious, why do you think it’s important for that same group to vote in 2020 if the alternative could be just another candidate that will ultimately ignore them?
Amanda: I think that’s what my campaign is all about, not just electing–well, first I need you to elect me. [laughs] But that’s just one step. The second is something that I’ve embarked upon as a local elected official, which has been about empowering people and to also hold their leadership accountable for the things that come out of [our?] mouth. So it’s not good enough to see me in the campaign cycle and let me go away and not come back until the next campaign cycle, because how do you get what you deserve in your community unless you hold me accountable? We have to have an open line of communication. This open line can be state-wide. It relates to not just being responsive to constituent requests but being present in communities, hosting a town hall. When I come to you, you should be having the report card out. “Well, where are you with this? We talked about this. What’s the timing on this?” Or not even a report card. I should just proactively share with you where we are with that. That’s being effective as a leader in delivering results. Before I got into politics, I will tell you, I was a [?] lawyer. I was a municipal finance lawyer. You don’t get paid [?] ’til the deal gets closed. So in my mind I’m hard-wired to think in terms of deliverables, right? And so you have to close the deal before you get paid for it. In the world of politics, people just give speeches all the time and not see progress. In some kind of way that’s doing your job, and I just don’t think that the bar is high enough. I think doing your job is bringing home the things, the change you discussed on the campaign trail and not pointing fingers. What if the premium was [?]? And this also turns to the electorate, okay? Constituents have to raise the bar for themselves. It cannot be that you say “I want to send a boxer to go perform surgery.” If you’re asking somebody to bring home deliverables like policy changes, it’s not about me beating somebody else in the public arena, in public. It’s not about me getting some cable news, you know, applause for some Tweet I made. It’s about going and getting those bills passed, and that’s what we have to begin to focus our attention on. So often it’s the case that we focus on the fight versus focus on the result, and I think there’s a role to be played by the electorate to understand that. You’ve got to be focused on who do we think is a mover in that place and get something done there. That’s what we should be rewarding, not so much who can be mean like Donald Trump or who can, you know, fight him. I mean, that’s part of the equation, but that’s not the exclusive element that we should be focused on. You know, and I think that gets lost, and that’s a huge detail. I mean, part of the dysfunction we have in Washington, the polarization, is because we elect people to go in and be polarizing.
Zach: So, you know, you mentioned Donald Trump, and it’s interesting because the next thing I was gonna ask you was about millennials and Gen Z black and brown voters in this cycle keep getting told that we have to make compromises in order to beat Trump, which often means accepting candidates that have troubling racial records, right? And I don’t even know why I’m saying troubling racial records. People got records out here that’s showing that they’re mad racist and/or–this is my show, I’ma stop trying to use all this little political language. I ain’t playing with y’all. You know what I’m saying, they got some crazy stuff happening in their past, but we’re challenged to vote for them anyway. So, like, should we make that trade-off? And if so, why?
Amanda: I think you vote for what you want to see. I mean, some people try to–because ultimately that’s what change is about. So if you see a candidate that espouses the change you want to see and enough people see it, I mean, whether you are in agreement with Bernie Sanders or not, you know, he was seemingly a long-shot early on, right? And now of course you see him gaining momentum, and it’s not because people say “Oh, he’s gonna be the easy one to win early on.” They got behind him. They wanted to see what he was talking about. Same thing with a litany of other candidates that we’ve seen. Obama, you know? Obama was not the likely candidate to emerge.
Zach: I remember that in high school, yeah.
Amanda: He was the unlikely candidate, and people just wanted to see that change that he described so they got behind him. And we’ve done it for good and for bad. I mean, Donald Trump is another example. You know, my good example is Barack Obama, President Obama. My bad example is Donald Trump. But people wanted to see somebody mess up the system, you know? They wanted to see the establishment just turned on its head, and I don’t know if they’re all pleased with the way it was turned on its head or not, but he’s had a critical mass of supporters stick with him, and you just–you know, in both Obama’s example and Trump’s example, neither of those were considered the likeliest candidate. So it’s about seeing what you want to see. So you support who you believe can deliver the change you’re looking for, and if the candidate that you see–you know, the candidate that you’re being told to vote for isn’t that person, then don’t vote for him, ’cause you’re the one who’s gonna be holding the bag with the policies they promote.
Zach: That’s a fact though. No, that’s true, and I think the reality is–I saw this somewhere on Twitter, ’cause you know, Twitter has all the quotables, but it said something like “The person who’s electable is the person you vote for.” Right? Like, just vote for ’em.
Amanda: That’s right. I love that.
Zach: Okay. So in this country and in this state, public or private, the quality of your education has more to do with the value of your home and your zip code than your work ethic. So when you’re in the Senate and you’re asked to confirm the next secretary of education, what would you ask them to change?
Amanda: Well, #1 I need a secretary of education that actually believes in public education. Can we just start there?
Zach: Man. Yo, what is up with her, man?
