Wednesday, February 28, 2024

One-On-One: U.S Representative Colin Allred on voting, healthcare, education and the American family

By Allen R. Gray
NDG Contributing Writer

Colin Zachary Allred is in the midst of a highly contested battle to win back his seat as the U.S. Representative from Texas’s 32 Congressional District. Allred won the seat in the 2018 midterms by defeating longtime Republican incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions. That defeat enabled Democrats to wrest control of the U.S. House and shift the balance of power in Washington, D.C.

Recently, the 37-year-old Dallas native took time from his hectic schedule to share his views on our rapidly evolving society. We found Allred to be empathetic, charismatic, and caring. Above all else, Allred is a candidate who is purpose-driven, committed to the best interests of his constituents—yet genuinely humble.

We spoke to Allred after the first two days of early voting had ended, and voters were showing up at the polls in unprecedented numbers. We wanted to know what Allred viewed this trend of increased of voters to be an indication of.

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Allred says he believes the record number of voters to be an act overt defiance of knowledgeable voters who are aware of the numerous efforts to suppress their right to vote. “I’m really proud that in these first two days we’ve broke all records for early voting,” says Allred. “It’s an indication of how excited (voters) are, but also how determined (voters) are.”

How does a politician’s background enable or disable the politician from being able to empathize with the vast majority of Americans?

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Allred explained that the word experience usually brings to mind one’s work experience, but one’s “lived experiences”—those life situations one faces during one’s upbringing—are the most vital experiences of all. Allred was the child of a single mother, who sometimes had to work two jobs to subsidize her teacher’s salary. “That taught me a lot about what families are going through right now,” Allred says with conviction. “No one has to tell me what it’s like to have a family that’s struggling and not sure how they’re going to pay the bills next month. I know that from personal experience.” Allred also said he is aware of the hardships families face when trying to secure safe childcare in a time when COVID-19 forces parents to choose if they are going to work or stay home. “You can learn these things if you’re an empathetic person and you put the work in,” Allred concedes. “I’m not saying you have to grow up that way—but when you do grow up that way I think it gives you some insight that you can’t read in a book.”

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The rising costs of healthcare and the way the price of prescription medication is also skyrocketing are two of the most prominent topics on Allred’s agenda. We wanted to know his views on how these two life necessities are affecting American families.

Allred believes that an acceptable expectation of Americans is that they should be able to afford medications, especially those like diabetes prescriptions that are vital to their existence. “But right now, about one in four Americans have to ration their insulin if you’re a diabetic,” Allred grimly informs us. “And that’s something you really can’t ration. You’re not suppose to. It’s to keep you alive.” Senior citizens and families alike have to often decide if they are going to eat or pay bills or buy lifesaving medication for themselves or their children.

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The biggest culprit in this rise in cost is price gauging says Allred, adding that this covetous act must be addressed. “So, we passed legislation in the House of Representatives (legislation that Allred helped draft and introduce) to use the leverage we have as a government to negotiate drug prices,” Allred stated. “The biggest lever we have is Medicare.”

Allred says that if Medicare, who is by far the largest purchaser of all brands of medicine, sets rates then those rates would lower costs for all users of prescription medicines. “Right now, unfortunately in the law, Medicare is not allowed under the law to negotiate drug prices,” Allred says sorrowfully. “They basically have to pay whatever the cost is.” This ability to barter for prices is not a foreign concept, however. Price negotiations are taking place with other entities like the Veterans Affairs System.

“This is something we recognize and that we can get done,” Allred states with confidence. “Right now, we don’t have enough votes in Senate to join us—and we don’t have a president who’s made this a priority.

“I’m confident with a President Joe Biden, and hopefully with a different Senate next Congress we will be able to pass this (legislation) and help folks who are struggling save a lot of money.

Should Medicare benefits be extended to other Americans beyond those who are elderly and disabled?

Allred said, “I do think we should consider lowering the Medicare age from 65 to 60 or even 55 to catch folks who are having to retire early because of health problems. My mom, for instance, had to retire a little bit early after teaching for 27 years because of some health problems.”

At present, only about 40% of minority households have a father involved in the family’s structure. Allred, who was estranged from his father, understands the importance of extended family members and community support. Currently, Allred is a new dad who has a young son, born in February of 2019. He and his wife, Alexandra, are anticipating the born of their second son in March 2021.

