Meet the candidates, part 1: General election edition

Meet the candidates, pt. 1: TX-23 and Texas House District 74

Welcome to part one of our meet-the-candidates series. Early voting started in Texas last week, with a voting site at the USO Building in Marfa and at the Annex Building C in Presidio. With Election Day itself just around the corner, The Big Bend Sentinel reached out to candidates in the region to give them a chance to speak on issues affecting residents of the Big Bend. This week features two major races in the area. First, there’s the race for TX-23, a battleground district where Gina Ortiz Jones, a Democrat, is facing off against Tony Gonzales, a Republican, for outgoing Republican Rep. Will Hurd’s congressional seat.

On the state level, we’re also taking a look at the race of Texas House District 74. Formerly occupied by Democratic State Rep. Poncho Nevárez, Nevárez announced last year he wouldn’t seek reelection. This race features Ruben Falcon, a Republican, and Eddie Morales, a Democrat. Stay tuned for part two of our series next week, where we’ll be looking at the regional Texas state senate races, as well as the race for three Marfa City Council seats.

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, TX-23

TONY GONZALES (R)

What is your number one priority in office, and how will it impact residents?

My number one priority is getting our economy back on track and safely, wholly reopened. The pandemic has done so much damage to so many people’s livelihoods, and Congress has to be laser-focused on helping our people recover.

Our region is off the major interstates and has fewer than 20,000 residents. Once in office, you will represent large swaths of Texas. How will you ensure our voices are heard and our needs represented?

I have traveled to every part of this district and listened to the concerns of as many people as possible. I don’t care if you are a Republican or Democrat or Independent – I am running to serve all of Texas-23. Too often, rural areas of America get ignored by Washington and it has to change. I’ll work hard to make sure our rural areas get the federal resources they need to thrive.

Many residents in this district have to travel more than 90 miles to access specialty and critical care. Some older residents even move away for this reason. Do you have a plan to make healthcare more affordable, more accessible and less confusing for residents, and what role do you think the government should play?

We must focus on increasing access to healthcare for rural Texans. My opponent wants to go the opposite direction by installing a complete government takeover of healthcare, a disaster for rural Texas. We need to be focused on expanding choices and access and lowering costs, not socializing medicine and raising taxes on the middle class to pay for it like my opponent wants to do. It is my belief that we must reduce the ever-growing burdens and paperwork that does not improve patient care and costs put on physicians and medical practices because of federal mandates and regulations. This was the driving force in Obamacare that drove doctors out of business after its passage. Additionally, we should protect, evaluate and possibly expand federal student loan forgiveness programs for doctors willing to work in a rural setting.

A recent study showed Presidio County had some of the biggest population declines among cities in Texas, as residents leave for better job opportunities and more affordable housing. What’s your plan to ensure that longtime residents and families can thrive here?

We need to find new ways to incentivize job creation in rural America. I grew up, in part, in the rural parts of this district and I know the challenges we face. But I also know the people here are resilient and just want a fair shot at the American Dream, and that is what I am running to fight for.

In his final months in office, Rep. Will Hurd has pushed for expanded parks and landmarks, from a bigger Big Bend National Park to a Blackwell School heritage site in Marfa. What role do you see for parks, recreation and tourism in our area, both as it relates to the local economy and quality-of-life for residents?

Certainly our parks and tourism industries play an important role in the economies of the communities within this district. The 23rd Congressional District has more federal parks than any other Congressional district. People love to visit the great outdoors and our district has many opportunities for people to do so. I will always be an advocate fighting for the natural resources our district provides to families to learn and spend time together outdoors.

The coronavirus crisis has presented major challenges not only to public safety but to the local economy. How can the region protect businesses and workers without compromising public health? And how will you make sure the Big Bend region has adequate resources to handle this crisis, from testing and contact tracing to protective equipment?

We have to do all of the above. We have to invest in the equipment to help us safely reopen. The two things, healthcare infrastructure and building our economy, go hand in hand. We cannot reopen completely and successfully without doing the hard work of investing in the healthcare technologies needed to combat the virus.

