District 19 contender answers questions about shutdown, immigration, regional issues

By February 4, 2018Press
Big Spring Herald

Levario to face Arrington in November

Roger Cline
Big Spring Herald
February 4, 2018

Last Sunday’s Herald contained a transcript of an interview with District 19 U.S. Representative Jodie Arrington (R-Lubbock) in which he discussed the shutdown, immigration, and the recent tax overhaul; as well as issues of import to West Texas.

Arrington will be opposed in the November national election by a Democratic challenger also hailing from Lubbock, Texas Tech history professor Miguel Levario. An El Paso native, Levario received his bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame, his master’s from Stanford, and his Ph.D. from the University of Texas in Austin. “Currently I’m an associate professor of United States History that specializes in U.S./Mexico borderlands,” Levario said. This past week, Levario answered a few questions by phone interview from Lubbock similar to those posed to Arrington in the earlier interview. Here is a transcript of his questions and answers:

Herald: “Let’s start with the government shutdown. What are your thoughts about that, and how things went down?”

Levario: “I think there are several things at play here. I think it’s an example of just how inefficient and ineffective the controlling party can be. At this moment, as they are the ruling party in all three branches of the government, and for the first time in our history we had a government shutdown.

“I think it’s also a testament to the partisan divide we have in this country, as everybody’s aware, and just how deeply divided both our government and our country are. So I think that’s what it speaks to, and I think it’s proved the result of it wasn’t good. No real solutions and plans were developed. We’re going to have this discussion again in a couple of weeks, so it’s just another example of how we’re just kicking stuff down the road and not really solving them.”

Herald: “It seems like the big bone of contention in the shutdown was the whole issue of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and border security and that kind of thing. What are your thoughts about the DACA program and the current administration’s position toward it?”

Levario: “I think that the current administration isn’t being sincere when it sits there and talks about its commitment to helping Dreamers and DACA recipients especially. The reason I say that is, it’s obvious they’re using this particular issue and holding it hostage in order to get…whether it’s a border wall or other types of legislation to be passed. I think that’s another evidence of… It’s lack of sincerity. I think that the Dreamers or the DACA recipients are extremely important. As most Americans agree, they are Americans, and they deserve to be protected just like every other American.

“So I think that’s what’s really kind of troubling, that we have another case where Americans generally and overwhelmingly support protection for these individuals, and the controlling party isn’t really responding to that in a way that would satisfy that.

“We saw that with the tax cut legislation, where the majority of Americans disapproved of it, and they still passed it anyway. So we look at Dreamers; they’re very much integrated into ever aspect of our community. Not just in the agricultural sector or the service sector, but they’re integrated in our schools, they’re teachers, they’re doctors. This is a national crisis, because these are individuals that are very much community members. They’re not outliers, they’re not a danger to our society, they’re just individuals who are here like everybody else, wanting to pursue the American dream.”

Herald: “What would you like to see as a long-term solution for the immigration situation?”

Levario: “I think there are several issues there, and I think both parties agree that it is a faulty, and perhaps a broken system, but I think that pairing it with ‘border security’ is not the approach to take, because those are two different things in a lot of ways. “I think that when we look at immigration, what are some of the shortcomings of immigration? It’s the legal system within the immigration system. We don’t have enough immigration courts to satisfy the backlogs, and we talk about these hearings that unauthorized immigrants are having to undertake.

“So there’s one glaring infrastructural problem with the immigration system. I also think what’s proven, as an historian of immigration and an historian of the border, what adds to the problem of ‘unauthorized’ crossings or illegal crossings is the process itself, whether it’s too lengthy, it’s too expensive, sometimes in the past it’s been far more intrusive, in the sense of fumigations and so forth.

“But in this case, we have a backlog of, what, between 12 to 15 years for you to actually get in line and go through the legal process? So you have this extremely expensive and extremely lengthy process which doesn’t make it efficient for people to pursue the legal pathway.

“Let’s be clear here: People aren’t positively choosing to come across our border illegally, because they don’t want to live looking over their shoulders and in the shadows and so forth. That’s not a way to live, and that’s not what they’d prefer. They’re doing it because coming through the process is far too expensive and too lengthy. So we need to look at that, look at the infrastructure of immigration in our system, and improve on that; so that way, people can come through our recognized ports of entry and undergo the legal process, and therefore they could be documented.

“Because that’s really the concern here when people talk about the immigration crisis: it’s the fact that we have people who are not adequately documented. So there’s the concern about whether they’re going to pay taxes, ID theft, or of course, there’s the few who may cause harm to our communities. So documentation is one of the key things here that we want to try and do so that people can be held accountable.”

Herald: “You mentioned a moment ago the tax cut legislation, or the tax overhaul legislation that recently passed. What are your thoughts about that?”

Levario: “Well, I mean it’s what most critics are calling it. It’s a tax cut for the wealthy. We have historically never seen trickle-down economics work, and that’s what this is an attempt to do. We may see, just like we saw in 1980, an immediate, positive outcome in the stock market, but lo and behold, what’s going to be waiting there at the end is going to be the deficit, so you’re going to have to raise taxes. So it becomes pretty much a moot point. I think that when you look at the Reagan tax cut, you know for a fact in his own administration, he raised taxes at least eight more times after he had cut taxes.

