It’s a sunny Thursday morning when MJ Hegar joins our Zoom call. To the left of her is a large, color-coded map of Texas, showing the state divided up by county. On the shelf behind her are two pilot’s helmets, and a child’s illustration of a dragon. In the center of my screen is Hegar, who burst onto the scene with ‘Doors,’ the viral ad for her 2018 congressional campaign. Viewed almost 3 million times and shared by the likes of Lin Manuel-Miranda and Patton Oswalt, ‘Doors’ arrived in the midst of the tumultuous 2018 midterm elections. Then-candidate Beto O’Rourke was on the rise, and voters from every party were wondering if a Democratic resurgence was really possible deep in the heart of Texas.
Much like her appearance in her infamous campaign ad, Hegar wastes no time getting to her point. Her first goal if elected? She says it’s to look out for the everyday Texan. “Right now we have a lot of people who are looking out for the very rich and powerful special interests,” she said. ”They don’t care that we have a broken immigration system that’s plaguing our communities. They don’t care that we have a broken healthcare system. I’m really looking forward to being able to bring that voice to the table.”
If Hegar is indeed elected, it’ll put her in the unique position of being the first Democratic senator from Texas since Bob Krueger in the 1990’s. Winning would also mean Hegar would have to work with Republican Ted Cruz in Washington. But Hegar does not shy away from talking about Senator Cruz, and certainly does not shy away from the prospect of working with him.
Cruz has often been painted as an outlier by his GOP colleagues. At the 2016 Washington Press Club Foundation Dinner, Lindsey Graham quipped, “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” In 2018, former House Speaker John Boehner called him “Lucifer in the flesh.”
Hegar says she plans to capitalize on Cruz’s ‘outlier’ image if she reaches Capitol Hill.
“I see in him an ability, not that he does it often, to use his own brain, and not call Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump and ask him how he’s supposed to think, and I’m gonna take advantage of that,” said Hegar. “I’m going to work with him, even when he doesn’t wanna see me. I’m sure he’s not going to eat lunch alone anymore.”
With just a couple months to go until Election Day, and the COVID19 pandemic still raging on, Hegar and her team have had to find new ways to reach voters in the era of social distancing and self-isolation.
In July, the veteran held a virtual ‘tour.’ She hosted five live streams, followed by a day of phone-banking. In August, she did the same, this time celebrating her victory in the primaries.
“I think every challenge becomes an advantage or disadvantage based on how you respond to it. In the military we’re taught not just to overcome challenges but to turn them to our advantage, and I think we’ve done that,” Hegar said about the struggles presented by virtual campaigning.
Hegar said her digital campaigning efforts have gotten new life from undecided voters. She says many are more willing to participate in Zoom calls and online chats than traditional in-person events.
The Central Texan has also made efforts to get out and see people. She said she traveled “tens of thousands of miles” campaigning early on. And after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others who were brutally killed by police, she worked to uplift the voiced of protestors and attended a protest in Williamson County honoring Javier Ambler.
"It’s beautiful," Hegar said. "That’s America. Protesting and making our country better is the fabric of our soul."
The would-be senator is throwing her support fully behind Black Lives Matter. Hegar believes that police brutality and criminal justice disparities are “symptoms of a deeper problem.” She said, “We need to look at discrimination in education, in housing, in employment, in access to small business capital, healthcare disparities, there’s a lot more we need to look at.”
Movements like these are part of the reason Hegar says she’s running for Senate. Stirred by Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem, and spurred on by what she called “a punch in the gut,” Hegar said that the point of protests such as these is to inconvenience. “That minor inconvenience is nothing compared to the disruption that communities of color have been facing in our country for centuries,” she said.
Ultimately though, Hegar says that her run is a fulfillment of the oath she took upon entering the military, specifically the part where domestic threat is mentioned. At first, she said, it was unclear to her what a domestic threat might be. Now, she has a definition.
And she plans to face it head on.