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Texas 2020 Elections

Watch: Houston-area congressional candidate Sima Ladjevardian says district dynamics have "completely changed"

Ladjevardian, a Democrat, is running for Texas' 2nd Congressional District against U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw.

The dynamics in Texas’ 2nd Congressional District have “completely changed," Democratic candidate Sima Ladjevardian said Friday. That's why she’s not intimidated as she seeks to unseat U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, she said during a Texas Tribune event.

“As an immigrant, as a woman, as a cancer survivor, I've always defied the odds,” Ladjevardian said. “And one of the reasons I'm running is because I really think the people of this district are hurting and Crenshaw ran on a lot of the promises that he broke.”

Ladjevardian, a Houston attorney and political activist, discussed the election with the Tribune’s Washington bureau chief, Abby Livingston.

Texas' 2nd Congressional District was not among the seats that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee originally prioritized flipping this election cycle in Texas, but Democrats believe it is within reach following Crenshaw's narrow victory in 2018. However, Crenshaw will not be an easy challenge. His profile has risen in Republican politics since his 2018 election, and he has a hefty $1.6 million stockpile for his reelection campaign.

Ladjevardian, an Iranian immigrant, says she is running because she wants everyone to have a shot at the American dream like she did. As an activist, she has worked to elect candidates up and down the ballot, including serving in senior roles in Beto O’Rourke's Senate and presidential campaigns.

Here are some highlights from the conversation.

Livingston: Your opponent, Dan Crenshaw — he's a fundraising juggernaut. He's one of the brightest stars in the freshman freshmen class. Texas Republicans are looking at him for the future as a possible statewide candidate. I even hear the word presidential campaign thrown in there someday for him. Is this intimidating to run against someone like that?

“Not at all,” Ladjevardian said. She said Crenshaw ran on several promises he didn’t keep, such as lowering prescription drug prices. (Crenshaw voted against a Democrat-championed bill to let Medicare negotiate drug prices, an idea he supported as a candidate. Crenshaw's office acknowledged he changed his position, citing concerns with the "heavy hand" of price negotiation.)

She said Crenshaw “went to D.C. and completely forgot about his constituents.” Ladjevardian said he has been focused on gaining national attention.

Livingston: Republicans ran up two-to-one margins in this district. Why is it competitive this cycle?

Trump won the district, Ladjevardian said, but it's in fast-growing, diverse Harris County, she said.

“This district is 40% minority and very young, very educated, and the dynamics have just completely changed,” Ladjevardian said.

Since 2018, there have been over 60,000 new voter registrants, she said.

Livingston: What is your gut on which presidential candidate carries the 2nd Congressional District?

Ladjevardian said it will be Joe Biden because COVID-19 is at the forefront of people’s minds.

She said there are leaders like Crenshaw, who “has had really an abysmal response to the crisis,” by putting out lies and disinformation about the virus. She said it’s “unconscionable.”

For example, in June he said hospital capacities were fine in the state, she said. She also pointed out he held in-person events without masks, and in July the death toll from the virus was the highest it had been. She said then, when the president admitted that he had downplayed the virus, Crenshaw defended him, saying he had good intentions.

Livingston: The Democratic party has become very sprawling in a big tent. Are there any policy differences you have with (Biden)?

Ladjevardian said the biggest concern in the district — even before the pandemic — is health care. She said she doesn’t support Medicare for All, but instead thinks the Affordable Care Act needs to be fortified because several components have been stripped away by the current administration. She said people should be allowed to keep their private insurance, have open enrollment, a public option for Medicare and affordable medication.

In Harris County, one in seven children are not covered by health insurance, she said.

“It's just unconscionable to me to continue to cut health care,” she said.

There are 340,000 people in the district with preexisting conditions, she said, adding that COVID-19 will also be one, which is why keeping coverage for preexisting conditions is important.

“Being a cancer survivor, that's really important to me because I've seen what having high quality affordable health care does and not having it happen,” Ladjevardian said. “So, my No. 1 concern is to make sure that everybody has access to high quality, affordable health care.”

