Congressional District TX-23 third party candidate Frank Lopez tours the border

TRI-COUNTY — At the end of September, self-described “U.S. Border Patriot” Frank Lopez Jr. wrapped up a tour of Presidio and Terlingua — two among dozens of campaign stops the independent candidate for Congress has made in border communities. Lopez is challenging incumbent Tony Gonzales for the right-wing vote, riding a wave of widespread disenchantment with the two-party system. 

At a campaign event in Presidio on September 29, Democratic opponent John Lira spoke favorably of Lopez’s campaign — noting it may help him win against the Republican incumbent. “If Tony Gonzales thinks he’s going to win TX-23 with just the moderate Republican vote, he’s got another thing coming,” he said. Lira is hoping Lopez will “peel off” a significant number of Republican voters from Gonzales’ base, paving the way for a Democratic victory.

Lopez, of course, doesn’t see his campaign that way — he’s hoping to fundamentally change the conversation about partisan politics in Texas.

Independent candidates in Texas must declare their intent to run with the Texas Secretary of State’s office, then collect petition signatures — the number of signatures needed fluctuates with the number of votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election. In order to fill space on his petition, Lopez campaigned in an unlikely place — at gas pumps throughout the district. “Everybody’s got to fuel up, regardless of ideology or political party,” he explained. 

Lopez’s main conversation starter at his gas station stops was the “pain in the pocket” many Americans are feeling as rising gas prices and inflation price people out of buying basic necessities. He found that being bilingual was a huge asset in putting a finger on the pulse of constituents’ concerns. “Both parties have lost touch with the American people down here at the grassroots level,” he said. 

Lopez is an ordained minister and a former Border Patrol agent — both inform his politics. “I grew up with a lot of structure and adherence to laws,” he said. “I think that the Constitution is a masterful document, very well thought out.” 

Despite his independent status, Lopez is staunchly conservative when it comes to the issues. His platform emphasizes border security — which includes “finish[ing] the wall” — fighting “the Socialists’ moves to hijack our elections,” and keeping “CRT” [Critical Race Theory] out of schools.

He’s running as an “America First Conservative Warrior” unaffiliated with the Republican Party in order to challenge Gonzales. (Lopez worked as campaign manager for Raul Reyes, Gonzales’ opponent in the 2020 Republican Primary runoff). “I consider myself a constitutional conservative, it’s no secret that I’ve been affiliated with the Republican Party,” he said. “For myself and thousands more, Gonzales does not represent Texan values. Through collecting signatures, I found that faith and family are central to our lives.” 

For Lopez, those “Texas values” are decidedly far-right stances on hot button issues He believes that Gonzales’ votes for gun control in the wake of Uvalde and in support of same-sex marriage turned off much of his opponent’s base. He also felt that Gonzales’ support for the creation of the January 6 commission — a federal investigation into the attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters — also put his popularity at risk. 

Lopez also criticized Gonzales’ vote for large infusions of cash from the federal budget to aid Ukraine. “There was minimal oversight on that money,” Lopez said. “Why are we spending money outside the country when we have so many needs?” 

Lopez has acknowledged that he has used “invasion” rhetoric to describe current immigration policy — Presidio County declared an “invasion” of its own, in a bid for state aid — but claims his years with Customs and Border Protection have led him toward nuanced views. “I did my job with compassion and humanity,” he said. “People are misusing our systems and our process. I don’t have a problem with [immigrants] wanting to come here, just do it the right way.” 

In hopes of capturing as many votes along the border as possible, Lopez is pounding pavement in Del Rio and Uvalde before early voting begins. He plans to sum up his platform succinctly: “There are no simple answers to so many issues affecting our citizens. But I will do my darndest to sit down and talk and hash these things out,” he said. 

Campaign representatives for Gonzales were confident that the incumbent would pull through, despite the challenge for the right-wing vote from Lopez. “Since his first day in office, Congressman Tony Gonzales has delivered for this district. Gonzales has traveled over 100,000 miles since being elected to do just that,” said campaign manager Evan Albertson. “Meanwhile our campaign has made more than 400,000 voter contacts, invested in a sophisticated digital operation, utilized direct mail and committed to spending six-figures on radio and television ads.”