 

GINA ORTIZ JONES (D)

What is your number one priority in office, and how will it impact local residents?

My number one priority will always be fighting for working families like mine. My story starts more than 40 years ago, when my mom came to this country as a domestic helper for an opportunity at the American Dream. She raised my sister and me on her own, and it wasn’t always easy. My mom worked multiple jobs and long hours, and we relied on critical investments – not handouts, but investments like reduced lunch and subsidized housing – to make ends meet.

I went to college on a four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship and served in the Air Force, deployed to Iraq and spent nearly 15 years working to protect our national security because I knew I had to give back to a country that had given my family so much. Now, I’m running for Congress because I know that protecting our national security starts with protecting our economic security here at home.

In the short-term, that starts with getting this pandemic under control and getting more relief in the hands of working families and small businesses so they can get back on their feet and we can safely re-open. In the long-term, it means making the investments to create more good-paying jobs, ensure every student gets a first-class public education and expand access to quality, affordable healthcare so that every family in this district has the same opportunities that allowed me to grow up healthy, get an education and serve our country.

Our region is off the major interstates and has fewer than 20,000 residents. Once in office, you will represent large swaths of Texas. How will you ensure our voices are heard and our needs represented?

We can’t leave Texans in any part of this district behind, whether you live in a small town like Terlingua or a big city like San Antonio. All 29 counties in this district are equally important.

Before the pandemic, I was all over this district, including meeting with folks in Marfa and Alpine and Presidio and Marathon and other communities throughout the tri-county area, and I’m committed to fighting for working families in every part of Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. If elected, I will absolutely have a district office in West Texas, and I also look forward to working with local leaders, including Mayor Manny Baeza and Mayor John Ferguson, who I am proud to be endorsed by, to ensure that the Big Bend region is well-represented in Congress.

Many residents in this district have to travel more than 90 miles to access specialty and critical care. Some older residents even move away for this reason. Do you have a plan to make healthcare more affordable, more accessible and less confusing for residents, and what role do you think the government should play?

For too many families – particularly in our small towns and rural communities – quality, affordable healthcare is still out of reach. This issue is deeply personal to me. When I came home from Iraq, I wanted to surprise my mom, but she surprised me. She told me she had been diagnosed with cancer, and was already undergoing chemotherapy. I will never forget the fear I felt standing in her kitchen and hearing the news – that I could lose my mom, but also that her care might bankrupt our family.

Thankfully, she had good health insurance through her job as a public school teacher, which saved her life. But every family deserves that same fighting chance. I’ll work to protect and expand the Affordable Care Act, introduce a public option to increase competition and lower costs, strengthen our rural hospitals and community clinics, allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs, invest in broadband to increase access to telehealth, and protect programs like the ACA, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that are critical to sustaining our rural healthcare facilities.

Meanwhile, my opponent supports “eliminating” the ACA, and just as Washington Republicans have done for the past decade, he has produced no plan for the 300,000 Texans in this district with pre-existing conditions like diabetes or asthma who could be denied coverage without the protections of the ACA. That’s wrong and especially cruel during an ongoing public health crisis.

A recent study showed Presidio County had some of the biggest population declines among cities in Texas, as residents leave for better job opportunities and more affordable housing. What’s your plan to ensure that longtime residents and families can thrive here?

Texans in the Big Bend region, including in Presidio County, want their kids to be able to grow up and see a future here. In the richest country in the world, in a state with a $1.8 trillion economy, making the investments our communities need isn’t an issue of resources – it’s one of leadership.

In Congress, I’ll fight to create more good-paying jobs by investing in the rapidly growing clean energy sector, and making sure the Presidio Port of Entry is ag certified, an important source of revenue for Presidio. Instead of “finishing” the wasteful, ineffective border wall as my opponent supports, let’s work to increase the trade and traffic between Presidio and Ojinaga. We need to expand access to broadband, so that small businesses can compete, patients can use telemedicine and telepsychiatry, and remote learning and work are reliable options. And we need to strengthen our rural health clinics and train, attract and retain healthcare workers in this area of Texas, so that residents can get the care they need in the community they live in.

