Issue No. 6: Brandy K. Chambers (D) State House, Texas

August 8, 2018 // Issue No. 6
 

We’re back! Thanks for bearing with us through our mid-summer hiatus. We have some wonderful interviews lined up for E+A, and most recently we sat down with Brandy Chambers - a lawyer, mediator, and all-around fierce woman to talk about her campaign in North Texas. But first, a bit of reflection on the election season to-date.

Following Tuesday’s primaries in Missouri, Kansas, and Michigan, a record number of women have captured major party nominations for gubernatorial and House races. As of early this morning, we’re at 182 women nominees for the U.S. House, and the number is sure to rise. It was a night of records and firsts - including the nomination of Rashida Tlaib, who is on her way to becoming the first Muslim and Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress. Women have a lot of ground to cover to reach parity in Congress. Even though women account for about 51 percent of the population in the U.S., women only make up 20 percent of Congress (23 Senators and 84 Representatives). That number is even lower at the gubernatorial level - there are only 6 female governors (12 percent of the total).

2018 is being heralded as another “Year of the Woman,” similar to 1992. But there’s more to the story than a record number of women running for office. In fact, it might be more accurate to call this the “Year of Democratic Women.” It’s been a tough year for Republican women running for office, not least because of the paradox of running as a woman in the Age of Trump. While the number of Democratic women running in House races increased 146 percent, it only increased 35 percent for Republican women. In an interview with Huffington Post, Meghan Milloy, the executive director of Republican Women for Congress, noted, “A lot of good moderate Republican women who want to run for office, our advice is ‘You’re a good candidate, you would probably win in any other year, let’s wait.” This interesting gender-party dynamic is why E+A is sitting down with the youngest House candidate,  Morgan Murtaugh (Republican), for our next interview.

Now let’s turn our attention to North Texas, where Brandy Chambers is running a tough campaign to join the Texas House. She takes us through her decision not to flee for Canada, advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment with her mom in Oklahoma, finding common ground, and running as who she is.  

Lightly edited for length and clarity.

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E+A  
Was there an ‘ah-ha’ moment that led you to decide that you were going to run?  


Chambers
So it was a little bit of a process followed by an ‘ah-ha’ moment. When I went to bed at 10:30pmon election night, there was still hope. But when I woke up, Trumpocalypse had happened, and Hillary wasn’t my new President.  I was shell shocked. I even thought we were going to have to move to Canada. My husband was like, “We’re not moving to Canada,” and I was like, “Oh we have to.”  And he’s like, “We’re not moving to Canada.” Okay, fine.

So I had that fight or flight moment. The morning after the election I had the TV on with Trump on it. And my daughter asked me, “What’s wrong?” And I said, “Trump won.” She asked, “Oh my God, what are you going to do?”   So then the question became, how can I fight, and what could I do? [Pauses] Sorry, I’m making myself a drink while we talk.

E+A
Go ahead. What are you making?


Chambers  
A vodka and soda.

E+A
Good for you. 


Chambers
It’s Friday, it’s going to happen.  So anyway, I started thinking, “Okay, what am I going to do because I have to do something; I can’t just stand on the sidelines while democracy just erodes and evaporates.” But I didn’t know what to do.  And so I started looking around, talking to people, and I went to the Women’s March and it was just so inspiring. After the Women’s March I was watching Barack Obama’s farewell speech, and he said if you don’t like what’s going on get yourself a petition, get some signatures and get your name on a ballot and try to do something about it.  And it hit me right then and there. My mom used to say all the time, “You know what? If you don’t like it, do something about it. No one’s coming to save you and no one’s coming to change it for you. You just gotta fix this on your own.” I knew right then and there I had to run. I had to get off the sidelines and jump in the game instead of whining and worrying about what everybody else is doing. I had to start doing something of my own to try to save it, to try to fix it.  

E+A
So what made you decide to run for Texas House?



Chambers
Well, first I started looking around at the available positions. I looked at the State House, and in the State House my representative is Angie Button, and she has been in office since 2009.  In 2008 she had a Democratic challenger but the District was drawn differently back then. And the demography was different.  But no Democrat showed up to run against her in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

E+A
Whoa.