Livingston: One of the biggest divides tactically in the Democratic party has been door knocking. And I'm curious: Is your campaign door knocking and what are your positions on that?

“I think the No. 1 thing we have to listen to is science and facts,” Ladjevardian said.

She said her campaign has not been door knocking, and instead is making more phone calls, and dropping items at doors and leaving. People are concerned about cases rising from children returning to school, she said.

“I know the cases in the district are better, but I think putting people at risk is just really, really important. You can't do that,” Ladjevardian said.

Livingston: Was (O’Rourke) right when he, on the presidential debate stage, said in 2019, hell yeah, we're going to take your AR-15? I know that gun control is a major issue in Houston. What do you think when you heard him say that?

While Ladjevardian said it’s clear there needs to be gun sense, she is a firm believer in the Second Amendment.

“We’re talking about common sense,” she said. She said nine out of 10 Texans support universal background checks and there needs to be a ban on assault weapons along with a push for red-flag laws and closing the gun show loophole for background checks.

“We've had three mass shootings in Texas that was spurned on a lot of the defensiveness and hatred coming from the White House and pretty much enabled by people that are followers of (Trump) that had resulted in a massive shootout in El Paso,” she said.

Livingston: In the new Congress, we're probably going to hear a lot of talk about a Green New Deal, and that could completely upend Harris County. Where do you come down on that? And does that make you anxious economically, while we all know that there's global warming and it's a serious existential concern?

“I want to make sure that we stay the energy capital of the nation. A lot of our jobs are because of it. So I believe in being all inclusive, we have to look at all the options,” Ladjevardian said.

She said the county needs to move toward renewable energy and building infrastructure. In her district, she said there are 15,000 clean-energy jobs. Whether it’s using natural gas as a transition to renewable energy or looking into nuclear energy possibilities, she said all options should be considered.

Livingston: Do you support defunding the police?

“I absolutely do not,” Ladjevardian said. “I come from chaos and revolution. That's not what I want at all. I think we have to look at public safety another way. Budget is not what dollars and cents is, it's where we put our money.”

She said there needs to be an understanding that there is systemic racism that needs to be addressed. There also needs to be an investment in education and health care to provide more opportunities to communities.

“I think it's very important to have serious control, like the Justice in Policing Act,” she said.

Chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases should be banned and qualified immunity should be taken away, she said.

Livingston: What would you do if you were in Congress either to prevent another Hurricane Harvey and to help the people who are still dealing with that right now?

Ladjevardian said she would push for more studies to assess rainfall and make sure proper funding arrives to build reservoirs. She said the ship channel needs to be addressed as well, because there are chemicals and oil there that could be “devastating for Houston.”

“I've personally swam home several times,” she said. “Our car has been totaled. I'm still helping a lot of people who haven't had the proper funding to be back on their feet again.”

Livingston: Were you in Iran during the revolution? Is that when y'all left?

Ladjevardian said she was about 11 when the revolution happened.

“It was chaos and very crazy times and we really, we just had to leave,” she said. “Really when we came here it was for the incredible power and the promise of the American dream that I had looked up to, heard about all my life.”

She said she has been in Houston for the past 30 years trying to give back to the community that has accepted her. Directly after the revolution, Ladjevardian said, she was in Europe for a couple years before moving to California. That’s where she met her husband.

“So, I came to Houston for love,” she said.

Livingston: Is there one thing in the pandemic that has been good for you in this?

“I know we've all become virtual and I'm such a hugger,” Ladjevardian said. “And I miss that so much. I miss seeing people, I miss really being able to have that one on one, but I've had more access because of this.”

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The conversation series is presented by AT&T.

Tribune events are also supported through contributions from our founding investors and members. Though donors and corporate sponsors underwrite Texas Tribune events, they play no role in determining the content, panelists or line of questioning.

Clarification: Texas' 2nd Congressional District was not among the seats that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee originally prioritized flipping this election cycle in Texas, but Democrats believe it is within reach following Crenshaw's narrow victory in 2018. An earlier version of this story suggested the district was not a Democratic target.

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