This Decorated Veteran Is Running For Texas Senate To Take On Extremism in State Government
This the eighth installment of the Blue Texas Project, a series of interviews with Texas Democrats running for U.S. Congress and Texas Legislature in 2018.
Steven Kling, a former Army Reserve Captain who served two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, is running for Texas Senate in Senate District 25 to take on extremism and entrenched corporate interests in state government.
SD-25 is a heavily gerrymandered district that includes six counties and stretches from South Austin to North San Antonio.
If Kling makes it past Jack Guerra in the Democratic primary on March 6, he will face Republican incumbent Donna Campbell in the November general election. Kling has been endorsed in the primary by the San Antonio Express-News.
Campbell was a co-author of Senate Bill 6 — the controversial “bathroom bill.”
Kling said he was motivated to run for Texas Senate after being disgusted by legislation proposed by Campbell and her Republican colleagues in the 85th Texas Legislature.
“It was a shit show. It was a hate fest,” Kling said. “We saw these divisive social issues being used to get Texans to fight against other Texans.”
In the upcoming election, Campbell will be well-funded and has never been seriously challenged in the district, but Kling is confident that changing demographics and the #BlueWave will propel him to victory in SD-25.
TeamKling’s goal is not only to win but to break Democratic turnout records. S/o to all the volunteers who came out and knock on doors in San Antonio. #BlueWave
Read my interview with Kling below. It is lightly edited for clarity.
MR: Why did you decide to run in 2018 — what prompted you to get in the race?
Kling: Well, I think I felt like a lot of Americans did after November 2016. Very concerned about the huge divisions in our country that are often painted as red versus blue, but I feel like those issues are really more top versus bottom. I think there is a lot of people caught in the middle. Most people are moderates about their issues and they just want representation. I don’t see a lot of politicians and elected representatives actually representing people, instead they represent commercial interests and donors. So I felt like it was time for good people to step up. Good, real people who know how to balance a checkbook, step up and run for elected office. The folks around me suggested Donna Campbell as a potential opponent and I knew enough about her that it felt like she was one of the ones that we needed to get rid of.
MR: Donna Campbell regularly comes up on lists of worst legislators. She is not a favorite of editorial boards. How would you assess her five years in office?
Kling: I would assess it as that she’s nothing more than a rubber stamp for an extremist element in our government that is currently headed by, as far as elected officials, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, but who are financed by organizations like Empower Texans, who are far-right wing extremist groups that do not share the same values as most Texans. I have Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, The Austin Chronicle all in agreement with me in that she is worse than useless.
MR: In the past, Campbell has won pretty comfortably in SD-25. What do you think is your pathway to victory in this district?
Kling: I’ll make three points on that.
First, this is the fastest growing district in the United States. Three of the fastest growing counties are within this district. That’s Comal, Kendall, and Hays. I’ll add to that — demographically that shift is four to one in our favor according to Progress Texas. That means for every five people that have moved into this district after it was gerrymandered in 2010, four of those are going to be voting in our favor.
The second part is what we call the blue wave. We have been able to quantify that, by looking at the results in Virginia from 2015 to 2017, at a rate of 133 percent turnout from those two respective years. Which means that we can expect in a midterm, at a minimum, 133 percent over what we saw in 2014, and we are thinking it will be closer to 150 [percent].
Lastly, she has never faced a serious opponent in the general. Because of gerrymandering the Republican Party has always just had to win their primary. That creates a dynamic where you have a race to the furthest extreme of that party for one thing.
She has had Democratic challengers in the general, but they have been what we call protest candidacies. My campaign has been running for almost eleven months now and we have raised more money, excuse me, we have raised twice as much money as any Democratic challenger that she’s ever faced before we even filed for election. We are on pace to raise anywhere between three and four hundred thousand dollars. That means we can run not just a retail politics campaign, but a good wholesale media strategy as well. Those three things combined give us our win number.
“If you have communities who make decisions one way or another about their quality of life — the folks in Austin should stay the hell out of it.”
