Hurd off the Hill: TX-23 candidates sound off

FAR WEST TEXAS – The new crop of candidates in Texas’ 23rd district are reacting this week to U.S. Representative Will Hurd’s retirement, announced last Thursday. Three Democrats and three Republicans will battle it out in the March primaries, and two will face off in November 2020 for the contested seat that often flips between parties. The massive district covers the tri-county area, stretching from the border up to Odessa, and reaching from the outskirts of El Paso all the way to the fringes of San Antonio.

Hurd joins an exodus of 11 other Republicans who are retiring ahead of 2020, with the TX-23 representative being the third to vacate a seat in Texas. He is currently the only black Republican Representative in Congress, and on Sunday told CBS’ Face the Nation, “I’m interested in helping other candidates like me. I want to see a Republican Party that has more folks that look and sound and operate like I do.”

The former CIA official was first elected in 2014, won reelection in 2016, and narrowly defeated Democratic candidate Gina Ortiz Jones by 689 votes in 2018.

“Will Hurd not seeking reelection certainly changes the dynamics of this campaign,” Liz Wahl, a political newcomer and Democratic candidate in TX-23, said. In the wake of Hurd’s retirement, Wahl asserted, “This district is even closer to swinging blue. If elected, I will be unwavering in acting as an effective check on the executive branch. I will fight for opportunities for all members of this community and this country.” Her campaign planks include universal healthcare, humane immigration policies, expanding educational opportunities, taking action on climate change and implementing common sense gun reform, a stark contrast to Hurd’s moderate Republican style.

A second Democratic candidate, Rosalinda “Rosey” Ramos Abuabara, also hopes to check the executive branch if she is elected. “I have been holding Will Hurd accountable for his votes and positions for the last two plus years. Given the vicious and racist environment created by the administration and the Republican party, his choice to not run again was the right one.”

Abuabara also wasn’t happy with Hurd’s tenure in office, stating, “As the only Latina in the race and a native San Antonian, I will fight for the people and battle the toxic policies of Trumpism, something which Will Hurd completely failed to do.”

Democrats in the race aren’t the only ones disappointed by Hurd. On the other side of the aisle, candidate Raul Reyes Jr., one of three Republicans hoping to take Hurd’s place, said he knew Hurd was on his way out the door. “We’re not surprised.” Reyes has been campaigning, knocking on doors and holding town halls for four months, and said, “Mr. Hurd started voting more heavily Democrat. A lot of folks were absolutely disconcerted with his votes.”

Reyes also hit on a key component of Hurd’s time in office. “He was typically a ‘Never Trump’ Republican. We’re glad he’s decided to go do something else, but I really believe a lot of it had to do with our candidacy.”

Alma Arredondo-Lynch, another Republican running, is also tightly aligning her candidacy with Trump. Arredondo-Lynch could not be reached for comment, but the candidate’s campaign page recently posted, “Dr. Alma’s firm stance on border security, the rights and liberty of our unborn children, and supporting President Trump has become a blessing to the great residents, concerned citizens, and voters in District 23.”

Republican Tony Gonzales, the final R of the group, had already announced his candidacy for TX-35 earlier this year, preparing to wage a campaign against Democratic incumbent Lloyd Doggett, who covers parts of Austin and San Antonio. However, when Hurd’s retirement became public, Gonzales decided to withdraw from TX-35 and instead throw his hat into the ring for the open TX-23 seat.

“The one everyone’s laying their bets on is Gina Ortiz Jones,” candidate Reyes said. Indeed, Ortiz Jones is the Democratic favorite, who nearly edged Hurd out of his seat last year. In the wake of Hurd’s retirement announcement, Ortiz Jones raised over $100,000 in 24 hours.

Asked about Hurd’s retirement, Ortiz Jones told the Sentinel, “From San Antonio to Socorro and everywhere in between, Texans are ready for new leadership in Washington, and I’m ready to serve.” Ortiz Jones laid out some of the goals for her campaign this time around. “We can do more to support our service members, veterans, and their families, and we need to stand up to the reckless policies coming out of Washington, D.C.”

In the TX-23 November 2020 showdown, it appears voters will ultimately have to choose between a candidate ready to support Trump or a candidate prepared to strongly oppose him.