Amanda: I hate to start–
Zach: Nah, let’s let these shots off. No, let’s go. Come on. [ratatata sfx]
Amanda: It’s such a fundamental [?]. If you don’t believe that public education should even be there, that’s probably not the person to have over the department of ed, #1. #2, I would make sure that we have strategies in place for our students to be successful no matter where they’re in school. One of the things that is just–you know, you’ve heard about the phrase “The silent bigotry of low to no expectations,” right? And for us to not have those expectations of our students and put systems in place for success, pathways for success, and not just success today. I’m talking about leading the next generation of jobs. You know, why–I do a lot of work on tech and innovation, and people always–you know, and I do a lot of work in minority communities as well, and they don’t see those things as being harmonious, and I’m saying this should be something that’s in all of our classrooms. We should be introducing our young people to the concept of entrepreneurship and, you know, just all of the things. We should be making those introductions. We shouldn’t just be teaching for tests, okay? Because kids, that’s not preparing them for life. I’m not saying you can’t have a test, but we’ve gone crazy with it. We cannot just be there for tests and that’s the measure for success. We have to do better, and we have to have a well-rounded education where people have multiple pathways for success, including vocational, but also including four-year institutions no matter where you live and how much money you make. In Texas we have seen the course challenged time and time and time and time again, our full financing structure, and that requires us to say education is a right, which we have not gone as far to say. So you’re not going to see the reforms that you truly need to see, which is–you know, the connection between where you live and the quality of your education doesn’t make any sense. Education is our great equalizer, yet we’re perpetuating how unequal it actually is by virtue of tying it to your income–I mean, of tying it to your property tax value. This is not something that makes any sense, but we continue to perpetuate the systems because, you know, we have people in office who don’t believe that public education has value. I am a product of public high school, and I will tell you, you know, it is so important that we are investing more than what we have in the past, because there’s so many other challenges and conflating variables our students face. So I’m a proponent of making sure that all of our students, no matter where they go to school, can be successful. They need to see that. I like to go back to my alma mater and, you know, model the behavior. You should have expectations of going to school, and they’ve got to see it. They’re not necessarily going to see that at home all the time, so we’ve got to supplement that with the support they’re getting in school, but truthfully speaking, a lot of the support that I recall being in school when I was a student are no longer there ’cause they got cut. We balance our state budgets on the backs of our students all of the time, and consequently our students have fewer resources to succeed, like wrap around services, and just–I could go on and on and on and on about what needs to happen with our education system, but I think first and foremost we need somebody innovative coming to the table, bring some new ideas to the table, and I would be highly eager to see, once we get our new president in office, that we bring somebody in who can be serious about educating our youth so we’ll have a prepared workforce for tomorrow.
Zach: So that sets me up well for my last question before we let you go. So irrespective of who wins the election in November, the Democratic primary race has shown that there is a more progressive, ethnically diverse voting population that is [?], so what do you believe the Democratic Party at large can do to ensure that they capitalize on this ever-growing reality?
Amanda: In terms of electoral politics?
Amanda: I think we’ve got to make sure that we’re putting up candidates that are receptive to the issues that these communities face, and too often I’m asked, “Oh, [?]?” And I say, “Well, I think it’s additive to be honest with you.” I think, you know, the black community cares about health care access and education just like anybody else would, but they also have other issues in addition that they care about. But what [?] me is when people try to reduce it down to one issue, and that’s the only issue that we face. The truth is we have additional issues that we have to contend with, and we have to have a broad spectrum of answers that are responsive to the broad spectrum of media. And so we’ve got to have to figure out how to do that. I’d like for us to be serious about elections, more serious about how we treat our elections in general with a national holiday for Election Day. I mean, I just think it’s crazy that we don’t have that in our country. Obviously we know why that is not the case, but it should be, and just–you know, we have holidays for all kinds of things that don’t make a lot of sense, but we don’t do that for Election Day? And that’s the primary part of how our democracy works? I think that’s problematic. So yeah, I think we’ve got to really start to not view the diverse candidates that do come forward as being candidates that have challenges because they’re diverse. I think they’re candidates that are stronger because of being diverse candidates, ’cause that’s the direction the country is headed, and we should support our candidates and support diversity within that representation, but also provide for more ways to provide clear sources of information that are truthful, you know? Like, some people pick up the League of Women Voters guide and things like that, but a lot of people don’t even know where to start with this stuff.
Zach: Right, you’re absolutely right.
Amanda: You know, and it’s very overwhelming as someone who’s been in government and in electoral politics. It’s overwhelming for people the kind of questions I get. “How do I register? When do I register?” Why isn’t there one clear depository for all the information for these things where you could just information for candidates, information for–you know, just things like that. There should be some kind of clarity provided for people to make it easier to participate.
Zach: From an accessibility perspective, right?
Amanda: Yeah. You’re kind of on your own out there, and I just think that’s not the way to make it accessible to the masses.
Zach: Amanda, this has been a great interview, a great conversation. Thank you so much for having us. Y’all, it’s Monday, the day before Super Tuesday. Making sure we bring y’all the stuff to make sure that y’all continue to have your voice amplified and centered, and you can’t do that if–well, look, for the sake of this podcast and this conversation, I’ma say you voting is a critical way to amplify and center your voice. Let’s make sure you get out there and you vote, and we’ll catch y’all next time. Peace, y’all.