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Sen. Nathan Johnson & Rep. Victoria Neave Criado face-off in Democratic primary for District 16 seat in Dallas County

A look at the Democratic primary for Texas State Senate District 16
A look at the Democratic primary for Texas State Senate District 16 05:40

DALLAS – In the heart of Dallas County, State Senator Nathan Johnson is facing a challenge from State Representative Victoria Neave Criado in the Democratic primary for the Senate District 16 seat.

The district includes parts of Richardson, Irving, Dallas, Mesquite and other cities.

State records show about half the population here is Hispanic, a district that was redrawn three years ago.

There are no Republican candidates, so whoever wins the Democratic primary wins the seat for the next four years.

We asked Johnson, who's held the seat since 2019, why Democrats should vote for him over Neave Criado.

Johnson said, "If you want results, if you want the kind of things we all depend on for government, I have a proven track record of delivering the things that the community needs, that the district needs, that the state needs. Over the course of my three sessions, I've passed nearly 100 bills."

We asked Neave Criado why she's leaving her safe seat in the Texas House to challenge Johnson and she said, "I'm the daughter of an immigrant dad, I was born and raised here in Dallas and want to take our fight from the House to the Senate. As a leader in the House, and attorney, I'm a first-generation college graduate in my family and I wanted to make sure that lived experience is represented in the Senate."

When it comes to their legislative priorities, both Neave Criado and Johnson told CBS News Texas education is among them.

They both oppose school vouchers or taxpayer-financed education savings accounts pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Johnson said he will continue fighting for improving the state's power grid after the deadly widespread blackouts during a severe winter storm three years ago increasing Texans' access to healthcare. "I passed a bill that got 350,000 people health insurance, I passed a bill out of the Senate that got $1.8 billion in the House and we're now going to be deploying back-up power systems throughout the state of Texas. I keep mentioning these big tickets because these are big bills and I'm a Democrat. It's hard, it's really hard to pass bills as a Democrat."

His bill to improve the grid included provisions to make sure there's back-up power for nursing homes, water treatment facilities and first responders.

While his and other Democrats' efforts to expand Medicaid have failed in the Texas Legislature dominated by Republicans, Johnson said he's focused on helping other Texans gain health insurance coverage from the Affordable Care Act. "A million people or more are qualified for subsidies. They just don't know it. So the short answer to your question, what could we do to get people insured, we could have the state and the private sector people get out there and explain to people there are subsidies available on the ACA Marketplace."

If elected, Neave Criado said she wants to keep focusing on another priority of hers while serving in the House. "I want to continue focusing on issues that disproportionately impact women, sexual harassment in the workplace for example, I passed a law to extend the statute of limitations for sex harassment in the workplace and this is a Republican majority state, that is not easy to do."

She pointed to her bill that passed in 2019 that mandated law enforcement agencies get old rape kits off the shelves and tested. "I'm very proud to say one of the rape kit backlogs has been eliminated in Texas because of the Lavinia Masters Act because we got $50 million from the Texas budget tied to my bill that I passed. Even though we eliminated one of the backlogs, we still have some backlogs in Texas. Women are waiting for justice."

Both Neave Criado and Johnson said they support reproductive rights and raising the age to buy an assault-style rifle.

Regarding border security, both opposed the state's new law making it a crime for a migrant to cross into Texas illegally and say immigration is the federal government's responsibility.

But they disagree over another bill that passed which increased the penalty against human smuggling.

Neave Criado opposed it. "There is a fear in the community we have to address there, which is why we are working on immigration informationals to inform individuals about their rights."

Johnson supported it. "It simply increased the penalty for those who are convicted of trafficking human beings. The underlying law, the penalty for which this bill increased, has been there for 24 years."

They both told us they've worked with Republican lawmakers on some issues, but that fighting back against Republicans' major bills and the direction they want to take the state are also a key part of the job.

Johnson said, "We have a $2 trillion economy and 30 million people. I am not going to let the Republicans run all of that. I'm going to be involved in all these major issues and we have to realize we can't do it ourselves."

Neave Criado said that includes a variety of issues. "When it comes to issues that impact our right to choose, when it comes to issues that impact diversity, supporting communities of color, whe it comes to gun reform, raising the age to purchase an assault rifle, attack on our LGBTQ community, we cannot accept that."

Early voting continues through Friday, March 1.

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