“What I find kind of interesting is that they’re saying it’s going to put more money in our pockets, but we also have to understand that certain costs are going to go up. Our premiums have already gone up. So whatever tax refund you’re going to get is automatically going to go to other costs you have that come out of pocket. So I don’t really believe it’s going to be experienced as positively as people think it is.

“We have to look at it as a tax cut for the wealthy, because it is that particular percent of our population that has their tax cut made permanent, while the rest of us, it’s only on a short term and it’s not made permanent.

“The last point I want to make is that I find it kind of interesting and contradictory that the controlling party has often fancied itself as fiscally conservative, but yet added $1.5 trillion to our deficit with this tax cut, so I think that’s what’s problematic here.”

Herald: “So going back around to the shutdown, we talked about that a bit at the beginning. We’re kind of in a little bit of a break now; where do you see all that playing out when they meet again about those issues in a couple of weeks?”

Levario: “You know, I don’t have a lot of faith that we’re going find any sort of compromise or genuine bilateral negotiations happening between the two parties, to be honest with you. I think the partisanship is still very deep. I think the president is very much a wedge in that; I think he compounds that partisanship in a lot of ways. He’s demonstrated that throughout his first year in the presidency.

“I think with the way the president, immediately after the shutdown was over, basically ridiculed the Democrats, saying they caved in and so forth. That’s not the way you want to approach a negotiation, insulting the other side. I think that’s an example of what I mean when I say I don’t feel very confident that you’re going to see a bilateral negotiation.

“At the very least, I think Schumer and others feel very burned and insulted by the president and by the Republican party, when they were very quick to be, I would argue, quite juvenile when it came to the end of that.”

Herald: “Let’s switch gears for a second. What do you see are the main issues currently that are affecting the West Texas area, that if you’re elected you’ll have to deal with?”

Levario: “One of the benefits of running for so long as we have for the past 10 months or so is that we’ve been able to hear a very consistent message and a very consistent concern from the district.
Obviously, it’s the rural economy, and that includes the Farm Bill and that includes the safety nets for our farmers and ranchers. I think that’s obviously front and center, as it is right now for our current Congress, who’s trying to get cotton back on the Farm Bill and to have those particular safety nets and insurances that they need.

“But I also understand from the district is that people are also disenchanted with the lack of economic opportunity for our people, especially in our rural areas, but also in our cities, which are relatively small. They’re upset about the wage gap. You know we’ve got an interesting case in District 19 in that we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, or in the country. Yet we have one of the highest poverty rates in the state. It doesn’t make sense that you have a low unemployment but yet the people are still in poverty. That says something about where we are as an economy and where we aren’t paying our workers an adequate and livable wage, to put it quite bluntly.

“So those are some of our issues, and of course infrastructure and stimulation of small businesses in our rural economies is something that people are very much aware of and want to see some actual change. They feel like with the current administration with the reorganizing, and the cutting of the budget of the USDA for example is something that has a very negative impact on our economy.

“The second big issue is obviously the healthcare. It wasn’t just because of the attempt by the Republican party to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but it’s also because, in our district, we’re a rural district that depends quite a bit on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Whether it’s by our constituents ourselves, or by our rural hospitals, including city hospitals like the University Medical Center here in Lubbock, because they use those particular programs not only to provide services to the needy, but they also use those programs to deliver healthcare and deliver service in unique ways that demand unique approaches. So it’s not just for the poor, but it’s also for the greater community, especially when unique circumstances demand unique services.

“So I think when you look at that, that’s what people are concerned about. You’re already seeing clinics shut down programs. For example, in Lamesa and other parts of the district, are now discontinuing delivering babies because they simply cannot afford it. That’s a concern for me, especially when we talk about supporting these communities of life, and yet we cannot even deliver babies in these communities. That’s troublesome. A lot of them are shutting down because they simply cannot support themselves financially. That’s a huge concern around the district.

“I would argue what you also have is education, and just the support of our education. Of course the federal government has a very unique role when it comes to education, but I think the student loan crisis is something that really resonates with a lot of our young people, especially in this district. We have a quite a few universities and colleges that produce some really talented individuals, but many of them are walking out of there with a huge amount of debt, and that’s something that’s really hurting them.

“A lot of them feel that they don’t have a lot of opportunities coming out of college, not just because they can’t find a job, but even if they do find a job, it doesn’t pay them enough to pay off their loans, and the cost of going to these first class universities is becoming more and more costly. So I think we have the benefit of having them here but we’re also making them more and more exclusive because of the rising costs.

“So just looking at it very generally, those are some of the main issues we are hearing, and those are some issues that we would tackle heading into Washington next year.”

Herald: “Would you like to make a closing statement?”

Levario: “I think it’s important that people know that they will have a choice in November, because of the fact that we’re running, but that we’re very much focusing on our community. This is a community-centered campaign in that we’re listening to the folks, and we want to know what are the issues that matter to people here? Not necessarily the national issues, not necessarily the party issues… We’re trying to focus on what are the issues here.”