Congressional candidate John Lira makes campaign stop in Presidio

John Lira, Democratic candidate for TX-23, makes an impassioned speech to Presidio voters last Thursday at the American Legion Hall. Staff Photo by Sam Karas.

PRESIDIO — Last Thursday, Presidio’s American Legion Hall hosted Democratic congressional candidate John Lira for a meet and greet with voters during his race against incumbent Tony Gonzales. Musical duo Primo y Beebe of Marfa set the mood with music, and attendees munched on conchas while they discussed the needs and future of the contentious TX-23 district. 

TX-23 is an enormous district that covers most of the state west of San Antonio. Lira has been calling his campaign the “Boots on the Ground” tour, and hopes to get face time with constituents in each of the 29 counties he could potentially represent. “If this district was a state, it’d be the 25th biggest state in our nation,” he said. “We’ve got rural areas, urban areas, farm commerce, border commerce. We’ve been gerrymandered together, but we’re lucky because we have some very unique communities.” 

In his stump speech, Lira used his time in the United States Marine Corps to temper traditional Democratic talking points while criticizing Republican tactics. First he addressed immigration policy, which has been a hot-button issue in Texas — from Governor Abbott’s $4 billion push for tighter border security to Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara’s proclamation of an “invasion” by migrants. “I was on the frontlines of Iraq in 2003,” he said. “What we have here on our border is not an invasion. What I went through over there — planes, tanks, bullets — that was an invasion.”

Despite all the money poured into local law enforcement by the state, Lira couldn’t see the positive results of that surge. “I think Republicans are doing a good job of pointing to the complications on the border and a multitude of issues,” he said. “Since Greg Abbott’s been in office, he’s poured billions of dollars into the border, and it hasn’t really had an impact. If you want a more militarized border, what’s that going to do to our tourism? What’s that going to do to our businesses? To our residents?”

Lira also said his experience as a veteran informs his stance on gun control, which he describes as “bipartisan” — he personally owns firearms and carries occasionally. Uvalde — which suffered a school shooting that left 21 dead earlier this year — is a part of the huge TX-23 district. “That really kicked this race into the national spotlight and highlighted a lot of our gun policies here in Texas,” he said. “I’m not anti-Second Amendment, I am a Marine. But I would like to see some kind of background check and some type of training.”

Regarding abortion, Lira said that he opposed the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, limiting access to the procedure. He said that he was personally surprised by the backlash. “I didn’t know how the world would respond to that, but it turns out that women love their privacy,” he said. “In liberty-loving, freedom-loving Texas? Of course our women are mad that their liberty and freedom have been stripped from them.” 

One of the most complex local issues discussed at Thursday’s event was the state of healthcare in the Big Bend. Democratic candidate for County Judge Joe Portillo caught Lira up to speed on the many challenges facing county residents. Though many Presidio residents are able to go to Mexico for basic check-ups and care, emergencies have to be handled in a totally different way. “Our ambulances have to travel 180 miles round trip just to get the first level of care,” Portillo said. “It’s totally unacceptable.” 

Lira said that because so many counties in the district are rural, he’d been thinking about the issue a lot. “How does the military deal with this? They go in there, and they set up tier-one surgery centers in the desert in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and spend millions of dollars on that,” he explained.

He felt like using elements of the military’s approach — along with recruiting top tier talent from medical schools — could serve as a two-pronged plan to start addressing the problem. “One of my main focuses is expanding access to professionals out here — once you get out of those [urban] loops, care dries up quick. You get sick, and now you’re spending half your savings account because you have to travel so much,” he said. 

To end the event on a light-hearted note, Presidio County Precinct 4 hopeful David Beebe asked Lira how many miles he’d put on his car during his push to visit all 29 counties in the district. “I was using my car until the engine burned out,” Lira said. For this leg of the trip, he had to borrow his mother’s car — which he promptly put 23,000 miles on. “Sometimes it feels like you’re driving on a treadmill, but I’ve really enjoyed it — there’s some beautiful landscapes, and they all have their own flavor.”