I’ve also been honored to meet with students at Presidio High School, and it’s clear that while talent is universal, opportunity is not. As the proud product of public schools myself, I’ll fight to ensure every student regardless of zip code has a first-class public education, including advanced skills and vocational training, so that our students are prepared for the jobs of the future.

In his final months in office, Rep. Will Hurd has pushed for expanded parks and landmarks, from a bigger Big Bend National Park to a Blackwell School heritage site in Marfa. What role do you see for parks, recreation and tourism in our area, both as it relates to the local economy and quality-of-life for residents?

Our public lands and historical landmarks are not just a point of pride for our community that deserve protection, but are a critical economic driver – and one that has been hit hard by the pandemic. We have to get COVID-19 under control so that we can safely and fully re-open and welcome travelers who want to visit the treasures our district has to offer.

In Congress, I’ll work to protect not just these natural resources and historical landmarks, but also to protect infrastructure like Amtrak, which is a critical link for tourists finding their way to Big Bend. We also shouldn’t be wasting $15 billion dollars on the border wall supported by Tony Gonzales and President Trump. Not only could we spend those billions on other priorities like creating good-paying jobs, improving access to quality, affordable healthcare and investing in rural broadband, but a border wall that seizes private land and would run through Big Bend, threatening the local environment, would be an absolute travesty.

The coronavirus crisis has presented major challenges not only to public safety but to the local economy. How can the region protect businesses and workers without compromising public health? And how will you make sure the Big Bend region has adequate resources to handle this crisis, from testing and contact tracing to protective equipment?

While Texans are working hard to practice social distancing and other CDC guidelines, and leaders in the tri-county area have stepped up to protect public health, including by implementing local contact tracing efforts, we still don’t have a federal plan to ensure our communities have the testing, contact tracing and PPE they need. It’s completely unacceptable that, thanks to failures at the state and federal levels, communities in the Big Bend region have had to wait weeks between rounds of testing, and that, more than six months into this crisis, data on COVID-19 cases critical for knowing whether our communities are in the midst of another outbreak is too often delayed.

We can only protect businesses and workers by fully addressing this pandemic, and that means electing leaders who will prioritize listening to medical experts instead of politicizing public health and working to delay, distract and deny in the midst of an ongoing crisis. And while my opponent said that more stimulus payments would cause Texans to “stay at home and watch Netflix,” I’ll fight for another round of COVID-19 relief for working families, including direct aid as well as more assistance for small businesses.

 

TEXAS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 74

RUBEN FALCON (R)

What is your number one priority in office, and how will it impact local residents? 

I am a fiscal conservative. I believe that every expense should have a direct funding source. The State of Texas continuing to function, even with the decline in revenue due to COVID-19 and the oil bust in 2020, shows that the state budget is inflated, and that it is time to “zero line” the budget. Bring in all state agencies and ask them to justify their expenses. I want to put an end to unfunded mandates; they strain the local governments resources. And I want the chief county appraiser to be an elected position.

Our region is off the major interstates and has fewer than 20,000 residents. Once in office, you will represent large swaths of Texas. How will you ensure our voices are heard and our needs represented? 

Texas HD74 is the largest state district in the country and the most ignored. The reason it is most ignored is that since the early 1990s the state representative from this district has been of the opposing political party as the governor. If I am elected, I will be of the same party as the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house. This will make it easy to make our district, its citizens and our issues relevant.

Many residents in this district have to travel more than 90 miles to access specialty and critical care. Some older residents even move away for this reason. Do you have a plan to make healthcare more affordable, more accessible and less confusing for residents, and what role do you think the government should play?

We have the freedom to live where we want. However, we all have to make decisions that impact our lives, whether it be where our kids and grandkids live or access to specialty medical care. The government cannot play a role in that. I would love to promise you a hospital in every town and a clinic in every corner, but the reality is we have to fix the revenue vs. expenses problem at the Capitol first. Then we can relocate funds to rural Texas where they are really needed.