MR: If you ride that blue wave to victory in November what are some of your policy priorities in SD-25?
Kling: The first one is statewide and that’s to try to get as much corporate money out of our system as possible. Right now if you run for office in the State of Texas you can take an unlimited amount of money from individuals or Political Action Committees that are set up by corporate interests, so that is first and foremost. Because I believe all other issues flow from that particular issue.
The second thing is we have to fix our public education finance structure. It is utterly broken. It has been called by the Texas Supreme Court “lawful but awful.” It needs a complete overhaul and we need people with the political courage to step in there and reform the tax code.
The next one is local control. As I mentioned before, we have the fastest growing district in America. That’s a positive and a negative in some cases. It presents challenges. The problem we see here is that because so many of our elected officials are working on behalf of big donors, which include developers, you see the local communities and the local municipalities having their powers stripped away from them by the state. Particularly in cases where those local governments want to preserve the rights of their citizens and the quality of life of their citizens when they are facing inappropriately large development companies coming in.
I can give you a couple examples of that. The primary one is Denton, Texas outlawed fracking within their community and it was overruled by Greg Abbott in 2014. To me, if you have communities who make decisions one way or another about their quality of life — the folks in Austin should stay the hell out of it.
Lastly, I am very concerned about this attack on equality. The scapegoating of our most vulnerable citizens. We see our LGBTQ community and our immigrant community both being scapegoated and used in divide and conquer politics. The folks that are actually doing the corporate bidding are creating these high-energy, divisive social issues. Manufacturing them to divert the attention of people to get us fighting among ourselves while they pass the corporate agenda while we are not looking.
Those three things together, and of course that overarching issue of campaign finance reform are the main thrusts of my candidacy.
“It was as if our state government looked at what was happening on the national level and decided to take it to the next most grotesque level.”
MR: The last legislative session was divided by the social issues you just mentioned. What did you think of the 85th Texas Legislature?
Kling: It was a shit show. It was a hate fest. If there was anything that I needed to pull me over the line to decide to reluctantly to get into politics, it was just how awful the 85th session was. It was as if our state government looked at what was happening on the national level and decided to take it to the next most grotesque level. We saw these divisive social issues, the bathroom bill, SB 4, being used, and essentially having policy weaponized, to get Texans fighting against other Texans, while they passed things like Blue Tarp that no one has ever heard of unless you are a policy wonk. That are sweetheart deals for, in that case, the insurance lobby that’s going to hurt Hurricane Harvey victims when they’re trying to recover by taking away their right of suing their insurance industry. No matter how negligent they are. And making them wait not 10 months, but now 18 months to have any recourse whatsoever if that insurance company fails to pay their claims.
MR: What do you make of the Democratic energy you have seen on the ground? Have you seen anything like it before in Texas?
Kling: I have never seen anything like this before in my life. Our Democratic clubs around this district, and I would assume around Texas, had a tenfold increase in membership overnight — tenfold! People who have never done anything political in their life are holding house parties for me. People who never so much as made phone calls for a candidate are coming out of the woodwork because they see we are at a critical moment in the history of our democracy where smart, loving, compassionate people have to step up and wrest control back away from cynical interests, that really don’t care what happens to us as long as they make a buck.
“I have a long history of putting aside my own personal gain for the betterment of my country and community — I think that will resonate with people.”
MR: Why should voters support you in the upcoming primary and ultimately in November’s general election?
Kling: I am one of them. I put myself through college. My parents are teachers. I grew up around the dinner table listening and learning about the difficulties that teachers have in earning a living and providing for their families. I have also served my country before. That servant’s heart my parents instilled in me is the reason I joined the Army after 9/11 and served two terms in Iraq and Afghanistan. My efforts there saw me awarded the Bronze Star, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, and the Combat Action Badge. I have a long history of putting aside my own personal gain for the betterment of my country and community — I think that will resonate with people.
Primary Election Day in Texas is Tuesday, March 6.