A Real, Legitimate Political Discourse (with Jessica Cisneros)

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Julián and Sawyer deride Republicans for trying to label the Capitol insurrection as “legitimate political discourse.” They also talk about the aftermath of yet another young Black American’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Later the two chat with Texas congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros about her much-discussed primary race against moderate Democrat Henry Cuellar.

Follow Jessica and her campaign online at JCisnerosTX and jessicacisnerosforcongress.com

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Julian Castro, Jessica Cisneros, Sawyer Hackett

Julian Castro  00:13

Hey there. I’m Julian Castro.

Sawyer Hackett 

And I’m Sawyer Hackett.

Julian Castro 

And welcome to OUR AMERICA. This week we’re going to talk about the Republican efforts to spin the January 6 insurrection, the police killing of Amir Locke in a no-knock raid in Minneapolis and the controversy surrounding Joe Rogan. And later in the show, we’re going to welcome Texas congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros, whose primary race in the 28th Congressional District of Texas against incumbent Democrat Henry Cuellar is considered to be among the most competitive primaries in the country. But first, let’s go over the Republican spin around January 6th. What’s the latest on that Sawyer?

Sawyer Hackett

Yeah, so last Friday, the Republican Party officially declared the January 6th attack on the Capitol and the events that led to it as quote, legitimate political discourse. Let me let me repeat that again, because I think it’s important. Last Friday, the Republican Party officially declared January 6, as legitimate political discourse. They voted to censure members of Congress, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their parts in the house investigation into the insurrection, saying they were participating in, quote, the persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse. This was only days after former President Trump suggested that if he was reelected in 2024, that he would consider pardons for those convicted in the January 6 insurrection. And just a reminder that some of those rioters have been charged with seditious conspiracy. It also comes after Trump declared that former Vice President Mike Pence could have quote overturn the election. On Friday, Pence push back on those remarks, saying that Trump was wrong, you know, real strong, courageous language there from the former vice president. And Senator Mitt Romney took to Twitter to declare in an Aaron Sorkin esque way that shame falls on a party that would censure persons of conscious who seek truth in the face of vitriol. And, you know, just a reminder there that Romney is essentially criticizing his niece, Rhonda McDaniels Romney. So I thought that was interesting. But you know, this, it seems like Republicans aren’t really afraid of being the party of insurrection. What did you make of that news last week that broke over the weekend?

Julian Castro  02:25

I mean, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising anymore. How far off the rails this party has gone. It’s ridiculous. In one sense, it’s infuriating. In another sense, I say that because one of the first things I thought about was, how all of these hacks in the Republican Party and in their whole media ecosystem, Fox News and all the other ones Newsmax went after Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the national anthem at football games, to protest police brutality, tried to turn them into the devil made it look like he was doing the most un-American worse thing, practically painted him as a terrorist. And at the same time, they’re branding, the actual terrorism that happened during the January 6th insurrection, as quote, legitimate political discourse. So hypocritical, so ridiculous. But most of all, again, and we’ve talked about this before, you know, it’s downright scary, because this party just keeps getting more and more anti-democratic with a small D. More in the mold of Donald Trump himself, who is an authoritarian, more like a cult that will do anything and say anything to stay in the good graces of its dear leader, Donald Trump. And this was just one more example of that.

Sawyer Hackett 

I’m glad you I’m glad you brought up police brutality and Colin Kaepernick. Because I think it’s, and we’re later in the show, we’re going to talk about the police killing of Amir Locke in Minneapolis. But I think it’s interesting that the same week that you know, President Biden and national establishment Democrats are out there on the trail saying, We’re never going to defund the police. We’re gonna invest more in police forces out there and, you know, essentially, kind of giving the middle finger to the political left that showed up in the streets in masks. Only a couple years ago, after the killing of George Floyd, you have this party sort of distancing itself from its base, the Democratic Party, at the same time you have a republican party that is tying a bow around this gift to the Democrats saying January 6th, attack the greatest attack on our democracy since the Civil War, is just legitimate political discourse. That is just a wild political decision from the party. And it just goes to show you how the different parties have treated their base, whether they’ve empowered them, you know, use them for the energy around their party or when it’s convenient, giving them the finger to help themselves.