A recent study showed Presidio County had some of the biggest population declines among cities in Texas, as residents leave for better job opportunities and more affordable housing. What’s your plan to ensure that longtime residents and families can thrive here?

No doubt people are leaving rural Texas and moving to the city. The cost of maintaining our schools, roads and hospitals is being left to those of us staying, as we watch our property taxes steadily increase to pay for those needs. I have a plan to replace property taxes with a consumption tax. Homeowners, landowners and business owners cannot continue to pay for all to enjoy the benefits of living under the Texas umbrella. Everyone should contribute!

The coronavirus crisis has presented major challenges not only to public safety but to the local economy. How can the region protect businesses and workers without compromising public health? And how will you make sure the Big Bend region has adequate resources to handle this crisis, from testing and contact tracing to protective equipment?

With 20 years of elected public service, I am a “Local Control Hawk.” The state should not interfere with the decisions the local governments make in regard to how to manage their communities; instead the state should offer assistance to support whatever actions they take. Local citizens see their elected officials at the store, church or just out and about in the community. They are easy to approach, to be asked questions of or to be offered input on all local matters. And when that doesn’t work, vote them out.

 

EDDIE MORALES (D)

What is your number one priority in office, and how will it impact local residents? 

Fighting for continued funding for public education and infrastructure improvements within District 74. These two priorities have a direct effect on citizens of all ages and we need to make sure Austin takes care of District 74.

Our region is off the major interstates and has fewer than 20,000 residents. Once in office, you will represent large swaths of Texas. How will you ensure our voices are heard and our needs represented? 

I plan on continuing to work with people throughout the district by using technology such as video conferencing and virtual town hall meetings. I also plan on continuing my regular contacts with elected officials and citizens through the friendships established since the primary race. People can join our campaign newsletter and stay in touch with the important issues to the district, or let us know any of their concerns by going to: www.moralesfortexas.com and signing up. Finally, I plan on visiting District 74 on a regular basis just like I did throughout the campaign.

Many residents in this district have to travel more than 90 miles to access specialty and critical care. Some older residents even move away for this reason. Do you have a plan to make healthcare more affordable, more accessible and less confusing for residents, and what role do you think the government should play?

I will definitely support all efforts at expanding Medicaid and supporting or co-authoring legislation that recruits medical professionals in rural areas through loan forgiveness programs. Physicians also need an increase in Medicaid reimbursement, and we must demand that rural areas receive adequate funding for medical needs.

A recent study showed Presidio County had some of the biggest population declines among cities in Texas, as residents leave for better job opportunities and more affordable housing. What’s your plan to ensure that longtime residents and families can thrive here?

Creating and developing economic opportunities in these rural areas is key to the continued progress of any community. We must increase our efforts at improving our state infrastructure and support the oil and gas industry that is vital to District 74. I will support reasonable legislation aimed at cutting waste from the oil and gas industry and stop the flaring practice. We must also create opportunities and pathways for the continued investment in renewable energy projects as well as support Blue Origin, the space exploration company owned by Jeff Bezos from Amazon which is using Van Horn as the primary location or their rocket launches. In order to create affordable housing opportunities, we need to ensure that the state supports local municipalities and county governments with their infrastructure improvements. When basic public utilities are available, the growth in the community is that much easier to accomplish.

The coronavirus crisis has presented major challenges not only to public safety but to the local economy. How can the region protect businesses and workers without compromising public health? And how will you make sure the Big Bend region has adequate resources to handle this crisis, from testing and contact tracing to protective equipment?

We need to demand a national pandemic plan as well as a state plan that places the health and safety of our citizens first. As a small business owner, I know firsthand all of the safety and precautions that owners need to take when operating retail shops. The governor should return local control to municipalities and counties. In conjunction with the local health authority, the local governments can best address the needs of the community in a pandemic. I will continue to support efforts at establishing special task forces that are in charge of contract tracing. The state should also make sure cities, counties and school districts have PPE equipment and enough COVID-19 testing to address the needs of the community.


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