Meet the Trans Woman Running for Pete Sessions’ Seat in Congress
Free Press Houston: What made you decide to run for Congress?
Danielle J Pellett: For far too long, I have been standing in a voting booth and my options were simply a Republican or Libertarian. I wondered where the Democrats were running for office. I kept thinking “someone should do something about that.” This past year, I finally decided that I needed to be the person who stood up to do something about it.
FPH: More specifically, are you opposing Pete Sessions because of anything he specifically stands for or just because of the direction the Republican Party has taken?
Pellett: As a former conservative, I disagree with the direction that their party has taken. Most notably, some of Sessions’ votes betray core conservative Republican values: shutting down the government repeatedly, refusing to get clean water to Flint, and opposing a raise to minimum wage to get families off of food stamps. We should be fiscally responsible and stop subsidizing Big Oil and make Wall Street answer to why we had to bail them out in 2008.
FPH: You’ve talked about growing up with Republican/Libertarian ideals, and rather than throwing those by the wayside you feel that some aspects of that simply feel more at home in the Democratic Party than in the GOP. What of your original stances do you find mesh the best with the DNC?
Pellett: I believe in a small government, which means not getting involved in family matters like they did with Terri Schaivo, or overturning the fracking ban they did in Denton. When I was young, I was on the Federal free lunch system and at one point we were on food stamps in order to make ends meet. My parents were not lazy, and their hard-working ethic put the lie to the welfare queen narrative. Despite what Paul Ryan says, those meals didn’t leave me with an empty soul. It fed a child and made them able to study and succeed in life.
What feels like a lifetime ago, I wound up not going to OCS [Officer Candidate School] and getting a commission with the Air Force due to the Air Force core value of Integrity first because of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. As I studied the oath of office and realized that to protect the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, they were some horrific domestic policies that need to change.
We were firing gay military translators as we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, while not putting those wars in the budget and kept asking for “emergency funding” as if it were a surprise that we were still there. We’re supposed to support our troops, but where was the support there?
Finally, I believe in provable facts over political dogma. Pollution is bad, and climate change is real. Drug testing is more expensive to the government than welfare is, and poor people can’t afford drugs. It’s even cheaper to rehabilitate addicts rather than locking them up in jail.
FPH: You credit Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) with a political awakening in 2001. What about Sen. Sanders’ and your own ideology would be most beneficial to Texans?
Pellett: Bernie Sanders has always been an independent who refuses to be bought out. He likes to tell it as it is, and refuses to let others get away with selling lies such as “Clean Coal” or that massive corporations just like to donate thousands of dollars to candidates and expect nothing in return.
His speech at Liberty University reminds us of our Texas values of working hard and paying our fair share. So when I see the ultra-rich getting away with squirreling away their money in illegal overseas tax shelters, I know that they are not paying their fair share. Instead, they are paying politicians to distract us with these supposed culture wars over abortion, gay marriage, and which bathroom we can pee in.
We used to have our roads and bridges paid for by tax dollars, now you see toll roads being built all over the place. We even have toll roads that are paid off that are still getting government subsidies while the companies that maintain them are collecting toll money.
FPH: Why do you think so many Representatives end up running unopposed?
Pellett: Just like doing taxes, a lot of things are designed look harder in order to make people feel like they are unable to comprehend or do it. We also have rampant gerrymandering that makes districts nearly impossible to win.
My district right now vaguely looks like a donkey. This was done with regard to the historically low voter turnout in Garland. Due to the tenacity of Victoria Neave and her get-out-the-vote efforts, she won in a district that everyone had assumed was impossible.
FPH: Texas, particularly Dallas and Houston, is a place where large corporations hold significant sway, and provide a living for many, many people and their families. Is your message in opposition to them, or is there a place where people and corporations come together for the greater good?
Pellett: The economy has been faltering for the past decade. For anyone who has ever played Monopoly, you realize that income inequality will ruin people. Once we have a winner in Monopoly, the game comes to an end. But how does that work in real life?
If a few corporations have all the money and all the resources while the majority of the middle and worker class doesn’t have enough money to make ends meet… then these corporations are now unable to sell their wares to the public. In short, who will be left to buy stuff when everyone is barely scrounging by to have shelter and food?
So what I would say to business interests is this: you have to look at a five-year profit plan rather than just the next quarter. In the short run, shutting down your factories and sending jobs overseas for lower pay seems to do great, but this has happened on a macro scale and has ruined Michigan.
For the greater good, businesses must want to increase their pay to match inflation. Businesses must realize that government should work as a check and balance in order to protect the people. We must remember the lessons from the Deepwater Horizon, West Texas, and the Magnablend plant in Waxahachie that prove we must have and enforce regulations for the safety of the people.
There has to be a balance between helping businesses thrive and making certain that we don’t have poisonous chemicals in our water like they had in Corpus Christi.
FPH: If you had to pick one issue that was most dire in need of addressing in Texas, what would it be and how would you address it?
Pellett: Education is the linchpin for all of this. We need to teach science without religious bias, we need to teach history without politically-motivated revisionism, and we need to fully explain where babies come from and how to avoid that in order to reduce our teen pregnancy rate.
FPH: Do you anticipate support from the DNC in your candidacy?
Pellett: I expect that the DNC will support me once I win the primary. I have already reached out to multiple candidate sponsorship programs and political action committees that are dedicated to promoting science and Progressive values that will not cost me my morals and ethics.
There is a way to work from within the system where you can get $27 donations from regular people and you do not have to rely on the backing of the fracking industry in order to compete in a political race.
FPH: What do you think will be the biggest challenge in your race?
Pellett: I’m up against one of the most powerful people in the Texas Republican Party, who is well known and is instrumental in getting lots of money from wealthy out-of-state donors and from political action committees. In the past two years, Pete Sessions has raised over $2 million. Only 1 percent of that came from small dollar donations, so we know exactly who he answers to.
All I can hope to do is call him out on this while proving that I am the better candidate that understands the values of Texans today and for our next generation.
FPH: You’re one of a number of trans women nationwide I know are running for office in 2018, including some prominent ones like Brianna Wu. What empowers you the most against the almost-inevitable transphobic backlash?
Pellett: I’m not running because I’m transgender, I’m running because I believe in helping middle and working-class Texans. I just happened to be transgender, and I honestly expect more push back from the fact that I’m an ex-conservative and I know how they think, how they speak, and I know how to destroy their talking points.
FPH: Being the biased, lamestream media, I probably fucked some of this up, so here’s a small bit where you can say anything you want.
Pellett: My mother, Maria del Rosario, was born with cerebral palsy. It was misdiagnosed as polio when she grew up, and she had the Forrest Gump leg braces and walked with a noticeable limp. She was told all her life that she was an invalid and a cripple, and she couldn’t do the same things that her sisters could.
Naturally, she went ahead and did the thing anyways. She defied my grandfather by walking to Mass every morning before going to Catholic School. She defied my grandfather by going to college and getting a degree in teaching English as a second language to special-needs students.
She defied her family by falling in love with and marrying a gringo, my father David Ellsworth. Her doctor said it would be impossible for her to have a child. I am the product of one stubborn Latina and the man who supported her.
When I started supporting Bernie Sanders at the Texas Democratic Party and wanted to engage in direct democracy through a petition process at the State Convention, everyone told me it was impossible. I defied the naysayers and did three of them.
by Jef Rouner