Chambers
So for six years all she had to do was show up.  That’s it. Pay a filing fee and she won, which hurts me, hurts my heart.  So finally in 2016, there was a Democratic challenger - a 75-year-old white man just retired with COPD was asked to run by the Dallas County Democratic Party.  Throughout his campaign he only earned $6,000. He had no online or social media exposure whatsoever, and he still got 43 percent of the vote.

E+A
Oh man.


Chambers  
So that’s when I was like okay, you know what this says to me?  It means my District wants a change. My District wants a choice.  And the Democrats aren’t showing up to give them a legitimate choice.  So I have to. People need to stand up and participate here in Texas because only the extremists will stand up and run.  The reasonable sane people are sitting at home. And so I was like, “I’m a reasonable, sane person, I know better.” 

E+A
Will you paint a picture of your District for us? One of the most interesting things we learned from our interview with Ana-Maria Ramos was how much demographics in parts of Texas have changed in the last 15 years. Texas politics are getting a lot of attention right now, partly because of these intense dynamics in political identity.  

Chambers
So my District sits completely within Dallas County, and the county itself is huge.   There’s about 1.6 million people in the county. It’s a very condensed population. And we are skewed definitely on the periphery of the bright blue Dallas city - we are still considered mainly red.  My District is about 55 percent Republican, 45 percent Democrat, but that’s only reflective of the people who vote. The problem with Texas, which I’m sure Ana-Maria told you, is that we’re a non-voting state.  Our voter participation rate is only like 47 percent. It’s absolutely ridiculous for the size that we have.

The change in the demography here has been really interesting because within the last 15 years we’ve seen a huge influx of a lot of corporate headquarters.  For instance, Toyota moved its headquarters from California to Plano, which is just north of my District, which has brought a large California population. We’ve also had the repositioning of the State Farm headquarters.  And of course we have all the AT&T stuff. The corporate headquarters have brought in a more educated, affluent, and culturally diverse people from all over the United States and the world.

My District itself is majority-minority.  It’s about 30 percent Hispanic, 11 percent Asian, 18-20 percent African American and the rest are some form of Caucasian.  The average income is only $50,000. So it’s not a very affluent population. We are the blue collar people. 


E+A
So you said earlier that your District is majority-minority.  But, in a lot of parts of the country, minorities are not represented at the state level (or national), and that includes women. So what do you think your constituents are looking for in a candidate who’s challenging the incumbent?   


Chambers
From what I’ve heard, the majority of the feedback in my District is that they don’t care  what their Representative looks like. Instead, I think they want to know whether you have solutions and how are you going to fight the problems.  The number one issue people keep bringing up to me is a lack of funding for public education and the onslaught of attacks that the GOP here in Texas has delivered upon the public school system. They’re very upset about the attempts to privatize the system, and they want to make sure that their public schools and their teachers are protected. So they don’t care what I look like or what their Representative looks like as long as that’s the agenda. 

E+A
And are these Republicans and Democrats who are all saying that public education is one of their biggest priorities? 


Chambers
Yes.  And then the second biggest issue, mostly for the Republicans, is the impact of our individual property taxes.  Texas does not have a state income tax, but we have a property tax, which is where we raise a lot of our revenue for local municipalities. Property taxes are supposed to pay 50 percent of the state education budget and also local utilities - things like your firemen, your police officers, things like that.  But over the past ten years in Texas, the Legislature has basically faltered on their responsibility to fund the other 50 percent of the state school finance budget. They have decreased their participation down to 37 percent, which has put the burden upon the individual property owners to pay taxes at an increasing rate. They’re not only paying their original 50 percent, but now they’re also paying the difference to make up for the lack of funding from the state.  And while everyone may not understand the nuance of that, they do understand that their property taxes have gone up like 400 times percentage wise in the last 11 years, yet their jobs aren’t changing, their income’s not changing, the quality of their house isn’t changing. And so they’re very frustrated. 

E+A
So it’s not necessarily a partisan issue.


Chambers
That’s how I see it. But you do see partisanship in the proposed solutions. 

E+A
So obviously funding for public education and property tax reform are both important to you and your constituents. What policy solutions are you standing behind?


Chambers
On the education issue, my number one priority is moving away from privatization and school vouchers.  My opponent, on the other hand, wants to keep lowering taxes and effectively defunding education. She wants to eliminate the franchise tax, which in Texas accounts for 6 percent of overall state revenue. So her plan would wipe out 6 percent of our revenue with no alternative plan to supplement or replace that funding.
 