Julian Castro  04:55

I mean, absolutely. And you have Liz Cheney there and Adam Kinzinger pretty much without political futures in the Republican Party, at least for the foreseeable future, is embracing authoritarianism, is trying to rebrand what all of us can see with our own eyes. And definitely what this January 6 congressional committee is finding, I think, for the party, this is going to create an echo chamber that ends up only appealing to a smaller and smaller group of people over time if they keep it up. Because I have a hard time believing that the majority of Americans could take something like this and think that that’s okay. They have their own media ecosystem, a lot of people only watch Fox News or they watch Newsmax they listen to talk radio, you know, they listen to podcasts that are way out there, or YouTube channel hosts that are way out there. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. So they have a lot of things going for them to be able to maintain this fantasy, this authoritarian fantasy, I have to believe that the further out there they go, the worse it’s going to get for them as a party, including, as you said, in November of 2022. You know, up to now we’ve seen polling, that is very worrisome for Democrats, in this midterm year, where traditionally the president’s party loses seats, and that look like what we’re heading for, again. But I gotta tell you, I mean, with this, like Republicans are trying to do everything they can to potentially snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Sawyer Hackett  06:40

I think that’s true. I mean, obviously, you know, we’ve had some great signs of the economy getting better, the jobs numbers that were posted. I think it was last week were way better than expected. The COVID situation is getting better and better every single day. And so things are starting to look up for the Biden administration for Democrats heading into the midterms. But you know, what this conversation like reminded me of was when we had a knock Chica story on the podcast a few weeks back. And she said that, you know, the job of a messenger is not to say what’s popular, it’s to make popular what needs to be said. And in so many ways, the Republican Party has adopted that philosophy on everything. I mean, they sort of, they’re so afraid of their base, they’re so afraid of the attacks from Trump, that when one person says something, and it’s the message of the Republican Party, the entire party repeats it, ad nauseum until it’s, you know, the word of it’s the gospel for their party. And I don’t think that they can do that with January 6, I don’t think that they can say January 6, was legitimate political discourse.

Sawyer Hackett 

And I don’t think that every single senator is going to repeat those words. First of all, every single Congress person, every single candidate who’s running for office, I don’t think any of them are going to want to repeat those words. But Trump is going to hang that over their heads. And the Republican Party is going to hang that over their heads until they’re repeating it nonstop. And I just don’t think voters will ever buy it. And I think Democrats would be wise to put that in every single attack ad in every single congressional seat in the country in 2022. I think every single senator should use it. I think President Biden should be giving a speech about it. I mean, it was big news. It was obviously headline news over the weekend. But a political party branding, an attempted insurrection, attempted coup, as legitimate political discourse should be headline news for weeks and weeks and weeks. And if Democrats aren’t using this moment to capitalize and repeat, it will probably lose this election, because one, they’ll be talking about critical race theory or whatever other issue, pet issue that Republicans are trying to push out there.

Julian Castro  08:33

Democrats definitely, I think, rightly have an opportunity here because in substance, you know, this was an attack on our democracy. And then politically, you’re right, I think the majority of Americans, I think we agree, find this to be alarming, and they want to hold somebody at fault. And then on the other hand, you know, the economy continues to get stronger. Democrats do have things that they can run on concrete accomplishments, the American rescue plan, the infrastructure plan, peeling back the worst actions that Trump took. So, you know, that’s what we got a few months before the November elections.

Sawyer Hackett

Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of the political sort of norms and tropes that come along with, you know, midterm cycles, you know, traditionally that after one party wins the White House that then the midterm cycle that same party loses more than a dozen seats. I’m not sure what the average is, but it’s not good. For a long time. People have just assumed that Democrats are going to lose in a big way, lose the House and the Senate, but I do think a lot of that has been sort of thrown out the window, post Trump. But anyway, before you know we want to also talk about talk about, you know, last Wednesday, Minneapolis Police conducted one of these no-knock police warrants in a raid in a downtown apartment in Minneapolis within seconds of entering this apartment they shot 22-year-old Amir Locke who wasn’t the subject of the warrant and had no criminal background whatsoever. The video shows that Locke was asleep on the couch, and he had a legally purchased firearm that he was using, you know to protect himself as a delivery and rideshare driver. Following the shooting, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced a temporary moratorium on no knock warrants, to quote ensure the safety of both the public and officers until a new policy is crafted. However, you know, a lot of people have pointed out that the city has been claiming that they haven’t had a no-knock police warrant policy since 2020. And I think folks will remember the issue of no-knock warrants, you know, was a big hot topic back in 2020, when Louisville police shot and killed Breonna Taylor in the same style of raid. But this you know, killing has obviously reignited the debates about police reform in the country. What did you make of this news? And what do you think it sort of sends to the Democratic Party, what messages to send?

Julian Castro  10:57

I mean, it’s sad to be hearing a grieving family again, grieving the death of their loved one that was so unnecessary, based on a police procedure, or practice, that should not be in place with a young man that should still be alive today. It highlighted one more time, the scale of the problem that we have with policing in America today. You can be fully supportive of the police and even believe that there should be more police on the streets as some people do. But those police need to engage in policing that respects the rights of the people that they’re supposed to serve. And that ensures the safety of those people as much as possible. That’s not what we have going on in a lot of communities across the United States. And you know, some cities are better than other cities, some cities have been more progressive and forward looking at trying to address these things, whether it’s banning no knock warrants, or any number of other measures that local communities have taken. There was a federal approach to this that George Floyd justice and policing act, that after the murder of George Floyd was taken up by the House of Representatives was passed, and it hasn’t gone anywhere. George Floyd Justice policing act included a ban on no knock warrants like this one.

