Community Impact Newspaper sent Allen a list of questions about his candidacy. Below are his answers edited for style.
Why did you decide to run for this office?
I am tired of waking up each morning feeling as if my representatives don’t know anything about my daily life, my struggles or my worries. I am tired of feeling as if I’m getting kicked in the teeth by those same representatives, who seem to be getting more and more brazen about working only for themselves. I am willing to bet many of your readers are tired of the same thing. I am a working American, and it is time for working Americans to rise up and give voice to what we’re all thinking: we can be better. Put simply, that is why I am running for Congress.
Recently, a reporter asked me if I believed an American holding down a job could really run for public office and succeed. The question shocked me. If working Americans can't run for office, if working Americans have no place in the political process, then we live in a very different country from the one I talk about in my government classes every day.
I believe working Americans— middle-class Americans—need the chance to vote for one of their own: not a long-time political operative groomed by the party elite, not someone with wealth to burn and time on their hands, and not someone in bed with special interests and corporations. Just a normal American who goes to work every day to put food on the table then goes out to campaign in the few hours he has left in the evening. I believe the people of the 24th [district] will vote for me because I am one of them, and I will fight for them.
When I talk about healthcare reform, it is because my family lives with the cost. When I talk about putting wonder back in the classroom, it is because I am in those classrooms and I see that need. When I talk about tax reform, it is because I know what a few hundred dollars a month would mean to my middle-class family and your middle-class family. I have said before, and I believe, that the American middle class is a sleeping bear that has been poked and prodded too long by special interests, moneyed elites, and a political class that takes elections for granted. I think the bear is waking up and is gonna be ready for a fight. I’m ready for that fight.
I’m ready to talk to everyone, even if our political views don’t align, and I’m ready to listen, which is something our current representative doesn’t seem willing to do. I think we can be better, and I am willing to bet that most of the people in the 24th feel the same.
If elected, what will your top priorities be?
Put simply: reform in immigration, healthcare, education and taxes.
A day one priority, once I am in office, is to push for a clean DREAM Act and oppose immigration reform based on tribal dog-whistles rather than compassionate and efficient change. I teach in an urban school district. A large portion of my classes are made up of DREAMers. I see their struggles every day. I see what many people choose to ignore: That these students are as American as you or me. Once in office, I would utilize the tools and techniques of social media and the power of the bully pulpit available even to a freshman congressman to keep this issue on the forefront on the American mind. It is rare for politicians to ever listen to the advice of those who confront immigration law and immigration enforcement on a daily basis, such as our state’s immigration attorneys, Border Patrol agents, and, yes, those who have gone through the entire naturalization process and can speak knowingly of the problems involved. This can be seen in the ignored advice of law enforcement officials who have pointed out the uselessness of an expensive border wall; you show me a seventy-billion-dollar wall and I’ll show you a dozen two hundred-dollar tunnels. Securing our border is just a piece of the immigration issue; simultaneously, we need to listen to the advice of immigration attorneys and naturalized citizens to reform the system into a cleaner, quicker, cheaper and more efficient process. Any immigration or naturalization attorney will tell you that the process costs too much, is too complicated and is controlled by politicians who don’t understand the ins and outs. I would urge the creation of (or commission the creation of) a panel of experts to study immigration reform, made up of those who practice immigration law, those who enforce it, and those who have been through the current process and are now citizens. I would support this panel, sit in on sessions and trumpet to the heavens that the only way to get informed, intelligent and compassionate reform is to utilize the ideas and experiences of those involved, and not politicians.
