David Saucedo, 35, is taking a hiatus from his management duties as executive quality safety health and environmental adviser to the CEO of the Reinforced Earth Co., a national civil engineering design company and supplier of materials for retaining walls, arches, sound walls and related structures. His mission: winning nomination as the Republican candidate for Congressional District 17. Saucedo has emerged as not only an example of how an ex-convict can successfully reintegrate into society, he has joined local efforts to help others do so. A founding member of Life Church Waco and an OSHA-certified specialist in safety and health, he describes himself as an “urban conservative activist” and a constitutional conservative. We found Saucedo an example of directions the Republican Party must consider in the near future if it is to ever broaden its appeal beyond aging white populations in rural America.
Q Was there a specific moment that prompted you to think, “ I’m going to run for Congress”?
A Yeah, I think that switch was flipped back in 2009 when I started learning about the United States, when I started learning about the history of this nation that I didn’t get in school. I had the ambition and the desire, but I didn’t have any real-world experience. I didn’t have an understanding of how the real world works. And so I went to work in the private sector and in the construction industry. This time around, when [Republican Congressman] Bill Flores announced he wasn’t going to run again, I didn’t immediately decide, “Man, I want to run for Congress.” It actually didn’t even cross my mind. But as news stories were coming out about people running for this office, when I heard [former Dallas Republican] Pete Sessions was running [in Congressional District 17], I was like, “That’s interesting. He’s not from my district.” And so I started looking into it more. I just felt the skill sets I’ve gained, the experience that I’ve gained, the relationships that I have with organizations and nonprofits, this was a good time for me to step in and apply those skill sets and relationships and team-building efforts in the political process and help restore unity. That’s why the slogan for my campaign is, “We are one people.” I want people to come together around solutions.
Q Is there something you drew from the study of American history that either left you frustrated or hopeful or conflicted?
A Well, I grew up believing that the Democrats were for poor people and Republicans were for rich people. And I didn’t understand the concept of liberty. I didn’t understand God-given liberty, that our liberties do not come from government, they come from God and that our government was established to protect those God-given liberties and rights. And then learning about the debates and the discussions, the Federalist Papers. I mean, I was a kid that was just ignorant to reality. And when I began learning how all that took place, how people who were very, very opposed to each other ideologically came together to create the best governing system the world has ever seen, it fascinated me.
Q Research indicates that successful lawmakers come from backgrounds where they’ve either served on a city council or a school board or a philanthropic board or a planning commission or something like that. Do you have anything like that in terms of experience that would lend toward working with others in a collaborative way instead of in conflict?
A I started off with the Reinforced Earth Company as a temporary worker through Jack of All Trades [Employment Agency & Job Consultancy Firm] here in Waco. Over five years time I advanced to the safety position, regional safety, then national safety. In January of 2019, I was made executive advisor to the CEO and vice president of operations. So in that journey, I had to work with dozens of field supervisors whose personalities vary as much as the weather. I had to work with middle managers who didn’t always agree. I had to work with executives and I traveled to all of our seven different production sites throughout the country and communicated with the eight regional offices and the corporate office more than anybody else in this role. So I was constantly traveling and working with teams of people who are different and my job was to understand where both sides are coming from, analyze the issue at hand, disregard things that aren’t imperative to reaching the goal and come up with solutions. In the private sector you have to be results driven.
Q You mentioned some nonprofits you’ve been involved with.
A Yeah. So in 2015, I wrote an article based on a concept that I came up with called “foundational employment.” That’s what you interviewed me about in 2015. The concept of foundational employment got me involved with quite a few people and Act Locally Waco was one of the first with [local civic leader] Ashley Thornton. And then Baylor University and Goodwill Industries got involved and it became the Foundational Employment Network. So we began meeting monthly. The concept was focused on the employee because I believe in investing in people’s lives. I believe if your company invests in lives, your company will thrive. And then it was changed to Waco Employer Resource Network [consisting of job-training programs, social services agencies, staffing agencies and local employers that collaborate to place people in full-time jobs], which takes a more employer-focused approach, which is good. I keep up with all of that. My brother got involved and we began switching which one of us would go to the meetings but we’ve stayed involved and we’ve supported the efforts. We worked with Waco Transit to get shuttle buses to go out to the rural areas for $3 per direction. I’ve worked a lot with probation departments, talking to probation officers or calling them, explaining employees who are trying to work and keep a job and helping them set a [probation office] schedule that is realistic. If they’re expected to be in two places at once, you’re not going to one of them. So I’ve worked with neighborhood associations in Waco. It would be a long list.
