This week, MJ Hegar announced she is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. Hegar made a name for herself in 2018 when she mounted a competitive Democratic challenge against Rep. John Carter (R-TX) in the 31st Congressional District. Hegar raised more than $5.1 million during the 2018 cycle and only lost by 3 points in a district Trump carried by 13 points in 2016.
Courted by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to run for the Senate, she is considered the first high-profile candidate to get into the race. Here are four things you need to know about MJ Hegar and her looming Democratic primary.
“A Tattooed, Motorcycle-Riding, Purple Heart Recipient”
When she launched her 2018 campaign, Hegar released a video entitled “Doors,” which highlighted the personal challenges she’s overcome and prompted The Huffington Post to refer to her as “a tattooed, motorcycle-riding, Purple Heart recipient.” The video went viral and currently has over 3 million views on YouTube.
In 1999, Hegar graduated from the University of Texas after studying criminology, sociology, world religions, and philosophy. Following her graduation, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force through the University of Texas’ ROTC program and served for ten years. In 2004, Hegar was selected for pilot training by the Air National Guard in California and eventually became a helicopter pilot. In 2009, while Hegar was flying a mission in Afghanistan, her helicopter was shot down. She survived the mission and ultimately received the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with a Valor Device for her service in Afghanistan.
After leaving the military, Hegar worked for several companies including Dell and also served as a guest lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2017, she published a book entitled Shoot Like A Girl, a memoir that detailed her difficult upbringing and time in Afghanistan.
Hegar May Face a Contested Primary
Although Hegar is the first major candidate to get into the Texas Senate race, several other high-profile individuals are also mulling a run, including retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson, a Democrat who lost her bid for Texas agriculture commissioner last year. Perhaps the biggest question mark is Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), who has also reportedly met with Sen. Schumer and is said to be “seriously consider[ing]” running.
The possibility of a drawn out primary has some Democratic strategists worried, as a contested primary could cost the eventual nominee months of time that would be better spent focusing solely on Cornyn. The strategists argue that the primary would drain resources in an extremely expensive state. Furthermore, if other candidates enter the race and no one reaches 50 percent in the March primary, the top two finishers would meet in a runoff at the end of May, effectively robbing them of time to raise money and build support to take on Cornyn.
Hegar Is a Former Republican
Although she is currently running as a Democrat, Hegar used vote for the GOP. In July 2017, Hegar told a local newspaper that she voted for Republicans and viewed herself as a social liberal and fiscal conservative. A few months later, she echoed the statement, telling the Temple Daily Times that she was a pro-Second Amendment, pro-small business, former Republican. In March 2019, Hegar admitted that she had voted for her 2018 Republican opponent, Rep. John Carter (R-TX), in the past.
Hegar on the Issues
Health Care: In July 2017, Hegar told The Patch that she was “leaning toward” a Medicare for All-type plan that would provide universal health care. A little over a year later, Hegar noted that “a Medicare for All model could be great,” but said she wanted to weigh the costs first. Hegar believes ObamaCare was a step in the right direction and that she would support some kind of single-payer plan.
Tax Reform: Hegar has repeatedly slammed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, calling it a tax increase on the middle class. Hegar argued that the bill will add trillions to the deficit and cause people to lose their health care.
Immigration: Hegar opposes the construction of a border wall, saying it “isn’t very pragmatic” and that it “isn’t going to be the best thing to fund.” She supports DACA, calling the recipients “the best and brightest among us,” and a pathway to citizenship.
Second Amendment: Hegar supports increased gun control measures, including expanding background checks, raising the gun-buying age, and banning high-capacity magazines. In 2018, Hegar tweeted, “it’s ridiculous that it’s easier to buy an assault rifle than a handgun.”