Julian Castro  12:36

So my hope is that ultimately, Congress is going to pass meaningful police reform that cities like Minneapolis and so many others, Louisville, that you mentioned, that have a problem with some of their practices are going to reform those practices as well. And we’re going to see less and less of these incidents like Breonna Taylor and like Amir Locke in its way past time for this to happen. And what we need is some political courage among people on both sides of the aisle. And you know, frankly, I don’t expect it out of Republicans. 99% of Republicans wouldn’t touch this issue. But I do expect it out of Democrats. And I’m disappointed that the George Floyd, justice and policing Act has not moved forward in the United States Senate. And at the same time, we’re seeing death still like Amir Locke, it needs to change. And you know, the in many communities, you have two things going on, you have both a push from neighborhoods for more police. That’s very real. There are some Democrats that may not believe like, you know, I’ve been, you know, I think as forward looking on these issues, as many on the campaign and then afterward. But I also served as a city councilman, and I served as mayor and I know that a lot of times the first response of neighborhoods, when crime starts going up in their community is hey, we can you put more police over here in our neighborhood like that is a real dynamic that these folks have to deal with.

Julian Castro  14:11

But at the same time, people ought to recognize that there are better ways to do this, oftentimes than just more officers. There are more effective ways, last season on the podcast we had on state representative Leslie Herod, who talked to us for instance, about the STAR program there in the Denver area that sends out mental health professionals to deal with people having mental health episodes and has a tremendous track record of reducing incidents of conflict and violence and reducing the need for arrests. Those are the kinds of things that more community should be looking at. And they should also be following the lead of cities that have done things like ban no knock warrants. Until all of that happens. We’re going to keep seeing more and more of these types of incidents.

Sawyer Hackett

Well, it’s so frustrating as a Democrat because it feels like we’re constantly doing this dance where we have this slogan weird, saying defund the police or Medicare for all or green new deal where the underlying policies that go beneath it, whether it’s a fully nationalized health care system, whether it’s investing in clean green jobs, or whether it’s having more mental health professionals respond to incidents, then armed police officers, all of those things enjoy support of 75% or more. And yet the policies that the slogan near names of them are treated as like toxic, we shouldn’t touch those with a 10-foot pole. And that’s what that Biden speech in New York City last week was all about. It was about sending a message essentially, to the press that defund the police is not a legitimate battleground for the midterm cycle. It’s about saying to the progressive left that no, this is not something we’re going to be talking about this cycle. And yeah, I mean, that’s fine. We don’t want to talk about defund the police. He doesn’t support, you know, investing in mental health, as opposed to long armed law enforcement. That’s fine, too. I mean, I disagree with it, but it’s fine. But this like constant game we’re playing where we’re just, you know, giving the middle finger to the people with the activists who’ve been pushing on these issues, who are working on these issues, and who don’t see this policy as Black and White as defund the police or not defund the police as much as our political system does.

Sawyer Hackett  16:28

And you know, this is the simplest reform in the world, ending no knock warrants. It’s something that’s only 29% of respondents agreed with the statement, I support no knock warrants. You’re talking about 70% of the public supporting banning this practice. And in a city like Minneapolis that has been front and center in the police reform conversation, they couldn’t even get it done, even when they claim they could get it done. And so I just yeah, I think you’re right, we just need more courage on this issue. We need more politicians who have some guts and who aren’t afraid of the right-wing talking points and sloganeering games on these issues, because we’re just never going to get out of these battles. But you know, we don’t have we don’t have a ton of time left in this segment. So wanted to cover the latest controversy around Joe Rogan. He’s been under fire for spreading COVID misinformation, which has prompted a number of artists, starting with Neil Young to come out and request that his music be taken down from Spotify, which has been paying Joe Rogan $100 million to host his show, where Joe Rogan brags about, you know, not having expertise not having any prep work gone into these conversations. He just shows up as a guest on and talks. And honestly he gets high and talks about these topics for an hour and he gets paid $100 million. Anyway, a number of artists have sort of followed suit, including India Arie who, who also shared a clip of Rogan using the N word multiple times. Rogan has since issued this apology, non-apology on the COVID misinformation stuff. He did issue an apology on you know his use of the N word and request that 100 episodes of his show be removed from the platform for promoting you know, COVID misinformation. But it’s you know, reignited This is huge debate over censorship over misinformation, with some unlikely allies coming to Rogan’s defense like Jon Stewart. But I wanted to get your sense on this because I know that that you’ve talked about this a number of times,

Julian Castro  18:17

on the COVID, misinformation front. Rogan’s initial explanation was he has people that have different opinions on these things on his show. And he does a lot of hours of his show, and just invites people with different opinions. And so you might be able to, you know, take one piece of that one snippet of conversation and it seems like it’s misinformation. Look, you know, I understand that people have different opinions. But there’s also a fact and their science. And I think people have rightly pushed back against him because he has indulged in, he has entertained the false science, the pure opinions of people who it’s dangerous to platform to give an audience to in that way, he has something like, with 30 million listeners or 10s of millions of listeners, he’s you know, first or second in terms of the most listened to podcast.

