Colin Allred
Courtesy/Colin Allred

Dallas Democrat Colin Allred on his Bid to Unseat Pete Sessions

The former NFL linebacker talks about protests during the national anthem, North Texas activism and the likelihood of a presidential impeachment.


A version of this story ran in the October 2018 issue.

Colin Allred
Colin Allred  Courtesy/Colin Allred

Texas’ 32nd Congressional District sprawls across the northern suburbs of Dallas and includes some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the state. The region has long been a bastion of country-club Republicanism, but it’s now rapidly growing and diversifying. Though Democrats didn’t even bother to field a candidate in 2016, Hillary Clinton won the district by nearly 2 points.

Colin Allred, a Dallas native and former NFL linebacker who worked for the Obama administration, is the Democratic candidate in what has become one of the most-watched races in the country. He’s taking on U.S. Representative Pete Sessions, a 20-year incumbent and one of the most powerful members of the U.S. House.

This race will likely be a bellwether for how Democrats fare around the country in their bid to take back the House by flipping Republicans’ suburban districts.

What has it been like running as a first-time candidate in one of the most anticipated and scrutinized midterms in recent political history?

For me this is a deeply personal race. I’m running here in my hometown, where I was born and raised. Where my mother, who raised me on her own, was a teacher. Where I went to high school, at Hillcrest High School. No matter what the national attention has been on this race, for me it’s always been personal and about what we need here locally. I’m running to make sure that who we are here in North Texas, our values, are being represented. I think we need new ideas and fresh blood, and that’s what I’m working to bring to my community.

How has the district changed in recent years and how does that match up with how it’s represented in Congress?

We obviously have a lot of people who are moving to North Texas. Every year, our state becomes more and more diverse — that’s just part of our process as we move forward. I also think a lot of people here feel like this version of the Republican Party doesn’t reflect them.

Is it possible to both expand and motivate the Democratic base and try to flip more moderate Republicans?

I think you just gotta be who you are. You need to be authentic, that’s what people are looking for. They’re looking for someone who will say what they believe and be on their side. I really believe that the differences between our people are not that great. What you see on cable news or in the newspaper is not often what people are talking about when they get together. We have to be focused on the things that matter to folks here in the district every single day.

So I think there’s not that much of a difference between those conversations across whatever fake ideological lines that are drawn. I actually just don’t believe in those. I don’t think people are born with a stance one way or the other. They’re looking for people who are on their side and want representation from people who care about them.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is seen as a key battleground for Democrats running for the Texas Legislature and Congress — and perhaps most of all, statewide. What does it feel like on the ground?

I think it’s just incredible, the amount of energy coming out of North Texas. We work with maybe a dozen groups that didn’t exist before the election in 2016 that are being led by normal folks who just decided to get involved in their own democracy. Most of them have never done this before and a lot of them have been here for a while. They just didn’t think there was anything to get involved with, but they know that is different now so they’re adding their voices to ours and bolstering this campaign and every other campaign. No matter what happens this fall, it’s important that more people get engaged up here.

You played in the NFL. As you know, there’s been a lot of attention around Beto O’Rourke saying that he can think of “nothing more American” than kneeling in protest during the national anthem, that it’s a form of protest in the spirit of the civil rights movement. What do you think?

What I’ve always said is that it’s healthy and it’s normal in democracy to disagree. When somebody is protesting, it’s normal that there are two sides of the issue. And I know good people on both sides of this. What I think we should all agree about is our right as Americans to protest. That’s something that we should be focusing on.

Pete Sessions is one of the most powerful Republicans in the House, and he’s within the mainstream of the party on many issues. Do you think he’s out of touch with Republican voters in the district?

I actually would argue that he is not within the mainstream, that he’s actually been pretty radical on a lot of things. This is somebody who has been captured in many ways by special interests. If you don’t have a lobbyist, you have a hard time getting in touch with Pete Sessions. We’ve seen that he doesn’t hold town halls, he doesn’t come back here to talk to his constituents. That’s what this is really gonna be about. Somebody who has deep roots in this community, who cares about this community because he came from it, and because my life was made possible by many of the people in this area, versus somebody who has taken this area for granted, who doesn’t listen to us, who doesn’t come back here and make sure he’s responding to our needs. He’s spending his time with special interests and playing a Washington game that people are sick of.

If Democrats are able to win back a majority in the House, how do you think the party should wield its power as a check on the Trump administration and generally as an opposition party in this era?

I don’t like the term “opposition.” I think we’re running to represent our district — I want to get things done for North Texas. I’m not going to be somebody who will be unwilling to work with the administration or members of the other party when we can. My top priorities pretty much all fall in line with things I’ve heard that [Democrats are] interested in doing — lowering the cost of health care and prescription drugs, to infrastructure and job training. But we have to stand up also when our values are at stake. It’s not about being just a check or something like that. I think it’s more about making sure we represent who we are and our American values. Certainly we know some of our values are not being reflected in Washington right now.

I don’t think we should use this as an opportunity to oppose everything the way that some folks have done in the past.

Do you think the House needs to be more aggressive in investigating ethics violations in the Trump administration and even considering impeachment?

I think we need to make sure that if our laws are being broken and the Constitution is being violated, that that’s being looked into. The first thing that has to be done is to protect the Mueller investigation, to make sure it’s allowed to reach its conclusion. I think it’s premature to talk about or discuss impeachment until that is done. But there are certainly things that have happened that have violated some of the ethics norms that we’ve had in this country. And some of those norms will have to be made into law now. Because as we’ve seen, if it’s not actually written in stone then it might actually not be followed.

Can you name a member of Congress, past or present, who you’d want to model your own tenure on?

I really like Marc Veasey and the way he’s gone about representing his district. He works extremely hard at staying in touch with the people in this area and holds town halls and is accessible. He does a “week at work,” where he goes around to different jobs every day that people are doing in his district. He’s got a record as someone who can work across the aisle but who also stands up for our values. That’s who I want to be: someone who gets things done. I don’t want to be a show horse, I want to be a workhorse for North Texas.