So, how does the absence of a mother or father affect the development of a child?
“It has an enormous impact,” Allred says from experience. “We’ve seen from the research—not only on the child but on the family itself—it puts much more stress on the parent who’s left. Outcomes are less likely to be successful.”

Other disadvantages of a child being from a single-parent home, according to Allred, are a shorter lifespan and that child will earn less income, and parents are less likely to be engaged with the child. Allred contends that the child will continue that cycle when they become parents.

Yet, Allred says there are exceptions to this undesirable path. “Even where you do have a single-parent household if you put into place structures to support those families, then you can start reducing and breaking out of the cycle.”

Allred is a proud graduate of Dallas ISD’s Hillcrest High School. He used his achievements there to play football and educate himself at Baylor University. His hard work and dedication at Baylor landed him in the National Football League. His salary in the NFL funded his education in law school. Although, Allred’s tale is not the common DISD story for young Black men.

African Americans comprise 20% of DISD’s student population, yet they account for 51% of the discipline referrals. Academically there is a persistent gap between the achievement of African American students and others. This disparity, though, is more than a DISD matter alone. This disturbing disproportion is pervasive across our entire country.

What, if anything, can be done legislatively to stop this alarming cycle of desolation?
“The statistics are undeniable,” Allred admits. “We have some structural barriers in place that are not working. Even with the great folk at DISD trying really hard to address some of these (disparities).”

Allred submits that this grave disparity is not just a product of the school systems alone but is indicative of societal issues that have affected far too many students and their families. “When (students) walk in those school doors, hopefully, it is a refuge, but they are still bringing the world with them.”

Allred says the work begins on the outside of the school with legislatures reducing structural racism and barriers that lead to what we see as our schools’ poor performance. “The most important thing we can do in the schools,” Allred shares leaning on his observations as the son of a teacher, “is to have a highly trained, and highly qualified and caring teacher in every single classroom.

“I think we do have teachers who care a lot, but we’re not paying them enough. And we lose a lot of our successful teachers to other jobs where they can make more money to take care of their families.”

“I’d like it to be that the best and brightest of DISD go to college, become teachers, and come back to teach in DISD because then they not only know that they will be valued, but they will also have that value reflected in how they’re compensated.”

“Having a good teacher is the most important factor in any student’s improvement.”

Young students who are about to vote for the first time are also paying attention to Allred and the issues he considers to be important. Dallas ISD student Wendy Perez, a senior at South Oak Cliff High School, wanted to know what social issue is the most important to Allred? Also, with all the recent events of racism and police brutality being repeated on the news, what Allred hopes to accomplish to help settle those contentious fronts?

“What I want to see is a restoration between the police and our communities, where people feel like the police are there to protect and serve; and that you have a level of trust…a positive relationship.

“I also want to see our police not to be asked to do more than what the scope of their job is supposed to be. I know a lot of police officers in Dallas—they’re asked to be mental health counselors because they’re dealing with folks who have mental health issues… It’s difficult to deal with someone who is having a mental health crisis. (Police) are asked to solve a lot of inter-family problems. They spend a lot of their time dealing with domestic disputes that often turn violent…(Police) are asked to deal with drug issues that are more about addiction than they are criminality.”

“It’s our society that we have to address the most. The police and our interactions there, that’s the endpoint. We have a middle point and a beginning point that I think is more about…our education system, our healthcare system (our single-parent homes)—the police are just the endpoint of having to deal with so many things that didn’t happen in those other phases.

“So, I want to see us put into place ladders of opportunity, so everybody has a chance to pursue their version of the American dream like I was able to. And then it’s up to you. It really is. It’s up to you to work hard. It’s up to you to take advantage of your opportunities…But if we don’t give you that opportunity then I think we’ve failed you.
“I don’t think the government can create outcomes, but I do think we can create opportunities.”

Allred’s final thoughts were about hope for a better future.

“Opportunity structures have to be in place so that (families) can succeed. What we don’t want to have is what I think we have right now, which is we’re just wasting so much talent (from our young students). We have so much potential that is going unrealized in our DISD schools, and really, across the country. Talented young people who I know and who I grew up with, who I think could have done so much more if we had given them a few more opportunities.”

“I was fortunate…

“Most people don’t have that chance.”



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