Sawyer Hackett 

Only slightly more than our show, you know?

Julian Castro 

That’s right. I mean, the but that comes with a real responsibility to be more thoughtful about who the hell you’re giving a platform to. And I’m not saying that he’s going to be able to control because he’s not every little thing that somebody says on his show. Of course, he can’t do that. I’m not even saying that he should never invite on people that might have a different perspective on something related to science. But this wasn’t one occasion. To his credit. He’s also had people on that pointed out how his ideas about COVID were wrong. Some people may have seen that clip, but there’s an excuse for the platform that he’s given to these people that are deliberately misrepresenting the facts on something as serious as COVID, that has caused 900,000 deaths in our country and many more around the world. With regard to his use of the N word, it’s amazing to me that basically, you know, if it sees enough of a money machine, really, there aren’t many consequences. And I think that’s what we’re gonna find out in the days to come. I didn’t think his apology went all the way there. I think specifically about his comparing being in a movie theater in Philadelphia, around a Black audience, their theater audience to being in Africa, in Planet of the Apes, I mean, that along with some of his uses of the N word, or all of his uses of the N word. I mean, that’s just straight up, racist, and inappropriate, and to do it so many times. And then the only reason that you’re apologizing is, because you got caught, you got pointed out, I have a hard time seeing how folks give that guy a pass.

Sawyer Hackett 

And that’s why I think the focus has been on Spotify, once you are spending money as a corporation to promote a show, which is telling lies to millions of people, which is contributing to deaths because people are pumping themselves full of ivermectin, or they’re, you know, storming the Capitol on January 6, once your show is contributing to that kind of, you know, violence and death and destruction, there has to be consequences for your actions. It’s not canceled culture, it’s consequence culture. And we have to hold these people accountable because they have an audience. I mean, who cares if it’s just his show, of course, he’s allowed to have a show, but you’re not allowed to have a show in which you’re telling people lies, and they’re believing it and they’re acting on it. And, you know, I think Joe Rogan is a fascinating figure because as a 30-year-old, straight White man, which I am, it is impossible to avoid Joe Rogan. I mean, you go on TikTok, or Instagram or Facebook or any of these sites, you will have Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Gary Vee, all of these people who have this sort of cult following among like 20 something, 30 somethings White men. And it’s fascinating how they’ve captivated this audience. But I also think that they can be a gateway to both misinformation and right-wing craziness and fascism, as much as they can be a connection to liberalism and plurality multiculturalism that the Democrats are offering. And I think we have to be careful about you know, saying Joe Rogan shouldn’t have shown Joe Rogan shouldn’t exist. Joe Rogan doesn’t have, you know, his audience isn’t worth anything to us because they should be. But we still have to hold him accountable. We still have to put the pressure on him. And I think that’s what this is all about. And I do think he’s, I think he understood the backlash. I think he’s now understanding that he can’t just get away with anything he wants. And so maybe his apology was not sufficient. I think we’re gonna see more on this story. But I at least think he’s getting the point right now that he can’t keep acting this way, because it has consequences.

Julian Castro 

Well, and it’s been a pretty fast-moving story. And so we’ll have to see what happens in the coming days. Right after the break. We’re gonna have a conversation with Jessica Cisneros. Democratic primary candidate in the 28th Congressional District of Texas, you don’t want to miss it.

Julian Castro  24:00

Welcome back to OUR AMERICA. Jessica Cisneros is an immigration human rights attorney from Laredo, Texas, who’s currently running to represent the state’s 28th Congressional District. This is her second time around as a candidate. This is considered one of the most competitive Democratic primary races in the entire country. And we’re happy to have her here. Jessica, welcome to OUR AMERICA. Thanks for joining us. Before we get started, just like how are you doing? And how does it feel to be on the campaign trail in 2022?

Jessica Cisneros 

Thank you so much for the invitation, longtime listener first time being on the podcast, so really excited about that. Well, it’s kind of different being on the campaign trail this time around. We didn’t have the experience of campaigning during a pandemic last time, our election was on March 3rd 2020. And then it was a couple of weeks after that a lot of things started shutting down. I know that people especially folks who were on the ballot for the November election had to organize and figure out how to campaign through a pandemic. So that’s kind of been something new this time around. But everything else, I mean, I’m really glad that we had a lot of experience that helped us out last time around that we, you know, kind of lessons learned, I was a first time 26-year-old candidate didn’t have political experience of running a campaign last time. So it’s pretty exciting to know that we’re not starting from scratch, and that we’re taking our lessons learned, especially our team, since our team is still really young people who are from the district, who stepped up to help us out with this campaign, because our opponent hadn’t been challenged in a long time. There’s a whole generation of us that didn’t know what it was like running or seeing federal race like this in our area of South Texas. So it was a lot of learning last time around. But I’m really glad we’re able to overcome those obstacles. And we were so close last time. So we’re pretty excited to land the plane this time.