Q When you and I and Jason Ramos talked in 2015, we were discussing this whole theme of successfully reintegrating individuals who’ve been on the receiving end of the criminal justice system back into society and the workforce. I think the McLennan County Reintegration Roundtable was formed to spearhead that effort.
A There’s a strong effort in the city of Waco to help people who have made mistakes in life turn themselves around and reintegrate back into society. I believe some of the most loyal, creative, determined people are people who have made mistakes. They don’t have a stellar record or a perfect record, but they just need to be invested in.
Q In that interview, you said one reason why some young people wind up in crime is they “... grew up in unhealthy households or they were influenced by a thug culture that is all around us. We are inundated with messages of anger, violence, promiscuity, and these things do influence us. As changed men ourselves, we understand those influences. We can see the unintended consequences of those messages in ways that we were blind to before.” What can you do as a congressman to address this problem ?
A It’s more prevalent than ever because you’ve got the Internet, you’ve got all these apps. It’s so accessible now, even more so than when we were young. As a congressman, I believe the words have meaning in the Constitution that we’re to promote the general welfare. To do that, the approach I’m taking means developing relationships with every county. I would develop relationships with different companies or operations and find out where young people hang out. What does your city look like? How do we research your city? Put together a game plan to where when I’m in town, I’m actively working [on behalf of the community in that regard]. I’m not going to go to Congress and work for 130 days a year and come home and just do meetings all the time. If we’re meeting when I’m home, we’re working or we’re going to have a working relationship with the counties and the cities that are in the district, helping them establish efforts, activities, opportunities, incentives, everything that we can do to engage young people because I believe that we don’t have a boring message. Liberty’s not boring. Governance is not boring. It’s an exciting subject if we do this correctly.
Q This newspaper has been critical of the president fairly often, but we give the president, Republican Senator John Cornyn and the president’s son-in-law much credit for passage of the First Step Act, which generally shortens some drug sentences, expands rehab programs in prison and offers measures to battle recidivism. Many of the federal models in this legislation come from Texas criminal justice reforms. Any thoughts on that legislation?
A Releasing people for first offenses that are drug charges, looking at what we’ve criminalized as a nation, is so important. We can do more to foster the conversation about recidivism. Why are people going back? When I have to analyze an accident or a situation at a plant, I have to get down to the root cause. To do that, you have to collect a tremendous amount of data, figure out what was the weather like: Did the person stay up late last night? So all kinds of different things go into determining what was the root cause of the situation. If we do that in cities and towns, we can identify many of the root causes of this and decrease recidivism in a major way. And I don’t think it’s going to come through law. It’s going to come through action. It’s going to come from people doing things rather than saying things. I don’t think we need to pass laws or legislation to solve every problem.
Q Donald Trump has been a transformative figure, not only for the Republican Party but the nation. How has he made the Republican Party better?
A I think he’s made the Republican Party better in the sense that he has gone against the status quo. He has gone against... You’ve seen Republicans and Democrats against Donald Trump because he’s not a politician’s politician. From what I see in Donald Trump, he’s willing to push aside process in order to get results. If a process is preventing us from seeing results, then that process should be stepped aside or go around it. I’ve seen a lot of stories about Donald Trump that have turned out to not be true, where you see this fake news [coverage] all the time. The misinformation ... his presidency has resulted in a division, but I wouldn’t fault him with it solely. Yeah, he’ll say some things that are offensive. I think we all will at some point. But the coverage and the bias and the lack of honest conversation about the facts have definitely lent more to the division that we see in our country today.
Q Can you give an example of a story that turned out to be not true about him?
A Well, I mean, the fact that everybody says Donald Trump is racist. There’s tons of stories talking about Donald Trump being racist. To me I’ve never seen a president do more for the inner city with the coalition of black leaders, the opportunity zones. He may not say it the best way possible every time, but he’s making an effort, in my opinion. I think when people say that he is enriching himself off the back of the country — there’s numerous stories out there about Donald Trump enriching his organization, the Trump Organization, using the presidency to do that. When the Trump Organization has withdrawn from foreign operations, as he’s handed over control of that — it’s just not true.