E+A
And on property tax reform, what’s your plan?


Chambers
With regard to the individual property taxes, if we properly fund the state side back up to 50 percent, that will take the pressure off local communities to continue raising individual property taxes.  Now, another issue is corporate property taxes. Here in Texas we have sometime called “equal and just” that allows individual property owners to petition the government for lower evaluation if your property is valued higher than your neighbor’s (if you have a similar property).  Well that also happens on the corporate side. Except you have developers coming in and building brand new warehousing and brand new skyscrapers. But because they’re doing it in older neighborhoods, they’re able to say “Okay, well my property was evaluated at Y, but the property across the street that’s evaluated at X is more comparable, so I should be paying the lower taxes like property X.”  But what they’re not taking into effect is that the property across the street is 75 years older than the new development It doesn’t have elevators. There’s a reason that there’s a differentiation. But the way the regulations are written right now, those things aren’t taken into account. So on the corporate side we’ve lost $5.6 billion dollars in revenue from that rule. We don’t want to change that on the personal individual side, we just want to prevent corporations from being able to take advantage of it.

E+A
To pivot a bit, Texas has been in the news a lot lately for reproductive rights and “war on women” issues. Are you talking about these things in your campaign?


Chambers
Yeah, I’m talking about that.  I’ve been endorsed by VoteProChoice and Planned Parenthood.  It’s very important to me that we stop the attack on women. Especially in the state of Texas, the other side wants to defund access to reproductive care, adoption agencies, and all these other things.  So to me the Texas pro-life movement isn’t pro-life, it’s pro-birth. And you know what that is? It’s not trusting a woman to make her own decision. I firmly believe the state should not have the power to compel a woman to carry a child to gestation.  That is a great overreach of state power, and if anything we need to look at it like that. 

E+A
Earlier you characterized your District as blue collar - and a lot of these policies disproportionately impact low-income and minority women.  So are these issues important to the constituents in your District? 


Chambers
I think quite honestly the two most divisive issues are the war on women and the gun control. You know, people believe what they believe, and you’re not going to change their minds, and so I’ve decided to run on who I am.  The number one theme of my campaign is authenticity. I am not going to be the candidate you want me to be, I’m going to be who I am. And who I am is a pro-choice, pro-reproductive rights woman. That’s who I am and that’s what I’m going to fight for, so I’m not going to try to placate any other opinion about it because I think it is extremely, extremely important to woman’s rights and our ability to fully function in society. 

So either people are with me or they’re against me. But here’s the issue, because I’ve sat down and I’ve talked to a lot of different pastors and of course this issue always comes up.  We never agree, but here’s what I tell them: “Look here’s the situation, there are going to be a few issues we’re just not going to agree on.” Abortion, that’s going to be one of them.  Gay rights is going to be another. I am 130,000 percent in favor of gay rights and treating people as people, regardless of who they love. I have an issue with trying to make those issues the line that we’re going to divide ourselves on. Because guess what?  Probably 75 percent of the things that affect you and I on a daily basis are things we are going to agree on, so let’s talk about those things.

E+A
That’s really interesting - and speaks to something we’ve noticed with our interviews so far: women trying to find common ground with broad coalitions in their communities.


Chambers
Right, exactly.

E+A
Speaking of an issue that necessitates a lot of big tent thinking, how are you approaching gun control in your campaign? Given that you’re running in Texas, how do you approach it in a way that’s not going to just get you shut down?


Chambers
I support the Second Amendment. My husband is a gun owner,  and we have weapons in our house for protection. I am completely and totally in support of a person’s right and ability to protect their home and their loved ones. And just as with every other right given to us by the Constitution, there are limitations. We have to come together to find an agreement on what those limitations are. My number one thing on my platform regarding guns is trying to get the ‘red flag’ law passed. Now, if you can come take my guns away, you’re taking away my rights.  I’m not trying to take away your rights. But you have to realize that just like not everybody should be driving a car, not everybody needs to have a gun.  And it’s up to us as a society to develop checks and balances to make sure we’re not giving mad men arsenals. And that’s how I view it.