Sawyer Hackett 

So Jessica, you know, we want to spend most of this conversation talking about your race, obviously. But obviously, there’s an elephant in the room here. Your primary opponent, Congressman Henry Cuellar had his home and office raided by the FBI a little bit more than two weeks ago. Not much has been released from the FBI or from the Congressman since then. But can you tell us the latest on that and sort of how it’s changed the dynamics of the race?

Jessica Cisneros  26:21

We feel pretty good going into the election, just because of all the momentum that we have built not just this cycle, but the work from last time as well, our volunteers, everyone was already gearing up to go into what we call GOTV mode, right? Get out the vote now that we’re closer to the election. But it’s been interesting, because I think folks are paying a lot more attention now, kind of to what we’ve been saying from the very beginning, right, that there’s kind of this corrupting influence that has affected our Congressman’s votes. And while we don’t know exactly what exactly like he is being investigated, for there’s been a few leads about shady dealings or Azerbaijan, I’m sure there were so many people from the district and across the entire country that started Googling and trying to figure out what all of this was about. What we do know, though, is that the task force that was assigned to lead this investigation is a task force that is involved in investigating bribery and corruption. So it’s been interesting because we went up on TV a little bit earlier than expected, because again, there’s been a lot of focus since the FBI raid on this race.

Jessica Cisneros 

And we’re focusing on how these corrupting influences of you know corporate PAC money insurance companies, lobbyists have been having an impact on Henry Cuellar votes in Congress, instead of fighting for our interests. He’s fighting for these special corporate interest, right? So people are kind of like, well, the fact that this raid happened is more of a symptom of his track record in Congress. So I think that’s the angle that people are like, looking at this at it’s not just that he’s been the subject of an FBI raid, but more so of like, this truly tracks the representation he’s been giving us for a very long time. So although was shocking, I don’t think it was surprising for a lot of people hear about these developments. So we’re just monitoring, keeping an eye on that. But we have noticed that as we’re knocking on doors and talking over the phone with our voters, it’s really at the front of mind. And I think for folks that were you know, still not sure, especially the people who are new to the district, who weren’t a part of our district last cycle. I mean, this isn’t a really good first impression for the incumbent to be subjected to a raid.

Julian Castro  28:36

Jessica, just two quick questions. If you can describe for folks, the territory that this covers, you’re from Laredo, which is Webb County, but I mean, this thing covers a lot of South Texas. Just briefly describe that. And then I want to ask you about some of the policy positions that you’ve taken.

Jessica Cisneros 

Yeah, I mean, this district is huge last time around and this time, I mean, it still takes us about six hours just to drive through the entire district. I’m from Laredo, it goes all the way up to San Antonio Guadalupe county now. And then it heads all the way down to the Rio Grande Valley and Stark County, and then we have additional counties that weren’t a part of our district last time down there in that area, which is Jim Hogg and Duval. So definitely a lot of ground to cover. I guess in comparison to geographical comparison, it would probably be the state of New Jersey.

Julian Castro 

For folks that don’t know Texas has 254 counties. A lot of them are huge. I’m sure you’ve put a lot of miles on your vehicle. Campaigning throughout the dis. I know you’ve been here in San Antonio and throughout the district. One of the things that has impressed me about you and your campaign, some of the positions that you’ve taken, supporting Medicare for all supporting a Green New Deal, a lot of folks they look at that and think what you know, how can those positions resonate in South Texas but you actually came very close. defeating Henry Cuellar two years ago, one of the things I noticed was that your positions, for instance, on Medicare for all really seem to be rooted in personal experience, the health care, for instance of your family members over the years. Talk to me about that.

Jessica Cisneros  30:17

Yeah. And I mean, I think that’s part of the reason why this campaign was as powerful as it was, I think, from the very beginning. And we were asking people to kind of imagine the impossible, right, that we could take on at that time. 15-year incumbent and win especially someone who not just has been Congressman of our area, but has been the Texas Secretary of State under Rick Perry, and before then was in the Texas House. So literally, he’s been in office longer than I’ve been alive. So I know that at the beginning, like it took a little bit of convincing folks that like, if you’re unsatisfied with your representation, we deserve better, and we can do something about it. And I think there were still people who are supporting us, but we’re like, man, I’m not sure if she’s going to be able to do it. But I think one of the things that I pride myself so much on is being a campaign that has an ear to the ground, and that we’re able to talk about policies, not like in a theoretical way, that in a way that we can explain it to people in our personal anecdotes, because like, people aren’t interested in policy for debates or something like that. They’re interested in policy, because it’s actually going to do something and affect them positively in their day-to-day life. So when we’re talking about something like Medicare for all, you know, if I were to go up to someone’s door and be like, hey, I support a single payer health care system, do you agree with me, people are going to be like, what?