In my district, almost 60,000 people would lose health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed; I am ashamed to say that our current representative gave full-throated support to repeal. Moving forward, we need to not only strengthen and reform the Affordable Care Act to make it more efficient and more affordable, but we need to also look ahead to what is next. A single-payer system is the destiny of the American healthcare market. We are moving in that direction, and I believe within 10 years we will fully arrive at a version of the single-payer plan championed by Senator Bernie Sanders. Combating our system's failures will not be done with a single piece of comprehensive legislation, but in the trenches, one issue at a time. We can begin with using the provisions of the Bayh-Dole Act (1980) to “march in” and cap drug prices on the medicines developed using taxpayer dollars for Research and Development. With lowered drug prices, the American middle class will feel their wallets fatten just a bit more, their options expand, their reach lengthen.
Education in this state, and in this country, has been held hostage by a movement known as “school reform” but perhaps better labeled “profiteering off student sorrow." For too long we’ve been sold standardized testing and vouchers as “solutions” for public education, but these solutions are really just band-aids for bullet holes. Education isn’t about test scores or treating students as a defective cog in a testing machine, it’s about opportunity. It’s time we acknowledge that there is as much value in a student who has a genius for machinery as there is for one who can write an academic essay. Reduce the demand for standardized testing. Allow school districts nationwide to utilize the money once spent on the massive testing industry on other innovations in their classrooms, innovations unique to each campus, each district. With that in mind, we have an obligation to provide an opportunity for our children who have a skill or an interest beyond academia. We must invest in entrepreneurship, skilled labor, and innovation. By investing in a variety of educational programs designed to match the needs of our changing labor force, we offer our children the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families in the future.
Finally, we need to talk about a true middle-class tax cut, bumping up the deductions for student loans, child care, and teacher supplies, and offering a 2-3 percent cut across the board for middle-class families that would result in several hundred dollars a month going back into American pockets. This increase will spur on spending and economic growth, which would, in turn, drive companies to raise hiring levels and salaries. We can tie a corporate tax cut, long a desire of the GOP, to an increase in the federal minimum wage that is tied, not to a particular dollar amount, but to cost-of-living in each area (a static $15 an hour wage meaning more in Montana, for instance, than in Los Angeles).
What experience—professionally or politically—do you have that would prepare you for this position?
I was raised in a small town in West Texas by a family of educators: public service was quite literally a family business (it should be no surprise that my siblings went into education as well). While I graduated from Trinity University with a degree in political science, I knew that my path would lead me through the classroom, and that is where I headed after graduation: the classroom. As an educator for the past 14 years, I’ve had about as much “civic” training as a person can have without actually running for office. Educators will know what I’m talking about: the politics of coaching, of dealing with angry constituents (parents), of learning to do a lot with very little funding, of working hard and long for nothing but pride and your own sense of doing something right, of legitimately caring about people. As an educator, I and my fellow teachers are in the unique position of being in one of the few careers in the nation where we can see each generation in all of its diversity; this also means we deal with each generation’s problems and each generation’s strengths.
What else do you want constituents to know about you and your background?
I want to point out that all of our campaign funding has come in through donations of $5 here, $10 there, from the working-class people of the district. Our contributors are a matter of public record with the FEC, but I can sum it up for you quite simply: They are simple, ordinary working Americans. If you are looking for a big-name donor, or a PAC or 10, then you can save your time. This is a kitchen-table candidacy and a working-class campaign: the bulk of our campaign funds have come from small donations. I don’t say small donors, because I don’t believe there is any such thing, not among the working-class Americans who struggle month to month. If a teacher decides to donate $5 to a campaign, I cherish that because I know it means a lunch they’ve skipped.
A few months ago, at a primary candidate forum, a woman with multiple degrees in a high-tech field revealed that she had been recently laid off. When asked how her situation could be helped, one of my primary opponents responded that she should go back to community college. This offended her greatly, and she soon became dedicated to my own campaign after she and I discussed her situation in more depth. She donated to my campaign, money she could not afford. It was in that moment that I felt my campaign grew; it was no longer a campaign of one man’s hopes and dreams and ideas, but of carrying the fragile hopes and dreams of others. It was a campaign for those who could not afford to donate but did, and for those who simply could not donate but still believed. That is a heavy burden.