Q Let’s put any of the ongoing impeachment stuff aside. The Trib editorial board is convinced that censuring the president might have been a better idea. Former Whitewater Independent Counsel Ken Starr has suggested this. But again let’s put that aside. The president is basically in trouble over his decision to freeze congressionally approved funding for military aid to an East European ally under Russian attack. Is such executive behavior acceptable for presidents going forward to where they can freeze congressionally approved funding? [Note: This involved $391 million in military assistance and weapons sales to Ukraine, a measure supported by an overwhelming majority of Congress to help fend off Russian inroads into its country.] If it’s OK for President Trump to do this, is this OK for President Biden or President Sanders or President Warren?
A The president of the Ukraine has come out and said there has been no quid pro quo.
Q That’s not the question. The question is: Should a president be able to freeze congressionally approved funding? Congress, led by Republicans [in this effort], approved funding for Ukraine because it’s under attack and has already seen part of its nation stripped away by Russia. That’s why Congress approved this funding.
A Well, one, I don’t think that’s what President Trump did, but you—
Q What do you think?
A Crimea was taken under Obama’s watch and I think, no, to answer your question, that a president should not be able to freeze funding that has been approved by the Congress. And I don’t think that’s what President Trump has done.
Q What do you think he’s done?
A I think ... I mean, he released the transcripts of his phone call with the Ukrainian president. To me, I think he is investigating corruption that should be investigated. I mean, it’s within his jurisdiction to investigate—
Q But you just said you don’t think he should be able to hold up congressionally approved funding.
A No, I said I don’t think any president should be able to hold up congressional funding — and I don’t believe that’s what President Trump has done. So, I think—
Q Where [what news source] are you getting that?
A I think what President Trump has done is ... I get it from whitehouse.org. I mean I get it from people who have looked at this situation and he’s not ... This whole impeachment thing is not based on facts. You look at, you go back to the investigation. What happened to Russian collusion?
Q Like I said, we’re less concerned about the impeachment aspect.
A This isn’t regarding impeachment. This is not regarding impeachment alone. This is regarding a bureaucratic corruption. The FBI, the DOJ, the State Department, the people who have been after this president for two years, for his first two years in office, have done things outside the law, have done ... I mean, they’ve basically made their positions weapons. And now that’s out the window. We just forget about that. We’re going to sweep that over to the side and now we’re going to focus on this Ukrainian phone call that I don’t see—
Q Do you believe a deep state is controlling the FBI?
A I don’t believe there is a deep state that is controlling just the FBI. I’m not a conspiracy theorist that believes that there’s this one power that’s controlling all this stuff. But I think we’ve allowed people, bureaucrats, to hold positions that answer to themselves a lot of times. I mean, there’s impunity handed out like candy and they’re not held to task when they misstep. I think positions within these bureaucracies should be monitored and people should be held accountable for their actions when they break the law. That goes for Republicans and Democrats. I’m for truth no matter who it’s for or against.
Q When you talk to people on the campaign trail, what is the issue they’re most concerned about?
A Well, a lot of people I talk to as I’m walking through neighborhoods don’t really know a whole lot about what’s going on, and that concerns me. Now, when I go to the candidate forums or the Republican meetings where people — they’re more informed, they’re more aware of what’s going on. But I’m spending a lot of my time in areas and with people that aren’t really active politically, because I believe that there’s a lot of people that just are—
Q There’s not an issue out there that they—
A No, there are. I’m getting to that, but that’s the reason I shared this with you is because there’s ... I think people want justice. They want equal justice. There’s a lot of people that have asked me about the legalization of marijuana. You know, they want the freedom to grow, or smoke, or whatever. There’s people that they ask about what am I going to do for veterans. I’ve talked to homeless vets. Within the communities where I’ve walked and talked to people, it’s typically just broad issues like that. “What are we going to do for veterans?” Or “What are we going to do for legalizing marijuana?”
Q What do you think about legalizing marijuana?
A I think it wasn’t illegal in the first place, so I think it should definitely be descheduled. I’m not a subscriber to the gateway drug mentality.
Q How do you square that with law enforcement that swears up and down it is?