Jessica Cisneros 

But if we explain it to them as in like, look, the reason why I support this is because I’ve lost family members, like so many folks here in south Texas, you know, there’s even before the pandemic, it was like one in four people had helped were uninsured. That’s not even counting the people who are underinsured, right. And we’re tired of not being able to pay for our loved ones treatment, because we just can’t afford it. We’re tired of having to go to Mexico to go buy things like insulin, or prescriptions, or any kind of thing, even like a dental checkup. It’s just so much cheaper over there. And, you know, given the high poverty rates that we have in the area like this, it doesn’t have to be this way, right? It’s a policy choice. We want our public money to be invested in us, because that’s what we deserve. And when you speak about it in those terms, people get it right. Like it’s not right that I was a 13-year-old trying to fundraise to try to pay for my DS cancer treatment. And unfortunately, it’s a story that’s so common in the area that I think, you know, it’s so normalized that I think someone pointing it out and being like, this isn’t normal. And this shouldn’t happen. It’s been a wakeup call for so many people. But I think for any policy that we’re putting forth, like we’re not supporting this, just because it’s a progressive policy, it just so happens that the policy that will actually benefit our community is progressive, because people here in south Texas again, like they don’t vote for people just because of labels or voting for people because they think that that’s the best choice for themselves and their families. So storytelling is definitely a huge part of how this campaign draws its strength and resonating with people in the area.

Sawyer Hackett 

So I saw that, after his troubles with the FBI raid that Claire put out a mailer to the district, you know, touting his record with Democrats, you know, talking about support for minimum wage and his voting record with the Democratic Party, which I felt like was pretty incongruent to how a lot of Democrats have viewed Congressman Cuellar over the last, you know, couple of decades. Do you feel, you know, especially with the changing nature of the district, the new map that that the voters of Texas 28 understand his sort of, like ideological incongruence with the with the new district?

Jessica Cisneros 

I think so. And even before this, I think the reason why, you know, Cuellar was able to get away with a lot of things and not be held accountable for it was because no one was really challenging him. I’ve always said, it’s really hard to criticize someone when you don’t really have another option. Right? So I think, especially since the last cycle, when it was obvious that he wasn’t as you know, popular as he thought he was, or many people thought he was in the district, or him, you know, perpetuating this myth that South Texas is conservative, and that’s why he was voting the way that he was voting, you know, where we kind of took a such a strong hit on that and show that, that wasn’t true. I think that people have definitely been paying more attention to his votes, right? And it’s been interesting because even like this past summer, seeing how he was trying to obstruct, you know, build back better from getting past we had voters talk about it,  whereas like, in the previous cycle, when we’re out there knocking on doors, it was up to us to do a lot of the heavy lifting on voter education and talking about Claire’s track record. So that was definitely a difference that I noticed this time around. And yes, I think he’s trying to do like a lot of rehab right on his image because we were able to expose and like actually point two votes and like his track record, like we’re not making this up, like this is literally how he’s been voting. And I think that’s definitely been something that, you know, he’s finding it really difficult to, to push back on because the reality is like we’re telling the truth.

Julian Castro 

And one of the things about this district that you grew up in that you’re seeking to represent is that it includes a number of neighborhoods and communities along the border, the Texas Mexico border. And so you’ve lived with this your whole life, this is nothing new, your opponent Henry Cuellar has been very loud about criticizing the Biden administration, saying that Democrats, many Democrats just don’t get it on immigration and the border. I mean, where do you come down on these issues of what’s happening now along the border? And then more broadly, on what we need to do with our immigration laws in the United States?

Jessica Cisneros 

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s also really important to see who Henry Cuellar’s donors are when we’re talking about, you know, his policy stances on immigration. He’s a top Democratic recipient from the private prison industry, he’s been receiving a lot of money from the border, security industrial complex, right? So I want to make sure that, like listeners know what the context is, because I think if you follow the money, you kind of figure out where his stances are. I’m an immigration and human rights attorney. I’ve been doing immigration advocacy work since 2012, I was inspired by, you know, seeing how DACA was announced, and what a big impact that had on loved ones on, you know, friends of mine cousins, and also knowing that it was a policy change, you know, legislation that was able to give my parents have started their American dream, it was the 1986 Immigration Reform Act. So that’s kind of what made me want to go into doing this line of work that I’ve dedicated myself to, before I decided to run I was a public defender. So a lot of folks don’t know that if you’re in immigration proceedings, you don’t have the right to an attorney, because it’s technically civil law. Although if you’re in a detention center, it’s jail, you’re deprived of your liberty. So I was doing that kind of work pro bono. My dream was to open up an office in Laredo, Texas, I was going to specifically focus on providing pro bono representation to immigrants detained at these jails.

