OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Sen. Tony Vargas is making a run for Congress. Vargas, a Democrat, exclusively told 3 News Now he is running for Nebraska’s Second Congressional District.
Vargas represents District 7, which covers all downtown and southeast Omaha. He wants to challenge the way Congress is doing things. He’s hoping to emerge as his party’s challenger to incumbent Congressman Don Bacon.
“When I run into people in the streets who are my constituents, I basically tell them you're my boss, I have to work on behalf of you and that's not going to change. Except we need to do better. Because Congress is not doing enough. And I know how to do it in the legislature, and I'm going to do it in Congress,” said Vargas.
Vargas became a member of the Nebraska Legislature in 2016 and was re-elected in 2020. For the past five years, the New-York born senator says he prides himself on his ability to gain the trust of a diverse group of constituents.
“I'm really lucky I've been elected here twice," he said. "And that didn't happen just by doing nothing. That happened by talking to people. Actually, being in the community, talking to my neighbors, talking to every single group, both in the state and even in our own backyard. I had to talk to everybody because that's the only way to get people's support."
Prior to his time in the legislature, Vargas started his career as a public school teacher in New York City with Teach for America. He was later appointed to serve on the Omaha Public Schools Board in 2013. Creating accessible education is a priority for Vargas.
“Doesn't matter where you grow up, what zip code, or what your circumstances are," he said. "We need every single student to then be prepared to compete in this global economy."
For the last few years, Vargas has worked in the nonprofit sector. He has a wife, Lauren Vargas, who runs a nonprofit in Omaha. Together they have two kids, Ava, 2, and Luca, 6 months.
Vargas considers himself a bipartisan leader and says his actions prove he has worked across the aisle in the Senate, and will again in Congress if elected.
“That is what I've done. I've served on the Appropriations Committee, passing balanced budgets that also focus on people, on businesses, on our schools, and our healthcare. I've worked and chaired our planning committee. I've been in leadership in the legislature not because of anything other than the way I lead and the way that I operate,” added Vargas.
As a senator, Vargas has been vocal about issues related to immigration, juvenile justice, improving consumer protections, and healthcare access.
The senator has something of a national profile due to his efforts to provide COVID-19 resources for Hispanic communities during the pandemic and advocating for better practices inside meatpacking plants after many experienced COVID-19 outbreaks in Nebraska and Iowa. A big reason for his advocacy during the pandemic is that Vargas lost his dad to COVID last year. He says that’s what pushed him to want to do more for Nebraskans’ healthcare.
“After he passed, I wanted to make sure other people weren't going through the same pain that my family went through. So, I immediately tried to work in the community to educate people about COVID-19, to get testing out in our community, working with our community health centers, public health department, and doing everything possible because I actually have the ability to do something about it as an elected official. I wanted to lead by example,” said Vargas.
The Congressional hopeful would have to win the Democratic primary before he could challenge Republican Rep. Don Bacon.
Alisha Shelton, an Omaha therapist, already announced her run for Nebraska’s Second District last week. Others could decide to run as well.
When asked if he was ready to fight for the Democratic ticket and possibly face Bacon in 2022, Vargas responded he’s ready to run a positive campaign.
“Every time I've run, I've always focused on a campaign that's focused on people, getting the message out about what I stand for, what kind of person I am, what my values are. And I've been able to win elections and run strong campaigns focused on people," he said.
The last time a Democrat won Nebraska’s Second Congressional District was in 2014 when then-Congressman Brad Ashford succeeded incumbent Lee Terry, who held the seat a total of 16 years starting in 1999.
If elected, Senator Vargas, the son of Peruvian immigrants, would become the first Latino Congressman in Nebraska.