There is a big push here in Texas, which my opponent is for, called the Constitutional Carry.  Basically no license, no training, you can go in a 7-11 and get yourself a gun.  You know, which is just absolutely ridiculous to me. Why should an individual have the ability, without any sort of training or basic knowledge or a background check, to buy a weapon that can take out a room in 30 seconds? I don’t understand that.  I’m still trying to work through this with people, but I’m not getting a whole lot of answers that make sense to me.

E+A
One aspect that seems to make this issue divisive is how this plays out in the media. When someone from “gun country” sees Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer talking about guns, there can be this reaction like, “They don’t understand me. They don’t understand my family.” Do you think this is an issue that is more effective coming from the state and local level?


Chambers
Exactly.  And that’s why I’m just like, “Come on guys.” What do I want?  I want training, I want licensing, I want background checks. What’s more important? Your rights to go have fun and shoot some sort of high capacity magazine at targets, or our children’s right to not be slaughtered?

E+A
Absolutely. Okay. So now let’s transition away from campaign wonkiness, cause that’s part of what we do here.


Chambers
Exactly.

E+A
Okay.  We’ve been so interested and amazed at the answers for this question so we keep asking it.  What woman in your life has had the biggest impact on you?


Chambers
My mother, yeah, my mother.

E+A
And what is it about her that makes you say that with such conviction?


Chambers
When I was eight years old my mother took me phone banking for the Equal Rights Amendment to get it passed in Oklahoma.  We marched on the steps of the State Capitol. She showed me that when you know you’re being done wrong you need to fight to make it right at any cost. I mean, this is a woman who hates talking to people, hates going out, you know, she’s truly an introvert.  But she was phone banking and she was marching and she was just like, “I’m not going to take this. We deserve better. My daughter deserves better.” That was how I was raised. And honestly, that is what gave me the conviction to know that I had to run, and also that I needed to do this to show my daughter, who’s eight years old, that she could be strong too. 

E+A
What’s your mom’s story?  


Chambers  
So she was born and raised in Muskogee, Oklahoma.  My grandparents moved around a lot because my grandpa was a contractor.  And then they settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She married my father when she was 22.  They got divorced when I was six or seven. And so she was a single mom there for a while.  Then she joined the League of Women Voters and became very politically active and did everything because she finally just said, “You know what?  Enough’s enough.” She continues to do it, not so much anymore because she’s also the primary caregiver to my grandmother, and was to my grandfather before he passed this past October. But if it wasn’t for her showing me how to stand up and say, “No, this is unacceptable and I won’t tolerate it,” I wouldn’t be able to do anything that I’ve done today.  I wouldn’t be a lawyer. I wouldn’t be an active community member. I wouldn’t be showing my daughter this is the way you need to be. One thing I’ve realized, you can’t be what you can’t see, so if my daughter doesn’t see me being strong and my daughter doesn’t see me saying this is unacceptable, that you need to fight for your rights and fight for decent treatment, then she wouldn’t do that.

E+A
What kind of law do you practice?


Chambers
Employment law.

E+A
Is there anything that you learned from that experience that has helped you run, and will help you be an effective representative?


Chambers
Being an employment lawyer, I truly realize there is more than one way to perceive the situation.  And to be able to achieve success, you need to have a 360 degree understanding of demands, consequences, and direct effects and circumstances.  Everything is connected to everything else, so if I say there’s a policy of X and Y and I haven’t checked with the leaders of X and Y to go, “How is this going to work out in the everyday life?  Are you going to be able to meet this? Are you going to be able to do this? How is this going to impact this?,” then that policy of X and Y may fail or have an indirect effect. And that’s what you really see in employment law. You’ll have an indirect effect that you didn’t anticipate because you didn’t do your due diligence. And so that’s one thing that I really try to be aware of, especially when talking about policy. You need to understand that, okay, you have this pretty platform, but what is the every-day impact?  So say you want paid sick leave. I understand if I put that on employers who are obligated to pay that, then they’re going to have a consequence. What is that consequence? How will that affect them? You have to walk through all that and make sure you go through all the details to understand whether or not you’re pushing for a good, achievable, successful policy.

E+A
You are also a mediator. How does that skillset help you?


Chambers
The best thing about being a mediator is that I’ve been trained to figure out that when there’s conflict, that conflict is usually a symptom of something else. For instance, the other day I was talking about Trump supporters blaming immigrants for taking jobs away. But what that really comes down to is a significant economic insecurity.  So let’s address the economic insecurity instead of villainizing Democrats. Let’s get to what’s really going on behind all this stuff. Once we have defined what the real needs are, then we can make progress to solutions. 