Jessica Cisneros 

Luckily, after our campaign, I was able to do that. So I scratched that off my bucket list, I also got to see a lot of the injustices and what immigrants have to go through. I got, you know, a very hands-on experience of our asylum process, you know, how people are able to access a lot of these benefits that are provided in terms of treaties, right, we have obligations, international obligations, there’s so much law covering all of this, that I have the background to be able to talk about and the nitty gritty of what we can do both legislative fixes and administrative executive fixes as well. I’ve noticed that a lot of Henry Cuellar’s stances are usually trying to get the most people in these detention centers as possible. And I don’t think a lot of folks realize how much money is made from these private prisons. I mean, even just the first family that I represented, it was a family of four from Mexico in the month that they were at a detention center. These corporations made about $20,000 on just one family. So there’s a lot of money involved.

Julian Castro  38:31

$20,000 on just one family, and for over how long?

Jessica Cisneros 

One month. For me, I mean, it’s always been about, you know, treating these folks like humans, right? Like that could have been my family. That was my family at some point when they had to come to United States because my sister needed an urgent medical operation, there was no doctor in Mexico that was willing to give her the treatment. So they had to move. It was a decision that was made for them. And I see my family’s story reflected so much in these people, and to see the conditions that they are subjected to while in these detention centers, or some detention centers that don’t even have clean water, where they forced, you know, some of the folks that are detained to wear somebody else’s dirty underwear. That’s literally what happens in these places where they’re giving spoiled food. And it’s like, why are we doing this? Why are we imprisoning people just because they weren’t born in this country, like there should be a very human way of, you know, allowing them to avail themselves of legislation that Congress already passed decades ago. But again, I mean, it’s just this nefarious kind of corrupting influence that a lot of these corporations have on politicians unfortunately.

Sawyer Hackett

So Jessica, we’re less than two weeks away from early voting starting for these primary races. The voter registration deadline has already sort of passed for the primary. But obviously there’s been this disturbing reporting about how the mail in ballot applications so many hundreds of 1000s of them are being rejected under this new Republican voter suppression law. How was your campaign responding to navigating that new law and talking to voters about what it means?

Jessica Cisneros  40:10

Yeah, that’s been a huge problem. We’ve been hearing it a lot, especially for older folks. Because back then, when they registered, their social security number wasn’t required to register. So there are some people who literally are going to be unable to vote because they don’t have that number, you know, as part of their voter file. So what we’ve been doing since January, the beginning of January, has been calling up all the folks who we’ve been in touch with and asking them if they need help, you know, trying to request or mailing ballot, if they say, Yes, we have one of our organizers or volunteers walk them through the process. And we found that to be really effective, because yes, unfortunately, there’s been so many people who have been rejected. So we’re trying to make sure that we can help as many folks as possible navigate this terrible change in voter suppression law.

Julian Castro 

And Jessica, there were a lot of folks who were surprised at what happened in South Texas, in the November 2020 election, because Donald Trump overperformed in some of those counties, versus what Republicans usually do. So a lot of panic about hey is the tide changing down there? What did you make of that? What do you see on the ground? You’ve been on the ground there campaigning now for the better part of three years?

Jessica Cisneros

Yeah, I mean, we started knocking on doors. As soon as I announced the first time around, it was June 2019. And one of the reasons why I wanted to do that pretty early on was because one of the things we would always hear at the doors was people saying politicians just come around when it’s election time. I think there’s different factors that played into this, that made it again, not surprising, but absolutely shocking to see kind of like the increase in support for someone like Donald Trump, a lot of people have been tired, because the status quo hasn’t been working for them. I spoke a little bit about how high the poverty rate is here; my hometown has had a steady 30% poverty rate for quite some time. There’s so many folks that don’t have health insurance, people have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. There’s not many opportunities here, people have to leave to either Houston or Dallas or Austin to try to find job opportunities, because you’re really hard to come by. So people have been feeling this, you know, I keep voting the same way over and over and over again, and things are changing, and this feeling of like neglect and being taken for granted that we saw as we’re knocking on doors. So it was really, I think, also part of the reason why we were successful too is because we were offering an alternative vision for what we want South Texas to be people knew that when they were voting for us, they weren’t voting for the status quo.