A Well, I mean, I would say ... I smoked weed for a long time and it didn’t lead me to anything other than weed. I base it off my situation. I don’t want to think that my situation is the only situation to make a decision off of. When it comes to law enforcement, and the law enforcement community, I would definitely listen to what they say and I would work with them to get to the bottom of where we can agree on things. I think most of the time it’s not going to ... If I’m having a conversation with law enforcement, and I’m a huge supporter of law enforcement here locally, that’s not going to be an issue that we would get down to disagreeing about because I think it becomes irrelevant when we talk about the bigger issues that are challenging our communities.
Q But it’s an issue nonetheless that people are talking to you about, and it’s one that, ironically, law enforcement has one viewpoint, some of your potential constituents obviously have a completely different viewpoint. You said that the issue would not be one that you thought would cause a lot of friction with law enforcement. Why would it not if constituents are—
A What I was talking about, there is this specific idea that marijuana is a gateway drug.
Q By that, you mean marijuana use does not necessarily lead to use of more dangerous drugs.
A Right, right, but I would share-
Q And it doesn’t, by the way.
A I agree with you. I would share my ideas and my thoughts as a individual. As a candidate, as a government servant, serving the constituents of this district, I would stand on what I tell my constituents I stand for.
Q You strike me as a very sincere, idealistic young man who wants to better our society. Tell me why you decided to run for Congress instead of, say, City Council or the County Commissioners Court or even the Legislature. Congress is a big jump for a guy—
A I’m not able to run for City Council because of stipulations at the local level because of my background. Federal office is an office that doesn’t prevent me from registering and running for office. It’s a place that I can pursue and have my voice heard. I’ve paid attention to ... I’ve watched politicians on the federal level constantly in gridlock, not getting anything done.
Q Do you believe the people of District 17 think there is room for bipartisanship in Washington?
A I think a lot of people have lost hope. Look back over the last 50 years. This partisanship has created the problem. Executive overreach has happened and it goes all the way back probably to the founding. What I would be is a champion of solutions. I believe in shrinking federal government by asking less of it. To answer your [earlier] question about Democrats — no, I don’t believe Democrats are evil. I think God loves Democrats too. But I think there are people in both parties who have their own interests in mind. They don’t have the best interest of the United States. They’re not looking to defend the Constitution. I think I see [this more in] Democrats. I mean, do you notice how in lockstep the Democrats are in everything they do? You didn’t see Democrats coming out, for instance, when Obama was in office, like Senator Mike Lee and Senator Rand Paul came out yesterday. [The two Republican senators expressed anger after a closed-door briefing on Iran Wednesday and announced support of a resolution reining in President Trump’s military powers.] I feel like the leadership of the Democrat Party is not in support of defending the Constitution and that’s based on their actions. I think Democrats in my neighborhoods, Democrats in my communities and here in CD 17 — I think there are tremendous people who self-identify as Democrats. I think all of the division comes from Washington. It comes from the federal level. If we focus on the local level and walk outside — and it comes from the media as well — if we go out into our communities, then go outside and say hello to your neighbor. If I’m driving down the street and I see someone with a flat tire, I’m going to get out and help them. I’m not going to say, “Wait a minute, are you a Democrat or Republican? Well, I’m not able to help you with your tire today.” And I think there are Democrats who are the same way. If they see me broke down on the side of the road, they’re going to stop and help me out. I think me leaning on my strength on the local level, helping to mobilize solutions on the local level, will make me more effective on the federal level because I will be able to stand firmly in D.C. and point to what I represent. This is how we educate people. We don’t have to argue about it. This is how we do it.
Q Our congressman quit having in-person town-hall meetings because he felt like they were becoming dangerous. Will you hold them?
A I couldn’t see me staying away from the people. That’s how I learn. Like answering your questions — being questioned and challenged by constituents is something where I learn and I grow. That’s the best way to connect with people, eye-to-eye. If security issues are a concern, then we’ll address those, but I can’t think of a reason why I wouldn’t be able to host meetings in the cities and counties and towns I intend to serve in. I want working relationships with those counties and towns and cities. I don’t want to do it over the Internet. I want to roll up my sleeves and get out there and meet with the people.
Q Again, you seem a very intelligent individual, but why should we send you up there and think you’re going to be any different? I’ve seen a lot of guys go up to Washington, D.C., in my career. Little happens.
A I don’t think people should vote for someone. I think you should vote for something. I think you should vote for ideas, not people, because people are fallible.
Interview conducted by Trib editor Steve Boggs and opinion editor Bill Whitaker. It has been condensed for space and edited for clarity.