E+A
That makes sense, taking a therapist approach to politics. Well, what do you do when you’re not lawyering, mediating, or campaigning? What do you like to do for fun?


Chambers
I love to hang out with my friends, drink wine in my pajamas and then also binge watch Netflix.

E+A
What’s your favorite show? 


Chambers
My favorite show is Supernatural. It’s going on its 14th year.  I’ve been to five of their conventions.

E+A
Oh my gosh.


Chambers
I’m totally obsessed with them.  Oh yeah, I’m all up in it. Not to mention Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki are pretty awesome to look at. So Jensen Ackles, who plays Dean [in Gilmore Girls], is from Richardson which is part of my District and Jared Padalecki is from San Antonio.

E+A
Have you met them?  You should meet them.


Chambers
Well, I’ve met them at the conventions, where I had to pay bookoos of money to be able to take a picture with them, but I didn’t get to like hang out and have a chat.

E+A
Oh my gosh.  Well you should contact his –


Chambers
Oh let me tell you, I’ve already told my campaign manager, who will be my Chief of Staff, that when I win her first duty, before she even figures out where our office is, is to make sure that I meet Jensen and Jared.  Talk about abuse of power. 

E+A
Yeah, you should do that.  So Supernatural fanatic. What about music?


Chambers
I am a music lover. 

E+A
Do you have like a campaign theme song, or a personal theme song? 


Chambers
I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor.  I actually sang it at a meeting with some Democrats the other day saying,  “Let me tell you, on November 6 this is what I was singing.” And if you listen to the first couple of versus, “At first I was afraid, I was petrified…” and I was like yep, that was me November 9, 2016. 

E+A
So if you win, what would you do to celebrate? 


Chambers
Quite honestly on election night, win or lose, I’m going to have my team around me. My dad, who was a Trump supporter, is going to come down and watch the election results with me, which is really huge.  That’s a big deal because we are so polar opposites on everything, but the fact that he’s going to support his baby girl is like yeah, that makes me feel good.

E+A
And you guys have managed to sort of keep the relationship through these trying times?


Chambers
Yeah, we don’t discuss politics in any shape, form or fashion.  We can’t. And the next day, win or lose, I’m going to sleep all flippin’ day and not feel guilty about it.  And then I’m going to get to watch some more Netflix and probably order some pizza and oh, you know I’m going to order some Indian food. And drink and just binge for like two or three days and then I might re-emerge at some point.
 
E+A
Cool.  And what about, okay, so you’re drinking a vodka soda right now.  Is that your favorite? For us, you could away literally everything, but if you took away red wine, we’d probably be really sad forever. 


Chambers
So my favorite alcoholic drink is a Cabernet, usually from California’s Napa Valley.  But the one thing that I drink all day, every day is seltzer water. It’s like a party in your mouth.

E+A
So we ask the same few questions to everybody. First, dead or alive, who would you take to dinner, what would you ask them, and why?


Chambers
Oh my God, I love these kinds of questions.  Okay. So I would take Jesus.

E+A
Okay.  And what would you ask him?


Chambers
Why did you take Prince from us so early? 

E+A
Oh, bless you.


Chambers
Because I’m still very upset about that. And then, WTF with Trump? Like, really dude?  That would be my follow up. 

E+A
Last question.  If you had a silver bullet that would solve any problem, but this isn’t a pageant, so it can’t be world peace, what would it be and why?


Chambers
Okay.  So let me tell you my top two that just came into my mind.  World Hunger. And with hunger I’m also including water. But I would want to have abundant clean food and clean water resources available to every human being.  And then it is equally in competition with resolving global warming.

E+A
Well they’re definitely related. 


Chambers
Yes, exactly.  The first thing that we have to do as humanity, as people living in this world, is to make sure every human’s basic needs are taken care of. Very first priority.  And so that’s how I’m looking at it. I wouldn’t even chose world peace because I’m like, people are starving, people need food, people need shelter, people need water. 

E+A
This was such a fun conversation.  Thank you so much for taking the time.


Chambers
Oh, no.  Thank you.  Thank you so much!
 

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Beth Carter