Jessica Cisneros  42:45

And I think that translated to the November election where people are like, I keep voting the same way. And conditions haven’t been changing. And I think there was also something to, you know, the Republicans, and in this case, Donald Trump’s credit was that even though he kept using us as a political football, and people recognize that, like, people didn’t vote for him, because he didn’t think he was racist, they knew he was racist. But he was making the effort to count down to South Texas when it was an election time. And I think people notice that. So for them, it was easier to justify, like, I need to try something else, because I’m finding it so hard to provide for my family. And, you know, voting Democrat at the top of the ticket isn’t working. And I think that’s something that we’re trying to bring attention to. And I actually, you know, I’m really thankful for your brother, Congressman Castro, because I think he also told, you know, the Democratic ticket, like you need to go visit South Texas, because you know, you can’t take this area for granted. And I think after he said that, we saw the vice president Kamala Harris come down to that Will County which was great, but we need to continue seeing that because I think people here definitely feel like they’ve been getting the short end of the stick for a very long time, and are starting to get frustrated. And I think the November election showed that.

Julian Castro 

And Sawyer mentioned that this primary election is right around the corner, early voting starts on Valentine’s Day, February 14. And the Election Day is March 1, what do you want the voters of the 28th congressional district to know now that we’re in the homestretch? And how can folks find out more if they’re interested in your campaign?

Jessica Cisneros  44:22

I want them to know that for those of them who are already supporting our campaign, that I just feel so grateful, and I am not taking the trust that they are putting on our campaign lightly. I know this was a huge commitment from the moment I said that I was going to run the first time that I want them to know that I’m doing everything I can to fulfill that promise. I laid out that vision that I laid out from the very beginning and I’m just super thankful to have their support for people that are still on the fence. I invite them to check out our website to get plugged into our campaign to give me an opportunity to show them that, you know, this campaign is really rooted in The people in this district and when we talk about the policy choices that we’ve made and the stances that we’re taking, it’s very much rooted in what the challenges and struggles that South Texans face every single day. Our website is jessicacisneros.com. Please check us out. And I’m going to do everything possible to earn your support, because we’re really excited about what a win here would mean, not just for South Texas, but Texas as a whole and also this country, so I really hope they could be a part of our team as well.

Julian Castro

Alright, Jessica, thank you so much for joining us on OUR AMERICA. Buena Swerte, we’ll see you down the road. All right.

Jessica Cisneros 

Thank you so much.

Julian Castro  46:09

You know, what just started Sawyer, the Winter Olympics. I have these memories of watching the Winter Olympics from when I was, you know, I don’t know, like 12 of Debbie Thomas and Brian Boitano, and some of the other great either figure skaters or winner Olympians […] these different some of these odd competitions. I have to tell you; I haven’t watched a single second of the Olympics this year. And I saw that the ratings were like the lowest that they had been in a long time.

Sawyer Hackett

Yeah, it showed me I didn’t even realize the Olympics were on until this past Friday. And it showed me like just how much I’m living in a in a bubble in my like media consumption. Because I didn’t understand I didn’t know that the Olympics were taking place this year until I heard them be talked about in the context of the Russia Ukraine situation. And I was like, Wait a second, the Olympics are going on. I mean, it’s just it’s fascinating that like, you know, now I don’t have a cable news subscription anymore. Like I get my news you know, via Apps and you know, online and things like that. And so it’s so weird to me how I can make it through all of watching all of this news consuming all of this media and not know that the Olympics are taking place. But yeah, no, it’s interesting. I I’ve always loved watching the downhill snowboarding with the halfpipe and the bobsled teams.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, so a reminder, America has some fantastic athletes, I hope that you’ll check them out as they compete their heart out in the Winter Olympics. And also at the same time, because there is a reason that there’s a United States diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, which are being held in Beijing, check out an article that was written in the Atlantic by a Uyghur poet detailing the crackdown, the manhunt the roundup of Uyghur Chinese over the last few years, which has been a just a tremendous, awful human rights violation. But I think, you know, we should do both of those things, celebrate the accomplishments of our athletes and cheer for them as they compete. but also be aware that, you know, there’s tremendous human rights violations going on there in China that deserve attention. So, both happy and serious to end our show today.

Sawyer Hackett  48:40

Well, you know, at least I think, you know, the Olympics as much as I have not been watching it can at least serve as a platform to amplify stories, you know, like about the wiggers, which I don’t think get enough coverage, which we don’t have enough outrage about we spend all of our time talking about our outrage against Joe Manchin and KEARSON. Cinema. But, you know, there’s this genocide happening on the other side of the world that barely gets any coverage and urinal headlines. So I think it’s important and yeah, I’ll be cheering on. I’ll be cheering on Team USA at the Olympics as well. As always, folks can leave us a voicemail sharing some of the positive stories you’re talking about most right now. You can do that at 833-453-6662. That’s 833-453-6662 And make sure to subscribe to lemon on a premium on Apple podcasts. And follow us on Twitter at at @SawyerHackett at @JulianCastro and @LemonadaMedia. We’ll see y’all next week.


OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Media Original. Our Producer is Xorje Olivares, with executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Julian Castro. Mix and scoring by Veronica Rodriguez. Music is by Xander Singh. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @JulianCastro, at @Sawyer Hackett and at @LemonadaMedia. If you want more OUR AMERICA, subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts.

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