NFL player turned attorney Colin Allred seeks to join Texas legacy of Black history makers

TheGrio’s “Running Black” election series profiles Black candidates running for office in the 2024 elections. If successful, each candidate profiled could make history in their state. Hear from them in their own words about what’s at stake in their races, for the country, and for Black and brown communities on the political margin.

As a former NFL linebacker and Big-12 college football player, Colin Allred knows much about competition. This November, the U.S. congressman from Texas is confident in his chances of winning the biggest battle of his political career as he attempts to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a two-term, high-profile Republican who has been an outspoken and loyal ally to former President Donald Trump

“We can’t afford six more years of Ted Cruz,” Allred told theGrio. “Texas is this incredibly diverse, dynamic state. We’re not the state that [he], I think, represents us as.”

If victorious, Allred would make history as the first Black American from Texas elected to the U.S. Senate. The 40-year-old would be etched in the history books, following in the footsteps of groundbreaking Black politicians from Texas like Barbara Jordan, the first Black woman from the South elected to the U.S. Congress, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, the first Black woman to represent Dallas in the U.S. House. 

“Here in Texas, we have such a rich history, particularly as African-Americans,” said Allred, whose family’s lineage in Texas dates back four generations during U.S. slavery. He noted that during the Jim Crow era, his grandparents didn’t have the right to vote. 

However, the congressman and former voting rights attorney acknowledged that Texas, a former confederate state, also “produced some of our biggest progress,” including former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, two critical pieces of legislation that enfranchised Black Americans.

Joining that history, said Allred, would be “incredibly important for Texas, and for the country, for us to have a Black senator.”

Getting there, however, won’t come easy. Allred will first have to win his Democratic primary election on March 5 (which he is favored to do) and, if successful, will face off against Cruz. The Republican senator raised $5.5 million last quarter and has the advantage of incumbency in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in more than 30 years.

But Allred, who has outpaced Cruz with cash-on-hand fundraising, believes he can take him on and win. The Democratic hopeful slammed Cruz for joining 147 Republican members of Congress to vote against certifying President Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election and backed Trump’s false claims that there was voter fraud. Trump is facing two criminal indictments related to his actions connected to his alleged attempts to remain in the White House.

“[Cruz’s] actions that day [and] in the days leading up to it are part of why Jan. 6 happened,” said Allred, referring to the violent mob of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol building in 2021, leading to five deaths – including that of a Capitol Police officer. Allred said he sees this year’s election as Cruz’s “accountability” for his “attack on our democracy.” 

In Texas, U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (right) is favored to win the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. If successful, he would face Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (left), who is seeking reelection.

“This is accountability for abandoning us when 30 million Texans were freezing in the dark and deciding it was a good time to go to Cancun,” said the Senate candidate, referencing Cruz’s vacation during a power outage caused by a severe winter storm. He added, “It’s his accountability for voting against all the legislation that will help our state.”

Allred called Cruz “one of the most extreme senators and divisive senators in the country.” 

By contrast, Allred believes he can be a U.S. senator who “actually cares” about Texas and its diverse population. He thinks he can bring together a broader coalition of voters, similar to the one formed nationally by former President Barack Obama, whose administration Allred worked for as general counsel in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  

“What we have to do here in Texas is combat the issue that we’ve had of…low voter turnout and getting more of our fellow Texans engaged,” he acknowledged. 

Allred continued: “I’m a voting rights lawyer. I know why some of that occurs, but I also know that some of it is because we’ve decided and felt that our voices don’t matter here in Texas, and we have to change that in this election.”

The congressman believes that mobilizing voters will come down to the critical issues vital to a majority of voters in Texas, including increasing wages, reducing health care costs, and protecting abortion rights amid the state’s strict six-week ban. In a campaign ad, Allred accused Cruz of being more focused on pushing “phony culture wars” than on getting results for Texans. 

During the 2022 Senate confirmation hearing, Cruz notably clashed with Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, his former Harvard Law School classmate, over critical race theory and books about race in America. Cruz pointedly asked Jackson if she believed that babies are racist, in reference to Ibram X. Kendi’s book “Antiracist Baby,” which was being taught at a private school in Washington, D.C., for which Jackson serves as a board trustee.

The Republican Party, led by members of Congress and state governors, has seized on school curriculums and books that discuss America’s history of U.S. slavery and racial oppression. Many of them have argued that said materials are indoctrinating children and causing white children to feel badly about their identity. 

“We have to teach our real history,” said Allred. “We’ve made tremendous progress together because we have a system that allowed us to mend and perfect our union. To me, that’s a much better story than the one that I see some of these folks trying to push…that none of this ever happened.”

Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, speaks during House Democrats’ June 2020 news conference to unveil the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The Senate hopeful said that despite the censorships occurring in Texas and beyond, young people are smart and tech-savvy enough to access the truth.

“They know what’s happening, and they know … what you’re trying not to put in front of them … when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. 

Allred wants to flip Texas’ U.S. Senate seat to protect the rights of its citizens, most especially by ensuring equal access to the vote. Texas joined more than half of U.S. states in passing restrictive voting laws that experts and advocates say are designed to thwart Black, brown, young, and other marginalized communities (the core of the Democratic Party’s coalition) from casting their ballots.

“We’re in a moment where … many folks who are trying to take us backward,” said Allred. “The good news is in election after election, we’ve responded to it, and seeing the folks are saying, listen…you’re not gonna stop us from voting.”

During the last session of Congress, Allred and fellow House Democrats passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore measures to prevent states from engaging in voting discrimination after the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court struck down such provisions in the Voting Rights Act. However, the bill was blocked by the filibuster rule in the Senate. On Thursday, Senate Democrats led by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia reintroduced the bill.

Allred committed to reforming the filibuster rule if elected to the Senate to finish the job to “protect the right to vote instead of trying to take it away.” He vowed, “When I’m in the Senate, we will do that.”

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Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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TheGrio’s “Running Black” election series highlights Black candidates running for office in the 2024 elections who could potentially make history in their states. One such candidate is U.S. Congressman Colin Allred from Texas, who is vying to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz to become the first Black American from Texas elected to the U.S. Senate. Allred, a former NFL linebacker and voting rights attorney, aims to bring accountability to Cruz for his actions, including voting against certifying President Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election. Allred believes that mobilizing voters in Texas will involve addressing critical issues such as increasing wages, reducing healthcare costs, and protecting abortion rights. He also advocates for teaching real history and ensuring equal access to the vote. Allred is committed to reforming the filibuster rule to protect the right to vote if elected to the Senate. Ultimately, he hopes to bring about positive change for Texas and the country by championing the needs of its diverse population.

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